On the way to school

The school work began successfully on Tuesday. We took a taxi and despite traffic and pollution, we arrived on time. On Wednesday, we were going to another school, one closer to the hotel. Because there's a small window for getting through rush hour, we had trouble getting a cab. Yikes! What to do? Take a tuktuk! I didn't get a picture of the one we were riding in, but I did get views during the ride. Yes, we were facing backwards.

You can see lots of commuting styles in this picture.

You can see lots of commuting styles in this picture.

This motorbike is getting very close to our tuktuk!

This motorbike is getting very close to our tuktuk!

Tuktuks carry goods as well as people.

Tuktuks carry goods as well as people.

Some of these vehicles are incredibly cute!

Some of these vehicles are incredibly cute!

The gray haze isn't fog but pollution. 

The gray haze isn't fog but pollution. 

A mask is a good idea. I like the ears on the hood. I think there's somebody else on the back of the scooter--or maybe the driver has four arms?

A mask is a good idea. I like the ears on the hood. I think there's somebody else on the back of the scooter--or maybe the driver has four arms?

We arrived at the school on time. Being in the tuktuk meant that we could zip in and out of traffic, rather than getting stuck in it in a taxicab.

Where I've been

I just showed this redesigned website to a friend, who said, "Wouldn't it be cool to show where you've told stories in the world?" Many years ago, I made a little poem about the places in Kansas where I've performed, but since then, I've traveled to many more states and countries. Here's the poem:

And here's the map of where I've been.

Hello, World!

The end of the Belgian trip, the beginning of the Bulgarian adventure

Transitions are always a bit tricky, aren't they? In general, this one has been smooth. Two weeks ago, I was in Belgium, seeing scenes like these: 

I had a great time, telling stories, hanging around with my good friends, even learning how to take the intercity bus to a couple of schools, something I had rarely done in Belgium. Soon, though, it was time to leave. I got to the Brussels airport early, which I much prefer to late. Here's the front and back view of a laptop and phone charging station that had a different spin to it (pun intended): 

I flew from Brussels to Frankfort to Sofia. In Brussels, I noticed a man reading a Bulgarian book and then I heard him speaking Bulgarian to another traveler. It turned out we were seated next to each other on both flights! I'd changed my seats on the flights, so this was a strange serendipity. I joked that I really wasn't following them. 

In Sofia, my good friend Vesko was waiting for me. He drove me directly to his apartment, where his wonderful wife Lidia was ready with supper, a real Bulgarian welcome. We had lukanka (dry sausage), feta cheese sprinkled with paprika, homemade sauerkraut and pickled mushrooms (picked by Vesko and Lidia!) and rakia (liquor made of fruit) and raspberry juice to start, then giuvech (stew made with chicken, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and spices) with bread. I know I'm forgetting a few other things. We ate and talked and talked. I've known Vesko and Lidia since 1988 and am always struck at how we pick up our conversation just where we left off last time.

The culinary welcome continued with a fantastic breakfast the next morning: banitsa (pastry with feta and egg in phyllo dough) and yoghurt with preserved wild blueberries. Oh, and Turkish coffee. Delicious!

Vesko had a surprise for me: he had recently come across an article I wrote in 1988, which he reworked so it could be published, as well as some letters I'd written to them in 1989, when I had left my job as a Slavic librarian for a post as a children's librarian. That's when I first started telling stories.

After breakfast, Vesko drove me to my new apartment in the center of Sofia, where we met George, the son of my landlady. At last, I'm home! That is, for the next five months.

I'll describe more in my next blog post.

Disclaimer: This is not an official Fulbright Program publication. The views expressed here are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations. 

Miscellaneous pictures from Chile

Before the trip to Chile becomes a dim memory, here are a few more pictures on no particular theme.

Almost every weekday morning of the tour, we left the apartment in the dark. As it was autumn in South America, the sun rose later than at home. Here's a view of sunrise over the Andes, taken from the cab on the way to a school.

And here are the Andes taken from the top of Cerro San Cristobal near the end of the tour, after it had snowed in the mountains. Because of this very snow, I wasn't able to take the bus trip over the mountains to Mendoza, Argentina. I'd been looking forward to soaking in the hot springs there. Next trip...

It wasn't until the end of the tour that it occurred to me that I should have taken pictures of the street dogs. They're everywhere in Santiago, gentle creatures mostly, often lying in the middle of the sidewalk or waiting patiently with the pedestrians to cross the street. This little one adopted us one morning. I thought his name should be Carlitos. Doesn't he look like he belongs to Sofi?

One day, Sofi and I climbed Cerro Santa Lucia. We could see all around the city from there, as we were able to from Cerro San Cristobal. We stopped for a rest and heard a man singing loudly (and tunelessly) along to his iphone. That's when we realized he was with the woman who had hiked to the top of this hill in a smart skirt and pumps. I wanted a picture of them, but didn't want to be rude. I settled for a picture of their legs.

I didn't take many pictures of people on the streets of Santiago. I only caught this woman at her street stall when I was capturing the verses by Pablo Neruda.

I confess that we didn't go to Pablo Neruda's house, other than seeing the outside of La Chascona, the house where his mistress lived in Santiago. I know you'll forgive me when you remember that I did 68 shows in the almost five weeks, so I didn't have a lot of energy for sightseeing. We considered going to his house in Valparaiso, but our time was limited there as well.

I never tired of the street art. Here are a few more of my favorites from Valparaiso, starting with a joke for Spanish speakers.

Does a wicker bicycle count as street art? I think so.

These steps in Valparaiso mimic the colorful houses stacked on the hill. The cat at the top had no opinion on the matter.

And as long as I'm showing that, here's another self-referential bit of art on the street in Valpo:

This mural reminded me of my early childhood, when our large family had a microbus, though not a purple one.

The tour of Chile was full of wonderful images, amazing listeners, delicious food, satisfying laughter and great fun. I am deeply thankful for having done it. Here is the last view I had of Santiago, taken outside the airport with my cellphone:


Adios, Chile!

Viña del Mar and Valparaiso

Before more time passes, I want to write about the trip we took last week to Viña del Mar and Valparaiso, about an hour and a half away from Santiago by bus. We left on Thursday after one performance at a school in Santiago.

I dozed for much of the trip to Viña. The third week of a four and a half week tour may be the toughest. Sofi (my tour manager and friend) and I arrived in late afternoon at the high-rise building where we were staying. At first, we were doubtful about the place. It wasn't just that it felt far from everything, but that there was a constant sound of dogs barking down in the vacant lots near the building. Yes, constant, and somewhat eerie in the middle of the night. In the morning, everything looked different, and better. 

We left early for St. Margaret's School, a lovely girls' school north of the city, where I had three performances for enthusiastic listeners. Very fun! Afterwards, the school van driver took us back in to Viña, showing us the seaside on the way.

We decided to spend the afternoon at the beach, where it wasn't warm enough to swim but was fine for reading and beachcombing.

We also watched the sunset from the beach.

The next day, we made our way a few miles away to the lovely city of Valparaiso, where the brightly painted houses stack one over the other on the hills. We had the great good fortune to meet up with Diletta Panero, a storyteller from Italy who lives in Ireland but who is doing her PhD dissertation research in Chile. We were connected up with her by storyteller Liz Weir, from Ireland, who is a dear friend of my friend Liz Warren. This is the way the storytelling community in the world works! Here's a picture of the two of us.

Sofi, my excellent tour manager and friend, was also with us.

Here are some pictures of Valparaiso. I'll get back to posts about storytelling soon.

Yes, that's how electric wires are in Chile, like a spiderweb.

We wandered the streets, stopping in to shops and galleries, and having a stunning meal at a little restaurant, for most of the day. Then we went back to Viña to collect our stuff before taking the bus back to Santiago. Here's a last look at Viña.

Week 1, Chile tour

Before I launch into next week, I want to write about what a great tour this has been! 

I began the week at Andrée English School, in their nice new library. I like to be surrounded by books, and this was appropriate, as it was Book Week in Chile (or worldwide?). I told stories to students who were ten to twelve years old, easily getting them to join in on the silly parts. I'm always anxious on the first day of a tour. I usually have slept badly and I don't yet know the school culture or English level of the students. I needn't have worried this week. 

At all the schools, I show the US map to explain where I'm from and also to give the kids a chance to get used to my accent and pacing. I've begun showing them mycrooked fingers at the outset, explaining that if I don't, they might get distracted during the stories. 

On Tuesday we (my excellent tour manager, Sofi and I) went to the high school of Colegio Alemana, the German school here. [Note to US readers: "colegio" means high school and younger, not university level.] This was the first time the older kids at this school had heard a storyteller and they were an amazing audience. They asked questions like, "What motivates you to be a storyteller?" I wrote about that in a newsletter last week and will probably reprint the article on this blog later. 

Wednesday I visited the primary section of the German School. These students study in Spanish and German, so English is their third language. Some of them had only been studying English for a few months, but they understood a lot. Oh, how I wish schools in the US would teach second languages earlier than high school!

On Thursday we took a cab up to a combined school, Colegios Padre Hurtado y Juanita de los Andes, where the little boys were on one side of the audience and the little girls were on the other. I'm really hoping to get pictures from the school to show what great listeners these eight and nine year olds were. 

We took a cab from this school to another, Colegio Apoquindo. Though the librarian frequently tells stories at this school, they hadn't had a storyteller from outside. Since these were boys aged 12-14, I began with a scary, gory story, "Mary Culhane and the Dead Man." They relaxed, assured I wouldn't treat them like babies. 

 Some of these schools, like the one I went to on Friday, Colegio Everest Masculino, are up in the hills above Santiago, not down in the bowl of smog in which the city unfortunately sits. 

Everest Masculino was, of course, the school for boys. I had the younger ones, six to eight years old, who were thrilled to be in the auditorium, with those seats that flip up...and down...and up...and down. They loved the puppets, especially baby bird Peeps. They threw him pretend worms and helped him to get rid of the ensuing hiccups (and in the meantime, learned the word "hiccup").

The schedule this week worked out so that we arrived back at the apartment around 1 p.m., ready for a nap. That meant we had energy to go out and explore a bit of Santiago in the afternoons. 

It was a fabulous first week of the tour. The teachers, administrators and students were incredibly welcoming at every school. If the other weeks are like this, I'll be a happy storyteller. Oh, right, I'm usually a happy storyteller. I'll be even happier in that case!

Street art in Santiago

Before I write about storytelling here in Chile, I want to show some of the murals and other street art we saw yesterday in the Bellavista neighborhood of Santiago. Sofi (my tour manager) and I walked there from our apartment in Providencia yesterday. We saw these scenes before and after lunch (I had the most delicious piece of salmon I have ever tasted--I'm drooling a little thinking of it). At any rate, here are some of the pictures. 

The buildings are painted in vibrant colors, whether or not they have street art on them, and there's a mix of old and new construction. On this Sunday afternoon, we were happy to stroll around Bellavista, enjoying the beautiful weather. It was a great way to relax before diving headfirst into the tour. 

Pictures from Belgium 2013

Before I leave Belgium, I want to put up some of the random pictures I took on this trip. Back to storytelling later.


Facade of a house in Brussels. Lovely, isn't it?

This was in tile above a door in Brussels. It's fairly new, I think, as opposed to the next picture.


And what a lucky door the next one is:

And here is some good advice from a wall on the same street: 

And to finish up, the Happiness Cafe. 

Comfortable seating in Belgium

I'm near the end of my 2013 Belgian tour. Last week I went back to the European School of Brussels at Uccle, where I've been three times (or is it four) before, and for the first time to the school's site at Berkendael.

Six years ago, I told stories at the ESB site at Uccle. The last day of the performances was especially difficult, as my father had died the day before and I wasn't able to get back to the US. I decided to continue with the performances but get back in time for the funeral (I must say here that the teachers at ESB were especially kind). During the very last session, I had kindergarteners. I was worn out from performances and from grief, so I sat down to perform and therefore wasn't able to see that the small children in back were completely eviscerating the cushions. When they left the room, I was surprised to see pillow guts in a big pile around where they had been sitting. The teachers apparently didn't notice. I was beyond able to do anything about it, so I neatened it up and, I'm embarrassed to say, fled. 

I confessed this to the current librarian. She laughed. She is new since then and told me about sewing the cushions for the children to sprawl out on before the opening of the library this year. She is librarian for both school sites, and at both, the children have many wonderfully cosy places to sit. 

I like a comfortable library. This reminds me of the reading bathtubs in the library in my hometown of Springfield, Vermont. A local artist (Goldie May) lined the inside of old clawfoot tubs with foam, covered them with plush and painted them. Kids loved reading in them. 


Here are the cushions at the two libraries. Pretty, aren't they? 

More on the tour soon, I promise. 

Travel projects

I write this from Belgium, where I'm performing and visiting friends for a couple of weeks.  I have several days free and had good intentions of working on two specific projects: 1) cleaning up the translation of the story of Berthe Aux Grands Pieds, which I call Queen Berta and King Pippin and 2) finishing the first draft and beginning the rewrite of my National Novel Writing Month novel from last November. 

Today I sat down with my laptop, ready to begin the first project. Alas (or as I might say here, 'Hélas!'), just as in this picture Queen Berta is sitting forgotten in the forest, far from Paris, where she should be, the translation is sitting cozily in my external hard drive at home, far from Belgium, where it should be.

Source : acoeuretacris.centerblog.net sur centerblog.

I'll have to work on it when I get home. In looking for a good picture to use for this post, I came across an excellent summary in French, so I'm doubly wishing I had brought my work with me. That story deserves to be known.

So I'll be plowing ahead on my novel. I find it good to have a limited number of projects when I travel for extended periods. In 2008, on a month-long trip to Brazil, I took only one book, a collection of Grimm Tales. I had been hired to perform my programs Grimm for Grownups and Cheerfully Grimm for the first time a few weeks after I returned, so I spent my free time working on the stories. In 2009 when I came to Belgium, I sat in my friend's kitchen by the hour working on the translation of Queen Berta and King Pippin. Now, I'll turn my attention to this short novel for older kids. Having a smaller pool of projects makes it easier for me to focus.

I wrote most of the first draft of this novel as part of National Novel Writing Month in November. I succeeded in the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month, but I didn't finish the story. I think I only have a couple more pages to wrap it up, and then it will be time to rewrite. I admit it: I like beginning projects and often get bogged down with the hard work of editing and rewriting.

Before I begin, it might be good to take advantage of the rare sunny weather here. Quite often when I'm here in February it's raining or spitting snow. For the past four days it has been cold and clear.

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