Streamlined

When I told my Belgian friend Johan that my sister Constance and I would be staying in the hotel across from the Guillemins train station, he said, “You will see the most amazing train station in Belgium.”  Guillemins was near the historic heart of Liege.

I was looking forward to seeing something old and elegant, like Grand Central Station in New York.  It was not at all what I expected.

We arrived in the afternoon.  Sunlight streamed in through skylights, highlighting an amazing structure of steel, glass, and white concrete.

Our eyes were drawn by graceful lines and patterns inside and out.

It was like beaming into our own episode of Star Trek.

After a wonderful visit with our dear friends, we had to catch a very early train out of Liege.

Sleepy-eyed, we left our warm beds to board the 5:30AM train to Paris.

One glimpse of the station lighting up the darkness was enough to stir our senses and wake us up.

Night or day, Guillemins is an inspiration.

A work of art.

True, it was not what we expected.

No stained glass.

No iron grillwork

No weathered stone that echoed with footsteps from the past.

Life is a blend of new and old.  We treasure tradition, but new and unexpected can be a good thing too.

And the trains still run on time.

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck
Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: From Lines to Patterns.
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The Inside Story

When my daughter Bea was studying at the Yiddish Book Center in Massachusetts, I went to  visit her.  We zipped down the turnpike to Old Sturbridge Village.

The village is a living museum including 59 restored buildings, a working farm and water-powered mills.  There were craftsmen…

…artisans…

…tradesmen…

 …and re-enactors.

We were invited to look through a window in time…

We saw village life as it was lived between the 1790s and the 1830s.

I enjoyed the opportunity to see the old buildings from the inside out.

 Everywhere we went there were whispers, hinting at the inside story.

Upon reflection, one thing was clear…


Just as we do today,  those people worked hard…

…fell in love…or not…

…cherished their children…

…and valued their friends.

Some things never change.

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck
Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside.

Dandelions and Other Foreigners

Pardon my reblog, but this is too perfect not to share for The Weekly Photo Challenge about An Unusal Point of View.  I hope the wisdom of Nasruddin will make you smile.

Writing Between the Lines

A friend said to Hodja Nasruddin, “Look at all these dandelions!  I’ve tried pulling them, poisoning them, starving them, digging them out by the root.  Nothing works.  I am at my wit’s end!”

“That’s a shame,” said the Hodja. “They are not a problem for me.”

“Really?  Please tell me your secret, my friend!”

“It is very simple,” said Nasruddin.  “I have learned to love them.”

Dandelions are native to Eurasia, but have traveled all over this world.   In France they were called “Dent de Lion,” or “Lion’s Tooth,” because of their toothed leaves. In England they were, “Piss-a-Beds,” for their diuretic properties.  In Germany, Russia, and Italy they are “blowing flowers.”  In Catalan, Poland, Denmark, and Lithuania they are  “milk flowers,”  “milkpots,” and “sow’s milk,” after the flower stem’s milky sap.  In Finland, Estonia, and Croatia, they are “butter flowers.”  In China, they are “flower that grows in…

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Flying South

It was our last day before our daughter Bea returned to Stanford, so we let her decide how to spend it.  Hiking was her first choice.   In Washington one must often decide—mountains or ocean?

But the trail at Ebey’s Landing on Whidbey Island gave us a little of both, plus some Washington State history.

The trail takes you past the historic house of Jacob and Sarah Ebey, built in the early 1850s, and the blockhouse built for protection from Native American uprisings.  (You can’t blame the indigenous people–they were there first.)

Isaac Ebey found his paradise on Whidbey.  The government was granting 640 acres to each homesteader.   Isaac convinced not only his parents, Jacob and Sarah Ebey, to come homestead on Whidbey Island, but several siblings and cousins as well.

From Jacob and Sarah’s house,  you can see Isaac Ebey’s homestead, pictured below.  He was one of the first white settlers on Whidbey Island, was the island’s prosecuting attorney, a representative of the Oregon State Legislature when Washington was still part of Oregon Territory, and he helped persuade the legislature to separate Washington from Oregon Territory.  Ebey was also a tax collector, a customs agent, and captain of the local volunteer militia.

But there was trouble in paradise.  In 1857 Native Americans–probably Haida–came to avenge the death of their chief at the hands of white men in Port Gamble.  The man they meant to kill wasn’t home, but they knew Ebey was an important man, and they knew where he lived.  They knocked on his door; when he opened it, they killed and beheaded him, taking his head as a trophy.

As we walked past Isaac’s house, I thought of his parents, wife, and children, left to grieve in paradise.

The view was heavenly.  From the bluff, we looked west to the Olympic Peninsula and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, to the south was Mt. Rainier, and the Cascade Mountains were visible to the east.

We took in the smell of salt, the sparkle of sunlight on the water, the feel of the earth beneath our boots.

The trail took us to the water, and then along some of Washington’s highest coastal bluffs.

Below was the beach…

…and Peregos Lake, formed by a narrow spit covered with giant weathered drift logs.

Via switchbacks we descended the steep golden hillside to the beach….

…where we found all kinds of treasures…

…including several dead Lion’s Mane jellyfish, which we examined in detail.

Each moment has become a precious memory which I will bring out and savor as needed, like a box of fine chocolates.

Looping back toward the trailhead…

…I thought about our little chick.

Soon she would be navigating a different coastline.

For her I wished for calm waters…

…and guiding light.

I had to remind myself how lucky we are.   When the pioneers struck out on their own and bid their parents farewell, it was almost always forever.

But for every bird flying south there will be another trip north.  And for every plane flying out of Seattle, there’s another one coming home.

All words and images copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: distance.

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Jungle Born

Our Amazon guide Orlando grew up in the little village of El Chino, on the banks of the Tahuayo river, a tributary of the Amazon.  He had to move to Iquitos to attend high school, and there he decided to learn English and study building.

He was one of the builders of the Tahuayo Lodge.

He built the chairs we sat on during dinner.  But his leadership skills were recognized, and he became a guide for Amazonia Expeditions.

Jungle born, Orlando is compact, all muscle, and as comfortable in his element as a fish in water, or a bird in the treetops.   He has a bright smile, and not just because of his two gold teeth.

He says he is at home in the jungle as we are in our city.  “I am never lost.”

Orlando was the grandson of a shaman who lived to be 103 years old.  His grandfather always said his death would come when he decided it was time to die.  When Orlando’s father died, his grandfather decided he’d lived long enough.   Although in good health, with no sign of illness, he lay down to sleep that night and never woke up.

One morning we got into our boat to explore the river.  “Look, angel fish!”  They were just like those we used to keep in our aquarium.

“Catch one, ” said Orlando.  The kids laughed, thinking he was joking, but his hand shot into the water.  When he opened it up, there was an angel fish.   He gave us a close look and set it free.  We already were beginning to suspect he was a jungle superman.

One night we took the boat to search for caiman, the South American crocodile.  We were covered from head to toe with protective clothing and mosquito repellent.

Orlando never gave it a second thought.   Like Superman, he was invulnerable.

  In the beam of light from Orlando’s headlight, we saw the red glow of a caiman’s eye and followed it to the shallows. Orlando had a stick with a wire loop to capture the caiman for a closer look.  When he tried, with a loud splash the startled caiman plunged into water.

“Escapa?” asked Mario.  “Escapa,” said Orlando, shrugging.  “He is from the water and I am from the ground.”

The next caiman was six feet long.  It lunged past us with a loud splash.  I was leaning over, trying to catch a glimpse.  When it dove past our low-riding boat with a noisy splash, I screamed and jumped.  Orlando was still chuckling the next day as we hiked in the jungle.  Jewel-bright Morpho butterflies fluttered by like a fugitive piece of sky.  Others gathered on the riverbank, ingesting soil for the minerals.

Where we saw only treetops, Orlando saw tamarinds or red titi monkeys.  He would whistle or blow onto the back of his hand, and the monkeys would answer back.  Once he pulled the boat over to the riverbank and began to make monkey chatter.  Within minutes, climbing out of the trees and into our boat came two Woolly Monkeys.  Amazonia had rescued Lorita and Chepa from the black market, and had recently reintroduced them to the jungle.

It was a highpoint.

His machete was an extension of his arm.  Sometimes Orlando had to chop his way through the jungle, just like in the movies.

But he also used the machete to paddle the boat, open a can of pineapple, and carve a blowgun out of balsa wood.

When our canoe paddles went missing, he cut paddles from tree branches with his machete.  When our boat sprang a leak, he used his machete to carve a wooden plug to fix a leak in the boat, and pound it into place.  Once we saw a fly land on his back.  As naturally as a cow flicks an insect with its tail, in one quick motion Orlando swung his machete over his shoulder to swat the fly with the flat of the blade.

One morning Orlando set aside his machete for his knife.  “Jungle surgery,” he explained.  A year before Mario accidentally set off a trap, and was badly injured.  Most of the fifty or so pellets shot into his foot were removed at the hospital in Iquitos.  Whenever another pellet surfaces, Orlando cuts it out from Mario’s foot.  I brought antibiotic ointment, a supply of waterproof bandaids and, oh, yes, cough drops, because Mario had a cold.  They laughed and called me “Mama.”  I  shouldn’t have worried–even after jungle surgery, Mario played soccer in the mud that evening, wearing only flip flops.

When Orlando returned us to Iquitos, he showed us some sights, including this plaque, declaring the Amazon one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.

We did see some amazing natural wonders in the Amazon.

But if you ask me, Orlando would qualify as the Eighth New Wonder of Nature.


c2013 Naomi Baltuck
Thanks to my daughter Bea, a natural storyteller who kept a journal, and helped me recall the details.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Rare.