Thinking about Paris

As the French president said, “C’est une horreur.” The recent attack on innocent people in Paris is indeed sheer horror. In response, many of my friends have posted photos and memories of the city. They’ve opted for the French flag super-imposed over their profile photos on Facebook. I have my own memories, but I will offer this one.

joan in paris copy

A photo of me in Paris.

I was in the city a long time ago, with the man who would later be my first husband. We were hitching that summer around Europe and for a time ended up in Paris. We were macrobiotic then, an admittedly strict regime of brown rice and vegetables that worked because we were also low on money.

So when we arrived in Paris, we tried to get a job in one of the several macrobiotic restaurants there. (We were living in a small hotel and cooking food over a camp stove along the Seine. Yes, we were a bit fanatical.) We kept striking out until we arrived at a macrobiotic restaurant run by a Vietnamese man. He told us he didn’t need workers but we could live for free in an apartment a couple of floors above the restaurant.

It was a tiny place, which had a kitchen, with a bidet, and some furniture. We shared the toilet in the hallway — a filthy closet where you stood to do your business.

That’s where we stayed the weeks we were in Paris. By day we visited all of the city’s quarters, museums and historical spots. We met interesting people. Another group of travelers in the same predicament joined us in the apartment. (When we later met up with them by accident in London, they returned the favor. But that’s another lucky traveler story.) One night we dug into our money and ate at the restaurant.

I marvel still at the generosity of the Parisian who gave us a place to stay and asked for nothing in return. I wish the city and its people peace.

PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the view on my neighborhood walk. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains with a bit of snow at the top are in the background. If I squint, I can make believe the sage is an ocean.

Nature, Travel

The Wild Life

The signs were everywhere in and near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Watch out for wildlife in the road. Elk viewing area here. Have you bear-proofed your campsite?

We camped at Rocky four nights. And yes, I did see elk, deer plus a number of birds that can live at such high altitudes, but no bear. I also heard a pack of coyotes near the campground. But this is what else I brought back.

Male elk in the pasture at our campgrounds.

Male elk in the pasture at our campgrounds.

MARVELOUS SINGERS. Day and night we heard the call of male elks, trying their best to lure females into their harem, as described in park literature. They’ve come down from feasting on green stuff high in the mountains to mate. The male elks toss back their racks and bugle. I fell asleep listening to them.

GAGA OVER WILD ANIMALS. People will stop their vehicle, often some big-ass pickup, in the middle of the road when they see elk. The drivers of the shuttles that haul hikers from one trail to another say it’s not the elks but the humans who create traffic problems in the fall.

FRIENDLY PLACE. The park may not have that wow-factor of say Grand Canyon, Arches and other red-stoned parks, but the mountains are powerful. The rangers were friendly. So were our fellow campers. One camper gifted us his leftover bottles of water, which we in turn gifted what was left to neighbors when we were packing up. The couple’s daughter later came over with two peaches as a thank you.


Rocky Mountain National Park

HIKERS PARK. One shuttle driver called Rocky a hiker’s park. The park service keeps it as natural as possible. We got caught up in it, hiking nearly five miles the first day, and then took it easier the next two, although the last was at an elevation well over 9,000 feet.

SMARTER IS WARMER. Last November we camped in our tent at three national parks — Grand Canyon, Zion and Arches — and nearly froze at night. Those sleeping bags were supposed to be good to zero degrees. Ha. But this time we were better prepared. The nights at Rocky did get down into the 30s one night, but our system of using double sleeping bags kept us warm.

LIGHTER IS BETTER. We used to hike a lot back East but at a much lower elevation. The boots I used then felt like blocks of cement on my feet at Rocky. I also envied the retractable hiking poles of fellow hikers. Guess what I am buying next?

SMARTER THAN THE AVERAGE BEAR. As warned by the rangers, we had to keep everything except our tent and sleeping bags inside our car and covered so the bears wouldn’t be tempted. We also had to lock our car because bears have figured out how to open doors. Two cars had their interiors totally trashed this summer.

SIGNS OF HUMAN LIFE. Numerous signs and messages caught my eye such as the one announcing the atheists of Boulder were responsible for keeping a section of roadway clean in that city. Then there was silly tourist stuff in Estes Park. I could buy a sign that said: Hippie Parking Only — All Others Will Be Stoned. But I didn’t. Then there were t-shirts with such sayings as “DUDE, I THINK THIS WHOLE TOWN IS HIGH, Elevation 7,522.” Nah, I didn’t buy that one either.

PHOTO AT THE TOP: That’s our lunch spot at Nymph Lake.


family, Food, Travel

What I Learned This Time in Massachusetts

I returned today from Massachusetts, where a large portion of my family lives and visiting them was the reason for going. We took a triangular route from Boston to Buzzards Bay (in the pit of Cape Cod’s arm) to Western Massachusetts and then back to Boston.

I lived in that state most of my life but have called Northern New Mexico home for nearly nine years. This is what I brought back this time.

Traffic in the Boston area is awful. Thank goodness I have a husband who is a defensive, and when necessary, an offensive driver.

Boston people can be friendly and helpful but first you have to get past their bark — at least those born and bred there.

I enjoy hearing a Boston accent: the R’s rounded nicely down and R’s where they should be. My accent comes out in spurts these days — to my staff’s amusement.

Bon Me food truck at South Station

Bon Me food truck at South Station

Food gets better and better. I gave up my vegan ways for most of this trip. So I ate seafood prepared in interesting ways: lobster and mango tacos; salmon with sushi tempura in a broth flavored with pickled ginger; and stuffed quahogs and littleneck clams a la Portuguesa. One of the best meals was lunch at the Bon Me food truck near South Station in Boston — salad with tofu and ginger lemonade.

On a related topic, I enjoy drinking coffee by the Mattapoisett harbor. (That’s a photo of the harbor above.) My parents remain perplexed at the lengths we go for a good cup of coffee.

Taos carries a mystique even for those who have never been there. The woman at the used bookstore said she has always wanted to go. The clerk at a bakery knew someone who once lived here. His last name is Martinez. Ah, that is one of the royal families of Taos, I told her.

My mother, who was 91 this year, has stopped aging it seems. She does a great job of taking care of my father, who is two years older.


Nate Livingston, far right, and his band play at Copperfield’s in Boston.

It’s fun to give a good surprise. We did that to our son Nate, whose band was playing its first gig at a Boston bar. The music was great by the way.

Our granddaughter wasn’t surprised we were at her 2-year-old birthday party but we were at how well she speaks and understands the world.

Boston is a sports town that loves the Red Sox even though they stink so far this season. That is true of the other Massachusetts teams. A kid was hawking “Free Tom Brady” t-shirts near Fenway. My observation was they weren’t really free Tom Brady t-shirts.

Boston is busy with lots of commercial construction under way. Homes don’t stay long on the market. The economy is clearly better than where I live.

I enjoyed reading positive messages about diversity and neighborhood pride on the trolley and in the subway stations.

And one more lesson: Never take a flight out of Boston on a summer afternoon. We made it as far as Baltimore but got held up three hours on the tarmac because the routes out west were closed due to storms. We got home close to 1 a.m. But I had a good book and the passengers clapped when the plane took off. Good sports, I would say of my fellow travelers.



Eating on the Road Again

We returned recently from a weeklong camping trip to three national parks. The availability of good quality, pre-packaged natural foods certainly makes living in a tent easier. So in the middle of Arches National Park — an 18-mile trip to the gate — we ate Pad Thai noodles and tasty soups from a box. Hot foods were essential since the temps dipped when the sun went down into the 30s and at Grand Canyon, the 20s, the week we were living outside.  

Baja-style tacos at Kip’s Grill

And on occasion, we ate inside a restaurant like Kip’s Grill in Pagosa Springs. (More below.)

I am not a rookie to camp life. Years ago I camped for months, visiting national and state parks in California and Arizona with my then-companion. We started in San Francisco, where a woman from India taught me how to make chapatis. I accompanied the woman, whose English skills were limited, as she searched for a job around the city. In exchange she showed me how to make chapatis. I kneaded wholewheat dough, rolled balls of it into thin, flat discs before I quickly heated both sides on a skillet. Then, I placed the chapatis on the grate of a lit camp stove (sometimes a fireplace) until they puffed. That became our staple on the road. 

I also cooked for our six kids on our summer camping trips but out of necessity — think huge quantities — everything was made from scratch. While I don’t recall the menus, I do the massive preparation and cleanups. There have been several occasions Hank and I have hit the road to tent and hike.

As I mentioned earlier, Hank and I did eat out a few times on our most recent trip. Salads when we could find them. Muffins and coffee if we were driving at breakfast time. Best muffin was at the Pagosa Baking Company in Southern Colorado. Worst was at Starbucks, where the muffins were more like cake.

At Grand Canyon we ate at  El Tovar Lodge, one of the former

Harvey House railroad hotels from the early 1900s. Charles Whittlesey was the architect for this Mission-style hotel, which is featured in Hank’s numerous books on the Arts and Crafts movement. 

(That’s him pondering the menu at the right.) The lodge, with its massive, dark interior and appropriate furnishings, was a delight. Unfortunately the lunch — salmon with rice and broccoli — wasn’t. I gather the chef wanted me to spread a big glob of citrus butter all over the dish to give it taste, which I didn’t.

The best meal eaten on the road was in Pagosa Springs, where we ended our trip to warm up in pools ranging from 93 to 109 degrees. We had Baja-style tacos at Kip’s Grill. Kip’s is a small place on the main drag with a cantina-like atmosphere. The clientele that

Kip’s Grill

Saturday night looked like mostly locals and a few people like us who wandered in off the road. We were lucky to get a table right away. I had spicy shrimp. Hank chose fish. For a buck more we got slices of avocado. The tacos were tasty and inexpensive. Plus there were bottles of great homemade hot sauces. Our waitress told us “Do whatever you have to do to get my attention.” Funny thing, we didn’t have to.  Here’s a link to their site



Grand Canyon Sweet

We returned today from a trek through a good part of the West. We decided this time to camp in our tent, a little risky given it was the first week in November. But Hank and I weren’t deterred.

Hank at the rim.

We certainly have done our share of camping, separately, together, and with our six kids when they were, well, kids.

Our first stop was the Grand Canyon, at the Southern Rim because it was Nov. 1 and the North Rim in the park was closed. We learned we were two of the five million people who visit this national park each year, and no wonder. I couldn’t get enough of the canyon.

The last time I visited was decades ago with my oldest daughter, then 9 months, and her father. I carried her on my back down the

Bright Angel Trail to the bottom, where we stayed overnight. As I recall it was about three hours down and nine hours up. It was spring and snow covered the top portion. I was glad to make that hike then, and pledge to do it again soon when we have more time.

Hank and I were definitely at the Grand Canyon during the off-season. Crowds were way down — the bus driver said it was “berserko” in the summer — and it was easy to get a campsite. We took the free shuttle buses to the visitor center and points on the rim trail we wanted to walk. We bought firewood at the supermarket.

It did get cold at night, down into the 20s. The first, the wind picked up before it rained and sleeted. The cold kept me awake, but I got smarter the next night.

We did well packing food and provisions. I made a short list of what we should bring the next time: a hatchet, a mallet (we improvised with rocks), a table cloth, kindling from Hank’s shop and maybe firewood if we have the room, a thinner air mattress, and folding chairs.

But we toughed it out. Certainly, the views of the Grand Canyon were worth it. Then, there were Zion and Arches, with a visit in the middle with a daughter in Vegas. For us it was one grand circle. More later.