Jai Hind! Celebrating India’s Independence Day with unintended irony

It was only after sipping cappuccinos and filling up on pork products at a breakfast buffet,
only after standing on the hotel lawn to sing India’s national anthem and release balloons in the colors of the flag,
only after snapping photos of men in impeccable period costumes posing next to a rangoli created with flower petals,
only after watching the groundskeepers and valet-parking staff try to fly kites in the still steamy air,
only on the way home,
did we realize the irony of celebrating India’s 69th Independence Day at a British Raj-era hotel.

On the very day our host country was rejoicing in its freedom from occupation, we were relishing the upscale jasmine-scented luxury of The Imperial, inaugurated by Lord Willingdon, British Governor-General of India, in 1936.

Just five years prior to that, Willingdon had ordered the arrest of Mahatma Gandhi.

So … that realization was a little sobering.

Still, irony aside, we had a lovely morning with wonderful company. Breakfast at The Imperial is always a treat, and the staff beamed with pride as they served traditional sweets, pressed their hands together in namaste and said, “Happy Independence Day!”

We listened to a speaker, who referenced India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his famous speech to the Indian Constituent Assembly on Aug. 15, 1947.

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long supressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of Inida and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.

(You can read the short but powerful speech at Fordham University’s Modern History Sourcebook.)

Reading that gives me goosebumps and makes me extra grateful today for the opportunity to live, work and play in the biggest democracy in the world.









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Family Traditions: Ocean City, New Jersey

Some of my earliest memories place me in a small house at the end of the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey, looking out the window at the beach while Great Uncle Herb offered me half a banana … listening as Great Aunt Iris reported on the newspaper’s tide and current tables … walking clumsily through deep sand full of prickers from the dune bushes … rinsing off sand and salt water in the cabana shower outside.

During my trip to the shore in July, I rode a bike along the boardwalk to that house. It’s still there – although no longer in the family, and it’s avoided the fate of many older homes that have been demolished and rebuilt as large multi-unit rentals. We actually rented one of those homes for our weeklong visit. I shared one floor of a house with my parents; my sister Kate, her husband, and three young boys; and my sister, Megan, and her two kids. My brother, Mike, and his wife and baby rented a nearby house to share with his in-laws.

In the grip of nostalgia, we tried to do it all: beach time, boogie boarding in the ocean, sand castle construction, early morning bike rides, breakfast at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, arcade games and rides and miniature golf on the boardwalk, ice cream and cheesesteaks and sticky buns and pizza and crab legs, beach combing for shells, crabbing off the 34th Street dock, and cramming the whole family onto a rented surrey (for a short ride on the boardwalk, but mostly for the photos).

I can’t count how many times during this week I paused to tell myself, “Remember this moment,” especially when my little nephews expressed unrestrained joy at being in this place. My face ached with laughter while boogie boarding with 8-year-old Nico or splashing in the surf with dare-devil Will, who is not yet three. My heart swelled when little Max danced to the boardwalk band and 6-year-old Paul rode his first roller-coaster with his adored cousin, Jake.

My brother always makes the ridiculous just a little bit more so, as evidenced by our surrey ride. “Let’s pull up next to random strangers and sing ‘Surrey With the Fringe on Top,'” he begged. And so we did.

Mamas and babies on the boardwalk (photobombed by my mother).

Early morning walk on the beach with my dad.

The Ocean City, NJ, boardwalk.

Beach time!










Our highly unsuccessful crabbing attempt yielded one crab. We used traps baited with hot dogs. We learned a different technique from a fellow crabber, who hung a chicken neck from a string and then scooped up the crab with a net. Later, Mike and Summer’s family reported catching piles of crabs that way!

At Corson’s Inlet, we found many large clam shells, a live horseshoe crab, a couple jellyfish and hundreds of hyper-clawed fiddler crabs.


I have been wanting a picture of all five nephews and the one baby niece, but a normal family photo just wouldn’t cut it for this crew. I brought home costumes from India and staged a photo shoot one morning at the beach. Nico immediately morphed into a Mughal prince and chose regal poses rather than frolicking in the water like the other boys. The toddlers were surprisingly compliant, keeping their turbans on for the most part. Baby Annesley slept through the whole thing, unfortunately, and awoke just when the boys were too riled up for more group shots. All in all, pretty successful!

Bollywood at the beach!














A serious drawback of living abroad is that gatherings with extended family are rare. I have relatives scattered around the world, and there’s simply no time to see them all regularly. And so I felt deeply grateful for visits from my mother’s side of the family, who all live in the Philadelphia area.

Sisters: Aunt Iris and my mom.

Cousin Amy with her husband, Billy, and their three boys, Jake, Dylan and Alex.

Cousin Karen and her two boys, Robbie and Mario, spent the day at the beach with us. Here she is with my nephew Jack.

Uncle Bill and his friend, Judy, also hung out with us that day. Seriously, nobody took any photos of them? Geez.

Funny how nostalgia and family connections can make you love a place. I’ve been to nicer beaches, cleaner boardwalks, and classier coastal towns. But my heart belongs “at the shoo-wah” in Ocean City, NJ.

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New Delhi Book Club Does Door County

As an international teacher, I sometimes struggle to find friends who are not international teachers. My teacher friends are great, don’t get me wrong, but I also love to learn the stories of interesting people with experiences quite different from my own.

That’s why I felt particularly fortunate to join a small book club in New Delhi comprising a diverse group of fascinating ladies – a nurse, an actress, a scientist, a dancer … and more. We met monthly to discuss and recommend (or not) whatever each of us had read recently, and we maintained a lending library of books donated by the group. Occasionally, we joined a few other ladies for a dramatic reading of a play. Although their husbands’ jobs brought them to Delhi and, unfortunately, took them away again last year, these women all left their marks on the community and on my heart. I have missed the camaraderie, reflective conversations and laughter.

In fact, I don’t think I realized how much I missed them until a plan was hatched to hold a summer reunion. Not everyone could make it, but a few of us did, and we had a wonderful time hanging out at Sue’s home in artsy-fartsy Door County, Wisconsin, June 25-28. Sue’s husband is presently working in Afghanistan with the U.S. Agency for International Development while she settles into their retirement home (which they bought sight unseen while living in India). The house sits high on a hill overlooking Lake Michigan with a steep staircase leading down to the wooded waterfront. It was idyllic.

Each morning, we lounged poolside with coffee and breakfast treats, re-connecting and catching up. Over the four days, we also walked to the Edgewood Orchard Galleries, where I bought a sculpture for my own lake house; took a bumpy ride on Lake Michigan in a rented pontoon boat piloted by Sue’s son, Brent; participated in a dramatic reading of “Fences” by August Wilson; held an official book club meeting (see the book recommendations at the end of this post); and visited a food fair and an art show. Cocktails in hand, we returned to the backyard in the evenings to watch the sun set.



Adrienne, Catherine, Henrietta and I clambered down to the lakefront.

Brent deftly handled the pontoon boat on choppy water, steering us to glassy Horseshoe Bay, where we lingered for a picnic lunch.



Monique and Henri take the dogs out for a walk to the art gallery.


The gallery featured an art-lined path through the woods.

I bought this sculpture of an ibis, which the gallery shipped to our Michigan house. Here she is at Lake Orion.

We bought this fish for Sue as a thank-you gift.

Afternoon cocktails prepared by Adrienne!

Back to front, left to right: Monique, Adrienne, Sue, Henri, me, Catherine.

Catherine’s party pants.

Henri and me at Gills Rock, the tip of Wisconsin’s mitten thumb peninsula.

My motto.

Brent took a summer job at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant, where he herds the goats off the sod roof at night.

Reading “Fences,” August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about black Americans in the 1950s.



Here’s the list of books we discussed. Fiction and non-fiction, old and new … in no order.
Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter
The Saffron Kitchen – Yasmin Crowther
Don’t Let Him Know– Sandip Roy
A Dog’s Gift – Bob Drury
The Martian – Andy Weir
The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life– Bettany Hughes
The Children Act – Ian McEwan
Squatting with Dignity – Kumar Alok
Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt – David McCullough
The Expats – Chris Pavone
Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly: The Remarkable Story of the Friendship Between a First Lady and a Former Slave – Jennifer Fleischner
A House Divided – Pearl S. Buck
Imperial Woman: The Story of the Last Empress of China – Pearl S. Buck
The Child Who Never Grew – Pearl S. Buck
Various books by Leon Uris
Clara and Mr. Tiffany – Susan Vreeland
The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge – David McCullough
The Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy – Douglas Smith
The Lunar Chronicles – Marisa Meyer
The Devil in the White City – Erik Larson
In the Garden of the Beasts -Erik Larson
Thunderstruck – Erik Larson
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin
I’ll Give you the Sun – Jandy Nelson
All the Light We Cannot See– Anthony Doerr
Catering to Nobody – Diane Mott Davidson
The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
To be Sung Underwater – Tom McNeal
Wild – Cheryl Strayed
The Orphan Train – Christina Baker Kline
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain
The Cherry Harvest – Lucy Sanna
The Passion of Artemesia – Susan Vreeland
FDR – Jean Edward Smith
We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of the American Women Trapped on Bataan – Elizabeth Norman
I Served on Bataan – Juanita Redmond
Wild Swans – Jung Chang
Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett

Until we meet again, happy reading!

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Hungry Days of Summer

It took a couple weeks, but Tony and I are finally over jetlag and mostly decompressed from school stress. Time to get down to business. There’s so much to eat and drink before the end of July!

Here are some of my Michigan food-and-drink-related routines:
(1) I welcome myself home with a cake from Kroger’s. Usually I just pop in to the store and ask for a cake that says, “Welcome home, Sharon!” and then I eat it in secret. This time, I decided to be more inclusive and I had the hilarious plan of asking the baker to box in a corner and write, “… and Tony.” My sister Kate offered to pick up the cake for me, but when she saw the poor baker seemed to suffer from terrible arthritis, she said, “You can just write ‘Welcome home S & T’.” Lame.

(2) I eat avocado every day. This is my Second Annual Eat Avocado Every Day Summer Challenge. It started last summer when I was stuck in Washington, D.C., with a fun group of ladies from AES, waiting for our new Indian visas to be issued. We found ourselves at the same Mexican restaurant most days, eating guacamole. Avocados in Delhi are rare and expensive, so it seems like a good plan to get ’em while I can. My favorite lunch time treat? A loaded BLAT sandwich.

(3) I eat copious amounts of pie. My favorite? Strawberry rhubarb. Bring it. (And be sure to bring Breyer’s Natural Vanilla ice cream, too.)

(4) I drink a ridiculous amount of beer and wine. With import duties around 150%, booze is pricey in India. My go-to red wine in Delhi is Yellow Tail Shiraz, which retails at $30. Guess how much it costs in Michigan? $4.95! Less than five bucks! We have a beer pub in our Delhi neighborhood, where Tony and I go for dinner occasionally. A nice pizza and a couple glasses of beer costs us about $100. So, if most of my summer pictures show a drink in my hand, don’t judge.

(5) Bacon. Bacon. And more bacon. The Hindus in India don’t eat beef, and the Muslims in India don’t eat pork. So the only ubiquitous meat is chicken. Dang it, I am so sick of chicken. Bacon cheeseburger with guacamole? Yes, please!

By the end of the summer, I may be jonesing for a samosa, but for now, you’ll find me on my deck, beer in hand and gearing up for my next American snack.

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Summer Paranoia

Tony and I have poured a lot of time, energy and money into establishing a home for ourselves in Michigan. After bopping around the country every summer, crashing with my parents or friends, we finally have a place of our own. When we head back to India every year, we winterize the house and leave it in the hands of a trusted neighbor. Still, we can’t help but worry.

When we returned to the States June 1, we opened up our house with a big sense of relief. Everything looked fine … for a few minutes. After throwing a load of laundry in the dryer, I smelled something funny. I turned off the dryer and checked the lint trap. It was clean. I had read about the danger of letting lint build up in the exterior vent, so I went outside to check it. The vent was bursting with dry, fluffy lint!

Years of watching Monk, Psych and The Mentalist prepared me for this moment. Somebody must have broken in to our house to do laundry! And they must have done it in the last day or so or the lint would have been wet from the rain, I deduced. As I was rubbing my chin reflectively, Tony came upstairs from our basement.

“Did you put the yellow kayak somewhere?” he asked.
“No, where would I put it?”
“Well, it’s not there,” he said.
“Someone broke into our house to do laundry and stole our kayak!” I exclaimed.

Paranoia gripped up both. We searched every inch of the house to find any more evidence of a prowler in freshly laundered clothes. In the guest bedroom, I stared at the dresser. “Where’s that green box and the fake fern that usually goes here?” I asked. I use the box for jewelry during the summer, but I didn’t leave any jewelry in it. I guess it did have some loose change in one of the drawers. We panicked.

“Why would anyone steal that box but not take our TV?” Tony asked.
“Well, it is a crappy old TV,” I said. “Who would want it?”

We asked the neighbors if they had seen anyone in our house in the days before our arrival. They hadn’t. We asked my sister, who lives about half an hour away, if she had sneaked in to do a few loads of laundry. Nope.

I called my dad to see if he had any ideas. He reminded me that the family who gave us the yellow kayak borrowed it back for a camping trip or something. As soon as he said that, I recalled the email correspondence. Then I got on the phone with my mom, who said the dryer probably just sucked all the lint in the hose out to the exterior vent when I turned it on for the first time in 10 months. OK, that explains the kayak and the dryer lint … but what about my fake fern and the green box?

Stumped, Tony and I quietly explored the house again. This time, I noticed a beach towel draped over the clothes hamper. When I pulled away the towel, I discovered the missing fern and box. I had obviously covered them to keep off the dust. Mystery solved.

After a couple days, our paranoia abated and we settled in to Michigan life again. God only knows what’s going on at our house in Delhi …

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Old Delhi Walking Tour: Saari, Kinaari, Bazaari!

I own two saris – a turquoise bedazzled number that caught my eye early on in India and which I now realize is cheap and gaudy, and a quality bright-orange hand-spun cotton one I purchased after a special afternoon at Sari School last year. Both sit in a closet, never used. I’ve only worn a sari once, and it was borrowed. Still, I remain entranced by the “unstitched garment.” That’s why I jumped at the chance to poke through Old Delhi’s sari market April 18 with one of my favorite tour guides, Himanshu Verma of Red Earth India, on his “Saari, Kinaari, Bazaari!” tour.

The ad for Himanshu’s walking tour said,

Chandni Chowk, the commercial centre of the city, presents a shimmering spectacle. On this Saree Walk, we will wander into Kinari Bazaar, the wholesale market for fabric trimmings and soak in this most colorful part of the city, where any saree can be accessorized with a relevant trim. A popular destination for bridal shopping, Chandni Chowk also offers us access to an array of Saree shops – from the hand-woven to bling and cheap synthetic sarees.




Himanshu took us into sari shops, including this tiny space.


At larger stores, he helped us distinguish between hand-woven and machine-made, traditional and trendy, silk and synthetic sarees. It was all so interesting, but also overwhelming. Rather than shop for my own saree, I far prefer watching Indian women do so. Often, the whole family sits together on low stools while the shopkeeper unfurls the sarees. A baby sits on his father’s lap. A woman holds up the end of a saree to her chest and looks to her sister for approval. A grandmother reaches out to pull a saree closer for inspection while the shopkeeper shakes the next one out of its plastic package. The sarees drape across everyone’s laps and pile up on the table. Soon, the group is swimming in a sea of silk. Mesmerizing.

We also popped into several emporiums stocked from floor to ceiling with rolls of ribbon, lace and trim of every imaginable color and design for adding a kinari – or border – to a saree or other garment. Himanshu encouraged us to buy something fun to jazz up our clothes, and I eyed the collections with plans to add trim to a pair of jeans. In the end, I simply couldn’t commit to anything; I loved it all! However, now that I know where to find this stuff, don’t be surprised if all my western clothes get a touch of Indian flair.




Our group paused for snacks a couple times at places we never would have tried without Himanshu’s trusted recommendation. This sweets shop offered up delicious milk-based desserts.


This man, whose little stand was unfortunately located directly across the narrow alley from an open urinal, whipped up golgappas, which are hollow crunchy balls filled with a watery mixture of tamarind chutney, chili, masala spices, potato, onion and chickpeas. He also served one of my favorite Indian street snacks – bhelpuri, a mixture of puffed rice, tamarind chutney and chopped veggies. Despite a momentary hesitation (no doubt triggered by the combination of the urinal smell and the sight of our snack-maker’s bare hands scooping the golgappa balls through the pot of water), we all gobbled up the treats and found them a bit spicy but tasty.

Eventually, Himanshu led us up a flight of dark narrow stairs to a busy eatery, where people lined up to get fresh bread straight from the tandoor. The breadmaker sat on an elevated structure and reached into the oven with long mental tongs to pull out the hot naan. We ordered paratha, a pan-friend flatbread stuffed with potatoes and spinach. Diners sat on cracked plastic chairs at long rickety tables; this was clearly not a place that catered to the hoity-toity expat crowd. In fact, I doubt any of us could find this place again. I always relish experiences like this, when I get a glimpse into the lives of locals in a way that doesn’t make me feel like a voyeur. It was pretty special, and the food was great!




The labyrinth of Old Delhi can be daunting with its twisting alleys packed with pedestrians, motorcycles and bicycle rickshaws. Himanshu shared his expertise about the district and the iconic sarees, but he also brought a sense of curiosity and calm to a chaotic place, reminding us of its rich history and current relevance. I can’t wait to join him for another eye-opening tour.

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Lip Sync Party: True Love

Everybody seems to be lipdubbing or dubsmashing all over the place these days. That’s why it’s a little tricky to explain why the Second Annual AES Lip Sync Party on May 16 was so special.

Was it seeing our friends and colleagues step outside their comfort zone? Was it the knowledge that a performance was the ticket for admission, so nobody was there to judge or heckle? Was it the face-cramping laughter? Was it the tables full of liquor donated by departing teachers cleaning out their cupboards? Was it the wigs, the costumes, the general silliness? Was it the video appearance of two stars from last year’s party or the surprise live appearance of friends who had left India?

Most likely, it was all that plus the genuine affection we felt for our school community. We’ve had some ups and downs in the last few years, and some of the downs have been doozies, but we stuck together. When a teacher breaks out a freestyle poem about #this place, and the crowd goes wild, well, you know you have something unique.

Much to my surprise, Tony agreed to perform with me. We sang the first minute or so of “True Love” by Pink, a song about sticking with someone despite their flaws. We dedicated the song to our cat, Khushi. If you’re one of the five people on the planet who don’t know how Khushi destroyed our lives this year, then read the backstory after the video.

Disclaimer: This party took place at AES with a bunch of AES teachers, but it was NOT sanctioned by the school, nor were any children present!

I would love to post the video of the whole evening because you can’t help but smile when see all the love in that room. However, I’ll respect the privacy of my peers and only share our own performance. Here ya go:

Back story: After summering in the States last year, we returned to Delhi to find our cat Khushi had gone bonkers. Our other cat, Ella, was totally fine, but Khushi screamed her head off day and night and peed on everything in sight. We took her to several different vets and tried a variety of interventions, including powerful anti-anxiety drugs in people form (no kitty prozac available in India). Nothing worked. At night, she would repeatedly run across our bed, howling maniacally. We took turns sleeping, with the other person sitting in another room to keep Khushi distracted. Tony was ready to euthanize her after a couple weeks, but I just couldn’t bear to do it. Instead, we suffered through almost eight months of sleep deprivation and zero quality of life. We couldn’t entertain because it stressed out the cat, but we couldn’t go out to dinner or visit friends because we worried she was peeing all over the house. Finally, a new vet speculated that her spaying had been botched. If any reproductive tissue remains in a cat, she will continue to go into heat until she gets pregnant. Awesome. The vet gave her a hormone shot, and – just like that – Khushi returned to relative normal. Needless to say, this experience consumed us for most of the school year. Everyone who asked, “How’s it going?” got an earful. Some days, that question triggered tears. That’s why we decided to sing our song in honor of Khushi.

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Spring Break Part 2 : Paris

After learning and playing in Istanbul, I was ready for the second part of my holiday: Paris! I waited at the Paris airport on March 24 for Tony to arrive from Delhi, and then we caught a taxi to meet up with our friends, Paul and Sepi. We worked with them in Shanghai, and now they’ve joined us at AES in Delhi. Sepi’s nephew, an international artist, keeps an apartment in Paris, and he was kind enough to let us crash there while he was out of town. The only French I remember from high school is “Où est la vache?” which means “Where is the cow?” Not useful in the big city, unfortunately. Good thing Sepi and Paul speak French.

Our Paris home was located on rue du Louvre. For those of you who don’t speak French as well as I do, that means “street of the Louvre.” In other words, we were just a block from the freakin’ Louvre Museum. Every day, we stepped through the courtyard’s iron gate into a charming neighborhood with endless options for shopping and eating. Despite the cold drizzly weather, we felt giddy dining outside under the heat lamps and watching Parisians saunter by (often with a baguette under one arm and a little dog on a leash, I kid you not).

The gate to our courtyard.

Sepi in front of our apartment building.

Our ‘hood.

We ate many delectable meals at a neighborhood restaurant called Au Rocher de Cancale. According to Lonely Planet, “This 19th-century timber-lined restaurant (first opened in 1804 at No 59) is the last remaining legacy of the old oyster market. You can feast on oysters and seafood from Cancale (in Brittany) as well as other plats du jour.” I did not feast on oysters, but I did have some fantastic scallops and – more than once – this salad, which still gives me goosebumps of joy. Unless you live in a country that doesn’t regularly eat pork, you can’t fully appreciate that beautiful slice of prosciutto.

One of our favorite parts of this trip was just WALKING. We walked everywhere. Such a treat.

Tony and I spent a day at the Louvre (while Sepi and Paul explored other museums). The Louvre started as a fortress in 1190 to protect the capital from the Anglo-Norman threat but lost its defensive role as the city grew beyond its walls. It later served as a residence for a succession of kings, who linked the Louvre to the nearby Tuileries palace, demolished wings and built new ones, hired architects and designers to overhaul exteriors and interiors, and otherwise renovated and updated the sprawling palace. After Louis XIV moved to Versailles, he designated the Louvre as a sculpture gallery and exhibition space. According to the Louvre’s website, “The demolition of the Tuileries in 1882 marked the birth of the modern Louvre. The palace ceased to be the seat of power and was devoted almost entirely to culture. … Slowly but surely, the museum began to take over the whole of the vast complex of buildings.”

A few fun facts:
* The museum was evacuated, except for its heaviest pieces, at the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Nazi officials ordered the Louvre re-opened but found only sculptures covered in burlap bags.
* In 1981, President Francois Mitterand announced plans to restore the whole palace to function entirely as a museum.
* The glass Pyramid, built by I.M. Pei, opened in 1989 as the entrance to the museum. Here’s an interesting New York Times article about the inauguration.
* The Mona Lisa hasn’t always been on display in the Louvre. According to Six Things You May Not Know About the Louvre, Napolean Bonaparte hung the painting in his bedroom for awhile. Also, it was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 and recovered two years later; hence the guards and bullet-proof glass.

As for the collection of masterpieces in the Louvre, its simply too vast and fantastic to describe. With more than 35,000 pieces of art spread out over 650,000 square feet of gallery space, it’s overwhelming. We obviously didn’t see it all in our daylong visit.






Whenever Tony and I visit a museum, we each pick one favorite object we would like to steal. I chose the Winged Victory of Samothrace, a 2,200-year-old sculpture of the goddess Victory found on a Greek island in 1863. It’s not a very original choice, as it’s listed as one of the top five things to see at the Louvre. However, newly restored, her white marble gleams as she leans into the wind to announce a naval battle triumph. Even headless, she exudes a spirit of sexy optimism and power with her wings outspread and her tunic whipping around her legs. I think she’d make a nice addition to our lakefront landscape. Here’s way more information about the sculpture from the Louvre’s website, and here’s an interesting Wall Street Journal article on the controversy surrounding her restoration.

Tony chose a painting, Oedipus and the Sphinx, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. It’s not something I would necessarily want hanging in my living room, but my sweet English teacher husband was enamored. As we stood there, he explained that the Sphinx – a monster comprising the head and chest of a woman, body of a lion and wings of a bird – posed a riddle to everyone trying to pass through this region of Thebes, with death as the punishment for a wrong answer. Tony even knew the riddle – “What is it that has a voice and walks on four legs in the morning, on two at noon, and on three in the evening?” – and the answer: man. Oedipus knew the answer, too, noting that man crawls on all fours as a child (morning), walks on two legs as an adult (noon), and uses a cane in old age (evening).

So, who won? Which would you steal?
My choice:

Or Tony’s?

One sprinkly day, we took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower. We ducked into a café to wait out the rain (and enjoy a cup of tea), but the weather just got worse. Still, I was rather fixated on the artsy industrial angles of the tower and took about 975 photos, wiping drizzle off my lens after almost every shot. Warm Sharon always wants to get to the highest point of any tall tourist destination, but Cold Sharon couldn’t be bothered and took consolation in knowing she did it as a teenager. Here’s proof – with my Nana on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower in 1982.

I’m a little bummed that we didn’t take the tour, though, so here’s the scoop from the official Eiffel Tower website:

The Eiffel Tower was built by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, which was to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the French Revolution. Its construction in 2 years, 2 months and 5 days was a veritable technical and architectural achievement. “Utopia achieved”, a symbol of technological prowess, at the end of the 19th Century it was a demonstration of French engineering personified by Gustave Eiffel, and a defining moment of the industrial era. It was met immediately with tremendous success.
Only intended to last 20 years, it was saved by the scientific experiments that Eiffel encouraged, and in particular by the first radio transmissions, followed by telecommunications. For example, the radio signals from the Pantheon Tower in 1898; it served as a military radio post in 1903; it transmitted the first public radio programme in 1925, and then broadcast television up to TNT more recently.
Since the 1980s, the monument has regularly been renovated, restored and adapted for an ever-growing public. A universal Tower of Babel, almost 250 million visitors regardless of age or origin have come from all over the planet to see it since its opening in 1889. As France’s symbol in the world, and the showcase of Paris, today it welcomes almost 7 million visitors a year (around 75% of whom are foreigners), making it the most visited monument that you have to pay for in the world.






Sepi and I actually huddled by a sign to escape the stinging rain. We’re such babies.

From the Eiffel Tower, we took the Metro to the Notre Dame Cathedral. The Notre Dame was built starting in 1163 on the Île de la Cité, a natural island in the Seine and the seat of power in medieval times. You can visit the towers (387 steps to the top), and you know I wanted to do that! But the lines were long, and the rain was cold. So … instead, we walked through the church and then popped into a café for more tea and pastries. Notice a pattern?

Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431 but declared a martyr in 1456 and beatified at Notre Dame by Pope Pius X in 1909. As for the hunchback? Well, Victor Hugo invented the character of Quasimoto and wrote his book as a way of promoting the church’s traditional architecture and gothic restoration. However, researchers have found evidence of a huchbacked sculptor who worked at the Notre Dame in the 1820s – about the time Hugo was working on his novel. Coincidence?






I had read the fascinating Vanity Fair article, “In a Bookstore in Paris,” last fall about Shakespeare and Company. The opening blurb says, “Perhaps the most famous independent bookstore in the world, Shakespeare and Company can feel like something of a literary utopia, where money takes a backseat and generations of writers—Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, William Styron, Martin Amis, Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers, among others—have found a Paris home. Chronicling the life of its late owner, the eccentric, irascible, and visionary George Whitman, Bruce Handy meets Shakespeare’s greatest asset in the age of Amazon: Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia.”

Guess what happens to be just a short walk from the Notre Dame?



Knowing the bookstore’s history made it all the more special. We wedged ourselves into the various nooks to browse the books, chuckled at the whimsical signs, and fantasized about bumping into Hemingway or even Frank Sinatra. Sure, there were too many tourists so we felt rushed. We couldn’t plop down on a sofa to chat about the brilliant writers who may have sat on that very same sofa. Tony bought a beautiful hardback copy of Les Misérables, which the cashier stamped with the Shakespeare and Company logo. We snapped a few photos from the street (no pictures allowed inside, dang it). Pretty special.

Another metro ride took us to the Arc de Triomphe, just in time for the rekindling of the Memorial Flame, a daily ritual since 1923 that pays tribute to the unknown soldiers who died in World War I and II. Napolean began construction of this “triumphal arch” at the western end of the Champs-Élysées starting on his birthday in 1806. The arch honors those who died in battle during the Napoleonic wars. A break in the rain gave me my first chance of the day to get a bird’s eye view of Paris. Paul, Tony and I climbed the 284 stairs to a magnificent surprise. The clouds parted, and sunshine filtered through to illuminate the city. Spectacular!









We spent most of the next day in Montmartre. After a leisurely breakfast, we walked to Espace Dalí, a gallery Sepi had visited during a tour with her art students earlier this year. The audio tour offered fascinating insights about Salvador Dali’s life and art. I knew about his surrealist paintings, particularly the molten watches in his painting, The Persistence of Memory. However, I had no idea he was such a tinkerer who tried his hand at all forms of creative expression, nor did I know he was named after his dead brother and desperately fought for his own identity.




Tony loved this sculpture of Alice in Wonderland.
The sign read, “For Dali, Alice symbolized eternal childhood with the naivety and irrefutable logic of children that struggle against the confusion in the world.” Tony said it reminded him of all the painters and romantic poets who tried so hard to retain the sense of wonder they had as children. “When I teach, that’s what I want my kids to do: Look at the world with wonder,” he said. (He also made a snarky comment about how much he loves art depicting children at play and how much he doesn’t love real children at play.)

For me, the most steal-worthy artwork in the gallery was a no-brainer. I was completely smitten by Ménagère, a set of silver-gilt cutlery. The names are as dreamy as the pieces themselves:
* Fourchette 4 dents à manche poisson (Four tooth fork with a fish handle)
* Fourchette-éléphant 3 dents (Elephant fork with three teeth)
* Couteau escargot aux larmes (Snail knife with tears)
* Cocteau feuille (leaf knife)
* Petite cuillère-artichaut (small artichoke spoon)
* Cuillère-artichaut (artichoke spoon)

Here’s a clearer photo of a similar set from the website, The Cutlery Review.
I’ve always been a fan of functional art. According to Sotheby’s, this set last sold for $28,125.

Sepi and I each took a turn in the photo booth that inserted your face into a Dali masterpiece. So classy.


Montmartre is bursting with art. Former residents include Dali, Picasso and Van Gogh. Now artists display their paintings and offer to crank out a quick portrait just around the corner from the stunning Basilica of the Sacré Cœur. Frankly, this historic district deserved more of our attention, but instead we spotted a crêperie, and who can visit Paris without eating crêpes? So in the crêpes vs. culture competition, crêpes won. And they were delicious.



Our last day in Paris was bittersweet. We returned yet again to Au Rocher de Cancale for breakfast of croissants, coffee and eggs and then poked around the local shops for special treats to take back to India. Of course, my first priority was cheese, followed closely by wine and chocolate.


I had every intention of saving our delicious French cheese for a dinner party, but let’s face it, Tony and I are not very good at sharing.

Best. Grilled cheese sandwich. Ever.

Thanks to Sepi and Paul for sharing Paris with us!

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Slap on the wrist

I just paid my web host bill, which made me think about what a horrible slacker I’ve been on the blog. Hardly worth the pittance I pay to maintain the site. There are reasons, but let’s not get into them… Instead, I want to make a commitment to posting something weekly. Interesting stuff actually does happen enough to justify regular posts. So without further ado … I need to catch up. I posted Spring Break Part One without a Part Two. You can’t HAVE a part one without a part two. (I learned that in Reporting 101.) So let’s do something about that. Stay tuned.

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Spring Break Part 1: NESA and Istanbul

Still catching up … geez.

I got an early start on Spring Break with a trip to Istanbul in mid-March for the NESA Spring Educator’s Conference, where I participated in a 5-day certification course in Adaptive Schools. The workshop focused on developing collaborative teams, a big part of my job as an English as an Additional Language coordinator at my school. On the first day, I realized right away how desperately I wanted to develop my skillset in coaching, facilitating meetings, dealing with conflict, and otherwise fostering a culture of collaboration at our school. AES sent a big group to the workshop, so we were able to debrief and reflect together. This was among the best professional development I have ever experienced, and our workshop leaders Bob Garmstrom and Carolyn McKanders illuminated me about the power of individuals on collaborative teams. I worry that the fast pace of school life back in Delhi has kept me from practicing what I learned, but I hope to kick off the school year in August with a more deliberate approach with my Adaptive Schools book in hand.

Here, Bob breaks a board with his hand in response to AES teacher Susan’s demonstration of taekwondo.

For its banquet theme one night, NESA encouraged everyone to wear a fun hat. Our AES group honored our school mascot by wearing tiger hats. We looked pretty fierce.


One highlight of these international conferences is that you inevitably run into old friends from previous schools. I was thrilled to spend a little time with Sarah, a BFF from Shanghai American School who now works in Dubai.

Of course, Istanbul wasn’t all about professional growth. We lived there from 2001-2005, and it’s our favorite city in the world. Unfortunately, Tony was off in Rajasthan with a group of students, so he couldn’t join me for this visit. However, I caught up with two special friends – Tracey and Ece. I enjoyed a glass of tea on the ferry from Europe to Asia, where I met Tracey in Kadiköy. We went for a walk around our old stomping grounds in Moda, and she introduced me to Çiya Sofrasi, a restaurant I had read about in the New Yorker. The food was dreamy, including a weird dessert of candied whole walnuts – in the shell – with clotted cream. After dinner, we took a dolmus (small bus) back to her apartment so I could meet her adorable little son, Zach. Our time together passed too quickly.



Ece, another dear friend from our days in Turkey, met me for lunch in another favorite destination: Bagdat Cadessi. We spent the afternoon together, and she drove me back across the Bosphorus – magical in the misty rain – to my hotel on the European side. The daughter of an Army officer, she had access to an “orduevi” or military house, which was right next to my hotel and featured a bar with a view of the city. We had a drink in the bar and then headed down to the restaurant for kebabs. Effervescent as always, Ece brought me up to date with her goings on and the disheartening state of Turkish politics. We reminisced about old times and speculated about the future. My life is richer with her in it.

During the week, I devoured all my favorite Turkish treats: dolma midye (stuffed mussels), mezes (small servings of hot and cold salads), simit (sesame seed-coated bagel-ish bread), beyaz peynir (cheese), olives, Iskendar kebab, visne suyu (cherry juice), locum (Turkish delight), sahlep (a hot drink made from the orchid tuber), döner sandwiches … well, the list goes on.




Hanging out at the durum stands. The guy making the peace sign was our sandwich maker.

I introduced some of my Delhi friends to Huseyin, my favorite carpet seller, who has shops in and near the Arasta Bazaar. Here, we sip tea and check out the carpets at Harem 49. I had no plans to purchase anything, but isn’t it always that way?

Here’s my new kilim.

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Adventures in Teaching and Travel