Monday, 22 February 2021

New Orleans 2019

Jazz and meals, Antoine’s, Louisiana. Exhib, preservation hall jazz, snug habor jazz. I had Sunday brunch at the jazz restaurant Antonine’s and my friend Tom Gillis’s brother played in the band there. I mentioned this to the maitre d’hotel and was given an excellent seat in the room where I watched them play. Antoine’s oozes 150 years of restaurant history. A photo of a young Bill Clinton was next to seat. There were many New Orleans folk having brunch. The jazz was easy. I ate oysters and had glass of Buck’s Fizz. I chatted to Tom’s brother and photographed him and his group in the bar. In Jackson square and saw an excellent exhibition about Hurricane Katrina and the local response. The exhibition had an impressive collage of voices and responses. One experienced the storm and the horror of the aftermath. the gap in emergency service provision, became very clear. The national guard should respond to flood damage but they lacked leadership and were unable to do so. The disaster itself was on film the responses and the people crowding into the super bowl for shelter. I remember seeing pictures of those people. Docs at the Charity hospital responded and were then vilified. Maybe the lack of response is linked to the absence of a national health service and fragmentation. Survivors stories were told, one guy returning said his memories of 30 years of playing jazz with people kept him going and could not be taken away. A video installation of different people speaking about being New Orleaner ended the exhibition. There was excellent explanation of why the levels were damaged and the different modes of water damage. V interesting and reminiscent of Holland. My grandfather, a water engineer would have appreciated the display. I enjoyed excellent exhibition about the many forms Mardi Gras in NO and Louisiana, it is a remnant of Catholicism. I had not appreciated how formal the Mardi Gras is. I experienced being atop a float in a video installation. I knew more about Louisiana culture after this museum visit. I queued for the Preservation Hall band show at 18.00., I sat inside and enjoyed a 6 piece band playing Dixieland jazz, 2 trumpeters, drums, guitar and playing regular favourites. I walked across the French quarter to a bar called Snug Harbor to hear an excellent group play modern jazz, the highlight of the day. I joined a small walking tour of the French Quarter(FQ), by a retired academic. We walked down to the river and looked out over the river front. In the FQ we looked at the original houses with had 4 doors. We examined later houses and the iron work. We looked at Tennessee William’s house. We saw the houses associated with the slave trade, and with a fire, that started from a shrine to the BVM. Yellow fever was common until the 20c and it’s cause unknown. Nobody wanted to hire the new men off the ships cos they were a high risk of dying so men hoped for a mild illness then they could be hired. It was an excellent tour and gave me a good over view of the FQ. I had a Louisiana lunch of shrimps and rice in a large cafe with open doors. Then browsed the shops round Jackson Sq. wandered back to my hotel and went to the airport early by taxi. I had an anxious flight to Atlanta cos a storm had delayed our flight. I had 40 mins to spare and ran across the airport, just catching the flight.



Sunday, 29 March 2020

Diana's Year 2019

A busy and fulfilling year; with retirement parties, doing the Trans-Siberian rail journey, coping with Brexit politics, attending People’s Vote marches and now the general election. I launched the New Face for Leprosy project in Ethiopia and globally. Being in Wales for the Hay book festival was a cultural highpoint.  I have enjoyed theatre, music and arts. My community gardening project to improve Union Square is developing. 



I retired at the end of June having worked in the NHS for 38 years. I was the leprosy consultant at the Hosp Trop Disease for 25 years. Some of my patients have been under my care for the whole time. I worked as a consultant in Infectious diseases for the first 21 years in the UCLH team and was given a UCLH long service award in May, the celebration reflected of the diversity of the institute with staff from across the globe and doing jobs ranging from surgery to lab testing to nursing. My leaving party in July was organised by my colleagues. People whom I had worked with and mentored gave short talks that covered my work in leishmania, leprosy, Evidence based medicine, Leprosy Review and my battles with WHO over leprosy policy. David Scollard sent a video from the US on our collaboration. About 100 people came, including patients, family and friends. I was given a unique pair of earrings that have HTD logo one side and LSHTM logo on the other. These were commissioned by a Canadian jeweller by my colleagues.  A jazz band run by a friend of mine played whilst we were eating and drinking. It was a warm affirming event.  Handing over the work has been much easier because I have an excellent successor, Steve Walker who has worked with me for years and is the first black consultant at HTD.  He lead the party organisation team.

I started my retirement with a month in Russia with a week on a Political Tours course and then travelling the Trans Siberian railway trip from Vladivostok to Moscow. Political Tours are organized by journalists to see all aspects of a country. Ours was lead by Russian journalist Leonid Ragozin.  We met people across the political spectrum in Yekaterinaburg and Moscow especially political activists (Vladimir Milov), the human rights problem in Russia and the need for an opposition was palpable from these conversations. Putin has increased wealth for average Russian and the country is visibly improving, but he has rewarded his cronies and prevents the opposition functioning.

Three friends (Rita Krishna, Vincent Stops, Ann Munn) joined me in Moscow and we flew to Vladivostock in Far East Russia and crossed Siberia by train, 9, 2230 km over 14 days, 7 trains.  We had stops in Khabarovsk, Ulan Ude, Listvyanka, on Lake Baikal and Novosibirsk and Tomsk and explored different parts of Siberia. I wrote about each stop on my blog.
The Russian trains are well designed for travel, with 4 bed couchettes and plentiful hot water from the carriage hot water heater for making tea and coffee. The train travels smoothly at 50 km/hr, we appreciated the scenery and explored stations and their food on stops. Russian city architecture is varied with many 19 century buildings and museums,  Lenin statues remain in many central squares. The stations are attractive and well maintained.  We saw much forest but also big rivers and the huge, 220 km long Lake Baikal. Siberian culture with smoked fish, birch bark goods and pine nuts are everywhere. Rita organised the trains in London. Rita spoke some Russian, much needed since few people outside Moscow speak English.  It was a great adventure, I loved the vastness of the country, I found the culture fascinating and I enjoyed the fish meals. I would be happy to return and explore different parts.




 My project “New Face for Leprosy has been exciting. When new leprosy patients go on the net they see pictures of people with severe disabilities, not that it is a curable disease. I started a project taking pictures of treated people working and enjoying life and with messages of hope. We photographed in Ethiopia in Sept 2018 and published in The Lancet on World Leprosy day 2019. Saba and I presented the pictures to Ethiopians affected by leprosy in Gondar. One woman said “ We look beautiful”.  We have taken this positive message to meetings, notably the International Leprosy Conference in Manila in September and patients were excited by this new approach.  I have spent two weeks in India with a photographer Tom Bradley. We were hosted by Lepra India and had a fascinating time hearing about the stigma people experience and how they overcome it.  I met a tabla player whom I treated 30 years ago in Dhoolpet, he played his tabla in a reprise. We plan an exhibition in 2020 and I shall do this work elsewhere.

The political events have been time consuming and depressing.  I was on the People’s Vote march in Oct when parliament voted against Brexit. Jeremy’s Corbyn’s failure to take a remain position was disastrous for reconsidering Brexit and allows the message of “Get Brexit Done” to triumph. Boris despite his manifest failures is PM again. The election results are profpundly depressing. I think we are now in for an extreme right wing politics staring with Brexit. Extinction Rebellion is exciting and their message and approach is hopeful in this dark time.

I have seen many good plays this year, highlights include a female Dr Faustus at The Globe, Rosmerholm with a flood covering the stage at the end. Seeing Pinter plays at the new Pinter theatre remind me of his powerful writing. The Don Mullin photos were a powerful documentation of his work in photographing many conflicts. The drawings of Kathe Kolwitz  at the BM documented the pain of loss. Far East prisoners of war used art to survive imprisonment in a Liverpool exhibition, Secret Art of Survival.  I was deeply touched because my mother was a Japanese PoW and I mused  about her survival strategy.  “Sorry we missed you” is a contemporary film by Ken Loach that captures the destruction that low wage jobs in delivery companies wreaks on families.

My retirement plans include more work on the New face project, also writing a book about leprosy based on patient stories. I shall teach on leprosy. I look forward to more time for photography, travel, gardening, time with friends and family and in Brecon.

Enjoy the Solstice and may 2020 be a good year.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Moscow: Capital cathedrals, good food and luxury

We had fun in Moscow, we had a sense of achievement after our Trans Siberian journey. We explored the Red Square, St Basil’s and the Kremlin. Surprisingly the Kremlin has the 4 cathedrals and I suffered saint and icon overload.  Moscow has a many luxurious shops where Rita shopped.  We eat excellent food.

We stayed in a luxurious Airbnb apartment in Arbat with 3 bedrooms, an elaborate bathroom, open plan kitchen and living room. V different to the usual public built flats in Russia. Our German friend Ulricha joined us for a long weekend, starting on Wednesday.  We talked about our 9,000 kms trans Siberian rail journey.


We enjoyed using the Metro, at our station a sign said, “we speak English”,  a phenomenon not seen elsewhere in Russia where little English is spoken.  Our first stop was Red Square, sadly filled with chairs for a tattoo. We had coffee and cabbage pie in a café and worked out our plans. We visited St Basil’s that afternoon. It is a vast religious structure with too many chapels, elaborate  and gold icons. My head span with all the saints and their stories. There is no central area for worship.  St Basil’s is best from its outside view with its quirky beautiful architecture, inside the religion and devotion is too heavy.  We stayed on Red Square eating dessert in the elegant cafe Bosch, for me a beautiful tartiflor with melted chocolate. We walked home through the Alexander gardens enjoying  the hydrangeas in flower and then struggling crossing the roaring 6 lane traffic road. I enjoyed a Russian classic “herring in a fur coat” (covered with a beetroot glaze) and a cold cucumber and seafood soup for supper.
We shopped in the GUM department store on Red Square, now a collection of luxury shops. Rita and Vincent bought dark blue St Petersburg royal porcelain.




















The next day at the museum of Russian art we saw a baroque church, now a museum piece with an elderly gent caring for the icons and giving Ann a detailed explanation.  We had coffee and snacks in a hipster café, then went by taxi to Red Square getting good views of central Moscow. Our Kremlin Tour started with Russian history from with the Great Patriotic war. The soldiers at the eternal flame change guard hourly with high goose steps. We looked at the map of the 1812 victory, and the monument to the Tsars. We queued to enter the Kremlin, but there was space inside. Four cathedrals dominate the Kremlin with many icons and church stuff. All the Tsars are buried in the last church. It is a powerful illustration of Russian history and the entwining of state and church, communism being a small part. We enjoyed the city views in nice small garden there.







We had champagne for Ann’s birthday in the flat, then a celebratory meal in Pushkins café, Ann and I had delicious trout with fish mousse and asparagus and white Russian wine. My pudding a fruit terrine with a mint sauce. Home by metro, tired after a long day.

On my last day Rita, Vincent and I and visited the Art Deco hotel Metropole, the location for the book, “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles which I read on our Trans Siberian journey book and Rita was reading. Seeing the hotel and gives my reading depth. Regular hotel trips  are run by a fan that one can book. Vincent and I took the metro back to Smolenska station. I went by taxi to Belorussian station then to the airport on the aeroport express. I chatted to a Russian civil engineer working in Solihull, UK on her summer holiday and leaving her 4 children with their grandmother at their dacha. I enjoying more Russian food at the airport  and flew to London.

The days in Moscow were a good end for the month travelling across Russia. Lonely Planet had recommended doing the Trans-Siberian from east to west and we enjoyed the  monuments, good food and luxury in Moscow and it had a Russian context.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

The cut out girl


Bart van Es
Fig Tree 2018
Penguin 2019
5 stars



This beautifully written book that explores the feelings of being a hidden child during the holocaust and the psychological trauma she lived with.  Bart, an oxford historian, realizes a family member, Lien, does not figure in family histories. His grandmother and Lien had a terrible row and she cut off contact. Bart approaches Lien by email. He befriends her and she tells her story. She was a Jewish child in Amsterdam and is hidden by his family in Central Holland during the second world war. She retells her story and we experience it thorough her eyes. She was 8 when her parents gave her for safe keeping to their friends.  On her 9th  birthday she heard from them but then silence. He captures the pain she experienced, silence, then tears.  She had forgotten a lot.  It was not easy being a refugee, she had to work almost as a house maid in one home. She and another refugee escaped at one point. She did not understand what was happening, then become silent and withdrawn, then a slow anger built up, initially she was warm but then hot. Feeling unwanted was a major part of her experience. Aged 12 she was raped frequently by a family uncle. After the war she worked in child care and then trained as a social worker.  When she did talk about her rape it was acknowledged by the family but not acted upon.  She had different religions, brought up Jewish, then followed Dutch reform, at university she joined the Jewish student society. She married a Jew Albert and enjoyed the Jewish rituals.  She is now Bhuddist.

She repressed many feelings, it was all too painful.  Later in life she acknowledged her refugee status. She takes Bart to Schouwberg, the departure point for Dutch Jews to the concentration camps and they look at her parents names. She was helped by a conference in Amsterdam for child refugees and the conversations it opened up.  The then mayor of Amsterdam was himself a child refugee. She makes peace at Auschwitz by performing Buddhist rituals there over a week with her Dutch friends.

She was v sensitive to being excluded by the family.  At her wedding she was surprised that people were joking “is the husband Albert good enough for our Lien?”. She was hurt being excluded from the family funeral announcements of Pa Heromas death.  She had a small birthday party that she did to mention to Ma Heroma.  The two then exchanged angry letters, Lein wrote that she felt a second rate person in the family. Ma heroma had no further contact with her. These letters one can write because it an emotional release but one should not send them because they  can hurt so much.

Bart the historian is fascinated by Lein’s story, he backs up his work academically checking on the files of Dutch informers.  Through his interest he gains Lein’s trust. She visits Oxford and meets his family. In her her Amsterdam flat and she introduces him to her friends as “my nephew who will write my story”. The detective work has produced family healing.

Occasionally there is too much background, such as the description of the Dutch informers, it gives useful context. His fluent Dutch makes him at home there.

There are two journeys in this book; Lien’s story of being a child in hiding, and van Esses story of getting Lein to talk, the background research that he did on Dutch informers. It is his journey in writing the book.  Bridges have been rebuilt within the family.  He  describes his visits to Holland, seeing the towns and understanding Dutch history well.

Being half Dutch there were many personal resonances for me in the book. I recognized the grandparents generation and the academic exploring Holland. My mother repressed her PoW experience, she was in Japanese prisoner of war camp aged 18-20. She coped by rarely talking about the experience.  It made her a survivor when she faced problems.
So I admire Bart van Esse in getting his aunt to talk about her experience. My mother kept her story inside.