Friday, February 26, 2016

50 Countries And Counting: A Naturalista's Adventures and Black "Herstory" Perspectives in Europe, Part II--Italy, Portugal and The Vatican

We're still in Black History month and my chosen cities in Europe continue. Why because as mentioned in a previous piece during this Black History month, wherever I go, it's Black "herstory" because I'm a sister! Beyond travel discussion about the marvelous countries where primarily Black people dwell, I will continue to share my travel journeys, as I have done previously when discussing Africa and other beautiful places but Europe is a place where Black people travel too so let's go to Italy, Portugal and the Vatican!

While a young girl growing up in Queens, NY, there was a pizza place in a location called Jamaica Avenue that had excellent Margherita Pizza. So delicious! I had an odd way of eating it. I would eat the cheese first because it was so scrumptious, and then the bread. This pizza feasting led me to always imagine doing so in Italy. Many years later, it was also a place that my daughter desired to visit, so off we went as a family to visit Rome, Tivoli, Assisi, Tuscany, Verona, Pisa, Venice and Florence. There was so much to do and see that the decision was to go on a tour, which I am never fond of doing, so it is rare for us. However, it did ramp up our ability to see a lot in a stress-free format. Essentially, every aspect of the trip was arranged for us. All we had to do was pack and go!
No trip to Italy would be satisfying, in my eyes, without a romantic ride on a Gondola, while viewing the beautiful architecture on the water, after enjoying a Bellini at Harrys. That is some kind of wonderful! It is seemingly impossible not to love this. We did indeed! Venice is a place of joyous frivolity including the glass blowing, carnival masks and constant eating of gelato. I actually could not believe how much gelato our son ate in Italy at large, but Venice was a place to really enjoy it. The Piazza San Marco is a fabulous hangout spot. I absolutely felt like a kid again sitting on the lion pictured below. I can go on and on discussing Venice because I loved it so much. Every moment while there, I felt a sense of aliveness and enjoyed just sitting in cafes sipping and eating until my stomach said ENOUGH already and it was time to walk it off. This is a place to go with family for an assured good time but the notion of dieting should be left at home. Your plan should be to eat, drink and be merry!
Florence is a very special place. For me, it translated to art as the Uffizi was worth every moment of the time spent there. I was thrilled to see the Birth of Venus by Botticelli, which of course I was excited to do, but there was so much more to see. We also saw David, by Michelangelo, at the Accademia Gallery (although there is so much more to see beyond it). I wondered if David would be as excellent as I had always imagined it to be and indeed it was. Honestly, I couldn't stop looking at it. The statue exceeded my expectations. The detail is impeccable and we marveled at it for a considerable period of time. This magnificent piece of art is a sight to behold and there is a sense of profoundness while analyzing it.

Beyond the museums and magnificent art, there was outstanding architecture, beautiful churches and general impressiveness, everywhere we walked in this city of cities. Of course there was eating too. The thing about Italy is that, no matter where you go, you must eat. You have to convince yourself that the walking will balance it all out and that the most important thing to do is to let go of any notion of feeling guilty. Dieting is not an option. Pasta, bread, pizza, cheese, coffee, pastries--just all of it is there for you to consume and enjoy. No matter where you go, you will see people eating. Just indulge yourself and then walk it off. Florence is wonderful! If you have the opportunity, definitely check it out.
We also visited Portofino, as mentioned in my last post where I highlighted our experiences in France and Monaco per a yacht cruise. Portofino is absolutely charming. It's one of those quaint cities that is so picturesque that you feel like you are in a postcard setting as you're walking around. It's a cute little fishing village with colorful buildings and beauty all around. There is a restaurant in Miami that my husband and I often go to named Portofino. We love it because the food is delicious and we get to reminisce while there, as there are perfect artists renderings of it at the restaurant. Portofino is a place for romance and love!
Basically, it is perhaps accurate to say that you shouldn't do Italy without visiting Rome. Beyond the Colosseum, which is magnificent, there is also Trevi Fountain and other sites, too numerous to list. In Rome, there is a sense of going back in time. History is all around you in terms of ruins and beautiful sites in general. Of course, the food is amazing! Being there felt big. There was a sense that although I have traveled much of the world, standing in Rome was outstanding. You can tell, as you walk around, that a lot went down there, historically speaking. Essentially, if you go to Italy, don't miss Rome. It is an absolute must see. Also, try to visit Tivoli nearby. There is a statue there you probably don't want to miss.
Our interest in travel to Portugal was to see Lisbon on our way to West Africa. Portugal was the first country in history to participate in slavery, in terms of Africans and the New World. I don't find this to be a positive claim to fame but the city is indeed formidable. In Portugal, we enjoyed a hop on hop off, double decker bus tour. These tours are great when you have limited time, but a lot to see and indeed we did. While there, I bought a fantastic bottle of Port wine. Unfortunately, I forgot to put it in my suitcase and had it in my carry-on when we left so it was confiscated by TSA. That was tremendously disappointing. But, nevertheless, we enjoyed Lisbon. One of our meals was an excellent paella. If paella is made right, you will experience a treat indeed and we did. But I was so eager to get to Africa that perhaps I did not absorb Lisbon thoroughly. We saw the Torre de Belem (tower shaped like a boot), Bairro Alto, Pradrao de Descobremente (Wall of Discoverers/Colonizers) and the Piazza de Mare amongst other sites. Each of these sites were wonderful! Lisbon was worthy and I definitely recommend a visit there.
The Vatican
The highlight of the Vatican, was the Sistine Chapel (Michelangelo), of course. I was intrigued by the fact that although I am not Catholic, the Vatican is the place where the Pope resides. The architecture was incredible and there was a feel to the place that was different from other places in Italy. I loved seeing La Pieta which is Michael Angelo's rendition of Mary and Jesus. The intricacy of this sculpture is phenomenal. The Vatican did not feel like a vacation spot, by any stretch of the word, but more like a religious experience that I am sure for Roman Catholics is a tremendous experience. I do believe it is worth the visit.
Essentially, the reason to go to Pisa is to see the leaning tower of Pisa. I remember learning about it as a child in school and finding the notion of a building leaning, very interesting. Although there is a bit more to see there, seeing the leaning tower is essentially sufficient and then you move on. I'm glad we checked that off. Checking it out is definitely fun and interesting!
We also took a few side trips which included Verona to see Romeo and Juliette's Balcony and to rub the statue there for good luck. We visited Tivoli near Rome to see the multiple breasted statue (pictured above) and the gardens, Assisi to see and understand the life of St. Francis of Assisi (I find him particularly intriguing because of his love of pets) and Tuscany, where we saw beautiful sunflowers and enjoyed delicious wine. I definitely would love to return to Tuscany and chill out there for awhile. A longer stay would be wonderful there.
Below are travel tips that I hope you will find useful for your journeys. Next I will explore Spain, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, which you won't want to miss. Stay tuned!
Check out my Travel Tips, which you don't want to miss!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

50 Countries And Counting: A Naturalista's Adventures Through Europe And Black "Herstory" Perspectives, Part I--Monaco and France!

In my last installment of my naturalista travel adventures, I mentioned that I would write about Europe and then as my fingers hit the keys, I recognized, hold up, wait a minute, it's Black History Month! I started to change my places to write about my travels to locations where primarily Black people dwell, as I have done previously, namely Fiji and African nations, then I changed my mind. It is befitting to write about a naturalista's experience in Europe because no matter where I go, on this earth, as a Black woman, it becomes a part of black "herstory." Why? because I'm a sister! So here goes my journey, through Europe, from a Black "herstory" perspective, Part I.
We started our journey, which was part of a yacht cruise that I took with my husband. The trip included Monte Carlo, Monaco, Villefranche, France, Portovenere and Portofino Italy, St. Florent, Corsica, St. Tropez, France, Cannes, France and then returning to Monaco, followed by a few days in Nice, France. A colleague of my husband owned the ships, of which there were two, with 100 cabins each. He prided himself on the luxury his ships provided, which promised champagne, caviar, amazing food and comfort. We truly enjoyed those offerings in abundance. I will discuss our experience in Italy, on this voyage and other trips, in Part II of this European journey but this, Part I, will focus on Monaco and France (per the voyage and other visits there).
The one word that I will use to describe Monaco is decadent. Of course, part of our experience there was to visit the Monte Carlo Casino. We are not gamblers, by any stretch of the word, but when in Monaco, do like the Monegasque! Outside of the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, there is the supposedly, lucky bronze statue of Louis XIV. You rub his right knee and legend has it that you will have good luck gambling inside so of course we did that! There were Rolls Royces and other vehicles, exemplifying wealth and luxury, in front of the casino.
In addition to the casino, as our time was limited in Monaco, we ran around, trying to see as much as possible before heading back on the ship to get ready for our next destination, Villefranche, France.
During the cruise mentioned above, Villefranche was our next destination on the Mediterranean coast. We visited the Citadel and other interesting sites. The highlight of this location was the outstanding seafood and beautiful vistas by the bay and the fantastic shopping at the antique market on square Amelie Pollonais. There is a lovely beach and we took excellent walks down narrow streets where we found all types of interesting gifts to buy. One very cool point about Villefranche is that Tina Turner was so impressed with it that she bought a palatial villa there. This was a trip that we took without our children so it felt very much like a second honeymoon. We were the only Black people on the entire ship, while on board. It's always interesting when that happens but our travel is our focus and we are just happy to bring some diversity to the experience.
We also visited Corsica, which I loved. First of all, there is a brother (a Moor) on the Corsican flag, which was great to see! The highlight of this location was the food (delicious-- including lamb and goat and cheese from sheep's milk, delectable desserts and fine wine and Corsican Muscat--a must try!) We visited the old port, the Citadel, the cathedral and some excellent shops and of course there was swimming! The ocean was lovely and we enjoyed every moment. Corsica is quite a unique experience and definitely a place to spend some quality time.
Tahiti Beach, St. Tropez
Our next destination was St. Tropez, which is a truly cool spot. We did the usual--walking, shopping, eating and the beach. Wearing a top at the beach didn't seem like the right option there, or perhaps you won't want it to be ladies, so go for it! There are lots of cool yachts in the port, Club 55 on Pampelonne Beach and excellent nightlife. My recommendation is to spend most of your time there on the beach until you must go and then head to the port area for eating, shopping and people watching. Such a must do place! Don't miss it!
Usually, when thinking of Cannes, the first thing that comes to mind is film screenings. I'm sure that's great so of course we had to visit the Palais de Festivals Et Des Congres. It's a formidable city with beautiful sites, great architecture, excellent shopping, lovely beaches and awesome coffee shops. I have to say that most of our shopping was done there as Cannes is one of the French Riviera's top chic clothing spots. We walked so much and ate many, many pastries while sipping coffee and enjoying Orangina. We soaked in every moment of our time there. We visited Grasse, the town that claims to be the perfume capital of the world so you can imagine what I bought at one of the perfumeries! Cannes is a special location, with it's own uniqueness. I found it lovely, while simultaneously exhausting, in a pleasant way.
Upon our return to the ship, after a late night and into the morning activities, we were ready for that champagne and caviar that was a highlight of the ship. It was worth the wait. Every moment on the ship was fantastic!!
After departing from a wonderful time on our cruise and visiting so many special places, we decided to spend a few days in Nice, which is one of my favorite cities in the world. I love Nice including the architecture, the ocean, the parks, the market, the mussels and beer, and our quaint hotel, The Hotel Vendome, which was charming and elegant.
We stayed out each evening until about 3:00 a.m. walking and taking in every moment. There were street performers in the square, night shopping, and a general sense of aliveness and fun at all times. It also has beautiful scenery, wherever you look. It's a city to live, not just to visit, for sure. My favorite meal was mussels and french fries with a big mug of beer.
Of course, Paris is my favorite place in France. I have been there several times. First, with my husband and children. They were very young. I remember going up to the top of the Eiffel Tower with our children and an elderly man came over to our son and said, "You are very lucky. I waited my whole life to do this." That was a moment to cherish because we were delighted to have our children there with us. My greatest memory there is of our children running around the gardens of the Palace of Versailles and marveling with us at it and everything inside of the palace, particularly the Hall of Mirrors--truly amazing! I also loved watching them sip hot chocolate at cafes. They were just adorable.
I returned to Paris at a later point to give a presentation at an international health conference and then again in 2015 with my husband for our 30th Wedding Anniversary. Yes! Thirty amazing years so Paris seemed so perfectly appropriate. We got home just days before the tragedy that occurred in November so our beautiful memory of a joyous time, included reflection on the sadness for the people of Paris. We felt deep compassion for the Parisians and their beautiful city.
We enjoyed our anniversary there immensely, especially our journey by a short train ride to the Reims region of Champagne where we visited the Charles Heidseick Estate for a tour and champagne tasting. Another highlight was theMusee D'Orsay, which holds original impressionist Masterpieces by Monet, Degas and other outstanding artists. Just fabulous! We stayed at, the Hotel Astor St. Honore, which was delightfully Parisian and our romantic dinner cruise on the River Siene, topped it all off.
Each time I visit Paris, I understand why Black expatriates such as James Baldwin, Josephine Baker, Maya Angelou and others chose it as their destination for a period in their lives, to escape the ravages of racism that they experienced as artists in the U.S. Eventually they returned to the U.S., but they found respite in Paris.
Below are travels tips that I hope you will find helpful. In my upcoming posts on Europe (Parts II and III), I will cover, Spain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, The United Kingdom, The Vatican and Portugal!
To see these tips that I think are very helpful, visit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/patti-r-rose/50-countries-and-counting_6_b_9171144.html

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

5 Essential Questions to Ask About the Zika Virus Before Accepting the Hype!

As the readers of Natural Is Cool Enough (N.I.C.E.) know, I often take a pause to discuss important issues/news that arises beyond natural hair.  Let's talk about Zika!

Before becoming racked with fear over the Zika virus (a flavivirus, which for the most part, have arthropod vectors, eg. mosquitoes) we may want to take our time and explore this emerging story in depth as the fear mongering has begun. First, it is important to ask questions. Asking questions is NOT an avenue towards conspiracy theorizing, but thinking. During my studies as an MPH student, at Yale University's School of Public Health, followed by the acquisition of my Doctorate, in Community Health Education, from Columbia University Teachers College, I was taught to question everything, from an epidemiological vantage point and beyond, in terms of diseases and how they spread.  Beyond educational training/research, there is also common sense that leads to inquiry.

The Zika virus is not new as it was identified in 1947 . Microcephaly (in this instance, referring specifically to babies born with small heads) is also not new. According to a recent article in the New York Times "An estimated 25,000 babies receive a microcephaly diagnosis each year in the United States. Microcephaly simply means that the baby's head is abnormally small -- sometimes just because the parents themselves have unusually small heads." This fact is shared, from my perspective, with deep compassion for the babies, mothers, parents and families dealing with this issue.

The Zika virus has been in the Pacific Islands, and other parts of the world, as we are being told, before now. The question is, where are all the babies with microcephaly in the Pacific Islands ?"Other regions that have experienced recent Zika outbreaks--mostly Pacific islands--have not reported an increase in microcephaly" Furthermore, "How many cases of microcephaly in Brazil have actually been linked to the Zika virus? Of the nearly 4,200 cases reported, only six have been linked with certainty to the virus" per NPR.

Causal Relationships
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke "Microcephaly can be present at birth or it may develop in the first few years of life. It is associated with Down's syndrome, chromosomal syndromes, and neurometabolic syndromes. Babies may also be born with microcephaly if, during pregnancy, their mother abused drugs or alcohol, became infected with a cytomegalovirus, rubella (German measles), or varicella (chicken pox) virus, was exposed to certain toxic chemicals or had untreated phenylketonuria (PKU)."

Sexual Transmission
As for sexual transmission of the Zika virus, which has surfaced in recent discussions as a possibility, there are only two cases which are questionable. There is also one new case of purported sexual transmission recently reported (see # 4 below).

Therefore, the bottom-line is that before fear and hysteria set in regarding the Zika virus, the following key questions should be asked:

1. If the Zika virus was identified in 1947, were there a significant number of cases of microcephaly then and beyond, before current stories, and if not why?

Correlation and Causation
2.   Are all of the cases of microcephaly currently in Brazil, and other locations in current stories, directly correlated with the Zika virus?  If not, how many and is the number significant enough to establish positive correlation and hence, causation?

3. Is it a proven fact, that the Zika virus, in general, causes microcephaly with specific, established, scientific, documented evidence?

To review the remaining questions, particularly # 4, regarding Sexual Transmission and #5 Other Possible Causes, visit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/patti-r-rose/5-essential-question-to-a_b_9132910.html