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The Usher Travelogue

posted 11 May 2017, 09:06 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin

The Usher Travelogue

We are about half-way through our trip. We started in Phoenix where I met cousins who I see only 7 years or so when we come to Phoenix. It is a different, but very pleasant world here. Phoenix has grown by some ten times in the last few years so most people are new to the area or city and are very friendly. Everyone is seeking to make it home. We spent the first day at the  Heard Museum, a museum dedicated to the Southwest Indians. Their culture was completely different from ours and they were treated the same way as our First Nations people, ie residential schools based on the same philosophy of acculturation and with the same terrible conditions and results. The Museum had a  few artifacts but was mostly cultural with modern Indian paintings and sculptures - all of which were terrific. It is much heavier sculpture then what we see locally and has a spiritual quality to it that I have rarely seen before.

My cousins were a surprise. Their children are all interested in the arts - acting and film, It is not something that my side of the family does and yet when I think of it there is a lot of music in my mother's side of the family that I had just previously ignored. It is amazing that despite a complete lack of contact till about 10 years ago, certain abilities have sustained themselves. An explanation: My uncle married a Panamanian, his children were brought up Christian and there was no contact between the families until by accident I reconnected with them about 10 years ago.

We went to second cousin's Christi's home for supper. It is a very nice family. As we talked more I realized that she is the original earth mother. She is a loving mother of 4 children and 2 grandchildren. Her children are all doing good things - some struggling, some not. In addition she  has become a mother of a relative who lost her own mother and they take in a foreign student to live with them and who obviously becomes part of the family. It is a close, loving, supportive  family, held together by a loving father, and this earth mother figure.

We had lunch with Christi's mother Pat, her brother Don and her husband. John. Pat is a businesswoman. Don has worked with her for the past 20 years and is now heading in a new direction of counselling. Don has 4 kids, with the two eldest off to a great film or arts school.
Pat's husband John is another person whose history is amazing. He spent his whole career in the army with 3 tours of Vietnam. He is now beginning to feel the effects. I can't imagine what his life must have been like. It is so very different from mine and yet we are the same age. he is a very nice man.

The bar mitzvah was impressive with the Bar-Mitzvah boy doing not only the Haftorah but the Torah portions as well. It was in a small Chabad shul. The rabbi was originally from Montreal. Lots of singing and clapping. Everyone enjoyed the Bar-mitzvah. It was a chance to see Dora's brother and sister in law, their four children and their children's families. All the families are  very close but live in different cities. Everyone likes and supports each other - as far as I could see there were none of the conflicts  that bother other families. Most enjoyable.

For me it has been a learning experience about different lives and how one should lead one's life.


In the Heard museum there was the following reading on the wall .

Redefining "Home"

As children we grew up knowing our neighbours not as people living next door to us but as relatives. Our aunt and her family lived on one side and our cousin and his family lived on the other. That is the way it had always been. A house is both the space inside and outside the building. A home is more than just the structure, the house, the ki:, the Hogan, the wikieup. ki: in O'odham means both home and house. It is the aroma, the textures of the building that helps us remember. The smell of wet dirt walls. The smell of dry dust. It is the smell of the green brush on the roof, in the walls. It is the texture. The smooth mud walls, the rough ribs from cactus and ocotillo. The branches of cottonwood and posts of cedar and pine. Home is a place that has the right feel, the right smell, the right sense of coolness when you touch the walls.

Ofelia Zepedo
Tohono O'odham

Now we are off to L.A. and New Mexico for a travel adventure.

p.s. Here is a rabbi's joke

Abe meets a homeless man on the street who asks him for money. He says he will give him $5 but he must promise him not to use it for drink. The man says of course not, he can't afford to drink. Then Abe says that he must promise that he won't use it to smoke and the homeless man says that he can't afford it and wouldn't hurt  his health with that bad habit. Then Abe asked the homeless man not to use it to gamble. The homeless man says that he does not gamble, that he has better things to do. Abe then puts the $5 back in his pocket and says "I'll take you home for supper. I want to show my wife what becomes of a man who does not drink, smoke or gamble."

Have a good week.


The Getty Museum in L.A.. is terrific. 750 acres on the top of a mountain - everything divided into 30 " squares and all in relatives squares with the outside made of two shades of white aluminum. The bright shades could not be used on the sides facing the highway as it might affect the drivers on the thruway below. It is all extremely impressive. We went on the architecture, general and garden tours. The museum pictures themselves we barely saw as just the tours took us all day.



We also went to Venice just outside of L.A. on the ocean - a sort of replica of Venice in Italy - basically a scooped out swamp. It's great to walk around the canals and boardwalks.


Wednesday we got on the train to Albuquerque. The train was 2 hours late but there was a waiting area where we could keep our bags and have free snacks. Eventually the train came and we were off. Our "stateroom was very small - just enough room for a bunk bed which turned into a sitting area during the day. The beds were like slabs of cement. Dora slept on the top bunk and I took the bottom (which was the warmer one). At about 2:30 a.m. I looked out the window and the stars were amazing. There were no cities to lesson the brightness so each star was very clear and bright and the constellations were clear. It did give a feeling of awe and how mysterious this would have been for our ancestors. This itself was worth the trip.
Then at 5:00 a.m. I went up to the scenic car and watched the sunrise.
Also magnificent. I will try to keep Dora up most of the night to see it all on the next leg of the journey. The food was good and we were always seated with different couples. Everyone was pleasant and interesting.  We met two couples (two brothers and their wives who I talked to quite a bit (great supporters of Trump needless to say).

Our room in Albuquerque is perfect. Very large, overlooking the pool and comfortable.

Last night we went on "route 66" which remains a series of small restaurants and stores out of the 50's. We had Mexican food which was so-so but we were glad to be part of the local scene. Between Uber and the hotel shuttle we are finally getting around comfortably.


Yesterday (Friday) we went for a tour of Old Town in Albuquerque. It was a one hour tour but as we were the only ones on the tour, the tour lasted 3 1/2 hours including the lunch that we bought for the tour guide. There are a lot of American firsts that happened around this area. It was also an area that was disputed between the Spanish and the English and the Mexicans, so there was a lot of back and forth in governance. Now the Mexicans, local Natives and Whites of all sorts live together in harmony and mostly speak English and Spanish but also the Native Indians speak their native languages..  In addition  Los Alamos was here and more recently a lot of the computer research is happening in this area. The New Mexican specialty food is green chillies which are red chillies that are picked early. They are not as hot as red chillies and are very good with tacos. We spoke with one of the Code Talkers. They were a group of Navajo marines who developed a code that was never broken  for use against the Japanese in WW2. It was extremely important in winning the Pacific battlefield.

On a Jewish note, we hear that there are a lot of the descendants of Conversos here who do the Friday night candle lighting, but have no idea why they are doing it. We didn't meet any of them, and although there are about 5 synagogues here, we didn't go to any of them.


Saturday was spent mostly travelling to Santa Fe, with a brief and expensive trip to a doctor for some asthma spray. In the evening we ate tacos and green chillies in our very Mexican pueblo type motel while listening to a local cowboy quartet and drinking margaritas. We have been assimilated!


Santa Fe is a small city of some 700,000 people . It is the capital of the state and a great history of firsts. The first church was here, the oldest house (excluding of course the adobes) important battles relating to the Mexican, Spanish and Civil wars, etc. However now it is simply a tourist town which has kept and enforced  the pueblo- Mexican  style of buildings in order to make it a tourist and artists' town. Lots of shops and Native Americans selling jewelry, pottery and other native arts. Lots of Museums and restaurants where tourists "must" eat. We did a two hour walking tour and then looked at the shops and ate New Mexican food (mostly green chilly) but had neither time nor energy for the museums so came back to our hotel and ate great vegetarian sandwiches with more local beer.


I am reading a book called Code Talker about the 29 Navajos who, as Marines, developed an unbreakable code used by the U.S. army in WW2 on the Pacific Front. There are amazing similarities between Judaism and the history of Judaism and that of the Navajos.

Liberty and Loss - a sign of the times


This morning as a very good treat we walked outside our motel to an excellent art gallery -the Blue Rain Gallery - with modern great pictures. Pricey but nice. Also bought a cowboy shirt for when I'm in that mood. That makes it one more interesting day.

Although we have one more brief stop in Chicago, that is the end of our trip, and though we have enjoyed it and seen and learned lots of things. we will both be glad to be home.

Looking forward to seeing you all soon./JU

TORONTO - There’s no place like home.