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Airport Lost and Found

My recent experience trying to get back a jacket left at a TSA screening station provided several useful pointers that I want to share. We all hope that we won’t lose anything during our travels, but I can attest to the fact that it’s almost impossible to keep everything in order all the time. Sometimes things get lost. I’ve had good luck getting items returned, though every time it happens I am more and more surprised to get my lost item back.

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On Oct. 27, I got to the Seattle-Tacoma airport with plenty of time before my flight to LA. I got in the line for TSA pre-check, and it was pretty short. However, it required going through the scanner, and a TSA staff member offered to take my jacket, which apparently you can’t wear through the scanner even if you have pre-check. I never got it back, but I also never thought about it, because it wasn’t cold and I didn’t need it. While waiting for my luggage in LA, I finally realized my jacket was missing. I was only in town overnight before my flight to Lima, so I didn’t act on my missing item until the next morning at LAX while waiting for my flight to be called.

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At that time, I found a website called Instafile.com that claims to locate items lost in airports all over the US. The site claims to have the cooperation of many airports. They don’t. It’s a scam. I didn’t figure this out until several days after I paid $29.99 to Intafile Reporting. I received a cheery email from “agent232@instafilereporting. com, with additional “updates” telling me hard they were working, and asking me to advise them if I got word of my missing item via one of their partner agencies.

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I looked at contacting TSA, since that’s where I lost my jacket. TSA will hold on to your keys, cell phone, or electronics for a minimum of 30 days, though in some airports, items left at checkpoints are turned over to the airport lost and found at the end of each day. https://www.tsa.gov/contact/lost-and-found

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TSA works with another website that claims to help people collect their lost items from airports (Rejjee.com). Their service was free, but they did suggest that I prepay $39.99, for the return of my jacket, because it would be a lower rate that the charge after my jacket was found. I don’t know whether they are legit or not, but I had my doubts. I did more web-surfing and found that Seattle-Tacoma airport doesn’t partner with any organization, they have their own lost and found, complete with website and phone number. I started over. I filed a report online with a description of my jacket. I even found a photo of me wearing it. By this time, it was four days since I’d left Sea-TAC, and I didn’t really have any hope, but why not?

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I received “still looking” updates on Oct. 31 and Nov. 4 from all three groups. On Nov. 11, my file Instafile case was archived without any result. that same day I received a note from “noreply@lostandfoundsoftware.com” that asked for my email address. I almost deleted it, but went ahead and put in my email address and got a message that my jacket was found by the Seattle airport lost and found. After double checking that the phone number provided was actually the number for the Sea-Tac lost and found, I called and arranged to have my jacket shipped to my daughter in the US. The fedex shipping cost was $26.99, less than Rejjee.com’s “bargain” $39.99 shipping.

I hope I never ever leave anything behind in an airport again, but now I have learned a few things.

  • Keep track of your stuff. Try not to hand things off quickly, even when people are trying to help.
  • If you lose something, follow up as soon as possible, especially if you are still in the airport. If you have lounge access, ask for help there. Four years ago, I was reunited with a brand new tablet I left in my seat back due to the quick intervention of an American Airlines lounge agent. It was delivered to me onboard just before my connecting flight departed.
  • No longer in the airport? Figure out who to contact before you act. TSA has their own lost items page where you can file a report. They suggest using Rejjee.com, but I’m not sure I’d recommend that. Don’t do what I did and pay the first website that offers to help.
  • Contact the airport lost and found, even if your item was left at a TSA checkpoint. Though I could provide the exact checkpoint and time where I left it, my jacket ended up in the airport’s general lost and found.
  • Don’t pay anyone to look for your item, they are mostly scams.
  • PS. The woman at the Sea-Tac lost and found strongly suggested I contact the Instafile people and ask for a refund. She says most people brush off the $29.99 as not worth the effort, but she believes such scams won’t be curtailed if people just pay. Think how much money they make every day from a few automatically generated “we can help” emails.

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Peru Again

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I’m back in Peru after a full year on the road, eight months south of the equator and four in the US. Where has the time gone! I am happy to be back and settled for the winter. There have been some changes in the past year, though most are slight. I do notice the continued prosperity of Peru that stands in marked contrast to the civil unrest in neighboring Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Despite troubles elsewhere in Latin America, and Peru’s recent political turmoil that resulted in the Congress being dismissed, people are going about their lives, building another story on their home, shopping in the outdoor market and at the supermarket. Shops are busy, construction is underway at several places along the beach, and life is generally bustling. There’s a new Barranca sign on the hillside!

Jonathan has already been here for a month, and has reestablished contact with our friends and neighbors. We had a surprise visit from our colleague Alvaro Ruiz. It was good to catch up a bit. Jonathan has hosted Saturday lunch gatherings with local friends. It’s a chance to sit down and talk in addition to the occasional exchange of greetings in the street. There is always gossip, who is building what, whose family is coming to visit, who is in Lima, how everyone’s children are doing, new grandchildren born this year. So much news to keep up with.

Our annual round of home improvements has begun, with new plants in the patio and our pillow covers from New Zealand and Australia stuffed and deployed. We’re creating a system to circulate water from the well through the yard to fill the small pools and waterfalls that have been dry for several years. By recirculating the water we will be able to make the garden greener without letting any of the water get away. It’s a precious commodity here. Other plans are percolating as we gear up for the visit of our daughters and their spouses/fiancés over the holidays.

Friends and Family–Part 2

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The last part of my friends and family tour of the US took me to Los Angeles and Seattle. In Los Angeles, I stayed a couple of nights with daughter Lyra and another few at the home of my daughter Amanda’s future mother-in-law, Connie. Amanda and Jim live there, too, making it an excellent base of operations on this side of Los Angeles. An episode of Homeland had just finished filming a scene at the neighbor’s. Then they filmed a scene inside Connie’s! (I wasn’t there yet.) In Los Angeles, unusual things happen all the time.

The next day I met up with my sister Sheila and her husband. They live in Hesperia, and since I usually stay in Los Angeles we meet at a halfway point, the huge Victoria Gardens mall in Rancho Cucamonga. The drive is opposite traffic and the sky gets deeper and deeper blue as you drive away from the city. The three of us dawdled over lunch and caught up with family news. We headed our opposite directions before rush hour got going, and the drive back was painless.

I was in Los Angeles to see my sister, my daughters and also to attend a wedding. I’ve known Linda since we were both sixteen–and her daughter’s wedding was another milestone in life that needed celebrating. Lyra went with me to all the wedding events (Thanks, Lyra!)

The wedding events were very enjoyable, and the ceremony was lovely, full of heartfelt vows. We were outdoors at Descanso Gardens in Pasadena at sunset, and the weather was perfect. The bride’s dress was a beautiful column of white, her flowers were white, cream, and deep burgundy roses. We had a delicious dinner and chatted with people from all over the country. Ceremonies like these renew my faith in the future.

I did my good deed of the trip the next day and helped Lyra hang paintings in her new apartment. She moved just a few weeks ago, and managed to get move all the furniture and boxes over a weekend, but then work intervened, and she still had art stacked against the walls.

In a hour, we managed to get most things where she wanted them and her place looks much more settled.

After a quick dinner, we walked to the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills to hear Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin speak. What a pair they are! Jane Fonda led with an impassioned plea for action to halt climate change by phasing out fossil fuels and plastic bags, pointing out that oil companies like Exxon knew thirty years ago that their products could irreparably damage the environment. The audience was full of fans who, like us, have watched every episode of Grace and Frankie. We laughed at all their jokes while the moderator tried his best to keep them on topic. It was a lot of fun.

Packing in just a few more activities, I drove to Pasadena on Monday morning and visited the Norton Simon Museum with Amanda. She’s familiar with the exhibits from being at every opening with her fiance Jim, who is a preparator there. We particularly liked the William Crutchfield exhibit, though it was fun to walk around while Amanda showed me her favorite pieces throughout the museum.

In the afternoon, Linda came by and took me to Koi, a boutique in Highland Park. She has gotten to know the owner, another Linda, and the sales manager, Brenda. We chatted about jewelry and looked over some of the necklaces I’ve made, and some gorgeous things that Brenda makes. Everyone had good suggestions. With a few improvements, some of my pieces will be for sale in Koi in the new year. I am delighted.

A last dinner with Amanda, Jim, and Connie, and I was off to Seattle to stay a few days with Larry and Sharon. Larry and I were undergraduates together at Harvard, and see each other every five years at reunions. I have read some of his books, and he has given me some very helpful comments on the mystery I eventually plan to complete. Sharon and I met in Melbourne last year. Their daughters and grandchildren live in Melbourne, so they now spend half the year there.

Seattle was unusually cooperative, providing day after day of sunny weather. We visited Snoqualmie Falls, standing in the mist while the falls thundered into the river below.

We had a great tour of some of the city’s icons. The troll under the bridge is a fanciful landmark that should have everyone who visits rushing home to read a fairy tale.

Just down the street is a huge statue of Lenin leaning into the intersection. The tale of how this huge relic of Soviet history made its way from a scrapyard in Czechoslovakia to a street corner in Seattle is a testament to people’s pig-headed desires to do things that make no sense to anyone but them. How Lenin got to Seattle.

We visited the Chihuly Gardens, a gorgeous display of oversized glass plant life. After seeing the amazing, massive glass structures emerging from the ground, we watched a pair of glass-blowers from the Community Hot Shop (glass blowing furnaces and ovens in a converted Airstream trailer) make a vase. These bowls and vases are sold at the Space Needle gift shop, so we had to go have a look. They are not terribly expensive ($45-$65) and would make a distinctive gift from Seattle.

We rode the monorail from the Space Needle to the Pike Place market. Even mid-afternoon, there were rows of dungeness crab, clams, shrimp, tuna, and more varieties of fish than I could name. Fruit and vegetables, and stalls selling hundreds of things that you need and don’t need. (We failed to locate the wall of chewed gum–I’m not sure I regret missing it.) We returned home after this, and ended the day with dinner at the Carnation Cafe, an excellent restaurant near Larry and Sharon’s. The desserts, all made in-house, were really, really delicious.

Having seen so much in such a short time, I took a day to walk around the local area, making my way down to the bridge across the Snoqualmie and Tolt Rivers. It was a beautiful afternoon, the sun making the trees blaze with color. For about three minutes, though, it rained, and the bouncing raindrops turned out to be hail. I sheltered under a fir tree to avoid the hail and in another five minutes the rain stopped, the sun came out, and I walked home. A beautiful end to this adventure.

The month of friends and family-Part 1

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This month is full of visits to family and friends. From Charleston, I stopped a few days in Grand Rapids, MI with my sister Catherine. The weather was rainy but we entertained ourselves by getting haircuts. We did a decluttering sweep of a sitting room, cut one huge piece of fabric for curtains, repaired an existing linen duvet cover, and then cut deep green fabric for a new duvet cover.

We managed to sneak in lunch with a few of Catherine’s friends who I met on a trip to Italy several years ago. Another highlight was dinner with an old friend from our hometown of Thornwood, NY. I wouldn’t have recognized Dennis Flint, but Catherine found him through the magic of Facebook and we had dinner with him on his way through Grand Rapids on business. We laughed about growing up in Thornwood, with a lot of what-ever-happened-to, and swapped stories about our kids.

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After just a few days enjoying Grand Rapids, I spent a day trying to get to Syracuse to see my mom. It took three flights, but by the end of the day, I made it. As annoying as the trip was, our visit was very low key and relaxing. That’s all to the good considering mom is 94. We took a field trip to Otisco Lake where my brother and sister-in-law live. After admiring their recently renovated lake house, we visited a new farmer’s market/craft sales complex called Willowdale Bend. I carefully toured the barn full of antiques, but didn’t find anything I loved enough to add to my overstuffed suitcase. On the way home we stopped and picked a quart of red raspberries ($4) at Berdock’s berries. They were delicious!

I took a walk in the neighborhood one afternoon and found a long-abandoned road through the trees from the watertower behind my mom’s home down toward the road. I figure it was used long ago before highways connected the towns around Syracuse with the city.

Another evening we had dinner at the Lakeside Vista restaurant overlooking Otisco Lake. The building is unprepossessing but the deck outside is perfect for warm weather and the food was very good. This area is gradually shifting from predominantly summer homes to year-round residences and the success of Lakeside Vista will mean there is a good restaurant in the neighborhood. We hope they’ll stay.

My week in Syracuse ended with a visit to plant a chrysanthemum by my dad’s grave. I have done a spring or fall planting with my mom a few times, as my visits often land in April or September. We admire the graves that have been decorated and planted, chat with my dad, and then head back home.

I flew from Syracuse to Chicago, picked up a car and got to Wheaton before sunset. I stay with my good friend Peggy, who is one of the world’s great hostesses. We saw the new movie Judy, then went to AAUW film night to discuss it, and we had dinner with a different friend every night.

On Sunday, I drove to Champaign, IL to visit my daughter Lillian and son in law Neil. They are settling in to the house they bought in the spring, and I love seeing their progress from visit to visit. We took a walk around the neighborhood enjoying the gorgeous cool, clear day and ran some errands. There was no need to undertake a big event, we just enjoyed being together.

I arrived back in Chicago in time to have dinner with Peggy and one last friend before my trip ended. In the morning, I crept off to the airport, making a stop at the storage unit to toss in a few items that I didn’t want to carry around. I had already picked up a second suitcase to take to Peru. Navigating from Chicago’s car rental center onto the bus and off at the terminal was challenging. I only had to wrangle my two suitcases, carry-on, and handbag as far as the check-in counter. It was a relief to drop them off.

Onward to Portland and my sister Paula, who scooped me up at the airport, saving me hauling my bags more than a few steps. My visit here was perfectly timed to overlap with that of my nephew Brian, his wife Emily, and their darling 13 month-old Eliza, who I had not met in person. She is a charmer, of course, with a huge smile and slightly wobbly legs. She’ll be walking before Christmas. We’ve enjoyed taking Eliza for walks, and catching up on family news. One night I was able to accompany Paula to the rehearsal of the Oregon Repertory Singers. What wonderful music! Their next concert includes a piece where the sound washes over you in undulating waves and makes you close your eyes just to enjoy it.

http://www.orsingers.org/

A big family dinner was the final event of my Portland visit. Eleven of us forgot about the drizzle outside as we dug in to braised beef, roast vegetables, salad, and apple-blueberry crisp, with Oregon wines, of course. After a memorable evening, I packed up and headed for my last stop, Los Angeles.

Last page on Charleston

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I will miss the carriage tours clopping down our street, the convenience of being able to walk to coffee shops, pastry heaven, and excellent restaurants. What I will miss most about Charleston are the people we’ve met here. Some are from here, some not. Most everyone in Charleston has been friendly, tourists and locals alike. Even the people who work in coffee shops and restaurants have been good-natured.

Our most interesting new friends are from birding. Lest you think that birders are all staid white-hairs wearing many-pocketed jackets, they are not. We’ve found local birding groups to be welcoming, the members interesting, and we’ve gone well beyond the birds, meeting up to go on other outings, have a meal, and enjoy conversation. We even went to a play at the local Theater 34 West. It was a terrific venue, about 30 seats around small tables, and a bar! About 20 minutes into the very animated musical, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the actress (cast of four) fainted and it wasn’t part of the script. We figured it out as the cast started to clear a path for the EMTs to get to the stage. I’d go back on another visit to see an entire show.

Our birding days let us see bald eagles, ospreys, herons and egrets, and some of the smaller, harder to see peepers. It’s been a lot of fun (a multi-pocket vest can be very handy…). We ran into a bit of difficulty birding on our own. Twice, at the end of a generous drive, we arrived at places with well known trails to find the site closed for deer hunting (season Sept. 16-Dec. 1 this year). I’d checked the web site in advance for each location and found no notices. There was a sign at the entrance to Botany Bay by the locked entrance gate. At Dungannon Plantation, the trail was open but a notice pointed out that it was open for bow hunting and anyone out on the trail should wear international orange (also known as Blaze Orange). We don’t carry that kind of gear with us so turned back.

In addition to the activities I’ve mentioned, we enjoyed farmers markets, sweet grass basket sellers, the Charleston Aquarium, McLeod Plantation, and the Gibbs Art Museum, our favorite cultural stop. Our bird walks at Caw Caw state park and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens were excellent. Santee National Wildlife Refuge let us see a painted bunting. We even stopped to look at the gigantic Angel Oak. We made a field trip to Georgetown, an interesting spot on the way to Myrtle Beach. On one of our final days in Charleston, we discovered there is beach glass along the battery at low tide. We chatted with people walking along the sidewalk who were curious about what we were doing, and heard about where they look for beach glass.

Whether you’re from here or not, Charleston is a friendly place with a lot to do.

Charleston’s Great Outdoors

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A car comes in handy once you decide to get out of town, as Charleston is surrounded by water, and though the beaches are beautiful, they are not close by. We’ve tried as many beaches as we could. Every one is an endless strip of white sandy beach unfurling as far as the eye can see in either direction. Much of this is illusion, as the beaches end at inlets that reach deep inland. Visiting two adjacent beaches can involve an hour’s drive or even longer. If we get tired of the view at one end of a beach, we make our way to the other end, a mile or two or three down the road.

Folly Beach is the closest beach south of Charleston. More than five miles separates Folly Beach County Park on the south from the far end of the road at the north end of the island. Halfway along is Folly Pier, a long fishing pier with a few shops and restaurants.

Folly Pier

On the beach, we were fascinated by the evidence of nesting sea turtles. Most have hatched and wriggled their way into the water by now, but turtles nest all along the coast here. Nests are marked and monitored by the state and dedicated volunteers. This year some nests were damaged by hurricane Dorian, and the few that haven’t hatched yet may be storm casualties. We spoke to a volunteer who said there was a big uptick in the number of eggs and turtle hatchlings this year, just about 30 years after the protection program started. It takes about 30 years for a sea turtle to mature and begin to lay eggs on the beach where it was born. It looks like the efforts to protect sea turtles are just beginning to pay off. We can use some good news on the nature front.

Edisto Beach

To the south of Folly Beach is Kiawah Island, best known for its very large resort. Beyond that is Seabrook Island, then Edisto Beach.

There were a lot of shells on the beach at Edisto, and a lot of people beachcombing. We chatted with people who hunted for whelk shells after Hurricane Dorian passed through, a woman holding what looked like a wok spoon on a stick who was hunting for shark teeth, and people looking for shells, driftwood, or just looking. We were looking for beach glass, but didn’t find any. Jonathan turned up one piece this entire month. We occasionally found broken glass, but that’s a lot less interesting than nicely rounded glass pebbles. This may be a testament to the clean beaches of the region, but it gave us less to hunt for as we strolled. We decided that Edisto would be as far as we’d go from Charleston, as it took almost an hour and a half to get there. The next beaches to the south are beyond Beaufort.

At Edisto Beach, I was so focused on taking a picture of the shore bird (willet) that I didn’t notice my sandals were escaping into the waves until I looked at my photo.

On other days we drove north out of the city. Just over the bridge is the Mt. Pleasant Pier and Memorial Waterfront Park, tucked in under the dramatic harp-like spans of the Ravenel bridge. It’s a gorgeous setting with a view over Charleston. There’s fishing for those interested and a cafe and gift shop for everyone else. Paths wind through the gardens.

Shem Creek boardwalk

Beyond the park complex is Patriot’s Point, where you can visit a retired aircraft carrier. Nearby is Shem Creek park. We discovered the park accidentally, on our way somewhere else. There is a long boardwalk over fields of spartina grass, with egrets and herons. Boats are moored nearby and navigate the channel out to the ocean.

We continued on to Sullivan’s Island, another beach that extends about halfway down the length of the island, Sullivan’s Island in turn becomes Isle of Palms, with it’s own county park.

One difference we noticed between South Carolina and other places we’ve visited is that there is a lot of private beachfront. I don’t know what the law is, but gated resorts block access to large stretches of beach. You may be able to access these beaches on foot, but the walk would be a mile or more each way. Between mid-May and mid-September, the temperature can be over 80 (F.) and the humidity is often high. A long walk on the beach is not on my to-do list under those circumstances. We stuck to walks that started and ended in the county or local parks and never ran out of beach.

The next stop up the coast was Bull Island, part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. It takes a bit more effort to visit because you take a 30 minute ferry ride to get to the island. The boat captains are also naturalists and spend the trip out describing the island habitats and species. They have a collection of materials from the island, alligator skulls, dolphin bones, shells, even pottery from long-abandoned settlements.

Since the site is a federal property, the refuge status is taken seriously and there are no amenities after you pass restrooms not far from the ferry landing. It takes nearly an hour to walk across to the beach. It was a very hot day when we were out there, 90+, and humid, while the shady path to the beach was swarming with mosquitos. By the time you get to the beach, you have only a half hour until it is time to hike back to the ferry landing, or another four hours until the later ferry. If visitors want to walk to Boneyard Beach, it’s five miles each way. On the beach there are no picnic tables, trash cans, shade, and no rest rooms. Though we brought lots of food and water, we didn’t realize there wouldn’t be places to sit and no shade at all. It would have been a better visit on a cloudier or cooler day.

There is another way to visit Bull Island that we didn’t try. Go with a group. Once or twice a month, there are events specifically designed to get people out to the area of drowned trees called Boneyard Beach at sunrise. It’s a photographer’s delight, and a chance to see the beach early in the day. The ferry leaves the landing about and hour and a half before sunrise (five am these days). At the island, a truck with bench seats takes visitors the six miles or so to Boneyard Beach, arriving in time for sunrise. Since no trip is ever perfect, visitors are back on the mainland by 8 am, having little time to enjoy the beach beyond Boneyard once the sun is up, but there’s a lot less walking than the regular visit. The dawn photo here is by a new friend, Linda Miller, photographer and fellow birder. She liked the early visit a lot and got some wonderful photos.

The beaches of South Carolina take some time to get to, and require some preparation if you plan to stay more than an hour. Sunshade or umbrella, chairs, sunscreen, bug spray, swimming gear, picnic, and lots of water. Some beaches have changing rooms and outdoor showers, but others do not. The water is not clear, but it is as warm as the Caribbean. I loved being able to walk right into the ocean and stay in as long as I wanted. Since our visit was after Labor Day and the start of the school year, none of the beaches were crowded, but there were always people out enjoying the sun, sand, and waves.

Visiting the beach in South Carolina:

Take Sunscreen, Water, and Mosquito Repellent. If you forget, you will suffer.

Leave time to get to the beach and back. Roads are single lane, there is little opportunity to pass. Relax, what’s the rush?

Charleston has extremely heavy traffic at rush hour both morning and evening. It helps if you are going against traffic. You may need an extra half hour to get anywhere if you are going the same direction as commuters.

Kiowah Island fashion

Indoors in Charleston

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We wanted to avoid the heat of a late summer day and find something interesting to do in an indoor, air-conditioned place that was not a shopping mall. The Charleston Museum seemed to fill the bill. We could have walked, but with high humidity and the temperature hovering around 90 (F.) we decided to save our energy for visiting the museum, and took The Dash, Charleston’s free bus. There are three overlapping routes around the downtown area, and in September it still runs four times each hour from early morning until about 8 pm.

The Charleston Museum has a little of everything. Fossils, animals, history and culture. I saw some of my favorite extinct birds, carefully mounted and displayed together.

There were artifacts from everyday life long ago recovered during local excavations. Every time construction begins in Charleston, material used to fill in the coast or level building lots reveals what people threw away, lost, or that blew away in past hurricanes.

In front of the museum is a full size replica of the H. L. Hunley, a Confederate submarine used in the Civil War. The sub disappeared after it sank one of the Union ships blockading Charleston Harbor in 1864. A search for the Hunley was spearheaded by author Clive Cussler, who used the sub in one of his novels. His group was successful in finding the Hunley in 1995, over 100 years after it disappeared.

The museum collection of this and that made an interesting visit on a day that was too hot outdoors for most humans.

Charleston’s Historic District

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We’re starting to get to know Charleston. Our house is very traditional and located in the historic district. We hear the horse drawn tours clip-clop past the front door a few times a day. Passengers wave if we’re out on the porch. It’s like living in a diorama. We walked to Broad St., and down a few blocks to the Four Corners of Law, where the courthouse, Post Office, and City Hall face one another. The Post Office looks like a Victorian men’s club, full of dark colors and polished brass.

Continuing down Broad St. beyond the historic corner is Normandy Farm Artisan Bakery, where there are excellent croissants and other pastries. When we got to East Bay St. we turned south toward the waterfront, passing Rainbow Row, a series of houses dating to the late 18th and early 19th centuries that are each painted a different pastel color. The area is so large that it’s difficult to capture in a photo, though many local artists have painted the scene. I like this aerial view (internet photo).

Beyond Rainbow Row you can look out over the water to Ft. Sumter, and walk along the Battery, a long wall around the toe of the city. Elegant houses line much of this southernmost part of the city, and visitors stroll along admiring the views, taking a break in White Point Garden at the southern end of the city. Walking west along the Battery we turn right on Lenwood Blvd. In a few blocks it becomes Logan Street and shortly after that we are home again.

Our walk would have taken even longer if we had stopped to read all the historic markers along the route. About every third house has a plaque from the historical society. Others have information about the distinguished builders or owners. Yet others mention the role of the occupants during the Civil War. Charleston is an historian’s delight.

Even if historical details aren’t your thing, the architecture is quirky and charming. Many houses were first built in the late 1700s, which is very old for the US. Some have since burned down and been rebuilt, but in our neighborhood most houses look old even if they are not. There are interesting doorways, boot scrapers, door knobs and knockers.

The intensely humid weather combined with summer heat, winter rain, and occasional flooding is all very tough on frame houses. Contractors have projects underway on every block, from hurricane repairs to wholesale rebuilding of an entire three story house. One house nearby is being elevated, lifted on jacks while construction of a new lower level is carried out. Construction and maintenance of these lovely structures seems to require lots of very loud devices that sometimes spoil the charm. I don’t mind the hammering, but the trimming and blowing fill part of every day. This is not hurricane repair. It’s daily routine here.

Without constant maintenance, the houses of Charleston slip into disrepair. Even in the center of the historic district, I notice a few places that need work. Fortunately for these old houses, in Charleston they are more likely to be rebuilt than demolished and replaced by a parking garage.

This is just a corner of Charleston but took us three hours to make the circuit. We did make a detour to the Oyster House on S. Market St. for a refueling stop of raw oysters and shrimp & grits. (Delicious.)

Carriage tours pass by our house every day.

Guest Post: Visiting Chernobyl

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by Joyce Heard

I am delighted to introduce my good friend, Joyce Heard. A fellow Harvard grad, Joyce worked in journalism in the US, then moved to France after meeting her husband Jean-Marie while on a Rotary International fellowship. Now a long term European observer, Joyce and Jean-Marie divide their time between Aix-en-Provence and southern Morocco. When they travel farther afield, it is often to unusual destinations, this time Chernobyl. Joyce agreed to share her post with us.

Chernobyl

Sitting in our garden in Belgium in April 1986 worrying about whether the radiation cloud from  Chernobyl would head our way I never imagined that 33 years later we would be visiting the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster as a tourist attraction. But that’s what we did in September 2019. Today, radiation levels in much of the exclusion zone are just as low as elsewhere. We wore Geiger counters during our day tour and periodic checks showed levels well below legal levels in Ukraine and the rest of the world. There are of course hot spots where debris has been buried and near the number 4 reactor which exploded and caught fire releasing at least 5% of the radioactive reactor core into the atmosphere.

Chernobyl reactor covered in concrete shell.

There are two exclusion zones surrounding the nuclear site where all of the reactors have now been shut down. No one is allowed to live within 10 kilometers of the reactor, which is now encased in a multi billion dollar shell designed and mostly funded by Western donors. A first concrete casing hurriedly installed quickly proved inadequate. In the 30 kilometer radius zone there are presently about between 4,000 and 8,000 people who live and work, the majority of them firefighters and people still working on decontamination in rotating shifts of days or a week. Complete clean-up of the area is expected take until 2065.

Our guide, Victoria, a young lady who learned her French at University in Kiev, explained that firefighters are extremely important in the zone since many trees have been planted. The trees have drawn up radioactive elements from the soil so if they burn the radioactivity will be released. Although the Ukrainian Communist government ordered all of the 163,000 inhabitants of the exclusion zone to move out taking barely anything with them, some of the peasants have quietly slipped back into the 30-kilometer area and have moved into their previous homes.

I read of one study that found that these hardy folks, who survive on small pensions, handouts and whatever food they can produce in their possibly irradiated gardens, have had better health outcomes than many of the residents who were uprooted and placed in shoddy housing blocks in the city away from their lifelong connections.

Joyce, a Chernobyl resident, & her guide Victoria.

Since just the two of us went with a driver/guide we were able to visit one of these peasants, whom our guide Victoria has befriended. The woman is 85 years old. Her  husband died just a few months ago. We bought a bag of groceries for her at one of the small shops in the exclusion zone catering to the few residents and tourists.

One of the saleswomen at the shop asked Victoria if Jean Marie was single. Apparently tourists are a temptation for get-away marriages for some of the few women working in the exclusion zone. At the babuschka’s we smiled and shook hands and gave her our gift in the cheerful courtyard of her dacha where much to my amazement her pet dog, a plump striped cat named Marquise, and a bevy of hens were all running around together in perfect harmony.

Touring the area is a window into a frozen era of the 60s and 70s when the Soviet Union believed its way of life could accomplish anything. The town of Pripiyat, nearest the reactor site, was custom built for the 50,000 engineers and other technical workers creating the reactor complex. Gradually falling apart it still boasts of modern luxuries in stark contrast to the simple homes of the local peasants. Modern apartment blocks are scattered in green spaces and workers could dine at a cafeteria with stained glass windows worthy of a cathedral. I couldn’t face going into the hospital but my husband, Jean Marie, said the operating rooms are still there.

The eeriest sight is that of the amusement park where the wind was moving the Ferris wheel chairs as if the wheel was about to swing into action.

About Visiting Chernobyl

The trip was instructive, and the pork we were served for lunch at the Chernobyl restaurant was some of the most tender we have ever tasted. However, I would say Chernobyl is only worth a visit if you already plan to be in Kiev. Local agencies offer day tours for both groups and individuals. It is not possible to access the site without signing up for a tour.

Chernobyl has already become over-touristed due to the HBO “Chernobyl” series and having been featured in the video game “Call of Duty.” The kindergarten, with white boards, a few toys, and its cast iron beds for napping gathering dust, feels staged when the next group of tourists comes in right as we leave. Approximately 10,000 tourists per month come to visit the site and take selfies. When we stopped at the best spot to take photos of the sarcophagus covering the reactor a van load of tourists was already there including two wearing fake white anti-radiation suits.

Chernobyl may be interesting for HBO fans, video gamers, and nuclear historians, but it’s not for everyone.

Out of the storm in Asheville

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We are the luckiest of storm refugees, able to spend our five days of exile with our friends Billie and Larry in Asheville. The spectacular view over the mountains from their deck was enough to keep us from going anywhere, but we managed to break away and see some of what this area has to offer. Asheville today has a well-deserved reputation as a center for crafts of all kinds, for live entertainment, and for having lots of good food options. We sampled all of these.

On two of our mornings in Asheville, Billie and I walked. One morning we circled Beaver Lake and took a brief loop through the bird sanctuary. I would happily go back for more focused birding. On our next walk, we looped through the campus of UNC-Asheville (UNCA) including their Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) center. This beautiful building has space for classes and meetings, a real draw for anyone living in the area.

I wanted to visit the Folk Art Center to get an overview of the crafts that the region is known for. There are displays from the permanent collection that goes back to the first Episcopal missionary who wanted to help local people generate income by reviving traditional craft work. Over time, the center expanded to include all kinds of craft work, and eventually moved to its current location. The Center is on the Blue Ridge parkway, a narrow ribbon of road through the thick forest that covers the mountains once you are out of town. Though it’s just beyond Asheville, you get a sense of being deep in the mountains from the leafy setting.

We tried a few of the local restaurants, starting with Bouchon, where French comfort food is on tap. Moules frites, steamed mussels with french fries, is a signature dish. They offer four different preparations from traditional garlic/white wine broth, to one with andouille sausage. The fries are thin and crispy, impossible to resist.

Another night we tried En la Calle, a small plates/bar combination that began as an overflow waiting area for Limones, the restaurant next door, but has flourished on its own terms. Of the plates we tried, the octopus tostada was the favorite.

We’ll have to make another trip to try the fine dining options, since we didn’t get to the Biltmore. Billie and I had a stroll around the Grove Park Inn, just to take in the outlines of this immense old-school lodge.

Isis Music Hall let us combine dinner and entertainment. We had dinner in the lounge venue and listened to A Different Thread, a folk duo of a British man and American woman. Melodic and mournful, they played and sang us through the evening.

When we were at home, we tracked the storm as it chewed through the northern Bahamas, an area we have visited and loved. We remember the clear water and gorgeous snorkeling. There is unimaginable damage around Marsh Harbor now, difficult to see how a country dependent on tourism will find the resources to rebuild. (We donated at redcross.com)

Hurricane Dorian finally crawled past. Once the eye was beyond Charleston, it dropped from the news cycle and attention moved north with the winds. Late Thursday we heard from our host that the power was back on and there was no flooding. That evening the curfew was lifted, and Friday morning the highway was reopened. We waited until Saturday to make our way back to Charleston and let the traffic subside. That strategy didn’t work and just as in our leaving town, it took six hours to return. The good news is that all was untouched in our Charleston home, and we settled back in, happy to be back.