Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Real Stunner in the Midterm Elections

The day after the election, after I picked myself up from the floor and stopped pulling my hair out, I had a fantasy that went like this: Michelle Obama walks to a podium, somber and clearly containing her anger. She pans the room, pauses, and says, “I’m going to take a risk. Many of you won’t like what I have to say. My handlers will hate it. But I’m going to throw away my script and speak from the heart.”

Michelle Obama

“My husband did not deserve the terrible, bruising rebuff he suffered in the election. No president in modern history has had to suffer the levels of disrespect and attacks on his character and abilities, nor has any president I can recall had so many crises to deal with simultaneously. And no president in our history has been subjected to the incipient racism that is part of America’s underbelly. Whatever you think of him, or his policy decisions and actions, he did nothing to warrant the horrific way he’s been treated, and he did not deserve to be betrayed by his fellow Democrats such that Republicans – many of whom should have their characters and abilities examined – swept into unquestioned power, something I think we will all come to regret.”

The First Lady could not say this, much as she might have fantasized doing so. But those of us who are not public figures can. And we should, because what happened in the election was unconscionable. It was also deeply dangerous because it has led us one step closer to the demise of democracy, and the rise of an American oligarchy. Anyone who thinks that won’t happen, or doesn’t matter, will learn too late that they got what they didn’t vote for.

Less than 40 percent of Americans voted in the midterm elections. That’s not surprising if you consider the history of midterms, but it is alarming: History also tells us that passivity is the path to the abuse power.

Why did people vote against their own interests? Why did they re-elect those who screw them out of needed support systems? Why do they endorse politicians who are in trouble with the law?

Here’s what I really don’t get. Why did Democrats run so far from their president and the values he represents? Why not campaign on those values, and tout the president’s achievements? What was the Democratic debacle, that huge and ugly betrayal, about?

Here are just some of the achievements I wish the Dems had campaigned on and that voters should have been reminded to consider. President Obama reduced the unemployment rate from over 10 percent when he took office to 5.8 percent. There are now over three and a half million private sector jobs that didn’t exist during the Bush recession and there is huge reduction in the deficit. The U.S. auto industry still exists. The president also stood up to Wall Street and helped avert a global financial collapse. Under his administration, the tax rates for average working families are the lowest since 1950; the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act cut taxes for 95% of America’s working families.
The president has understood that women and gays are people too. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act instituting equal pay for women. He expanded funding for the Violence Against Women Act and appointed two pro-choice women to the Supreme Court. He repealed “Don’t ask don’t tell” and appointed more openly gay officials than anyone in history. He also extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees and changed HUD rules to prohibit gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination in housing.
President Obama also made us a little safer. He eliminated Osama bin Laden, disrupted Al Quaeda terrorist plots, toppled Gadhafi, ended two wars, and helped restore America’s reputation around the world. He signed an Executive Order banning torture and put the U.S. in compliance with the Geneva Convention.

He addressed education and health care head on. The president increased funding for student financial aid, cut banks out of the process by reforming student loan rates and expanding the Pell Grants program providing opportunities for low income students. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act he invested in all levels of education, including Head Start.
With the Affordable Health Care Act, President Obama expanded health insurance coverage to 30 million more people, expanded Medicaid and reduced Medicare costs. He increased federal support for biomedical and stem cell research. He increased the number of children covered by health insurance by four million and extended COBRA health coverage for the unemployed.
The president may not have addressed climate change adequately but he strengthened environmental protection through new laws and policies. He fast-tracked regulations to increase fuel efficiency standards and ordered energy plants to plan for producing at least 15% of all energy through renewable resources.
It would take another column to record all the Obama administration has done to make our country safer, healthier, better educated, more economically sound, and more respected within the international community. Still, these facts alone should have been enough to keep Democrats from abandoning a president who like all former presidents, and human beings, is not perfect.

That they behaved so badly is the truly stunning surprise of the 2014 midterm elections.



A piece of Vermont heaven!

A piece of Vermont heaven!

150 Mandigo Rd., Saxtons River, Vt. 05154
Priced to sell! $390,000

Lovingly maintained, with recent upgrades and priced to sell, this stunning property is off a quiet dead end road. The driveway reveals a pretty pond and manicured lawns and leads to this 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath home on 12.7 high and private acres. Beautifully landscaped and overlooking an open yard, a pond and southerly mountain views, this is one of the prettiest settings around. The house is airy and light, and boasts a large eat-in kitchen adjacent to the tasteful dining room. The kitchen has a bay window in the eating area, a center island, and illuminated glass door cabinetry. Drawers below the stove-top make for easy storing of pots/pans, and there is a sizable pantry. The spacious living room features a fireplace and built-in bookcases. Step down into the beautiful 1998 addition with its radiant heat, 4-season sun room, and master suite with laundry and private office. The south-facing screen porch and small deck overlook the lawns and ridge view. The second floor offers an inviting guest room, another bedroom, a study/bedroom and a full bath. This impressive home is a sunny and beautiful oasis, private yet minutes to Saxtons River Village, the town of Bellows Falls, and easily access to Brattleboro or skiing.
What we love about our home
The house is in a beautiful, peaceful setting with great views including a pond and mountain ridge. It is full of light. It has country charm with modern convenience and it’s easy to keep clean! Everyone feels very comfortable and welcome here.


• Bedrooms: 3 beds + 2 studies
• Bathrooms: 2.5 baths
• Single Family: 2,841 sq ft
• Lot: 12.7 acres
• Year Built:1976;1998 addition
• Heating Type: Baseboard, Radiant
• Taxes: $5470
• Excellent schools, public and private
• 2.8 mi. to village; 6 mi. to Bellows Falls, 22 miles to Brattleboro; 8 mi. to I-91





How Many Christophers Does It Take?

How many Christophers does it take to fix a website?

I don’t know yet but I’ve been through three of them already, for a total of 6 hours so far, trying to mend problems with my Word Press website. (Are they all in Mumbai with the same Anglo name so that no one can complain about them individually?)

The first two seemed competent. Christopher 1 managed to clear the blank dash board page so that I could post blogs again. Big Phew. Christopher 2 seemed to be on the right track in getting pictures to embed again when he messaged, “My shift is ending now. Sorry I can’t stay with you longer.” Not half as sorry as I was, Chris 2, because Christopher 3 was a disaster. Redundant, unclear and inept, he simply disappeared without so much as a Fare Thee Well when he realized he couldn’t understand the problem, let alone solve it.

Aside from tearing my hair out, this leaves me with two options: Call (vs. Live Chat) Blue Host and hope that if another Christopher answers he knows what he’s doing, or find a web developer who can save me for a price.

In the meantime, apologies for anyone visiting and finding no visuals. Like airlines and Amtrak who have a mess on their hands getting things moving again, I’m working on it.

Writing Workshops – Coming again next year! Book early!

Here’s what one participant had to say about my recent weekend writing workshop for women at the lovely Strong House Inn in Vergennes, Vt.:

“Participating in a writing conference for a weekend when I had never really written before seemed risky, questionable, presumptuous. But the gift of a skillful facilitator provided a level of comfort and safety to channel my writing in an encouraging and structured way. What an unexpected treasure it was to write with other women whom I would never see again but with whom I became energized to write and share my words. As I look over those words now I am drawn back to the power of writing and sharing my thoughts and feelings. The key was the spark ignited by Elayne’s craft and her intuitive sensitivity as she guided me forward. ”

Check out my workshop page! I do them from Maine to Mexico! Hope to see you at one! (Please feel free to share this message).

The Summer of Their Discontent: Reflections on the Trayvon Martin Verdict

“Acquitted.” The word struck me like ice water thrown on my face in the stifling heat of a summer day. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. I felt as if the world stood still. Trayvon Martin’s world had certainly ceased spinning the night George Zimmerman killed him; now Mr. Zimmerman walked away from his criminal deed a free man.

Such white-on- black crime has been committed, and acquitted, before and it will happen again; less than forty-eight hours after Mr. Zimmerman walked out of the courtroom, a jury was being selected for a trial strikingly similar to his: A white man named John Spooner had shot to death a black 13-year old, Darius Simmons, in Milwaukee because Mr. Spooner thought, wrongly, that the teenager had stolen two guns from his home. Mr. Spooner’s lawyer claims it’s unfair to compare his case to Trayvon Martin’s; race was not a factor, he said.

Much has been written about the tragedy and the travesty of the Zimmerman verdict. Copious commentary has examined how our system of justice failed Trayvon Martin and his family both morally and legally; commentators have made the obvious connection to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling regarding the Voting Rights Act; others have connected the racism and gun violence dots.

“This case is about extraordinary inequality in the presumption of innocence and the application of justice,” wrote Charles Blow in The New York Times. “We are tired of hearing that race is a conversation for another day,” Ekow Yankah said in his eloquent analysis in the same paper. “Trayvon Martin is dead because he and other black boys and men like him are seen not as a person but a problem,” intoned the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of an Atlanta church.

The commentary I read was insightful, important, moving and motivating. But what I was most struck by in the days following the verdict was the dignity with which Trayvon Martin’s family, friends, lawyers and supporters carried themselves. Their demeanor reminded me of Martin Luther King’s landmark “I Have a Dream” speech fifty years ago and of the wisdom of his words.

“We must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free,” Dr. King said, in front of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. Speaking of “the fierce urgency of now” he continued, “This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. … There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.” Then he said, “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.” Calling for “soul force over physical force,” he sought a pledge that in going forward, the civil rights movement would be free of violence.

Dr. King’s words and his legacy are embodied, for me, in the dignity of the Martin family and other people of color as well as those who stand with them. Their graceful acceptance, despite the pain it bore, of the jury’s decision helped keep demonstrations in cities like New York, Atlanta and Chicago calm, not only in honor of Dr. King, but with respect for Trayvon Martin.

So, too, did the quiet resignation with which civil rights leaders realized, with enormous sadness, that the fight for civil and human rights goes on and on and on. Fifty years after Martin Luther King said, “Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice,” the battle for equality, justice and one’s rightful place in a nation quick to congratulate itself on social change continues, despite the setbacks that render one fatigued almost beyond tolerance. And yet the leaders take up their banners once more. The mantra of social justice is chanted again. The call for action continues anew. What courage, what fortitude that takes!

A few days after I heard that word – “acquitted” – I passed a black youth on the street. I wondered what it would be like to be his mother instead of the mother of my own white son. Did she worry whether he would make it home that night? Did she consider telling him that he shouldn’t run if the police approached him, or walk too slowly if he was being followed, or wear a hoodie? Did she want to say, “Don’t be brave, just get out of there” if trouble brewed.

I worried for him too, in a way I never had before. I felt (as much as possible) the insidious burden of blackness. I was connected to his mom as one mother, one woman, to another. I wondered if George Zimmerman, Mr. Spooner, their lawyers and loyal supporters would ever be capable of such empathy.

That’s when I experienced the utter fatigue that civil rights leaders must be feeling now.

The Heart of Birthing: Doulas and the Support They Offer

With the second annual World Doula Week having just ended, I’ve been reflecting once more on why I became a volunteer doula and what the work means to me.

I’m a baby freak, plain and simple. As a young candy-striper I routinely snuck into the pediatrics ward so I could rock sick kids. While my high school friends dated, I babysat. If I hadn’t been a product of the fifties, I might have considered becoming a obstetrician or a midwife. Instead I followed the path that most girls my age did: I went to college for a liberal arts degree and then became a secretary — a medical secretary.

My real career began when I became program director in 1979 for the National Women’s Health Network, a Washington, D.C.-based education and advocacy organization dedicated to humane, holistic, evidence-based, feminist approaches to women’s health care. In 1985 I went to Nairobi for the final international conference of the United Nations Decade for Women (1975-1985). Inspired by that amazing event and armed with a master’s degree in health communication, I began working internationally on behalf of women and children, always trying to bring a gender lens to the table.

In the midst of all this, I gave birth twice. My children were born in the seventies as the women’s health movement, and individual women, were beginning to advocate for natural childbirth and to resist the traumas of overly-medicalized birth experiences. We took Lamaze classes, learned about nursing, expected dads to be active in our deliveries. I was lucky: not only were my labors quick and unremarkable, but the small community hospital where I delivered was sympathetic to the changes taking place in birthing. There were no monitors, no drugs “to take the edge off” if you didn’t want them, no enemas, no shaving, and no macho-docs (although I couldn’t talk my doctor out of the episiotomy). I labored with my nurse and my husband and when the time came to push, I watched my babies come into this world in total awe of what had just happened and what I had done.

Several years ago, I learned that my local hospital had a volunteer doula program. Signing up was a no-brainer and I’ve now had the honor of supporting dozens of women and their partners as they’ve done the hard work of delivering a baby. Not one of them has failed to say afterwards, “I couldn’t have done it without you!” (They could, but I’m glad to have eased their experience.)

One of the early births I attended stands out in my mind. It was a first pregnancy and the mom labored stoically for thirty-six hours, pushing for five, before her son was born. As the hours passed, I held her hand, wet her lips, wiped strands of matted hair from her eyes, rubbed her back. “You can do this,” I whispered in her ear when she grew doubtful. “You’re doing a magnificent job! Soon your baby will be born.” As the baby finally crowned, wet, dark hair pressing urgently against her, I held the mother’s leg in my arm, her hand clenching my free wrist as she cried out with that guttural groan of a woman pushing her child to life outside the womb. And suddenly, there he was, head emerging, wet and pinking up even as his perfect little body swam into being. Later, swaddled and suckling at his mother’s breast, his father, eyes wet, whispered across the bed to me, “Women’s bodies are so miraculous!”

“Yes,” I said, my own eyes filling, “Miraculous.” Always miraculous, no matter how many times you give witness, or weep yourself to see a woman giving birth.

Doula supported childbirth has been proven to reduce the incidence of c-sections, shorten the length of labor, reduce the number of medicated births, increase breastfeeding and provide higher satisfaction for mothers regarding their birth experience. As one pediatrician put it, we are “the descendants of those millions of women who gathered at bedsides around the world” to help women through labor and delivery. “Some day we may again reach a point where women rely on the traditional circle of birth-experienced [women] to ease them through childbirth. … Until then, skilled, compassionate doulas will ably stand in for them.”

That is why I feel privileged to do this voluntary work. It is simply an honor to give witness to birth, and to offer as many women as possible the opportunity to have a birth that is supported, memorable, and full of joy.

Putting an End to ‘The Woman Question’

Recently Sigmund Freud’s irritating, macho-man question – “What do women want?” – has been making a comeback. Several television programs have addressed the question in interviews and soft news stories while exploring topics ranging from work/home issues to the role of activist nuns under a new papacy. A forthcoming book on “the science of female desire” (written by a man, of course) is actually titled “What Do Women Want?” Sigmund Freud

In an attempt to lay to rest once and for all the interminable query that causes men to continue scratching their heads, here are some basic answers.

First, we want the question itself to disappear. The fact that it keeps popping up as if females were a bizarre sub-species beyond human comprehension suggests that, despite growing numbers of women in governance, board rooms, military action, and more, we remain an enigma just for wanting to be part of life in all its sectors and social spheres.

We certainly want to be free from sexual and domestic violence no matter what we wear, where we go, and whether we have a few drinks with friends. Even after horrendous reports of gang rapes in India, including that of a Swiss tourist, and the Steubenville, OH rape of a 16-year old whose hideous assault went viral we continue to find ourselves counseled to behave defensively while perpetrators of rape and other violent crimes are shielded by their churches, universities, and workplaces. Why, we ask, are males not taught boundaries, respect for women, and behavioral norms that when violated accrue serious criminal consequences? And while we’re on the topic, we want the U.S. to join other civilized nations in ratifying the U.N. Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW and to pass an Equal Rights Amendment.

We want our reproductive health and rights – our bodies – to remain in our own control, not that of opinionated, ill-informed, misogynistic men who blather on like Victorian pooh-bahs rather than 21st century humanists or civil rights advocates. That means men in Vatican Versace – think red shoes with matching chapeau – don’t get to keep us from accessing reliable contraception, or abortion if that is the agonizing, private decision we come to. Nor do Neanderthal politicians or bad boy bosses get to keep birth control pills out of reach. We are not forced to undergo medical rape or to die for the sake of a fetus as a woman in Ireland did recently. In short, as a group of brave women in Boston declared decades ago, “Our Bodies, Ourselves”!

April 9th being Equal Pay Day, we underscore that we want to earn wages equal to men. Despite some gains in workplace legislation (e.g., The Lily Ledbetter Act) we continue to be paid 77 percent, on average, of what men make even though equal pay for women is legally codified. That means a typical woman working full-time for the course of her career stands to have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in income by the age of 65. No wonder “the feminization of poverty” continues to be a pressing issue for feminist analysts and economists.

Finding ways to balance work and home demands remains a challenge in all western societies but it would be nice if we could join the list of countries striving for gender equality in this realm. In Sweden, for example, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), men spend 177 minutes a day cooking, cleaning or caring for children, although women there still spend 259 minutes a day on domestic work. In Australia, both men and women devote approximately 14 hours per day to personal care and leisure. And in France, parents of two or more children can leave employment or reduce working time after childbirth and receive a flat-rate childcare benefit for up to three years. Is it really asking too much for American women to want safe, affordable day care so that they can earn a decent living without fearing for their children?

Finally, we want a seat at the tables of decision and policy-making and a place in discussions involving post-conflict resolution. Anyone watching Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

Kirstin Gillibrand

during recent hearings on sexual assault in the military could see the impact of having women legislators. In the business sector, even given recent gains for women as CEOs of major companies like Yahoo!, only 12 Fortune 500 companies and 25 Fortune 1000 companies had women CEOs or presidents as of 2009. And as writer Damilola Agbajobi has noted, “paying special attention to the different experiences of women and men is critical in designing successful conflict management and peacebuilding programmes.”

So, what do women want? It’s simple: Peace, personal security, a fair paycheck, the ability to parent well, and the right to rule our own bodies. Anyone who still has a problem understanding that ought to ask themselves what they want. If the answer is a win-win world, there should be no reason to resurrect Freud’s silly question, now or ever.

Upcoming Workshops!!!

From Harriet Tubman to Harry Potter: Exploring Our Archetypal Journeys

Thurs. April 4 and April 11, 7:00 pm to 8.30 pm
Main Street Arts, Saxtons River, Vt. (

What do King Arthur, Luke Skywalker, Harriet Tubman and Harry Potter have in common? They all have a great story to tell. But it’s more than an exciting narrative: Each of them has been on an archetypal journey – a heroic exploration, full of adventure, fraught with risk, and ultimately rich with reward. As they seek to find meaning in a complex world, each of these characters is changed forever by their experience, an experience peopled with mentors, villains, jesters, and other archetypes. This workshop will help us explore our own archetypal journeys as we reach for the “Golden Fleece” in our lives. Minimum enrollment: 6.

Main Street Arts for fee information; Register, or 802-869-2686.

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Identity and Culture on the Page; A Writing Workshop About Our Roots

Sat. June 8, 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
The Writer’s Center, White River Junction, Vt. (

“By having roots, you can see the direction in which you want to go.”
Joenia Wapixana, Brazilian

Culture and tradition play a large part in shaping our individual and group identities. This workshop, which draws upon cultural traditions, rituals and experience, provides an opportunity to write about who we are and where we come from – geographically, historically, and emotionally. Whether whimsical or wise, join in crafting written explorations that takes us back to our roots.

To register or for more information: or 802-869-2686
(Min. 5, Max 8 participants)

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Finding the Golden Fleece — Writing Our Archetypal Journeys

Sept. 7 – 15

Rancho La Puerta, Tecate, Mexico (

Check out the Ranch, voted best destination spa in the world 2011 & 2012! Week includes 4 writing workshops and an evening talk “From Doctors to Doulas: The Art and Heart of Women’s Healing” – and that’s just from me! Lots of other offerings in this very special place. Registration not required but reservations are.

What do heroic literary figures like King Arthur and Harry Potter, or real-life people like Harriet Tubman and Harriet Beecher Stowe have in common? They all have a great story to tell. But it’s more than an exciting narrative: Each of them has been on an archetypal journey – a heroic exploration, full of adventure, fraught with risk, and ultimately rich with reward. As they seek to find meaning in a complex world, these characters or people are changed forever by experiences peopled with mentors, villains, jesters, and other archetypes. We’ll explore our own archetypal journeys as we reach for the “Golden Fleece” in our lives. Come prepared to write, share and have fun!

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Breaking Silence: Writing Our Way to the Truth of Our Lives

Oct. 18 – 20
The Strong House Inn, Vergennes, Vt. (

“What would happen if just one woman told the truth about her life?” That simple question, posed by poet Muriel Rukeyser, became iconic in the 1970s, when women writers of the “Second Wave” first began telling their stories openly and honestly. Rukeyser’s answer to her own question was “The world would split apart.”

Beginning with an evening talk about the history and meaning of women’s diaries, journals and memoirs, we will explore the enforced silence of “good girls and fine ladies” that kept women marginalized and invisible for centuries — until a few brave souls among them put pen to paper, which they have done (often surreptitiously) throughout history. What will these women inspire in us as we break our own silence in order to tell some truths about our lives (without going down any dark rabbit holes)? Come prepared to be surprised by what you remember, reflect upon, write, laugh about, and share.

All inclusive Retreat Package: 2 nights lodging, 2 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 1 afternoon tea, 2 light dinners and teacher fee – $325 per person, double occupancy or $400 single.

Space is limited. Register at 802-877-3337

Women and War


It didn’t take long for Jenny McClendon, a sonar operator in the Navy, to experience sexual harassment when she joined the military in 1997. Immediately subjected to verbal attacks by her male counterparts, when she refused sexual advances, she was told she wasn’t “tough enough to be in the military.” Finally she complained to superiors who said that being harassed was part of training. An enlisted officer called her “a lesbian, a feminist, and a Democrat” and said she should be thrown overboard.

McClendon’s experience is not unusual. The kind of abuse she describes is widely, and probably under-reported by female veterans. It gets worse. McClendon was raped by a superior while on watch aboard her ship one night. It was the first of two rapes, or “military sexual trauma” (MST), she suffered while in the service.

When she reported the rape, McClendon was accused of lying and told to “shut up” about the incident. That’s when she “began to lose it and to come apart as a person.” Back in Norfolk, Va., forced to leave her ship and attend anger management counseling, she was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) on the basis of one fifteen minute assessment. Later, when she asked for a woman therapist, she was told to stop resisting treatment.

Approximately 15 percent of soldiers and marines serving in America’s armed forces are women. More than 282,000 of them have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan during a decade of war. Twenty percent of the women who’ve returned home have been identified by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs as having experienced MST, and 80 percent have reported sexual harassment. Those figures are likely low. In 2011 alone nearly 3200 cases of MST were reported. Experts estimate that given the large number of unreported cases, the number is probably closer to 19,000.

From 2000 to 2010 more than 31,000 veterans were discharged with a diagnosis of “personality disorder.” Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine and now executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), told CNN that she sees “a pattern of the military using psychiatric diagnoses to get rid of women who report sexual assaults.” A diagnosis of BPD, described as a long-standing, inflexible pattern of maladaptive behavior, is considered a pre-existing condition, not a service-related disability. That means the military can dismiss rather than treat vets. According to military records obtained by Yale Law School, the diagnosis of personality disorder is used disproportionately on women.

The betrayal is profound, says Mary Ellen Salzano, mother of a Marine and founder of a statewide collaborative for military families in California. “The first thing you learn in the military is ‘I don’t need help,’” she says. “So when a soldier or Marine asks for help themselves they are revealing a vulnerability that it is hard to acknowledge. And if they can’t trust their own to help them they suffer ‘institutional trauma.’ They feel crushed.”

Salzano adds that sexuality and spirituality are not discussed during military service or after arriving home. “So if you come home with no sex drive or a genital injury, post-traumatic stress, or a traumatic brain injury that affects both your sexuality and your capacity for intimacy, who do you turn to for help?”

Women are particularly confused by expectations on returning home. “How can you behave lovingly with your kids when you’ve had to push kids off your Humvee and watch them be run over because they could be the enemy?” Salvano asks rhetorically. “Riddled with guilt and shame, how do you get to the point of forgiving yourself so that you can begin to heal?”

Paula J. Caplan, a research psychologist, addresses many of these issues in her 2011 book, When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home: How All of Us Can Help Veterans. She points out, for example, that women vets often experience complex states of anxiety “because striving to act in traditionally masculine ways in order to prove they deserve to be in the military can conflict with any wish they have to act in traditionally feminine ways.”

Kari Granger, formerly in the Air Force and now a consultant with Sunergos, a global performance and leadership development firm, understood these issues and wanted to do something to support returning women vets. With three other former military women, she developed a program called “Leading with Resiliency and Grace” which supports military women as they envision a meaningful future and helps them “bring their full capacity to whatever they are dealing with in the present.”

Other women are also helping returning female vets. New York filmmakers Marcia Rock and Patricia Stotter produced a multi-platform documentary, Service: When Women Come Marching Home that offers an intimate view of women vets returning home through narratives shared in their own words. In a legislative attempt to help all vets traumatized by MST, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) has introduced legislation designed to combat sexual assault in the military.

“As increasing numbers of women join the military and enter combat zones, the sexism that pervades our entire society helps shape what happens to them,” Paula Caplan says. The Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Defense are beginning to realize the extent of this reality and seem poised to take steps to address the complex needs of military women and women veterans. But much work remains. The bulk of it, it seems, will fall to grassroots women’s organizations and individuals who understand the experience of “Janes” who come marching home.



Natalie Baker fell in love with her husband Barnard when she was 20. He was a “laid back, affectionate, down-to-earth guy.” she recalls. Both looked forward to a happy life together. Little did they realize how much the war in Iraq would affect their dreams.

Barnard joined the Army and their first daughter was born in 2003. A year later, he was in Iraq under frequent mortar attacks, some of which killed or maimed fellow soldiers. He came home in 2005 a changed man. He sleep-walked, had nightmares and suffered pounding headaches. At the VA hospital they said his symptoms would disappear. He was honorably discharge in 2006.

Barnard then worked as a contract security guard overseas but had to return home because of continuing symptoms including insomnia and memory problems. He was irritable and felt “off balance.” He and Natalie began arguing. “I cried all the time because I didn’t know what to do or say,” she recalls.

The VA hospital staff identified an “adjustment disorder, depression and anxiety.” Bernard received a diagnosis of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and filed a VA compensation claim. He was deemed eligible for 60 percent disability pay. Natalie researched everything from TBI to Social Security disability while Barnard worried about how to support his family. He returned overseas to work and for a time things got better. There were visits home, a second daughter was born, and the family purchased a condo in Tacoma, WA.

But soon Bernard’s symptoms worsened. “I realized how much he had changed,” Natalie says. “He ignored the kids and became irritable with our daughter when he couldn’t understand a simple paragraph or do a third grade math problem. His personal hygiene deteriorated. His sleep became erratic.” When Natalie tried to discuss the situation Bernard “exploded in rage.”

Natalie was at a breaking point. “I was becoming this person I didn’t like. It wasn’t good for the kids.” The VA was little help. As Natalie puts it, “The doctors were making Barnard even angrier because he had this disability that was invisible but was killing him inside.” Barnard told Natalie he considered suicide because he felt so worthless.

Barnard was admitted to a psychiatric hospital where he was diagnosed with TBI and PTSD. Later a diagnosis of vestibular migraine was added. Medication didn’t help. Natalie felt frightened and depressed. “I asked myself, Why me? I don’t want to be here. I want to run away. But then I thought about Barnard. He didn’t ask to be this way. It wasn’t his fault he has this horrible disability. Now I feel sad for him. I wish I could take it all away and he could be that charming, sweet, loving person I met all those years ago.”

Because Natalie is Barnard’s caregiver, she is unable to work outside the home. She and Barnard continue seeking full disability benefits. Recently, Natalie began receiving some health benefits from the VA as a caregiver. But soon the family may have to relinquish their condo.

Natalie has recently joined a weekly group of wounded warrior wives like herself. “I feel very comfortable talking to other spouses who are going through the same thing,” she says, “but I don’t wish this pain or hardship on anyone.”

Natalie Baker is calm, competent, and loving as she cares for her husband and children. She continues learning about his condition and lobbying for her family’s needs. Unlike many other wounded warrior wives, she has not sought divorce. But the strains of the situation are evident. “I sometimes feel resentful,” she admits. “I know I shouldn’t but I do. This isn’t what I expected my life to be. … I think it is normal to feel this way sometimes, but I know I am not going to give up on my husband because he means the world to me, as well as my two daughters. We’ve always believed that love is faith and faith is forever.”

Like many other military spouses Natalie has found support through Wounded Warrior Wives (WWW), a national network created in 2007 by Operation Homefront, an organization supporting military families in 27 states with loved ones who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

WWW seeks to “honor the service and sacrifice of the women who care for our nation’s wounded, ill or injured warriors [and to] support these women in their own journey of healing.” It provides social connections to other women in similar situations, online and at retreats. “All the women in the program are truly inspirational,” says WWW Director Sara Boz. “They’re some of the strongest women I’ve ever met.”

Wounded warrior wives who attend retreats have strong responses. “I changed my life sentence for myself,” said one woman. “I’m not alone anymore. I believe in myself,” another one declared. Linda Mendenhall, whose husband was a first responder at the World Trace Center on 9-11 and then deployed to Iraq says WWW saved her life.
Perhaps she best expresses the experience of being a wounded warrior wife: “If you haven’t lived it, you don’t understand. These women deserve support from the entire nation.”

An Armchair Journey to Turkey & Jordan

Arrival – Istanbul

We arrive Istanbul Airport at 6:00 p.m. aboard Turkish Airlines (which has granted our wish for bulkhead seats, proving a boon to our 12-hr. flight). Having chatted with a Turkish woman and her American husband aboard the flight, we are whisked through Immigration as her “guests” saving us standing in long lines. We change money and grab a cab to head to the apt. we will be occupying on the Asian side of Istanbul, courtesy of my Turkish friend Tulin’s connections.

The driver soon realizes that in Istanbul’s always terrible traffic it would take us at least four hours to get to the apartment by car so he calls our host family who agree that he would be wise to drop us at the ferry to cross the Bosphorus; we can catch another cab on the other side. So off we go, schlepping too much luggage, to figure out how to buy the jeton (tokens) that will allow us onboard the large ferry along with masses of others trying to squeeze over the plank. We make it, hail another cab, and arrive at our apartment at 10:00 p.m. There we meet Pelin, daughter of Tulin’s best friend, who cheerfully takes us to her mother’s large, modern, vacant 9th floor apartment overlooking the Bosphorus where we will spend the next five nights.

Day One – Buyukada Island

In the morning, armed with a map and Pelin’s instructions, we stop at a café for coffee before boarding a Dolmus (pronounced ‘dulmush’) – a kind of Jitney van that stops along the way collecting and dispersing passengers for $1.50 a ride. At the marina, we board a ferry bound for Buyukada, largest of the three Princess Islands near Istanbul.

On board we befriend three energetic, stylish Turkish women my age who are off for a day’s outing. One of them is an ‘Advocat’ (lawyer) specializing in women’s rights so within minutes we are a high-fiving sisterhood! We take pictures, make ourselves understood in French (they don’t speak English, we don’t speak Turkish) and have a gay old time during the ride.

The view from Buyakada

The island is a peaceful if somewhat touristy place to which many locals escape when the madness of Istanbul is more than they can bear. Noted for its horse-drawn carriages, its mountaintop monastery, its colonial architecture and the fact that Leon Trotsky lived there while in exile it is a charming place to spend an afternoon, especially if you crave some of Istanbul’s noted seafood. We quickly find an appealing restaurant at the marina and feast on mezze (Turkish appetizers, like Tapas) and Palmut fish (recommended by our ferry friends) before setting off to find Trotsky’s house (now an apartment building) and taking a carriage ride to the Monastery, which it turns out, sits atop a high hill too foreboding to climb. We return to the main square where I buy a lovely necklace from a street vendor ( $7) and board the ferry to return home. That evening we have a happy informal dinner at Pelin and Mehmet’s apartment on the first floor of “our” building. We’re joined by Pelin’s brother, his wife, mother-in-law, and young baby daughter along with Pelin’s and Mehmet’s two adorable daughters, Melis and Ekin, ages 3 and 6. The festive, chaotic family atmosphere is a special treat and by the end of the evening we feel like Turkish mishpooka (Yiddish: family) ourselves!

Melis, Ekin and their little cousin

Day Two – Istanbul’s Mosques and Main Sights

Again we hail a Dolmus for the ferry marina. The half hour trip across the Bosphorus is a special treat; the cool breeze is welcome and so is the magnificent view of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia as we near the bustling European side of the Bosphorus near Galata Bridge where street vendors sell everything from roasted nuts, simit (Turkish bagels) and cold drinks to trinkets and tours. Called Eminou, this is the heart of the old city of Istanbul; from here you can walk to the Spice market, the Grand Bazaar – oldest and largest indoor bazaar in the world with 60 streets and over 3000 shops – the famous mosques, the Roman cistern, and Topkapi Palace. It teems with people at every hour, ferries ply the Bosphorus like water bugs moving purposefully to and fro, men fish off the bridge, endless restaurants line the lower quay.

Mosque landscape from the Bosphorus ferry

We make for the Spice Market first where we buy a few souvenirs, then head to the Grand Bazaar where we add to the Turkish economy by way of a Kilim rug purchase for my office (which I bargain well for). Then, after a lovely lunch of lamb stew, we visit the famous 17th C. Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, constructed by Emperor Justinian in 537 and now a museum, both so extraordinary in their dimensions, history and art. At the Spice Market

Tired by then, we head back to Bostanci (our lovely, quite upscale neighborhood which some compare to Paris). A quick stop at Migros, Turkey’s national food market, and we’re home for the evening with cheese, salami, bread, salad, olives, of course and wine for supper just as the city’s lights are coming on.

Day Three – A Bosphorus Boat Trip and Topkapi Palace

We do the Dolmus/Ferry routine and board a boat at Eminou for a two-hour trip up the Bosphorus and back. It’s a lovely journey on which we see old mansions, a naval academy, a historic fort, Istanbul’s two major modern bridges, the inviting Ortokoy waterfront with its five-star hotels, old mosque, and more. When we return we head for the famous Fish Market where we avoid the plethora of tourist restaurants on Kumkapi and lunch on gorgeous sea bass at the one waterfront market/restaurant which does not hassle us to eat there. Then we’re off to Topkapi Palace and its huge complex of buildings, only a few of which we visit. Topkapi, built in the 15th C., was the official headquarters of the Ottoman for almost 380 years until that distinction diverted to Dolmabachc Palace, which we pass daily on our ferry excursions.

Topkapi Tiles

We have dinner out with Pelin and Mehmet overlooking the Bosphorus, once again gorging ourselves on mezze and fresh seafood washed down by excellent white wine, and call it a day.

Day Four – More of Istanbul, Then and Now

Today it’s Suliman the Magnificent Mosque. On our way there, we make a serendipitous stop in a local neighborhood where people are busy doing their weekend shopping. There are stalls selling wooden items like carving boards and rolling pins, others with copious kitchen wares, still others with clothing and cloth, hammocks, trinkets for tourists who happen this way, and more. We stop for coffee but watching the small outdoor café owner making pide we can’t resist. That’s when we realize how much we love the thin crusted, beautifully seasoned version of pizza found throughout Turkey. It is an often to be repeated treat.

Making Pide

After visiting the mosque noted for its size/dimensions and domed centerpiece, we take a tram and then an underground funicular to Karim Square, heart of the artistic Beyoglu neighborhood of Istanbul noted for the Galata Tower (originally a prison) as well as a museum explaining the religious group famed for Whirling Dervishes started by the poet Rumi. In the square we enjoy an Efes beer and a fabulous Gyro bought from one of the many street vendors. It’s amazing to watch how they roast the lamb or chicken on a spit, continually shaving off the cooked outer layer. Then we board the old trolley that plies the main walking/shopping street and head for the Petras Palace Hotel, a landmark 5-Star Old World hostel famous as the end point frequented by passengers disembarking from the Orient Express, including famous writers like Agatha Christie. Her room was once open to visitors upon request so I pull out my press card, but alas the room is now rented like any ordinary room so I settle for an expensive pastry in the hotel’s notable tea room before we head home for another picnic dinner accompanied by very decent Turkish wine. We watch Aljazeera News before falling, exhausted again, into bed.

Days Five to Seven – Bergama and Kusadasi

Mehmet has kindly booked us a better rental car with his corporate discount (a blessing we quickly appreciate as our travels proceed) so after farewell hugs we make our way to the ferry that will cross the Marmara Sea and set us on our path to Tulin’s apartment in Kusadasi.

Our first stop is a small town where we discover a great little café for a lunch of home-cooked eggplant mousaka with thick yoghurt; it quickly becomes one of my favorite Turkish meals. No one in the restaurant, or the town as it turns out, speaks a word of English and we are something of a curiosity but we get along fine – until we try to buy a SIM card for my Thai cell phone which works here. (Only later after running out of minutes after three local calls do we realize that our calls are being routed via Thailand!) In the Turkcel office (Turkcel is the largest cell phone carrier in Turkey) our passports are perused with the utmost scrutiny, each and every visa entry a curiosity. Then I am asked the names of my mother and father. I try to explain that they are dead so in this context irrelevant but they persist so I say “Rebecca” and “Jacob” and this satisfies them. (I suspect I could have said Mata Hari and Santa Claus, rules are rules.) We have our SIM card, useless though it proves to be.

We stop for the night in Bergama, a lovely little town also called Pergamum, which was once a major power in the world both B.C. and A.D. It’s most dramatic remains are at the Acropolis that sits atop an impressive hill reached by car or by gondola (we drive up). There are temple and theater remnants and the ruins of a famous library which rivaled that of Alexandria, Egypt. When the Egyptians denied papyrus to Pergamum the locals developed parchment and were the first to bind books as we do today. In 41 B.C. Mark Anthony had the Pergamum library transported to Alexandria as a gift for Cleopatra and sadly, it was destroyed later by a fanatical ruler who thought the books un-Islamic.

We stay in a lovely boutique hotel, Les Pergamon, a lovingly restored former school and in the morning make for Kusadasi. Tulin’s directions leave a bit to be desired – a running joke now – but we manage to find her apartment complex and she greets us with a broad grin as we arrive. Kusadasi is an inviting beach destination on the Aegean and Tulin’s apartment has a delicious view of the sea just below her 3rd floor apt. We catch up on her patio and await the arrival of our old friend Yavuz and his wife Aythen who arrive at their nearby hotel from Bursa shortly after we do. We walk to the hotel and there, after 47 years, are reunited. (Yavuz and I first met in Europe while traveling in the summer of 1965; we then reconnected when he and Tulin were students at the University of Washington in Seattle.) I find him virtually unchanged and he says the same of me. We have cocktails at the hotel and then return to Tulin’s for dinner.

In the morning we pile into Yavuz’s SUV and head for nearby Ephesus, one of the must-see sights in Turkey. “City of the Gods,” it is a sight to behold. As Fodor’s guide puts it, “One would think that the greatest Roman ruins are to be found in Italy. Not so fast! With an ancient arena that dwarfs the one in Pompei, and a lofty library that rivals any structure in the Roman Forum, Ephesus – once the most important Greco-Roman city of the Eastern Mediterranean – is among the best preserved ancient sites in the world.” Here, shrines honor the goddess of fertility, St. Paul and Alexander the Great wandered the streets, and, if the legend is true, the Virgin Mary lived her last days. Filled with temples, theaters, shops and homes, a stadium and more, Ephesus also boasted what must have been its own Rodeo Drive with mosaic sidewalks, along with a brothel and western-style group toilets! Even for those of us who find ancient ruins a bit of a trial, it being impossible to wrap our brains around such antiquity, Ephesus is one Wow place.

Just one Ephesus marvel

We make a quick visit to the house of the Virgin Mary, who is said to have come there with St. John, then make for the village of Sirince, which is becoming noted for its wine and fine handicrafts. We buy a unique cloth beautifully embroidered with thin ribbons for a ridiculous $12 and then take Fodor’s advice, lunching at the Arsipel Restaurant. The meal is stunningly good; probably the best we had anywhere in Turkey, and the ambience on the terraced veranda is perfect. A wonderful end to a terrific few days with old friends who promise to let us reciprocate their hospitality next year in the U.S.

Day Eight – Bodrum

Bodrum is a beach town and we are ready for a rest. We find our way to the marina and the Otel Albatros, a small, friendly place, where we have a long rest before venturing out for seafood dinner. Bohemian artists, writers and painters put this place on the map in the 1960s and now it is a typically bustling tourist town. It would have been nice to spend time in some of the smaller towns and villages on the peninsula it dominates, and to have had real beach time on the Mediterranean “Turquoise Riviera,” but alas, we have not planned for that so the next day we push on to Pamukkale.

Day Nine – Pamukkale

The topography of Turkey as we drive around reminds me a bit of Spain. It is, at least in this October season, brown and dry, with low-lying and higher mountains surrounding vast landscapes of valley and plain. The vistas are impressively huge, and one gets a sense of how big a country Turkey is. The mountains are for the most part barren with only a few of them sprouting bursts of green shrub, so that it looks like an epidemic of alopecia has taken over the countryside. Happily the roads are good (and seemingly under constant improvement or repair) and we are able to drive on average five hours a day. (Our Ford has six gears and behaves admirably.) Sometimes we come upon one of Turkey’s huge cities in the distance and their size, sprawl and density amaze me. Places like Izmir, Ankara, Bursa, Konya, and of course Istanbul creep up and down every hill and mountainside in breathtaking conquest. Arnold says it is the wide vistas that render them so awesome. Whatever, I am stunned by their size and very glad I don’t live in one of them.

Approaching Pamukkale, we stop for a buffet lunch at a tourist restaurant at the entrance to town, then avoiding the hawkers, look for a place to spend the night. We are delighted to find the Melrose House Hotel, a small family run place that offers the traditional Turkish hospitality we have come to enjoy wherever we’ve been. Checked into our comfortable room, we make for the famed crystallized terrines – turquoise pools of mineral-rich volcanic spring water that formed over time by cascading over basins and natural terraces. Chalky white solidified cliffs look like white curtains flowing down into the town 330 feet below. There are 17 hot springs at Pamukkale; visitors come to cure a variety of ailments. I dip my feet; it is lovely and inviting.

Pamakkale Pools

We return to Melrose House for a home-cooked meal on the open air terrace by the pool and retire early. These days of long driving and lots of sights are tiring!

Days Ten & Eleven – Onward

Today, on the recommendation of our hosts at Melrose House, we stop to eat lunch at the lake town of Egirdir, specifically on a little island in the lake called Ada which is reached by a short causeway. But first, we visit the bustling local market. There are no signs of trinkets for tourists; this is a real market where people come to buy what they need. To that end, Arnold purchases a beautiful leather belt for $5 and I buy an Evil Eye keychain for 60 cents. But the real treat is meandering around the foods and spices on offer. Huge rounds of various cheeses line one stall, in another more varieties of olives than we’ve ever seen in our lives are on display. (The merchant gives us lots to taste.) There are women in hijab selling fruits and vegetables, meat and seafood, spices and sweets (including Turkish Delight), and more. There are baby chicks died blue, green, and red for sale, presumably to the delight of children. There are cloth and clothing stalls, kitchen wares, drug store items. It is, like all wonderful local markets, colorful, loud, crowded, and great fun.

Olives, olives and more olives!

When we’ve had enough we head for Ada and find a nice open-air restaurant by the lake that appears to cater to locals. The young waiter seems never to have talked to a foreigner; when we ask for mezze he doesn’t understand. We repeat the word in various iterations and finally he nods his head vigorously, but no mezze appears. So we order fresh lake bass, delicately breaded and fried w/lemon. Afterward, we ask for fruit, produce in Turkey being amazingly big, fresh, and tasty. “Do you have peaches?” I ask. A shake of the head in the negative. “Bananas?” The mezze-grin reappears and a shake of the head is affirmative. Then out comes a plentiful plate of peaches, oranges and grapes, but alas, no bananas!

Driving on we reach the small city of Beysehir, a regional capital and site of another lake which is smaller and less attractive but still quite nice. Here we find the Ali Bilir Otel, a minimalist 3-star hotel with a friendly staff. The room is clean with a lake view and there is a roof restaurant with an even better view where we have our dinner.

In the morning we drive on, lunching at a pleasant roadside restaurant. The young waiter has been to Holland and having taken a liking to us, shares some of his treasured Dutch coffee. We chat and eventually end up playing the age game. I guess him right at 25. Then I ask him how old he thinks I am. “Fifty, maybe 52,” he says. When I tell him that I will soon be 70, he makes my day: Drop-jawed and with a stunned look on his face, he says, “Are you sure?”

That evening we arrive in Cappadocia (Kapadokya) and easily find the hotel we have booked online in the town of Goreme. The Stone House Cave Hotel is sheer delight, and although we don’t have a cave room, we are upgraded to a family suite by the charming staff, young men who are all related and wonderfully friendly and gracious. We book the touristy dinner show, mainly to see the Whirling Dervishes, and walk around the town.

Goreme is definitely the place to stay in Cappadocia. Smaller and more colloquial than the other “base” towns, it is quaint and inviting, despite all the catering for tourists, and sits in the heart of the Goreme Valley where all the best sights are to be found. There are interesting shops selling old rugs, jewelry, souvenirs, and antiques (we buy a big brass key that once opened the door of a cave dwelling and pay far too much for it because in my enthusiasm I forget to bargain.) There are good restaurants and numerous hotels, all of which have the word “cave” in them. At night, curtains of little lights glitter festively over a small gulley of flowing water that runs along the main thoroughfare. From our room we can hear the clip-clop of horse-drawn buggies.

A taste of Cappadocia landscape

Days 12 – 13 Cappadocia

Cappadocia is a triangle of land with one of the most unusual natural landscapes in the world. It was formed by three volcanoes that erupted more than 10 million years ago. Over time the detritus of these explosions cooled and compressed to form soft, porous rocks easily worn by erosion so that they are ever changing. Valleys and rock ridges were gradually formed, shaped yet again by wind into “pinnacles, pillars, cones and mounds.” (Fodor) Some of the pillars have basalt rock formations on top that look like hats. Early Christians in the region dubbed these particular formations “fairy chimneys” because the found the place so magical they believed only fairies could have made it.

These early Christians followed many others who had lived in Cappadocia since 1800 B.C., including Romans. The Christians found the rock caves in the region a good place to hide from Arab persecution. The caves also provided a place to live and one of the most amazing sites to visit here is the Underground City (one of about 40 such cities but the only one open to visitors), reminiscent of the Cu Chi Tunnels of Vietnam. Here, thousands of people lived on multiple stories underground. Replete with all the elements necessary for daily life it is an unbelievable warren of passageways, living spaces, religious practice sites, animal shelters, tombs and more. Cappadocia is also home to copious Christian churches, mainly built into caves between the 10th and 12th centuries and decorated with now faded frescoes.

We take the Red Tour on the first day which takes us to a cave castle, and then to the Open Air Museum, a place of many Byzantine Orthodox churches carved into the rocks. We stop at various view points for spectacular photo opps, visit a pottery factory in the nearby town of Avanos, stop in Urgup to see the three iconic fairy chimneys that appear in all of Cappadocia’s PR, and conclude with the requisite visit to a carpet factory. In the evening our genial host and hotel owner, a handsome man in his mid-30s, drives us to the top of a nearby hill to show us the night view of Goreme and the fairy land becomes a valley of sparkling lights and silhouetted pillars of rock. “I love this place!” our host exclaims, and the joy of it is written upon his face.

Fairy Chimneys

The next day we take the Green Tour and are treated (in addition to the Underground City) to a 2-mile hike in the Ihiara Valley, the largest, deepest and longest canyon in Cappadocia. (It’s no Grand Canyon but it’s pretty). Along the way we stop at a floating tea house, then upon emerging have lunch at a riverside restaurant in Belisima. We then continue to Selime where some parts of Star Wars were filmed. In Pigeon Valley we take yet more pictures, then conclude with a visit to an onyx factory.

Upon returning to our hotel we are introduced to new guests, two young couples, one Turkish, the other their American friends who are on their honeymoon. Our handsome hotel owner decides we should all return to the hilltop for a sunset view of Goreme, after which we visit a local winery for a tasting. Then we eat dinner with the two young couples at My Mother’s Café. About the only thing we have not done here on the Must Experience list is ballooning over the landscape at five in the morning. It’s expensive and for someone with touches of acrophobia and claustrophobia easily, if sadly, missed. But what a spectacular place Cappadocia is!

Day 14 – Heading Back to Istanbul

We drive a long way today in order to get beyond Ankara, only stopping for lunch at Turkey’s answer to Howard Johnson’s. Reaching the town of Duzce at dusk, we find a strange, dark but acceptable hotel where, it appears, the guys on the desk, who turn out to be brothers, have never seen a foreign passport before. They have no idea what they are supposed to be recording from it, and consult each other somberly. Neither of them understands a word of English (and why should they? My Turkish is limited to about five words.) So when we ask for glasses for the room it becomes a game of charades until I finally draw two cups on a piece of paper. “Chai?” they ask. “Coffee?” No, just the containers, lutfen (please)! This leads to us being invited into the restaurant cupboard where we are invited to help ourselves.

The next challenge comes when we try to use the phone card we have bought. One of the brothers calls a friend who arrives sweaty and panting having raced to the rescue. But he doesn’t know how to use it either, so he calls another friend who “speak English.” Soon we have a cadre of young dudes arriving to try and help – to no avail. There is a phone store adjacent to the hotel so we go there, but no one knows how to use the card there either. Eventually the gaggle of young, tech-hungry do-gooders arrives at a consensus: “Not possible call America from here!” So we give it up and in the nearby grocery store buy fruit, bread and cheese to go with the excellent wine we have fortuitously brought from Cappadocia and go to our barren, dimly lit room for a picnic dinner, having raided the kitchen cupboard for dishes and cutlery.

Day 15 – Preparing to move on

Initially we think of making for the Black Sea for our last night before going to Jordan, but the traffic within 30 miles of Istanbul is horrendous, the road signs we need do not appear, and for the first time in our trip it is raining. Having decided to stay at the airport hotel rather than in town because the added expense will probably still be cheaper than taking cabs, we check into the TAV Airport Hotel at Ataturk Airport. The friendly desk clerk upgrades us to a deluxe room since we will be spending the better part of two days there (we’ve arrived early and our flight to Jordan the next day leaves late). Lucky for us since the allergy cold I developed in Cappadocia has morphed into a full-blown head cold and I take to the comfy bed, TV clicker in hand (finally, BBC!) not to rise again till the following day.

Amman and Petra

We arrive in Amman at 10:00 p.m. and are met as promised by Abu Rashad who will be our driver in Amman, thanks to my friend Mona with whom we will stay for two nights. Her apartment is lovely and large, the lights of Jerusalem sparkling from the terrace!
In the morning Abu Rashad picks us up at 8.30 for our tour of Amman and environs. We start at the Citadel, site of ancient ruins in the heart of the city. Originally the acropolis of the Roman city, the ruins are splendid. Here stood the Temple of Hercules, built in honor of Marcus Aurelius (161 – 180), for example. The restored amphitheater still hosts performances. And an excellent small archeological museum showcases artifacts from the Neolithic Age to the Ottoman Empire.

Driving by the landmark King’s Mosque (akin to our White House for royal photo opps), the blue-domed Mosque of Malik Abdallah, and the Palace, we make for the souk (market) area where Abu Rashad treats us to grapes and figs as well as konafi, a sweet treat made of white cheese wrapped in crusted herbs and fried – the street is lined with people eating it! We miss the remarkable Roman city of Jerash for lack of time, but we make for Madaba, an ancient city referenced in the Bible. Most notable for its Christian era under Byzantine rule, it became notable for its mosaic work. In the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, for example, the remains of a geographic map of Palestine are to be found on the floor, a remarkable remnant of a guide for pilgrims making their way to the Holy Land. Other mosaics are positively stunning in their complexity, size, and execution.
Mt. Nebo is our next stop. According to the Bible, this is where God told Moses to ascend the mountain in order to see the Promised Land before he died, and here he is buried. Several new churches, and remnants of older ones, with astounding mosaics, can be seen as well. We also stop at the Jordan River where only a few feet away, while we view it from Jordan, others are seeing it from the West Bank occupied by Israel.

Ancient Mosaic Map

Exhausted from the intense heat, we return home, grab a cup of tea and a shower, and head to Mona’s friends downstairs who are giving her a birthday dinner before she returns to the US for a month on home leave. It has been a fine, fast view of Amman!

Next morning Abu Rashad delivers us to the bus station for the daily 6:30 a.m trip to Petra. The trip takes 3.5 hours and we arrive at the Amra Palace Hotel in time for a fabulous lamb lunch (how do they make such magic with goat yoghurt?) at a local restaurant before buying our entry tickets to the ancient site.

We opt to ride through the Siq – the narrow, cavernous rock entrance to the old city – in a horse-drawn buggy, even though walking would be better, because the Siq is over half a mile long and there will be much walking to be done once inside. It is not hyperbole to say of Petra, as the book Art and History of Jordan does, that “there are few places in the world…whose impact on the visitor can be compared to the emotions aroused when, after rounding a bend in the narrow gorge called the Siq, he [sic] finds himself face to face with the tall façade of the “Treasury,” Petra’s most iconic monument. The only place that has ever awed me in a comparable way is St. Marco Square in Venice, and even then it’s an inadequate comparison. The splendor and size of this ancient building carved so artfully into the red rock ages ago leaves one breathless. It is, in a word, awesome. So are the other buildings and sites one sees moving into the city, most notably the Palace Tomb and the Deir, or Monastery. To use today’s vernacular, it is simply mind-boggling to see this vast, magnificent place! It is also exhausting, so we opt to take up the offer of a friendly, strong Bedouin guide who hoists us onto donkeys and leads us to some of the places on higher elevations that we would have missed had we had to hike to them. (“I’m so heavy!” I apologize. “Not a problem, Madam. I am very strong,” he replies.) Petra Marvel

Along the way, we stop in some of the ubiquitous tea and souvenir shops (one of which is owned by Marguerite, the New Zealander who married a Bedouin in the 1970s, wrote the book “Married to a Bedouin,” and still makes her home here for a good part of the year.) We are struck by the grace and hospitality of everyone; no one pushes their wares on us. Rather, we are offered tea, and when we decline to buy anything, they say, “You are welcome here.” At one stop, I sit on a shaded rug and have tea with a woman selling the jewelry she has crafted. At another, I visit with a young mother, an artisan, and her baby. There is peacefulness about these women, just as there is palpable intelligence and sensitivity in our guide.

Tea with a Bedouin

The next morning we take a taxi to visit Little Petra nearby, a miniature version of Petra, then return to town for lunch where I buy a silver bracelet I’ve had my eye on. We rest before taking the 5:00 p.m. bus back to Amman. Upon our return at 8.30, we are met by Abu Rashad’s colleague who delivers us to the Crystal Hotel for our last night in Jordan, which turns out to have its own treat in store.

In Little Petra

Walking out to find a restaurant, we come upon a large, obviously upscale, authentic and inviting Middle Eastern venue where we have a splendid meal, inspired we are told by Syrian cuisine. The whole thing is a lesson in Middle East cultures. At one table a large family is celebrating something, all but one of the women wearing tasteful hijab around their beautifully made up faces; at another a young couple with a baby enjoy a meal; nearby five men in Arab head wraps and traditional white dress dine. Near them, in a corner, sit five women completely covered by black chadors. We marvel that they are out on their own, and then the waiter surrounds them with lattice screens and I get it: They are the wives of the five men and the men have asked the waiters to sequester them, perhaps because another group of westernized men is seated within view. I cannot help but wonder how women live like this!

Towards the end of our meal, a little girl who is part of what we now see is a birthday party, begins flirting with us, dancing ever closer to our table. We talk to her, admire her dress and headband, smiling at the adults at the table. Suddenly, when her grandmother’s sparkler-adorned birthday cake is delivered and Happy Birthday has been sung to her in English, we are presented with pieces of cake too! As we are leaving, we go to the table to offer thanks and birthday wishes, and the next thing you know, we are part of the party of this lovely, modern Jordanian family whose daughter lives in the American south with her physician husband and young baby!

At five o’clock the next morning Abu Rashad appears at the hotel to drive us to the airport for our flight back to Istanbul and the TAV Airport Hotel where we are welcomed like family and again upgraded. We rest, eat lunch overlooking the airport tarmac, and head downtown to Istanbul via Metro for our swan song, a visit to Yerebatan Cistern built by Justinian I, the Emperor of Byzantine, in 532 in order to meet the need for water in the city. This vast underground water storage facility is an engineering marvel and a beautiful sight. It boasts 336 columns, each over 26 ft. high. Walkways and subtle lighting allow visitors to make their way through the site among the sounds of dripping water and soft music as fish swim in the shallow water. (It wasn’t always shallow. Before the 1987 restoration the cistern could only be viewed by boat. In fact, James Bond rowed through it in From Russia with Love!)

We know how he feels!

We have dinner at the excellent Adonin, one of the many restaurants near the cistern and other famous sites, before returning to the hotel by Metro and doing our final packing. Luckily I have gone online to book our seats for the return flight to JFK only to see that our departure time has been moved up from 1:00 p.m. to 11.30 a.m.! Once again we are able to get the emergency row seats for the 10 hour flight to New York.

We arrive at JFK at 2:45 p.m., suffer an interminable wait at the baggage carousel, clear immigration, and head to the rental car agency, where we are given a true dud of a vehicle. We limp home arriving at 9:00 pm after more than 15 hours of travel, grab a bite, and fall into bed. I awake with a respiratory infection and a parasite, but the car fees are cancelled, the pictures are good, and it’s been a magnificent trip. Maybe some day we’ll get to return to these places of antiquity, kindness, and beauty. Inshallah!