Thursday, January 28, 2010

Back in Metz for a Short While

A plane, a train, two shuttles, and a taxi were my methods of conveyance back to Metz from Delhi. I arrived at our apartment about 12:45 this afternoon after staying overnight at an airport hotel near the Charles de Gaulle airport. I've unpacked, washed clothes, and will begin to catch up on email messages until I go out to dinner with Jean and Henry. Outside errands tomorrow and then off to Paris on Saturday to take the Eurostar to London to visit Katie and Ross!

R&R at the Roosevelt House at the U.S. Embassy

A great way to end a trip like this is to take a few days to rest and relax. And I did so in Delhi with my friends Tim and Sally Roemer. Tim is the U.S. Ambassador to India and he, Sally, their four kids and their dog have settled in at Roosevelt House, the Embassy Residence. Built in the 1960s by the designer of the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, Roosevelt House has been updated a bit in the past six months to accommodate a family of six. Mr. Khan and 21 other people maintain the Residence, and I very much enjoyed the service they provided - feeding and driving us around as well as washing a load of dirty clothes!

Sally and I took walks with the dog in Nehru Park, talked ourselves through a yoga routine, and caught up on our lives. We enjoyed my last shopping opportunity at Dilli Haat, a wonderful crafts bazaar with beautiful handicrafts and jewelry, where we perfected the fine art of walking away from vendors to get a better price!

Tuesday, January 26 was Republic Day in India, and we spent it sleeping in, taking a walk and seeing many families enjoying their day off in Nehru Park. At lunch, Tim told us of his experience that morning when he had taken a run back from the Recreation Center in the compound, ventured into the street between security gates and was subsequently chased by his security detail in their jeep! In the afternoon, we walked around the grounds of Roosevelt House, checking out the vegetable garden that is the source for the soups and salads that we ate. We climbed on the roof of Roosevelt House and took in the view of the Chancery and gardens.

Johnny, Sally's driver, took me to the airport to catch my flight back to Paris on the 27th, and the airport was quite a scene. The fog was so heavy that no flights had taken off or landed during the night. Ergo, there was a massive backup of planes. I boarded my Air India flight, got settled, and heard the pilot announce that we were...56th in line for take off! Fortunately, the flight was delayed for only 90 minutes and we made some of the time up on the way to Paris.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Taj Mahal

A Room with a View

The Taj Mahal from my hotel room.

A Tour of Old Agra

Taken to Old Agra in horse-drawn carriages, we witnessed the business of the markets and architectural details in the narrow alleys.

Details of Akbar the Great's Fatehpur Sikri

A UNESCO World Heritage site south of Agra, Fetehpur Sikri (built in 1571) is regarded as Akbar's crowning architectural legacy. Akbar was the grandfather of Shah Jahan, who had the Taj Mahal built in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

Visit to a Sikh Temple - Bangla Sahib Gurudwara

Media Update

Delhi's Red Fort

Upon our arrival in Delhi on the 19th, we had lunch and made our way to the Red Fort, a complex built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the walled city of Old Delhi. It served as the capital of the Mughals until 1857, when the British took it over until independence in 1947. Each year on Independence Day, the Prime Minister of India raises the Indian flag over the fort. It was our first glimpse of the glory of Mughal architecture in India. After a quick tour, we took a ride in rickshaws through the alleys of Chandi Chowk in Old Delhi.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mumbai's Version of Take-Out Lunch

Six days a week, the Dabba Wallahs of Mumbai deliver lunch to the working people of the city. 500,000 lunches are delivered by 5,000 Dubba Wallahs who collect the lunch tins at home, deliver them to offices, and pick them up in the afternoon. They come by train, cart and bicycle. Each tiffin has a code that designates its pick-up and drop-off location.

The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower

The Taj was the target of Paskastani terrorists in November of 2008, and its renovation is nearing completion. It's a grand hotel with fabulous service. Our laundry was returned in a basket with flowers and a sashay (it made what we paid for worth it!); a hotel restaurant had reading glasses in a lovely case for customers who left their glasses upstairs. The hotel is across the street from the Gateway to India, and arch constructed for the visit of Queen Mary and King George V in 1911.

Mumbai - A City of Stark Contrasts

Slums next to skyscrapers. A mega-city of 20 million people, half of whom live in slums. Too many people, too little housing. After arriving in Mumbai from Kolkata, we went directly to Dharavi, the slum of Slumdog Millionaire, where 1 million people live in an area of 300 acres. That's 18,000 people an acre. We walked around Dharavi, where people were working in pottery and leather trades. There was such energy and vibrancy in a place where people made do with what they had on hand.


On the way to the hotel, we passed through Mumbai's red light district and heard what organizations like the Apne Aap Women's Collective are doing to stop the pattern of prostitution. The boy flying a kite was on the roof of a brothel.

The Public Laundry in the shadow of a skyscraper.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Faces of Bangladesh

Kolkata and the Solar Eclipse

A number of different experiences today at our first stop in India...seeing orphans and children at a Mother Teresa's Missions of Charity home, enjoying lunch with the Maharani of Burdwan at the Kolkata Ladies Golf Club, and seeing Mother Teresa's tomb at the Mother House...all during a solar eclipse! We ended the day trying on sarees and participating in a cooking demonstration at a local restaurant.

Prime Minister's Question Time

Our tour operator, Janet Moore, was able to arrange a meeting with Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. We met her at the Parliament building and were shown into a room where her handlers waited with us. She was joined by her son, Joy, who is working in Washington, DC to strengthen ties between Bangladesh and the U.S. She met with us for about 30 minutes, and I think I asked the best question! Other members of our group met with the opposition leader in the evening. As a result, our group was mentioned not once but twice in the Daily Star, the local paper!

Micro-Finance at the Village Level

One of the highlights of our stay in Bangladesh was a visit to a village north of Dhaka where the Grameen Bank had made loans to women. We drove on narrow roads through small village towns whose markets teemed with produce, cigarettes, and spices. Joining a group of women at the centre meeting, a weekly occurence when the women make their loan installments and talk amongst themselves, we heard the stories of their successes. We toured the village and several people would show us into their homes.

The children loved seeing us!

When we returned to Dhaka, we visited with the top two women of Grameen Bank who have worked there with Dr. Yunus since the bank's inception. To provide a sense of the other end of the spectrum of entrepreneurship, we had dinner with a group of entrepreneurs at a private home, where we connected with an incredible group of women who are passionate about their country and have worked hard to improve the role of women in Bangladeshi society. And their sarees were to die for! We saw many of the women the next day at a roundtable where we talked about women's issues.

Live Feed

A fellow traveler is keeping a blog with more up-to-the-minute information on our trip on her i-phone. You can read it at

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Street Signs

Faces of Bangladesh

Day One in Bangladesh

I arrived in Dhaka, Bangladesh a little over 24 hours ago, and we've had a very busy day today. Leaving Paris on Sunday evening on an Air India flight, I arrived in Delhi at 8 am and connected with 14 women on our tour who had flown from either Chicago or New York. Our flight to Dhaka was late, and we spent about five hours in Delhi listening to easy listening Christmas music coming over the PA system. After arrival in Dhaka, we experienced the traffic problems that pervade this, trucks, motorcycles and rickshaws that use the same roads - one has to be aggressive to get anywhere.

Today was a Smith day - we started with a Smith graduate discussing her work in setting up the Asian University for Women and ended with dinner at the home of a mother of two Smithies. During the day we met with many women lawyers and women's rights activists as well as shopped for Bangladeshi textiles. We paid a special visit to the National Assembly building, where we viewed the building designed by Louis Kahn and sat in the assembly during a session.

This evening we visited the studio of artist Kuhu Plamondon, who showed us her work and invited several of her friends to join us for dinner. It was a wonderful way to meet with and talk to women who are doing amazing things in Bangladesh.  

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Medieval Imagery of Christianity and Judaism on the Portal of the Metz Cathedral

Ecclesia and Synagoga were the names given to the symbolic personification in medieval Christian art of Christianity's triumph over Judaism. This imagery, which first appeared in the 11th century, was common decoration in the sculptures, paintings and stained-glass windows of churches and cathedrals.

Shabbat in Metz

Yesterday, we were treated to the warmth and hospitality of the Metz Jewish community. We had gone to the synagogue in the morning to find out the time for services and returned in the afternoon for Shabbat evening services. The synagogue hosts three services each Shabbat - one Ashkenazic, one Sephardic, and one Polish. We chose the Ashkenazic service, and introduced ourselves to some people in the alcove before services began.

There were only two of us in the women's section, which was located behind the men. A hazzan chanted the service and the men joined in; many of them had beautiful voices that lent a wonderful spirit to the prayers. During the service, the woman next to me, in broken English, asked if we would join her family for Shabbat dinner, which we did. We were welcomed into their home and treated to home-made foie gras, roasted chicken and vegetables, and an apple tart. It was a lovely evening.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

El Rancho Grill - Le Restaurant Tex Mex

Our search for lunch today in the Metz Technolopole ultimately led us to El Rancho Grill - Le Restaurant Tex Mex in the Metzanine, a large shopping area near the Georgia Tech Lorraine building. We first tried a brasserie in a student housing complex, but we didn't have a university card. Next was the clubhouse restaurant of the Garden Golf Metz Technopole, but it was closed for renovations until January 11. A nearby hotel restaurant was too expensive. So....we found ourselves at El Rancho.

El Rancho is the first Tex Mex chain restaurant in France. Founded in 1992, there are 21 El Rancho's throughout France. The restaurant was decorated in bright colors, and sombreros were hung on the walls. The menu offered standard French Tex Mex fare - tacos, burritos, enchiladas, fajitas, along with steaks and barbeque (see I had chili con carne and David had arrachera (beef and fries), both of which were on the Mexico Express daily special menu. Both of us are feeling fine.

Today was a productive day for us. Before heading off to GTL, we bought tickets for our various journeys on the TGV and bought a carry-on bag on sale in the centre ville. David prepared for his classes and I wrote a summary of a chapter I'm writing on early businesswomen in El Paso. In the late afternoon, Jean Sands, a GTL faculty member who is here with her husband Henry Owen, introduced herself and we're planning on having dinner with them tomorrow night.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ooh Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Today's high in Metz was 25 degrees with sunny skies all day. We headed off to the Georgia Tech-Lorraine building in the Metz Technopole, where we found the administrative staff all bundled up in their coats. Seems that having the building closed during the winter break did a number on the heating system...anyone see a pattern here?!

David worked on preparing for his classes which begin next week, and I finished "The Time Traveler's Wife" and continued reading "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, a book that's preparing me for my trip to Bangladesh and India next week.

A visit to Cora ended our day, and David finally found some pantoufles - house slippers - that will keep his feet warm in the apartment!