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Diplomatic Star's Departure Dims the Lights in D.C.

July 29, 2019

Henry David Thoreau, the American trancendentalist, famously journeyed into the woods to get away from the congestion and chaos of the city.  “I went to the woods," he wrote, "because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." 

Klaas Keirse of the Embassy of Belgium, Emma Nilsson of the Embassy of Sweden, and Tom Kelly of the British Embassy (Photo by: Beth Solomon) Klaas Keirse of the Embassy of Belgium, Emma Nilsson of the Embassy of Sweden, and Tom Kelly of the British Embassy
Friends and admirers of the Embassy of Finland's beloved First Secretary Sara Stenroos gathered on a terrace under the Embassy's forest canopy to say good-bye as she leaves Washington -- for now -- to take on an assignment at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Helsinki.

Sara's elegance, intelligence, generosity and warmth left a mark in Washington.  She and Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi not only have been champions of Finnish culture and its leadership on the environment and creating a more peaceful world, but they have also been active in supporting those around them, from the diplomatic community, to humanitarian and justice causes, to artists of all kinds. 

Dr. Antti Stenroos (Sara's husband), Steve Smout of the Embassy of Belgium, and  Dora Zombori of the Embassy of Hungary, and (Photo by: Beth Solomon) Dr. Antti Stenroos (Sara's husband), Steve Smout of the Embassy of Belgium, and Dora Zombori of the Embassy of Hungary, and
Those raising a glass to Sara recently "in the woods" included Tom Kelly of the British Embassy, Emma Nilsson of the Embassy of Sweden, Klaas Keirse and Steve Smout of the Embassy of Belgium, Dora Zombori of the Embassy of Hungary, Valerie Kirkpatrick, Perry Lum and Emma Hathaway of CARE, Matthew Costello of Finn Church Aid Americas, and Michael Yen-Kai Chen of the Taipai Economic and Cutlural Representative Office in the United States. 

Sara said: "Having lived previously in the States, transatlantic relations have always had a special place in my heart. My three-year tour in D.C. taught me many valuable lessons in diplomacy, but in particular, it substantiated once more the importance of making personal connections. What is more, my family and I developed friendships that will undoubtedly endure for the rest of our lives."

Valerie Kirkpatrick, Emma Hathaway and Perry Lum of CARE, with Michael Yen-Kai Chen, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the U.S. (Photo by: Beth Solomon) Valerie Kirkpatrick, Emma Hathaway and Perry Lum of CARE, with Michael Yen-Kai Chen, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the U.S.
Journeying "into the woods" at the Embassy of Finland in Washington will continue to be a path to a peaceful, beautiful, kind oasis in the middle of Washington's chaos, thanks to the Finnish people and Ambassador Kauppi's elegant leadership. And we hope to see Sara's sparkling light among the beautiful trees at the Embassy soon again. 

Kiitos paljon, Sara! Come back soon!

 


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Middle C Hits High Note with Tender Vows and Tough Cases

February 11, 2019

Grammy Award Winners Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer sing (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Grammy Award Winners Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer sing "You are Love"
"Tough Cases and Tender Vows" were on the agenda -- not necessarily in that order -- at the 25th wedding anniversary celebration of Bill Rice and Myrna Sislen and a book talk by two D.C. Superior Court judges at Middle C Music Sunday. 

Tough Cases is the new book, which the Washington Post called "a genuine revelation," written by judges about the most difficult decisions they have made on the bench. 

Judges Russell Canan and Gregory Mize talk about their book Tough Cases (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Judges Russell Canan and Gregory Mize talk about their book Tough Cases
But the event started with a celebration of the great decision of Rice and Sislen to tie the knot 25 years ago. Judge Gregory Mize, who married the pair originally, and is one of the authors of the new book, was on the scene to help the couple renew their vows before 50 or so friends. (Spoiler alert -- this wasn't one of the tough decisions he's made.) 

Given that Middle C Music is the D.C. headquarters of all things music -- learning it, playing it, enjoying it -- the celebration had to include a song. Grammy Award winners Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer did the honors, singing Tom Paxton's "You are Love."

Once the only word I knew was 'I, I, I'

Nothing mattered but myself alone

Still a voice within me whispered 'Why? Why? Why?'

Why must you keep struggling on your own?

Thankfully for those who know Bill and Myrna, they didn't, and the world has been enjoying the benefits of their love and friendship ever since. Here's to the next 25, Bill and Myrna!

Friends of Myrna Sislen and Bill Rice cheer the 25th anniversary of (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Friends of Myrna Sislen and Bill Rice cheer the 25th anniversary of

Young music students at Middle C, the headquarters for all things musical in Washington, D.C. (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Young music students at Middle C, the headquarters for all things musical in Washington, D.C.


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Beep, Beep. Pop, Pop! World Cup Finale Turns Marseille Red Hot

July 15, 2018

In Le Panier, an ancient neighborhood near the Old Port in Marseille (Photo by: Beth Solomon) In Le Panier, an ancient neighborhood near the Old Port in Marseille
MARSEILLE -- I was mid-yawn, lilting along limestone streets under a hot Sunday morning sun in this southern French capital, when I heard the pops.

Pop, pop, pop....Beep, beep beep!! Was I dreaming, or were French people lined up in Tricolor wigs and waving flags at bars at the Vieux Port?

France's Independence Day was yesterday. Were they still lighting fireworks? Still raising glasses of beer and vin rouge the next morning?  

Getting ready for the World Cup Finale in Marseiile (Photo by: Beth Solomon) Getting ready for the World Cup Finale in Marseiile
My aunt Suzanne, an American journalist who married in this country and spent most of her life here, was always skeptical of loud celebrations of Le 14 Juillet (July 14), marking the Storming of the Bastille, a turning point in the French Revolution in 1789, which eventually led to the Republic. "They put firecrackers under women's skirts," she shook her head with a warning, "and call it a celebration of democracy. Did you know that'?" 

I didn't know it. I had never seen it. Truthfully, I never would. But it was my aunt speaking. So I nodded.

At a Marseille boulangerie, baking time was only less important than World Cup Finale time (Photo by: Beth Solomon) At a Marseille boulangerie, baking time was only less important than World Cup Finale time
The French can be spirited. Excuse me, they are. But on this Sunday morning in Marseille, through my jet lag fog, it became clear, like a slowly developing Polaroid photo, that the wigs, flags and revelry were not to celebrate routine history. 

When I told friends at work last week that I was going to France on vacation, some immediately said, "That's amazing. Where will you be during the game???"

The Game? 

I rolled my eyes. Some soccer thing, I thought. Yawn. They're hyped up about the World Cup. Double yawn. "I have much better things to do," my thought bubble announced haughtily.  

So as crowds were building in bars and cafes today, I barely noticed. Churches, galleries, artists, the ocean. I'm in France! It's the French!

The French are serious about Les Bleus! (Photo by: Beth Solomon) The French are serious about Les Bleus!
But at about 4 o'clock I slipped into a boulangerie and noticed clerks with painted flags on their faces.

Wait -- isn't that a Capitals thing? American?

I noticed clumps of humans lingering around flat screen TVs outside in cafes in the swelter. Dripping. I noticed more TVs propped up in small, empty shops. Nothing was on yet, except a sense of anticipation. Is this normal, I thought? People toweled off their faces in the heat, pacing around nervously. Was a birth expected? Did I see a cigar on a table?

Marseille from Notre-Dame de la Garde (Photo by: Beth Solomon) Marseille from Notre-Dame de la Garde
I kept walking. An image on a hill called from above. Up a small mountain beckoned Notre-Dame de la Garde, a stunning chapel perched on a pinnacle overlooking this amazing Mediterranean collage of a city. It was built starting in the 12th Century by a priest who wanted to honor St. Mary. He asked permission from the local Abbey of St. Victor. They gave him the OK to grow a garden, plant some vines, and put down a few stones. It became a shrine for sailors and others to give thanks.

Inside Notre-Dame de la Garde (Photo by: Beth Solomon) Inside Notre-Dame de la Garde
Fast forward a few centuries to the 1800s -- a few, you know, European history chapters of kings, queens, crusades and dueling empires later -- and you are inside a stunning basilica, the most visited destination in Marseille, and a feast for the eyes, ears, and senses you didn't know you had. The choir of young voices, sweetly singing a Gregorian-inspired melody, backed by a soulful organ, turned my eyes into a faucet of tears. Old and young, from near and far, padded in to listen for a while. A priest and nuns spoke and waved insense. 

Sana and Amwa from the Aquarius refugee aid ship, and the author in front of Notre-Dame de la Garde (Photo by: Unknown fellow tourist) Sana and Amwa from the Aquarius refugee aid ship, and the author in front of Notre-Dame de la Garde
Drying my tears outside (in truth, they evaporated in three seconds in the Mediterranean sun) I met two staffers of the Aquarius, the ship that rescues refugees and migrants drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. They were in the news in June for being turned away by Italy before taking passengers to Valencia, Spain. Amwa, the midwife from the Ivory Coast, said she had prayed to God to find an end to the refugee crisis plaguing our Earth. Sana, half-Egyptian and half-Swede, looked clear-eyed when she commented on the problems of worldwide anger, climate change and refugees. "It's all politics," she said. "These problems are created by politics." 

Back down at sea level, the problems of refugees and climate change and politics had also evaporated for a while, replaced by beer, soccer, and the wildly mixed crowd that is Marseille, cheering on the team that would win the World Cup Finale.

"Allez Les Bleus!" they chanted, young and old.

And long live this polyglot, easy-going southern capital. 

Vive La France... 

The author outside Notre-Dame de la Garde (Photo by: Amwa of the Aquarius) The author outside Notre-Dame de la Garde


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