Photo du Jour #4: Geburtstag Greetings for Dad!

Happy Birthday Geburtstag Cake

As they say in Germany, ‘Alles Gute zum Geburtstag.‘ Wishing you a Happy Birthday, Dad!

~With fond memories of birthdays past, especially the one where we whipped up QuarkSahne-Kuchen with fresh raspberries from your garden in Ansbach! Mom was lacking letters for the cake, so its greeting was a mix of German and English – ‘Denglisch’. :-)

Happy Birthday Cake

Photo du Jour: Under the Rainbow – Heidelberg, Germany

Our visiting friends and family are both horrified and sympathetic when they learn that our circa 1762 apartment has 87 stairs, and dare I say, no elevator. I argue that the views of the Heidelberg Castle, church steeples and Königstuhl and Heiligenberg hills make the long ascent worthwhile.

Continue reading “Photo du Jour: Under the Rainbow – Heidelberg, Germany”

The Beauty and Tragedy of Sevilla, part II

Note: This is Part II of a Sevilla series. Click here for Part I: 

We arrived at Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Sevilla in the evening hours. The summer sun was still blazing down, the stadium grand with elegant trimmings. It is Spain’s oldest bullring; its construction began in 1749.

There was anticipation in the air as merchants peddled striped seat cushions, cigars, frozen water, peanuts and candies. There were also hats and fans to shield spectators from the scorching sun. These trinkets would be vital for any attendees who had chosen the least-expensive seats, which would be directly within reach of the sun’s sizzling rays.

Faces from all corners of the world were in the darkened, tunnel-like passageways that formed the perimeter around the ring: middle-aged Asian tourists, backpacking American college students, and elegantly-dressed Spanish couples. Some fans sported bandanas on which their favorite matador’s image was emblazoned. I was surprised to see young Spanish children there as well. There was a young boy with his father’s hand resting on his shoulder in a reassuring manner, little girls clad in frilly dresses, hair ribbons and lacy, anklet socks. I’d earlier read that Spanish television channels had restricted the broadcasting of bullfights specifically to protect child viewers. Therefore, I was surprised to see children under the age of ten in attendance.

Upon entering the stadium, the colors were magnificent: the ring’s curry-colored dirt floor contrasted sharply with the flawless blue sky and stark-white architectural accents. Also, there was the mosaic-like jumble of clothing of attendees and the dark uniforms of official personnel.

Suddenly, lively snippets of music from Bizet’s Carmen commenced and out came the torero doing their signature prance, closely followed by a trailing legion of photographers. The costumes worn by men on horseback, as well as those worn by the torero, were stunning. The outfits were in crimson, purple and turquoise hues, with the primary matador’s cloth being woven with a thick gold embroidery. It’s no wonder why this outfit is known as a traje de luces or ‘suit of lights.’

I was impressed by this pageantry, initially. How swiftly my mood changed when the disoriented bull arrived into the ring and the two sharp banderillas (sticks with a sharp end) were brought out in the steady hands of a banderillero. To great pomp and circumstance, the first banderillas were plunged into the bull’s back and later its neck. Blood seeped from the bull’s wounds, leaving its now-crimson back radiating agony in the sun. I watched for a second, and then glanced away, using my Spanish fan to help block the scene.

The matador’s moves were refined and practiced and he was poised as he gracefully swayed the hot-pink cape past the aggravated 1,100-pound bull. The torero continued to pierce the animal with spears, risking their own harm to elicit gasps and cheers from the crowd. Despite their courage, I pondered what percentage of the Spanish citizenry actually reveres them for this practice. (A Gallup poll from 2006 indicated that only 8% of Spanish citizens consider themselves bullfighting fans. Yet, the Spanish king was once quoted as saying if the European Union were to ban bullfighting, then that would be the day Spain removes itself from the EU.)

With each approach of the bull, each twirl of the matador, each stab, the audience grew ever more enthralled. Old ladies stood up to cheer. Others sat in their seats with emotionless faces, their hands cloaking their mouths. Some children watched listlessly, while others played with their hand-held video games or mobile phones. Occasionally, the picadores (a pair of horsemen) rode into the ring to stab the bull with a long spear. The bull charged the two horses several times, causing the horses to get rammed into the wall. One horse was violently knocked to the ground.

Continue reading “The Beauty and Tragedy of Sevilla, part II”

The Beauty and Tragedy of Sevilla, part I

Note: This is Part I of a Sevilla series. Click here for Part II – The Bull Fight.

Sevilla. The name evokes a blend of passionate images: Flamenco dancing women clad in vibrant, polka dot-studded dresses, their feet striking a floor with thunderous blows… A matador de toros poised to enter a ring facing possible goring or death… Spirited bodega-goers clinking glasses overflowing with jewel-toned sangria and amber cerveza… On a balmy long weekend earlier this summer, Shawn and I journeyed to Andalucía to witness it all, resulting in our own mixture of intense emotions.

Arriving first at Jerez de la Frontera’s train station, we were delighted to see Feria revelers of all ages donning colorful flamenco dresses and charcoal suits with top hats. Mothers and daughters sported coordinated ensembles with matching dresses and floral hairpieces. Their spirited energy was contagious.

We soaked up the procession of polka dot ladies until our bus for Sevilla arrived. Once we crossed the threshold into the city, we treated ourselves to refreshing sangria and cervezas along with rich Iberian cheese and toasted bread tapas treats.

Suddenly, there came the roar of brass instruments, coupled with the shuffling of feet in a procession to honor a saint. Weary-faced children carried candles, incense and gold-embroidered religious banners. Gilded relics were carried by a sea of parish members; only their sneakers and shins were visible. It was the first of many processions that would traverse our paths in the coming days.

On our second day, we strolled throughout the city, admiring palm trees, ceramic tiled façades and the soul-soothing tunes of charismatic flamenco guitar players. Despite our limited knowledge of Spanish niceties, the locals warmly welcomed us. We were also impressed with the elegant manner in which young and old dressed. Adult women wore smart silk suits and dresses, some with lace mantilla veils; young children donned clothing reminiscent of 1950s or 1960s Americana (sweater sets, hair bows, patent-leather shoes). We noted that families with young children almost always dressed the little ones like Doublemint Twins. This was regardless of whether or not the children had twin status.

Continue reading “The Beauty and Tragedy of Sevilla, part I”

Candy Apples, Saloons & A Sagebrush Cemetery: A Day Trip to Virginia City, Nevada

For a scribe who’s been in Germany for the past ten years, there isn’t much of a better way to reconnect with her American roots than to visit the wild, wild west.

That’s just what Shawn and I did exactly one year ago when we spent the day playing in Virginia City, Nevada…

Once a mining boomtown, Virginia City previously claimed the title of the richest city in the United States. This was due to the Comstock Lode silver strike that occurred there in the late 1850s. The strike transformed prospectors into millionaires, virtually overnight.

It’s said that Virginia City is the ‘birthplace’ of Mark Twain, since this is where the former Territorial Enterprise reporter Samuel Clemens had the maiden usage of his now-famous pen name. He would go on to continue using his pen name during his Tramp Abroad, which included an extended stop in Heidelberg, Germany. In an age devoid of the airplane, he sure managed to get around!

Continue reading “Candy Apples, Saloons & A Sagebrush Cemetery: A Day Trip to Virginia City, Nevada”

Lessons From Erna: Remembering a Talented Musician, Teacher, and Friend

In a black and white image, bordered by a simple silver frame on my piano, she is seated behind the wheel of a classic roadster. Coyly sporting a riding cap, cream-colored driving gloves, and her trademark smile is a woman who not only taught me about arpeggios, flats, and sharps, but also about life, its remarkable coincidences, and values that we should hold dear.

We first met in March 1987. I was nearly ten, and my piano-teacher to-be, Mrs. Erna Blonek, was 86. I remember thinking that the diminutive elderly woman, with wavy hair as white as snow, spoke with a funny accent. My mother later explained that Mrs. Blonek was originally from Czechoslovakia.

Over time, I learned that she had been widowed in the 1960s and that she and her radiologist husband, František, had immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s.

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Our Peterhof Gardens Promenade

Peterhof-Palace-St. Petersburg-Russia

Often referred to as Russia’s Versailles, the Peterhof Palace gardens (ПЕТЕРГО́Ф) offered us a picturesque spot through which to stroll during our visit to St. Petersburg earlier this month.

Under shadows cast by heavily-gilded cupolas, we were brusquely ushered through the grandiose palace complex past faces from all walks of life. When we crossed paths with artists dressed in Baroque garb, we tried to imagine Peterhof in its heyday shortly after its commissioning by Peter the Great in the 18th century.

Peterhof Palace RussiaAnd then we tried visualize the depths of its destruction at the hands of Nazi occupiers between 1941-1944. Reconstruction work and regular maintenance continue to this day.

Peterhof Palace Russia ArchitecturePeterhof Palace Gardens RussiaWe found the elegant gardens and cast of characters to be of the most interest as they brought life to the prim palace.

There were Russian school-children visiting the UNESCO-registered complex, yet some seemed more interested in games of hide & seek than in the ornate architecture.

Peterhof Palace Russia Gardens and FountainsPeterhof Russia Gardens of PalacePeterhof RussiaPeterhof Russia Gardens of Palace 2

There was even a bride that resembled a delicately-painted matryoshka doll.Peterhof Russia Wedding BrideAnd aggressive salesmen, peddling matryoshka dolls, wooden structures with Eastern Orthodox spires and Siberian cashmere shawls. Some expressions evoked Cold War intrigue.

Peterhof Russia Gardens of Palace VendorsPeterhof Palace Gardens Russia 3Peterhof Palace Russia Fountains and Cupola

Where in the World?

Photography & text © by Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Golden Moments in Burgundy, France

It is no wonder why Bourgogne, or Burgundy, is known as the Côte d’Or. During our July sojourn in France’s ‘Golden Hillsides,’ the area’s fields were ablaze with vibrant tournesols (sunflowers), freshly-groomed wheat, and vineyards — where still-maturing grapes glistened with dew.

In the villages of Burgundy, sand-colored stone homes were accented with shutters painted in hues of Williamsburg blue, deep ivy green, and terracotta. Delicate geraniums overflowed from window boxes, while tantalizing aromas — like toasted baguettes, boeuf bourguignon and a Dijon vinaigrette — swirled down the streets. In cafés and restaurants, blond Chardonnay flooded glasses. The scintillating wine seemed tailor-made for such balmy Burgundian summer evenings.

From the weathered buildings, friendly faces and people with lively personalities emerged. Periodically, vintage Citroëns rolled onto the scene, creating circa 1940 vignettes that were quintessentially French. One such classic voiture even ushered in a serendipitous moment that would be one of the highlights of our time in Burgundy.

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