As I take my daily three-mile walk up and down the frozen, often-icy hills of Maplewood, NJ (don’t laugh, it snowed last night), I think of my sons in balmy Los Angeles, who, despite the state of the economy, are starting new businesses and artistic endeavors with enthusiasm; of my daughter, Cary, who is heading two garden projects on Whidbey Island, one to supply healthy, organic food for the island community through the Good Cheer Food Bank, www.goodcheergarden.wordpress.com and the other to maintain an extensive garden for Whidbey Institute; and Martha, who has just written a book to be published by Barnes & Noble about her work alleviating pain through Hanna Somatics, www.essentialsomatics.com. And there’s more to raise our spirits if we just open our eyes and forget the gray skies. Michelle Obama has been vocal in promoting healthy living and eating, and, I hope, like Eleanor Roosevelt, she’ll turn part of the 17 acres around the White House into an organic vegetable garden. There’s definitely a movement afoot to get people and whole communities to start thinking in terms of a local food supply. Guess what? Just after I wrote that last sentence I opened today’s NYTimes and found a long front page article about the garden Michelle is planning for the south lawn. Google it if you get a chance.
Many other encouraging signs of the indomitable American spirit have jumped out at me this winter and tell me that the older you get the more intense is your desire to make each day count and live your remaining years engaged in enterprises that make a difference in the lives of others. Some of you may have seen David Brancaccio’s NOW last December 19th about the slavery of young girls in Nepal (www.PBS.org Daughters for Sale) in which an 83-year-old retired lawyer, Olga Murray from California, saved thousands of young girls from being sold into slavery through a program that entailed giving each family a pig or a goat, which would bring as much money at the end of the year as their daughter’s wages. It’s an amazing story, starting from a simple idea. But nobody else had thought of it. And once the children are returned to their families, they are given an education, all for about $50. Google Olga Murray and you’ll find ample information about her work.
Another dynamic woman in her 80’s, who is presently working in Vietnam to help orphans, is Betty Tisdale, www.bettytisdale.com, who started the organization H.A.L.O. (Helping And Loving Orphans) and continues with her extensive travels to find and care for children at risk. She has already helped thousands of children in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Colombia, and Mexico. Look her up on the web and be inspired.
I just found out about Muriel Johnston, 84, who left for 27 months in the Peace Corps on March 2nd. She will be stationed in Morocco and begins with a three-month training period, living with a Moroccan family and learning Berber through total immersion. She will be working with mothers and children in a health care setting, something she is well-suited for, having raised six children and volunteered for years in a local hospital nursery. She’s scheduled to return to the U.S. in May of 2011. Muriel has traveled on a “shoestring” to over 30 different countries, often solo. She goes by caravan and horseback, and sometimes camps out or in hostels. But always, she says, off the “gringo trail.” The bulk of her travel took place after the age of 65. What a great example for all you baby boomers!
During this period in my life, while I’m taking a hiatus from travel and cleaning out my cellar and attic, trying to make sense of accumulated photos and memorabilia from the last 50 years, I’ve enjoyed traveling by DVD with a young French couple, Alexandre and Sonia Poussin, who walked 14,000 kilometers through eleven countries, and stayed with 1200 families in the part of Africa that is called the Cradle of Life. Their journey began at the Cape of Good Hope and ended, three years later, at the Sea of Galilee. This unusual adventure, available on three DVDs, can be found on www.africatrek.com I was especially excited to see so much of the Africa I remembered from twenty-two years ago and which is detailed in my book, Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? They even photographed their climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro, making me more determined than ever to return and experience the summit. Thanks go to my good friend, Paul Sharar, for introducing me to this excellent travelogue.
I’ve just received a glowing report about hiking in Japan from an old friend, Terry Rollins, whom I met in 1996 on the Kangchenjunga trek in Nepal. He’s an avid trekker and one of his last big trips was in Pakistan. Believe me, that’s daunting! While teaching ESL near Yokohama, he hooked up with the Friends of the Earth Japan, a hiking group that usually meets on Sundays near Tokyo. Tokyo is bounded to the west by mountains, so hiking has become one of the activities of choice, especially for the growing retiree class. And many trail heads are easily accessible via the extensive train network and bus system. The group asks for a 1,000 yen donation for each hike (about $10), but it’s worth it. For those of you contemplating a visit to Japan, you can look up FOE Japan and click on the events tab for information on their hikes. If you’re not into hiking, you can always take up gateball, which is equally popular with retirees. Kind of like croquet, but uniquely Japanese.
Mt. Takao National Park is the area closest to Tokyo. It’s a three minute walk from the train to multiple trail heads. But since the greater Tokyo metropolitan area is home to 35 million people, the trails can be packed beyond belief, especially on special weekends. It takes a little looking, Terry says, but he has managed to find other trails that are delightfully deserted, equally scenic, and unique.
In conclusion, let me bring you up to date, briefly, on my cultural activities. Thanks to my violinist niece, Margaret Magill, I was able to see the final dress rehearsal of Bellini’s Sonnambula with the versatile soprano Natalie Dessay and tenor Diego Florez.
And thanks to percussionists Al Jorgensen and Phyllis Bitow, I was able to see a stunning performance by Renee Fleming in Dvorak’s Rusalka. Not only was the singing flawless, but the music divine. This was my first Dvorak opera. Both operas were at the Met.
The plays I’ve attended include: Becky Shaw: The Story of My Life: Mrs. Warren’s Profession; Lynn Redgrave in The Importance of Being Earnest; 33 Variations with Jane Fonda; a magnificent revival of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard at BAM; The Shanghai Quartet; The Paul Taylor Dancers; Ionesco’s Exit The King with Goeffrey Rush And Susan Sarandon; and Brian Friel’s The Aristocrats at my favorite theater, The Irish Repertory. Of course, symphony concerts continue until the middle of May at Plainfield, NJ.
Several of you have asked about my photos. Aside from the75 that are on the home page of my website under photo gallery, there are others on this blog under the heading online photo albums. Unfortunately, I’ve only had time to post six albums on facebook. They tell of the first two weeks of my trip in Myanmar. I truly hope to add recent pictures of Ladakh and Africa, soon, and appreciate your patience.