Cincinnati, a renaissance town

April 13, 2014

Image

I am torn between touting Cincinnati’s treasures and keeping the city under wraps so I can continue to easily park my car downtown. The spirit of Cincinnati is what I image the spirit of Florence was during the Renaissance: so much happening and most of it creative, innovative and exciting. The streetcar is a work in progress and will add to the city’s charm and convenience.

The eight-story Hotel Cincinnatian, built in 1882 in the French Second Empire style, was a surprise even before I entered. On the street, a London taxi idled. Its name is Maxwell and the driver knows all the best restaurants. When I complimented the hotel doorman on his impressive top hat, he pointed across the street.  Batsakes Hat Shop has been a modest corner store since 1907.  The owner, Gus Miller, has be crafting hats for more than fifty years the old way. He measures heads and uses equipment that would make prized museum pieces: a steam cleaner and re-shaper, wooden blocks to shape hats, and razors in wooden brim cutters. His customers include both Presidents Bush, Pavarotti, Bill Cosby, Red Skeleton, Tony Bennett and other celebrities.

Inside the Cincinnatian, I was surprised to meet Don Pigiovanni, one of the hundred fiberglass pigs scattered around town during Cincinnati’s 2012 Big Pig Gig. The bejeweled porker stands in the elegant lobby near an original walnut and marble staircase. This grand hotel once had 300 rooms and boasted a shared bathroom at the end of each corridor. Renovated in 1987, the hotel has 146 rooms surrounding a sizable atrium with sky lights. The rooms have ample space, fine furnishings and old world charm.

Old World, until you enter your futuristic bathroom with heated floors. An eight-foot long walk-in shower has rain showerheads at both ends plus body sprayers that can blast away the most stubborn aches. The deep soaking bubble tub has chromo-therapy lights. Or you can watch the TV suspended from the ceiling. Perhaps some multi-tasking overachievers do both. The toilet is closeted like a Victorian unmentionable. I appreciated the vanity table and Gilchrist & Soames toiletries. 

Exploring Mainstrasse Village

I was struck with a novel dilemma: abandon myself to the bathtub or drive to Kentucky. My traveling spirit won, and I was soon exploring Mainstrasse Village in Covington, Kentucky, just over the river. Covering five blocks, the village is a restored 19th Century German neighborhood.  Shops and restaurants are in renovated houses. There are no “souvenir stores” just shops owned by people sharing their particular interests. An old fashioned candy shop, a cymbal shop, a magic shop, a general store are as unique as the little restaurants serving German, Italian, and Cajun food.

I debated between the English pub and an interesting little place called The Main Bite. Once a narrow shotgun house, the owner lives in the back and serves guests in the parlor. For an appetizer I enjoyed pita with sundried tomato and artichoke dip that was obviously and deliciously homemade. The mac ‘n’ cheese was made with gouda and cheddar and topped with caramelized onions and bacon. All the herbs used by the owner are grown by her.  Once skeptical of the culinary trend of turning kitchen staples into gourmet dishes, I am now a believer.

Goodbye England’s Rose

That afternoon, I had a timed ticket to the award-winning “Diana, a Celebration” exhibit that ends its 11-year global tour in August 2014. It is displayed in Cincinnati’s museum complex, once the busy Union (train) Terminal. The exhibit begins with Diana’s family tree and ancestral portraits followed by photographs of her family and predictably large family jewels. The next room is more personal with artifacts from Diana’s childhood including toys, books, and diaries. Home movies play on the video monitor.

A room is devoted to her engagement and is a fitting prelude to the stunning hall of the wedding. Her wedding dress, train fully extended, is in a glass case. Her intricately designed dress is of such fine silk, it can be lifted with one finger (minus the train). Her wedding shoes have suede soles so she would not slip during the most televised wedding in history. Only two people in the world are authorized to handle this national treasure of a wedding dress. They fly in from London to set up and dismantle the exhibit as it moves around the world.

Another room displays 28 of her designer outfits. Her evolution as a style setter can be seen as she refines her fashion sense through her royal years. She had a brief Jackie phase with the first lady’s iconic pill box hats and then moves on to the style that was uniquely her own. My favorite is an Easter suit displayed with coats for her little sons made with the same fabric. The dress she wore to her last public function is black, foreshadowing her untimely death.

The next room is the most difficult for those who remember the People’s Princess. A video display of her funeral cortege is surrounded with thousands of real rose pedals, now brown and curling. Elton John’s adaptation of “Candle in the Wind” that he sang at her funeral plays softly. The first draft of her brother’s eulogy has his bitter words against the paparazzi crossed out

Cincinnati, known as the Queen City, celebrates the Princess with English teas served at some hotels and also celebrates philanthropic women of the city with a companion gallery “Princesses of the Queen City.” 

Hanky Pankys and Hot Dogs

The Rookwood Restaurant is an 1892 repurposed Rookwood Pottery Plant. pottery plant serving locally sourced and locally loved food. You can eat in one of the original kilns that can accommodate a table of ten. Cincinnati is famous for its chili, so I ordered the Rookwood’s version with smoked Anaheim peppers, four types of beans, scallions, white cheddar and the homey touch of goldfish crackers. The chili had an initial burn that I quickly got used to and now expect in future chilies. It is serious chili for people who are serious about chili. Of course, I had to try the Hanky Panky as I had never heard of it. Simply put, it is a satisfying mixture of textures and flavors all in one bite. There are many versions, but mine had Glier’s goetta, emmentaller béchamel, and house giardinera on marble rye. Goetta was another mystery ingredient and goes back to the town’s German roots. It is a crispy-tender, fried sausage patty made from ground pork shoulder combined with steel cut oats and flavored with bay leaves and rosemary. Once peasant fare, it tastes as gourmet as the mac ‘n’ cheese over at The Main Bite. 

The next morning, Maxwell and I toodledto The French Crust in Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine neighborhood. This authentic little café even gets the accent right. I reluctantly passed up the Croque Monsieur for puff pastry with goetta, poached egg and hollandaise sauce. While it may sound like an adventure in French-German fusion food, it was a delicious breakfast served in a French casserole.

Over the Rhine is an intriguing strolling neighborhood, particularly when I learned that less than 15 years ago it was slum housing scheduled for demolition. The city fathers (and mothers) campaigned to save the neighborhood. It contains the largest collection of Italianate architecture in the United States. Eclectic shops include a poster store, a book café, a floral boutique, specialty food markets, antique shops, and Rookwood Pottery. It also has a variety of European and Asian restaurants.

But I settled for a good old American hot dog. The Senate bar and grill is tucked into one of the historic homes and is famous for its hot dogs. As Cate Blanchette was in town filming the movie Carol, their hot dog offerings included an off-the-menu Cate selection that looked about as tasteful as a hot dog can look. I ordered the Lindsay Lohan. “It’s a mess because she’s a mess,” the waiter explained.  My beef hot dog was buried under goat cheese, caramelized onions, bacon, arugula, balsamic, and “lots of drama.” Lots of taste as well.

Cincinnati was a city I changed planes in or drove around on my way to Lexington or Columbus. Who knew, the little noticed port city on the Ohio is now a Renaissance town with a great sense of humor.

An utterly fine farm near Mesa

March 3, 2014

Superstition tractor

My family is rooted in the farms of Ohio County, Kentucky, so I am steeped in folk knowledge. One erudite superstition is that if you lay down right after you eat, you will turn into a cow. Great aunts and uncles that farmed when I was a child were champion Sunday dinner chased with moonshine diners. Every visit, I counted carefully. There was never one less relative snoozing on a porch swing and one more cow in the pasture. Still, why would they make such a big deal out of turning into cows if a truth did not lurk beneath the hyperbole?

Near Mesa, Arizona, I found 1,000 relatives and ancestors contentedly mooing at Superstition Farm. One looked like Aunt Lily Mae with her soft brown eyes and flapping lips. Was that Uncle Cicero Timolean plodding to the water trough? The brown blotches of skin sure looked familiar as did the bovine trod to the source of liquid “refreshment.”

Superstition Farm is a fun place for the young’uns – and their grandparents. Need something to do with the kids? Go to Superstition Farm. Need to get away from the kids? Go to Superstition Farm. Tired of the mall and city folk? Go to Superstition Farm.

The narrated hay ride around the cow enclosures and milking sheds is entertaining and informative. Animal rights activists would not find anything to get agitated about. These cows are treated like the valuable commodity they are. You can feel good about the beef you eat and the milk you drink when you see their balanced diet, clean enclosures, shady areas, and ample room to socialize and meander. Ohio County never looked so good.

In addition to the hay ride, there is a petting zoo, small market of just-picked produce and a milk bar with 12 flavors of milk to choose from. I moved on from orange milk, passed up banana milk, and downed the grape milk. It was as close to moonshine as I was going to get in this county that does not consider white lightening a basic food group.

As for their ice cream, they call it an “udder delight.” Yessiree Bob, I had two scoops

Where the boys of summer spend the winter

February 27, 2014

I am not a baseball fan, in part because of a ten-year bout with “bleacher butt” acquired while cheering three kids through Little League. My song of summer is “Take me out of the Ball Game” and, for the record, I hate peanuts and cracker jacks. If I root root root for anything it is for my dog to escape the village dog catcher so I won’t have to pay yet another fine to Animal Control.

I did not become a Chicago Cubsfan until the day I barely made it out of a Chicago blizzard to the warm breezes of Mesa, Arizona. The fine Mexican food and light-sweater evenings were expected, and I luxuriated in them. But wait. Why was I hearing “Cubs” every where I went? Even I know there are no Arizona Cubs, no Mesa Cubs.

Mesa is where the Chicago Cubs go for spring training, and the Cubs are so important to Mesa that the town built them an $84 million training facility with six fan-accessible practice fields and a 15,000-seat stadium. This is all part of a 140-acre community park and pond so Mesa Cub fans who footed the bill can picnic and watch the kids run around while watching practice games and getting a sun tan,

Mesa’s Cubs Park may look like Wrigley Field with light standards and cantilevered roofs matching those in Chicago and a replica of the Wrigley Field marquee, but there is no snow during spring training season. There are plenty of activities for the Chicago-weary, both travelers and ball players, to forget about the “s” words: snow, sleet, slush, slips, slides, and expletives deleted.

I came for the sun and the food, and I left with a Cubs hat. Baseball still strikes me as kinda dumb and dull, but the Cubs are a savvy team to winter in Mesa. I’ll buy a ticket for that. See you at Wrigley in June. I’ll even eat a hot dog. Hold the cracker jacks and keep your mitts off my Cubs hat.

 

 

My forever face

January 12, 2014

Today, I gave my 70-year-old face a presentthe best thing I’ve done for it since I stopped smoking. When I was 12, my mother introduced me to the world of facial care with a jar of Noxema. The smell nearly knocked me out. Something with that big of a kick was legal?

For several years, I felt grown up with my jar of Noxema on my dresser and the stench chasing me in my dreams. Then, teenage rebellion kicked in. Noxema reeked of the 1940s. Never mind that my mother was beautiful and looked about 18 when she was 38. I would find my own product.

I bought the most expensive facial cream I could afford. Oil of Olay. For more than 50 years, I was loyal to Oil of Olay until I tried a bit of facial cream from Paris that cost more than my car. Oil of Olay felt like crank case oil after that. But it was affordable, and I haven’t spent much time hanging around mirrors since I became a grandmother. It was just my face for Pete’s sake. Who cared?

Finally, I decided my face was worth caring about as it has reached vintage status and qualifies for The Antique Road Show. I researched products with my lifestyle in mind. As a travel writer, I can go from Chicago’s 20 below to India’s 100 above in 18 hours. Then, there is the beach and airplanes that aspire to mummify passengers with their stingy dose of humidity. Traveling the way I do puts my face to the stress test. No cute little light-weight facial cream sold at parties would do the job.

LUMAVERA caught my attention, because the company founder, David Vargus, created the products using plant extracts his mother and grandmother used to defy aging under the Mexican sun. He added toxin-free  plant stem cell technology that revitalizes “vintage” skin.

Vargus says, “By combining my family’s traditional health remedies with today’s science of skin care and beauty in Lumavera products, I am excited to share this timeless wisdom…”

He was kind enough to send me a box of Lumavera products. They are stench free. I suppose when writing about a beauty product I should say, ‘fragrance free,’ but if you have ever smelled Noxema you are nodding your head..

The creams feel great and are giving my face the 24/7 emergency response it needs and may even deserve after all I put it through.If you want to do your face a favor, visit the website: http://www.lumavera.com

Little Stars in the City of Light

December 16, 2013

 

cancan pix

“Paris is always a good idea” — Audrey Hepburn

In the midst of our heated debate between Switzerland and Italy, my sister offered “Paris” like a peace treaty, and that ended the controversy. We made of a list of things to do besides buy scarves and visit the Mona Lisa and booked a boutique hotel in the Latin Quarter. We learned to decipher a Metro map (with a magnifying glass) along with the rewards and the limits of lists.

Parapluies Simon (Umbrellas Simon), 56 Boulevard St. Michel, was not on our list. We happened upon the shop on arrival day during our jet-lagged stumble to Luxembourg Gardens, which was on the list. This boutique with its ceiling vaulted like an open umbrella has been keeping Parisians chic and dry since 1897. Devoted to keeping the umbrella a fashion statement instead of a boring necessity, Parapluies Simon offers approximately 3,000 umbrellas for every mood and fashion. From frilly parasols to stately gray umbrellas with ivory handles that could take on a monsoon, the shop gave us even more respect for the capitol city of style. The shop also offers umbrella repair services. “Only in Paris,” we sighed, “would one own an umbrella worth repairing.”

Luxembourg Gardens
We eventually wilted into chairs in Luxembourg Gardens and watched children sail rented toy boats in the central fountain. The Gardens were created by Marie de Medicis in the 1600s to surround the Palais du Luxembourg she had constructed to replicate her childhood home: Florence’s Palazzo Pitti. The Palais now houses the French Senate, but the gardens are open to the public and free. On Sundays an orchestra plays in the bandstand, children ride ponies, and even adults sail toy boats. The park has many strolling paths and hundreds of moveable chairs. We read for awhile beside the fountain before exploring. Two delightful finds were a miniature bronze Statue of Liberty and the Medici fountain tucked into a shady glade. Although it was early fall, flowers bloomed in formal gardens validating writer Henry van Dyke’s observation: “Paris is a woman’s town with flowers in her hair.”

Moulin Rouge and more
The Moulin Rouge was not on our list, but a friend from Geneva who met us in Paris wanted to go. He wanted to go so badly he bought new glasses for the occasion and asked wistfully if we could go twice. No. Like the gondola ride in Venice, the Moulin Rouge is something to do. Once. It is a melting pot of tour groups, and the dress code is “whatever.” The meal was three ho-hum courses, the champagne was high quality, and the show was a tasteful, topless, two-hour extravaganza. The only disturbing act was an underwater swim by a topless woman and several bored-looking boa constrictors. In addition to dancers in sparkling costumes gyrating in flashing, blinking lights, acrobats defied gravity and a ventriloquist defied physics. The Moulin Rouge has been drawing crowds since 1889 when the cancan was decidedly naughty.

The best thing about the Moulin Rouge was that it inspired a keen interest in the bohemian Montmartre district. Here is where the cancan was born and the first cabaret, Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat), opened in 1881. The cabaret is now a boutique hotel, but the district retains much of its bohemian ambience.

Posters and paintings of the Black Cat abound at the Museum of Montmartre, 12 rue Cortot. This charming 300-year-old house contains paintings, photographs, and posters that illustrate the bohemian history of the neighborhood. “Le Moulin Rouge” by Toulouse-Lautrec and the “Theatre d’Ombres” by Henri Riviere are two of its most important works. Renoir’s studio was here, and the gardens were recreated using his paintings as a guide. You can sit on a swing swaying in the exact location of his painting “Girl on a Swing” now hanging in Paris’ Orsay Museum. The painting was ill-received when he completed it in 1876 and probably never will be put up for auction. Two of Renoir’s paintings have sold for more than US$70 million, and the Orsay knows how to hang on to its treasures.

From the garden, you can see a vineyard that has existed since the Middle Ages and was replanted in 1933. According to the New York Times, the vineyard is reputed to make the most expensive bad wine in Paris. We decided not to sample the wine, but the view is stunning.

Le Petit Prince
We saved the most poignant attraction on our list for our last day. The official Le Petit Prince store, 57, Boulevard Arago, is in a quiet Parisian neighborhood. No grand marquee announces its location, and we walked by it once expecting bright lights and helium balloons. But the shop is as modest as the Little Prince and, like his asteroid, has just what we needed: silk scarves made in France, baby clothes, note cards and post cards, little cups and plates, mugs, fuzzy foxes and sheep, and the Prince’s proud rose with four thorns.

We wondered, perhaps for the first time since we were children, if the sheep ate the Prince’s cherished rose. After all these decades it remains an important question — as important as sunsets are to the Little Prince. What do we tell the grandchildren after we read them the book and give them each a fuzzy sheep? We will tell them that the sheep did not eat the rose, because children who read the book draw what the pilot forgot to draw: a strap for the sheep’s muzzle. If you missed the book by Saint-Exupery, it was published in 1943 and is the most read and most translated book in the French language. Our mother was reading it to us before we could toddle.

Legendary sandwich
Lunch in the Marais District was a leap from fantasy fiction to fantastic food. Sacha Finkelstein’s, 27 rue des Rosiers, is a family-owned kosher deli and bakery serving the community since 1946. At some point it caught on with the international community. And no wonder. Its signature sandwich with pastrami, eggplant, pickles, and tomatoes is served on a poppy seed and onion bun. We were too full for dessert, but we could not leave the cheesecake for another day. We carried two servings back to our hotel. Don’t tell Mom, but we spoiled our dinner with satin-smooth, lemon cheesecake and were whimpering for more.

French fries in France
That night, instead of fine dining, we strolled around the Latin Quarter. Shakespeare and Company Book Store, 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, was a special treat with its maze of rooms and selection of books both current and rare. That first edition of Babar the fictional elephant was hard to pass up. Hunger struck with a surprising twist. “I want to eat French fries in France,” my sister said. We bought French fries at a gyros shop and carried our snacks to a park bench facing the Seine. Notre Dame gleamed under flood lights and the moon rose as we finished our fries and agreed with Hepburn that Paris is always a good idea.

Originally published in LuxuryWeb Magazine December 2013

Beat the press

August 23, 2013

Carol  award cropped (757x800)I was pleased to accept the 2012 Jacqueline Jackson Award for Creative Non Fiction on July 14, 2013, in Springfield, Illinois. This annual award is presented by the University of Illinois/Springfield Alumni Writers Collective. I was unable to clearly hear what the award was really for, but today I received the hard copy:

“[This award] is a recognition of courage in the face of the blank page; the victory in filling it with words; the wisdom of crossing most of them out; the tenacity of refilling the page; the humor and madness that is writing; the luck that conjures and cajoles the story, the essay, the memoir, the poem, or something else; and the love that is sharing it with others.”

I also received a newspaper clipping about the award that stated I spent “twenty heartbreaking years in Haiti and a few in Italy.” Now, if a news story can get away with such fiction, why did I have to promise a gathering of my peers and my sister and grandson to “never let the facts get in the way of a good story”?

The facts are I spent twenty plus years writing about poverty; and as heartbreaking as trips to developing countries are, I wrote most of the stuff in a first world office while living right here in Chicagoland with “we deliver” restaurants on speed dial.

Facts aside, here’s a factoid: even a week in Haiti will break your heart for the next twenty years. The journalist who got it wrong, also got it right.

Punta Cana bait and switch

July 7, 2013

We selected Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, for our three-generation, all-inclusive beach week, because we thought the youngest generation should have a day of culture and history sandwiched between pool and beach. Santo Domingo is just a three hour drive from the resorts that define Punta Cana. Yes, Columbus slept in Santo Domingo and might be buried there, although Spain argues against that sacrilege.

Where we slept was an important consideration that needed to be balanced by budget. Our “garden view” room at NOW Larimar was in an unspecified location, but as the farthest building looked close enough on the map, we figured we could deal with any “garden view” room. As the van from the airport drove past an outlying hotel building and then on and on to the reception pavilion, my mind ceased its inner soothing tropical music and snarled “bait and switch.”

Yes, we were assigned to what we came to call “the projects.” Despite free golf cart rides to the beach, we knew we had to take the upgrade offer. Our “preferred” room was, literally, steps to the private pool with swim up bar for “preferred” guests, and our balcony had a fine view of the sea. We could enjoy the sea view in a Jacuzzi tub on our porch while other guests, “preferred” one would hope, sauntered by perhaps wondering why we were taking baths in bathing suits.

Rose petals scattered on the beds was an over the top romantic touch for a grandmother, mother, and grandson, but appreciated. Our maid tried to do something artistic with my nightgown, a leftover from Greece. It looked like a melted plastic peony and reminded me I was long overdue for a trip to Paris to buy fetching lingerie–to impress the maids, of course. At my age, the most divine lingerie would not look fetching off the hanger.

The pool, beach, room, and service were exquisite, making for a near perfect beach week that went way over budget. The food was lamentable, but dieting is a virtue and we managed to be virtuous in the buffet line and in the specialty restaurants. But, really, shouldn’t they advertise “food sucks here” so guests can plan for a weight loss week and feel virtuous in advance?

The day trip to Santo Domingo will be covered in a later post. All parents and grandparents should dutifully take the kids there — and warn them in advance so they won’t scream “bait and switch” when you drag them off the beach

In Chicago’s Greektown, skip the museum and go for the yogurt

June 29, 2013

 

National Hellenic Museum (495x640)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicago’s National Hellenic Museum in Greektown is billed as “ the first and only major museum in the country dedicated to the Greek journey, from ancient times to the modern Greek American experience.”

So, of course, I had to take my grandson as he had just finished Rick Riordon’s novels and knows more about Greek mythology than I do. From Chicago’s Western ‘burgs, the best way to get to Greektown is to drive to the Forest Park el station, park for $3 a day, take the el to UIC/Halsted and walk one block north. We walked one block past the museum to fuel up on gyros. Good food, but the table was dirty, so I’m not mentioning the restaurant. After wiping off the table, we discussed Greek sculpture and Grecian urns over our authentic tasting gyros.

I should have saved my breath and simply booked a trip to Greece. The museum would have been funny if we had not wasted a half day on our Grecian Journey. After paying $10 for me and $8 for the 11-year-old, I was in that exciting discovery mode — and to share it with my grandson? My heart beat faster.

I should have saved my cardio workout for the gym.

Here’s what’s to see at the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago: colorful posters about the history of the Olympics; colorful posters about Greek food; and restored photographs from 1880 to 1950 of Greeks in America. I could have sworn I’d seen those Ellis Island photos before. Often. In every exhibit about immigrants and on History Channel.

As for actual artifacts, we viewed a wedding dress circa 1900 and wrestling shorts circa 1930. No Grecian urns. No ancient statues. I asked an attendant if there were any ancient Greek statues in Greektown. He thought the closest was at the Art Institute.

“Should we take a cab, Grandma,” asked my grandson.

I uttered an age-appropriate negative.

On our way back to the el stop, we visited a Greek bakery where I was pleased to find homemade yogurt and honey imported from Greece. Hardly worth a half day and the expense of getting there, but my mood lifted. The day would not be wasted. Forest Park is close to Oak Park, home to the best Greek restaurant I have found in Chicagoland.

In Oak Park, we drove up and down Lake Street looking for the restaurant and checking my iPhone to verify address. It was not only closed, it was abandoned. Not to worry. Petersen’s Ice Cream Parlor in Oak Park never disappoints. Two scoops in a waffle cone redeemed our day.

Finding Jesus in San Filipe, Italy

March 25, 2013

After an idyllic few days in SorrentoItaly, Bob, Joan, and I headed to the Adriatic and got lost somewhere in the middle of Italy trying to find San Filipe , a little hill town not on the map. The attraction was a personal tour of the town by Tony, an acquaintance of Bob’s who lives there part time. We were lost for only four hours, and the farmers and shop keepers we asked for directions were delighted to help out. They all said, “straight ahead.” The roads are curvy and fork frequently with no hint as to what “straight ahead” might mean.

Tony is a retired priest, which is a blessing for his parish. We took the free tour of San Filipe and enjoyed the homemade gelato, which his housekeeper made. I don’t think Tony has the humility to tie his own shoes.

Looking through a grated window beneath San Felipe’s only church, I saw a dusty glass coffin with someone in it, probably waxed, and dried flowers in the coffin. Of course I had to know the story, so Bob asked Tony, who didn’t know anything about it. Bob asked the church’s priest, who had been there six years, and he said, “Oh, we use that room for storage.” Bob asked an old-timer who, when Bob pointed to the grate, assumed he was pointing to the church, and said, “Jesus Christ is in there.”

“Straight ahead,” Joan said in Italian, a phrase we had all learned to speak flawlessly,

We dumped Tony, who wanted a free ride (and delivered home) to a restaurant only 40 miles away on dark, curvy roads. It was late, so we went to the restaurant without him. It was closed. We descended on the nearest sizable town, registered in a gloomy four-star hotel and were soon chasing our wine with pizza at the closest trattoria.

Hint: in Italy four-star hotel means ensuite bathroom and the manager had some gold paint.

to be continued…

Option for the Poor

March 18, 2013

When Pope Francis was elected, I remembered hearing about the church’s “preferential option for the poor” about 20 years ago and now have some hope that the church, and society, and maybe even me might give more thought to those in need.

The option for the poor asks everyone to realize the plight of those who struggle to survive and to put the needs of the most vulnerable members of society above selfish interests. But who are “the poor”? And are we really supposed to care about “the poor” when we are struggling to pay the bills and every paycheck buys less of what we need? And how do I draw the line between what I need and what I want?

Those are the questions I struggle with, and I have no answer. The following poem sent by a friend, who wishes to be anonymous, helps me put poverty into perspective but does not answer my questions. Perhaps it is a daily, even hourly decision. Do I “need” that $80 haircut when all I am doing for the next six weeks is teaching school? A $12 haircut won’t frighten children or violate the dress code. As for mirrors, I gave them up when I turned 60. Sixty-eight dollars would feed a Third World family for a month or more. OUCH.

I’m pasting my friend’s poem in my wallet. Maybe that will help.

  Similitude

I have never been in a sand storm

But I have had grit in my eyes

And was driven crazy by the discomfort

One must feel in the desert.  I have been

Out of work, taking whatever job

I could, selling door-to-door,

on the phone, selling lies to honest people,

and yes, I know what it’s like

Not to pay the bills and feel  

the crushing pain in my chest,

toss sleepless in the nights and feed

My three daughters mushroom soup

Mixed with cheap noodles for dinners

with peanut butter on day-old bread

for lunch.  I know this and much more, 

But I do not know what it’s like

Being poor all your life and feeling

The pain and humiliation every day

You’re alive knowing there’s no escape.

 

 

 

 

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 180 other followers

%d bloggers like this: