Walk into the light

Side door of the Immaculate Conception Church, Old Town, San Diego

Outside the door

“It was here in Old Town that Saint Junípero Serra celebrated his First Holy Mass in California on July 2, 1769, near the site of the present Immaculate Conception Church, and it was on the hill overlooking Old Town that he planted the cross which marked the site of the Mission and the Presidio.”  This is a direct quote from the website of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Old Town, San Diego.  Given that my ancestors were buried in El Campo cemetery, a block away, I knew that they had sat in the current or previous church.  My senses tingle when I can reconnect with the past.

Exterior of Immaculate Conception Church

Intricate Spanish detailing on the front door

I was curious about this American saint with the strange name.  He was born in Majorca, one of the Balearic Islands, to the east of the Spanish Mainland.  When I was a toddler my crazy mum and dad took me to live on one the smaller islands, Formentera.  It didn’t work out… If you click on this link, Saint Junipero Serra, you can access an Encyclopedia Brittanica article about him.

There is some debate about whether he really helped the native people of California and that is the reason why he was canonized in 2015.  Missionaries often think they are doing God’s work when they might be erasing a culture or set of beliefs.  My personal belief is that you can volunteer or work in the third world without a specific faith or any but I wouldn’t want to belittle the good work that many missions do.

El Campo Cemetery had a broad mixture of names – Irish, English and Spanish mostly.  Many had intermarried like my family.  The stained glass in the Immaculate Conception Church had been donated by various families and it represented this broad range of original nationalities.

Front door

It was a lovely little church enhanced by the perfect sunny day.  When I was looking for information about the church, I was amused by reviews on Yelp and Tripadvisor.  Who would dare give less than a 5 star rating???




Andres Quintana Roo

I liked this vivid statue in Merida but I mostly took the photograph to showcase the colorful buildings behind.  It was only when I zoomed in on the image that I realized that this was Andrès Quintana Roo for whom the state is named.  He was born in Merida in 1787 and died in Mexico City in 1851.  Not only did he draft the Mexican Declaration of Independence but he was a liberal forward thinking politician whose roles included Secretary of State.

He had a Romeo and Juliet romance with his wife Leona.  Her family were Royalists so they ran away to get married.  Andrès’ father was part of a group called the Sanjuanistas who fought against native slavery and oppressive taxes to the Catholic Church.  Go Sanjuanistas!!  We sometimes forget that the USA is not the only country who participated in slavery.  There are many African Americans in Texas who have my Scottish last name and I have no doubt that there will be many native Mexicans who are called Ortega, my maiden name.  For all I know some of my native DNA might be Maya or from the Mexican region although I doubt it.

We recently had a false rumor around Houston that a statue of Sam Houston was going to be removed because he was a slave owner.  Enough already!  We don’t need statues of dictators such as Hitler but even George Washington owned slaves because it was the unacceptable norm of the day.  My great-great grandfather was a Confederate medic but I doubt he had much choice about his fate.  He used the experience to become a renowned doctor in Arkansas.  History is rarely sunshine and butterflies but we learn something from our mistakes.  I have a long line of ancestors named Sam and/or Houston because he (Sam Houston) was admired so much my family who have native heritage.  My father’s middle name is Houston.  I was meant to be here…

Back to Quintana Roo –in this state you can clearly see native heritage in the faces of residents.  Less Spanish, more Maya.   On one side of Andres’ statue was the church of Santa Ana.  The yellow towers made the red brick stand out. Look at those flame trees!

Church of Santa Ana

In another neighborhood, I was taken by the contrast of this yellow column against the red umbrellas.  Yellow seems to be a favorite color in Merida – so sunny and vibrant!


Ybor City, Tampa

Ybor City State Museum

Ybor City State Museum

Before we visited Tampa, I had no idea that it had a historical area of such significance. From the periphery, Tampa looks like many other modern cities in Florida, with the exception of Miami and its wonderful Art Deco buildings. Ybor city was named for Vincente Martinez Ybor, an entrepreneur who had moved his cigar business from Cuba to Key West.

Mural with Vincente Martinez Ybor

Mural with Vincente Martinez Ybor

That hadn’t been entirely successful so he decided to settle in Tampa in the 1880s. The cigar workers were skilled so many of them came from Cuba and Spain, followed by an influx firstly of Italians, then Eastern European Jews, Germans and Chinese, many of the next stage immigrants serviced the city with restaurants and other industries.

Columbia Restaurant

Columbia Restaurant


Cigar Shop

It was an eclectic mix that was stable because each ethnicity had their own social club with welfare and benefits. Additionally, the work was plentiful and well paid. Each worker had their own little Casita, some of which are preserved, others have been renovated. The docent at the Ybor Museum told us that they used Ybor City’s welfare system as a template when they set up Medicare and Social Security in the 40s. That fascinated me more than anything else.

Streetcar in Ybor City

Streetcar in Ybor City

Ybor City reached its zenith at the beginning of the 1900s but cigar making started to decline after the Great Depression and World War II. Surprisingly, many of the original buildings remain with their exotic tile work. Artists started to flock to Ybor in recent times and it is being renovated block by block. It is a peaceful little oasis in a busy modern city with lovely tram cars. There are free range chickens on every porch because they outlawed harming chickens to stop cock fighting. You can read more of this in the The Chicken Murder. I noticed with a chuckle that you can have an event or a wedding in the garden of the Museum , but just look out for hungry hawks…
spanish street posters2

Church Street, Charleston

The French Huguenot Church

The French Huguenot Church

Never has a street been more aptly named. There was one wonderful church after another. The title photograph is of the French Huguenot Church – it is simply known as that. I noticed it particularly because it is painted a delicate pale pink with black cornichons. The Huguenot’s were French Protestants who escaped persecution from the Catholic Church. I loved the way they embraced the Protestant ethic and yet created a house of worship with a certain French soupçon of elegance. Below is the exquisitely simple interior with a startling blue chandelier, accentuated with the blue prayer books.

Nave of French Huguenot Church

Nave of French Huguenot Church

St. Philip's Church

St. Philip’s Church

Above is St Philip’s Episcopal Church which is the grandest on the street. Another tourist later told me that the church keepers weren’t very friendly (well, they are Protestants – I am sorry but there is always a lapsed Catholic devil sitting on my shoulder). There is always a fine line between visiting a historic site and respecting that it is a current house of worship. No talking, flip-flops or chewing gum, please! There were some very distinguished guests in the graveyard and it was so serene on a hot, steamy Charleston afternoon.

Well, Charles certainly has a lot to answer for...

Well, Charles certainly has a lot to answer for…

church street

Both churches were in the French Quarter. The streets were a charming mix of old and new.

St Philip's Graveyard

St Philip’s Graveyard

It was only after I left Charleston that I remembered about the Charleston Church massacre more than a year before, at the Emanuel African Methodist Church. The victims of this hate crime, their relatives and the people of Charleston give us something to aspire to in this horrific week. Dignity, sorrow and forgiveness.

The Slave Market

The Slave Market Museum in Charleston, SC

The Slave Market Museum in Charleston, SC

I considered writing about the beautiful aspects of Charleston, South Carolina but thought I would reveal its darker side first. This innocuous building might lead you to think that they sold anything other than humans. Charleston was somewhat of a hub for slave auctions which used to be on street corners. Despite owning slaves the residents didn’t want to see children and elderly people in shackles, so the auctions went indoors. This was one of 40 slave marts in historic Charleston at the height of slavery. When I paid for my ticket, I asked one of the docents if Native Americans were also enslaved. Apparently they were, but they were too good at running away. When they discovered the soil was great for growing rice, they really wanted slaves who were farmers.

It was a very moving exhibit, as you can imagine, and appalling to read about humans traded like cattle. I was not surprised but some visitors were deeply moved and the whole museum had a reverential feel, as well it should. Charleston was and still is a very wealthy city, reflected in the buildings and residents but I think it is important to remember why that is. No-one is without blame – some northern states had a horrible history of indentured workers including children and they may as well have been slaves. My own husband was born to an indentured servant at a farm in Scotland in 1958. It was well known that some farmers felt it was their right to have sex with the women. Teddy was the third sibling born to this 33 year old woman and given up for adoption. Glasgow, the city where I grew up, became rich on the back of shipping and tobacco from the Americas. It is no coincidence that many African American people have Scottish names.

Before I left, I spoke to the docents at the desk. I admired their museum and said we have not learned from our mistakes since the port of Houston is the hub of human smuggling into North America. They both looked at me blankly and I sensed that they felt I was taking something away from their story, which I was not. The ethnicity of today’s slaves may have changed and it is illegal but some of their stories are even more horrific than those in the museum. One of my friends, living a couple of miles from me, couldn’t get into her own street one day because of police vehicles. Her south-east Asian neighbor was trafficking young girls into prostitution but was living a regular middle-class life in an affluent area.

The next post will reveal a sunny and optimistic modern Charleston.

A typical cobbled alleyway in historic Charleston

A typical cobbled alleyway in historic Charleston

Museo de Larco


I am sure Teddy thinks this is ceramic hyperbole but I think I should have waited to marry a Peruvian. Maybe I will keep an eye out for my second Peruvian husband at the airport?

I am sure Teddy thinks this is ceramic hyperbole but I think I should have waited to marry a Peruvian. Maybe I will keep an eye out for my second Peruvian husband at the airport?

This is a post which I wrote some time ago but didn’t publish and it follows on from our Postcard from Lima, Peru

The Museo de Larco was set in what looked like a private estate with beautiful gardens and flowers. After we had completed our tour of the main building, our guide said, ‘and now we are going to the sex museum’. The three of us, in our group, looked at each other with eyes wide open and followed her obediently. On route to the museum we got chatting to our fellow tourist who was Jewish New Yorker whose family emigrated from Ukraine to the US. He was in Lima for business with a couple of extra days for pleasure. His notebook had two pages full of gourmet restaurants that he had been trying out so we guessed that he was certainly a foodie but also a writer. I had the impression that he was gay but he didn’t confirm it until I noticed what he photographed most in the museum.

Our middle-aged guide was most likely an academic, perhaps a historian. Like the other guide she was very straight forward and told us later that we had 7 minutes to look at the shop and take photographs! Not 5 or 10, precisely 7 minutes; ‘Yes, Ma’am!’ With a mixture of excitement and trepidation, we followed her into the building. My, these ancient Peruvians were a liberal crowd! Every possible type of sexual activity between humans (and animals) of both genders was immortalized in ceramic. Our guide started describing what we were looking at. ‘Here we have the man pleasuring the woman with his mouth and here we have two animals mating’. If we were young enough to have blushed we probably would have. She reminded me of my sex education teacher at Catholic high school. At this stage (age 13) we were all girls, separated from the boys by annexes. Our teacher was a doctor and she taught us about the birds and bees in a very anatomical and brusque manner. I remember thinking that I may as well become a nun because I certainly wasn’t going to be doing anything like that with a boy! A few years later, it all seemed much more feasible.

I was sneaking glances at our New Yorker friend to see what he was focused on and Teddy, too. I suspect my husband was thinking, ‘don’t give her ideas’. It struck me that the museum and its artifacts were not a guide to pleasure, such as the Kama Sutra, but more of a ceramic documentary of sexual behavior between humans and animals. The artists were depicting what they observed. In one exhibit, the people were disfigured and our guide explained, ‘these are humans dying of sexual diseases’. Ah well, I guess you never could have your cake and eat it, too. In case you are wondering, it did give me ideas. Lima was a fun destination!

Missionary animals?

Missionary animals?

Click on this link to see some other erotic ceramics but open with discretion. HUACO EROTIC CERAMICS

Postcard from Nacogdoches

city hall sam houston
Nacogdoches is the oldest town in Texas and it is unique both because of its antiquity and the 9 flags that have flown over it. They included Spain, France, Mexico and Louisiana amongst others and this is a link to a comprehensive list http://www.pictures-of-historic-nacogdoches.com/023nineflags.html We decided that this would be a great location to celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary. I know, I know, surely I was a child bride.. The town was utterly fascinating and this beautiful pink building was Sam Houston’s house – now the city hall sitting on the beautiful town square. Everywhere you walked there was yet another historical wall marking – it is remarkable that so many of the old buildings have been maintained and restored. It is situated in the North East of Texas, close to the Louisiana border and in the heart of the Piney Woods. The weather was astonishingly hot but not as humid as the south. I learned something amazing in the Tourist Center. Tejas is not the Spanish name for Texas but the Caddo (local native Americans) word for friend. They were one of the many peaceful tribes that were settled in Texas who greeted the invading Spanish conquistadores with friendship. It makes me so sad to think that their territory was stolen, many were killed by the spread of European diseases and moved around like cattle. I am so lucky, like many Americans, to have a little native blood to carry through the generations, bonding us all together. Nacogdoches is a college town – Stephen F Austin University. We visited the university’s Piney Woods Native Plant Center which was a small arboretum with native plants. We walked along the little stream enchanted by the Ebony Jewel Wing Damselflies who fluttered around us like little fairies with black velvet cloaks. The Ladies had bronze waistcoats and the Lords had emerald green waistcoats. Magical. Click on the link to see photos of these fairies and find out all about the oldest town in Texas.  POSTCARD FROM NACOGDOCHES