Family in Paris

Dear Liza,

After a few days in Paris, walking and seeing and eating, we got to add another verb… hanging out with family! Auntie Katie and Cousins Jasper and Kestrel joined us as part of their own whirlwind visit to Europe.

Auntie Katie and Auntie Bridgett both love comics, so they found Aaapoum Bapoum and had a nice conversation with the fellow who runs the place. It was wonderful seeing all the comic characters we know (and a whole bunch more that we don’t know) speaking French.

After a while, some of us moved on to a quiet café, and spent a long afternoon chatting and introducing Jasper to Grandpa Nelson’s favorite French food, the Dame Blanche. You know it as a hot fudge sundae.

And that night at dinner, the family got even bigger! Auntie Olga came to enjoy a week in Paris with us.

The next day found us all at le Jardin de Luxembourg. We had taken snacks and wandered about, finding tiny bits of spring just beginning to pop up. Katie and Kestrel worked on a story we started, then headed off to the sailboat pond.

This is something that Parisian kids have been doing for generations, renting little sailboats and sending them off across the pond. Who knew you could have so much fun with just a boat and a stick?

Cousin Jasper wanted to head off in search of Space Invaders, so I went along. This is a game started by an artist who applies little tiled images to buildings. The object is to wander the city, find and photograph the images, and see how many you can get.

It was a fine adventure, plowing through the crowded streets of Paris in search of things most folks didn’t even know were there. Keeping up with Jasper at full speed sure got me my exercise for the day!

At the end of a long, happy day, we headed back to our own quiet rooms and recharged for the next adventure.


Grandma Judy

Still Duolingo-ing

Dear Liza,

I have now been practicing French with Duolingo every day for 800 days in a row! This is partly an advantage of being retired; I don’t need to get up and go anywhere first thing in the morning. Cereal, coffee, and Duolingo are my first activities. Partly it is having a reliable study-buddy in Auntie Bridgett.

And partly it is a big, buttery longing to return to La Belle France!

I remember our trip to Paris in 2006, when my ignorance of even basic French drove me to tears of frustration and made for some awkward moments.

It was better in 2008, when we included Angers, Angouleme and Nantes in our itinerary. Having studied with Rick Hughes, I could read the wonderful historic plaques. I could understand the menus and signage at train stations.

But I still couldn’t talk to anyone! French seemed to gallop by while my brain trudged at a snail’s pace.

When we returned a few years later, I had done some Duolingo and studied with Veronique Sepulchre, and I felt more capable. I was still speaking French like a backwards child, but I was speaking French!

And when we are finally able to travel internationally again, I plan to be Paris ready.

La ville de lumiere, je vais retourner!


Grandma Judy

Hungry for Public Art

When I was growing up, there was no public art in my little city of Manhattan Beach. We had the beach and the pier, which were very nice. But no art.

After moving around a bit, I landed in Salinas. There were just two public statues there. One, my favorite by far, is the larger-than-life Panther at Hartnell College. Made by Robert Puccinelli in 1930s, it has been sat on by many generations, including your Daddy David and you.

You and the Panther having a quiet moment

There is also a a smaller-than-life statue of John Steinbeck standing in front of the main library. He looks appropriately grumpy and thoughtful, maybe because the city removed his signature cigarette because they didn’t want Mr. Steinbeck to be ‘a bad influence’.

When Claus Oldenburg’s installation “Hat in Three Stages of Landing” was installed in 1982, it was a bit of a disappointment. It wasn’t installed as it was supposed to be, and it just looked silly.

So when I first visited London in 2006, my art-hungry eyes had a treat. There were (and still are) statues everywhere! Every patch of lawn, every public area, had some sort of sculpture. What a feast for the eyes!

From the mighty master of all he surveys….
To the boy who never grew up.

And Paris! The Tuileries Garden is home to 21 statues, from Saints and Queens to mythical figures wrestling minotaurs. And the rest of the city is just full of them!

I understand that France and England had Kings and Queens who had statues built to show how powerful they were. They spent a lot of money, basically showing off.

Also, Paris and London are much older cities than Salinas. Salinas was only founded in 1874. By that time, Paris had been the capital for 57 kings. London had been in business for over 1,500 years.

Maybe public art grows out of a long history. We will give Salinas another thousand years or so to catch up.

Grandma Judy

About Bridges

Dear Liza,

I was doing some remembering about bridges the other day, after my lovely walk across the Tilikum Crossing and Hawthorne Bridges here in Portland. I hunted through my photos and found the most beautiful bridges from our travels.

Big cities tend to be built on rivers, so they need bridges. The Thames is crossed by 35 bridges inside London’s city limits. It is such an old city, the first bridge was built 2000 years ago!

Millennium Pedestrian Bridge, London, built in 2000

When William Shakespeare was born in Stratford on Avon, the lovely Clopton bridge was already 80 years old. It was built when King Henry VII was in charge, in 1487. And we got to row a boat under it!

Clopton Bridge across the Avon, Stratford-on-Avon

The city of Cambridge, England, was founded in 1120, and is literally where the River Cam has a bridge over it. I didn’t see that old bridge, but this beauty was built much later, as part of the University. It is called the Bridge of Sighs and was built in 1831. Queen Victoria said it was the prettiest part of the city.

Bridge of Sighs, Cambridge

Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, is built on the River Amstel and lots of canals. It has about 2,500 bridges!! Most of them don’t have names, just numbers used to keep track for repair work. I took this picture at sunset one evening in 2008. It still makes me smile.

Anonymous Bridge in Amsterdam…

Paris’s Pont Neuf (which means New Bridge) was actually built in 1578, and is now the OLDEST bridge in the city. It was a completely new type of bridge, because it didn’t have buildings on it, and gave long views up and down the River Seine. It became a popular meeting place for people of all ages and classes, and helped turn Paris into the interesting city it is.

Paris’s 450 year old “New Bridge”

Well, that’s all for today. Maybe tomorrow I’ll tell you about our own bridges here in Portland .


Grandma Judy

Reading the Signs

Dear Liza,

There is an expression,”It’s a sign of the times.” This usually means something is a clear, visual example of what is happening. Today I decided to share some of my signs of different times with you.

When I first started traveling to Europe, I was struck by signs and posters that would not have existed in the U.S.

In Cambridge……

This 300 year old sign for Jesus Lane is on the campus of Jesus College at Cambridge University in England. In our country, religion has become so politicized and I doubt this sign would survive vandalism.

In London…..

On the other side of the coin, this poster for theater tickets would probably be considered too weird for the American market. It’s ironic that in a country that touts Free Speech there is such a “you can’t say/show/ wear that” reaction.

Man wrestling with an umbrella

This street construction warning sign makes me laugh, because of its original nickname in England, “Man wrestling with umbrella.” Also, if you look closely at the smaller sign, horrible things are happening.

In Paris…..

Other signs make me smile because of where they are. Seeing this wonderful sign showing an entrance to the Paris metro would mean I am in that magical city.


And not far from that sign is this one, for the narrowest street still existing in the ancient part of Paris. The name means “The Street of the Cat Who Fishes.”

Back in California, this sign touches my heart and feeds all my senses. Crows and cypress trees grow in my happy place at Asilomar, and looking at this parking sign, I can smell the fog and feel the sand between my toes. Oh, and taste the good food at The Fishwife, just up the hill a bit.

Missing Asilomar…

And in my new home, there are signs, too. This one, at The Enchanted Forest south of Portland, is greatly improved by Jasper showing his high score on the “Return to Mordor” ride.

Being with kidlets….

And these signs at a protest for the Trump administration’s policy of separating and imprisoning immigrant families touched my heart and let me know I was in good company.

Finding kindred spirits…

What are your signs of the times? What visuals make you smile, or travel to another time or place?


Grandma Judy