Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Thin Places

The gaucho culture

Today a took a trip outside of Buenos Aires the Estancia Santa Susana, a short way outside the city. This estancia consists of more than 2000 acres, was settled by an Irish immigrant in the 1860s and has been in the family ever since, as a working farm.

Talk about that estancia, the gauchos, the family, the program and the tour mates.

This great tour is thanks to my "personal Argentine concierge," James, whom I consider my "Jeeves"

So long for Nancy's Travelblogue

This is my farewell post for this blog. I've been posting since XXX and this blog has documented my interests and travel for XXX years. When I began it was a really big deal to be able to write -- without going through a publisher -- for the whole world. Now it is everyday material.

But the world has changed, technology has changed, and my interests have changes, but I'm not finished blogging!! I'm exploring topics around sustainability, alternative living spaces, and


This post is a text to see if this blog site really is still available and that I can use it.

May cause some problems and create others. Let's see.

Just for fun, I'll add a link

And an image 

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Buenos Aires -- First Impressions

Tuesday: I arrive at the Savoy Hotel in the center of Buenos Aires, excited, jet-lagged, and hungry. So glad to be traveling with a colleague so we can negotiate these first few hours together.  

We are greeted by doormen in formal attire, and ushered into a lobby straight out of the 1930s. Chandeliers hang from highly decorated ceilings, and it is easy to imagine Argentina's glory days in the early 20th century.

Anyway, here is a photo of the hotel lounge;

My rusty Spanish serves me well for the basics, and I'm glad, because it is time to eat. And what could be more appropriate than empanadas, the national Argentine snack food. The concierge recommends a fast food place across the street (empanadas are fast food). And they are YUMMY.

Then we head out to explore Buenos Aires before our sleep deprivation catches up with us. The architecture, the cafe life, the way people themselves ... Oh, yes, the people.

The men are gorgeous ... and so are the women. everyone seems beautiful without adornment, and I want to record this first impression because, of course, almost all beautiful people get some kind of help. Men are courteous, chauvanistic in the best sense. I see Borges or Garda in their midst, a mildly macho/entitled presence that would have offended me in another time of life, but now fascinate me.

We walk down Avenida de Mayo, a wide corridor which has been the center of Argentine history since it was first inhabited by Europeans in the 1600s. Much recent history occurred at the lower end of the boulevard, at the Plaza de Mayo.

Most recently and most famously, Plaza de Mayo is the gathering place for the Madres y Abuelos de la Plaza de Mayo,  who keep alive the the tragic story of "the disappeared" -- their children and grandchildren during a dark period in Argentine history. Here is a photo of the Madre's banner:
And here is a photo of the Casa Rosada, a landmark though I'm not quite sure for what, and I think this is where Eva and Juan Peron addressed the nation so famously:

 Buenos Aires takes me back to the months I spent in Barcelona in the 1980s, and age fills me with nostalgia. I remember the cafes where male waiters in formal dress would serve coffee in a real cup and saucer. they would take your order in person, receive the bill in person, and not hurry you along to make a place for the next paying customer. Cafe's were then, in Barcelona, and now, in Buenos Aires, a place to linger ... to savor a conversation, or a solitary thought, a new insight to write about, or light the spark for a new romance.  They are generally wood paneled, linen table-clothed, soft lighted, and just about the the best atmosphere for any stirrings of the heart.

And then there are the bookstores! I almost forgot about their existence, they have so disappeared from my home base in the San Francisco Bay Area. But portenos are readers, and brick and mortar books stores are about one per block in the Congreso neighborhood where I am based.  I'm starving for paper books you can touch, and can't pull myself away from them, language notwithstanding. In case all you norteamericanos have forgotten what a bookstore looks like, here's one of the many in my neighborhood.

And so it is with the life in Buenos Aires. The Portenos (i.e. residents of B.A.) have it good in many ways, in this cosmopolitan center in the middle of nowhere. (4500 miles from Mexico City, 1200 miles from Rio de Janeiro, 4400 miles from Miami, 7300 miles from Sydney, or 3700 miles from Cape Town).

HOW AND WHY I'M IN ARGENTINA: It all happened by serendipity. Way back in March my friend and colleague Kathy mentioned the International Oral History Association meeting coming up in Buenos Aires. Would I be going? No way! It wasn't even on my radar. And I completely forgot about the conversation. Then, towards the end of July as I was winding up a really big writing project, I wanted to reward myself with a really big treat.  As I was idly considering what would be a big enough treat for myself,  I recalled my conversation with Kathy, and I thought MMmmm.... an International Conference in my own field, in a new and exotic part of the world (to me), and a chance to meet new people and experience a part of the world I would probably never come to otherwise. So, I checked the details and made the reservations and here I am!.   I publicly thank my friend Kathy for introducing me to a chance of a lifetime!!

For the flavor, listen to Madonna/Evita's Don't Cry for Me Argentina, or Carlos Gardel's Mi Buenos Aires querido.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Japan Diary -- Wabi Sabi

There is a concept in Japanese culture called wabi-sabi that is broadly defined as transience or imperfection or asymmetry in nature, at least that what it means to me.  This concept stems from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence: impermanence, suffering, and emptiness of the self.

 I first heard about wabi-sabi in a store in Taos, New Mexico by the name of Wabi Sabi, long before I ever dreamed of going to Japan. This store sells household items crafted from wood whose inherent beauty lies in its own imperfections, gongs, wind chimes, and has a fountain running though it.

The idea enchanted me. It seemed a way to express my own aesthetic sense in two words. "Chasing wabi sabi," I admit, was one motivation for my Japan trip -- though I'm not so foolish to believe that an American can capture such a concept in 10 days in Japan.

 These are photos that said wabi sabi to me, though I can't explain why in all cases.

 This photo is nothing fancy -- just weathered wood on a fence that could be anywhere in the world. I found the subtle colors and textures quite enticing.

A detail from a bamboo forest outside Kyoto. Again, I found the special quality in the ordinary. I love the subtle textures and colors of this image.

This is an image of lichen on stone, no big deal. It could be taken anywhere in the world, including my own back yard, but the stones caught my fancy in Japan. I love the way the moss and lichen add character to the stones, each with a life story -- for the moss and lichen that story is recounted in seasons, for the stones it is marked in millennia.

I can't say for sure why this image ended up in my wabi sabi folder, except perhaps as a contrast. This photo, taken in Takayama, Japan, is a very Japanese scene, but with all of the control, order, symmetry, and modern references that counter balance wabi sabi.

Still seems wabi sabi to me. But then I'm still learning.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Japan Diary -- 1st reflections

Imperial Palace, Tokyo

Beginning my fifth day in Japan, I've been to Kyoto and back to Tokyo, with enough time time in Japan for some observations: 

THE PEOPLE are wonderful. Every positive stereotype you’ve ever heard about the Japanese people is true. They are friendly, kind, clean, good natured, honest, organized, polite, respectful, and genuinely welcoming of foreigners. In fact, the only reason I’ve been able to navigate my way without knowing the language or even being able to read is that people are willing to go that extra mile in helping me, and to do it with a smile.
Yesterday I was resting in a temple garden when four young students approached me with shy smiles. Without a single word in common, with smiles and gestures they indicated  they wanted to take a photo of me. Their teacher was in the background encouraging them to try out English to strangers. We not only got a photo, but also practiced introductions in English and Japanese and parted with a handshake and a smile.  Later that day I lost my way to the train station and stopped in a café to ask directions via sign language. The proprietress left her café to guide me down the street to find my way.  These are examples of my good experiences that happen many times every day.

SPACE. Everything is just a little smaller in Japan – the interior spaces, the cars, the roads, the food portions , even the people themselves.  Somehow they have it all figured out so that everything is scaled to just the right size so that not a centimeter is wasted but that all needs are filled.  I first noticed it in my hotel room, an understated elegance that fits together perfectly, but just a little smaller than I’m used to. The bed is a little smaller, the ceiling a little lower, the hallway a little narrower, but everything is there.

Conversely, public spaces are also built to scale, but built to accommodate the vast numbers of people that share them, in subways, sidewalks, train stations, and parks. Yesterday I was on the train at rush hour. It was packed when I got on – the standing room space looked full to me. But as we approached the city the people on the train doubled – we were truly squashed like sardines. Everyone was orderly and took it in their stride, as though this happens every day, which it probably does. The people have a instinctive sense for boundaries of personal space, and are and thrive by living closely. Tokyo, for example, is a city of 13 million people, a population density of 16,000 per square mile.

 COMPLEXITY. My friend Vivian tells me her fascination with Japan is the way the old and new, and the spiritual and material co-exist in harmony. Her words keep coming back to me as I travel through Japan. I see this juxtaposition at every turn of the road – Japanese men in business suits praying at the temple, women in kimonos checking their smart phones, a monk on a motor scooter, the Imperial Palace against a backdrop of sky scrapers. These photos were taken just a short distance from each other – one showing the Japanese reverence for cherry blossoms (Tokyo Park) and the other their obsession with gadgets (Akihabara neighborhood, the electronics center of the world).

MY JAPAN CONNECTION. I used to have a photo of my father in Japan. It was taken in the fall of 1945, a few days or weeks after the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My father is in the foreground in his navy officer’s uniform, with bones and other human parts in front of him against a backdrop of the remains of buildings. I’m not even sure where it was taken, but somehow Yokohama rings a bell.

Nagasaki 1945
The photo has disappeared and my father has passed away, along with his own Japan story. I know only this: When I was 6 weeks old my father shipped out, a medical officer on a navy mine sweeper. The ship was near Guam when the atom bomb was dropped, and like all navy ships in the Pacific, his went straight to Japan. As a medical doctor, his task was to administer aid and bring what medical supplies were available (sounds ironic to me, first to drop an atomic bomb, then to go in with medical supplies!). I have only my imagination and my US-centric school girl's history of WWII to piece together what he might have seen, heard, smelled, and felt.

 And what Japan might have been half a century ago in the spring of 1945 when I was born, and again so few months later after the dreadful bombing.  How many people on these streets were witness to World War II. Is the war the reason there are so few old people on the streets? How have they integrated that story into their own lives. What of those dreadful years did they pass on to their children – the people in business suits I see in the streets of Tokyo? These are questions I’ll keep asking while I’m here and for a long time after I get home.


Japan Diary -- 1st impressions

View from my hotel at dawn my first morning in Tokyo
I arrived in Tokyo a day late due to a stupid snafu with flights. It turned out fine, so the only casualty was one day less in Japan. It was raining when my plane landed and by the time I got to the train station it was also dark. Completely bewildered I schlepped my luggage around the station looking unsuccessfully for a way out, then once out searched for my hotel in the rainy, dark, busy rush hour of Tokyo.Those first couple of hours were the only hard time I had in Japan. Now that I'm getting the hang of things I want to record my first impressions before they fade away:
Insert key and turn on lights
  • SO MANY PEOPLE. How can they all live so harmoniously, sharing their precious space?
  • Tokyo Station is a terrifying maze. Will  I ever be able to find my way around as well as the Japanese?
  • Found my hotel thanks to a number of kind Japanese along the way. WHEW! What a welcome site! 
  • Hotel room is comfortable, cozy and compact. Has all the essentials -- bed, bath, natural light, phone, Internet, and so on, but scaled down about 15% in size from American hotels. Why do we Americans need so much space?
  • Uh-oh. Got to my room and can’t turn on the lights. Turns out a wooden stick attached to the key must be inserted into a socket to activate the electricity for the room. A place to store the key so it won’t be lost AND assurance that guests will not leave lights on when they go out. How ingenious!!
  • Internet connectivity is excellent.
  • A good night's sleep but, of course, jet lag. I wake up at 4:30 just as dawn breaks over Tokyo. See photo above.
  •  Fewer trash containers around town, not because Japan is so dirty, but because it is so clean. My guidebook says people sometimes take their trash home, so as not to dirty up the city.
  • No paper towels in public restrooms. Japanese women carry a small towel to dry their hands.
  • People dress formally. Japanese men scurrying around in business suits (very few women looking dressed for the business world); students all over the place in attractive uniforms.
  • No dirt. No graffiti. No homeless. No panhandlers. No unnecessary noise. No grumpy Japanese. None!
  • In  restaurants, the waiters yell out something whenever someone enters (thankfully not for me). I’m not sure what that is all about.
  • Japanese love everything French. Including French bakeries!
  • A very organized country. I won’t have trouble getting around, despite the language.
I captured this scene my first morning in Tokyo. The Japanese adore cherry blossoms.

See more photos


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

All the Strong Women Before Women's Lib

cFelix S. & Lucy Kramer Cohen Photograph Collection
My friend Nancy Bickel recently screened her documentary, A twentieth century woman:  Lucy Kramer Cohen, 1907-2007. It made me wonder about the strong, smart women who survived and thrived before Betty Freidan and Glora Steinem and NOW.
As the film so lovingly depicts, Lucy Kramer Cohen was an extraordinary woman, living among extraordinary people, in extraordinary times.  As a smart daughter of Jewish immigrants in NYC, she was clearly destined for a life of the mind. At Barnard College in the mid 1920s she studied mathematics, anthropology, Greek, and Latin, and worked as Franz Boas' research assistant.

Her marriage to Felix Cohen was a partnership of the mind as well as in life. Lucy was a partner and soulmate in political causes, philosophical interests, and in his work developing a legal code for American Indians.Though their partnership was equal and mutually respectful, the film implies that much of the work and wrtings that bear Felix's name really were in a large part Lucy's as well.

Lucy's story got me wondering about the strong women in my own family past. Both my grandmothers were doctors. I never knew this side of their story till I was an adult and had to dig it out on my own, after their deaths. Their public face was wife, mother, and grandmother.

My paternal grandmother, Grace Wilson Milne, was an osteopathic physician in a dusty town in western Colorado, in the early 20th century. The story is that she was a "modern woman" in a small-minded small town. They say she was the first woman in Grand Junction to become a doctor and the first woman to own a car. And she married at age 40.She was not liked by my father's large Scottish family, so I never heard her side of the story. Probably she was rather controlling and a little crazy, but what else could you be if you are a woman who is smart, visionary, energetic, and female in a small dusty town in western Colorado?

Sarah MacKay Austin, South America
My maternal grandmother, Sarah MacKay Austin, grew up in a country home in western Illinois. She had all the proper education -- finishing school (Francis Schimer Academy), then University of Illinois, then Vassar, then University of Michigan to become the first woman PhD in Psychology (about 1918).
In the midst of her education she "said yes" to her long time suitor (my grandfather) and began her life as a wife, mother, and grandmother. The photo to the right is Sarah somewhere in South America on her honeymoon about 1915 (she married a mining engineer, but that is another story).
 I got to know Sarah when I was a teenager and my family moved nearby. By that time she had been married -- as far as I know, happily --  almost 50 years. I knew her only as an efficient household manager, charming entertainers, and a stable -- though emotionally distant -- grandmother.

Lucy. Grace. Sarah. Intelligent, worldly, educated women who came of age about a century ago and viewed their role through a lens of their time. Did they ask the same questions we do about women's role? Did they feel they traded a career or life-of-the-mind for home and family? Where did their thoughts wander to in those quiet moments between tending to little ones and tending to the hearth? I suspect they asked questions like everybody does, but that they were shaped differently. I'm not sure my grandmothers would approve of the world today. I suspect they made decisions based on life circumstances, their own instincts, and a little bit of randomness. As for Lucy, she said it right out loud, "I loved math, I love thinking things out, and I needed a job."

Thursday, February 09, 2012

New Mexico Postcard -- Epilogue

On January 14 we packed  our belongings in my tiny Mini Cooper and  drove away from Taos, ending my wonderful four months as a writing recluse. We drove over the mountains and through the snowfields to stop at Chama for a warm drink and a picnic in the tiny public park by the railroad yard.

Chama is an old railroad and lumber town, now turned to tourism, but only in the summer and fall so we had the town pretty much to ourselves. After some asking around we found a small cafe  and got our warm drinks.This is a photo of the clock in the center of town.

Refreshed from the stop, we headed straight west to Farmington (oil town) for the night, and early the next morning left New Mexico for good (well, not really, but for now).

We crossed right into the Navajo Reservation, and took a detour into the Four Corners National Monument, where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona meet at a single point. Here is a photo of Jonathan and me with a foot in each state.

We took another detour through the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert National Park and on to Canyon de Chelley National Monument. What a full day!
 Here is photo of the of Spider Rock, the most photographed rock formation, out of the many other  rock formations. 

Canyon de Chelly is amazing, but just a teaser for the grandeur of Grand Canyon. January is a great time to see the Canyon, since we had the park almost to ourselves.

Here is one photo, but there are plenty more on my Picasa album

After two days in Grand Canyon we headed straight to Oakland. It was a wonderful trip, and a wonderful way to conclude my Taos journey.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Mexico postcard #10

Sadly, this will be my last New Mexico postcard, at least for this year. Yesterday Jonathan and I drove through the Sangre de Cristo mountains through Truchas, Chimayo and the other villages that seem so unchanged through the centuries and what make northern New Mexico so special. Today we walked through Taos and bade farewell to my favorite spots.

Here are my last ... ahh, yes, sentimental photos of my time in Taos.

This was taken in the mesa above Truchas. The main road in the village, gets gradually narrower, then turns to dirt as it heads towards the mountains. This is a snow field showing the .. well, the only word I have for it is the SPACE that defines the Southwest. No sense of getting too crowded around here!

Ristras (the hanging peppers) are a symbol of northern New Mexico. Aren't they lovely! This photo was taken at the Rancho de Chimayo restaurant, which unfortunately was closed when we arrived. But I was able to capture this image. We went to Chimayo so Jonathan could pick up a custom woven vest done by the Chimayo Weavers.

Today we walked through Taos. This building is so typical of Taos and southwest architecture.
 The day's treat was when we walked into the new art gallery of Taos painter Ouray Meyers. Not only is Ouray a distinguished artist, but also has a most interesting family history. Ouray's father Ralph Meyers, is one the first and most successful trader in New Mexico. Ouray's newest gallery includes a "museum" showcasing some momentos that his family has collected. He gave us a personal tour of the museum, which included some possessions of Kit Carson, Bishop Lamy, sacred Indian artifacts, and spurs from the conquistadores. I was honored that Ouray would take us through his locked collections.

Then we walked down to LaDoux Street, a charming walkway where old Taoseno homes are now upscale galleries, but very tasteful. Neither Jonathan nor I could resist the temptation to get photographed next to this mural:
We got home from our walk just in time for a Taos sunset from the bedroom window: This isn't the only amazing Taos sky scene. I also see the moon, the stars, the pink dawn, the blue midday sky and all the variations of sky -- the stuff that we can't see or are not aware of in the city, especially the foggy Bay Area.

This is my last Taos entry. Soon we head to California via Canyon de Chelly and Grand Canyon. And back to real life!