March 23rd, 2017 / posted by paularath

Kalahari Bushmen and Women of Botswana with whom Jeff Gruber worked and studied. Titi is at center, standing, in the gray coat.            Photo courtesy Maureen Page

I don’t pretend to be a movie critic, but I do love movies and see lots of them.

So I just want to let you know about a wonderful movie that is playing right now at the Kahala Theatre. It’s called “A United Kingdom” and it’s the true story of the true love of Botswana’s (black) heir to the throne, who later became its first President, Seretse Khama, and his (white) British wife in the 1940s and onward. They suffered greatly for their love, and their love for their  country, then called the British protectorate of Bechuanaland. It became Botswana when it achieved independence in 1966, largely due to the efforts of Seretse Khama.

Through exile and family strife, this fierce couple won the backing of the Tswana people and Seretse Khama also managed to protect the mining rights to Botswana’s diamonds.

It’s a story of great courage and determination. And it’s one of the great love stories of all time, a love story that affected an entire nation and shook the British Empire to its core.

To this day, Botswana is a shining example of fairness, democracy and integrity to all of strife-torn Africa.

Jeff and Maureen Gruber with their dog, Tladi, in 1975     Photo courtesy Maureen Page

I have close ties with and many fond memories of Botswana. I lived there from 1972-73, just a few years after independence came to the country. During those years Botswana was surrounded by the hateful practice of apartheid. South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) were steeped in racial divides that completely separated black and white. And there, smack in the middle, was Botswana with its black President and white First Lady.

I was a pioneer for the Baha’i Faith and pioneers must work to make a living, so I worked for a tiny mimeographed newspaper called Puisano. We especially loved making it a front page story when someone was kicked out of the country for using the expletive “kaffir” to describe a black person. It was great when an Afrikaans woman used the term and was sent packing back to South Africa by a government and people that simply won’t put up with such prejudice.

Puisano was based in Selebi-Pikwe, a copper nickel mining town that no longer exists. I googled it and there is nothing but brush to remember it by. Where I lived, Mahalapye, is now a thriving town, thanks largely to mining and the railroad.

It was my great fortune to have known an American linguist, Jeff Gruber, and his lovely English wife, Maureen Page, both dedicated Baha’i pioneers for many decades and in several nations.

Jeff was an MIT-educated linguist studying the Khoisan Bushman languages of the Kalahari Desert. These are also called the “click languages” because many of the “words” are clicks achieved with the tongue making a variety of clicks against the roof of the mouth. This language had never been written – only spoken. Jeff was creating an alphabet so it could become a written language. He worked with a remarkable Bushman named Titi who was extremely smart and seemed to be able to do anything under the sun. He even saved me from a scorpion one night because of his amazing sixth sense of what was happening around him.

But I digress. The acting in “A United Kingdom” is fabulous, though quite understated. David Oyelowo plays Seretse Khama and Rosamunde Pike plays Ruth Williams. Please go see it, or stream it or rent it when it’s available. You will learn a lot of history and watch the birth of Botswana, now a thriving, safe and secure African nation. A nation, by the way, that is now lead by Seretse Kahama’s son.

  • Paula Rath



February 23rd, 2017 / posted by paularath

Puilaurens, one of the Cathare Castles

Today was one of those perfect days that will always live in my memory.

To begin with, the weather broke and it was a gloriously sunny spring-like day. We decided to take a drive and have a picnic in the direction of the Pyrenees and the Spanish border to check out some of the Cathare Castles.

On the drive, the atmosphere was so clear that we could see the snow-capped Pyrenees beyond the rolling hills and vineyards of the Aude region.

We drove past vineyard after vineyard and winery after winery – but none were open for degustation (tastings) during the winter. Sigh!

The Routes du Pays Cathare was simply beautiful, beginning with vineyard after vineyard, seguing into a dramatic gorge, then climbing about 2,000 feet to our first castle: Puilaurens.

We found the perfect picnic spot. Lots of picnic tables and a clear view of the castle – our preferred view, from this angle, provides dramatic light and shadow.

Jerry at our plein air watercolor “studio” at the foot of Puilaurens Castle.

We were the only people there, so we had absolute quiet and our own private time with this 12th century Cathare Castle. It was heavenly.

Here is what Puilaurens looks like from the road – a very different view and not nearly as interesting from a painter’s point of view.

Another view of Puilaurens, a Cathare Castle

The road was often a bit scary. It feels so unfinished, and like the cliff may come down upon you at any moment. Jerry is such a great driver, he took it all in stride.

It runs through the Gorge St. Georges and its towering canyon walls. So dramatic!

An unusual way to construct a road.

We then visited another castle, called Puivert. It was once owned by a wealthy landowner who kept his farm workers in quarters that looked like dark dungeons. While you can wander through more of this castle, it didn’t have the quiet beauty of Puilaurens. And, hey, it was crowded – there were four other people there!

A tower at Puivert Castle


Living quarters of Puivert Castle

It would be a wonderful vacation, especially for an artist or one who loves to hike and camp, to spend a week or two (or four) exploring the Pays du Cathare and the many castles and vistas it provides. We hear so much about Provence, but the Languedoc Region has its own remarkable charms.

Carcassonne is at the heart of this country and now Carcassonne has taken a little piece of my heart.

  • Paula Rath
February 23rd, 2017 / posted by paularath

My new French hair cut and the lovely woman who created it.

After a month of travel, my hair was looking a bit, well, tired. Too much growth caused it to droop, which in turn made me feel droopy.

So I simply couldn’t resist getting a French hair cut in Carcassonne. The Salon de Coiffure Michele Cazaux came highly recommended, so David helped me make an appointment and accompanied me to the salon to act as translator during the initial consultation.

An hour and a half later, I had a chic new look and a new friend. It’s amazing how women can have a meaningful conversation when they don’t speak each other’s languages. Such a great cross-cultural experience!

  • Paula Rath
February 18th, 2017 / posted by paularath

My new friend at the farmers market blows me a kiss, as this will be our last Saturday farmers market in Carcassonne. She sells the most fantastic spices in all sorts of exotic combinations. Viking salt, anyone?

Today is a beautiful sunny day and the temperature is approaching 60, so absolutely everyone is at the Carcassonne farmers market.

It is my favorite place to go on a Saturday. I see all sorts of things I have never seen before – and have no idea what some of them are.

The vegetables and fruits are beautiful and exotic and so fresh! Farmers bring in truckloads of produce. Much of it comes from France, but some seasonal items are grown in Spain and Morocco – and I’m sure in other places I am not aware of.

Just one small corner of the entire market. Photo by Jerry Mayfield

In addition to all the vendors inside the market, just outside are small cafes and restaurants that cook and serve special items during the market. Today there were oysters at one locale and paella at a roadside vendor. These are popular venues for lunch.

This is quite the food truck, n’est ce pas? Cheeses galore!

One of the longest lines is for this man, who brings in flats of endive and cuts it right there for you – how fresh is that?

Fresh endive, cut to order.

Food is tremendously important to the French and they are, as is their right, very picky about it. The farmers market is their answer to finding the freshest and purest ingredients to grace their kitchens. I’m going to miss this benefit of life in France.

Beats a deli any day!

Figs, dried fruits, cashews – all sold by the kilo and at such reasonable prices!

We tasted – and bought – a most unusual honey. It has the natural flavors of noisettes, or hazel nuts. Unique and yummy!

Just a few of the dozens and dozens of spices and salts and peppers that are in those lovely little baskets. I could stand there for hours and just enjoy the smells. I might have to try to paint some of the colors that come to mind…

After the market, many folks like to sit and have a coffee or Pernod or Martini Rouge and chat with friends. We have been a couple of times to such a “Cheers” style of hangout: Bar le 98. The proprietor is so delightful and his wife and toddler often drop by. Here they are, just leaving.

Photo by Jerry Mayfield


This is one of the many beautiful buildings we pass by as we walk to and from the farmers market. Carcassonne is strict about its zoning. No high rises here!
Photo by Jerry Mayfield

Merci for coming along with me to the Carcassonne farmers market!

  • Paula Rath
February 15th, 2017 / posted by paularath

Entering Minerve                                                                        

Minerve is a tiny, picturesque Cathar Languedoc village, surrounded by ancient vineyards, located on the confluence of the Cesse and Briant rivers. It is a UNESCO Heritage site.

It has the feeling of a sculpture carved into the rocks that the sculptor didn’t quite finish.

View of Minerve from the bridge                                 Photo by Jerry Mayfield

It’s unusual in so many ways, one of which is that the Cesse River disappears underground the city at times. The village is perched above the meeting of the rivers, over a limestone gorge.

The population of Minerve is 122. During the winter it may be even less. We saw two residents and three construction workers. Just as we were leaving, two German visitors arrived. Otherwise we were alone in Minerve. It was so lovely.

The plaque marking Minerve’s 500 years, celebrated in 2010.

Unfortunately, absolutely everything was closed. The cafes were closed. The museum was closed. The shops were closed. The restaurants were closed. OMG, even the restrooms were closed. All boarded up, except for one tiny, charming bookstore called Paroli that served tea. The proprietor was handsome and buried in a book (and he spoke only enough English to take our tea order). He had a big white dog who wanted to go out and play with the other dogs from the village, who seem to run in play groups.

I love this blue doorway and plan to attempt to paint it. These textures will be a challenge with watercolor. Hmmmmm…

Minerve is famous for the 1210 massacre by Simon de Montfort during the Crusades. There are a few remnants of battles past, including a huge catapult just across the river.

There are signs of life in most of the homes. Perhaps the people who live in Minerve are involved with the vast wine growing region called Minervois, which is, I think, my favorite wine region so far.

The doors throughout Minerve have so much character!

Although we were quite hungry and thirsty and badly in need of a lua, we spent a wonderful, rewarding day exploring Minerve.

As we left Minerve, two German (we think) visitors arrived.       Photo by Jerry Mayfield


I love Jerry’s black and white version of man and dog in Minerve

  • Paula Rath