“This Is What 70 Looks Like,” REDUX

Senthil Kumar, the school’s director, talked to me back in February about his great hope that he could take the teachers by train and by plane to Chennai (Madras).  Honestly? I never thought he could pull it off, but donations from the fundraiser, “This is What 70 Looks Like,” allowed it to happen — 
Here is  Senthil’s description of the day, including the first-ever flight which contributions from “This is What 70 Looks Like”  provided for the teachers on India’s Independence Day this summer.
Two firsts: airplane, metro

 Another First: Chennai’s Metro

Yes, now I am here to tell you all the joy we had with our Chennai visit! This Independence day was a very special and memorable one for all of us, especially the teachers of the School and certainly you did make this possible. They are so grateful to you for this love and are waiting in wings to tell you their joyful experience in person.
Our original program was well-planned with the mid-day plane trip to Chennai and returning back by the night train. But on the day of the program an SMS woke me up, telling me the flight would be delayed for nearly 10 hours!!! I was worried and disappointed and immediately cancelled all the return train tickets so that at least we could get back some coins. And instead booked  bus tickets for the next evening, not pleasant but we  had no alternative.
I had  wanted to have the plane ride during day time but this did not materialize and I was sorry for this,  as the teachers could have seen the sky and the clouds and have gotten the  additional feel and joy of flying. And another hiccup was that both at Trichy and Chennai airports now they use the aero-steps to board the plane which leads one straight into the plane,  not leaving the passenger to have a glimpse of the carrier you are travelling in. This saddened the teachers a bit as they wanted to see the plane they were travelling in.
Apart from this,  everything was joyful! After the traditional flag-hoisting for India’s  Independence Day at the School in the morning, we ate  lunch at home, then started in the evening to Trichy by the School van and were in time for the flight. The teachers enjoyed the security checks as they saw with their own eyes how far the authorities take care to ensure the safety of the plane and the passengers. And in the spacious aircraft there were not many travelling – it was half empty. After the whiz-off we were in Chennai barely within an hour’s time,  reaching there at midnight.
We spent the night in the airport verandha and in the early morning the booked vehicles arrived at the airport to pick us up. We went to Koimbedu, the bus terminal,  and refreshed ourselves and had breakfast. Then it was the joyful trip on the Metro train which has been recently introduced in Chennai.. Boarding at Koimbedu we got down at Alandur, the tail end station and from here went to Vadapalani Lord Muruga Temple and then to Ashta Lakshmi temple at Besant Nagar on the beach.
Later we wade through the town passing through Santhome Church and various places of interest and reached the beach housing the samadhis of two former great Chief Ministers Anna and MGR.
Samadhis (funerary monuments) near the beach, Chennai
After spending some time here and playing in the sea a little, though it was terribly hot, we went to T.Nagar area for our lunch and then for the teachers to do some shopping.
SHOPPING Area, Chennai

SHOPPING , T. Nagar in Chennai

Then it was getting late for the bus, so we had to rush and caught the bus at the last minute by 1930 hrs and reached Kulithalai in the early morning,  around 0430 hrs. Our School van was waiting here at the school to pick up the teachers and drop them back at home safely. We thanked the loving Lord for protecting us all the way through in a special way.
Every one was so delighted, dear Mary Ellen, and this joy belongs to you and all those who contributed on your Birthday. Words are not enough to thank you and so we send our hearts to thank you and all your loved ones for this love and help.

July, 2015: Some Northern CA


Baggage Claim, Sacramento

                                  Baggage Claim, Sacramento

Some set-mates, not all, in San Rafael for the 50th Jubilee of Pat O.

With some of our Dominican set-mates, not all, who met in San Rafael for the 50th Jubilee. Among those present but missing from this photo are Cathy, Pat – our Jubilarian –  and Sr. Jeremy, our novice mistress from [gulp]1963.

BEFORE: Morning picks, Brooks & Trish's  Chico garden.

BEFORE: Morning picks, Brooks & Trish’s Chico garden.

AFTER:  Add prosciutto, goat cheese, Pinot Grigiot...

AFTER: Add prosciutto, goat cheese, Pinot Grigiot…

NEW CLAIRVAUX WINERY, and  its under-construction abbey church. 

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TRAVEL Back in the Day

                 ([the beginning of] an attempt to toss all those forgotten travel photos onto one site)


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Greece 2008

Provence 2010

More 2010: Provence (w/o captions) + Vienna, PTown, Siena, Pondicherry, Agra —

Why Are You [still] Catholic?

To be sure, it’s a question I’ve often been asked, especially  lately, by friends – nonbelievers, former Catholics, protestants. I know some who resolve the question by being able to claim a Cultural Catholicism: it’s in their DNA, it’s the way they grew up,  so even though they can’t attend Mass or receive the sacraments, they still find that they can’t simply shake it (RC-ism) off. They can’t not be Catholic.

However, as some of my children (you know who you are) used to say about my attempts to serve things like  plain yogurt popsicles or cooked-to-dryness pork chops, That doesn’t work for me.

Recently, two pieces of news: charges brought by my hero, the Ramsey County attorney general, against my  archdiocese. At last!  And now,  the pope has approved  the creation of a Vatican tribunal “for judging bishops accused of covering up or failing to act” in cases of clerical abuse. Every news article singles out the archbishop who lives up the street here, so naturally I’ve joined  the multitude crowing and posting giddy status updates  on Facebook. Still, that doesn’t work for me, so I’m looking beyond the news – beyond Facebook, even.

With the warmer weather, I’ve been taking a morning or afternoon walk,  and as usual end up on the south side of my neighborhood church. I’ve been taking grandkids here for a couple years, and so we have a routine — more about that in minute.


This view, this photo, brought  me back to  Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, specifically to his chapter on the Renaissance, in which he writes of the decadence and the wonder of the Renaissance. True, Clark’s text is dated (he talks of Man, and he writes of only male Renaissance artists). Yet, he gets many things right, especially the part about beauty rising out of decadence. That almost works for me.

Last week, my oldest and dearest friend told me she’d wondered this same question aloud – why stay Catholic – to her spiritual director, a priest who personally knows more than he might wish to know about the vagaries and pitfalls of ecclesial politics.  His response to her? The reminder that her  archbishop “is not the Catholic Church.” It works for me.

As for the cathedral and kids:  It’s a great place, with ledges to walk, stairs to run, and  railings to shimmy– all that,  outside. Inside, on a quiet weekday, it’s always still, and in small  doses, perfect for an active little boy to slow down and wander. True, a few times I’ve had to stare down tourguides,  but not often, and as I do, my prayer just goes something like this: All Are Welcome, REMEMBER?? Or should be and must be and will be.

(click photos to enlarge)

As for the future of Roman Catholicism? Following the Pew Research Results showing millenials leaving in droves,  Notre Dame’s Christian Smith argues that, despite the New Evangelization, his research proves that  the situation really is grim among young people (is there no middle ground, between Crushed Ice and  Wine?).

19th of April 2015: “This Is What 70 Looks Like”

For CONTEXT, part of a letter (in italics) I wrote  Gloria Steinem’s handler

I saw Gloria Steinem twice in January 2014: first,  in a small Indian airport, where we glanced at one another, then went back to our writing (Truth: she turned back to her iPad, I flipped open my laptop). Ignoring other westerners is a habit I’ve noticed in Asian and subcontinent airports, and besides I wasn’t entirely certain this was Gloria Steinem. I mean, wasn’t she about to turn 80?
The next morning I  walked into Char Bagh, the main tent of  the Jaipur Literary Festival , for the keynote address
Keynote Address, Jaipur Literary Festival 2014

Keynote Address, Jaipur Literary Festival 2014

 Afterwards, I  waited in lines that snaked out of  the tent towards the chai bar at the far end of the grounds, but had to leave before thanking her for what she has and still does  for women and humanity — all of which she hears many times a day, I think and hope.
A day or two later in Jaipur I caught her in Vintage Gloria Steinem mode ( FB and friends who don’t care much for her or what she says, may want to skip this clip).

I turn 70 on Sunday, 19 April, and unlike Gloria, who, I’ve read, expects her funeral to be a fundraiser, I prefer not to wait so long.  Consequently, to celebrate my birthday, I’m  holding  a fundraiser for the school which is near to my heart, BLESS School, Tamil Nadu. 
I have borrowed shamelessly from her “This is what 40 [and last year, 80!] looks like.”  Since I see nothing on her calendar for the w/e of 19 April, I am emboldened to ask if  she would consider visiting Minneapolis, where we expect the snow to be cleared in time for the celebration.
In fact,  the weather will be fine – like Jaipur and Delhi in January!
 Best regards,
Mary-Ellen Briel
Gloria will not make it, but I had  quite a lovely response  from her handler:
Thank you so much for writing and a very happy birthday to you! Unfortunately, Gloria is hard at work on her book manuscript and won’t be coming up for air before the 19th. She wishes you a big congratulations, as do we!!

Who teaches Whom?

Just over a month at Northern School for the Blind, and I’m [not] ready to leave. A K-12 school of 210, all but 10 students board here.

Below are not necessarily highlights, because there are too many, but some idea of life at NSBCM, as I’ve known it.

 Week 1: Teaching  NOUNS to Class 1 Wouldn’t I love to say I’ve gained control over the ensuing days; see Week 4, for  the video-truth

Week 4: Thorough review of new nouns – body parts, this time –  again, videos don’t lie. “Head and Shoulders” and etc.

Yes, the students with whom I’ve worked, especially the littles, are an ABSOLUTE HOOT.

In between, there were field trips, the most notable being the one to  what I thought was an enourmous rice field (photos, Facebook). We spent a long morning and part of an afternoon there, working on that rice. The following week I learned it was not RICE, but MUSHROOMS that had been packed in the straw we heaved into the long, rectangular mold and carefully pushed and pummeled until we could then lift out thebundles and set them  in neat stacks. BTW, that experience was so typical of my weeks here, I can’t begin to tell you.

Still, I’ve learned a lot.

The first week I watched lessons about coconuts:  how they are  opened, where that incredible liquid actually spurts from, and where the meat is, in relation to the skin.   Last week, one lesson I took part in was Sticky Rice on a Stick, which some inventive MN Thai has probably already introduced to the MN State Fair, but until this visit, I hadn’t seen.

This past weekend, I went deeper into the Old City – near where Elizabeth and I stayed for awhile –  for  a haircut. This is the mother of the woman who cut my hair. And the haircut set me back… you don’t  want to know, not if you’ve recently had a haircut in the U.S.

She watches over her daughter (who is not a lot younger than I am).

She watches over her daughter’s work. Her daughter is perhaps 2 years my junior.

MUCH, MUCH MORE TO SAY, as they say, but I’m headed out to dinner with the person who has overseen me/answered every question I had and several  I didn’t, given me driving tours of the area — and last week was in Bangkok receiving an award from the government. In Thailand, that means, of course, from  royalty.

The weather forecast for the eastern U.S. at this moment – see it in top right of this weather forecast screenshot – has been mentioned here with what I can only call disbelief!



                                             THE ART OF WALKING                         

I walk to work, passing many shrines, and sometimes, an enormous monastery. I also pass a 7-11 and several restaurants. If you double-click them, the  thumb-nails should (!) enlarge.



If I’m going any distance – Mass, museums, my favorite EngLish language bookstores – I take  a Songthaew (“2 benches”), one of the ubiquitous Red Trucks of Chiang Mai. As long as I don’t ask, 20 Thai Baht, about 60 cents, gets me just about anywhere w/in the Old City. Here’s how it works for me: When  I  arrive at my destination and climb off, I walk to the front, hand a 20 TB note through the window,  and with a huge smile,  murmur, “Korp-kOOn,” as I walk away.  Very Quickly.  

It’s not always a  quick hop-on or hop-off,however. I’ve been known to flag down 4  or 5 Red Trucks before finding a driver willing to take me where I want to go.

What’s more,  the drive can take awhile. Last  Week,  I practiced, as I always do,  the trick  Elizabeth & Roy taught me in Beijing: have the address on your phone, and be sure it’s written in the driver’s language. Normally, this photo gets me to 7 Fountains, the Jesuit retreat house across town:imageNot quite so straightforward, though, last Sunday. I jumped in, and already in the Red Truck were some German university students. We went first to the airport, where they didn’t want to go (“Plane? No! “), then  to the train station, where they DID want to go – before being dropped at 7 Fountains


                                                                THE ART OF WALKING, cont’d

Around Arak Rd, soi 2 (things I pass on my walk to work) —

Coffins and flowers (wreaths)  Shop

Coffins and flowers (wreaths) Shop

i live on soi 2, a studio apartment (truth? A large  bedroom, with armoire & desk; a door from here leads first to a closet holding a refrigerator and plastic electric teapot; from the closet is a  door to ithe bathroom: toilet, sink, and handheld shower head.). It works for me: breakfast here, terrific lunch at school, dinner, out. Every  night. In an ideal world, if I could have either a personal chef or dinner out every night, I’d be hard-pressed to choose.

Besides the funeral shop on my walk to work, I pass those places at the top of this page. The gods of technology are against me right now, so I’m forcEd to end here. I say: GO BACK AND LOOK AT THOSE NICE PHOTOS OF FRIED  BANANAS AND WHITENERS AND WATS!

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