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Innocents Abroad 5/17/2016
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April began with my husband’s birthday, although we didn’t celebrate in a conventional way this year. Our good friend, Congressman Jim Renacci, was being “birthdayed” himself that night at a cocktail party. We celebrated Ed’s b-day—and his only—when I took him out to his favorite restaurant the following weekend! I like extended birthdays and so does he :)

On the 10th, we embarked upon another kind of extended celebration when he and I traveled to Italy, as part of a work/pleasure trip that would last two weeks in all.

Though we arrived in Naples without a hitch, our luggage didn’t follow till 48 hours later…which, in my case, meant wearing what I wore on the plane for three whole days! I smiled a lot. Fortunately, Ed had carried on his suit and was able to borrow an Italian fitted tee from his colleague, John, for our first appointment. He looked quite dashing!

We were in Naples to meet with representatives of the Italian Ministry of Culture and the Director of the Archaeological Museum, to finalize a touring US exhibition on Pompeii, the legendary Roman city buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. The exhibition will include a life-size replica of a Pompeii villa, with frescos, a display of rare artifacts and life-size casts of some of the bodies that were “frozen” in place at the time of the eruption, photographs…
Our group consisted of George and Jerry from Kansas City Union Station, (the first stop for the traveling exhibit, in November), Ed’s partner, John, and his assistant, Cynthia, an art historian. As background to the exhibit, enlightening guided tours were put together just for us: Pompeii, Herculaneum (an ancient beach resort also buried by the eruption, on the other side of the mountain), and the Archaeological Museum with its large collection of artifacts (pottery, glassware, furniture, utensils, vases…extracted from the ruins of Pompeii). There were also galleries of paintings and rare frescos to discover. Ed and I had visited Pompeii with our kids some years ago, but with a private guide we learned so much more. It was fascinating and everyone we dealt with was simply wonderful!

Off duty, when we weren’t following our cultural/historical agenda, we found the people of Naples to be extremely welcoming and warm. Our driver, a young Tony Bennett look-alike, drove us wherever we needed to be and recommended splendid restaurants, where every meal was a feast. I don’t think I have ever consumed so much food at one sitting, and night after night! The city’s gifted restaurateurs just kept bringing out more and more delicious dishes, sometimes serving up to nine courses! And it didn’t hurt that our group was a lot of fun. The whole visit was quite an education.

On Friday of that week, Ed and I took the two-hour train ride to Florence, with Cynthia and her visiting college friend. Upon arrival, we parted ways, as they went on to stay with friends and we joined our Kent State University group, to celebrate the inauguration of their new Florence campus. KSU has had a presence in Florence for many years, for the enrichment of its students of architecture, fashion, art history…
Over the years, Ed and I have become friends with the university’s staff and alumni and have discovered an incredible organization and institution in the process.

We were invited on this trip, along with 20 other guests, which included administrative staff, professors, board members, alumni and friends of the university, like us. We were very sad that our dear friend, KSU President Warren, could not attend due to emergency surgery. She is recovering well but was sorely missed, and not the least by us. We think the world of her.

The day we arrived, we attended a welcome reception at the gorgeous Hotel Brunelleschi at the heart of historic Florence, where all guests were staying. Everyone was so lovely… we wouldn’t be surprised to have made some long-lasting friendships in the course of this trip.

We, the guests, later enjoyed a private tour of the Galleria Uffizi, (thanks to our personal guide, KSU professor and art historian, Rocky Ruggiero), which houses Botticelli’s famed “Primavera and Birth of Venus”, as well as works by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. He guided us through the Galleria dell’Accademia too, where Michelangelo’s magnificent “David” is on display. We also took part in a private tour of a magnificent villa that was once a weekend country estate to the royal family.

Florence is a museum in itself: around every corner lies a stunning statue, monument or building that simply takes your breath away. On our last day, we all gathered for the ribbon-cutting ceremony/dedication and tour of the new KSU home in the Pallazo Vettori. A beautiful, four-story building, offering views of the magnificent Duomo, it has been re-configured for the XXIst century with new classrooms, libraries and study areas. What a treasure for students to have the opportunity to attend classes here, and absorb and embrace this magnificent city!

Our next stop was France, where Paris is home to my sister, her husband, three children and her adorable 2 1/2 year old grandchild. I had not seen her eldest child, or her husband in 15 years! What a great reunion and what a great family! They are all beautiful inside and out. I only wish that they didn’t live so far away…

But while we were there, we made sure to see a lot of each other! Each day began with a 10:00 am lobby call and pick-up from my sister, followed by a stop at our local boulangerie for a pain au chocolat and a cafe au lait! There is nothing to compare to French pastry and this was just basic morning fare. From there, we hit the ground running.

My sister, who has lived in France for most of her life, set us up with metro/bus passes for unlimited use, for the week. She was our translator, interpreter, tour guide, shopping guide, foodie guide and most of all, a fun and loving companion as we traveled the streets of Paris from morning till evening. She has the most incredible personality and a consistently sunny disposition. How we treasured every minute spent together!

Aside from all her “touring hats”, she carved out time to prepare a wonderful family dinner for our first night and a beautiful farewell dinner and birthday party for her eldest daughter, on our last evening.

We had such an amazing time, including a lovely morning walk through the majestic Jardin des Plantes with all its flowering trees and poppy beds in full, gorgeous bloom. We met my niece’s dear husband there that day and watched their little one take a ride on the darling carousel of prehistoric animals. We observed kangaroos and baby deer at the Jardin’s menagerie with them and then hopped the metro to lunch at an authentic Vietnamese Phô, a favorite of my little grand-niece.
A bit of necessary sock shopping for my Ed and a charming neighborhood stroll followed. We freshened up at the hotel for a first dinner at my niece’s and more fun with her adorable little gal, who proudly gave us the grand tour of their place and her room before bedtime.

Wednesday, my youngest niece was able to join us for the whole day, yay! We wandered the île Saint-Louis on our way to glorious Notre Dame in the morning and then walked through the lovely Marché aux fleurs on the île de la Cité and crossed a couple of bridges to get to Le Marais.

We lunched in a lovely little square with other Parisians on the most amazing falafel sandwiches made to order in the old Jewish quarter. We admired the trendy shops along the way to the beautiful Place des Vosges afterward, stopped for a leisurely espresso, and did some select shopping on the rue des Francs-Bourgeois (intrepid Ed took off with his magic pass for a few hours), before our dinner out at a gourmet French restaurant with our niece and her husband, our dear nephew whom we hadn’t seen yet, and the niece we had spent the day with, while my sister and brother-in-law minded the baby! The kids walked us back to the hotel after a long and lovely dinner and we had trouble saying goodnight...

On Thursday morning, we were three again, scouting a fun flea market and colorful food market where we snacked on spicy Caribbean accras to hold us over as we made the ascent to the world’s very first highline planted promenade, that extends from the place de la Bastille all the way to the Bois de Vincennes. We lunched late at a cute spot with big communal tables a bit of a walk away, checked out a very cute boutique to check on Ed’s tolerance level (alas, no improvement), and then took a couple of metros to the Pont Alexandre III--the fabulous one with the gilded winged horses and elaborate candelabra.

On our way to the Champs Elysees for a glimpse of the Arc de Triomphe, we stopped at the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais, the palatial, glass-roofed exhibition pavilions built for the World Fair of 1900 that are showpiece museums today. We walked and walked up the Champs-Elysees, the famed tree-lined avenue full of sidewalk cafés, luxury flagship stores and a plethora of movie theatres (and so many people), until we were dead on our feet! That night we all met up at my family’s favorite Cambodian haunt, with the littlest patron right at home and in fine form! As everywhere, the food was outstanding, and the company, unique!

Friday morning, Ed took off on his own again with his magic bus pass, while we girls (my sister and I) visited Hermès amazing new boutique and invaded the Bon Marché, THE left bank department store. The nieces joined us there and all three helped me pick out the perfect ensemble for my concert in Atlanta few days forward and other lovely things—they were my personal stylists and I loved letting them have their way!

We all shared a yummy veggie lunch before setting off to meet Ed in Montmartre by metro. It was rainy, but warm and still romantic. We especially enjoyed walking up the steep and winding streets as we had done on past visits, checking out the quick-portrait artists (some cheesy, some less so) on the square and visiting Sacré Coeur where we met a darling French priest who had worked with the homeless in Cleveland several years ago!! It was also fun riding down the funiculaire, the automated, two-cabin train that saves taking all the hundreds of (and slippery—it was raining!) steps back down from the church on foot, thanks again to our weekly passes.

That night, we enjoyed another cozy family meal at my niece’s. Her toddler was ready to rock—it was Friday night! She put on her witch costume and changed me into a cat with her magic wand, and introduced me to a few of her current favorite oldies: Charles Trénet’s Jardin Extraordinaire (1957), Aux Champs-Elysees (1970) with its catchy refrain and La Bicyclette by Yves Montand (1967)…and we all had such fun.

It was blustery and chilly on Saturday morning when we took a family boat ride up the Seine and picnicked on tasty ham and cheese baguette sandwiches, courtesy of my sister. Thanks to the weather, we had the boat to ourselves on the front deck and enjoyed stunning views of Hotel de Ville (the mayor of Paris’ castle-like headquarters), Notre-Dame, the Louvre, the Pont Alexandre III bridge and many other bridges small and large, the twin museums of the Trocadero, the Eiffel Tower…

After our tour, my sister left us with her girls, son-in-law and little one, as she rushed home to prepare that evening’s meal. Guided by my niece and nephew-in-law, we stole into Shakespeare & Co, the famed English language book shop across from Notre Dame, admired the Sorbonne, the Pantheon, the beautiful lycée where they met, a very literary bookshop run by one of their old friends, the Place de la Contrescarpe and the colorful rue Mouffetard…

We parted only to regroup at my sister’s for a last lovely dinner. We were all so sad to say goodbye that last night. It had been a whirlwind of a visit and such an incredible one. I hope so much that my trip back to see my family will be sooner than 15 years. Vive la France!

Our return trip was uneventful, except for a close call through customs, and a nearly-missed flight out of Paris…yikes!

We arrived home late Sunday night, and three days later I was boarding a plane for Atlanta, where I would be performing a few songs from “Deeper”, at Cumulus Media headquarters (the second largest radio company in the country). Abe accompanied me and we met my old high school friend, Cooper, and her darling friend, Chip, for dinner at a fun Atlanta eatery, the night we arrived.

The next afternoon, after warming up in my hotel room and giving all the room attendants quite a thrill, Abe picked me up. We walked next door to meet our record promoter, Tom Mazzetta, who flew in from Denver, and Cumulus VP Mike McVay, just before I hit the stage for my mini concert. I performed for several Cumulus staff members as I sang my AC radio single, “The Moment You Were Mine”, my Smooth Jazz single, “Who’s Gonna Baby You” in duet with Abe, and “Ninety-Nine and a Half” changing the lyrics to “Come on Mike Mcvay, 99 1/2 won’t do. I need 100% of radio support!”

Mike, Tom, Abe and I met for dinner that night, in time for Abe and me to make our flight home. We were assured the show went well and left hoping that “The Moment You Were Mine” could continue to climb the chart with the added support of Cumulus stations.

I was home again late Thursday night. The very next evening my husband and I attended a Kent State University sports fundraiser and saw President Warren, who looked fantastic and was healing well.
The following morning, Wendy Leonard and Jim Brickman picked me up for our three-hour drive to Buffalo Airport, where we were to add Tracy Silverman to our little group. From there, we drove on to Rochester, NY to rehearse with The Rochester Symphony for a show that evening.

Rehearsal went beautifully and so did the concert! The audience was fantastic and we all had a ball--it had been a while since we had all been together!

The next morning, Wendy drove me back home to Cleveland where I dissolved on the spot, awaking three hours later.

Whew! What a week…and what a month!