The Suitcase Lady


November 13, 2018, 8:32 pm

After 136 years under construction, one of the world’s most iconic structures finally will be getting a building permit. The Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) Basilica in Barcelona will pay a fine of 41 million dollars for being remiss. In return, the church board will receive its building permit and continue the last 30 per cent of the structure.

Antoni Gaudi, the architectural genius who devoted the last forty decades of his life to the project, stated that, “My client is in no hurry”. He was referring to God. In 1926, Gaudi was run over by a tram and died. The construction of his incredible plans continued. But in 1936, the Spanish Civil War was raging and all his plans and models were destroyed.  Multiple architects and committees down through the years have struggled to capture his vision. Computers are trying as well. The current goal is to complete the church in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church in the world if the plans are realized. And it will also be “the most controversial place of worship ever built on an epic scale”. It is viewed as a breathtaking spiritual and engineering masterpiece or “a cluster of gigantic stone termites’ nests, a colossal vegetable patch, a gingerbread house baked by the wickedest witch of all, a circus attraction and a petrified forest.” Despite the controversy,  three million tourists flock to the church every year and are charged a hefty fee to pass through the doors.

My husband and I were two tourists several decades ago. We jumped at the chance when we found a bargain ticket to Spain: I had long wanted to see all of Gaudi’s apartments, houses, Parc Güell and Sagrada Familia. Arriving in Barcelona at night, we walked directly to the church. It did not disappoint. We could not wait for the next day to return and see the interior.

The joke was on us. There was no inside in the inside…..only windows open to the air, a forest of scaffolds and no workers in sight. We had thought that in over 100 years more progress would have been made.

When news of the missing building permit surfaced last week, I looked up to see how work on Sagrada Familia was progressing. I could hardly recognize the amazing structure we saw so many years ago on that magical night. New towers and additions are sprouting everywhere.

Perhaps that is the inevitable outcome when committees build buildings. Especially committees who don’t believe in “Less is More.”


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November 6, 2018, 10:51 pm

Brexit may be tearing Europe apart, but the big news in London a few weeks ago was not about politics. It was about tiaras…lots of them.

When the royals go visiting, the diamonds come out. So when King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands traveled to England for their first royal visit, the Dutch royal jewels traveled with them.

Queen Maxima has a true sense of fashion as well as an ample clothes budget and access to the “House Diamonds”. By all accounts, she stole the show at Queen Elizabeth’s banquet in honor of their visit.

The stunning tiara Queen Maxima wore is known as the Stuart Tiara. A 39.75 carat pear-shaped and rose cut diamond is the central stone of the headpiece. It once belonged to King William the III and Queen Mary the II. William and Mary were co-regents of England beginning in 1689. Mary was an English princess from the House of Stuart. William, her husband and first cousin, was the Dutch-born Prince of Orange. After the royal pair died, the diamond was returned to the Netherlands in 1702.

In the last 400 years, the jewel has had various lives as a brooch, pendant and clasp. The diamond found its current home in a tiara designed for Queen Wilhelmina, King Willem-Alexander’s great-grandmother. Her daughter, Queen Juliana, loved the tiara and wore it often. She is shown here wearing it at her birthday party in 1962.

When Juliana’s daughter Queen Beatrix reigned, she never donned the tiara. Queen Maxima now has put it back in public view. Here’s the line up of the tiaras worn at the royal banquet at Buckingham Palace. And if you have monarchist leanings (or simply believe that diamonds are a girl’s best friend), here is a web site to peruse. The Royal Order of Sartorial Splendor.



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October 30, 2018, 9:47 pm

The moon is bright, the nights are chill: It’s the perfect time to speak of ravens. These impressive birds, along with crows, magpies and jays, are members of the corvid family. All of them are “the top of the line” of bird evolution.

People seldom have ambivalent feelings about ravens. Down through the ages, they either have been  loved and revered or vilified and feared. A central figure in northern North American folk mythology, Raven is featured in many creation myths. The Haida tribe believes Raven chanced on a big clamshell with tiny people inside and freed them to enjoy his world. In many tales he is a trickster, in others he helps his people to survive.

In Norse myths, Celtic goddesses often took the form of a raven in battle. And Odin, the main god, had two ravens, Hugin (Thought) and Munin (Memory), who flew around the world all day and returned at night to report on what was happening.

Meanwhile, in France, people believed ravens were the souls of wicked priests and crows were the souls of wicked nuns. The Swedish, on the other hand, thought that ravens who croaked at night were the lost souls of murdered people who did not have Christian burials.

Being a lover of ravens and truth, I feel compelled to offer some scientific facts about these magnificent birds.

  • Ravens have a 4 foot wingspan and are 2 feet from head to tail. They are about the same size as a red tailed hawk.
  • Ravens are highly adaptable, living in diverse habitats, tundras, deserts, mountains and forests.
  • Ravens are not fussy eaters. Almost everything is on their menu including carrion and garbage.
  • Ravens rate alongside chimpanzees and dolphins in intelligence. They have been seen stealing fish by pulling fishermen’s lines out of ice holes or dropping clams on highways to have cars crack them open.
  • Ravens are mimics and can copy our speech and other animal vocalizations.  They can also imitate other sounds such as cars running or toilets flushing.
  • Ravens mate for life and hang out as pairs. Teenage ravens live in gangs until they are ready to pair off with a mate.
  • Ravens, unlike crows, love to soar. They can also somersault in flight and fly upside down.
  • And lastly, a piece of good news. Raven populations in North America are stable or raising with a global breeding population of 20 million. These smart and adaptable birds have learned to live beside the world’s most overpopulated species.


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October 23, 2018, 9:07 pm

Nobody does “cute” like the Japanese. Gushing over cute people, animals and consumer items is not a passing fad, it’s an ongoing cultural phenomena. Various theories have been proposed for the evolution of Kawaii, the name for all things childish and saccharine in Japan, a country the size of Montana with 127,000,000 people.

Science writer Natalie Angier states that “Cute cues are those that indicate extreme youth, vulnerability, harmlessness and need.” These qualities are all included in the Japanese dictionary definitions for the word Kawaii: 1) itawashii (pitiable), 2) aisubeki (lovable) and 3) chiiskute utsukushii (small and beautiful). So in addition to being sweet, the Japanese concept of cute also embraces a sense of pathos: sadness and beauty, the ying and the yang.

An explosion of Kawaii as a mainstay of consumer culture began in Japan in the 1970’s and the tsunami is still rolling. It began with teenage girls inventing a faddish calligraphy style of rounded characters. The young ladies practiced their writing on stationery and diaries decorated with sweet, little animal pictures.  The Sanrio Company was the producer of many of these stationery items. Then, in 1975, Sanrio launched their “Hello Kitty” products. Kitty’s net worth in 2018 is now $42 billion.

My idea for this blog came from the most recent “Hello Kitty” development. It is truly Kawaii on steroids, it’s the Hello Kitty train. I will not even attempt to find words to describe the train which is currently running on Japan Rail tracks. Here are the pictures….and note that one of the stations it stops at is Puroland, Hello Kitty’s very own theme park.

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October 16, 2018, 9:44 pm

The other morning I sat down to eat breakfast, looked out the window at the Tooley Cafe  and was shocked. Our bear had lost his head.

Our cheerful wood sculpture bear has stood atop a tall pole in the Tooley Cafe for twenty years. He watches over the hundreds of animals, feathered and furred, who dine in our Cafe every day. Birds often perch on his head. And there he was, decapitated.

I alerted my husband, and we went out together to search for the missing head. It was quickly located having rolled beneath some underbrush not too far from the pole. At first we speculated that raccoons might have played a part in the decapitation, but we quickly dismissed that idea as unlikely. Unfortunately, raccoons get scapegoated for all sorts of mischief that happens in our yards around here.

Bear’s head was soggy from the rain we’ve been having lately, so we brought it into the house to dry. We didn’t want him to get brain rot.

Checking his head more closely, we discovered that he was also missing an ear. His eyes were looking fine, however, as we had given him eye transplants a few years ago. That time we blamed the squirrels as bear’s eyes did resemble acorns.

It’s ironic that we ended up with a headless bear at the same time of year that Sleepy Hollow and headless horsemen come to mind. We decided to do immediate surgery to replace his ear and reconnect his head. Keeping the restoration in the mammal family, we used Gorilla Glue for the adhesive. There will be no need to replace his head with a pumpkin. Bear is back on his perch, fully intact and once again faithfully guarding our yard.

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