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Vacations, Day Trips and Getaways

Vacations, Day Trips and Getaways

Adrienne Smith, the Constant Traveler: Adventure and Art PDF Print Email

By Adrienne Smith

Sep. 16, 2015:  Inspired by Jack Kerouac and Peter Fonda, I set off in early August for a month-long cross-country swing, half with my husband and half solo. 

There is a wonderful sense of freedom tooling down the road, free of schedules, bed-making, garbage-toting, nuisance calls, downtown parking spaces, doctors' appointments, civic obligations, and more. No guilt, no cares, and even, dangerously, an occasional no change of clothes.

Despite 552 miles of driving as far as Columbus, OH, the first day, my spirits remained undimmed. The next, it was off to Chicago to meet up with former village trustee Meg Hausberg and her husband, Mark.

After a tasty dinner at Spiaggia, near their glamorous Lake Shore Drive apartment, we made arrangements to go with them to the Art Institute of Chicago the next morning to view an exhibition co-curated by Meg titled Whistler and Roussel: Linked Visions.

With great excitement, we awoke and sped down to the exhibition, with Meg and Mark providing running commentary about the show.

Meg, an art history major at Wellesley College, has been a James McNeill Whistler scholar for years, working on, inter alia, a catalogue raisonné (how I love that phrase!) published by the University of Glasgow citing all his etchings and The Lithographs of James McNeill Whistler for the Art Institute. She also self-published a catalogue raisonné on Roussel in 1991, when she was but a gifted child.

Combine this with the Hausbergs' happy bulk purchase a number of years ago of artwork by Theodore Roussel, a contemporary in both age and style of Whistler's, and you have the seeds of a nifty art show.

Our former residents gifted 240 of Roussel's etchings, lithographs, drawings, paintings, and self-created frames to the Art Institute, and then Meg, as co-curator, designed the exhibit comparing and contrasting the two artists. The product can also be viewed as an online catalogue at

The catalogue includes Meg's magnificent detailed essay about the two, together with photographs of many of the works in the exhibit. Also online is an interactive chart of related contemporary artists.

Meg and her co-curator, Victoria Sancho Lobis, state: "We hope that this exhibition will remind those who already admire James McNeill Whistler of his remarkable commitment to the art of printmaking, and at the same time, we aim to inspire new admiration for Theodore Roussel, whose quieter nature and preference for process over product has kept him well in the shadow of his more prolific and flamboyant peer."

The exhibit delightfully includes examples of Whistler's flamboyance, including a letter he wrote to a London men's club apologizing for a ruckus he had caused. As Oscar Wilde said of him, "Mr. Whistler always spelt art, and we believe still spells it, with a capital 'I.'"

So either run, don't walk, to the exhibit before it closes on September 27 or take a look online. You won't be disappointed.

Pictured here:  Meg Hausberg at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Photo by Adrienne Smith

Adrienne Smith, the Constant Traveler: Panic at Persepolis PDF Print Email

By Adrienne Smith

Jul. 22, 2015:  Into every traveler's life an occasional little problem tends to fall. Iran proved to be no exception.

It was a boiling hot, cloudless day when our busload descended on what was to be the pièce de résistance of our trip, a visit to Persepolis.

Persepolis, city of Persians, dates back as far as 515 BC, constructed by Cyrus the Great and Darius I at the height of the Achaemenid dynasty. This magnificent set of ruins, now a World Heritage Site, did not become widely known to the modern world until rigorous excavations by men from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago in the 1930s. And what a treasure it is!

However, my Persepolis story is slightly more fraught.

Our perhaps too-knowledgeable guide was going into minute detail about what seemed like every piece of sandstone scattering the site. In frustration, I decided to skip merrily ahead of the group, coming to rest somewhat farther along, and, yes, playing an arcade game on my iPhone.

Quite suddenly, intense inner stirrings began to percolate through my midsection. Would this attack pass? Did I need to take immediate action? No clear answer.

But garbed as I was in light khaki pants, it seemed prudent to seek out an Iranian toilette, however primitive it might be. So I ran farther ahead of the group and came upon a sign pointing prominently to that which I was seeking. Hope arises!

As I did a rapid knee-locked walk by all the architectural treasures we had traveled thousands of miles to see, I kept repeating The Little Engine that Could chant, "I think I can, I think I can."

After an interminable period of agony, I came to a café and museum, and, almost letting down my guard, I inquired where I might find a water cabinet. I was directed off into the horizon, where, again, almost completely at the point of doing something unmentionable, I continued.

Finally, I came to the required facilities, with, by this time, perspiration pouring down my face and neck and into my clothes. I dashed in, slammed the door, and was confronted by that heinously familiar hole in the floor. 

Assuming the position that a fitness center trainer would envy, I performed the necessary act. But my travails were not over.

While I had been able to squat down, I was completely unable to arise. I was, in fact, frozen into place, and, for obvious reasons, I could not drop to the floor and regroup.

I considered calling for help from a stranger, but that seemed extreme. Next best, gripping a thin pipe that ran up the wall to a water source. But as I attempted purchase on it, it started to come apart from the wall. This wasn't going to work.

I was going to have to be like laboratory chimpanzees who learn to use tools to grab bananas beyond their reach, in other words, to think outside the box.

Light bulb! Slightly behind me was a hose, which I believe I have described in an earlier article as a sort of Iranian bidet. By reaching back, I was able to cantilever myself up using its hanger as a pressure point.

But in the process, my glasses fell irretrievably down the nasty-looking black sewer hole. Now I couldn't see.

Regaining my upright stance, I spent several minutes hosing down the site of my degradation, and then breezily left it as though nothing significant had happened.

Persepolis awaited.

Pictured here:  Ruins of Persepolis.

Photo by Adrienne Smith

Adrienne Smith, the Constant Traveler: An Iranian 'Idyll,' Part IV PDF Print Email

By Adrienne Smith

Jun. 24, 2015:  It's time now for a little education about Iran, some items the result of personal observation and others found on Internet sites, and, most certainly, of varying importance:

  1. Iran's geographical area is slightly smaller than the US's largest state, Alaska.

  2. Almost half of Iran is desert.

  3. Its population exceeds 80 million people, making it the second largest in the Middle East and 18th in the world.

  4. People of Persian extraction make up roughly 61% of the population, followed by 16% Azerbaijanis and 16% Kurds.

  5. 70% of Iranians are under the age of 30.

  6. Somewhere between 90 and 95% of Iranians are Shia Muslims, representing the largest Shia Muslim population in the world, followed by India.

  7. Iranians, who at least for the 61% prefer to be called Persians, do not consider themselves to be Arab. This is because they have their own language, Persian (Farsi), are Shia, rather than Sunni, Muslim, and have maintained a distinct national culture over the centuries.

  8. The current president of Iran is Hassan Rouhani, who is considered a moderate, at least compared to his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

  9. The supreme leader of Iran is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the second ayatollah to serve since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

  10. There are many ayatollahs, including a few women. Ayatollahs obtain their status via study and discourse.

  11. Iran is the only country in the Middle East that offers a high school course of study equivalent to the A-levels and the International Baccalaureate and a university entrance exam equivalent to the A-level and IB exams and the SATs.

  12. Iran sided with the Axis in World War II, which led to its occupation by the British and Russians in 1941.

  13. Iran has the largest proven gas reserves in the world and is fourth in oil reserves.

  14. Roughly 14.2% of Iranians are obese, compared to 33.9% of Americans.

  15. Starting at menarche, young girls start wearing the hijab.

  16. Girls of 13 or more may marry with the permission of their fathers.

  17. Iran is the nose-job capital of the world. Young women with white bandages on their proboscises can be seen in all the big cities.

  18. Iran is the locus of more sex-change operations each year than anywhere else in the world except Thailand. The procedure is legal and, often, state-financed.

  19. Men who do not marry continue to live at home and are known as na-mard (not-men).

  20. Private ownership of satellite TV dishes is officially banned but violations are mainly overlooked.

  21. Polo had its origins in Persia in the sixth century.

  22. Women in Iran can vote and drive but cannot wear bathing suits in front of men. Beaches and athletic clubs are segregated, the former with barriers down each side.

And now for my favorite factoid. Certain Shia men are allowed to enter into short-term marriages, called siigheh, regardless of whether they have wives and children at home. This is done by contract and can specify a time period ranging from an hour to years. The origin of this procedure seems to derive from pilgrims' "needs" on long, lonely trips to Mecca.

Add to this that there are no beggars on the street, littering is rare, cars don't honk, and young children seem remarkably even-tempered, and you have quite an unusual country.

Pictured here
Ayatollahs in Shiraz.

Photo by Adrienne Smith

Adrienne Smith, the Constant Traveler: An Iranian 'Idyll'--Part III PDF Print Email

By Adrienne Smith

Happiness is right in front of you.  

Jun. 10, 2015:  You, my readers, might think that Iran and its people are frighteningly anti-American. Film clips on television show rallies where murderous crowds hold up signs saying "Kill Americans." And I have to confess that my stomach turned over slightly as I landed in this U.S.-State-Department-warned-against country, a member of George W. Bush's Axis of Evil.

Let me tell you right away that, other than Ireland, I have never been in a friendlier country. Multiple times a day, people rushed up and welcomed us, mothers thrust their babies into our arms for selfies, and many offered us help when we looked confused about where we were going.

On our first and only internal flight from Tehran to Kermanshah, a major city near the Iraqi border, I sat next to a handsome young man who instantly started to tell me about his sister, who either lived in or had visited Los Angeles. 

As with many of my conversations with locals, a language barrier often presented obstacles to a clear understanding of what was being said. In any event, being in a silly mood, I told him that I wanted him to come to America and marry my beautiful but aging daughter. I pointed to a picture of her and to my own wedding ring to make the point. He smiled somewhat noncommittally as I handed him my business card and told him to call me when he arrived. A pilot friend of his sitting in the next row forward was able to say in better English that his friend thought I was funny.

Perhaps because of my blond hair, people always seemed to want to have group pictures with me in the center of their gang. At one point, while scarfing down a dish of ice cream at a highway travel center very much like those on the New Jersey Turnpike, a young woman seemed to say that she thought my hair color was pretty. I gestured, and you must instantly forget this, that my color was artificially obtained, pantomiming pouring a lightening substance onto my scalp.

At one point, when we were staying at a rather dreary so-called fort hotel, not at all the equivalent of a Spanish parador, I was standing on the balcony outside my room when a young girl, eight years old, started talking with me in remarkably good English. We had a pleasant little talk, and despite the fact that it was 10:00 pm, she invited me to her house. I told her that I didn't think I was allowed to go but rushed downstairs to talk further and give her a big hug. As I understand it, all children in Iran learn English as part of a required curriculum. My friend had been a fast learner.

The most delightful sight on the whole trip was seeing hijab-clad, fawn-like young teenage girls laughing and smiling when they saw us, daring each other to be the first to talk or to ask for a photo. Each seemed more lithe and beautiful than the next, and we had many happy exchanges with them.

For those old enough to remember college mixers, I knew that the way to meet dashing young men was to walk away from the group of over-eager fellow coeds and trot around the room, thus enabling some shy lad to spring forward. Well, the same was true in Iran. Every time I found an excuse to bolt from my group, an Iranian would come up to chat. I had a wonderful time outside a famous Armenian church in Isfahan when a young mother sat down next to me and we began to talk. Sociologically minded as always, I turned the "gesticular" conversation to infant feeding, asking her whether she had nursed or bottle-fed her babies, mimicking the bottle by holding my closed hand up to my mouth and the other possibility by, well, you know. She laughed and explained that she breast fed.

Sometimes, however, things could take a bit of a turn. One of my fellow adventurers was an older man, originally from Germany, who spoke with a definite accent. He was nonplussed when an Iranian man sidled up to him and told him that he "loved Hitler."

By the end of our 14 days, I have to admit that I got somewhat weary of our "celebrity" status and of the need to look incredibly, Americanly happy at all hours of the day and night. But, despite my fatigue, I was left with the impression of friendly, well-meaning, curious, cheerful people, and that was really something!

Pictured here:  Hijab-clad, fawn-like young Iranian teenage girls.

Photo by Adrienne Smith

Adrienne Smith, the Constant Traveler: An Iranian 'Idyll'--Part II PDF Print Email

By Adrienne Smith

There is an ambush everywhere from the army of accidents; 
therefore the rider of life runs with loosened reins.


May 27, 2015:  It's time for our Iranian travel group to meet. We go into a conference room in our hotel in Tehran and take turns introducing ourselves around the table. We are lawyers, college professors, communications experts, basket makers, golfers, doctors, importers, almost all of us retired. We hail from the East Coast, the West Coast, and in between. We are here because of an interest in archaeology, in seeing modern-day Iran, and, some, for no particular reason at all. 

We exit the hotel and climb onto our bus, which takes us to the former royal palace, where the shah held sway until his overthrow in 1979. It's unseasonably hot; the sun is beating down on us, the guide is droning on for what will undoubtedly be a long visit. 

I'm not sure why, but almost all stairs in Iran seem to have enormous rises. Since I, myself, have trouble descending one short flight, I stand at the bottom to help some of my more elderly fellow travelers down. My head is even with the floor above. Suddenly, the nice gentleman from the airport slides down the wall, hits his head, faints, and seizes right at my eye level. Not good at all. 

He's completely out for, perhaps, a minute and then slowly regains consciousness. One tour guide stands near him and I talk to him softly from my spot. He seems confused but OK. Our doctor group member takes his pulse and suggests that we call for emergency assistance. Crowds of concerned tourists and Iranians gather around. 

Within ten minutes, the EMTs arrive in an ambulance. They take vitals, which are normal. But our doc wants to get an EKG to be on the safe side. As the mother of an MD, I, quite naturally, spout my received wisdom. It is agreed that the doc, our guide, and I will pile into the ambulance with our ailing member, who is actually able to walk with assistance. 

The EMTs are completely competent. They continue to monitor pulse, blood pressure, and respiration and prepare a port for a potential intravenous. We zip through traffic, although I can't remember whether with sirens blasting or not. 

We arrive at a normal-looking public city hospital. The victim is wheeled in, and we follow behind.  

After a short wait, our man is examined by a middle-aged woman doctor who seems slightly irritated that the patient is not sicker than he is. He is then wheeled into a more "private" area, separated only by curtains from bays on either side. 

The emergency room is buzzing with activity. It is not easy to discern who is a doctor, a nurse, or a civilian, other than by hanging stethoscopes. We wait, and wait, and wait some more. 

Privacy and HIPAA-type concerns don't seem to be particularly relevant here, so I whip out my camera to take some shots. Patients and their family members wander in and out of our enclosure, smiling or looking worried. At one point, after our man has been started on intravenous fluids, a hijab-garbed woman, who doesn't appear to be a medical person, comes in and starts fooling with his IV line. I joke with our patient that she is the Angel of Death. Mercifully, he's in a good mood now and laughs heartily. 

Another woman keeps peering in and finally beckons for me to follow her. I accompany her to what, I gather, is her mother's bedside. The mother, it seems, wants to meet an American. We have a short, friendly, sign-language-filled conversation about her stomach pains, and I return to my spot. 

An attractive young male doctor checks our patient and seems to want to take all sorts of tests, including an MRI and some X-rays. We all balk and ask that testing be limited to the EKG, which, when administered, shows a healthy ticker. 

We then have to wait for the unhookment ceremony. A nurse comes in with what looks like a bottle of Mr. Clean, sprinkles our patient's arm liberally, and removes the intravenous. 

Three hours and $180 later, we're off to have our first of far too many shish kebab lunches. This unscheduled detour has been much more interesting than seeing the crown jewels!

Pictured here:  Public city hospital in Tehran. 

Photo by Adrienne Smith

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