Don’t know what gifts to buy for the holidays? Do you wish you could travel NOW?
My grandmother told us every year not to give her gifts. What she wanted was us at her table every Sunday for lunch. As a mom, I don’t want things from my adult children either. I want experiences with them. I’ll never forget the Christmas we spent together in London…the trip Taylor and I did to Captiva Island…the ride cross-country with Cole when he moved to Denver .
And if you’re looking for a way to bond beyond one experience on one day, I have more unique ideas… they are in this month’s newsletter along with suggestions for summer entertaining, travel planning, and other May fun.
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When people ask How? Why? I moved to Morocco sight unseen, I think to myself, I didn’t. Though I’d never been to Africa, my soul brimmed with vivid images from exotic Arabian tales my grandmother read to me from my dad’s childhood book.
I was lured by sultry desert tents, regal riads, and secret gardens where princes and princesses lounged in plush, cushioned comfort. In my imagination birds sang- by- day and lanterns glowed- by- night in arched Andalusian courtyards of fabulous fountains, mosaic tile, and intricately carved woodwork. I was meant to come here–a place where so many desires of my heart have been fulfilled for which I am forever grateful.
Likewise, for some time I felt drawn to Riad Star, former home of Josephine Baker, Queen of the Jazz Age. I was first attracted by the place and a moment in time–the blending of beautiful Marrakesh design with an era I’ve loved since I was a little girl dressing up in my grandmother’s drop waist dresses and pumps. As an adult obsessed with Post- World War I Paris expats and Harlem Renaissance artists, I teach The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, and Jazz, and when living in the US had students play dress up, too, for annual ’20s Day events.
Recently I finally stayed at Riad Star and met “Jazz Cleopatra,” the legend for whom the boutique hotel is named.
I now realize that what drew me there was more than one period of history. It was a Renaissance Woman who before and beyond Harlem and the 20s never stopped changing, growing, giving, and overcoming. A woman of tenacity and tenderness.
When Aziz greeted me at the taxi, walked me to the riad, and placed my bag in her very suite, The Josephine Room, I was in awe. There, under a photograph of her close friend, Grace Kelly, my favorite American Hollywood actress since I was a teen…
I devoured Josephine’s biographies found in my room and the library downstairs.
In the afternoon sun on the rooftop
near the cool courtyard,
and under the covers at night,
like Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris I was transported to another time.
There I discovered a new treasure in Marrakesh..the “Black Pearl”…the “Bronze Venus” who Ernest Hemingway, her fellow expat in Paris, called “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”
Or Angelina Jolie…
A dancer, singer, movie star, and mom energetically entertained crowds for fifty years and raised her “Rainbow Tribe.”
Baker was the first black woman to star in a major motion picture, Zouzou(1934) and to become a world-famous entertainer. A superstar before Marilyn or Madonna, Josephine was named in 2012 Time magazine in the Top 100 Fashion Icons of All Time.
Likewise she was muse for artists and intellectuals of the 1930s such as Picasso, Pirandello, Georges Roualt, Le Corbusier, and e.e. cummings. Dance Magazine explained the allure of Josephine –the “geometry” of her oval head and lithe body–during the Cubist and Art Deco movements, both influenced by African art and sculpture.
A World War II spy for the French Resistance, Josephine Baker was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Légion d’Honneur by General Charles de Gaulle and the Rosette of the Résistance. At her death she was mourned in Paris by 20,000 people including Princess Grace who gathered for her funeral procession. She was buried with military honors in Monaco, a place she and her family visited often as guests of the royal family.
A civil rights activist, she was the only woman who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington alongside Martin Luther, King. She told the crowd that day: You are on the eve of a complete victory. You can’t go wrong. The world is behind you.
Later she said of her personal victory:
Until the March on Washington, I always had this little feeling in my stomach. I was always afraid. I couldn’t meet white American people. I didn’t want to be around them. But now that little gnawing feeling is gone. For the first time in my life I feel free. I know that everything is right now.
And for a time, she lived in Marrakesh in a room I just stayed in.
Mike and Lucie Wood, British owners of Marrakech Riad, added Riad Star in 2010 to their collection of boutique hotels in the medina. Mike explained their mission:
We bought our first riad (Riad Cinnamon) in 2005 after I was introduced to Marrakech by a Moroccan friend. We are passionate about introducing our guests to Moroccan culture, especially first time visitors. As well as the riads we are very involved in a charity which we founded with another English couple. It’s called Henna Cafe and has an active programme of education.
The Pasha Thami el Glaoui formerly owned what is now Riad Star, a guest annex to the palace which is now the Marrakech museum. Mike says he learned Josephine Baker stayed there when talking to a neighbor. The people of Derb Alilich still remember her warmth and she appreciated theirs. In the Josephine Room there’s a window looking onto the street–nonexistent in most riads where windows, doors, and balconies face inward toward private courtyards. It is believed the Pasha of Marrakech paid children to sit outside Josephine’s window and read for her while she was convalescing after a nineteen-month stay at a hospital in Casablanca in 1941-42.
Mike Wood says of the purchase:
The restoration was extensive and took two years with a team of highly skilled local craftsmen. We did not really change much except adding the rolling roof which is very practical and putting in more bathrooms.
Ah, but the details the Woods added are symbolic of a spirit whose beauty, sensitivity and toughness transcended adversity. There are nine rooms at Riad Star, each named for a part of Josephine’s life, such as the Jazz room, Paris room, Chiquita room, and Rainbow room. Though historically themed, each room has modern conveniences, such as refrigerators, WiFi, and flatscreen televisions.
Josephine was born in 1906 in St. Louis to Carrie McDonald, daughter of former slaves, and vaudeville drummer Eddie Carson who carried her onstage when she was a toddler but left the family soon after. She cleaned houses and tended children for white families who told her not to kiss the babies. One mistress burned her hands for using too much soap when washing clothes. At age twelve she began a waitressing job at The Old Chauffeur’s Club which led to being married off unsuccessfully at thirteen. At fifteen she was noticed for her street dancing and recruited for vaudeville. After witnessing the St. Louis race riots and experiencing abusive treatment which led to a time she lived on the streets and ate from trash bins, she moved to New York City during the Harlem Renaissance and performed at the Plantation Club. As the last girl in the chorus line, her role was to make the audience laugh–something she loved doing her entire life. But in 1925 Paris she moved from last to superstardom overnight when she opened in La Revue Nègre at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. Continuing to amaze crowds with her sensual dances, costumes, and charisma, by 1927 she earned more than any entertainer in Europe. And then she took on another continent…
In Josephine: The Hungry Heart, Jean-Claude Baker and Chris Chase wrote of Josephine’s “Arabian Nights” when “she came to Northern Africa with twenty-eight pieces of luggage and her animals.” Before she adopted twelve children from various countries (she suffered miscarriages and “many surgeries” trying to have her own and a complication that confined her to the Casablanca hospital ), she had a menagerie consisting of Chiquita, her famous leopard she walked on a leash; Ethel, a chimpanzee; Albert, a pig; Kiki, a snake, and a goat, parrot, parakeets, fish three cats and seven dogs. In Morocco her monkeys played in the orange trees.
Baker records accounts of his mother’s time at Riad Star :
Every morning, as soon as the birds started singing, Josephine was up and running around in the buff going to the kitchen to help the servants cook… The house had four bedrooms—one which had her big brass bed from France… She adopted Arab customs. She liked eating with her hands, wearing the loose djelleba, going with her maids to the hammam, the Turkish baths, once a week.
….And wasn’t it queer that Josephine, who had spent her childhood dreaming of kings in golden slippers, should find herself there? In a place where, even more amazingly, racial discrimination did not exist? Thami el Glaousi, pasha of Marrakesh and the most powerful tribal chieftain in French Morocco at that time, was himself black.
From northern Africa Josephine was safe from Nazi racism. Langston Hughes wrote she “was as much a victim of Hitler as the soldiers who fall in Africa today fighting his armies. The Aryans drove Josephine away from her beloved Paris.” Nonetheless, while in Africa as she’d done throughout Europe, Josephine continued entertaining troops for Charles de Gaulle and carrying information for the Allied forces from Spain. Among dignitaries who visited her while in the hospital in Casa was Jacques Abtrey, Head of Intelligence against the Germans. Outside as a military parade with American, French, and Moroccan troops marched by, he and Josephine toasted with champagne. He recalls: “We raised our glasses to America, to England, and to our eternal France.”
Bennetta Jules-Rosette, Director of the African and African-American Studies Research Center at the University of California – San Diego and author of Josephine Baker in Art and Life: The Icon and the Image wrote of Josephine making Paris her home and learning not only French but Italian and Russian:
As a black woman, had she stayed in the United States, she could not have accomplished what she did….She never made a Hollywood film. But at the same time she was recording in France, you had the likes of Hattie McDaniel playing maids in Gone with the Wind…[She] was among the early path-breakers to use performance celebrity for political ends.
When in the US she refused to perform in venues that did not admit minorities. Says Jules-Rosette: “She was the first person to desegregate the Las Vegas casinos, not Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.”
Still, in 1951 she was refused admittance to some hotels and restaurants, and when she charged the Stork Club in New York City of racism when the owner would not serve her, she was placed on the FBI watch list and lost her US citizenship rights for over a decade. In 1963 she returned with the help of Attorney General Robert Kennedy to speak at the March on Washington. She told the crowd:
You know I have always taken the rocky path…I never took the easy one, but as I get older, and as I knew I had the power and the strength, I took that rocky path and I tried to smooth it out a little. I wanted to make it easier for you. I want you to have a chance at what I had.
Summing up her journey, Josephine said: “I did take the blows [of life], but I took them with my chin up, in dignity, because I so profoundly love and respect humanity…I believe in prayer. It’s the best way we have to draw strength from heaven.”
When not reading at Riad Star, I chatted over dinner with a lovely group of ladies on holiday from England. All moms, they had decided to treat themselves to a girls’ getaway. For information on package deals including a Girls Getaway and other specialty escapes, go here. I spent breakfast with a little bird by the pool, then took off with Aziz to see two other properties owned by the Woods.
Though all guests are provided a downloadable App and cell phone to navigate the medina, after two years here and still taking wrong turns at times in the medina, I was thrilled Aziz was happy to walk me to and from the taxi as well as show me two other riads.
Riad Cinnamon has five suites, each named for a city in Morocco: Fez, Essaouira, Chefchaouen, Casablanca, and Meknes. Since I’ve been to all but Meknes, four of the rooms transported me to fine Morocco Moments across the country.
After raiding my grandmother’s trunk for dress up clothes, I’d wear them out into her garden to watch butterflies playing in the flowers. At Riad Papillon (Riad Butterly), imagination takes flight in rooms named for blooms, such as Bougainvillea, Jasmine, and Rose known to attract those feathery-winged wonders. The riad is just off Dar El Bacha, one of my favorite shopping streets in the souks, while Star and Cinnamon are just around corners from Merdersa Ben Youseff, a medina must-see. All are also near the Spice Square and Henna Cafe.
I enjoyed the morning and my Midnight in Marrakesh experience. HBO’s 1991 movie, The Jordan Baker Story, winner of five Emmys and a Golden Globe now tops my list of Must-see films. In “My Josephine Baker” her son explains in The New York Times how and why he had to write a biography of her: “When she died, something was taken from me. I suffered a loss and I wanted to know who she was, that woman I had seen in so many ways, sometimes a criminal, sometimes a saint.”
When she passed away in 1975, no doubt there were mixed opinions of her because she was– and her critics are– after all, human. Her legacy lives on in Riad Star in the Red City where others find rest and shelter and at the Henna Cafe that promotes appreciation of diversity, cross-cultural communication, and understanding. Though Josephine left school to work as a child, she later learned French, Russian, and Italian, an inspiration to language learners everywhere.
Thank you to Riad Star for the hospitality. As always, the opinions here are my own.
Roots and wings. Nashville has and is (for me) both. This progressive place with a legendary past is the 7th fastest growing city in the US. Friends told me of new restaurants and music venues, of more traffic in the year I was away, but I was still surprised by all the change.
Growing up in Kentucky, I romanticized Nashville and its icons. As a six-year-old in the ‘60s my “imaginary friend” was an imaginary husband—Elvis—and I still remember watching the Johnny Cash Show with my dad on Friday nights long before I’d go to concerts at The Ryman where it was taped. Walk the Line is one of my favorite movies—a love story of a Bad Boy reformed by a woman, her family, and faith. When asked for his definition of Paradise, Johnny said of June Carter Cash, “This morning, with her, having coffee.”
If you are fans of Elvis and Johnny, too, local artist Cindy David’s guitar pick earrings are my pick for cool souvenirs/ gifts. She sells them at festivals and gift shops (Nashville Airport, Frist Center, Omni Hotel, Nashville Symphony, and Cheekwood), or you can contact her at CindyDavid.com. I brought back a pair for Johnny.
When writing in Nashville for Examiner and Hispanic Nashville.com , I highlighted local events that defy Music City being put in a box—
Moviemaker Alberto Fuguet was also drawn to Music City. While Artist-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University, he wrote and filmed Musica Campesina. The film explores the immigrant experience of Tazo, a Chilean who comes to Nashville seeking a career in country music. In a scene with the lead (played by Pablo Cerda) I’m a desperate housewife who offers him iced tea but serves Jack Daniel. Fuguet described Tazo as a “fish out of water” which I better understand now living in a different culture. Many days I feel like a mermaid in Marrakesh.
My month at home went too fast to see all the new places I wanted to explore and visit all my old haunts. Below Taylor, Cole, and I played tourist downtown on 2nd Avenue and Broadway. Acme Feed and Seed has live music, reasonably priced food and a rooftop for taking photos.
Also on Broad is the Frist Center. We celebrated a Big Birthday of my friend, Cheryl, there where The Long Players had people dancing in the grass under the light of a big, blue moon.
Below is the video Emily made celebrating Cheryl’s 60th Birthday and what a “Young American” looks and acts like. Also check out travel videos from Emily’s adventures on her Vimeo station, My Open Road.
Though there are so many places to go, things to do, food to eat, I have to wrap up because I’m getting homesick. For a fix of Italy I love Bella Napoli near Belmont or Coco’s Italian Market in West Nashville. Urban Grub on 12th South has oysters and great grits. And in my neck-of-the-woods, there’s the Hip Donelson Farmers Market for home-cooking-for real like the spread my sister and brother-in-law made for my farewell dinner.
I went to McNamara’s, named “One of the Best Irish Pubs in America,” with my friend, Theresa, then Cole while home for the corned beef and cabbage and band, Nosey Flynn. For lighter fare there’s Phat Bites‘ Chinese Chicken Salad, Broccoli Salad, and Greek Salad and Cinco de Mayo in Hermitage and Old Hickory for a reward after a long walk on the Greenway or just because.
Finally, events I miss most in Nashville are Fall Festivals. Hope you can make one or all!
Last Saturday was as good as it gets. A year ago my friend, April, invited me to Italian Lights, calling me back to my first love affair with a culture. Check it out here: http://southerngirlgoneglobal.com/2010/09/18/finding-an-old-love-in-new-venue-italian-lights/. This year, I invited a gang and I was back in Italy again. I spent hours at table exchanging stories, laughs and food with friends I’d met through my salsa world, Kim K, Dorothy, Jose, April, Jason, Emila, Tricia, and Mayuresh; my sister, Penny, and brother-in-law, Jeff (It was his birthday!); and Kim R.
I’m often asked how I became part of the salsa world in Nashville, a global community who loves Latin dance. My response in short: Italy where I first learned to just BE.
I’ve written other posts on why I love Italy…how it all began one summer when I taught English there. I’d gone with students-in-tow in 2000, 2004, and 2009, each time loving sharing with them places both ancient and beautiful—Venice, Rome, Florence, Capri, Naples, Sorrento, and Pisa. But it was 2005-2007 when I met, then stayed in homes of Italian friends, Antonio, Anna, Fabio, Antonio, Vilma, and Georgio, that I learned firsthand how to live La Dolce Vita. Still framed on my daughter’s wall is a picture of her dancing with Antonio at my surprise birthday party in Torino. She says in just one visit Antonio and Vilma were like grandparents to her.
Meanwhile, Kim Roberts was spending summers with friends in Spain, sometimes doing weekend trips to Italy. We met in an Italian class, sharing a love for travel, the romance languages, and the passionate people who speak them. I liked her instantly as she burst into the first lesson, swishing a bohemian skirt with stories of dancing till dawn with some girlfriends the night before.
Kim admitted that she’s a closet expatriate, that she ached the first time she left Spain. I understood and confessed I felt the same way the first time I flew out over the Italian alps. In Spain and Italy we love the way meals last hours over good wine and interesting conversation. We’d both said, “When I’m there, I finally feel more alive. In a strange way, I feel I’m home.”
Though we’ve never been to Italy together, our simultaneous travels bonded us. In the early fall of 2007 I was on the shores of Lake Como while she was on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Like Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love, we found through travel joy, serenity, adventure, and relationship. But in 2008 when our slim bank accounts prevented our escaping by the usual flight plan, we were forced to embrace what Gilbert says is the main point of her book—that to change our lives, we don’t have to go far. We just have to shift. So our gypsy souls resolved to refocus. Like Dorothy, we would stop chasing rainbows and find contentment and happiness in our own backyard. We had to find what Kim calls, our people…those who seek joy and find it in a celebratory culture right here in Music City.
And we did…first in folks like Patti Nelson of Italian for Fun and later in the Latin dance community. More on that later… Off to make potato salad for today’s Chilean Independence Day Celebration and a trifle for the Hicks’ Copacubana party. For some serendipity, check out my tribute to Latin culture and the Hicks’ house parties, just published on Italian chef, Paulette Licitra’s award-winning food journal, Alimentum. Ciao!
While many may think I’m at a salsa party on NYE, I’m not. I wanted a last night by the tree, my son in the next room playing video games. He’ll graduate in 2012…too soon…and I haven’t had the chance over Christmas break to look back on the past year and thank God for all His blessings.
Many firsts in 2010…my students doing a book study with Sherry’s class in Ecuador via Skype. Classic Coup featured in Her Nashville, then my writing for the magazine. Examiner interviews with amazing people, like Alberto Fuguet and a salsera who inspired me with her story, soon to be published. Loving Middle Eastern food and eating it while watching the Super Bowl. First trip to Vegas and to Kansas City. Sharing Go-Jo with a friend before he hit the Road Less Traveled. Our bathroom restored over Thanksgiving when 8 Days of Hope came to town. The kindness of strangers.
And speaking of Tennessee Williams…my first trip to NOLA. Why had I not gone sooner considering it’s the most European-feeling city in America? There Kim did a reunion concert with her former husband/band member that loyal fans, Kim’s high school friends, and five of us from Nashville traveled to see. She sang like an angel, he played up a storm, and they bantered like June Carter and Johnny Cash. I’d met Kim post-Bill and her Rockabilly days. Seeing them slip back into something onstage so familiar and so different reminded me of the lives we all live and leave behind. Their reunion foreshadowed my own last fall when I saw girls–classmates most of whom I hadn’t seen since my high school graduation. Girls from ’77– different and yet the same.
2011 marks not only a new year. It begins a new decade. Since 2000 I’ve lost both grandmothers. Others have moved away or moved on. I look back each year to embrace the comfort of Wordsworth’s words: “We will grieve not, rather find/ Strength in what remains behind;/ In the primal sympathy / Which having been must ever be.”
In the last decade ten more senior classes graduated. My kids, pets, and I continued celebrating life with birthdays, vacations, Pokeman, American Girl, movie nights, soccer, drama, cheerleading and wrestling. I’ve seen my nieces grow up one street over, alongside my children. I became part of a salsa family that taught me to celebrate EVERY birthday–even the once-dreaded milestones. I’ve seen my sister, mother, and daughter see Italy for the first time. I’ve gone to the beach and Barcelona with friends, explored from Santa Monica to Malibu with Taylor and Cole.
New friends, new passions, new places…like Garden Brunch Cafe, Lassiz, Cantino Laredo, McNamara’s Irish Pub. And old favorites, comfort food, like clam chowder and beef stew, Radnor Lake and Mad Donna’s. A tradition, taking my sis out for her birthday, became new when Penny and I saw A Scattered, Smothered, and Covered Christmas at the new downtown dinner theater. Family and friends still here…passages as we change and move on. Welcome home from Africa, Sally, friends forever since we started Mrs. Monday’s K-5 class together. And hello friends-yet-to-be in 2011.
Once Upon a Time in Dublin in 2000…
And in Destin circa ’05 or so…
And all the time in-between…
It has been a wonderful life…decade…year…
Court of 2 Sisters
Full Circle…I grew up near Fairview where family reunions were held at the “Jeff Davis” monument.
Home in film, The Curious Case of Benjamen Button
Sandra Bullock’s home
One school of Brad P and Angelina J’s children
Mike, our Southern gentleman and host, showed us sites after my first night of Zydeco.
High school friends of Kim at Stanley, my favorite restaurant named for the character I love/hate–especially when played by Marlon Brando.
Carnival at Lime with Em
Classic Coup featured in Her…photo by Jude Ferrara
Birthday dance …photo by Anthony Jure
Author/Director Alberto Fuguet
Teaching my seniors to salsa in the park
Taylor reading my favorite contemporary Southern novelist in Destin
Thanks to Emily and Cindy D, our resident photographers.
Fun with Nashville Writers Meetup at Southern Festival of Books
Founder of Hands on Nashville, Hal Cato, speaks at our Career Day
Senior Prank…my knight captured
My TA, Margarita, consoles me with random acts of kindness.
Examiner article covering Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Awards–Spanish translation
Sonja and Elle’s launch of the Superwoman benefit for battered women
Volunteers from 8 Days of Hope…two families rich in love who blessed mine
Last weekend was full. Saturday at lunch I caught up with Andrew, a former student who graduated almost a decade ago and wants me to read Replay by Ken Grimwood. That night I danced with friends at Jonathan and Pablo’s, the guys who invited Kim and me into the salsa world in March of 2008. Sunday night I ended the weekend with the usual suspects at Las Cazuela’s. But that was after I rekindled an old love…
In 2000 and again in 2004 I fell in lust with Italy–the food, the beauty, the romance and history of Venice, Rome, Pompeii. But when I taught English in the summer of 2005 to adults from Torino and Milan, I fell in love with people who would become life long friends. At Le Due Cascine I was taught the meaning of La Dolce Vita by Italian pals. I’ve sustained it not only in their homes on return visits but also in Italian classes and events in Nashville, often thanks to Patti Franklin Nelson of Italian for Fun. Last Sunday was such an event.
My friend April invited me to Nashville’s first Italian Lights Festival where we listened to live music, checked out the bocce court, and found jewelry that spoke to and from my heart. Apparently designer Shelbi Lavendar shares my determination to “Live, Laugh, Love…and never forget what made you smile.” And then there was a new adventure… Ernesto, former owner of the The Italian Market, insisted I enter the grape-stomping contest. I did. As I stepped into the tub I romantically remembered the wine-making scene from A Walk in the Clouds though I’ll admit fellow Examiner Kathryn Darden was closer to the truth when she wrote: “In a scene straight out of “I Love Lucy,” there was also a grape stomping competition with fresh grapes and bare feet..”