Archive | June, 2016

Coming Home, part I

27 Jun

After nearly 10 months of travel, we have finally made it back to our house in Pasadena. We are still in culture shock — wondering where our suitcases are or how to get to familiar places, so I will make this entry a short one. So many people have already been asking what it feels like to be “home”, and I’m really not sure what to say.  So far, this is what I have been happy to see again, the few things that I missed:  the lemon tree in our backyard, our own bedrooms, gas cooking, Major League Baseball, the Sunday New York Times, and Trader Joe’s. Oh, and of course, some friends who we have yet to see. We still have to go up to my sister’s–five hours’ drive through the sweltering Central Valley–to pick up our cats, who no doubt will not even remember us and will be as freaked out coming back here as they were going up there. So our travels are not yet through. Then George has to fly back to Denver again to look after Max & Dottie’s character of a cat Freddy while they go introduce the baby to their friends in the Pacific Northwest.  George will also do some care of his frail father up in Greeley. He says he won’t be “at home” until all of that is finished. Then he says he plans to sit on the back porch for two solid months before we decide what we are doing with our house and what our next step might be. So stay tuned!

In the meantime, here are some images of the only reason we returned from Europe at all: our first grandchild Lyle, now 5 months old. Family is, of course, the real pull of home, wherever and whatever that is.

And since he is part of the family, here’s one of Freddy, too.


21 Things You Probably Don’t Know about My Dad

18 Jun

My friend Gabi Birkner just wrote a memoir of her father Larry Birkner, who was my boyfriend in Portland in 1972-73. Through Larry I became friends with his mother Eva, who I have written about on this blog. Larry and his wife were murdered in 2004, leading Gabi to create, along with a friend who had also lost her father through violence, the site, to help younger people cope with such loss. Here’s a link to her site:

This has inspired me to do the same for my father, Rudolph Esau, who died far too young, at 57, of a massive heart attack.  Here goes:

1. He had spinal meningitis when he was 2, his eyes crossed briefly, and he had to learn to walk all over again.

2. His mother was Norwegian, his father German, and so both spoke what was then called ”broken English.” When he started school, he spoke ”broken English”, too, so was held back in kindergarten. The only remnant of this as he grew up was the word ”under”, which he pronounced as a German would.

3.  At 11, he got mad at a kid in a baseball game, and punched him, knocking him out. He was so appalled by this that he never again got in to a physical fight with anyone. He was always a very gentle soul, although he liked non-violent practical jokes.

4. He was sent to the Aleutian Islands for his military stretch at the very end of the war–this California boy who had never seen snow!

5. From the time he was a very young boy, he knew what he wanted to be: a grower of plants. He was the first in his family to graduate from college, from Cal Poly in Ornamental Horticulture. He hated pretentiousness of any kind, and always called himself simply ”a grower.”

6. He met my mother on a blind date. He was 22 when I was born.

7. He was the foreman for a chrysanthemum nursery in Southern California, which grew a million dozen mums a year. They provided lots of them for the Rose Parade floats.

8. He liked to go deep-sea fishing, but didn’t like to eat fish.

9. Because of his love of plants, he had a war with 1) spiders (he really didn’t like them); 2) insects of all kinds (we never had a bug in the house, because he sprayed them to death); and 3) gophers. He used to round up the kids in the neighborhood, and go after the gopher fields, hosing them out and then whacking them over the head with a shovel. It was a different era, folks…

10. He was great at bartering–he traded his services, landscaping friends’ yards, for new flooring, plumbing or electrical work. When we went on a trip back East to see my mother’s family, he surprised us by building a whole dining ”bar”, the rage at the time.

11. Our garden was the showcase of the neighborhood. We had some 43 varieties of mums in the front garden beds.

12. My parents were great card players, and had friends over nearly every weekend. But my father hated smoking, and would always get up and open the windows and breathe deeply and conspicuously.

13. He was really a big kid at heart. He used to go to Mexico and buy tons of firecrackers for the Fourth, and then he would make firecracker rockets on the street, which shot way up in the air; we all loved it. When the police would come because it was an illegal activity, he would run in the house and leave us to be scolded by the cop. He also loved to make us kites; he would then take all the kids in the neighborhood to the park and fly them very long and high.

14. While we always had cats in our house, it was my dad who became closely attached to a dog, his beloved Bego, when we were in our teens. They were inseparable.

15. When my mother divorced him, because of years of alcoholism, he finally quit drinking. The final ten years of his life were without the grog, and he began his own growing business. He looked after his mother and got her into a nice nursing home in Ojai. He died three weeks before she did.

16. My mother and my father remained good friends, and actually went on vacations together.

17. He loved to barbecue, his favorite being tri-tip steaks.

18. I saw my father in a suit maybe twice in his life. His standard outfit from his teens on was a white t-shirt and Levis. Then in the 80s he went through a jumpsuit phase, as can be seen in the photo above of him watering our yard in New Orleans (one of his most iconic poses).

19. He used to sing ”Ramona” in the shower every night. And he had a favorite nonsense word, something like ”Skrittenninefort,” which he said whenever he didn’t know the answer to something.

20. He taught us to play poker, using matchsticks instead of money.

21. He once told my sister that we were his life.  I never had any doubt about that. And he was so delighted to have a grandson. That photo above with Max is the last photo I have of them together.




Surfing : Idle Curiosity. Editing : Intruding?

17 Jun

[Another George post! –ee]

Today is June 17.  Chambers Book of Days mentions that the Roxburghe Club — the famously exclusive book collectors’ club — was founded on this day in 1812.  Curious about its publications — each member is expected to publish an antiquarian volume for their fellow 40 club members — I found a list of the club publications and a list of the club members at its website.  Among the current members are the fashionista Christopher Gibbs and Getty Images founder Mark Getty.   After a romp through Gibbs’ antic career as reported in Wikipedia, I checked Getty’s page there.  In neither instance does the Roxburghe get a mention.  Curious about Getty’s wife Domitilla Harding, I found her photo on Google Images accompanying a Daily Telegraph story about her support of the Lambton sisters’ effort to get some inheritance.  The story mentioned that the Lambton and Getty marriage ended in 2011.

A keen Wikipedia editor, I now wonder if I should edit Getty’s page to include mention of his Roxburghe membership.  It wouldn’t hurt but there’s not much room for it.  Should I also mention that his marriage ended?  I don’t think so — it seems intrusive.

The world in manhole covers

14 Jun

If you are at all interested in documenting a journey, I think it’s always fun to come up with some theme or subject that you can photograph throughout the trip–be it door lintels, tanks, pink flowers, trains, images of mermaids, cats in houses, or fashion in shop windows (all themes that I have considered). For our nine-month journey, I decided to collect images of manhole covers! This came about by accident; I happened to notice some interesting manhole covers while walking near our apartment in London, took photos of them, and then started to notice them wherever we went. I had actually already taken photos of some in the U.S., ones with interesting designs, so this wasn’t a stretch to continue finding them, since they are always underfoot and sometimes have florid designs in the cast iron out of which they were forged. I have tried to document them as clearly as I could, but my archiving methods got a little confused once my first camera was stolen in Barcelona, and after the laptop computer died in Zagreb. So here goes, my collection of manhole covers, hopefully correctly identified:

East Berlin, with an image of the TV Tower in the middle:


Gdansk, or Danzig as the Germans continue to call the now-Polish city, had some of the most formidable ones:


Vienna. The very chic one with wavy lines is, I think, more of a plaque in the sidewalk than a real cover, but I love that the ”real” one includes the checkered pattern so beloved by the Secessionists:


A little excursion across the Austrian border to Znaim, or now Znomo, in the Czech Republic, yielded these beauties, with a formidable eagle design:

Cesky Krumlov, that magnificent little Czech medieval town, was when I most enthusiastically sought out these objects (it was while moving backwards on the cobblestones to take a photo of one of them that I fell and smashed my knee and my camera). My favorite here is the one with the lion rampant:


Lisbon. One of these is actually from Sintra, and so labelled. I am fascinated that sometimes the designs were so elegant and painstakingly executed. The ones with the ship were found in Belem, near where Vasco da Gama set sail for the New World:


Barcelona was a veritable feast of sidewalk plaques! Some of these were for water, some for electricity, and the tiny ones I’m not sure what they were for. If you really got into the collection of such covers–and I’m sure there are collectors of manhole covers out there who can tell the entire history of iron foundries through them–you would be able to tell by the design when they were installed and by which company. Barcelona was also the only place I found old ceramic covers (the plain red one). I like the one with all the ”F”s–I saw that one all over the city:

Even in the small medieval town of Girona, I found examples forged specifically for the place:


I only recorded one cover in Athens, and two rather simple ones on the island of Andros. What I really found interesting was that so often these covers were made specifically for a place, and include the name of the town or region:


In Croatia, I only found square examples, no idea why. These are from Dubrovnik, Cavtat, and Zadar:


To my surprise and disappointment, Trieste did not yield very aesthetic examples, or perhaps I just didn’t find any but the most utilitarian designs here. Apparently aesthetic conceptions are not always applied to these functional objects:


But what fun to find these gems in Ljubljana! The one with the worker in the middle I found all over town, while the dragon appeared on those covers near the famous Dragon Bridge:


By the time we got to Germany, I was running out of steam, and forgot to record any in Munich, but did manage to get these two in Muffendorf, the village outside Bonn where we stayed. The yellow one is some kind of memorial plaque that was temporarily out of service as its street was dug up for new pipes:

I now find that, of course, there are just as many avid manhole lid collectors as there are any other collectors’ item. Perhaps I’ll do a little research on the history or whatever, but truthfully, these images were just a hook to archive our journey, and then I became intrigued with the variety of designs that occurred.

Profuse thanks, Part II: New Friends

9 Jun

One of the greatest things about our travels–indeed, of anyone’s travels!–is that you meet such interesting people along the way.  In our case, these encounters were sometimes of people we may have met in other times and other places and with whom we were able to re-establish contact; or they were friends of friends; or they were simply nice people we met and with whom we shared some special adventures. To all of these new friends or re-established contacts, we say THANK YOU!


Ken Hunt in London. We met Ken a long time ago in Canberra, when he was just a lad–a friend of our dear friend Di Carey, he worked at the National Gallery at the time and recounted hilarious tales of his adventures living in Japan. Now he works for the Ministry of Culture, and is one of the dearest monarchists we have ever met! It was so great to see him in the city he loves. He took us out for Indian food, as one does in London, and suggested several interesting spots to visit. Such a pleasure!


Linda Skinner in London,  an old friend of my old friend Marbie, who lives in Maui. Linda and her husband spend many months a year at the condo on Maui where Marbie works; the rest of the time she lives in London.  It was a very pleasant meeting–we share lots of interests! I hope that the next time we meet it will be in Hawaii.


Michael Huey is one friend I had actually met before, but we only really got to know him on this visit. He is married to our friend Christian Witt-Doerring, who we have known since the early 80s. Together they make up one of the most elegant couples in Vienna. Michael is an artist on the subject of memory, and does wonderful exhibitions based on family photos and other things. Christian just retired this year as curator at MAK (Museum für angewandte Kunst), where he worked for more than 30 years. We so enjoyed all our time with these two lovely people, and had some of the best conversations with them of our entire trip.


Heidi Meyer-Welfing in Vienna is Nora Petritsch’s half-sister. She lives two blocks from the Sigmundsgasse apartment (where we stayed) in a beautiful Biedermeier building. She used to work as the sales representative for Christian Dior out of Paris, and spent many years in Asia as the chief Dior consultant. As a devoted cat person, she also once had a shop in Vienna selling cat-related objects of all sorts!! She now lives with one cat, Schatzi (who we called Chubby). Her apartment is filled with artworks, many of them by her grandfather Hanns Diehl, about whom I wrote several blog entries as well as the Wikipedia page. She was very kind and generous to us during our three-month stay in the city. We very much hope that we will have a long and continuous friendship, with frequent visits.


Paula Rodrigues in Lisbon.  We met Paula at Vienna’s Christmas markets, where she had a stall to sell her nicely designed notebooks and cards (her ”brand” is called Frown & Folks). Naturally, George gravitated to a stall that had notebooks, and Paula was so exuberant despite being miserable in the Vienna cold after coming from sunny Portugal. When we got to Lisbon, we got in touch, and she took us to her favorite restaurants in town, and introduced us to other craftspeople in the city. We also were fascinated to learn her story:  her parents came from Angola in the 1980s, as did so many Angolans once Portugal gave the country its independence. Her parents were physicians, who had to work other jobs for many years before they were allowed to practice medicine again. Paula also told us stories of racial discrimination growing up, but that life had gotten better in the last few years.  Thank you, Paula, for showing us your city!

Annie Graul and Eduardo Valencia in Barcelona.  Annie was one of my students at Lawrence University who now lives in Barcelona with her wonderful husband Eduardo and her children Inès and Oscar (well, Inès is now a freshman at Lawrence–LU alumni are loyal to their school!). What a treat to meet former students as equals! Annie was immensely helpful to us, showing us the city she loves so much, inviting us to their home in gorgeous Premià de Dalt for a fantastic feast of Calçots, and giving us such moral support after the Great Robbery of Barcelona. And Eduardo gave us that fantastic Repsols jacket you see me wearing in lots of photos. George & I really enjoyed our time with these two special people.


Dressi and Andonis in Athens, in this photo with Evy (and Evy’s husband Nick Karetzas, who we also met for the first time!). Old friends of Evy, this lovely couple let us stay in their apartment in Athens for two weeks, while they moved downstairs to her parents’ apartment. Dressi taught German for many years, and Andonis was for some time an engineer in Germany. This photo was taken when we had them up for a thank-you coffee–a rather amusing thing to do, to invite people to visit their own apartment! Evaristo, Dressi and Andonis!

Michael Zimmer and Irene Loesch-Zimmer in Dubrovnik (well, actually in Mlini on the Dubrovnik Riviera). Michael and Irene are old friends of Nora Petritsch. (The picture of Irene is very uncharacteristic, but the only one I have of her–she is usually exceedingly vibrant!). They are Austrians who lived in South Carolina for 30 some years, and are now returning to Europe. Michael now plays guitar, and Irene, who is an artist, is now writing books. They loved staying at Wolfgang and Nora’s Mlini house, and had been there for months when we arrived. They knew everything about the place, where to go for markets and good restaurants, and were fun flatmates to meet! While we were there, this lovely parakeet flew in from who knows where and perched on Michael’s shoulder.  They are those kind of people, with whom magical things happen.


Gert Selle in Munich. Actually, Gert should be among the thanks to my oldest friends, but I missed giving him a slot there. He was my professor-boyfriend oh, so many, many years ago when I had my Fulbright in Darmstadt, Germany. He was my ”alter Mann” when I was a young thing, so now we are both rather aged. He was very kind to me at a watershed moment in my life, and it was so wonderful to see him doing fairly well for his age (about 83). He still writes books on design, although he refuses to use a computer, so he’s still writing them out in longhand!  Vielen Dank, Gert, ich muss irgendwann eine längere Geschichte um uns schreiben!


Albert Brancato and Michael von Selle in Bonn. One of my most rewarding contacts in the last few years:  Albert was a Ph.D. student at Bryn Mawr with Barbara Lane, the history professor with whom I also studied. But that’s only serendipitously how we met. Albert, who has lived in Bonn with his husband Michael for some 40 years (the photo is in the kitchen of their 19th-century house in Muffendorf). He has worked as a translator and public intellectual (!) and had been asked to do research on the Bonn artist Hans Thuar for the August-Macke Haus. He found my catalogue about LaVera Pohl, who had been a student of Thuar in the 1930s, and contacted me for more information. We have carried on a lively correspondence ever since. Albert is a font of wisdom about all things Rhenish, and graciously drove us to several wonderful churches and historic spots. It was a lovely end to our European stay.

And finally, as we stopped in Toronto en route to Denver, some more student encounters:


David Lightfoot and Barry Burciul. David was another of my Lawrence students (or, as he told me, an occasional auditor in my classes!). I can thank Facebook again for reintroducing us to each other. David writes the best FB entries, and shares the best stuff–he’s my go-to guy for all things Slavic–and aside from seeing him again, I was dying to meet his husband, the elusive Barry, and their equally elusive cats Kyoshi and Mehmo (only one of which was spotted). David is a medical librarian, along with his polymath interests in literature and Czech culture, and Barry works for humanistic causes that take him to Africa and elsewhere. Such interesting people! We had a lovely evening with fantastic food and the copacetic chance to introduce OTHER Toronto friends to them:


Rick and Beth Halpern met at Penn when Rick was a freshman on our floor in Hill House (we were the ”older” RAs when in grad school). They have been together ever since, and have lived an exciting life, first in London and now in Toronto. Rick teaches labor history and has been Dean at a University of Toronto campus; Beth was a dancer and is now a homeopathic practitioner. They have three grown daughters, and both are fantastic gourmet cooks. What a joy to share mutual interests (photography, too), and to meet again when we are, as with my other former students, on an equal footing now. Our age difference seemed so enormous when we were in our twenties, but is irrelevant now that they are turning 50 or more (which only makes me feel VERY old!).

For some banal reason, that old Girl Scout tune just came to mind:  ”Make new friends/but keep the old/one is silver, and the other’s gold.” Here’s to all that gold and silver!!!

Profuse thanks

4 Jun

While there is really no way to thank all of the people who made our 9-month tour so rewarding, I am going to try to name many of the wonderful people, old friends and new, who have confirmed our opinion that the world is a nice and generous place:


Hildur Elísabet Þorgrímsdóttir and her family Þorgrím, Asdis, and sister Hrönn:  they welcomed us into their Keflavik home in Iceland, introducing us to a real Icelandic family, in a beautiful house that her father helped build. We saw the Northern Lights here, and Þorgrím showed us one of the geothermal plants for which Iceland is so famous. Hildur now works permanently on the cabin crew of Icelandair! We met Hildur through Dottie; she was an exchange student in Austin. The entire family came to Max & Dottie’s wedding, driving from the East Coast to Austin; we met them there.


Henry and Val Kitchener are among our oldest friends. We met Henry in 1974, when he was at the end of a summer internship in Wisconsin and had come out to California to get some sun. It turned out to be one of the foggiest summers on record, and Henry looked so forlorn in the airport where I was flying from Portland to Santa Barbara to meet George before I flew off for my Fulbright year that I told him to get off the plane with me and I would promise him good weather! It worked, the sun shone brightly, but it must have been a bit of a shock for poor G. when I got off the plane with another guy!!! We subsequently visited Henry & his family in Glasgow on our honeymoon. Henry went on to marry Val, and become a leading gynecological oncologist in the U.K. They visited us in California and Australia over the years, and we have stayed in touch over all these 40 years or more. They have a pied-a-terre in London, near Regents Park, which they let us stay in. A free room in London cannot be passed up, and we are infinitely grateful to them for allowing us to experience a side of London that we would never have been able to afford otherwise.


Wolfgang and Nora Petritsch. Oh, my, where do I begin with our thanks? I met Wolfgang in 1969, waiting in line at the Vienna State Opera for standing room tickets. He and my roommate Celine became an item for many years. Wolfgang then went on to an illustrious career, first as Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky’s assistant, then as a diplomat and High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina at the height of the Balkan Wars. He has only recently officially retired, but seems as busy and as engaged now as ever. We only met Nora when we arrived in Vienna this time; they had offered us the apartment that she lived in before she married Wolfgang.  We like Nora very much! Artistic, fun, and helpful–and she cooks well, too! Her Sigmundsgasse place was just perfect for us.  But that’s not all from these good folks: they also own the gorgeous house in Mlini, Croatia, on the Dubrovnik Riviera, and they let us stay there for as long as we wanted to be there.  Without their generosity, our journey would have been far less rewarding, indeed.


Edith and Hans Walder, our wonderful Viennese friends who now live out in Hart, a small village in the Waldviertel countryside,  in a beautiful renovated Hof. It is now hard to reconstruct how we met them back in the 80s, but it had something to do with a Bryn Mawr connection.  We re-established contact with them when we first returned to Vienna back in 2009, when they let us stay at their Vienna apartment. This is where we stayed, after some restful stays in their Hart house, in our last days in Vienna. Danke, Edith and Hans!



Evy Styliaria-Karetzas allowed us to experience Greece in ways that few tourists get to see it. We have known Evy since we all lived in International House in Philadelphia, when she and George were studying at Penn and I was at Bryn Mawr–that was nearly 40 years ago! We were chaperones for a bus tour that we took to Florida. We had kept in touch sporadically, but hadn’t seen each other since then.  She is such a booster of traditional Greek culture and knows so many people and knows so much about her culture that we had a real inside view.  We were so depleted by the time we got to Athens after our Barcelona theft that we needed a good place to recuperate, and Evy’s wonderful house on Andros Island was ideal.  Evaristo, Evy!

Mitch Bernard and Jayne Edmonds (for whom I can’t find any photos, I don’t know why) we have known since we both lived in faculty housing at the ANU in Canberra, in 1990-91. They were there for a year’s research position, and we had just arrived for my teaching post. They had one son then, and had another while in Australia. Once they moved back home to Toronto and we were back in California, we did see them sometimes in Pasadena. WE were so happy that they offered us a place to stay for our Toronto weekend, even though, alas, they were in Japan at the time. Aragato!

These are the OLD FRIENDS. The next blog will pay homage to the many new friends we made along the way, who made our stays so enjoyable and adventurous.  Stay tuned!