Venetian memories


Carnevale in Venice

Last day of Carnevale

Carnivale in Venice is a magical, mystical time.

It’s that time of year again….when carneval festivities happen all over the Christian world.  The celebrations begin on February 26 this year (2020), and is a time of fancy dress and parties!  The traditional and elaborate costumes worn by the celebrants in Venice are wonderful!


Venetian sunrise at the Piazza San Marco

The revelers are still sleeping but soon they will rise and dress themselves in elaborate costumes, don their masks and venture out into the Piazza San Marco and join the festivities.  It’s a photographers dream come true with an incredible selection of characters to choose from.

The masks are an impoortant part of the costumes and mask makers work overtime creating elaborate, beautiful, strange, mystical, comical and character masks.

Looking into their eyes was mysterious.

The Piazza San Marco was packed with people snapping photos.

In my book, Venetian Magic, the main character, Susan Victoria Page, takes a part-time job assising a talented mask maker prepare a large order for masks from a somewhat mysterious Count.  The book is a fun read.  You can order it from  I hope you do.

Venetian Magic cover #2

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Venetian Magic


Front Cover FINAL

I’m excited to tell you that my latest book, Venetian Magic, is live and available on

Brief synopsis:

Susan found herself alone in Italy when her boyfriend has a job crisis and cannot join her.  What does she do?  Well, she decides to go to Venice.  She meets an older woman who makes her an exciting offer, and on impulse takes a part-time job with a mask maker.  She is pursued by lecherous Count and uncovers a smuggling operation. For those readers who love Venice, following Susan’s adventures will be a delight and for those who have not been there, the story brings Venice to life.  Butler is an award-winning travel/food writer and her description of a memorable dinner will have readers salivating for more.

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Venetian Magic –researching my story


Venetian Magic cover #2

When Susan’s boyfriend postponed their plans to visit Northern Italy, he encouraged her to go on ahead, saying he would meet up with her in a few days. Unfortunately, major problems  developed with his work and he decided he wouldn’t meet her Italy after all. Susan was devastated. She had thought he would propose to her while in Italy.

In her emotional distress, she decides to abandon their original itinerary.  Not sure where she wanted to go as she drove away from their hotel and headed north, with no destination in mind. Seeing a road sign indicating the Venice turnoff, on impulse, she decides to go there.

Through a simple quirk of fate, she meets an older woman in the lobby of the Hotel Daniele who makes her an incredible offer. Thus, begins an adventure filled with magic, creativity, counterfeit goods, a lecherous Count, delicious food, and an old magician…

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Venetian Magic –researching my story



Venetian Magic cover #2

When Susan’s boyfriend postponed their plans to visit Northern Italy, he encouraged her to go on ahead, saying he would meet up with her in a few days. Unfortunately, major problems  developed with his work and he decided he wouldn’t meet her Italy after all. Susan was devastated. She had thought he would propose to her while in Italy.

In her emotional distress, she decides to abandon their original itinerary.  Not sure where she wanted to go as she drove away from their hotel and headed north, with no destination in mind. Seeing a road sign indicating the Venice turnoff, on impulse, she decides to go there.

Through a simple quirk of fate, she meets an older woman in the lobby of the Hotel Daniele who makes her an incredible offer. Thus, begins an adventure filled with magic, creativity, counterfeit goods, a lecherous Count, delicious food, and an old magician. who tells her magic will happen when Marangona, the huge campanile bell in the Piazza San Marco, strikes midnight.

My latest book, Venetian Magic will be available October 2019


mask line drawing

Researching my Venice notes took me back to magical times I spent in Venezia. I want to share some of my photographic memories that relate to Venetian Magic with you.


Sunrise — notice the glass in the street lamps are pink.


Map of neighborhood My Venetian friends invited me to stay in the little apartment they keep in their Santa Croce area building..

Bridge near apartmentMy apartment was just over that little bridge on the right side.


Canale Grande Venezia Italia

Late afternoon sunlight turns averythig golden.Hotel Danieli



The Hotel Danieli where a total stranger makes an offer Susan can’t resist.

Hoanioomelli bedrThe beautiful apartment in the Danieli

baby elephant

The Baby elephant at the Sheldrick Foundation nursery that Betty Bockner adopted.




Mask shop

Susan meets Cinzia an artisan mask maker.
Do Forni

Do Forni Restaurant features classic Italian food, served in a beautiful restaurant with rustic and Orient Express-style dining rooms.  It is my favorite Venetian restaurant and where Susan and Cinzia enjoy a spectacular dinner

trattoria-do-forni                                                           Canocchi – a very special treat.

You don’t find Canocchi on every restaurant menu but it’s worth seeking them out. They are a species of mantis shrimp about the size of a prawn and found in shallow coastal areas of the Mediterranean Sea.  They are available for a short season, so finding them on a menu is a special treat. They are absolutely delicious!

Seppie con Polenta





Seppie con Polenta is one of my favorites.  The black Cuttlefish on top of the bright yellow polenta is not only beautiful but is also absolutely delicious!


Strawberry red dressA strawberry red Fortuni dress.  Similar to a dress Susan finds in a very strange little shop.


Palizzo at Night   Palazzo at night

During a fancy dress ball Count Sarantonio lures Susan into the garden and makes a pass at her and where she makes a startling discovery.


Piazza San Marco midnight

Piazza San Marco at midnight

where Venetian Magic …… well, you will have to read the book to find out what happens!

Happy reading!  I’ll keep you posted on the release date.



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Following in the Footsteps of Toulouse-Lautrec

via Following in the Footsteps of Toulouse-Lautrec

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Following in the Footsteps of Toulouse-Lautrec

Following in the Footsteps of Toulouse-Lautrec

Chateauj du Bosc

Following in the footsteps of the artist Henri-Marie-Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Montfa, I set out to explore the scene of his childhood at the Chateau du Bosc in Albi, which is located north of Toulouse in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France. I wanted to discover the time before his crippling accidents…the time before Paris…before the dance halls…before the famous posters…before absinthe.  I wondered if it was possible to find traces of the happy-go-lucky little boy who grew up to be a deformed, depressed, somewhat depraved, albeit a very talented alcoholic.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the only surviving child of Comte Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec Monfa and his wife Adèle Tapie de Céleyran, was born in Albi, November 24, 1864. Although Alphonse and Adèle were first cousins and knew the dangers of possible genetic problems with any children they may have, they fell in love and married. This was a time when the constant inner-marriage of aristocratic families began to produce pronounced birth defects and weakened children.

Alphonse, an avid sportsman, was often away from his family for extended periods of time living in his various hunting lodges. A resolute non-conformist, he especially enjoyed dressing up in fancy uniforms and host flamboyant hunts and parties. Henri always joked that his mother couldn’t resist a man in a pair of bright red trousers. The Toulouse-Lautrec’s had a reputation for producing eccentrics and Alphonse and Henri fully lived up to that reputation.  Adèle was often overlooked and she and Henri spent their years living like nomads.  They divided their time visiting relatives at the Chateau du Bosc, Malrome Castle and his mother’s birth home at Céleyran, then moving to Paris where they lodged at the Hotel Pèrey off an on over the years until Henri relocated into his own studio at 37 Rue des Mathurins at the age of eighteen.

Walking through the gates of the Chateau du Bosc I was immediately transported back to a time when aristocrats were pampered and catered to by servants.  Waited on hand and foot, they had nothing more to do than to oversee their daily menu, survey their farmlands and plan their next entertainment.  The Chateau, originally built in the 12thCentury and rebuilt at the end of the 15thCentury, is situated about twenty-seven miles north of Albi and is encircled by lush farmlands, vineyards and forests. The Chateau has always belonged to the family Tapié de Céleyran.


Henri spent most of his childhood living in the Chateau, surrounded by his family, including a large menagerie of young cousins. Artistic traits were encouraged and often after returning from a hunt his father and uncles would draw scenes of their day with almost as much enthusiasm as they had experienced during the actual chase.  Indeed, artistic ability seemed to be the whole family’s hereditary.

Lautrec horse

Upon entering the Chateau, I could imagine the cousins running through the halls and could almost hear their childish laughter as I walked through the rooms.

Among the rooms open to the public is a sort of gallery which is filled with memorabilia from Henri’s childhood.  I was fascinated by his early drawings of horses and family members.  I pondered over small sketches and personal objects protected in a glass-enclosed case. Somehow seeing the artists tools, sketches, paint pots and even a pair of his pince-nez (glasses) seemed to bring the family to life.  In one corner leaning against the wall was a rustic bicycle that was especially adjusted so Henri could exercise after his accidents.  Breaking one leg in the first accident and then the other leg within a year of each other, thus becoming a cripple at age 14.


While in his bedroom I could picture the small boy playing with the puppet theater and assorted games scattered around the floor.  It looked as if he had just stepped out for a few minutes and would return shortly to continue his play.  On a bureau was the sailboat he created after his first accident and in another corner was a buggy and crib along with fancy baby linens that had been his.Above the bed hung a reproduction of a sentimental portrait he had painted of his mother several years after moving to Paris.

Along one wall in the chateau were the names and height measurements, marked at different years, of all the cousins living there during Henri’s childhood.   The most striking measurement was the last one for Henri at age 15 when he reached his maximum height of 4’ 11”.

The library was filled with an assortment of books, many of them in English.  Henri and his mother were students of the English language and often conversed and wrote letters in the language.  His mother, in the English tradition, always wrote his name as Henry.

The family liked to spend their evenings in an opulent and ornate salon where in winter a huge fire was set.  Henri especially liked to lie down on the carpet in front of the blaze with his sketchbook and pencils.  He sometimes took pieces of charcoal from the fire to add another dimension to his drawings.  Although the Salon was furnished rather formally, the lush tapestries and draperies gave it a sense of intimacy and I could easily understand why the family often chose to spend time there.

Surrounded and encouraged by his family, Henri began to study art seriously.

However, his decision to become a professional painter around the age of 18 was utterly shocking to his family.  Especially to his father who expected Henri to follow in his footsteps and become a dilettante horseman, but Henri’s physical limitations made this dream impossible. Besides, having a job and working was just something they didn’t do.

.chat Noirdownload

Always of frail health, Henri’s adulthood was marred by his physical handicaps and also by alcoholism. Treating his limitations with humor, he was quick to point out his unusual appearance and even went so far as telling his fellow art students that he wished he would meet a girl whose boyfriend was uglier than himself.  Yet during his brief life he managed to create his own immediately recognizable style, and to evoke in his inimitable way a world full of gaiety and amusement.

Moulin Rogue

Throughout his lifetime he returned to the Chateau du Bosc every year except his last one when he was too ill to make the trip.


I was attracted by a beautiful assortment of very old Sèvres porcelain bowls and plates displayed in a small dining room. I walked around the room examining the collection and wishing I could run my fingers over the exquisite hand painted flowers decorating each piece. The morning sun streamed in through to windows and it was easy to imagine the small boy sipping his morning chocolate from one of the oversized cups.

Later, I wandered out into the gardens and poked around the old stables that had been so important to the family.  I felt a pang of sorrow imagining how Henri must have felt when he was forced to give up riding his favorite horse.  However, he continued to express his love for horses by drawing and painting them.  It seemed he was determined not to let his physical limitations get him down.

As I walked toward the gate, I wondered what stories the old stone walls could tell.  Yes, it seemed to me that Henri had been happy here, cosseted by his family and protected from the vices that helped develop his genius but were also his downfall. Looking up at the windows as I left the grounds, I thought I caught a glimpse of a small, dark haired boy laughing and waving to me as I passed by.



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Slow and Easy ~ A Barge Cruise in Burgundy

La Belle Epoque*

La Belle Epoque

Taking things slow and easy was Tina Turner’s advice in her song “Proud Mary.” Well, I’m taking her suggestion these days and the idea of a “slow and easy” barge cruise along the Northern Burgundy Canal on European Waterways barge La Belle Epoque sounded perfect.

La Belle Epoque, built in 1930 to carry lumber, is a barge of the Belgian spits category. Completely renovated in 1995, she is currently on the Burgundy Canal in central France.

The itinerary followed the Canal from Venarey-les-Laumes to Tanlay, through some of the world’s most celebrated vineyards, medieval towns, beautiful chateaux and pastures filled with the famed white Charolais cattle.

My friend Cathy and I, along with 6 other passengers, were welcomed aboard with sparkling glasses of chilled Champagne, delicious canapés, and introduced to each other and the crew, then shown to our state rooms.

The crew.JPG

The crew

Captain Yolanda, Chef Robert, Pilot Morgan, Deck Hand Luke, Sommelier Nicky, Hostess Sayjani

My shared room with Cathy was  beautifully appointed, although small, it had twin beds covered with luxurious bedding, was air conditioned and included a private bathroom.

cabin jpg

For dinner, Robert, our Hungarian chef, prepared delicious roasted pork belly with apple sauce, served with a choice of a chilled white 2014 Charles Noellat Pernaud Vergelasses, or a red Santenay 1stcru La Comme Charles Noellat.

The cheese course included Ossau Iraty, Bleu des Causses and St. Maure de Tourain, followed by a very delicious smooth and silky Créme Burlee for dessert.

The cheese course is always one of my favorites and we were offered a selection of 3 varieties at both lunch and dinner each day. The region offers a variety of cheeses from mild and fresh to aged and pungent and we enjoyed tasting many of them during our cheese course every day. Two of my favorites, Brillat Savarin and Epoisse were highlights for me

Monday, we woke to a beautiful, sunny morning and were delighted to find fresh, flaky croissants and pain au chocolate along with fresh squeezed orange juice and a choice of hot coffee or tea. Eggs cooked to order or cereal were also an option.

Croissant and Pain au Chocolate

Early every morning one of the crew members would drive into a local village to gather the baked goods and bread. French people insist that their bread be baked every morning. I’ve been told that many of them insist that their bread be baked early in the morning for breakfast and lunch and then another loaf be baked in the afternoon for their evening meal!

“Oh my,”  I thought as I crunched through a croissant, “this is delicious! A pain au chocolate? Oh yes! Surely something this light and flaky can’t be filled with calories.”

We slowly passed several small villages and through ancient looking locks as we floated along. Some of our group chose to walk or bike along the canal tow path. I stayed on board and relaxed on the deck. I move rather slowly these days and the idea of trampling along the tow path trying to keep up with  my much younger and more fit boat-mates didn’t sound like fun to me. I was perfectly happy to enjoy the sunshine and scenery from the comfort of a lounge chair. “Madame, would you like another glass of Champagne?”  Oh yes, life is sweet.


Flavigny village

After a lunch Captain Jolanda loaded us into the European Waterways van and drove us to  Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, where the film “Chocolat” was set. The origin of the town goes back to the 18thcentury. It was constructed around a Benedictine Abbey founded in 719. The group decided to hike up a rather steep hill so see more of the village, but I decided not to join them. Instead I wandered around the area below and found some interesting shops and restaurants. Alas, this was in August, when many French people take their holidays, so they were all closed and shuttered, except for the Anis de Flavigny candy shop. The old Abbey is still present, but part of it is used as a factory producing anise pastilles. I wandered around the old building, looking at its past history in photos and antique equipment used to create the candy.

The candy is available in a dozen different flavors, from blackcurrant to violet, using the same recipe unchanged since the 16thcentury. I tasted many of the different
flavors and particularly liked the lemon ones. download


Dinner that night included fresh scallops with pea puree, lamb Provençal  with Baume de Chateau red or white wines. Brillant Savarin cheese. Oh my!


Brillant Savarin – one of my favorites

Tuesday our chef, Robert, who is Hungarian, and to whom I had expressed a love of goulash, so that’s just what he prepared for our lunch. It was absolutely perfect. I  could almost taste the fields of Hungarian peppers, drying in the sun and waiting until the right moment to be ground into paprika.

                                                                                       Hungarian Goulash

Hungarian Goulash

Chef and me

Chef Robert and me


Later, we visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Abbey de Fontenay, founded by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux in 1118.  abbaye-de-fontenayjpg1.jpg

We wandered through the remains of the old buildings and I was especially fascinated by the remains of the old kitchen and very thankful that I have a modern, up-to-date kitchen at home.

Wednesday found us at Les Riceys, the only wine growing area of the Champagne region to have 3 Appellation d’Origine Controlées. We enjoyed a private Champagne tasting at Maison Alexander Bonnet with Frederic Sonzogno, the Commercial Director.


“Another glass of Champagne Madame?” he asked holding up a bottle of Cuvée Perle Rosée.  “Oh yes!” I declared.


Holding the glass to my ear, I could hear the tiny bubbles fizzing as they rose to the top. The color was a soft pink and the fragrance gentle and smelled fresh and delicate. I took a sip and let the wine settle in my mouth and felt the tiny bubbles explode on my tongue, then as I swallowed, I breathed out and the taste bloomed in my mouth.

“Oh my goodness,” I exclaimed. “This wine is extraordinary!”

Later we arrived at the Chateau de Ricey-Bas where we were welcomed by the Baron and Baroness de Taisne. As we sat sipping Champagne in the gardens, the Baroness described some of the horrors and joys of renovating and remodeling 12thcentury complex with vaulted cellars and bringing the plumbing and electricity and, well, everything up to modern day standards. Permission to restore every last inch and nail has to be submitted to the authorities and approved before anything can be touched. Egads! I like to watch the “fixer-upper” shows on TV and can only imagine how the Property Brothers would handle this place.

Chateau de Ricey-Bas

We were served a sumptuous luncheon in the falling apart but elegant private salon. Much of the produce was grown on the property and was delicious. I wish the Baroness had asked the chef to give me the recipe for the divine salad dressing.

Later, walking in the gardens, the Baron told me about a disease the extensive double boxwood hedges were suffering from and were in danger of dying.  Steps have been taken to prevent that, but still, it is worrisome. Egads! Another major problem to be taken care of.

Our Wednesday dinner of pan fried Monkfish with prosciutto and watermelon,  a chilled white 2015 Louis Jadot La Doix Le Clou d’orge or a red 2011 Moulinau Vent Clos de Rochegnes was served and the meal was finished with a grilled peach and ricotta.  It was sensational.  Oh, my goodness. I didn’t want to remind myself that I would be preparing my own dinners when I returned home.

IMG_2970Thursday, we visited a farmer’s market in a big parking lot just outside the Chateau d’Ancy-le-Franc. Oh my! The fragrance of the fresh fruits and tomatoes at one booth had me swooning. It was hard to tear myself away until I spotted a cheese vendor across the way. Oh, my goodness….it was hard to resist buying little packages of my favorite Epoisse, but I reminded myself that this stinky cheese would never make it home to Petaluma.   Epoisse




Later we entered the Chateau d’Ancy-le-Franc and marveled at the huge Renaissance murals.

Me at Fireplace Ancy-le-Franc

Bear at Ancy-le-Franc

I fell in love with an adorable painting of a big polar bear all dressed up with a red scarf around his neck. His big brown eyes seemed to follow as I walked around the room.

 Kings potty

I laughed when I came across a special potty chair built in a private room for a visiting King. Indoor plumbing was non-existent, but the King just could not use the primitive facilities provided for his subjects.

We were delighted to find musicians setting up when we returned to the barge.  Martial Henzelin on keyboards and his partner on drums. Wow! I found myself singing along with some of the familiar tunes. Martial Henzelin and meThe cattle in the field alongside the canal stopped munching on the grass and almost seem to sway to the sound of the music.

Dinner featured ripe, juicy tomatoes and fresh Mozzarella, followed by duck breast, cheese and a chocolate tart. Wines were white 2015 Bouchard pere et fils Marsault Les Clous and a red 2011 Gassies Margaux.

Friday found us wandering in the vineyards of Chablis and sampling some extraordinary Domaine Jean Marc Brocard wines and giggling at the owner’s unusual collection of erotic cork screws on display.  (a little too erotic to post photos.)

Chablis, made from Chardonnay grapes,  is often described as smelling and tasting of citrus and a flint-like minerality.


The Chablis region is the northernmost wine district of the Burgundy region in France. The cool climate of this area produces wines with more acidity and less fruity flavors than Chardonnay wines grown in warmer climates. The Chablis Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée is required to use Chardonnay grapes solely and is aged in stainless steel not oak barrels.


Me in the Chablis vineyards

The Captain’s dinner, on our last night on board,  was absolutely delicious. It began with foie gras and apricots and hazelnuts, then featured steaks from the famous white Carolais Beef. Charolais cattle are one of the world’s finest beef cattle, its origins date back to the time of Charlemagne, with their fame spreading throughout Europe by the time of the French Revolution.


Charolais cattle

Charolais Beef FilletThe Charolais fillet was tender and succulent and I could almost taste the farmlands where the animals feed. We had seen dozens of them as we cruised along the canal. They would look up at us with a mild interest as we passed by, then would return to their grazing.

A red 2007 Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru and a white 2011 Chablis Grand Cru  were featured.

The cheese course featured my favorite Epoisse, along with some wedges of Roquefort and Comte.

For desert, Chef Robert created a tower of little Profiterole crème puffs, then drizzled the whole extravaganza with liquor and set it to flame! IMG_3039

Oh my goodness! It was a spectacular finish to an incredible week.












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St. Patrick and Me

The sound of organ music greeted us as my sister Patty and I entered Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. We shook out our wet umbrellas and placed them in the corner, reverently, for this was said to be the earliest Christian site in Ireland.

St Patrick's Dublin

It was my first trip to Ireland back in 1978, and I admit to being a bit wide-eyed at everything I saw for many reasons; not least because our most ancient buildings in California are a scant 300 years old, but because I had been “encircled” by St. Patrick from an early age. I attended Saint Patrick’s Elementary School and Saint Patrick’s Church, where I made my first communion and confirmation. Later I would give my son “Patrick” as a middle name. And then there is my sister Patricia, to add even more “Patrickism” to my life. Saint Patrick and I had a connection; he was a thread in the larger fabric of religion that swaddled my childhood.

The sound of organ music greeted us as my sister Patty and I entered the Cathedral. We shook out our wet umbrellas and placed them in the corner, reverently, for this was said to be the earliest Christian site in Ireland.

Inside Cathedral

So here I was, standing on the hallowed ground. Overwhelmed by the spirit of the place, I wasn’t quite ready to enter the nave where a dozen people were scattered around the main altar praying. So I grounded myself by picking up some literature at the bookshop and learned that a church had stood on this site since the fifth century. It seems the original building was just a wooden chapel until 1192 when Archbishop John Comyn ordered a cathedral to be built in stone. Much of the present edifice was constructed in the 13th century, and today it remains the largest church in Ireland.

Growing up Catholic was full of magic and mystery for me. My grandmother had a framed print of Jesus with his hands holding his Sacred Heart. Those sad eyes stared out at me every time I passed by the picture. It gave me the creeps, actually. I had been impressed by stories of crying statues of the Madonna and paintings of her that shed tears and other mystical events. I used to pray that Grandma’s print of Jesus wouldn’t start crying or sprout apparitions like Mary who appeared to Bernadette at Lourdes.

Sacred Heart of Jesus

My paternal grandfather was Irish and so I guess it was easy for me to believe in mystical experiences and legendary Irish folklore, like leprechauns and pots of gold—and the best one about Saint Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. Perhaps it’s in my blood; my mother always told me I had the gift of blarney because I spun many a tall tale.

“Patrickism” continued at Saint Patrick’s school, where Father Patrick Flannigan taught us about the Catholic Sacraments and always seemed to have a joke or two to tell us. I loved his Irish accent and the way his eyes sparkled when he laughed over his own jokes. However, the whole class quaked when Father Murphy came thundering in. He threatened us with hell and damnation if we weren’t good children, studying our catechism and memorizing our prayers. I remember sinking down in my chair, hoping he wouldn’t notice me and ask me a question I couldn’t answer.

The Saint Patrick’s Church of my youth was old and the kneelers didn’t have any padding, so I spent much of my childhood with bruises on my knees. The bruises made me feel extra holy.

From my earliest years, I thought of Saint Patrick as my personal saint. I liked seeing the statue of him all dressed up in the green and gold robes of a bishop. During Lent he and all the other statues were draped in black, which gave the church a very scary and sinister atmosphere. Father Murphy told us that this was so we would focus on the passion of Christ, rather than enjoy the beauty of the art. But I always worried that behind those black drapes the saints were hiding their tears.

St. Patrick

Ultimately, I transferred to public school and began to drift away from the Church, although I still attended mass on Sunday and holy days and Saint Patrick continued to be my soulmate, advisor, and friend.

When my sister and I arrived at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral the choir was rehearsing for services that would be held later in the day. The organ filled the church with passion and power and the singers sounded like angels. These vocal groups are part of the Cathedral’s long history, with the Choir School founded in 1432. Its members took part in the very first performance of Handel’s Messiah! (The original score is on display in the Cathedral.) As we sat listening, my eyes filled with tears at the beauty surrounding me in the centuries-old church. Wandering around the building, Patty and I discovered a very ancient-looking stone with a timeworn Celtic cross carved on it. A printed description claimed that, in 1901, during the demolition of nearby buildings to form the park beside the cathedral, workers unearthed this perfectly preserved slab bearing a Celtic cross, which was covering a well. It is thought that it may have marked the site of the former holy well, where Saint Patrick is reputed to have baptized converts from paganism to Christianity around 450 A.D. I realized the longevity of this saint’s influence, and I was reminded again of the years of connection between me and Saint Patrick.

Celtic Cross slabpg

.Walking where Saint Patrick had once trod, the lush Irish grass smelled sweet beneath my feet and a bird singing in a nearby tree seemed to be accompanying the choir. I sat down on a weathered wooden bench and felt my body relaxing as I closed my eyes, enjoying the music. A vision of Saint Patrick appeared before me, looking as he always had: dressed in his green and gold, complete with conical hat and smiling at me. Saints be with us!

I admit to being a bit wide-eyed at everything I saw for many reasons; not least because our most ancient buildings in California are a scant 300 years old, but because I had been “encircled” by St. Patrick from an early age. I attended Saint Patrick’s Elementary School and Saint Patrick’s Church, where I made my first communion and confirmation. Later I would give my son “Patrick” as a middle name. And then there is my sister Patricia, to add even more “Patrickism” to my life. Saint Patrick and I had a connection; he was a thread in the larger fabric of religion that swaddled my childhood.

Saint Patrick died in 461 AD, and is believed to be buried at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down. No one can be certain of the exact spot of his burial, but a memorial stone of granite from the nearby Mourne Mountains marks what is thought to be his grave. I have returned to Ireland several times over the years and one trip I made a pilgrimage to his burial site. I must say I really did feel a special energy.

The sky that day was a pale shade of blue and puffy clouds sailed by slowly. Wild daffodils were scattered across the lush green landscape. I felt right at home sitting at the grave with the sun warming my back, thinking about the saint that had been one of the most important spiritual companions throughout my life. Patrick has seen me through many challenges and transitions. I have always felt very possessive about him, as if he were uniquely my own.

The grave site was very calming; it was as if I could actually feel the warmth of the saint embracing me. I came away from the cemetery with a sense of peace and love—just what you would hope for from your own personal saint.



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Floating on a Burgundy Canal


Floating Along the Loire River Canal on the Renaissance Barge

JacquelineHarmon Butler


“Madame, would you like another glass of Champagne?”

“Oh yes,” I replied with a smile, holding out my Champagne flute in one hand and taking another of the delicious tidbits being passed around with the other.

We were welcomed aboard the barge Renaissance by Captain Hadrien Famy and introduced to his crew of four which consisted of two hostesses, Dani and Nicole, chef Brenda and James, tour guide/assistant to Captain Hadrien.

I had just arrived on the Renaissance which was moored on a canal running alongside the famous Loire River in the Burgundy region of France. Crew member James picked up my friend Carol and I in Paris, along with four other members of our group. He loaded us and our baggage and into a big Mercedes Benz minibus. We were excited and looking forward to our week-long barge cruise along a canal following the upper Loire River in Western Burgundy between Chatillon-sur-Lore and Montargis. There would be eight passengers from:  San Francisco, England, Florida and New Jersey: three married couples and Carol and me.

The boat has been beautifully transformed from a grain hauling working barge into an elegant floating masterpiece. The accommodations were are luxurious and each of the four cabins are beautifully decorated, air-conditioned, with comfortable beds, a TV and port holes that could be opened — although not while the barge was in motion. The adjoining bathrooms were supplied with delicious smelling soaps, shampoos, lotions with fluffy bathrobes, and soft luxurious towels. All that and heated towel racks too!

Carol & I on Canal

Carol and I

The barge has a huge partially covered deck, with a large round table and chairs. There is hot tub located near the bow and bicycles available on the back of the boat. Exploring around the partially covered deck, furnished with a big round table and chairs, I admired baskets of colorful flowers hanging along the railings and several large pots containing flowering hibiscus plants and two small olive trees beside the hot tub. I was surprised to notice one of the olive trees had a few tiny olives growing on it!

The hot tub looked inviting and I asked if it was always warm.

“Oh yes, we keep it quite warm and available whenever you want to take a soak,” replied James.

“I can’t wait” I replied and Carol and I agreed that we would try it out later that evening.

Inside, the salon and dining areas were decorated with comfy chairs, sofas, a stereo system, and at one end a round dining table and chairs. Walking over to the small corner bar/liquor cabinet, I noticed a wide assortment of hard liquor, wine, (including my favorite Menatou Salon), beer, sparkling water and soft drinks. It’s an open bar so guests can help themselves whenever they want. There was an espresso machine on top of the wooden bar and a small refrigerator below. Bookcases lined one wall and offered a variety of books, games, puzzles, maps and information about the barge.

Pate with Spinach

A delicious dinner, including a delicate pâté with spinach wrapped in bacon, scalloped potatoes, a salad of fresh local greens and a 2007 Santenay Premier Cru-La Comme, was served inside the salon as we got acquainted with our fellow travelers.

The next morning, we were greeted with fresh squeezed orange juice, hot coffee or tea and a tempting assortment of buttery croissants, pain au chocolate, glazed pastries and eggs cooked to order.

Our morning destination was a cruise through the Loire countryside and a visit to the Chateau de Fontainebleau. The medieval castle/palace served as a residence for the French monarchs from Louis VII to Napoleon III, and is now a national museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the only imperial chateau continuously inhabited for seven centuries. Every royal family added its own touches when in residence and so the Chateau and it was interesting to see such an eclectic collection of styles.

Chaeau de Fontainebleau outside

I think one would almost need a golf cart to get around the sprawling place! Many of the rooms had massive fireplaces and I’m sure it must have been miserably cold living there in the winter months.

Returning to the barge, we relaxed with fancy cocktails and later dined on fresh scallops with a bottle of Cave de Tain Hermitage Grand Classic wine. The wine was fresh and crisp and a delicious paring with the scallops.

Tuesday morning, we visited the lovely Chateau de Sully-sur-Loire. It originally belonged to Georges de la Trémoille who in 1429 infuriated Joan d’Arc by encouraging the Dauphin Charles to devote himself to idle hunting in the forests around Sully. I found it interesting that in 1430 Joan d’Arc was imprisoned there for a short time after her failure to liberate Paris. Then in the 18th century Voltaire spent time at the Chateau while exiled from Paris.

Chateau de Sully sur-Loire

The entire Chateau has been lovingly restored and I could almost imagine myself living there. One of the bedrooms was especially inviting. A fancy dress was draped across a chair, waiting for me to try on.

Beautiful dress

But what really captured my imagination was a small ornate silver framed mirror placed upon a marble topped chest. I thought it was perfect to arrange my hair or apply makeup. Oh yes, I thought I would be very happy living in that room — alas, only in fair weather.




7 locks

sept écluses

Later we cruised to our mooring spot at the little village of Rogn-les-Sept Ecluses, near the famous 350-year-old seven locks.

The Briare Canal and its main work, the seven locks (or sept écluses), were part of the huge work of Henry IV to join the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel by a network of canals and rivers. Construction for both the locks and the Briare Canal started in 1604, and required over 12,000 workers. Material theft was a real problem at the time so over 6,000 soldiers came to monitor the construction site.

I couldn’t help wondering where all those people were housed. Today the little town is peaceful and quiet but it must have been a real nightmare living there during the construction. I couldn’t imagine what the site must have looked like during that time.  Where did people cook, eat and sleep? And what did they do about lavatories?

The locks and the adjacent canal were finally open for navigation in 1642. They were the first of their kind to be built in France and ultimately a system of canals and locks linked all of France with the Atlantic Ocean, the English Channel and the Mediterranean Sea. These locks were modernized in 1822 but finally closed in 1887, after new ones were built. They were designated a national historical monument in 1983. 

Lunch is served

Lunch is served

We drove into town and visited a weekly farmer’s market where we picked up a variety of delicious products ordered by our chef. We sampled variety of delicious salamis’, cheeses, olives, succulent vine ripened tomatoes, watermelon, figs and peaches as we wandered around.

Artichoke for lunch

A California favorite: artichokes

The weather was warm and beautiful so we enjoyed our afternoon cocktails and appetizers out on the deck as we watched a flock of swans swimming nearby.

Much later, after dinner, I ventured into the hot tub, which had colored lights and piped in music. The temperature was perfect. I could feel my body slowly relaxing in the luxurious setting.


Wednesday, we visited the famous Gien Faience pottery factory where we watched artisans painting beautiful patterns on assorted plates, bowls, cups, etc. It was difficult to pick out a favorite. We ended our tour in their retail shop and I wanted to purchase a variety of products. However, lack of space in my luggage prevented me from buying an exquisite rose festooned teapot.

Gien Faience Pottery

That evening we dined at the Michelin starred Auberge des Templiers in the Les Bezards restaurant. The Auberge is located in Boismorand in the Sologne, a woodland region south of the river Loire.

The Auberge, situated in a country road, was once a stopping place for the Templiers, who were a Catholic military order founded in 1119 and active from about 1129 to 1312.  The hotel is surrounded by flowering trees and beautiful gardens.

The food was beautifully created and totally delicious. I began with an appetizer of duck Foie Gras of Vendée with citrus jelly and special Reims’ Champagne vinegar.  Yum! This was served with a chilled bottle of Thomas LaBelle 2016 Sancerre. It was delicious!

For my main course, I enjoyed the Grilled Filet of Charolaise Beef with a Wasabi Shitzuoka. I’m a big fan of Carolais Beef, which is native to the Burgundy region of France and is one of the oldest  beef cattle breeds in the world.

I chose a “Rothschild Soufflé” with bourbon vanilla ice cream  for dessert. It was a perfect ending to a wonderful meal.

Thursday, we slowly progressed to Briare and visited the Chateau de la Bussiere. Although it’s privately owned, we could wander through the building and the beautiful surrounding gardens where a weekend wedding was being set up.

Green Bedroom

The Green Bedroom

Although it is romantic to think about living in one of these old stone buildings, it is important to remember what they are made almost entirely of stone and while cool during the hot summer months, they would be dreadfully cold in winter. The giant fireplaces could not possibly warm the rooms no matter how big a fire was created.

Upper Loire sunrise

Morning on the Canal

The next morning, Friday, we wandered around the stalls of the outdoor market in Briare. We sampled a variety fruits, variety of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, dried meats.  There were a few French fashion stalls and we had fun looking over the shoes, slippers, undies and a clothing.

Cheese, cheese, delicious cheese!

Back on board we progressed to the famous Gustave Eiffel’s beautiful aqueduct and crossed the Loire River. It was fun and amazing to be floating on a bridge over a river!

Eiffel Bridge

We visited the renowned winery Domaine Henri Bougeois in Chavignol in Sancerre for a private tour and tasting. The wines were delicious! I especially enjoyed their 2014 Sancerre Les Baronnes. It was very dark and rich, tasting of fresh fruit with a lingering hint of oak. The harvest had just been completed in the surrounding vineyards and the vines were turning a beautifully rich gold and amber.

Cottage in the vineyard

A cottage in a vineyard

That evening we celebrated our last night with the Captain’s Farewell Dinner on board. With cocktails and escargots, we enjoyed the music of a keyboard and drum combo. Carol joined in with them singing a sexy rendition of “The Girl from Ipanema.”

A before dinner treat

Our dinner was highlighted with a beautiful grilled filet of beef with scallops accented by a delicious Passagne-Montrachet Morgeot and a Charles-Chamertin Grand Cru. The dessert was a poached pear dressed in melted chocolate and fresh strawberries and blue berries. Delicious!

Me and Captian Hadrien

Captain Hadrien and me

As we said goodbye on Saturday morning, we exchanged email addresses and promised to stay in touch.

It was an incredibly wonderful week, filled with luxurious accommodations, gourmet meals, exceptional wines, interesting visits to surrounding places. I totally relaxed and forgot about the stresses of life back home. I felt like a kitten in a basket being totally taken care of.

Reading the Eureopean Waterways new catalogue, I’m dreaming of another barge cruise…maybe in Italy or Ireland.

“Madame, would you like another glass of Champagne” …oh yes…

Champagne anyone?

















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Riding the Rails of Europe

1,522 words


Riding the Rails in Europe

Jacqueline Harmon Butler


European Train

On my first trip to Europe many years ago, my sister Patty and I traveled around Ireland, England, Scotland, France and Switzerland via our Eurail Passes.  I found standing in front of the big departure boards in the train stations thrilling.  Something captivated me about those clicking sounds, and then new trains to magical places would appear with track and departure time. Knowing that I could board any one of those trains was a huge temptation.  I loved that clicking sound.  To me it sounded like adventure.


I have loved trains since I was a child.  They have always represented romance, mystery and excitement to me, and I sought out songs, movies and books that featured rail travel. Somehow the magic of romantic reunions and sad departures have always gotten to me, such as the last scene from the movie Summertime, when a tearful Katherine Hepburn was on board a train leaving Venice and Rossano Brazzi was running along the quay waving a beautiful white gardenia after her. Then there is the scene in Casablanca, where Humphrey Bogart is supposed to meet Ingrid Bergman at the Gare de Lyon. They were fleeing the Nazis, bound for Morocco. A colleague gives him a note in which Ingrid says that due to unforeseen circumstances, she cannot meet him after all.  A very dejected Humphry boards the train without her.  In another film classic, Some Like it Hot, a bouncy Marilyn Monroe joins the other members of an all-girl band for a slumber party on the sleeper train.  This entourage includes Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis masquerading as women.  And of course we can’t forget Agatha Christi’s fabulous Murder on the Orient Express.  My list goes on and on…

Over the years, before the high speed trains, I found it convenient to take sleeper trains between cities: Paris to Marseille, Nice to Venice, Vienna back to Paris (via a train called the Rosen Cavalier).  I loved waking up at border crossings, listening to the sounds of the guards talking, now in French and then in Italian or German.  It is no surprise that I found the idea of riding the rails between France, Switzerland and Austria enticing, and I planned to try out Rail Europe’s newest two-country rail passes, France-Switzerland and Switzerland-Austria.  My itinerary, which I planned in advance, took me from Dijon, France, to Montreux, then from Luzern, Switzerland, to Salzburg and Vienna, Austria.

My first train of the trip was a shiny TGV that zoomed from the Gare d’Lyon in Paris down to Dijon in just 1 1/2 hours.


In Dijon I took the Owl’s Walking Tour around the old city.  I was amused by a small owl icon sculpted into the corner of a building near Notre Dame; its image almost completely rubbed smooth by the many hands that had touched it.  Legend has it that the owl is a good luck charm for those who rub it with their left hand, (the hand close to the heart), and make a wish.  Following the instructions, I gave the little owl a rub and made my wish.


The trip from Dijon to Montreux, Switzerland, with a change of trains in Lusanne, took just over five hours. The tracks wound through green pastures dotted with herds of honey-colored cows and meadows covered with wild flowers, then maneuvered through the snow-covered Alpine pass.

Montreux is home of the fabulous international jazz festival and is situated right on Lake Geneva. A promenade follows the lakeside connecting a string of small towns and it’s ideal for walking or biking.  Bike rental shops are readily available near the train station.  This region is sometimes referred to as the Swiss Riviera and the scenery is dazzling. The distance between the towns is short, usually around a mile or so and the entire trail from Vevey-Montreux to Lutry is only 20 miles.


The train arrived in Luzern right in the middle of a torrential rainstorm.  It was brutal but I hunkered down and tramped across the bridge from the station to the sumptuous Schweizerholf Hotel, which is one of the best in the city. As I approached the elegant reception area I looked more like a drowned rat instead of a sophisticated international traveler.   The staff was understanding and gracious as I stood dripping helplessly at the front desk.


Reception at the Hotel Schweizerholf Hotel

Luzern and the surrounding area are perfect for walking.  It’s also possible to do more adventurous trips like taking the cogwheel train to the top of nearby Mt. Pilatus.  Legend has it that a big red dragon lives at the summit.  Tempting as that was, instead I chose to follow in the footsteps of the legendary local hero, William Tell and visited his birthplace in Brunnen and a small museum filled with memorabilia of old bows and arrows.  When the music of the William Tell Overture began to play, I honestly expected to see the Lone Ranger gallop into the room!

Next, I boarded a train that travels through the Alps separating Switzerland and Austria.  The best part of train travel is looking out the window at the passing scenery.  Instead of flying high overhead, one can actually see the individual trees and sometimes spot wild animals in the woods.  The train chugged up and over mountain passes, giving me ample opportunity to enjoy the fact that I was safe and warm inside the luxurious coach and not tramping through the snowy landscape just outside the windows.  I ate lunch onboard, entertained by a waiter who flirted and flittered around making sure my food was just right and that I had everything I wanted.  He served the dessert with a flourish and I devoured the luscious, lighter-than-air lemon and whipped cream cake

Salzburg has always been one of my favorite cities.  I can’t explain why.  Maybe it’s because it seems like a fairytale place, what with folks wearing those traditional Tracht outfits.  I’ve often imagined me living there, wearing a complete dirndl costume and carrying a large basket as I went about my shopping; this fantasy probably explains why a few Austrian garments have found their way into my suitcases over the years, including two Tyrolean hats decorated with huge feathers.


Typical Tyrol Hat

The next city on my journey, Vienna, was to be the final rail connection.  The scenery had changed completely from the craggy, snow-covered Alps to a countryside in full bloom with wild flowers and green with grain. I had chosen my hotel carefully and once again it was located right on the pedestrian-only streets in the old part of town.  I hurried out for an afternoon walk and headed immediately for the Hotel Sacher for tea and—you guessed it—a slice of heavenly Sacher Torte.  As the rich, dense chocolate slid down my throat I smiled and breathed a deep sigh. Ah, Vienna, city of my dreams.


That night I dined at Do & Co Albertina, the new hotter than hot local favorite.  My dinner included an incredibly tasty sautéed goose liver followed by a deliciously crunchy Viener Schnitzel.  This is one of my favorite dishes and I savored every bite.


The next morning I toured the old city on foot and while at the Hofburg Palace, I caught a few minutes of a Lipizzaner horse practice session.  I love those magnificent white horses and thrilled to the sight of their high-stepping dancing.  Later on I found a little café down an alleyway in the pedestrian section of the city, simply named “Solé.” I dined on huge pale white asparagus with a tangy lemon/cream sauce, accented with thin slices of Proscuitto.  I felt like I was in heaven.  Surely white asparagus must be the food of the goddesses.


The last city on my journey was Paris.  Yes, I saved the very best for last.  I arrived late in the day and hurriedly showered and changed, then ran down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. The Hotel du Louvre is located right smack dab in the middle of the Louvre Museum complex and my room looked out onto the courtyard of the Comédie Française.   It had been a long trip and I was a bit tired as I sat sipping a tall cool glass of champagne out on the terrace of the restaurant.  The food was exquisite and I indulged myself with a starter of marrowbones.  I know many of you are saying “yuck!” right now, but this is a dish I love and seldom ever get the chance to eat.  The marrow was divinely slippery and smooth.


Much later, I strolled down to the Seine River.  The Eiffel Tower was doing her nightly on-the-hour twinkling light show, and the air was perfumed with flowering chestnut trees.  Tears came to my eyes as I looked around.  “Ah Paris, how could any city be more beautiful than you?”


Somewhere in the distance, I thought I heard the whistle of a train and wondered if it was the Orient Express hurrying through the night towards morning and Venice.  I could imagine the clicking of the departures board announcing its alluring exodus.


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