Paris Mystery Location: 1937 Felixstowe School Trip

Felixstowe County School first trip abroad – Paris 1937

Felixstowe County School first trip abroad – Paris 1937

Yesterday I accompanied Clive to a terrific exhibit, ‘100 Years of Secondary Education in Felixstowe’, held in the building that was once the Felixstowe Grammar School.

The school began as a one-room elementary school with 15 girls, moved in 1930 to the building we visited, and became the Felixstowe County School in 1936.

Among the display boards from those early years was one with the above photo of the school’s first trip abroad: Paris in 1937.  Does anyone recognise the location and statue?

I couldn’t place it but think it may be at Ecole Militaire. An Internet search of equestrian statues in France shows one of Joseph Joffre at Ecole Militaire; it has a white base and black horse. This is the only huge plaza space like that I can think of, other than the one in front of Hôtel de Ville. I find Ecole Militaire rather bleak but the students in 1937 look like they’re having a great time. Of course they are  — they’re in Paris!

Back in Felixstowe, in 1944 the school became Felixstowe County Grammar School. Clive later attended ‘the grammar school’ from age 11 until his mother and stepfather moved the family to Australia when he was 16. I enjoyed watching and listening to Clive and others reminisce about their time there during a guided tour.

Some parts of the school building had completely changed, but at one point we were at a corner on the ground floor and Clive said, ‘This was the boys’ entrance, where we came in after parking our bikes in the bike shed, then went upstairs to our classrooms.’

I found it very poignant the way Clive and some of the others had such strong memories of their particular school spaces, such important places for young people. So I had to take a photo before the group moved on.

Clive looking like a little kid, at the bottom of his old school stairs

Clive looking like a little kid, at the bottom of his old school stairs

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

London Shopping Days

Coffee break + bookshop = heaven

Coffee break + bookshop = heaven


It seems that being the mother and step-dad of the groom-to-be requires a few more clothing items than Clive and I happened to have on hand.

We went to London twice in the past week, heading for several shops we’d seen before and a few new ones. Usually neither of us enjoys shopping and trekking around large, crowded stores – we’d rather be out walking or seeing an exhibit or a show – but this special occasion deserves special efforts.

Our first stop was Jermyn Street, whose history dates back to 1664 and where today are located many men’s clothing shops. Clive had some good luck browsing and has since followed up with an online order from home.

My best location was St. Christopher’s Place, a lovely pedestrianised area of small shops. (Thank you, Debbie, for showing it to me when you lived here!) I had good luck there and carried my purchases home on the train.

Of course in the midst of all our walking around we managed a few pauses for coffee, tea and lunch. One of the reasons we spread ourselves over two days was so we could take our time and not feel the need to run around non-stop trying to squeeze everything into one day.

Best coffee spot: Waterstones Piccadilly bookshop, which runs through to Jermyn Street. If you enter via Jermyn Street, head right up the curving stairs and you can enjoy your cappuccino with a view out to the street or inside to bookshop. Peaceful and heavenly. There’s also the main café on the lower ground floor which has very tasty sandwiches.

Favourite lunch spot: La Fromagerie on Moxon St, just off Marylebone High Street, with a cheese and produce shop on one side and a café on the other, offering breads, cheeses and charcuteries, soups and salads and more. Also a great spot for morning coffee or afternoon tea.

As for the dress I’m wearing to the wedding itself, I looked around London earlier this year and then in several shops closer to us, finally returning to the very first place I’d gone into, a small dress shop right here in Felixstowe (thank you, Laura and Andrea for your original suggestion!). And there I found ‘the dress’, less than two blocks from where we live.

We’ll defer photos until after the nuptial events. In the meantime, I’m just thankful most of the shopping is done.

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

On the Street Where We Live: A New Old British Icon

an iconic British phone box now on our street

an iconic British phone box now on our street

Our street has been graced by the addition of a freshly-painted red telephone box, relocated from a nearby corner to within view of our apartment sometime while I was in the U.S.

The Brits are so brilliant at preserving their icons, from red post boxes and telephone boxes to village greens and seaside piers to historic pubs and walking paths, castles and country homes and of course, their magnificent gardens.

So I was tickled when I walked onto our balcony and Clive said, ‘Look over there.’ Something about the cheery red phone box makes me smile.

I’ve read of multiple villages which have turned their community telephone box into a lending library; others maintain them as a focal point for local announcements and community bulletin postings.

For me, I love the fact that so many cultural, historical and just plain fun icons are preserved around the country; love the way the red phone boxes stand out against the green countryside and, especially on a day like today, the grey sea and sky.

For a truly delightful ‘salute to all things that make the English countryside so very special’ I recommend Icons of England, a wonderful collection of short, enlightening and amusing pieces edited by Bill Bryson, a fellow American living in the UK.

* * * * *

On a completely different subject, I can’t post my weekly letter without acknowledging an event many of us had been expecting but dreading. Our beautiful friend Laurie died Sunday night at home in Virginia, after a valiant year-long battle with brain cancer. I’m so thankful her beloved partner was by her side, as were several close others, and my heart grieves for Laurie and her partner. Perhaps I’ll write more about this amazing woman one day. I have so many memories and photographs of our college years at University of Michigan and countless get-togethers since then, and of my last visit with Laurie this past May (thanks to Mary, who’s also in the photos below). I will also always be grateful beyond words for Laurie’s support and love for my son and their own friendship in Washington, DC. A superstar lawyer, an astute intellectual, a distinguished contributor to causes around the world, she was above all a caring and committed friend. I was blessed to be one of hers. Rest in peace, dearest Laurie.

women young, photo aged -- Laurie on left, Boston Common, 1975

women young, photo aged — Laurie on left, Boston Common, 1975

photo recent, women a bit older -- friends for 40+ years, with Laurie and Mary in Virginia 2013

photo recent, women a bit older — friends for 40+ years, with Laurie and Mary in Virginia 2013

Thank you for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

A Shower of Love: Paris in New Jersey

Shower of love: Paris in New Jersey

Shower of love: Paris in New Jersey

Last Sunday was a day I’ll always remember, a day full of love and happiness, the day of the most beautiful bridal shower for the most beautiful bride-to-be, Caitlin.

All credit and thanks go to Tracy, mother of the bride, who had a vision for this special occasion and brought it to fruition with her usual elegance and style. One morning last May, as we walked around Washington, DC, Tracy shared her ideas for surprising Caitlin with a Paris theme, since Caitlin loves Paris and she and my son will honeymoon there — naturally I was extremely excited! – including a bicycle with a baguette; flowers and favours; champagne and crèpes; a ladies’ luncheon and most of all, a time for family and friends to gather together and celebrate the beautiful bride-to-be and her upcoming marriage to my son.

To say Tracy exceeded all expectations is an understatement. Guests were greeted with champagne and the welcoming ‘She Said Oui’ entry table (thank you CL and PT for several of these photos!).

Bicycle, baguette and ‘She Said Oui’

Bicycle, baguette and ‘She Said Oui’

Colourful macarons with mini-flags containing names and table seating guided everyone into the main room.

Personalised macaron for each guest

Personalised macaron for each guest

Apologies I don’t have a photo with all the tables full. The room was buzzing non-stop with women talking, laughing, and having a wonderful time.

Half of the main room, before the shower began

Half of the main room, before the shower began

Once everyone was seated, one of the day’s emotional moments occurred when Tracy and Caitlin stood side-by-side. Tracy welcomed everyone and we all got teary-eyed as she and Caitlin put their arms around each other and Tracy spoke of what a blessing it has been to have Caitlin as her daughter.

A special mother-daughter moment

A special mother-daughter moment

Each table was graced by a gorgeous bouquet whose vase was modelled after a Chanel perfume bottle; each place setting included the most fabulous favour: a small bottle of champagne whose pink-and-white striped label (matching the shower invitations) says, ‘Bridal Shower Bubbly, celebrating the future Mrs. Barnabo, August 9, 2015’. Tied to each bottle was a hand-dipped (thanks to Caitlin’s cousin) white chocolate Eiffel Tower.

Flowers, Bridal Shower Bubbly and a white chocolate Eiffel Tower

Flowers, Bridal Shower Bubbly and a white chocolate Eiffel Tower

After a delicious lunch, including crèpes for dessert, the bride-to-be, assisted by her lovely bridesmaids, opened her gifts. What fun it was to watch the proceedings, admire how the young women all helped the process keep moving, and join in the general ooh-ing and ahh-ing as each item was held up for all to see.

Just a few gifts to open

Just a few gifts to open

One of my favourite photos – the sweet, smart, sensational young woman who will soon be my belle-fille

One of my favourite photos – the sweet, smart, sensational young woman who will soon be my belle-fille

The day’s other most emotional moment occurred at the end of the shower. As a surprise for her mom, Caitlin opened a laptop, projected it onto a large screen and presented a touching slide show of photographs of them together, from Caitlin’s birth to the present (with an amusing ‘skipping the awkward years’), including several with her father, brother, and most recently, my son – all set to the heart-tugging lyrics of Carrie Underwood’s ‘Mama’s Song’.

Love you, Mom

Love you, Mom

This post is but one person’s perspective; I know Caitlin, her mom, family, and all the other guests will carry their own delightful memories from the day.

For me there were so many highlights, starting from the morning, when I was thrilled to be included at the bride’s parents’ home with the family and bridesmaids before the shower. I loved being around so many vibrant young women, meeting and learning a little bit more about each of them and sharing in their fun and laughter as they all got ready for the shower. Even driving over in the same car with them was a joy, just to be part of their circle of friendship and support for Caitlin.

Bride-to-be with her groom and gorgeous bridesmaids

Bride-to-be with her groom and gorgeous bridesmaids

Once at the venue, of course I adored the Paris theme and the magnificent way Tracy brought her vision to reality with so many loving, perfect details.

‘Best wishes for the soon-to-be Mrs’ very yummy cake

Oh la la – ‘Best wishes for the soon-to-be Mrs’ very yummy cake

Most of all I was so pleased to meet Caitlin’s grandmother, aunts, cousins, and family friends and I’ll be eternally grateful to my family and friends whose presence made the day extra-special for me. Thank you so much, Cathleen, Debbie, Sandy, Sharon, Suzanne Y. and Wendy.

I’m so happy for my son and his fiancée, thankful for their families and friends and all the loving support they have received.

And I’m thankful I was able to spend precious time with them and help them celebrate this very special occasion. Thanks again, Tracy, for your love and devotion to make it all happen.

with two of my favourite people in the whole wide world

with two of my favourite people in the whole wide world

We spent a great evening back at the bride’s parents’ home. Then I soaked up my final hugs with everyone there for this trip and returned to my hotel in northern New Jersey. Before emailing Clive, packing for the next day’s departure and organising for the last visit with my own dear mom, I poured my Bridal Shower Bubbly into the bathroom glass (saving the bottle which now sits on my desk in England), ate my white chocolate Eiffel Tower and toasted these two. I’ll never forget this day with them and the magical bridal shower of Paris in New Jersey.

After the shower, now need to figure out where to put all those gifts …

After the shower, now need to figure out where to put all those gifts …

Cheers and thanks for reading my lengthy post, and for sharing my happiness for my son and his fiancée. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

Letter from New Jersey: And Now He Is 30

August 6, 1985, Greenwich CT

August 6, 1985, Greenwich CT

This has been a big year for the boy born thirty years ago this morning.

A promotion at work, completion of a three-year term as President of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, continuing on the Board of Directors of Sister Cities International and today’s significant birthday.

with his future bride at a YPFP event

with his future bride at a YPFP event

Still to come this year: the wedding! I’ve written about the engagement Down Under and am posting this in New Jersey, where I’ll soon see both the groom and bride-to-be for a birthday dinner and the much-anticipated ladies’ bridal shower.

It seems I blinked and he is thirty, cycles of life spinning by way too fast. I’m so proud of my son, for the way he has handled life’s joys and tragedies, for the choices he’s made and the man he has become. And as some of us moms always say, no matter how old he may be, he’ll always be my boy.

Happy birthday, G and many, many more.

with my boy, Felixstowe

with my boy, Felixstowe

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

Women’s Weekend in (New) Jersey

American flag at Paramus Park mall, New Jersey

American flag at Paramus Park mall, New Jersey

One of the hardest things about living far away from loved ones is not being able to be there in person for various family events. We do the best we can, and mid-next week I’m heading across the Pond to see some very important women — and one very important young man — in New Jersey.

The special occasion is a bridal shower for my son’s fiancée, something I really wanted to be part of. By two brilliant coincidences, it’s close in date to my son’s birthday and relatively close in driving time to where my mom lives.

So I’ll be able to combine visits to Mom (and seeing close-up how her leg is healing), time with the beautiful young woman who will soon be my daughter-in-law, or to use the wonderful French word, ma belle-fille (love that expression: literally beautiful daughter but with hyphen translates to daughter-in-law), seeing several of my closest female family and friends, and a major treat of one-on-one time with a certain tall, blond young man who is approaching a significant birthday.

My soon-to-be belle-fille and her groom, 2014 Thanksgiving

My soon-to-be belle-fille and her groom, 2014 Thanksgiving

Clive and I usually travel together but this time he’ll stay home in Felixstowe. He has several DIY projects planned (ie, can make lots of noise and mess while I’m away), doesn’t mind staying by the sea and missing the forecasted 30+C/85-90F NJ temperatures (not to mention summer airport crowds), and would be left on his own anyway while I get together with many wonderful women. I’ll also spend extra time just sitting and being with my mom at her assisted living residence.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that we can’t be everywhere at once, can’t keep everyone happy with our schedule and can’t do everything we wish we could. Perhaps this is true for many parents and grandparents, even if families live close by. Our guiding principle is to do what we can, when we can, while we can. More about brides, birthdays and Jersey girls in next week’s letter.

August visit with my favourite Jersey girl, 2013

August visit with my favourite Jersey girl, 2013

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from New Jersey.

Paris: A Summer Sojourn

Absurdly excited about my new Navigo pass, Paris

Absurdly excited about my new Navigo pass, Paris

Paris in July offers a relaxed, slower-paced vibe (though we kept up a pretty fast pace this week), with endless choices of things to do outside or inside. Residential quartiers are lovely and peaceful, much quieter than during the school year since Parisians have begun their annual exodus to their country homes or the seaside. But it’s still before the real ‘emptying-out’ that occurs in August, so many or most local shops and cafes are still open for business.

L’Oisive Thé, a charming lunch spot (and yarn shop) in the Butte aux Cailles quartier, Paris

L’Oisive Thé, a charming lunch spot (and yarn shop) in the Butte aux Cailles quartier, Paris

Time always flies by way too fast. Still, Clive and I did almost everything on our list, except for two museums and one closed church. (The Musée d’Orsay Bonnard exhibit closed the weekend we arrived and it just got away from us; we didn’t mind skipping Napoleon at the Carnavalet; and the church where our neighbours’ parents were married was closed the afternoon we tried to visit, despite its website saying it was open. The church dates from the 11th century so we figure we can defer it to a future trip.)

Among the highlights was the mystery surprise: a personal tour of the U.S. Embassy by a wonderful friend who works there. No photos as passports, phones and cameras are held by security, but we thoroughly enjoyed learning about the building’s history, seeing its different areas and meeting a number of impressive individuals working on behalf of the USA in Paris.

Summer day on the Seine, Paris

Summer day on the Seine, Paris

Other highlights included a visit to Père Lachaise cemetery, where I left a bouquet of flowers in remembrance of Lisa Taylor Huff, the writer I admired so much and who died in Paris on 6 July 2015. Lisa’s memorial service was held at Père Lachaise a few days later. Since a permanent site has not yet been established, I left the flowers at the grave of Colette, another Parisian writer. The card says, ‘In memory of Lisa Taylor Huff, a beautiful writer and Parisienne with a bold soul.’

with flowers for Lisa at Père Lachaise cemetery

with flowers for Lisa at Père Lachaise cemetery

card for Lisa at Père Lachaise cemetery

card for Lisa at Père Lachaise cemetery

After the cemetery, we took a Vedettes du Pont-Neuf boat cruise on the Seine, passing under the Pont des Arts which Lisa campaigned so hard to restore to its former beauty. It was inspiring to hear the tour announcer describe the work now being done to this end by the City of Paris.

The Seine and the Pont des Arts, Paris

The Seine and the Pont des Arts, Paris

As always in Paris, I enjoyed virtually every minute — except when we experienced some higher temperatures than we’d prefer and/or when our feet were so tired from walking that they were screaming for mercy. I think the toughest time was in Montmartre, when we – being extremely overly-optimistic — first climbed up the hill, then walked around and visited the museum (which has many more steps), then walked back down the other side, to the Lamarck-Coulaincourt metro and we still weren’t finished because there are about a million more steps circling down and down and down to finally reach the platform.

Clive heading down the Butte Montmartre toward the metro

Clive heading down the Butte Montmartre toward the metro

We enjoyed catching up with another lovely Paris friend at the café of the Petit Palais, and our neighbours invited us to their apartment one evening for a ‘petit apératif’. We more or less upheld our end of the conversation (we think; we’re never sure as they speak no English). We’ve taken photos and Monsieur shared more of his family history with us, fascinating because it’s very much intertwined with the history of the quartier.

Along with everyone else this week, when the temperatures rose and the sun shone so brightly, we sought out shady spots and café tables to pause and just relax for a while. Ice cream was hard to resist.

Relaxing by the Eiffel Tower

Relaxing by the Eiffel Tower

Often in Paris, I’m happiest just walking down the street and soaking up this city. Always before we leave, I get antsy and try to keep in the present, not letting myself get caught up in the emotion of knowing our time here is coming to its end and I’m not exactly sure when we’ll be back. I just try to be conscious of every moment, so I can store them all away as treasures and then reach into my memory and bring them out again to think about and cherish when we’re far away.

In the meantime, after being removed from his place at Trocadéro during metro construction, Ben Franklin is back watching over his corner of the city. He’s inside a locked gate; he has a new path and his grassy hill needs work; and he looks like he could do with a bit of a clean himself — but he’s back. Welcome home, Ben! It’s so great to see you again.

Ben Franklin at Trocadéro, Paris

Ben Franklin at Trocadéro, Paris

Tomorrow we return to the UK, coinciding with the 2015 Felixstowe Carnival, a weekend of family fun and activities beside the sea.

Au revoir, Paris, until we meet again.

Stairway to the Seine, Pont Marie, Paris

Stairway to the Seine, Pont Marie, Paris

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

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