Thursday, December 23, 2021

Downton Abbey in Atlanta, Georgia, part 1

The first time I went to England was during the school Christmas holidays. A Paris company organized trips to England for teenagers. First you selected a pen pal who was of your age and more or less matched your interests. Then after corresponding for several months the French teenager would visit her/his pen pal family in the UK and in turn, the British pen pal would visit the French family during the Easter school holidays. My grandfather, wishing to improve my English language, enrolled me with this group very late, in November, so I never had a chance to select or write to my pen pal. I was just given a name - Yvonne, address and a photo. I still have the photo; see below - Yvonne in her school uniform. She was a year older than me, and quite tall. She lived in Greater London, on the District Line of the Tube. I was 13 1/2 years old then and had never been overseas by myself. On the right she is with her mother and younger sister while giving me a tour of London. Below is a picture of me on the left and Yvonne at Easter in Paris. This was end of year 1953 (there were still buildings bombed from the war in London) and spring 1954 in Paris.
The family was very friendly. I could barely speak English and my pen pal could speak no French, but I had a great Christmas there. Actually they invited me every year after that and I crossed the Channel to spend Christmas with them for many years - until I was 20 years old. Christmas in England was so much more fun than in Paris for me. I still remember when they took me to the famous London Fortnum and Mason for afternoon tea, and pastries - so delicious. That is when I started drinking tea in the afternoon. I also spent several summer holidays there and attended college for one year. My English language improved tremendously but Yvonne never wished to speak French, she never learned.
Even after I moved to San Francisco, I would often stop in London at Christmas time on my way to visit my parents in Paris. I had planned to travel to London and Paris this year but with the Covid restrictions, this was not going to happen. Last week I was in my Georgia house and saw an ad for an exhibition on Downton Abbey, an exhibition happening right now. So I went. It was in Sandy Springs, north of Atlanta, and only about 15 miles from my house using the back roads. They stated: "Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, based on the beloved television show, transports you to post-Edwardian England, where the characters and the iconic house come to life. You'll be immersed in the fascinating social history, culture, and some of the most memorable moments from the show's six-season run. Experience the History - The Fashion - The House." If I could not travel to London for Christmas, going to Downton Abbey in Atlanta was a perfect alternative.
All staff and visitors were required to wear masks inside the venue. Tickets had to be purchased in advance for a specific time slot. I went at 11 am on Thursday 16 December, 2021, and spent 3 1/2 hours there but could have stayed longer as there was so much to see, listen to and read. The Atlanta exhibit opens Thursday through Mondays and ends on January 17, 2022.
For those who may not have watched Downton Abbey on television - it is a period drama set on a fictional English estate, called Downton Abbey, in Yorkshire. It lasted 6 seasons, following the fictional aristocratic Grantham family, their friends and servants from the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912 through 1926. It was very popular, a world-wide phenomena actually, and won many awards. During the series we witnessed the way of life of Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, his American-born wife, Cora, and their three daughters - Mary, Edith and Sybil, as well as the domestic staff. As you enter the exhibit you watch a short video where Mr. Carson, the butler, welcomes you as if you are a guest of the Crawley family.
Most of the rooms were dark. I used my small Sony camera and my cell phone, so the quality of the photos is not the best. As soon as you enter the first of the 11 rooms you are transported into post-Edwardian England. There are actual props, outfits that were used in the show and recreations of the sets - in mirrors as well along the wall, life size. (Click on collage to enlarge.)
It seems as if you are looking at them through a patio door - very realistic.
There is a display for each character in the show with some facts about that person as well as personal effects from the show. For example the display may include handwritten letters, invoices, photos and more. Some of the displays have drawers that have additional information on the era. The photos of the characters from the show may come alive and speak from one of the scenes of the show. Some stations had speakers and you could listen to a short video to completely immerse you in the fascinating culture of that time and its social history.
Even if a person had never heard of the Downton Abbey series they would be interested in learning about British society, fashion and culture from that post-Edwardian period with its fast changes from World War 1 to the Roaring Twenties. There was great attention to details. The display on Mrs. Patmore, the cook of Downton Abbey, explained her day in the kitchen and the cookbook she used. Next to her was a display on Daisy, her assistant cook.
Some of the items displayed (that had been used in the tv series,) were real antiques.
As you walked in some room, video snippets of the show would appear on the walls to transport you there and witness the event.
Violet Crawley, the fictional Dowager Countess of Grantham (born in 1842) the widow of the 6th Earl of Grantham, matriarch of the family in the series had a whole display wall devoted to her.
There were information panels on her dresses and a television set playing some of her best quotes - such as "Don't be defeatest, dear. It's very middle class." And "Switzerland has everything to offer, except perhaps conversation. And one can learn to live without that."
There are more photos to show you but it will have to wait to my next blog post for part two. Now I have to wrap some presents and bake some cookies. I brought my Christmas and holiday decorations from Georgia last week but they are in boxes still. I thought I would just use my little metal tree that holds greeting cards but, alas, I just received a couple this year. It seems that with social media most people don't send greetings cards anymore. Of course, it is much easier to type some general Christmas greetings on the computer on Facebook, Instagram, etc., and click "send" no time spent in writing individual cards with a special thought, no stamp, no mail, easy does it. But opening a greeting in the in-box is not the same as in the mailbox, and you can't use an e-greeting as a decoration in your house, or years later read cards from family and friends who have died. Social media greetings are not very personal and for those like me who do not read Facebook and don't know what Instagram is, then I don't get many greetings - it is sad, another tradition gone. So since I received only a couple of Christmas cards (not cards actually, but photos of the families who sent them) I used my vintage postcards on my metal tree.
Let's hope that this holiday season will be the last that keeps us isolated. Cheers to a better 2022!

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

A stay in Bangor, Maine

In mid-November I was back in Greater Atlanta, Georgia. I intended to take pictures in a park nearby for a fall blog post. Time went by too quickly and instead I just took a couple of photos of the leaves in the backyard.
In lieu of this fall blog post I'll relate my summer stay in Bangor, Maine. In early June my daughter asked me if I would like to drive with her, my son-in-law and the kids to Bangor, Maine. I replied, no thank you - it is too far. I had only planned to drive the two hours north to Paducah, Kentucky. Nashville, Tennessee to Bangor, Maine is about 1,330 miles (2,140 km) about the same distance as Brussels, Belgium to Budapest, Hungary - it's quite far as I said.
She explained that three of the four grandchildren were going to attend several weeks of Chinese language immersion summer school in Bangor. She only could stay with them part of the time but then had to get back. As an enticement she offered to have me fly there and then she would come back when the Chinese school ended. She said we could drive down the coast of Maine and on the way stop a day in Kennebunkport, Maine, then New Hampshire and also in Newport, Rhode Island where I had always wished to go, and then stay in Boston a couple of days and I could fly back from Boston. So I went. Because Bangor is close to Acadia National Park summer lodgings are difficult to find. My daughter could only find a small farm to rent. The owners lived in another house adjacent to the original farm. The owners, the wife, drove a Prius, a Toyota hybrid (instead of one of those big SUV vehicles) and the husband, a pick-up truck. Actually, compared to Nashville and Atlanta, there were a lot less SUVs in Maine (where winters are rigorous and they could say they need them, not like in Deep South downtowns ... but in Maine they are more mindful of the environment.)
The farm was built in 1900. Chickens were free to roam and would come to the front door. They would run to greet us as soon as we drove into the farm. Horses were in the back near a wildlife trail. (Click on collage to enlarge.)
I took some photos of the interior but found some better ones on the owners' site (theirs were taken in winter.) The farm has 3 bedrooms, a large bathroom, a kitchen with eating area and two front rooms with a piano. I stayed in one of the upstairs bedrooms.
My daughter and her family drove to Maine a week prior to the start of the Chinese summer school so they could visit the area and Acadia National Park. This park is about 41 miles from Bangor. It is located on Mount Desert Island and Isle au Haut. The highest mountain on the Atlantic Coast of the US, Cadillac Mountain, is in this park.
In its 49,075 acres (76.7 sq mi or 198.6 km2) the park contains wetlands, forests, meadows, mountains, lakes, streams, beaches and a large diversity of animal and plant life. Millions of visitors come to the park and I believe reservations are required now to enter it, at least in the summer months, because of the congestion. In 1929 the name of the park was changed from Marquis de Lafayette Park to Acadia National Park in honor of the former French colony of Acadia that used to include Maine. The center photo is of my son-in-law - he had to fly back to Nashville after a week in Maine.
My daughter flew back to Nashville after her 3 weeks and left the big van in Bangor. They use this large van to transport the 4 kids, 3 adults (including the au pair) and two dogs (no SUVs for member of my family.) For commuting to work they just have two small passenger vehicles. But the van is quite high and long - I was afraid to drive it. Fortunately the au pair stayed during my time there and he drove. He is an Italian of Moroccan ancestry and his family lives in France now, so he speaks Italian, Moroccan Arabic, French and English. We ate most evenings in local restaurants and pubs, apart from the day the Italian soccer team won the European Soccer Championship, its first time since 1968. Our au pair was so overjoyed that he treated us to a pizza dinner. That week was also my youngest grandson's 10 years old birthday. He requested a chocolate cream pie. I found a bakery in Bangor that was able to bake one especially for him. Below is the van, the bakery, the pie, the au pair with the Italian flag wrapped around his shoulders and my grandchildren. The grandson in the center is letting his hair grow to donate to a group helping young cancer patients who lost their hair.
The first Sunday after I arrived I was pleased to meet one of my blogging friends for lunch in Bangor. I had been reading her blog for years until she eventually stopped blogging. Ruth's original blog was named "synch-ro-ni-zing" and her last blog, ended in 2017, was called Birds of the Air quilts where she showed the quilts she made. Ruth and her husband retired and moved to a small coastal town in Maine, not far from Bangor. It was so much fun meeting her after having read her blogs for over a decade. We met at the Mason Brewing Co. Restaurant along the Penobscot River. We ate outdoors as it was a warm day and also because of Covid.
I was surprised by the long list of beers and ciders. Ruth told me that there are a great many pubs and restaurants in the area featuring local artisanal beers and ciders. Later I read that behind Vermont, Maine has the second highest number of breweries per 100,000 residents in the USA. The 100 or so local breweries produce New England IPAs, English ales, stouts, porters, sours, Belgian, farmhouse, lagers and more. They have the largest variety of hard cider that I have seen outside of France and Belgium. Most restaurants and pubs will offer "sample beers" of your choice in 4 small glasses. I did not try them since I am more partial to cider.
I remember writing Ruth and telling her I was going to stay in a small town in Maine - Bangor. She answered that Bangor was one of the largest cities in Maine, and with 32,000 residents is considered the unofficial capital of northern Maine. Well, when you consider that the population of the state of Maine is 1.34 million, Bangor is ... large. But coming from greater Atlanta with 6.09 million and the state of Georgia with 10.83 million, I thought Bangor was tiny ... oops! The weather was nice though, not as warm as in Atlanta. We did not have to use air conditioning and I was chilly a couple of times. Of course, in winter it must be quite cold - much too cold for me. Here are a couple of photos of the city in winter (courtesy the Bangor Daily News.)
Definitely a city to visit in summer, in July like I did. At least for us southerners ...

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

New York City, Sep-Oct 2001 and later

After my father died in the mid-1970s I started to visit my mother in Paris, France, more often. (He had been badly injured in a head-on collision with a drunk driver.) I usually would travel in March and September for a couple of weeks during the off-peak seasons because Paris, being a very touristy city, the airfares were expensive and the low fares difficult to obtain in summer. Going home was to keep company to my mother who had Parkinson's disease and to help with the purchases that she needed. But while I ran errands in Paris I could still visit the big department stores, eat in a favorite small restaurant, catch a new exhibition in a museum or find some books in second-hand bookstores or at the "bouquinistes" along the river Seine.
My husband would rarely come with me because my mother did not speak English and I spent most of my time with her. Instead his vacations were often in the fall for ducks and Canada geese hunting. He would drive non-stop from Atlanta to either North Dakota or Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada, with his cousin. But my late husband and I would take small vacations, no longer than a week or so, in various southern cities such as Savannah, GA, Charleston, SC, and Key West, Florida, or to my favorite cities New Orleans and New York.
While in New York we would buy books at The Strand Bookstore and other second-hand bookstores. We would try to see an opera or a show, visit a museum and walk in Central Park. One year, I believe it was in January 2000, it was so cold that I was happy to find a furry hat in a flea market and was warm walking in Central Park in the snow. I had my film camera then so the photos are average.
We went to the World Trade Center a couple of times but did not go up to the top observation deck as there were too many people waiting in line to go up. We thought we would do it next time we were in the city. We just walked into the lobby and gift shop and I would buy postcards, of course - I have some from the late 1970s to 2000 and beyond. In the 1980s I even bought a 6 postcard set ot the Twin Towers.(Click to enlarge.)
For my September 2001 trip to Paris my late husband was going to accompany me because we were going to stop in London and do some traveling. We were to fly out on Wednesday September 12, 2001. I was going to leave the office at noon on September 11 to go home and finish packing. But of course we never left on our trip. I wrote about it in my post of September 10,2011 "A cancelled trip" - you can read or reread it here. -- Paintings in heading is The Ferries, 1905, by Colin Campbell Cooper, American, 1856-1937. Below is The Flatiron Building in 1919, New York, by Samuel Halpert, American born in Bialystok Russia, 1884-1930, followed by Central Park, 1940, by Frank Moratz, American born in Germany, 1912-1990.
No one will forget watching the horrifying tragedy of the destruction of the WTC Twin Towers that day on TV. After the Government encouraged us to travel to New York to show support, stay a few days, go to a show, eat in restaurants - I did just that. I flew to New York on October 26, 2001. I still remember the dust around Ground Zero - I had a cough all the time I was in the city. Near the site, also referred to as "The Pile," people were watching silently as the large trucks moved steel beams away. I could see Ground Zero from a street close by. A worker came and sat near me, he was exhausted.
Looking at the pictures of the missing pasted on the walls was heart wrenching. There were still flowers and mementos on walls and in front of fire stations. A chaplain, two paramedics and 341 New York City firefighters lost their lives on 9/11 as well as 72 emergency workers from the city - there were 2977 victims in all. Now up to 75% of those who worked among the toxic Ground Zero rubble have some type of long-term illness. The NYC firefighters and first responders saved 20,000 people from the Twin Towers that day.
We went almost every year to New York City after that until 2014. In October 2011, ten years after the attack, we visited the 9/11 Memorial when it opened. It was not quite finished then. I wrote a report on it in my post "New York - visiting the 9/11 Memorial" - you can read or reread it here. I had a new digital camera by then.
The 9/11 Memorial reflecting pools are located in the exact footprints of the Twin Towers. The memorial has been sensitively designed. It is a somber experience to see and read the names of the victims inscribed in bronze on the railings of the memorial pools and hear water cascading down into the recessing pools; it brings peace and reflection. (They are the largest man-made waterfalls in the United States.) September 11, 2001, was a particularly tragic day for the United States. This understated memorial is a fitting tribute honoring the victims who perished on this day.
My late husband and I usually visited New York City in September and after 2001 we would see the "Tribute of Light" - two blue beams of light projected over the city each year from sunset on September 11 to dawn on the 12th. These twin lights represent the original Twin Towers and echo the orientation and shape of those towers.
In the new WTC complex the 104 floor tower also known as One World Trade, One WTC and Freedom Tower was completed in 2013 when the spire installed on the top gave the tower a total height of 1,776 feet (541 m) in reference to the US Declaration of Independence in 1776. It is the main building in the rebuilt WTC complex and is the tallest building in the US. The One World Observatory opened in May 2015. We had planned to go that year and for sure wait in line to ascend to this observation deck. Unfortunately my husband's Alzheimer's disease had progressed and we could no longer travel. (Photo courtesy One WTC.)
In September 2020, my eldest daughter and I had planned to go to New York to celebrate her September birthday but had to cancel because of COVID-19, instead we thought we'd go in September 2021. Now, because of the Delta variant we have decided not to travel there again. I read about the rebuilt World Trade Center complex on the Internet. The 9/11 Memorial museum has been finished. The Oculus building was opened in 2016 as a shopping mall and as the WTC transportation hub in Lower Manhattan providing access to commuter trains and subway lines. It was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to symbolize a dove released from a child's hand. The 335 foot long skylight allows light to shine overhead and the sun to move across its axis exactly on Septembr 11. (Photo courtesy CBS.)
The New World Trade Center has several more buildings being built. It will be complete when the 900-feet (270 m) tall 5 World Trade Center skyscraper is finished in 2028. I hope we can travel back to New York next year, maybe. I still have my little souvenir keychain that I bought there (benefitting the NYC Firefighters) and the little WTC Memorial magnet.
I see both daily, one on my refrigerator door and the other to hold my garden gate key. But as everyone, I don't need these mementos to remember. The harrowing pictures of 9/11 cannot be erased. The new World Trade Center complex with its graceful and strong buildings reaching towards the sky, the sun and the light renews our hope. I also hope it renews a national purpose for unity within our diverse society and a purpose to stay committed to our common good.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Tour de France 2021 and the 14th of July (Bastille Day)

The days flew by since my last blog post. I traveled back to Georgia twice in June as I knew I would not go in July. In July I stayed with my eldest grandson while the other three grandchildren attended a summer day camp in another state. Then I traveled to that day camp when my daughter had to come back. I just returned a few days ago. For the first time in years I was unable to watch the Tour de France very much. There was no television access where I was staying. I went back to the official Tour web site and watched highlights. Most of the photos here are courtesy the official Tour de France site. Below is the Tour route for 2021.
The route of the Tour de France is planned several years in advance. The start of the 2021 Tour (known as the Grand Depart) was to take place in Copenhagen, Denmark's capital. But, because of the COVID-19 pandemic it was tranferred to the port city of Brest, Brittany, France. Brest has been a military harbor since 1631. The 108th Tour started there on June 26, 2021 and concluded in Paris on July 18, 2021. The Tour covered 3,414.4 km or 2,122 miles during the 21 days of bicycling. At the start of Stage 1 in Brest there were 23 teams with eight riders in each team for a total of 184 international cyclists. There were 8 flat stages, 5 hilly stages, 6 mountain stages (with three summit finishes) and 2 individual time-trials (plus two days of rest.) As usual the cyclists rode through warm and cold weather, fog and rain. (Click on collage to enlarge.)
Each year I believe I have written a blog post on the Tour de France, giving its history, explaining the stages, the jerseys and so on. For more information please go to Tour de France on the right of my blog under Categories. As I explained in my blog post "Summer of 2017 and the Tour de France", a caravan of decorated vehicles rolls ahead of the Tour. It was founded in 1930 as a warm-up act for the arrival of the cyclists. These promotional vans come blaring down the roads with horns and music. Young people in them wave to the crowd and throw key chains, hats and other promotional gifts from the gaudy floats. Fans, who have been waiting for hours to see the Tour, look forward to catching a free souvenir from them. This year there were 150 promotional vehicles throwing 12 million recyclable gifts to the crowd.
Below are some publicity vehicles from prior years.
One of my favorite sprinters, Peter Sagan from Slovakia, had to abandon the Tour due to a knee injury. But another favorite sprinter, Mark Cavendish from the UK, won four stages. Now with 34 Tour de France stage wins, he has equaled the legendary Belgian Eddy Merckx, former professional bicycle racer (born in 1945.) Cavendish is one of the greatest field sprinters of all time.
In Europe alone 150 million watched le Tour de France 2021 on television. Along the route, spectators were asked to wear a face mask, and most of them did. It is estimated that the number of spectators along the route was between 10 and 12 million.
With so many fans along the narrow roads, some of them can cause accidents. This year a spectator holding a hand-written sign for her German grandparents, caused a massive crash during the first stage of the Tour. She stood with her back turned towards TV cameras, and blocked part of the road. Tony Martin, the German rider, hit the cardboard sign then a bridge. This caused a huge pile-up behind him with 80% of the peloton crashing on the pavement. A total of 21 riders were injured, some with broken bones and head injuries. Three riders were forced to abandon the race at this early stage, a German, a French and a Lithuanian. The Tour de France is such a tough endurance event where injuries are frequent that an accident caused by a spectator is a terrible shame (and infuriating!)
The helicopters above the Tour always offer great views of the surrounding landscape. Below are photos of some of the French towns the Tour visited. From top left to right: la Maison Carrée, an ancient Roman temple in Nimes that inspired the church of the Madeleine in Paris, and Thomas Jefferson's design of the Virginia State Capitol. Then the Nimes Roman arena, Saint Lary Soulan, Sorgues, Carcassonne, Brest, Malaucene, St Emilion, Libourne, St Paul Trois Chateaux with its lavender fields and St. Gaudens.
This year Stage 15 of the Tour finished in Andorra La Vella, the capital of the Andorra principality. Andorra is a landlocked sovereign microstate, the sixth-smallest in Europe. It is bordered by Spain and France. It is believed to have been created around the year 780 by Charlemagne (768-814.) The population of Andorra is 77,000 and about 10 million tourists visit it each year, mostly during winter sport and also for its countless duty free shops and boutiques and for its ancient monuments. Andorra has the highest life expectancy in the world at 83 years for males and 85 for females (life expectancy is 77.3 years in the USA.)
After going up hills and down dales...
... the most popular and prestigious event on the international stage race ended in Paris. The winnmers of the 2021 Tour de France were: Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia, who won last year as well. The second winner was Jonas Vingegaard of Denmark and third Richard Carapaz of Ecuador. The sprinter green jersey went to Mark Cavendish of the UK, the mountain polka-dot jersey went to Tadej Pogacar as well as the white young rider jersey. The combativity jersey went to Frank Bonnamour of France; the winning team was Team Bahrain Victorious.
On the 14th of July, French National Holiday (Bastille Day) I was still away. Later I watched the traditional two-hour Paris parade on the French ministère des Armées (Ministry of the Armed Forces) video. This year the parade theme was "Winning the Future" which, according to General Christophe Abad, Military Governor of Paris - referred to the nation's collective ability to overcome the difficulties associated with the health crisis. For the armies, it referred to the fact that they are geared towards tougher engagements by relying on high-tech equipment. The center photo shows the men from "Operation Barkhane" an anti-insurgent mission led by the French military against the Africa's Sahel region's Islamists. This French force mission started in August 2014 in N'Djamena, the capital of Chad, with 5000 men. It will end in 2022.
July 14th fireworks in Paris, courtesy La Ville de Paris (official City of Paris site) that I had watched later.
P.S. I bought some of the face masks shown in the heading collage at the Red Bubble Market Place, Also, I'll try to finish part 2 of my mother's during WW2 post at a later time.
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