Yad Vashem

(Israel’s Official Memorial to the Jewish Victims of the Holocaust)

Photo: Berthold Werner – Public Domain

Photo: Berthold Werner – Public Domain

     While visiting Jerusalem, my traveling companions (Jane and Philip) and I, along with our guide, Dara, taxied to the foot of Mount Herzl, where in 1953 Israel established Yad Vashem, a complex of museums, archives, monuments and sculptures interlocked by a series of walkways designed to commemorate those who died in the Nazi Holocaust.  Separately, we had visited this memorial on previous Holy Lands trips and found it to be a deeply moving experience, but never before had the three of us met a Holocaust survivor.  On this day we would hear a Jewish grandmother—once an Amsterdam friend of Anne Frank, with whom she had spent part of her teen years in a Nazi concentration camp—tell her story.


Public Domain from

     We arrived at Yad Vashem early, and used the time before the lecture to reacquaint ourselves with the sprawling campus.  While walking through various outdoor commemorative sites, we came across Janusz Korczak Square, where our eyes locked onto a statue of Dr. Henrik Goldschmidt (better known by his pen name Janusz Korczak), the Polish-Jewish children’s author, humanitarian, pediatrician, and pedagogue.


Wikimedia Commons

     In this statue Korczak stands in the middle of a group of desolate children, embracing them with strong, outstretched arms, which conveys his powerful resolve to protect the children at any cost.  The bronze sculpture by Boris Saktsier is called Janusz Korczak and the Children and was donated by Mila Brenner and Yakov Meridor.

     Dara gave us some background: In 1940, when the Nazis established the Warsaw Ghetto, the Krochmalna Street orphanage, in which Korczak worked, was ordered into the ghetto.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

      Although offered sanctuary among Warsaw’s Aryans, Korczak refused, saying simply that he would not abandon his children.  Resolutely, he moved into the ghetto with them.  On August 5, 1942, the Nazis raided the ghetto, rounding up the orphans for the grizzly one-way trip to Treblinka, a notorious Nazi death camp.  Again, Korczak was offered a way out, but again, he declined, saying only that he would go where the children went.  For the journey to Treblinka, he dressed the little ones in their finest, and each carried a rucksack, containing a favorite book or toy.

     A legend holds that at the point of deportation, an SS officer recognized Korczak as the author of one of his favorite childhood books and tendered an offer for ‘special treatment’—perhaps at a camp-ghetto like Theresienstadt, where prominent Jews with international reputations were occasionally sent.  Once again Korczak is said to have refused.  With head held high, along with his nearly 200 children, he stepped onto the train and into oblivion.  No one ever heard from him again.  A few children survived, and as adults attended memorials honoring their benefactor.

     Our Yad Vashem guest lecturer, Hannah Pick-Goslar,* (known in Anne Frank’s diary by the German/Dutch name of ‘Lies’ [diminutive of Elisabeth and pronounced LEES]) whospoke fluent but accented English, described growing up in Amsterdam’s Jewish community.

      One day word went around their neighborhood that the Franks had escaped to Switzerland.  A sense of relief swept across those who had not been so lucky—that at least a few of their brethren had reached safety.  Those left behind carried on bravely, until they, too, were herded together by Nazi guards and deported—in the case of our speaker, to Bergen Belsen concentration camp.

     Once in the camp, Hannah learned through the grapevine that Anne Frank was incarcerated there as well.  “This can’t be!” Hannah cried in disbelief.  “She’s in Switzerland.”  But later that night, under intense search light scrutiny, Hannah crept to a predetermined site along a barbed wire fence and saw for herself that her childhood friend, Anne Frank, now an emaciated apparition, was indeed a fellow Bergen Belsen inmate.

     *Hannah-Pick Goslar’s full story is told in the book Memories of Anne Frank: Reflections of a Childhood Friend by Alison Leslie Gold.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

     “How is it that you’re here?” Hannah wailed at the shrunken figure before her.  “We thought you’d escaped to Switzerland.”

     Anne explained that she and her family had gone into hiding, and, as cover, let word go out that they had made their way to safety.

     Anne appeared at death’s door.  Still, wanting to lend a hand—however feeble—to her old friend, now a shell of a human being, Hannah told Anne that over the course of the next day she would scrounge together a few scraps of food and bring them to her on the next night.

     At great personal risk, Hannah once again trekked to the appointed place, and after making voice contact with her friend, Hannah threw a small package of rations over the fence to Anne, hoping that this gesture would somehow prolong her life.  But before Anne could grab the provisions, a stronger prisoner, hovering nearby, snatched them from midair.  On the next night Hannah again made her way to the appointed site.  This time, she successfully threw a few morsels over the fence and into Anne’s hands. From her voice, Hannah could tell that Anne was joyous.  A third reunion was out of the question.  Nazi patrols were relentless; punishments brutal.  Tragically, soon thereafter Hannah heard that Anne had died of typhus.

     Obviously, Hannah survived the ordeal of being reduced to naked subsistence.  Anne Frank’s father, Otto Frank, survived too.  After the war he helped this teenager make her way to Palestine (eventually Israel), where she was educated and married, building a productive new life.  Now she described her life as that of a devoted grandmother, who occasionally gives public testimonials lest we forget.

Otto Frank. Photo:


     The afternoon had been harrowing—a tortuous reminder of man’s capacity for hatred, juxtaposed with powerful examples of human goodness.  On the way back to our hotel, I thought about how some people were able to withstand death camp horrors and others, sadly, not.  Were there any kernels of truth in Nietzsche’s famous quote:

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how”?

The Viennese psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor Viktor E. Frankl thinks there were.

Photo Attribute:

Photo Attribute:

     In his acclaimed book Man’s Search for Meaning, he describes how love became his lifeline.  Specifically, it was the love for his wife that sustained him.  Personally, he had been stripped naked.  He had lost every possession. He was cold, hungry, living with the possibility of death at any moment.  He didn’t even know if his beloved were still alive—they had long ago been separated within the Nazi system of segregation—but through his suffering he came to understand that we can be robbed of everything, except our freedom to choose how we think about a particular situation.

     Frankl’s riches lay in his mind and spirit.  He could still think.  He could still feel.  He could still remember.  He could still love.  And love he did—dreaming, hoping, and praying for an eventual reunion with his beloved.

     Sadly, when he was liberated he learned that his wife had long ago succumbed.  But even in death she had empowered him through the bond of love.


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Yerushaláyim (in biblical Hebrew)
Al-Quds (in Arabic)

“The world has ten measures of beauty, and nine of these belong to Jerusalem.”

                                                       -Jerusalem adage


Jerusalem Photo: Public Domain

     When friends ask why I keep returning to Jerusalem (I’ve been there four times), my answer always begins by mentioning its physical beauty, especially in the spring. Then the rock-strewn Judean hills surrounding the city turn a soft rain-fresh green, providing pastureland for grazing sheep.


Judean-Hills Photo: Public Domain

     Accenting this panorama are masses of wildflowers, with the scarlet anemone among the most prolific, creating carpets of red.


Scarlet-Anemone Photo: Public Domain

     Some say the scarlet anemone denotes the ‘lilies of the field’ mentioned in the Book of Matthew (6:28)*.  The Jerusalem crowfoot, reminiscent of America’s buttercup; the sweet-smelling polyanthus narcissus; the pomegranate, noted in Deuteronomy 8; and the almond, often the first tree to bloom in winter, also contribute to what I heard a Jerusalemite call ‘the miracle of spring’.

     Jerusalem: the revered but also defiled cornerstone of the three great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) that trace their ancestry to Abraham of the Old Testament.  Emerging from the Judean hills, the city lies east of the Mediterranean Sea and west of the northern tip of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth.


Dead Sea Photo: Public Domain

     This thrice-holy city dates back to the 19th century BCE and is mentioned in the Bible 632 times. (In fact, some scholars maintain that the city had human habitation as early as 4000 BCE.)  In Exodus 3, God refers to the land in which Jerusalem resides as a place ‘flowing with milk and honey’; but sadly this land has too often also flowed with blood and tears.  It is a city said to have been annihilated at least forty times, and today remains one of the world’s most contested places.

     Jerusalem has been known by many names, among them Salem or Shalem in the time of Abraham (2000-1700 BCE), and Zion, the Mountain of God, the City of David; and in the Islamic tradition, it has long been known as Al-Quds (‘the Holy’).  Perched at 2,630 feet above sea level on the spur of a hill, it is surrounded on all sides by valleys.

     The sun rises in Jerusalem over the Mount of Olives and graces first the sacred gold-leafed cupola of the Haram esh-Sharif (known in English as the Temple Mount or Mount Moriah, where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, Isaac), a rectangular, eight-gated, tightly walled religious site in the southern part of Jerusalem’s Old City—an enclave of less than one square mile in which dwell 40,000 people.


Dome of the Rock Photo: Public Domain

     As the morning progresses, the sun anoints other Old City monuments, until midday when the sky radiates blue and the sun breathes fire.


Old City Jerusalem Photo: Public Domain

     Sunset brings long shadows and a glow so golden that one almost dares to believe that, indeed, one has reached Jerusalem’s fabled ‘threshold of heaven’.

     But the city offers far more than physical beauty, I tell my inquiring friends.  For many people, a trip to Jerusalem springs from religious sentiments.  Religious Jews, certainly, are attracted to the Temple Mount, site of the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, a remnant of their revered Solomon’s Temple, also known as ‘the First Temple’ or simply ‘the Holy Temple’.


Wailing Wall Photo: Public Domain

     Solomon’s Temple was built c. 957 BCE and housed the Ark of the Covenant (the chest containing the two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments).  According to traditional Jewish belief, Solomon’s Temple also served as the figurative footstool of God’s presence in the tangible world. It was the center of ancient Judaism.

     Jerusalem has been honored since before the time of Abraham.  The Talmud says that the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is home to the Foundation Stone (the name of the rock at the center of the Dome of the Rock), from which some say the world was created.

     Through the ages other attempts have been launched to rebuild the Temple, but all have proved fruitless.  Jews speak of someday building a Third Temple, but since two Islamic shrines—the Dome of the Rock and the El-Aqsa Mosque, established in 685 CE—now rest on the Temple Mount platform, this seems an unlikely prospect.


Temple Mount Platform Photo: Public Domain

     For Christians, Jerusalem’s greatest significance lies with Jesus, who came to Jerusalem soon after his birth and made annual visits subsequently.

     And for Muslims the attachment to Jerusalem stems mainly from Mohammed’s miraculous night journey when he is said to have been transported from Mecca to the Temple Mount and from there to heaven and the presence of God, before he was returned to Mecca in the morning.  According to Islamic tradition, after Mecca and Medina (in today’s Saudi Arabia), Jerusalem is the third-holiest city to Muslims.  For approximately a year, before it was permanently switched to the Ka’ba in Mecca, the qiblah for Muslims pointed toward Jerusalem.  The city’s lasting place in Islam, however, derives from Mohammed’s miraculous night journey, or Night of Ascension (c. 620 CE), an event referred to in Arabic as the Mi’raj. (Islamic scholarship suggests that this was a visionary experience, not a physical one.)

     Visitors to Jerusalem who are not spiritually motivated might well be prompted by a desire to better understand the region’s history, archaeology, democracy, and politics.


Israel Arch Dig Photo: Public Domain

     Jerusalem is many things to many people.  To me, it’s about physical beauty, but even more, Jerusalem is about its three great religious traditions and its people, who for millennia have been swept up in a great and often terrifying drama—all in the name of the spirit.  They have survived in a place that has been both sublimely glorified and grievously desecrated.

     In future blogs I’ll tell you a bit more of my recent visit to this part of the world.

*All Biblical quotations in this chapter come from the Holy Bible, NRSV, HarperCollins, 1989.

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On The Road Again: Arizona

“May you and those you love walk in beauty.”
– A Navajo prayer

When my Seattle neighbors invited me to visit them at their winter getaway in Scottsdale, Arizona, I jumped at the opportunity.


Arizona-cactus Photo: Public Domain

     Like folklore’s famed golden-haired Rhine River maiden, whose beauty bewitched mariners as they sailed by the Lorelei, her fabled rock, Arizona also has a long history of beguiling those who set foot on her epic terrain.

Arizona’s fascination, I think, starts with her landscape: stark and dazzling, expansive and glorious.

Little in Arizona is ordinary.  Think of the Grand Canyon


Grand Canyon Photo: Public Domain

       and the butte formations of Monument Valley.


Monument Valley Photo: Public Domain

     Think of Lake Powell


Lake Powell Photo: Public Domain

     and the snow covered Rockies.

Courtesy of:

Courtesy of:

        In addition to Arizona’s natural wonders, on this my most recent trip to this land of light, open spaces, and majestic panoramas, I was reminded all over again that the place is one of uncommon depth.  Yes, it has its stone landmarks and secret canyons, but what really captured my imagination was Arizona’s centuries-old Native Culture—the culture of the First Americans.


Sioux Indian Man Photo: Public Domain

     The story of this region’s indigenous people traces back thousands of years.  Today there are twenty-three Native Indian reservations in Arizona.  The Navajo Reservation is the largest, 25,000 square miles that include not only northeastern Arizona, but also northwestern New Mexico and a bit of southern Utah.  The 210,000-strong Navajo Nation is the largest in the country and the one with which I’m most familiar as a result of my visits to the Southwest. While what follows tends to showcase Navajo ways, of course, the many other Indian Nations that grace our land have also made important contributions to our collective heritage.


     Navajo society is matriarchal, with women owning all the property.


Navajo Woman Photo: Public Domain

     Their tradition dictates that upon marriage men move in with their wives’ families.  Their beliefs are based on what is called the Beauty Path.  Below is a time-honored Navajo prayer that illustrates that concept:

In beauty I walk.
With beauty before me I walk.
With beauty behind me I walk.
With beauty around me I walk.
With beauty above me I walk.
With beauty below me I walk.
In beauty all is made whole.
In beauty all is restored.
In my youth I am aware of it, and
In old age I shall walk quietly the beautiful trail.
In beauty it is begun.
In beauty it is ended.


     For centuries before Columbus voyaged to the New World, Arizona’s indigenous people were creating art of amazing subtlety and beauty.

     To explore this in greater depth, I visited the Heard Museum, one of the most comprehensive collections of both ancient and contemporary Native art.


Heard Museum Photo: Public Domain

     The museum teems with sculpture, pottery, blanket weaving and carvings, but my favorite artifacts were the many traditional silver and turquoise jewelry pieces.  We were asked not to take pictures of any of the museum’s displays; hence, the images below are from other sources, but they should give you an impression of what the Early People of the Southwest created.


Squash-Blossom-necklace Photo: Public Domain

     Silversmithing, I learned, was only introduced to the Southwestern Indian tribes about 150 years ago, and then by Spanish smiths in villages of northwestern New Mexico.  The Navajos quickly became proficient in this craft.

     Once the Navajos had mastered the metal arts, they began to combine metal (mainly silver) with turquoise, long a revered stone in their culture, representing happiness, health, and luck.  So old and honored is turquoise in Navajo tradition that it first appears in their creation stories.  Today it’s a leading gauge of a Navajo person’s wealth.

     Below is a Navajo-inspired necklace that I made myself.  I saw a similar piece in Scottsdale and made mental note of its design.  After returning home I attended the International Gem and Jewelry Show that comes through Seattle several times a year.  There I found the stones (turquoise and coral) I needed and voilà, the finished product:


Self-made Navajo Necklace Photo: Personal Collection Rose Marie Curteman


      Metal arts among the Navajos soon expanded from jewelry making to other creations such as silversmith boxes.  These belong to my Arizona hosts:


Navajo-Silversmith-Box Photo: Public Domain


     One of the most moving, and little known details of the Navajos’ contribution to the “motherland” (as they have been known to call the United States) has been their courageous participation in our military engagements over the last one hundred years.

     When I asked about their interest in U.S. conflicts, I was reminded that our Native Americans come from a warrior tradition.  As Chester Ness, a Navajo WW II code talker, observed in his book Code Talker: The first and only memoir by one of the original Navajo code talkers of WWII by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila,

“. . . we saw ourselves as inseparable from the earth we lived upon.  And as protectors of what is sacred, we were . . . eager to defend our land.”



     The Navajo’s most important involvement came during World War II, when hundreds of Navajo Code Talkers served in the U.S. Marine Corp throughout the Pacific, sending and receiving messages in a disguised adaptation of their indigenous language.  The code, which the Japanese never broke, is today considered to have been one of the main reasons for our success in the Pacific theater of war.  Sadly, during WWII, while these First Americans were bravely risking their lives for the motherland, they were still denied the right to vote.


     I have always been fascinated by the grandeur of Indian headdresses, but never understood what they symbolized.


Indian-headdress Photo: Personal Collection Rose Marie Curteman

     In Arizona I came across this interpretation:

     The idea of full dress in preparation for a battle comes not from a belief that it will add to the fighting ability.  The preparation is for death, in case that should be the result of the conflict.  Every Indian wants to look his best when he goes to meet the great Spirit, so the dressing up is done whether the imminent danger is an oncoming battle or a sickness or injury at times of peace.

-Wooden Leg (late 19th Century) Cheyenne


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Andalusia # 3 Seneca.


“All cruelty springs from weakness.”

     Before leaving the subject of Andalusia, I can’t resist mentioning Seneca—Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4 B.C.-A.D. 65)—the Córdoban-born Stoic philosopher, orator, essayist, playwright and poet, who some consider to be the greatest Spaniard ever to have lived.

     His lifetime fell long before Spain’s Golden Age of Enlightenment, the main focus of my Andalusian visit.  Still, I found that some in Andalusia and Spain in general remember him with such awe that I decided to ask our Spanish guide Sebastiano about him.

     “Such a man!” Sebastiano beamed the moment I uttered the philosopher’s name.  “He was so multifaceted!  A man of letters, a political figure, consul of Rome, Nero’s tutor and later advisor, and a Stoic.”


Seneca-bust Photo: Public Domain

     Sebastiano went on to say that while in Nero’s employ Seneca became caught up in an alleged conspiracy to kill his master.  For this supposed complicity his Nero ordered him to commit suicide, an act Seneca fulfilled with the grace of a true Stoic.


Death of Seneca Painting Photo:

    When my traveling companion Barbara heard the repeated use of the word Stoic, she asked our guide, “What is a Stoic?”

    “Someone who lives simply, who is moderate and frugal.  Someone who makes peace with his present circumstances.”

    “Are those values you embrace?” my traveling companion Barbara asked.

    “I try to hold the thought that God determines everything and that I must accept His will,” Sebastiano answered softly.  He added that even today some Spanish intellectuals are so caught up in the Seneca mystique that they fancy themselves the philosopher’s progeny.  “In my case,” Sebastiano said, “I wouldn’t even feel worthy to touch the great man’s hem.”

    When I returned home, I looked into Seneca a bit more and found these among his quotations:

    “True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.  The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and in our reach.  A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what is not.”

    “Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.”

    “Life is like a play: it’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters.”

    “Wealth is the slave of a wise man.  The master of a fool.”

     Some students of Seneca believe that he might have been an early Christian.  He is credited with saying:

     “Live with men as if God saw you; converse with God as if men heard you.”

     “God is nigh to you, he is with you, he is in you:  I tell you … a holy spirit resides within us, an observer and guardian of our good and our bad doings, who, as he has been dealt with by us, so he deals with us; no man is good without God.”

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Andalusia #2

Below are two of the greatest buildings that the Moors (an inexact but now generally accepted term to describe the early Muslims/Arabs who invaded Spain) left behind:  Córdoba’s Mezquita and the palace of Alhambra in Granada.


The Great Mosque, the Mezquita Photo: Public Domain

The Great Mosque, the Mezquita, which dates back to 785 when Abd al-Rahman I built it to honor his wife, is often called Córdoba’s greatest sight.

When I went there, I entered through an unimposing door with a horseshoe arch that gives no hint of what lies inside.  Once inside, I found a vast architectural wonderland of more than 850 columns made of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite along with giant horseshoe arches in alternating bands of red and white, like holiday candy.


Mosque Interior Photo: Public Domain

The Alhambra in Grenada, Spain, another etched-in-my-memory highpoint of Andalusia, was the last stronghold of Islam’s 800-year presence in Europe.  It was the palace and fortress of the Nasrids, the final Islamic dynasty (1236-1492) of Europe’s Middle Ages.

Poets have called the Alhambra “a fairyland,” “a pearl set in emeralds,” and after stepping through the portal, I understood why.  Visitors tend to fall into a succession of rooms that seem to flow from one to the next, as if in a symphonic melody.  There are elegant columns, complex stalactite-like ceiling adornments, stylish arabesques, subtle calligraphy, and bounties of arches.

My favorite space there is the Patio de los Leones (Court of the Lions), its perimeter lined by arcades supported by 124 slender marble columns.  At the center of the court is the Lion Fountain, a stately alabaster basin resting upon 12 marble lions that signify power and fortitude.


Patio de los Leones Photo: Public Domain

“We’re not sure where the lions came from,” my guide Sebastiano told me.  He said that the Muslims surely didn’t make them, because the Qur’an prohibits the representation of living creatures.  Prophet Mohammed sought to prevent a return to idolatry.  According to my guide, the lions were thought to have been crafted by Jewish or Christian artists.

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 “It is no exaggeration to say that what we presumptuously call ‘Western’
culture is owed in large measure to the Andalusian enlightenment.”
-Christopher Hitchens, The Nation


Colonnade Andalusia

     When my friends Tom and Barbara first shared with me the riveting tale of medieval Spain’s 800-year flowering of art, architecture, culture, and commerce, “Spain’s Golden Age of Enlightenment,” I knew I’d have to dig deeper.  First, I read Maria Rosa Menocal’s fascinating account The Ornament of the World:  How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain.  Then I traveled to Andalusia to explore for myself this important, but not widely known, period of history.  The next three blogs shed light on some of Andalusia’s fascinating history.  This and two succeeding blogs will shed light on some of Andalusia’s important gifts to Western civilization.

     In A.D. 750 a desperate young prince fled his home in Damascus, Syria, then the heart of Islam, in search of a safe haven.  His entire family, the ruling Umayyads of the House of Islam, had just been annihilated.  Some years before, the Umayyads had successfully led the Muslims from the barren deserts of Arabia to the developed cultures of the Fertile Crescent.

     Barely twenty and a political refugee, young prince Abd al-Rahman journeyed for almost five years, with only his wit and grit as his weapons.  He traveled across North Africa to a region the Muslims called the Maghrib, the farthest western outpost of the ever-expanding Islamic empire.  Today this place is known as Morocco.


Desert Maghrib

     After pausing briefly in Maghrib, Abd al-Rahman pushed on across the Straits of Gibraltar to a town in southern Spain called Qurtuba (Córdoba) on the River Guadalquivir.  Here, in the westernmost province of the Islamic world, he found a thriving Islamic colony that came to be called “al-Andalus.”  He made Córdoba his home, eventually founding and later ruling the Umayyad Emirate (governorship) of Córdoba from 756 to 788.  With this bold move, he rebuilt his ancestral dynasty—the Umayyads, who would survive in “al-Andalus” for nine generations to come.



     Under his steady hand, the Umayyad Emirate of Córdoba transformed itself from a debilitated place into one of the world’s great cultural, economic and political centers.  Andalusia became an open-minded and innovative society where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived together in harmony and prosperity, pooling resources of language, art, science, scholarship, and commerce.  (It was lovely to be reminded that peaceful coexistence and cooperation among people are possible!)

     Córdoba fattened into a city of five hundred thousand inhabitants, with public works that included paved and lighted roads, bridges, running water, and irrigation facilities.  Libraries sprouted, one with 600,000 manuscripts.

     Abd al-Rahman was farsighted enough to maintain regular contact with the advanced cultures of the Fertile Crescent.  There, Damascus and Baghdad excelled as great learning centers that placed a high priority on the translation and preservation of Greco/Roman writings.  These writings eventually flooded into the Córdoban libraries, filling them with artistic and scientific manuscripts otherwise unavailable. In time, Córdoba burgeoned, becoming by the 10th Century the intellectual center of Europe, and one of the greatest cities in the Western world.

     Hungry to connect with long-forgotten works from the classical world (about 600 B.C. to A.D. 600), northern European scholars flooded into Córdoba studying its libraries.  These scholars then took their discoveries back to their own learning centers.  A cultural flowering ensued throughout Europe, fueling the Renaissance and the eventual Age of Enlightenment.


Cordoba-Old Town

    One of my favorite parts of Córdoba is the Old Town’s Jewish quarter, a fascinating network of lanes too narrow for cars.           

     At Tiberiadus Square in Old Town is the statue of a robed and turbaned man, seated, looking pensive, holding a book in his right hand.  The statue represents the Córdoban-born Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), the great Jewish philosopher, scientist, and physician of Andalusia, Morocco, and Egypt.

Maimonides is remembered for many things, among them for being a brilliant religious philosopher. In particular, he was able to reconcile his Jewish faith with a belief in the power of reason, especially Greek philosophy; consequently, he was an important influence on Aquinas and Islamic theologians.



Some other thoughts attributed to Maimonides:
•  Do not consider it proof just because it is written in books, for a liar who will deceive with his tongue will not hesitate to do the same with his pen.

•  No disease that can be treated by diet should be treated with any other means.

•  Anticipate charity by preventing poverty.



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On the Road Again- Garmisch-Partenkirchen


German Alps Photo: Public Domain

We all know the world teems with wondrous places.  There are those I portray in my book 7 ½ Places of Wonder:  Munich, Dubai, Florence, Andalusia, Oxford, Jerusalem, St. Petersburg, and Stockholm, but there are also lesser known locales that inspire and uplift.  They’re often just byway found along minor roads, but are steeped in natural beauty with landmarks and traditions that reach back into antiquity.  One such place is Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the mountain resort town in Bavaria, Southern Germany (just over an hour south of Munich), that enjoys a population of about 26,000 inhabitants.  You probably know that among all of Garmisch’s wonders, it’s also home to Germany’s highest mountain—the Zugspitze, at 9714 feet, and the site of the 1936 Winter Olympics.  I was recently there visiting an American friend, Ann, who makes her life in that magical corner of the world.       Garmisch, nestled deep within a lush green valley, is surrounded by limestone peaks, wooded slopes, pastureland, and alpine meadows—all garnished with trout-filled lakes and streams that suggest a past that reaches back to the Ice Age.


Zugspitze Photo: Public Domain

    On the subject of trout:  Bavarian streams are famous for their healthy populations of trout, one of my personal favorites in alpine eating adventures.


Trout Photo: Public Domain

     While I was with Ann, we prepared trout one evening for dinner.  We bought it in a local market, where it’s called Forelle.  Our recipe of choice that evening was Ettaler Forellen (the English translation would simply be Ettal* Trout) from Bavarian Cooking by Olli Leeb.  Our menu included Petersilienkartöffelchen (parsley potatoes) with horseradish sauce, Weissbier (white beer), and Bauernbrot (peasant bread).  To be extra healthy, we threw in a salad.

     The recipe for Ettal Trout (with small interpretations by Ann) goes like this:

For one person:

1 brook trout

salt and pepper

1 sprig rosemary

1 sprig sage

butter for cooking; (oil is fine, too)

     Clean and wash the trout and rub it with salt and pepper inside and out.  Place herbs in the belly of the fish. Brush the fish with butter (or oil) and put into well lubricated fish grill.  Close the grill and stand it first at an angle to the glowing charcoal; then, when the heat has subsided, lay it flat and cook it on both sides until done.  Serve with above noted side dishes.

(*Ettal is the name of a nearby mountain village.)

     There’s much to share about Garmisch, but this time I was preoccupied by one of the region’s most delightful characteristic: frescoed houses, locally known as Lüftlmalerei, which depict both religious and secular scenes.  Below are a few images of those that stood out.


Garmisch Frescoed Houses Photo: Personal Collection Rose Marie Curteman

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  . . .pleasant was it then to stray down the peaceful alleys,

and hear the bells of St. Jean Baptiste peal out with their sweet, soft, exalted sound.

—Charlotte Brontë  (Vilette,1853)


Grand-Place Photo: Yabby’s Photostream –

      Brussels, founded in A.D. 979, is not only the capital of Belgium, but as the seat of the European Union, it’s also effectively the capital of Europe.


EU-Symbol: Screen Shot from Flags of the World

  Adding to its international prominence, Brussels hosts NATO, the defensive alliance for its 28-member countries.  Happily, this blending of foreign influences, and subsequent global stature, hasn’t diminished Brussels’ intimate atmosphere.  This city with charming neighborhoods, networks of quaint streets and alleyways that, one way or another, lead to the geographical, historical and commercial heart of the city, the Grand Place.


Grand-Place Photo: Public Domain

     Because of culture and language, Belgium, with a population of nearly 11 million, is divided into Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and French-speaking Wallonia in the south.

     Flanders achieved much of its glory through its great trading cities: Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp, and is stronger economically than the southern part.

Hotel view

Bruges Canal Photo: Public Domain

     Wallonia, where Brussels is located, has a strong history of industrialization but its coal and steel industries have seen better days.  Tourism is now a major part of its economy.  It is recognized for its achievements in science and for its international institutions.


NATO Logo: Screen Shot from NATO page.

     Overall, Belgium has prospered, and is one of Europe’s most affluent nations.  Consequently, shopping in Brussels can be very high-end.  At the same time, it has a thriving flea market trade, offering its residents and tourists the delights akin to a delectable Easter egg hunt.

     Belgian’s history as a powerful trading entity and more recently as an international destination have brought to its shores a steady infusion of fascinating objects, a jewel box of high quality items often available for a song, but you have to bargain.


My-Sister-Anne Photo: Personal Collection Rose Marie Curteman

     My sister Anne, who has lived in Brussels for nearly half a century and whose home is filled with iconic flea market discoveries––obtained mainly for a pittance––says: “People die, leaving their worldly goods to their children, who, in all likelihood, place at least some of them into the hands of antique dealers.”  She sees the phenomenon as a constant cycle.  “People come and go as do their goods; so, these markets always offer something new.  But, the flea market world is one of rapid turnover, so if you see a thing you like, buy it!”

     When I’m in Brussels visiting Anne, exploring flea markets is as central to our time together as sampling Belgian chocolates, local waffles, or even Belgian’s famous beer.


Belgian-Chocolates Photo: Public Domain

     Anne’s interests lie mainly in porcelains—many of Asian origin—although typically these flea markets also handle antiques, artwork, clothing, and sometimes horticulture.  She’s developed a keen appreciation for what is good.  She’s also a good negotiator.  In the process of following her around for many years, I started collecting porcelain, too, but on a much more modest scale.  I always have to consider “Will it fit into my carry-on luggage?”

     To porcelain, I’ve added occasional pieces of pewter. Below I share a few of my favorite flea market finds with you:

Flea-Market-Finds-3    Flea-Market-Finds-4    Flea-Market-Finds-5    Flea-Market-Finds-6

Flea-Market-Finds-7   Flea-Market-Finds-8    Flea-Market-Finds-9      Flea-Market-Finds-10

Flea-Market-Finds-11        Flea-Market-Finds-12        Flea-Market-Finds-13

Flea-Market-Finds-1      Flea-Market-Finds-2

Assorted Photos from the Flea Market: Personal Collection Rose Marie Curteman.

The four flea markets of greater Brussels that we try never to miss are:

  1. Waterloo, Belgium (10 miles south of Brussels): Featuring 300+ stalls, this market is open every Sunday in the parking lot of Waterloo’s Carrefoursupermarket.  The grid-like setting lets the bargain hunter explore the entire area in an orderly fashion.  Stalls are not divided by merchandise; each is a medley fascinating objects.
  2. Place du Jeu de Balle:  In central Brussels, this flea market is an antique venue with a garage sale arrangement; it’s open seven days a week (weekdays, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
  3. Woluwe Flea Market:  Woluwe is a residential municipality of greater Brussels, which features on the first Sunday of each month, a delightful flea market where I have found some of my favorite things: porcelain salad/dessert plates (some originally from China), exquisite, although pre-owned, Belgian lace, and pewter.
  4. Place du Grand Sablon:  Considered one of the best flea markets in Europe, the Sablon offers over one hundred vendors, selling such items as wall hangings, porcelain, crystal, jewelry, and furniture.  Prices tend to be commensurate with the high quality of objects for sale.  (Hours:  Saturdays:  9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

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Women Traveling Solo: Pros & Cons plus Tips.

“One of the great things about travel is you find out how many good, kind people there are.”  —Edith Wharton


     People often ask me what it’s like to do all the traveling that I do alone.  The truth is I seldom travel alone.

     Since I’m a social animal, I like to share the road. When I start planning a trip, I’m almost as careful about selecting a traveling companion and/or tour group as I am a destination.  What I want on my journeys are wondrous new discoveries, of course, but also compatible company

     Fellowship, I think, is as essential to our wellbeing as food.  For me, the tie that facilitates companionship is conversation—being in an environment in which I am heard, one in which I can share my feelings and impressions.  That requires, quite naturally, that I provide the same for my fellow travelers, that I am an enthusiastic and empathetic listener as well.

     Some Pros of Solo Travel:
(including suggestions by women friends who have traveled alone)

     You’re free, unencumbered, flexible.  You’re captain of your own ship.  You can do what you want when you want.    You’re much more approachable than when in a group; hence, you’re more likely to meet interesting new people. Traveling solo will force you to reach out to others—to break out of your comfort zone.

     I have a friend who hiked solo in England.  There she met another solo woman hiker.  They became and still are lifelong friends.  Another acquaintance, who when traveling alone, sometimes stays in hostels.  There,” she says, “you have a ready-made family.”  Still another woman friend makes a point of attending English language church services in foreign capitals.  I did that while studying art history in Florence, Italy, for nearly a year.


      I was enrolled in a university program, but my classmates were twenty year-olds and I was middle aged (I discuss that experience in my first book:  My Renaissance:  A Widow’s Healing Pilgrimage to Tuscany.) MyRen-Book-Cover

 Sometimes I simply longed for adult conversation.  I found it at St. James Episcopal Church in Florence (also called ‘the American Church’ in Florence.)


      At the church’s coffee hour I met visitors from around the world—people of many religious backgrounds.  Not only that, I was also invited to participate in the broader life of the church community: making excursions deep into Tuscany; using their English language lending library; receiving invitations to their Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.  Over the course of now many years, I’ve attended both holiday occasions and they have proved unforgettable.

     Some Cons of Solo Travel:

     There’s the vulnerability factor: the perceived potential for theft, harassment, and loneliness.  But the friends with whom I talked say that women alone can alleviate most of these concerns by simply “traveling smart.”  “Create environments that in all probability will prove advantageous,” Sarah said.  “Don’t wander around by yourself at night; don’t announce to the world that you are traveling alone.”

     Carol said she makes a point of dressing modestly (best dark colors), even wearing a fake wedding ring.  She always tries to arrive at a new destination in daylight; she pre-books the first night’s accommodation.  “That way,” she says, “I have some place to land.”  She always carries a rubber door stopper (in her mind, an inexpensive security device).  In fact, in third world settings, she carries individually wrapped, sterile syringes.

     Beyond that, all the solo women travelers with whom I spoke offered tips such as: wear a money belt; keep your passport and credit cards on your body, and xerox copies in other places.  Carry a well outfitted Swiss Army knife. swiss-army-knife

     Before departure, check with the Department of State about travel warnings.  Go with your hunches.  “If something doesn’t feel right, avoid it.”

     Generally, though, my advice is to be a sensible risk taker.  Decades ago I found this poem and have kept in my “things to remember” file ever since.  I resurrect it now for you.

If I had my life to live over again,
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d relax.
I’d limber up.
I’d be sillier than I’ve been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would, perhaps have more actual troubles, but fewer imaginary ones.
You see, I’m one of those people who was sensible and sane,
Hour after hour, day after day.

 Oh, I’ve had my moments.
If I had to do it over gain,
I’d have more of them.
In fact, I’d try to have nothing else—just moments,
one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.
I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute.
If I could do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had my life to live over again,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
And stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances,
I would ride more merry-go-rounds,
I would pick more daisies.
(Composed by Nadine Stair when she was 85)



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On The Road: Spokane, Washington and Its Indian Heritage

 “No trip is too brief to enrich our lives as we acquire knowledge
of other places and enlarge our cultural perspective.”

—Carole Glickfeld, Author

     Recently, I was invited to do a book signing at Auntie’s Book Store in Spokane, Washington, a community first settled in 1871—mainly through European migration—and officially incorporated as a city in 1881.


Signing with Guest Photo: Personal Collection Rose Marie Curteman

      When I first arrived, I didn’t know much about this tucked-away “Inland Empire” town, but in looking more closely I discovered a modern and thriving city.

     It has a population of about 208,000, nestled between the Cascades and Rocky Mountains just 92 miles south of the Canadian border and 230 miles east of Seattle.  Within short proximity of Spokane proper, the town boasts 76 pristine lakes, 33 golf courses, and five ski resorts.


River Park Square Photo: Personal Collection Rose Marie Curteman

     Spokane’s economy has historically been based on natural resources (fur trading, mining, timber, and agriculture), but now has also diversified into high-tech and bio-tech sectors.  At the book signing, an attendee told me, “We’re still reinventing ourselves into a more service-oriented economy.  Even a medical school is in the works.”


Spokane Skiing Photo: Public Domain


Mt. Spokane Photo: Public Domain

     I was fascinated to learn that the city’s name is drawn from the Native American tribe known as the Spokane, which means “Children of the Sun” in Salishan, a family of about 23 American Indian languages, once spoken in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana.  These languages are now endangered—if not extinct—in some cases with only three or four elderly speakers remaining.

     As David M. Buerge said in Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest: “For 500 generations [the native American] flourished until newcomers came … much was lost, much devalued, but much was also hidden away in the hearts of the dispossessed . . .”

   A neighboring Northwest tribe that continues to be recognized in these parts is the Nez Perce (French for “pierced nose”), the largest tribe Lewis and Clark met between the Missouri River and the Pacific Coast.

     The Nez Perce granted timely refuge to the exhausted and starved Lewis and Clark Expedition (also call the Corps of Discovery Expedition [1804-1806]), providing them with sustenance such as dried buffalo, camas root bread, and fish.


Nez Perce Dress Photo: PubDomain

     Also, the Nez Perce gave the Corps horses and granted them safe passage through their country—traveling first west and then east.  In return, the Nez Perce wanted guns and tobacco, so they could compete with the Blackfeet and Atsina for buffalo and protect their villages.  A small footnote to history records that in exchange for an ongoing food supply to the Corps, and allowing the Expedition to wait for snows to melt and render the mountains passable, William Clark treated the Indians’ illnesses and diseases and became, as Meriwether Lewis noted in his diary, their “favorite phisician.”


Nez Perce Artifacts Photo: PubDomain

   During the mid-1800s, as the U.S. government became more aggressive in encroaching on what Native American considered to be their ancestral homelands, many Nez Perce were forced to surrender large portions of their territory. They were resettled on reservations in northern Idaho and Washington.  But there were holdouts:  In 1877, a group of Nez Perce, who still made their home in Oregon, and were led by the humanitarian and peacemaker Chief Joseph, refused to give up what they believed to be theirs until all-out defeat.


DeLancy Gill 1903 – Public Domain

      Many of those Oregon survivors were then moved to the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington, not far from Spokane.

Many descendents still live there today.


Image attribution from Nez-Pierce National
Historic Park Permission via email from Marc

     After tumultuous struggles to defend their ancient way of life, in 1879 Chief Joseph was invited to go to Washington to meet with the President and to plead his people’s case before Congress.  Among the things he is credited with having said:

     “Our fathers gave us many laws, which they had learned from their fathers.  These laws were good.  They told us to treat all men as they treated us; that it was a disgrace to tell a lie; that we should speak only the truth; that it was a shame for one man to take from another his wife or his property without paying for it.  We were taught to believe that the Great Spirit   sees and hears everything, and that he never forgets; that hereafter he will give every man a spirit-home according to his deserts: if he has been a good man, he will have a good home; if he has been a bad man, he will have a bad home.  This I believe, and all my people believe the same.”

(Found in In A Sacred Manner I live:  Native American Wisdom, p. 42  Edited by Neil Philip)

     All this did little good:  Although Chief Joseph and his followers had requested a safe return to their native Pacific Northwest, it was not until 1885 that he was allowed to go back and build life anew on the Colville Reservation—far from many of his people who had been displaced onto a reservation in Northern Idaho.

     Chief Joseph died there in 1904 at the age of 64.  His doctor cited his cause of death:  “A broken heart.”

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