Tag Archives: Travel

Dear Kitty

I vividly remember reading The Diary of Anne Frank for the first time. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I do remember that shortly after finishing I started to keep my own diary. I was a rather uncreative child, and so I called my diary “Kitty” too. While I understood that her situation was bad, and the her story had a sad ending, I was more taken by the idea of the diary itself than anything else.

At the time, I am certain that I had a limited understanding of World War II, and even less of the Nazis and their idea of an ideal race. It wasn’t until the tenth grade, probably five or six years later, that I saw my first film footage of the Auschwiz liberation. The gas chambers, the emaciated survivors, the mass graves. I had to change my understanding of the world that day. I had to include the idea that someone, anyone, could want to exterminate a whole religion. A whole people.

In my early adulthood I went to the (then) brand new Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. I saw the shoes lined up on the floor, heard the voices of survivors telling their stories, and stood in a train car. I was old enough then to imagine letting go of my own child in hopes that her destination might have a less final fate.

This week, I went to the Dutch Resistance Museum, an excellent and powerful tribute to the many people who took small and large, and even enormous risks to fight the war, the Nazis, and the hatred. I learned about the stories, present in almost every European country, of outrage and solidarity in the face of overwhelming power and strength. I had to think hard about how different it is to be an American learning about this war, or living through it, than a Frenchman, a Dutchman, a German. If you live in Europe, how does your personal story ever recover? How does your country?

Also this week, I stood in the room where Anne Frank wrote her diary. I walked through the bookcase that hid the door, climbed up the very steep stairs, and stepped into the secret annex. It was hard to breathe. I cried when I saw her diary pages, her writing, and especially the photograph of her father, Otto, when he returned to the annex after learning that his wife, his children, indeed all of the people he had hidden with in that annex, were dead.

In preparation for this trip I read Anne’s diary again. As a grown up I now realize that part of what makes it so remarkable is how much like a normal girl’s diary it reads in spite of the fact that Anne and her family were hiding from the Nazis.

My older sister is the favorite.
My mother yells at me too much.
I want to be a famous writer some day.
Gosh that boy is cute.

Of course, then there are the passages where she longs to walk outside, to touch the earth, to dance and sing loudly and not care if anyone will hear. Those are the passages that break your heart. And then the ending which isn’t an ending at all, but just silence. Death.

Even today, no one knows who betrayed Anne and her family. The people who helped her were arrested too. So many of the resistance fighters lost their lives. When you are faced with such hatred and power, do you stand up and risk your own life or do you just try to survive? What would I have done, if faced with such horrible choices? What would I do now?

I like to think that I would have been a resistance fighter. That I would have stolen money to help Jews in hiding, or carried messages to Allied forces. But the truth is, I don’t know what I would have done. I can only wonder. And hope.

As I left the Anne Frank Huis Museum, there was a quote on the wall from Otto Frank:

“To build a future, you have to know the past.”

Perhaps that is the best I can do. That, and, in my own small way, speak and act against discrimination, injustice, and hate whenever I have the chance. In honor of Anne.



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A peace of myself

“An original idea. That can’t be too hard. The library must be full of them.” – Stephen Fry

The British Library

I just stood in front of the handwritten draft of Ravel’s Bolero. And Handel’s Messiah. And Mozart’s Horn Concerto in E Flat. I gazed over Virginia Woolf’s manuscript of Mrs. Galloway while I listened to her voice. I heard James Joyce read from Finnegan’s Wake and saw Charlotte Bronte’s manuscript of Jane Eyre. I saw a copy of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. And listened to the Beatle’s recording of A Hard Days Night while I looked at the original draft of the lyrics, written by John Lennon on the back of his son’s first birthday card.

* How on earth did they play that? (Handel’s music writing is almost impossible to decipher. Beethoven’s had big blotches all over it. Is that a note or an ink blot?)

* Virginia Woolf did not sound like what I expected. At all.

* Even listening to Mr. Joyce read his own words, I still didn’t understand them.

* I could hear Bolero as I was looking at it. I could feel the beat of the music and imagine Ravel writing it. Did he know it was a masterpiece when he was putting it on paper?

Oh! I almost forgot. I also saw two of four surviving copies of The Magna Carta (translated, “the great charter”). From, you know, the 1200s. No big deal.

Now I am sitting in the cafe at The British Library, where these and other treasures are stored, and gazing up at the rare book archive, encased in glass and running from the basement to the top floor.

If I got trapped here, I don’t think I’d mind.

My resolution for this month has been a rather personal one, which is why I haven’t written about it. Since I woke up in a funk when the month began, I have been focusing my energy on getting out of that funk. Planning and preparing for this trip was certainly helpful in some ways. It is exciting to read about all of the things to see and do and to prepare for a two week break from my normal routine.

But my pending adventure also brought its own degree of anxiety with it. Apparently, I am still learning to travel by myself. I am still letting go of all the places I haven’t seen yet (and may never) because I spent my 20s and 30s making someone else’s dream my priority. I am still, I find, trying to figure out where I want to be.

The good news is that the funk is fading. I haven’t answered all of the questions in the background, but I feel nourished by the reminder that I am brave enough to navigate a foreign city, curious enough to try new foods and follow my nose in unknown neighborhoods, and young enough that I still have time to have many more of my own adventures.

It’s true that I am a tad jealous (ok, more than a tad) of the young people I meet here, from all around the world, who have come to London to live and explore Europe. But perhaps since I am doing my exploring at a different age, I am finding more here than I would have. Not just parts of the world’s history, but parts of myself as well.

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Filed under Life, Resolutions, The Meaning of Life

Local Food, Thame Style

Today started out with a hot chocolate at what has already become my favorite cafe in Thame. Accompanied by a cherry and almond bar and a good book, I could have stayed there all morning. Instead, I got to pretend I was house hunting as I accompanied A on a tour of two estates. Driving around the countryside is at once spellbinding and nauseating…I cannot quite get used to riding on the wrong side of the road.

We decided that both of the houses were not quite right, but it was fun to imagine the lawn parties and croquet games one could play on the expansive grounds. I could almost picture the game of lawn tennis that might have been played by ladies in long skirts and fabulous hats while the men discussed politics and smoked their pipes.

The highlight of my day was strolling around the Thame Food Festival, scheduled in my honor of course. It is not unlike the Grower’s Market in my own town, but there was lots more tasting and the addition of food stands. As one should when in England, we stopped for a spot of tea and enjoyed the sunshine.

I know that Paella is not a traditional English food, but it was made from local ingredients, ok?

Starting my trip this way is perfect. I get to adjust to the time change and ease my way into my trip. I get woken by friends who have already learned how I take my tea and bring me a cup to start my day. I get to enjoy the pace of a local weekend with friends and plan for my upcoming days as a busy tourist. I only hope that I make friends feel as welcome when they visit me.

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One of my favorite things about travel is having the chance to try the local fare. Of course, International travel ups the ante a bit, and I try hard to push myself to seek out truly authentic, local eats. Some times I am more successful than others, and friend recommendations certainly help.

Try the Indian food on Brick Lane! I was told. Well, ok.

I landed this morning and freshened up before heading into Out into my day I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going, but I have my Map Easy London and a decent sense of direction (thanks for that Dad, by the way). Off I went.

I knew I was getting close when I could smell the curry. Around the corner was a dream come true. Curry houses as far as I could see. For a girl from central PA where there is no ethnic food, this sight…this smell…it’s pure happiness.

I posted on Facebook that I was about to eat my first Brick Lane curry and shortly after friends told me go, quickly, to get some cookies from Ben’s. Complete with directions. I love living in the future. So as soon as I finish this post, off I’ll go.

My favorite part of the food adventure might, however, be buying treats for others upon request. Will you bring me some black current cough drops? Um, sure. Can you bring home some McVities dark chocolate digestives? Well, of course I can. Once I figure out what the heck that is.

What is it about the taste of something familiar from a former home that is so meaningful to us? Why does that taste bring us closer to that place more than anything else?

I don’t know, but I do know that the one thing my friend A wanted, my friend who is from the US but has Iived here so long she has a British accent, the one thing she wanted was a box of Cheerios.

Simple. Yellow. Fragile.

I’m proud to say I got a whole box (family size, even) here in one piece. Well, many pieces, but you now what I mean. It was not a bag of Cheerio dust when I got to her office.

I don’t know what it is about the cough drops, or the digestives, or even the Cheerios. But I do know that when my friend has her breakfast tomorrow, she will ….for at least a moment… feel like she’s home.


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Hi, Ho the First of May

When my brother and his fiance (now his wife of 17 years) selected May 1st for their wedding day, my parents simultaneously (and cheerfully) recited a rhyme from their college days.

“Hi, ho the first of May
Outdoor …. starts today!”

This the first time I had ever heard my mother utter that vulgar (her emphasis) word and I was shocked.  Totally, and completely shocked.

But in my family there is a song or a rhyme for everything, and this was no different.

I was pleasantly reminded of this memory last night when I gathered with my brother and his family, my parents, and one of my Godmothers (yes, I have two, and they did an excellent job in spite of the fact that I am now an Atheist).  My mother started with the traditional family anniversary song (I wasn’t kidding – song. for. everything.) and then both parents started to quip

“Hi, ho the first of May…”

But as my nieces (15 and 12) were in the room, they stopped there.  Apparently you have to be 23 before my mother will say that word in front of you.

The beautiful day and relaxing evening were enough to convince me that Spring is, indeed, here.  In spite of the very cold weather, the flowering tress are in beautiful, spectacular bloom and May has finally arrived.

So I need a new resolution.

Yes, I’ve finished my thesis.  And I will submit my last ever graduate paper by the middle of next week.   So no new goals related to school (yay!).   I need something else.  I have some top contenders, but I’m a bit stymied by my next eight days.

They look something like this:

South Carolina, South Carolina, South Carolina, Philadelphia, Ocean City (NJ), Vineland (NJ), Philadelphia, Lancaster, DC, Lancaster, HOME.

The packing enterprise for this trip included three separate suitcases and four different types of something-casual (semi-casual, business-casual, outdoor-casual, and club-casual) attire.  (NOTE: I had to call a friend for advice on which of the outfits I have that fit me right now (ahem, thesis weight) actually meet the various criteria of these dress-codes.  Pray for me.)

So, while I could just make my May resolution about being dressed appropriately for the next eight days, since it will certainly be hard enough for me, I would like to come up with something more meaningful or fun than that.

At present, the contenders are:

* Walk my dog every day.
I need to enjoy her while I can and we could both use the fresh air.

* Decide what trees/plants to add to the yard.
I keep talking about adding dogwoods and hydrangeas, but not doing it.

* Research and plan hikes and camping trips for the summer.
If they are planned, they are more likely to happen.

* Do a home inventory, schedule repairs and update my insurance.
This is something I need to do, but it may just be too responsible for the first month after I finished my thesis.

Which one will I choose?  Probably none of these.  It seems that my pattern is that I lean towards three to four top choices until the last-minute when I pick something completely different.  And yes, I realize May has already begun, thank you very much.  This is relaxed Shelby, here.  The one who embraces the moment, goes with the flow, and does NOT get stressed about schedules and things like CALENDARS.

Shortly, assuming I haven’t died of embarrassment because I incorrectly wore close-toed heels to an outdoor casual event, I will let you all know what I’ve chosen.

Until then, have a gin-and-tonic for me.  I’m going to need it.

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