A multi-city, multi-faceted trip “up North”

Three weeks away from Granada and our escapade “up North” has just ended. Ours was a three-city tour that combined multi generational family reunions, significant gastronomic treats (and yes, caloric overload that we will now have to pay for by stepping up the Yoga and Gym regimen), reconnecting with old and more recent friends, too many flights to recount and some very intriguing business developments.

Los Angeles gave us an opportunity to reconnect with the Sandzer and Bell contingents of the family. Presiding over all activities was JB (Jacqueline, Ben’s Mom and early angel investor in CO2 Bambu), whom we found particularly mellow and in good spirits. We were all eager to reconnect after two and a half years since we left for Nicaragua. The luxury and pampering of the Beverly Hills lifestyle, always a subject of friendly teasing, was a nice dip into another world)

JB’s house became the meeting point for sisters, nephews, nieces who flocked from near and afar for family meals and conversation. But of course we did not just hang out at the house. We seized on the opportunity of an L.A. trip to do much needed shopping and “tune ups” from dentist visits to new glasses to clothes and a visit to the Apple store. (Talk about culture shock! Century City Mall, economic slowdown? Where? not here).

Given the convergence of Jewish and French influences, it was inevitable that food would play an important role in our family activities. The highlight, food wise, was without a doubt a superb degustation dinner at Spago, a treat from JB’s prior fund raising activities that yielded a dinner for four. Each of the 14 dishes were amuse-bouche style with wine pairing. It’s good to have French blood running so thick in the family!

A big highlight for us was reconnecting with Ezra, who came down from Portland, Oregon for the week end. Ezra is the only one of our four sons who hasn’t visited Nicaragua since we moved here, so it had been a long time since we connected in the flesh. It was a superlative get together and we enjoyed seeing what a well grounded young man he has become. He has managed to craft an interesting life for himself that incorporates those things he is passionate about, namely music composition, live food, permaculture, intellectual pursuits that weave the history of free masonry, kabbalah and music theory. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and once you combine all these ingredients (and so many more, numerology, tarot…), you get a warm, wise and fascinating character.

Check out Ezra’s work: http://tonecoloralchemy.com/

One surprising development was a spontaneous Karaoke session, which we stumbled into, in private booths down in Little Tokyo. The fam was “game” and what resulted was something short of Grammy Award material, but sake from the prior Japanese dinner made it all sound palatable. Most of it. Some of it.

Unfortunately we’ll be missing our niece, Vanessa’s wedding in Texas, so it was good to have this moment together as a family, even though Vanessa and her beau weren’t there.

Next stop, Chicago.

This now would be the Kaplan and Pollack contingents. Different actors, but same logic of trying to squeeze in a lot of family time in just a few days. It was fortuitous that we were in town, as were Oren and Adam, for our niece Shani’s graduation from middle school.

That too was the backdrop for multi-generational celebratory dinner at Stan and Bluma’s house.

The South African blood line has its own distinct advantages (am thinking here Bluma’s home-made scones!)

Bluma gave us a tour of the beautiful Chicago Botanic gardens, where she volunteered for years and Stan put his “engineer/architect hat” on to get up to speed on CO2 Bambu business and construction activities. Lots of good family time.

This time we stayed with Dina and Shani, and their cat Licorice, which gave us extra time to catch up with the soon to be freshman at Highland Park High School.

Besides visiting with the fam, the big development for the Chicago leg of the trip concerned the house. Peta waged psychological warfare on our non paying, delinquent, hoarder/squatter of a renter. Since eviction notices and such processes had not yielded any resolution to our home renting predicament, Peta took it upon herself to “get the renter out”. Her strategy worked and, having flagged that we would be “coming in, with or without police escort”, it seems that the conditions were ripe for a quick, middle of the night departure. We found an unloved house. Gone were the beautiful flowers that made our garden so colorfully welcoming. The garden was a jungle and the house was trashed. But no matter, she is out and we can move forward with selling the house and getting to closure on our Highland Park lives. It was surreal walking around an empty house were there had been so much happy, family activity for so many years.

And then, there was D.C.!

Craig’s list yielded our first home exchange. We lucked out and the exchange that Peta organized was in our favorite neighborhood, Adams Morgan and was a particularly spacious, lovely apartment in a grand old building.

We enjoyed the first weekend with our good friend Jason who came down from New York to hang out together. Ben and Jason composed music for years together, but this time there was no piano to be played. So it was art museum and the fabulous gardens at Dumbarton’s Oak.

The son of actor Robert Culp, Jason always comes with a trove of memorabilia in the form of old movies, nostalgic music and introspective stories about life in the Culp household. Beyond the movie industry lore, what makes his family stories compelling for us is Jason’s dad’s pivotal role in race relations in America in the 60s and 70s. As the co-lead with Bill Cosby in the ground breaking I Spy series, Robert Culp was the first white actor to role model for Americans a fully equal relationship between a white and a black character.

Of note, there was a serious heat wave for two days, complete with air quality warnings and temperature breaking the 100 Farenheit threshold, “feels like 105”! WAY hotter than the hottest we have experienced in Granada.

After a few days, we switched residence and moved into Eric’s house. About three years ago, we did a home exchange in DC and Eric visited Nicaragua for the first time. He fell in love with the place and has been back to Granada many times since then, often staying in our home. A successful restaurant owner (Adams Morgan Duplex Diner, the highly popular gay bar and diner with crowds overflowing onto the sidewalk of this hip neighborhood), Eric and his newly adopted shelter dog Sheba, were very hospitable hosts in this great ethnic neighborhood.

D.C. is always a treat. Ben has lived several times in D.C. and considers this city “home”, on par with Paris, Kansas City and L.A. The city is ever in flux and while the majestic beauty of the city is a permanent feature, as is the omni-present culture of politics and policy, we observed (but perhaps it was always there?), a significantly higher degree of racial integration. Everywhere we went, we enjoyed the co-mingling of blacks and whites like we have not experienced before in an American city.

But D.C. was primarily about business. We came for an AID and International Development Conference where Ben presented bamboo-solutions for post disaster reconstruction that is environmentally responsible. The flow of interested, pertinent visitors to the CO2 Bambu booth was constant. Representatives from NGOs, US Government agencies and industry came together to review current solutions to current crises, from Japan post nuclear accident, to Pakistan post flooding or Sudan post drought and of course Haiti. The level of interest in CO2 Bambu’s temporary and permanent shelters was high and a number of solid leads were generated.

Most surprising of all was the emergence of a plausible business opportunity in the United States. Discussions with FEMA and the US Army Corps of Engineers suggest that CO2 Bambu could have a long term strategy to address low income housing challenges in rural areas, where 60% of Americans live. Early days to be sure, but certainly plenty of food for thought.

Talking about food, let’s not forget to pay homage to the ethnic gastronomic experience that Washington offers. We had Hong Kong Dim Sum, Vietnamese, Thai, Ethiopian, Israeli, Turkish and French food. We are a long way from Gallo Pinto!

One thought on “A multi-city, multi-faceted trip “up North”

  1. JB

    Fascinating comments about your recent trip to the US…. What are these incredible trees in DC??? I am glad that you enjoyed it all.LA, Chicago and DC. I hope your new contacts will bare fruits.
    I miss you.
    Next week we are all flying to Texas for Vanessa/Blake’s Wedding…

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