Laguna de Bacalar…Yucatecan Paradise

Just 3 1/2 hours from Cancun lies one of the most extraordinary, ecologically unique and beautiful places in the world , Laguna de Bacalar (Bacalar Lagoon), yet very, very few tourists ever see it. 

Since I first learned of Laguna de Bacalar a few years ago, I’ve wanted to see it. In January 2016, I got my wish. The intense blue color of the clear, clear water in  gemlike variations is truly a wonder and is why the lagoon is known as the Lake of Seven ColorsThis extraordinary natural phenomenon is caused by the presence of saltwater and of underwater cenotes (deep, sinkholes in the porous limestone bedrock) fed by fresh water springs. It is entirely unique in the world. Bounded by pristine, white sand beaches and 60 km long, Laguna de Bacalar is truly a paradise. Laguna de Bacalar is easy to reach by bus or by car via the Carretara Reforma, a new and very safe highway, yet it is a world removed from the fun, sun and nightclubs of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. As you leave sleepy Tulum and its impressive Mayan fortress behind, you are truly in the real Yucatán. Stop along the way as I did to buy fresh pineapples (the sweetest I’ve ever tasted), three pineapples for the equivalent of $1. The village of Bacalar (the name is of Mayan derivation) was a Mayan city in precolumbian times. The Spanish conquered the city in 1543, the first Spanish colony in the region. In 1739, they erected the fortress San Felipe Bacalar which now lies at the center of the sleepy village. Climbing it, one can enjoy spectacular views of the lagoon. 

If you are looking for fast nightlife and beach clubs with DJs, you won’t find them here. Nor will you find hordes of tourists. What you will find is a quiet, friendly, safe village with  a lovely central plaza, a few restaurants, taco stands, bars and shops and a few small hotels and guest houses. We had a great stay at this guest house which I found on AirBnB. The views from the private terrace were gorgeous. The cover photo is of the Hotel Akalki Bacalar, another lovely property. As if saving the best for last, Laguna de Bacalar ends the day with unparalleled sunsets. If you are planning a trip to Cancun, have fun! It’s a great place, and I love it. But do yourself a favor and set aside a few days for Laguna deBacalar. Cancun is fun; Laguna de Bacalar is truly extraordinary. 

Bon voyage!

Ancient and Fascinating Animal Totems of the Langue D’Oc

The Langue D’Oc is an ancient, ancient land. Many  cultures have left their mark on it from the prehistory of humans to the present. It’s this fact that makes the Langue D’Oc so fascinating. It is full of quirky customs with ancient roots that are entirely unique. In a few  Occitan villages and towns of the Hereault (pronounced ear-oh) region of the Langue D’Oc,  you will find one of these completely unique customs; Animeaux Totémique (Animal Totems). The tradition of Animal Totems dates at least to the 16th century with a few undoubtedly being older. These include the Camel of Béziers, the Bull of Meze  and the Wolf of Loupian. The totems, which are made of cloth and canvas are paraded to the accompaniment of drums through the streets by men in customary dress  Last August, I attended carnival in Florensac, Hereault. When i arrived in the  early afternoon, moules (musselswere being prepared and given out for free in the village square. Moules have been an important part of the local culture for thousands of years. The Florensac totem, Lo Chivalet in Occitan, is a horse. The villagers responsible for Lo Chivalet, wearing matching shirts, scarves and sashes, were partying at the corner bar. When I returned in the early evening after exploring the area, they were all still there, partying whilst awaiting the festivities! A stage was in place for the evening’s entertainment, and long tables under the oak trees set with chairs quickly filled. Everyone eagerly anticipated and then cheered the entrance of Lo Chivalet and his Master!​ Who had a whip!​​​ ​​​​​​​​

​​The crowd was particularly appreciative  when Lo Chivalet reared up, spun around or was lifted overhead.  The Lo Chivalet association has local sponsors. I loved the juxtaposition of the John Cash poster on his side, the result of a tribute band sponsor. Animaux Totémique are traditionally carried by men, but in Florensac they also have a smaller Lo Chevelet carried by village women. I think this must be a more recent development. The women approached and butted heads with the men before also rearing several times. Judging by the LOUD encouragement of the audience, the women are a popular addition to the custom!

Lo Chivalet and his female counterpart departed to enthusiastic applause. It was time to eat and drink (drink more!) prior to the evening’s entertainment. The young men of Lo Chivalet were certainly enjoying themselves!As I was the lone outsider, they even serenaded me with a boisterous rendition of the Lo Chivalet song!​

 

​The evening’s entertainment began. Everyone settled down to watch a great show. I felt privileged and grateful to that the welcoming residents of Florensac allowed me to be a part of their carnival and ancient traditions. 

Poignant Memories of US Soldiers Lost in WWI

I recently visited the Oise-Aisne American Cemetary, the final resting place 6,012 men and women with an additional 241 missing in action memorialized there. Like all American cemetaries abroad, it is meticulously maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. I have visited many American cemetaries abroad. All are somber but beautiful places, but I have never visited one as beautiful as this. Set in the gently rolling farmland and woodlots of the Aisne, it is a place of peace and quietly stunning beauty. With WWI 100 years in the past, very few individuals remain who even knew someone who personally was acquainted with someone interred here. As individuals, in that sense, those here are now forgotten. Somehow, this fact enhances the peace of this place, overlooked as it is by a graceful monument at the top of a gentle rise.It’s as if in resting half a world away and no longer being known, they are finally free of the horrors of WWI. Unlike today, the grave markers  give not just name and rank but also specifics as to what sort of division the individual served in and the work they did. This provides poignant insight into who the person was. We can easily picture them going about their duties.Many WWI dead could not be identified. There were no dog tags, and the absolute horror of trench warfare meant there were often no identifiable remains. This soldier must have had something in his possession to indicate his Jewish faith.

The majority here died in the Second Battle of the Marne, especially in the Second Offensive, July 17 – August 18, 1918. Here are just a few of the markers I read and just a fraction of those interred at this cemetary. We can wonder who they were, who they loved and who grieved for them, but we can never know them. They are beyond anyone’s reach now. LaFayette, they came. 

Shopping at a French Vide Grenier

This morning, I engaged in one of my favorite activities in France…shopping at a village flea market dans la compagne. The French as a rule love flea markets and love a good find. There are several different types of markets. Yesterday, I visited Le-Ferté-sous-Jouarre and shopped  Vide Greniér.The word Greniér means an attic or small storage space where one puts things they don’t use, etc. There’s a bit of everything for sale, but you can find treasures if you look. I noticed a few suspected pickers. Buyers from the Paris flea markets often come to country markets looking for items to resell. To compete with them, you’ve got to get there when the market opens, usually 7-8 am. I was NOT competitive on this day!A Vide Grenier is often sponsored by a local organization as a fundraiser. Sometimes it’s sponsored by the village or town. There’s usually amusement for the children. Of course, there’s food! Rosé and frites with mayo works for me!Although this Vide Greniér was small, I still found a few treasures! An early 20th century chauferette (portable bed warmer for travel). A fitted stone was heated in the fire and then placed in the mesh cylinder. It’s about half the size of a lunch box. I have no idea what I’m going to do with it, but I love its Art Deco design. Very Metropolis  Prints by Steinlein and Cheret (not original more’s the pity!) which I will reframe. Both are prints one doesn’t see as often. I own a signed Cheret lithograph in a carnival theme. Come EatWith me and you can see it! A Quimper 12×6″ platter in perfect condition. Beautiful colors and glaze. And my favorite find! A heavy brass plaque 14×3″ which I think must’ve been affixed to a large piece of machinery. I’m guessing it’s early 20th century. It will look great on a wall! I’m surprised a picker hadn’t already snatched it up. The grand total for all my purchases? $44! And you have to factor in the fun I had hunting.  I could sell these items (especially the sign) for a nice profit back in the States, but I want them all for myself. The next time you are in France, visit brocabrac to see if there’s a sale near you. You can search by city/village or region. Then go! 

Bonne shopping!

Catalan Pride and Street Art in Barcelona

Visiting French and Spanish Catalonia last summer, Catalan pride was visible everywhere on both sides of the border. The same pride was evident in Barcelona when I was there last month. If you would like to learn more about the Catalonian independence movement, click hereIt was my first visit to Barcelona in eight years, and I was absolutely blown away the explosion in street art that has taken place since then. Catalonian culture is experiencing a true rebirth in art and cuisine and taking off in new directions. 

I’m truly looking forward to exploring and sharing more of my favorite part of the world with you. Stay tuned!

Sexy Date History!!!


It’s not quite what you think! I was in Palm Springs, California last week (it was 115 out) and visited Shields Date Farm where dates were being harvested. I ate some incredible dates, and Dan had a date shake which defies description beyond REALLY REALLY GOOD. A program called “The Sex Life of the Date” has been there popular since 1923 (imagine how daring it must’ve been to say SEX in 1923!). Before MiMo, there was a Arabian architecture in the Coachella valley, and you can still see it and towns with names like Mecca and Desert Hot Springs. Bank tellers dressed as harem maidens, people rode camels and your coffee House waitress might’ve been dressed as a Genie. Really!

Listen to this outstanding story from a few years ago on NPR’s “The Salt” (love The Salt), and make sure and look at the crazy pictures from long ago Coachella!

Bon appétit!

State Fairs…Only In America!

There’s nothing the world over like State Fairs. These surreal, magical cities spring to life just once a year, rising pheonix-like from lonely, clapboard buildings, weedy fields and dusty tracks. The stuff of rich childhood memories, they are anticipated, revisited and relived with pleasure. While agricultural fairs have existed for thousands of years, the State Fairs Americans know and love, unique to the United States, did not emerge until after the Civil War. Prior to that time, the majority of Americans lived and/or worked on farms. Small local fairs were the norm and the focus was entirely agricultural (with a bit of horse racing thrown in). As manufacturing increased and urban areas grew, fairs began to add attractions to entice urban Americans. Freak shows, oddities, carnival rides, carnies, sky gliders, hoochie-coochie girls and so much more were added. The State Fair was born.

Yesterday, I attended the Ohio State Fair, just as I have nearly every year of my life. Oh, how my sister and I looked forward to the Ohio State Fair when we were children! Months before the big day, we would start begging for chores and saving our pennies for THE FAIR. Every State Fair has it’s own special traditions, and one of Ohio’s is the “Butter Cow” and it’s attendant butter sculptures. In 1903, the first Butter Cow and Calf, sculpted entirely of butter, made their debut. In the ensuing years, attendant Ohio-themed butter sculptures were added. This year’s were sculpted with over 2,000 lbs of pure butter! You can read more about the Butter Cow here.20140727-142721-52041090.jpg

Agriculture still plays an important role in State Fairs, particularly in major agricultural states such as Ohio. The oldest structure on the Ohio State Fairgrounds is the Poultry and Rabbit Pavillion, erected in 1903. It is the largest poultry fair in the United States.

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In it, you will see an absolutely astounding array of chickens of all colors and sizes! I never miss it.

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Near and dear to my own heart, canning and preserving holds it’s own honored place at the Fair. With the resurgence of interest in home preserving, there’s been a steady growth in entries.

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You can see photos and learn more about the fascinating history of the Ohio State Fair here. I have, on occasion, had the pleasure of taking European visitors to the Ohio State Fair and witnessing their absolute amazement (and befuddlement). Truly, there is nothing in the world like a State Fair. I was happy to be in Ohio yesterday.
Bon Appetit!
Tess