Monthly Archives: December 2013

The oldest city in the USA!




My daughter and I decided to spend the weekend before Christmas in Saint Augustine, about a two-hour drive from her apartment in Orlando. Saint Augustine, founded in 1565, is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement and port in the continental United States. It was owned by Spain for over 200 years and then the British. It has seen missions, battles, slave traders, mariners, teachers, politicians, entrepreneurs and now, tourists. There is plenty of fascinating history behind the storefront facades and brick-covered streets.



Many of the period houses have been lovingly restored and turned into elegant B & Bs. Ours was called “The Peace & Plenty Inn.” Like all the houses on the street, it was brightly decorated for the season!



Our room had a gorgeous antique four-poster bed, a private entrance through the back-garden and a jacuzzi tub!



The house was beautiful, with crown moldings, lots of dark woodwork, a fireplace in the living room. And every night, they had sherry and port wine and an assortment of gourmet cakes laid out.






That first night, we walked around the city, which was brightly lit up with lights. The tour trolleys were lit up as well, and would pass us full of people singing carols and in general good spirits.



Saint Augustine has many interesting and unusual shops…including a store called “The Ancient Olive” which sold infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars…and had a tasting bar, where you could sample all the different flavored, along with some nibbles on the side.


The city was once home to the Flagler Hotel, which had what was then the world’s largest indoor pool. The pool has been drained, and now you can have a delicious lunch in what used to be the deep end! Very cool!




The rest of the the hotel is turned into a museum, which houses an eclectic collection of items from the past few centuries…and most interesting to me, an entire room full of mechanical musical instruments. Huge music boxes, which played music from giant metal discs, a antique Wurlitzer, an automatic organ suitable for use in homes (and sold by Sears!) and a giant German-made contraption which could sound like a full orchestra! We were lucky enough to get there just as the demonstration was starting!





There are many antique and curio shops, some which sell treasures and some which sell items of a more…dubious nature.


On Saturday evening, we walked along the water past the fort to the mission, which was having a special Christmas program of 16th century Spanish music, drama, food and traditions. The whole place was lit up by candlelight and the little chapel where they sang the old Spanish carols was all aglow.



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It was a wonderful weekend…and now, I am ready for Christmas!


Start spreadin’ the news…


The “Festive Break” (as they call it) finally arrived, and I was on a plane out of Lusaka on that same Friday evening (along with more than a few other teachers and their families.). The quickest way home is on Emirates…they fly to Dubai (their “hub”) and from there, to almost any destination. 7 hours to Dubai, a 90 minute lay-over and then a 14 hour flight to NYC. I had obtained some kind of snooze-inducing medication from the local chemist (it was actually an anti-histamine) and managed to sleep for a good part of the first flight and about half of the second…so I was not as jet-lagged as I could have been. Emirates has pretty good service and seating, even in economy . Their entertainment system is top-notch, the food is decent and the drinks are free.

New York, New York, a helluva town.
The Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down.
The people ride in a hole in the ground,
New York, New York….

I arrived at JFK at about 2:4m, got through customs (it is all done now with self-serve computers…no more “Welcome home, citizen!”) and then….waited almost an hour for my luggage. I know somebody’s bag has to be the last, but you never think it will be yours. I had pre-booked a shared shuttle to my hotel thinking that I didn’t want to be dragging my huge suitcase up and down subways and along the snow-covered streets. However, the shuttle was horribly slow and once we got into Manhattan, it was even slower. As the driver crawled through the center of Times Square, some pedestrians took umbrage at how close the van came to their kids and started banging on the windows, shouting and hurling insults at the driver, questioning his intelligence, driving ability and parentage. I elected to get out and took the R down to Union Square, dragging my huge suitcase down the subway stairs and then through the snow-covered streets. It was blowing and cold and wet and I was happy to finally – finally! – arrive at my destination – The Seafarers and International House.


My room was small, but warm and comfortable and the shower was hot. I bundled up in the layers I had brought and pulled on my boots and headed out into the snow! The snow! So glad to see snow. There was the annual Christmas market in Union Square and I bought a pair of hand-knit mittens and a hat from the Himalayan shop. My ears were freezing!



I had promised myself that as soon as I hit NYC, I would get some honest-to-God draught beer. And so, I did.


This was at the Heartland Brewery, where I met an old friend from my days of Lord of the Rings fandom and Tolkien message boards. We chatted over more beer and an enormous plate of ribs…which I almost finished. I walked through the snowflakes back to the hotel and fell into bed, with the traffic outside the window lulling me to sleep. New York, New York…

The next day was Sunday and I had arranged to meet an old college friend (and SAI sister.). She had invited me to her church – the Marble Collegiate Church. I had passed by this church many times, but never been inside. It was beautiful and the music was lovely. A most welcoming and warm congregation, with an excellent preacher, too.

It was fun to see my old friend. We both agreed that neither of us had changed a bit and went out for brunch, complete with bloody Mary’s.

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That evening, I snagged what had to be one of the last tickets to hear the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society perform ALL SIX Bach Brandenburg Concertos! They performed in Alice Tully Hall, a wonderfully “live” hall and even though I was in the very last row, I could see and hear perfectly. As I settled into my seat, an almost-late older couple sat beside me and we joked about getting the last tickets. As we chatted in between concertos, I found that they had spent years in Africa. At intermission, they said that they were having dinner afterward and would I like to Join them! We had a wonderful dinner and some great conversation at a tiny French restaurant just up on 68th and they treated me! I love New York.





The next morning, I arose to sunshine and the bustle of a Monday morning in NYC. Got breakfast, did a bit of window shopping and then hopped on the bus up to Providence, where my son picked me up and brought me to his house, full of Christmas bustle, the flotsam and jetsam of two teenaged girls and my bubbly and energetic daughter-in-law, who had posted a “welcome home” sign on the door for me!


As I woke this morning, my daughter-in-law informed me that it was 2 degrees F. Hopefully I will manage to extricate my car from where it has been languishing in my son’s yard (and provided it will start and can get up the hill…) and drive to my little condo in Worcester today

Christmastime in Zambia…no snow, but plenty of cheer!


Christmas was “invented” (if you will) in the northern hemisphere.  The long, cold, dark nights of December cried out for light.  The pagans already celebrated the winter Solstice with great gusto (fires, candles, dancing, feasting and general revelry) and so, knowing a good thing when he saw it,  after the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the empire’s favored religion, he then decided that December 25 made a great day to celebrate the birth of Christ. 

And so we who live north of the equator tend to associate Christmas with cold and snow and candles and evergreen trees.  We have Christmas songs about “in the bleak mid-winter” and Santa’s sleigh in the the snow and dashing through the snow and “White Christmas.”

When Christianity moved south, so did the holidays associated with it.  And, as incongruous as it may be, so did the traditions.  Even though it is the height of summer here, people put up evergreen trees, hang lights, Santa arrives dressed in boots and furs, there are reindeer sleighs and songs about a “White Christmas.”  Never mind that most Zambians have never seen a single snowflake or experienced temperatures much below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Christmas is irrevocably linked to the winter. 

So, the decorations go up at the malls.

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There was even a huge tree made out of green plastic bottles – a joint effort by several companies to encourage recycling.


And the InterContinental Hotel put out a call for carolers.  I brought my 6th, 7th and 8th graders (on three separate days) to sing “Jingle Bells” and “Frosty the Snowman” and “Silent Night” in the lobby.  We had a great time.

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Our singing was well received….even though they didn’t give us any Christmas cookies or punch, as is supposed to be traditional for carollers!

And now…I am on my way to the airport and in 24 hours, will touch down at JFK – where I hear there is actually some snow and the temperatures are decidedly frosty. 

I’m looking forward to it!

Shakespeare meets Fleetwood Mac


The musical at the American International School of Lusaka was a bit…unusual this year.  In a good way.


I have been privileged to work with the drama director at the school, who is incredibly talented, unbelievably creative and just this side of insane.  (As are all good drama directors.)  This year being the 450th birthday of The Bard, he wanted to do Shakespeare…but what to do?  One day, while reading through some of Shakespeare’s later and lesser- known plays, a recording of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” came on the radio and suddenly – the Idea was hatched.  I was just along for the ride.


So…this was our production of “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” (aka “Lost at Sea”) with music by Fleetwood Mac.

To sing a song that old was sung,
From ashes ancient chorus is come;
Assuming man’s infirmities,
To glad your ear, and please your eyes

SONG: The Chain


Pericles, a young prince and seafarer, has landed at the Palace of King Anticochus, where he seeks the hand of the Princess.  In order to win the right to marry her, a riddle must be solved.  If he fails, his head will join those who have failed before him…now decorating the upper wall.  However, what he doesn’t know is that if he actually solves the riddle, he will also be killed, as the answer exposes a dark secret between the King and his daughter.



Pericles solves the riddle and realizes at once what it means and what it portends for him.  He tells the daughter that he cannot love her and must leave and quickly departs.

SONG: Go Your Own Way

Meanwhile, the King realizes that Perciles now knows his secret and orders one of his servants to find him and kill him.


Pericles returns to Tyre, much troubled.  His Lords make a big fuss over his return, but his oldest and most trusted servant, Helicanus, sends them away, as he sees that his Prince is deeply upset.  Pericles tells Helicanus what happened and admits that he fears for his life.  Helicanus advises Pericles to go away for a while, until Antiochus has calmed down.



Pericles sails to Tarsus, which is in the midst of a famine.  Their King and Queen, Cleon and Dionyza, are despairing about how to feed their people. When Perciles and his sailors show up with food, they pledge undying garniture and loyalty.

SONG: I’m So Afraid

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After some time at Tarsus, Pericles and his men sail on, but they are caught in a raging storm.  The ship is wrecked and Pericles finds himself washed ashore, bereft of his armour and alone.

SONG: Dreams

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He is found by some local fisherman, who give him shelter, food and the news that he is now on Pentapolis, where good King Simodes is about ready to celebrate his daughter’s birthday and all the local knights are invited to joust in the tourney.  Mourning his lack of armour, Pericles is cheered when one of the fisherman pulls in the net containing a suit of rusty armour.  Pericles declares that he will go and joust with the rest, even in the rusty outfit.

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The crowd has gathered and the Princess and her father watch as the knights are introduced.  One by one they enter, making a spectacle of themselves.

SONG: What Makes You Think You’re The One


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When Pericles enters, in his mean and tattered outfit, the crowd falls silent.  Unlike the others, he does not preen, but merely bows to the Princess.


At the joust, Pericles acquits himself most admirably and Thaisa, the Princess, is very much attracted to him.  She places the laurel wreath on his head.  The King then commands that there be music and dancing!

SONG: Say You Love Me

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Meanwhile, back at Tyre, the Lords are getting restless that Pericles has been so long away.  They ask Helicanus to assume command.  He demurs, but says that if Pericles does not return within a year, he will reluctantly take the position.


Thaisa has informed her father that she is in love with the Prince of Tyre and will wed no one else.  Simonides is quite pleased, as he is impressed with Pericles, but he decides to make the couple think he disapproves at first!  Finally, he proclaims them to be “man and wife” and sends them off to bed!

SONG: Crystal

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Pericles receives word that his kingdom needs him, so he and Thaisa (who is now expecting a baby) head back to Tyre.  A terrible storm hits them and Thaisa dies in childbirth, leaving a little daughter that Pericles names Marina. The superstitious sailors insist that it is bad luck to have a dead body on board, so Pericles allows them to put Thaisa in a casket and, after putting a note and jewels in with her body, casts her overboard.  He decides to return to Tarsus to leave the baby with Cleon and Dionyza, as he fears she will not survive the long journey back to Tyre.  Lychordia, Thaisa’s friend will also go, as nurse to the baby.

SONG: Beautiful Child

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Cleon and Dionyza promise to treat the babe as their own daughter and Perciles sorrowfully leaves, promising to return as soon as he can.

SONG: Songbird


Early the next morning, Thaisa’s coffin washes up on the shore of the Coast of Ephesus near Diana’s Temple.  It is found by the temple Priestesses, who are helping people after the storm.  Upon opening it, they discover the body, but discern that there is still life.  Using the power of Diana, Thaisa is resurrected.

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SONG: Sisters of the Moon


As Act Two begins, Perciles is back at Tyre, pensive and lonely.

SONG: Storm


14 years pass.  Marina grows to be a  beautiful young girl, loved by all who meet her.  Dionyza becomes increasingly jealous, because her own daughter is not as beautiful or talented.  When Lychordia dies, Dionyza sees her chance and decides to have her killed – over the objections of her husband.  She employs a servant to push Marina off a cliff, but right when she is about to do it – pirates appear!  They kidnap Marina and take her to a brothel on the island of Mytilene!

SONG: Tusk!



Bawd and Pander, the proprieters of the brothel are bemoaning their lack of suitable “wenches.”  When their employee, Bolt, shows up with Marina, a bona-fide virgin, they are overjoyed.  Marina, however, has other ideas.

SONG: Never Make Me Cry

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It seems everyone who comes to the brothel hoping to sample the wares of the beautiful new girl are talked out of it, and leave promising to mend their ways and never go wenching again.  Pander and Bawd are besides themselves, as their business is being ruined.  When Lysimachus, the Governer of Mytilene (a regular customer,) shows up, Marina is instructed to “treat him as an honourable man” and do her job.  Instead, Lysimachus falls in love with Marina and castigates Pander and Bawd and their brothel!

SONG: Over My Head



Pericles has returned to Tarsus, only to be told that his daughter is dead and shown her “tomb.”  Completely grief-stricken, he declines to talk to anyone or take any nourishment.  Helicanus takes him on a sea voyage, hoping to lift his spirits and they dock at Mytilene, where Lysimachus hears of Pericle’s melancholy and boards the ship, along with Marina.  Marina agrees to try to help Pericles and as they talk, he realizes that she is his daughter.

SONG: Songbird (reprise)



Perciles falls into a swoon and has a vision of Diana and her priestesses.

SONG: Diana (Rhiannon)


Upon awakening, he knows he must go to Diana’s Temple to give thanks.  When he arrives, he explains who he is and is shocked when one of the Priestesses come forward, calling his name.  It is his wife, Thaisa.

SONG: Landslide


Pericles cannot contain his joy.  He kisses and embraces his long-lost Thaisa, introduces her to the daughter she never knew and gives his blessing to the marriage of Marina and Lysimachus.

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SONG: Say You Love Me (Reprise)

In the epilogue, the chorus tells us that wicked Antiochus and his daughter have been killed by a stroke of lightening, that Cleon and Dionyza, although deserving of death, were allowed to live, that Helicanus was rewarded for his good and faithful service and that the Temple of Diana and her priestesses were ever revered by Pericles and Thaisa…and that Marina and Lysimachos lived happily ever after!

So, on your patience evermore attending,
New joy wait on you! Here our play has ending.




The Bats of Kasanka



In the northern part of Zambia, about 6 hours drive from Lusaka, there is a small national park called Kasanka.  Every November and December ten million straw-coloured fruit bats take up residence in one hectare of Kasanka National Park’s mushitu swamp forest.  This is not a “migration” as such – as the bats come from various places (such as Congo and Uganda)  It is more like a “congregation” as the bats gather to feed on the delicious mangos that are just ripening.

I had a 4-day weekend for American Thanksgiving and I thought since I wasn’t having turkey, what would be better than to spend some time in the forest, watching +/- 10,000,000 bats take to the sky?  I was not disappointed.

I booked accommodation at the rustic but charming Wasa Lodge, and arranged a ride from Adam, a sort of jack-of-all-trades who turned out to be a fountain of knowledge about landmarks, flora and fauna on the trip up.

As we passed through Kabwe, he pointed out the “Big Tree” monument (which is an enormous fig tree) and also several ancient locomotives – the town is still the putative center of Zambian railways, although employment on the railways has be greatly reduced.

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(We had a small adventure just south of Serneje – a mini-bus full of passengers had blown a tire and was tipped over on the side of the road.  The people were waving branches to try to flag down a vehicle, so we stopped.  There was a boy about 8 or 9 years old who had a sizeable gash in his leg, and an older man who looked like he may have had a concussion.  We piled them into the back seat, along with the little boy’s brother and detoured to the nearest clinic, about 20 minutes away.  Luckily, the gash on the boy’s leg had not been high enough to hit the femoral artery and although it was very deep (I could see the fat layer and muscle) it had not gone to the bone.  I  gave him water and covered the wound with gauze from the first aid kit.  The clinic was out in the middle of nowhere, but the nurses and orderlies came out with a couple of wheelchairs and we had some assurance that our unexpected passengers would be okay.)

We finally arrived at the lodge.  I was pleased to find that I had been “upgraded” and I didn’t have to share a bath.  I had my own little “chalet” – a terra-cotta coloured roundel, which had a thatched roof and was cool and comfortable.  The bath had cold running water and a “bucket” shower – when you wanted a shower, the staff would fill up a large container on the roof which was connected to the shower inside.  It worked splendidly.

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There was a large main building (also round!) which looked out over Wasa Lake.  They had a full bar and meals were included.  You could see puku (a kind of antelope) grazing across the lake and there was a sizeable pod of hippos in residence – you could hear them grunting as they surfaced and see their ears peaking out above the water.IMG_2022 IMG_2012 IMG_2017

Sam, the proprietor, greeted me warmly and said he would organize all the bat drives for me.  There are several “hides” from which to view the bats and there were drives in the evening (leaving at about 4:00pm) and morning (leaving at 4:00AM!)  I decided to go to all three available hides and did one twice…because it is a different experience in the evening, when the bats are on their way out, and in the morning, when they are returning, fat and tired and full of fruit!

Some of the hides were platforms in trees, (you climbed up a wooden ladder-like staircase) and some were right on the ground in a sort of marsh.  (To get to this one, we walked through a field of mint, which smelled wonderful!)

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There is no way to adequately describe viewing the bats.  In the evening, they would emerge from the dense forest beneath, where they had been sleeping all day (protected from the various birds of prey and other predators.)  They would hover around the tree-tops, circling and making their high-pitched bat-noise, and then descend again, as if to rally the rest of the group.  Each time, more and more bats would emerge, until finally, at almost exactly 6:00pm, they would ALL emerge – thousands and thousands and thousands of them – all heading off (as much as 60 kilometres away) to feast on the mangos.

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Our guide, Lloyd, told us that in the morning, they fly noticeably lower and more slowly, because they are so full…and that they sometimes bump into each other (I did see one collision.)  It’s like they are coming back from a night on the town…possibly muttering “Man, I shouldn’t have had that last mango” as they weave their way home.

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Lloyd was an extremely knowledgeable and interesting guide.  To become a guide, you have to take a 4-year sequence of classes and then pass a very stringent exam.  He had some great stories, including one where a walking safari inadvertently came between a mother elephant and her baby and another one where a guide actually lost his life protecting an idiot guest who was insisting on getting close enough to “see the eyes of the elephant.”

I loved the morning viewings best – you leave in the dark, with the stars above and then, as the skies slowly lighten, you hear and then see the bats returning…flying with the sun gleaming through the membrane of their wings, making them look golden.  There was no way I could possibly get a picture of this, no matter what kind of camera I might have had.

They roost for a while in the tops of the taller trees and then, suddenly, all swoop down at once – making it look as though the tree is shedding its leaves.  You hear their wings whooshing as they all descend back down into the forest. The trees in the picture below are FULL of bats…look closely!

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I met some interesting fellow bat-viewers, as well.  On the first drive, there were two guys from Spain, who had cameras that looked big enough to see the footprints on the moon!  They were very particular about their pictures.


The following morning, my companions were three older Englishman who had been friends with David Lloyd, the founder of Kasanka National Trust and a real character, by all accounts.  He squandered half his fortune on wine, women and song and then used the rest to buy Kasanka.  These guys knew a great deal about the park and on our drive back, we detoured a bit so we could try to view some of the animals and interesting plants.  We saw a warthog and a kind of goose and had a fantastic view of a bateleur (a kind of eagle.)  I got a shot of it sitting in a tree, and then it swooped off and circled back over our heads, showing a spectacular wingspan. (I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture, but the sight of that bird, winging not 10 feet above us, was glorious.)

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We also saw some huge termite mounds and a field of smaller ones that looked remarkably like a cemetery! There was a magnificent “sausage tree” and several large sycamores.  And plenty of puku.

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The last day, I sat in the shade of the lodge’s balcony, just relaxing and enjoying the view.  It was fun to listen to the other guests come back from their bat viewings.  That night, I sat out by the fire with a glass of wine, watched the sun set and the moon rise and listened to the sounds of the bush.

And I was thankful, indeed.

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