Category Archives: Travel

Genetic Memory, Huguenots and the Richard LeNoir Market

Have you ever heard of genetic memory? According to Wikipedia, it’s:

…memory present at birth that exists in the absence of sensory experience, and is incorporated into the genome over long spans of time.It is based on the idea that common experiences of a species become incorporated into its genetic code.

I’m sure there’s only a tiny little speck of DNA in me that’s left over from my French ancestors, but I do believe it completely dominates over all the English, Scottish and whatever else is traveling through my veins.

The French part of the family were Huguenots–protestants who rebelled against the Catholic Church during the Reformation. They were persecuted and even massacred in the 16th and 17th centuries. Many fled, including my ancestors who ended up in Manakin Town, Virginia, in 1699.

Like I said, that’s just one vague ancestor centuries ago, but I’m convinced that genetic memory is why I love France so much–especially the markets.

In April, we spent a morning at the huge Richard LeNoir Market just off the Place de la Bastille. I had collected a few Euro from each of my companions and was buying picnic provisions.

Like bread…Cheese, of course…Some fruit…

Maybe just a little more cheese…

We also had pate, charcuterie and some sweets…

Not the most elegant table I’ve ever set, but when you consider that this was just a few feet away, you really can’t complain.

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The Labyrinth at Chartres

Until a few years ago, I only knew labyrinths from my high school studies of Greek mythology. King Minos of Crete built an elaborate labyrinth to keep the frightful Minotaur at bay. But when I went on my first pilgrimage with the youth from my church, I learned that the practice of walking a labyrinth while saying a breath prayer was alive and well today–and, in fact, that it had been a part of the Christian tradition for centuries.

(An aside–did you ever read J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey? If all you know of Salinger is Catcher in the Rye, I implore you to read his short stories about the fictional Glass family of New York, circa 1955. In the story, Franny is obsessed with a book called The Way of the Pilgrim in which the main character, a Russian peasant, practices prayer without ceasing–that is, he has a breath prayer that he says to himself at all times…with every inhale and exhale. Franny tries to emulate this practice and, in the process, gives herself a nervous breakdown.)

One of the highlights of my recent journey to Paris was a day trip to the Medieval town of Chartres and its famous cathedral.

The cathedral was built in the 1200s and its stained glass is some of Europe’s finest.

But what really sets this cathedral apart is its labyrinth–an elaborate, circular path that’s only available for walking a days during the year. Happily, that coincided with our visit there.

The day we were there, the cathedral had quite a few visitors–many bearing the familiar backpack of the modern-day pilgrims, some with the shells that signify those who have walked Spain’s Compostela route. After wandering though the cathedral for a while, I started in on the labyrinth, trying to concentrate on matching my pace with my breath prayer.

But there was  a problem–an unpleasant-looking woman was speed walking her way through the maze.

Step.

Step.

Step.

Squeak. Every time she pivoted, her tennis shoes made a disagreeable sound. She was going as fast as she could, passing people who were in her way. Determined to set a record for how fast she could walk the famed labyrinth at Chartres. No doubt she was on one of those “17 countries in 14 days” types of package tours–speed walking her way through Europe without seeing a single thing on the way.

Done properly, this labyrinth takes about 30 minutes. I doubt she took 10. But at least she was gone soon and I could finally find my own rhythm without being distracted by her squeaky shoes.

(Pictures  courtesy on my traveling companion J9. Follow her on Instagram at j9win)

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A Parisian Rendevouz

Last week I was in Paris, and while I was there I met up with an old friend. I had never met her in person. Never heard the sound of her voice. But we managed to cross a few borders and time zones to spend a day together. Let me tell you how we met…

When I first started blogging, I became enamored of a website called Ask and Yes Shall Receive. It was a site that reviewed blogs. The reviewers were tough and had a collection of rankings ranging from flaming fingers making rude gestures to the rare and prized “I @#$% Love You.” The reviews themselves were hysterical, and the comments that followed were equally scathing. The site had a huge following, and it wasn’t uncommon for a review to garner hundreds of comments.

I think it was through this blog that I first became aware of Ellie and her blog, The Daily Smoke. Back then, Ellie, an American, was living in London. Her blog was elegant–artful black and white photos of London scenes. Black type on a white background with a little red thrown in for emphasis. Content ranged from the ultra-casual–what she saw on the bus that morning–to the deeply poignant–sexual abuse at the hands of an adopted brother.

There was always something about Ellie’s blog and writing that connected with me, and vice versa.

She’s now living in Madrid. I told her I was coming to Paris and that if she’d come see me, I’d buy dinner. And she took me up on it.

We started talking at 11. We talked as we walked. We talked through coffee. Through a bottle of wine with lunch. As we walked through Le Marais and crossed the Seine to the left bank so I could retrieve my sunglasses at my hotel. We talked as we walked up the hill to the Pantheon and down the other side to have a beer at a small cafe. We talked as we walked through Jardin du Luxembourg and through the Latin Quarter before stopping for one last beer.

Seven hours (or was it eight) of nonstop talking.

I suppose what we did is a little risky. We could’ve taken an instant dislike to each other, but instead the opposite happened.

Thank you, Ellie, for a great day. It’s nice to finally have a face and a voice to go with the name.

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Can I Go Back Now?

Florida is home to some pretty swanky resorts, and Islamorada–on Matecumbe Key–is home to one of the very swankiest. At the Checca Lodge you can be swathed in luxury with minions ready to fulfill your every whim. You can wine. You can dine. You can be massaged, mani-ed and pedi-ed. You can revel in the privacy of the 27-acre grounds, gated to keep the riff raff out.

We just got back from Islamorada. And I guess you could best describe our lodgings as the anti-Cheeca.

Many of the plastic chairs had broken slats. One of our windows had to be propped open with a shoe. The refrigerator in our room made strange clicking noises all night long.

But when this is the view from your private deck, a noisy refrigerator doesn’t really matter.

We stayed at a funky old place called the Sands of Islamorada. We had a queen-size bed, a little kitchen and a bathroom.

And a private patio.

The building was perpendicular to the water, so there were only two waterfront units. That’s ours on the bottom. There was a constant breeze and an ever-changing view.

Here’s sunrise:

I’m not really an ocean person. If I had to choose between ocean or mountains, I’d take mountains every time. I like changing seasons, fireplaces and thick socks. But in January–when spring is months away from Middle Tennessee–the Keys are hard to beat.

Travel is about change–change of scenery, change of habit, change of routine. We only had a few days there, but they were worth their weight in gold.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the Keys.

I hope it isn’t the last.

Oh–the guy in the header visited us one day and then scurried up a nearby palm. Not sure if he ever came down.

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Backyard History

With all my travels to ancient places, I sometimes forget about the ancient history here in Middle Tennessee. While we don’t have any Medieval cathedrals or Romanesque ruins, we do have the remnants of a Native American culture called the Mississippians.

The Mississippians started somewhere around 800 AD in the Mississippi and spread west into Missouri and south and east into Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama, among other states. They were mound builders, and today those mounds dot the area. No doubt that thousands have been lost due to erosion and cultivation, but the ones that remain are protected and preserved.

One of the best examples of a Mississippi settlement near here is called Mound Bottom along the Harpeth River. In this area, the Harpeth snakes along bluffs and meadows, curling almost back on itself in places. Mound Bottom–which is maybe 20-30 acres–is in a horseshoe bend and is encircleled by the river except for one thin neck of land that leads out and up onto the ridge behind it. It was easy to defend and because the land is so close to the river, it’s very fertile.

What’s left today is one very large mound and several smaller ones around it.

We hiked out to the mounds a couple of weeks ago with a guide from the state park that oversees them. The area is not usually accessible, so we were happy to see it.

From the top of the largest mound, you can see several others around it.

(I am fighting with WordPress today–this photo really isn’t this blurry.)

So, from the top of the mound, you can see others around it. Most of these mounds were ceremonial, not used for burials. Each of these smaller mounds would’ve been part of a plaza where a family lived–probably in homes built of logs and mud. Additionally, a large fence, or palisade was erected along the border.

Mound Bottom was probably built around 950 and it is thought that it’s original purpose was as a meeting place. It evolved into quite a city and was then abandoned about 400 years later.

It wasn’t until 1823 that the site was rediscovered and about a hundred years after that archaeologists from the Smithsonian conducted extensive research here. Lots of artifacts were unearthed and much was learned about this early culture.

People often decry the lack of historical culture and significance of the United States. History snobs should remember though that our patch of land is exactly the same age as the patches where Druids roamed, where Alexander the Great battled and where caves were painted. You don’t have to travel far to see ancient history. It’s in your own backyard.

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The Valley of 72 Waterfalls

You’ve heard of all of Switzerland’s big cities–Zurich, Luzern and Geneva. You’re probably familiar with its glitzy ski resorts like Gstaad, St. Moritz and Zermatt.

But I’m guessing that unless you’ve been there yourself, you’ve never heard of Wengen, Murren or Lauterbrunnen. On my next trip to the Alps, I’ll skip the cities and head straight to the Bernese-Oberland area and one of these villages.

Allow me to give you the facts from Wiki:

Lauterbrunnen lies at the bottom of a hanging or U-shaped valley that extends south and then south-westwards from the village to meet the 8 kilometers (5.0 mi) Lauterbrunnen Wall. The valley of Lauterbrunnen (Lauterbrunnental) is one of the deepest in the Alpine chain when compared with the height of the mountains that rise directly on either side. It is a true cleft, rarely more than one kilometre in width, between limestones precipices, sometimes quite perpendicular. It is to this form of the valley that it owes the numerous waterfalls from which it derives its name. The streams descending from the adjoining mountains, on reaching the verge of the rocky walls of the valley, form cascades so high that they are almost lost in spray before they reach the level of the valley. The most famous of these are the Staubbach Falls the height of the cascade is between 800 and 900 feet (240 and 270 m), one of the highest in Europe formed of a single unbroken fall.[4]

We certainly didn’t see all 72 waterfalls on our two hikes through the valley–one cut short due to rain.

But we did see some scenes that honestly looked like cliches. In Nashville, the cliche image is of a young man wandering around in a cowboy hat with a guitar slung across his back–I can tell you that that image is one I see on a regular basis. If you close your eyes and think of a quintessential Swiss scene, I bet it looks something like this:

or this

or maybe even this:

How’s your high school German? That sign says that there is cheese for sale at the house up the hill. We bought some and brought it home, along with several other varieties from the local market. This is the actual house pointed to in the sign:

Can you imagine giving directions to your house if you lived here–“yeah, it’s the house in the valley under the waterfall.” Is it any wonder that J.R.R. Tolkien used Lauterbrunnen as the model for Rivendell where the fabulous elves lived?

It’s not hard to feel the magic in this valley. Waking up and seeing that view every morning was just a gift.

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Allmendhubel to Grutschalp

When I was a little girl, my uncle lived in Switzerland. One on visit, my grandmother returned home with the dreaded Swiss outfits. But on another, the gifts were more popular and included a cuckoo clock for my sister. The little bird came out every hour and cheerfully announced the time.

Earlier this month we were in Switzerland and I discovered that when you get high enough into the Alps, say 6,000 feet or so, you can hear the real thing–cuckoo birds. At first I thought that maybe some farmhouse had its windows open and I was hearing a clock.

But one look at the scenery convinced me that it was the real bird.

 

Those three peaks you see there are the most famous in the Bernese Oberland–the area we were based in for far too short a time. From left to right they are the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau and they were our companions as we hiked from Allmendhubel to Grutschalp.

My usual European vacations involves a lot of churches, castles and cathedrals. But not this one. This trip was all about the scenery and the walking.

This particular hike was all downhill.

Another was mostly uphill.

But, funnily enough, they end the same way.

There’s lots more to show and tell, just working out the best sequence.

But here’s one last look–the view from our hotel room in Wengen.

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