Chingona, Faith, Mother's Day, Parenting, Paris, Social Justice, Strong Women, Travel

Gifts My Mother Gave Me


Mother’s Day is fast approaching. When making my mom her gift (the photo book above) I thought about all the gifts she’s given to me. It’s not the knickknacks, stationery and candles but other gifts that have lasted a lifetime.

A few months ago, my 85-year-old mother announced to us kids, “I want to make a last trip to Paris. In springtime.” Emphasis on the word ‘last.’ 

Mom is legally blind, hard of hearing, diabetic and uses a cane-sometimes. She can’t go alone to Rite-Aid a few blocks from her house. Honestly, I didn’t want to go because she needs a lot of care-which she doesn’t recognize.

“Who’s going to go with me?”

No one volunteered; no one had the cash lying around to make a Paris trip.  
Mom can be buen chingona and when she wants what she wants she doesn’t give up. After her repeated requests, some days of guilt feelings, and knowing that this could indeed be the last trip, I used my miles and credit card to arrange the trip for the end of April. She was ecstatic. I was hesitant.

It was a journey filled with turbulence (re-directed flights, delays, personal mishaps), but we survived. More than that, we laughed, ate flaky pastries, drank lots of café crème, and best of all she told me stories I hadn’t heard before.

On the train to visit Monet’s Garden (Mom loves flowers), we struck up a conversation with a woman from Tennessee. She mentioned that the last time she was in France was in 1966, after her graduation. She looked at me and said, “Before you were born.” I let her think that.

Later, while having lunch, my mother commented on the woman’s mistake.

“You got that gift of youth from me,” she says.

Mom has always looked 15 years younger than her age. Medical personnel make her show her Medicare ID twice, verifying it with her California ID and then remark on her youthfulness.

She then proceeded to tell me about the time she dated a younger man, he was 28, and she was 51. Holy smokes, why didn’t I know that? 

When she married my dad, who she met at a dance on the Air Force base, she received a shock when they went to city hall for a marriage license. He pulled out a permission slip from his mother, he was 17 years old, and she was 25.

Mom loved visiting the cathedrals in Paris. Although I’m no longer Catholic, I took her to Mass at Notre Dame. She insisted on kneeling on the hard wood footrest during the appropriate times, even though I had to pull her up when it was time to stand. 

There are several side chapels at Notre Dame, one of them the Virgin of Guadalupe, her favorite. She lit a candle and knelt before the image for several minutes. 
Virgin of Guadalupe Notre Dame-alvaradofrazier

Afterwards, we talked about the small altars she constructed in every place we lived. I often saw her praying on her knees in the early morning

She said sometimes we were so poor she didn’t have 50 cents in her pocket (we were four kids, she was divorced) but something always came through. She’s a strong woman and she gave me the gift of faith.

After a trip through Musee d’Orsay, Mom commented on a painting, “One of my favorites.” She recalled first seeing the Renoir painting in her art book at community college. She received two B.A. degrees, which took eight years, while working full time, with four kids to support. She gave me the gift of perseverance and goal setting.

Our trip was almost over, and we had left shopping for souvenirs to the end. We started out early, the streets looked desolate, no crowds, and few cars. It was May 1. I had forgotten that May Day is a very big thing in most European countries and most stores would be closed. We were almost at our Metro stop when Mom noticed a crowd waving French flags and I noticed a huge police presence on a side street.

Of course, she wanted to see what was happening, up close. Crowds of people gathered for their May Day march. Chanting, flags, and orange smoke filled the air. We remained there for 20 minutes until it looked too crowded and dangerous to stay. Mom acquiesced to leaving after yelling “Viva Francia,” with an upheld fist. Oh-kay.

While on the empty metro, Mom told me the story of her participation in marches. I already knew about her involvement in demonstrations with Cesar Chavez and our community to get more parks and recreation for families, because she took us along, but I didn’t know the whole story.

“The scariest march was against the Ku Klux Klan,” she said.

My head swiveled towards her at that remark. We didn’t live in the south we’re California people. She told me that the KKK came to our hometown in the ’70’s and planned a convention and showing of “Birth of A Nation,” at our largest venue. The info leaked out, and the “Committee Against Racism,” which Mom was a member, obtained a permit to protest in front of the venue.

“When I saw these men with steel pipes, baseball bats, bricks, I knew they would use them.” In the face of that, she remained with the protest. The protest turned violent between the protestors, KKK, and police. The KKK left and has never returned to this town. From her involvement in these protests, she gave me the gift of commitment to social justice.

On the last day of our trip, after whirlwind shopping, we paused to eat in Café Victor Hugo. She remembered he was the novelist of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. She recalled her favorite teacher, Mrs. Roddy from Nebraska. I asked what made her think of a teacher and where she was from after 75 years.

“Mrs. Roddy loved Nebraska and reading. Whenever I read out loud, she’d pat my shoulder and smile. She encouraged me to keep reading when I left grammar school. I’d visit her even when I was in Middle School. She was interested in what I was reading. I remember reading the Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

Mom has always been a voracious reader. I remember in fifth grade picking up her True Confession magazines, in sixth, reading her copy of Mandingo, and in eighth grade reading her college texts on sociology. 

We had a large supply of books throughout my childhood when she purchased, on a long payment plan, the Encyclopedia Britannica, Bible Stories, and the Children’s Classics.

Even though Mom is legally blind, she reads the headlines of her daily newspaper and reads large print books, slowly, but she finishes. She gave me the gift and love of reading. 
I’m glad I went on this trip with my mom. It did bring her aging into intimate view, which made me sad. But she gave me more happiness than she’ll ever know. Her long life has been meaningful, she’s passed on gifts that I hope I’ve passed down to my kids, and she’s given me priceless memories. 
Authors, Book Review, Books, Chingonas, Lorraine Liscio, Paris, Paris and her Remarkable Women, Strong Women, Travel, Women in Paris history

Paris and Her Remarkable Women: Book Review

September 2012 will always be have a special place in my heart. That is when I fulfilled a fifteen year dream to spend a month in France.

My friend and I spent one week in Connelles, Normandy area and three weeks in Paris. 

Museums filled our mornings, cafes or parks our afternoons, and strolls along the bridges and boulevards filled our evenings.

With so much to see, feel, and enjoy not much time was left for reading other than perusing the street map for the next day’s adventures. Months later I have finished reading the three books I picked up in Paris.

A wonderful book I found at the Musee de la Vie Romantique’s ( Museum of the Romantics) tiny gift store was “Paris and Her Remarkable Women” by Lorraine Liscio. 

The Romantique is one of three literary museums. Located in the ninth arrondissement it is free to enter, has a lovely garden cafe, and small enough to go through in an hour, or two.  It is dedicated to French novelist and playwright George Sand, who was actually Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin.


What drew me to the book, besides the evocative title, was the blurb on the back cover: 

“To visit Paris is to wander through its history and glimpse its ghosts. The sixteen remarkable women profiled here were protagonists is stories that shape our understanding of Paris, from medieval times to the twentieth century. Yet often the traces of these women have faded…”

The second reason I was drawn to the book was that all of the subjects in Liscio’s book are strong women. They are amazing French chingonas of the arts and sciences. 

The author of “Paris and Her Remarkable Women,” is Lorraine Liscio, who holds an MA in French and a PhD in English. She also served as Director of Women’s Studies at Boston College where she taught literature.

Her resume sounds so “academic” but her writing style is very engaging, filled with the sights and sounds of the different eras in Paris. She includes the residences, museums and other Paris sites where the works of these women are held for posterity. The book makes a wonderful travel guide about the accomplished women in the history of Paris. 

The lives of a saint (Genevieve, Patron Saint of Paris) to scientists (Madame du Chatelet, Marie Curie); writers  (Heloise, Sand, Collete) to feminists (Marie Jean Roland, Christine de Pisan, Simone de Beauvoir); and actors (Eliza Felix, Sarah Bernhardt) to artists (Elisabeth Le Brun, Camille Claudel) are found in this hardcover 126 page book of tantalizing stories. The illustrations and photos in the book give us further insight into the history of Paris. 
The majority of these learned women weren’t “allowed” to attend the schools their male counterparts could attend, but they nevertheless enhanced social and political awareness in a variety of areas. 
We find that some women who were referred to in history as courtesans, mistresses, or lovers of famous men were actually so much more. They were exceptional women who managed to steer their way through time periods which were oppressive to women.
This is a “keeper” book, one which I will place in my bookcase, lend only to select friends and a book that will take me back to Paris whenever I need to get a taste of the City of Light once again. 

Are there any books you’ve collected that take you back to a vacation spot? 

Every Tuesday, over on Thoughtful, there are book reviews. For reviews on a  variety of books click on over to: From The Bookshelf . 
Authors, Books, Chateau Vincennes, Festival America, First Peoples, Hector Tobar, Louise Erdrich, Paris, Toni Morrison, Travel, Writers

Toni Morrison and Louise Erdrich in Chateau Vincennes


Amada and I, the two Latinas in Paris,  just returned from Chateau Vincennes where we spent the day attending the huge “Festival America: Literature and Cultures of the Americas,” that took place throughout this past weekend.

A couple of weeks ago we saw a poster in the metro of a big old truck with Festival America-looked interesting, to writers such as we are, so we got on the internet and found their website.

We shrieked when we read that this years guest of honor was Toni Morrison, Pulitzer Prize recipient for her novel “Beloved.” She also has a Nobel Prize in Literature. Louise Erdrich, author of 14 novels, including “The Plague of Doves,” was also going to be there as well as Hector Tobar, another Pulitzer Prize winner and Los Angeles Times Journalist. He is the author of “The Barbarian Nurseries.” 

First we had to find out how to get to the Chateau-pretty easy with the Paris Metro website and iPhone app. It’s about 30 minutes away. We made our way there on Friday afternoon and visited the Chateau itself, royal home of Charles V, and famous for housing the Marquis de Sade in one of its prison cells. (PS- This place has one of the best audio guides I’ve ever rented-very detailed). 

by Edward S. Curtis-1903 
The festival took place in the center of town, in front of the Hotel Del Ville (City Hall) among white tents with a yellow tee pee. Now the tee pee is there as part of the First Peoples exhibition. 

The festival commemorated  the 520th anniversary of the discovery of the American continent by devoting a series of discussions, screenings, and 8 photography exhibits with the theme of the First Peoples, Inuits, and Indians North and South.

Now back to Toni Morrison. When she entered the stage, via wheelchair, she received a standing ovation. It was a very crowded auditorium with people standing alongside the walls and aisles.( I don’t think they have fire codes like the USA). 
Toni Morrison
Everything was conducted in French, with interpreters by the English speaking authors, so I had to wait until the applause died down to understand what was said.  It was noted that she is 81 years old and has been writing for decades. Ms. Morrison has a soft high pitched voice, very pleasant and resonant.  Her gentle lovely response:

 “My mind is alive, I am alive, and I can make other people alive too, through writing…”

 She credited Carlos Fuentes, Marquez, and James Baldwin as some of her influences. 

Louise Erdrich was also on stage with her interpreter.

She commented that she attended a presentation by Toni Morrison decades ago. “…I remember the first time I heard you…at Dartmouth…you read a piece of Beloved. I experienced this surge…this power of writing, so visceral…you gave me the grace and freedom to write.” 

To which Ms. Morrison commented, “…reading Louise’s first book was love at first sight…the purity of her words…” caught her attention. 

Unfortunately, we could not find the panel where Hector Tobar spoke, but I’m sure I can see him back in Southern California. (Did I mention that the programs were all in French too?)
There was more to the discussion on Ms. Morrison’s writing, but frankly it was hard to follow since the discussion was in 3/4 french (with the questions asked in French with no English translation) and 1/4 English. 
After the presentation we looked for Ms. Morrison, among the throng of people, so we could get our book signed. Alas, she was gone. Louise Erdrich though did stay,we had our books signed and had a chance to tell her how much we love her work. 

I’m glad Amada and I took a chance and attended the festival. What I came away with was that contemporary writers are influenced by other great writers, it is important to read great literature, and you have to remain faithful to your voice and write because you are driven to write, not for prizes or accolades, but to get the story inside of you out there in the best possible way. Now I know I didn’t have to go to France to hear that, but it sure made for a cool adventure.

Amada Irma Perez, Connelles, France, La Residence Normandie, Latina writer, Normandy, Paris, Seine, Travel, Writing

Writers in Connelles, Normandy, France Day 1

Amada Cafe St. Lazare, Paris
It took a plane, bus, train, and taxi but we made it to Connelles, Upper Normandy, France 18 hours after departing LAX. Our first stop, Cafe St. Lazare, with mon ami Amada. 

the pit Paris, Fr. 

The bathrooms in old buildings require strong thighs and an overwhelming urgency to go.
I decided to wait until we walked to Gare St. Lazare Train Station. The .50 E worth it. Talked with very nice people in cafe and station, very helpful teenagers helped with luggage-just because. It helps so much to know some French.

We arrived at the village of Connelles 1 hr. 30 minutes later. La Residence Normandie sits among meadows, corn fields, forest and the River Seine. 

La Residence Normandie, Connelle, FR-MFrazier
After we got our bearings, unpacked and rested we found out there are no grocery stores for 5 miles, no shuttles, no village buses. 

The reception lobby has a grocery store, behind a counter, where one orders Cote d’Rhone or Burgundy wine; Camembert, for 2.30 E, daily bread: pain du chocolat, baguettes, croissants .92 E. 

first French dinner in Connelle AlvardoFrazier

We enjoyed our first dinner, Spagetti 
Bolognaise and haricorts verts (green beans) immensely before we dropped into our beds for a rest before getting our second wind.

A stroll across the bridge, journals in hand. Enjoyed the sights, sounds, and smells. The perfect bench awaited us.

our perfect writing spot Connelles, Fr. AlvaradoFrazier

Ah, to take time to explore around our new surroundings to walk over across the unassuming bridge, over the deep dark waters of the Seine, traveling beneath us. Mona and I stopping just long enough to take pictures. Our only neighbor the restaurant next door that looks like a castle with pink geranium boxes.

Turning on all of our senses… sitting down to let the beauty and serenity reach way down- soul deep. Stopping to sit on a bench which seems to be placed here just for us, a perfect place to be the writers we are and live the writing life we’ve chosen or has chosen us. Oh, this place, this day, is the perfect beginning to our writing retreat. Amada Irma Perez.

Buzzing bees, curious flies, soft coos of mourning doves. Birds twitter in Morse code, two visitors approach. Dancing iridescent blue dragonflies chase one another over the deep green of the Seine. A bevy of geese glide over the glassy surface. White butterflies flit over fuchsia sweet peas.

 Mulberry trees, Willows, Blue Spruce sway in the cool breeze, signaling the nose to take a deep breath.

sunset over Seine Connelles, FR AlvaradoFrazier

Who sat on this wooden bench before me?  Did they photograph their moments in their mind. MAlvaradoFrazier

What do you see?