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Barbara La Valleur

Barbara La Valleur, a native of Ashby and Battle Lake, Minn., is an international photojournalist of more than 50 years. She was the first person to major in Mass Communications at the Minnesota State University Moorhead (formerly Moorhead State College), working her way through college as a cub reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. She went on to work as the editor (and as it turns out the only staffer) of Carib, a weekly newspaper in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Next came a stint as Chief Photographer of the Daily News in Wahpeton-Breckenridge. After moving to England where she married and had two daughters, her family moved to Germany, staying over 18 years. After being a stay-at-home Mum for 10 years, she freelanced full-time for seven German newspapers, returning to the U.S. in the early 1990s. Since then, her photographs have appeared in The Forum, Women’s Press, Star Tribune, Sun Current, Edina Patch and as cover features for an international nursing magazine. She her husband, Arnie Bigbee, have three grandchildren, and reside in Edina, Minn. Barbara was honored with the Mayor’s Volunteer Service Award for her years as Public Art Edina Chair in 2017. She was also was recognized for six years on the Edina Arts and Culture Commission. Barbara and Arnie love spending time at La Farm, a family farm near Ashby, Minn., which she owns with her daughter. She has edited three books and self-published 17 photo books with two more in the works. A prolific exhibitor, she had a successful photo exhibit, “Love of a Lifetime: 50 Years of Photos in the U.S. and Europe,” in Edina and the Evansville Art Center in 2015. A photo exhibit, “25 Black & White Photos of European Women in Traditional Male Professions & Trades,” had a four-month run at the Germanic-American Institute in St. Paul at the end of 2016. During 2017, she had three photo exhibits highlighting some of the 5,000 photos she took on a recent trip to Cuba: at The Westminster Gallery in Minneapolis; “Hola, Cuba!” at the Kaddatz Galleries in Fergus Falls and the Evansville Art Center. “Hola, Cuba!” moves to the Edina Art Center in January 2018 for her first solo exhibit there. Also scheduled in 2018 are “Love of a Lifetime: 50+ Years of Photojournalism” at the Red Door Gallery in Wahpeton, N.D., June through August, and her European women photos will be exhibited October through January 2019 at the Pearson Lakes Art Center in Lake Okoboji, Iowa.

LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — I Was ‘Mayo-ed’

It’s been an Epic week.

So there I was last Thursday in Wahpeton, N.D., at the Red Door Gallery preparing for my next photo exhibit, “A Photojournalist’s Retrospective” highlighting my work of the past 55 years. As I passed Chahinkapa Zoo on my way out of Wahpeton, my cell phone rang. It was Erin, a Mayo Clinic appointment secretary, to ask if I wanted to have my knee surgery next Monday instead of next October.  “Absolutely!” I answered with a silent “YES!” to myself and an “I love you!” to Erin as the bearer of wonderful news.

I was about to be “Mayo-ed.”

Six weeks earlier, I had been told my knee replacement surgery wouldn’t happen for months. But that didn’t stop me from being proactive. Every week, I called to ask if there had been any cancellations. There was no way I was going to wait until October with the knee pain I was experiencing.

Early Friday morning, I left La Farm near Ashby, Minn., where I’d been staying for the week because we were in the middle of re-siding our old farmhouse, to drive back to the Cities. Then my husband drove us to Rochester, Minn., for presurgical appointments (X-rays, blood draw, food and medicine updates) and five hours later, we were on our way back to Edina, Minn.

At my Friday appointments, we kept hearing about Epic, the new electronic health record system that was being launched that weekend. In the past, the clinic had been using a variety of disparate record-keeping systems. The new Epic System brought the various different record systems together, resulting not only in more efficient record-keeping but faster results speed up work for both patients and employees. There will be less duplication of testing and data entry.

At 5:15 a.m. Monday, we left Edina arriving at Methodist Hospital at 6:50 a.m. Epic was evident, up and running with nurses and other staff hovering perhaps a little longer over their computers looking for the appropriate slots to enter data.

My husband, Arnie Bigbee, worked in administration at Mayo for 32 years, retiring in 2007. He observed a lot of people in green vests who we learned are Epic “experts,” hundreds of help desk-type staff who have been working for months as Mayo transitions to the Epic System.

What was interesting about the experience is that despite a totally new, highly sophisticated computer record system, every Mayo employee kept their cool, apologizing to patients when they took a little longer than normal, expressing appreciation for patient’s patience. The work flowed.

My surgeon is one of the best for fixing knees, Michael J. Stuart, M.D., co-director for Sports Medicine Center in Rochester and Minneapolis and professor of Orthopedics at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine.

Before surgery, he “autographed” my left knee to make sure the work was done on the correct knee. I was wheeled in to surgery a few minutes before noon and was out by 2:30 p.m.

While I don’t remember a lot about the first few post-op hours, for the remainder of my stay through Wednesday afternoon, Mayo staff executed exceptional care living up to their worldwide reputation.

It’s been an Epic week, all right.

To all the wonderful Mayo nurses (and all nurses everywhere), Happy National Nurses Week, indeed, and thank you for being there.

LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — Spring Is In The Air

Longing for spring — REALLY? Nothing brightens up your day quite like a trip to Bachman’s Spring is in The Air flower show at the Galleria.

The Galleria welcomed tens of thousands of visitors since the beginning of Galleria Spring is in the Air — Bachman’s Flower Show (formerly at the downtown Minneapolis Macy’s) late last month.

According to Wendy Eisenberg, Galleria general manager, there are 2,500 parking places at the upscale Edina, Minn., shopping location. I drove around three times (surface and underground areas) for 20 minutes today without finding a spot. And I have a handicapped parking allowance! Valet parking is highly recommended!

I had to emember to … look up, look down, and all around … birdhouses (?), bikes (2) and butterflies (8) … were “hidden throughout the floral experience.” A brochure helped locate them.

There were 2,400 bulbs that were coaxed into early blooming by the experts at Bachman’s for the event according to their brochure. Over 100 different types of flowers, trees and plants are displayed in 25 different areas throughout the Galleria on both levels.

Bachman’s also has a shop in the former Chico’s if you want to take a bit of spring back home.

 

LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — Rise Up!: Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus’ Call To Action

For over 37 years, the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus has built a large following, this past year attracting over 12,000 fans, to its concerts. Attendees have come to expect “adventuresome programming” (as their playbill promises) from this award-winning group of 150 singers.

The spring concert was no exception as evidenced by rousing standing ovations. No one left disappointed Saturday night accompanied with a call of 12 Action Steps — Rise Up! in the program.

Jane Ramseyer Miller, artistic director of One Voice Mixed Chorus, designed and directed RISE UP, due to the departure of the previous artistic director, Ben Riggs a few months ago.

This was the first TCGMC concert I’ve attended. OMG! I had no idea what I was missing. Until Saturday night, that is. Luckily for us, my husband’s daughter, Maureen, who sings in the Twin Cities Women’s Choir, invited us since her choir also participated in this concert.

For starters, I found it surprising that the men walking on stage of the Ted Mann Theater on the University of Minnesota campus wearing a rainbow of solid-colored shirts, were of such varying ages from their 20s to 70s.

The first song was An Exhortation based on the lyrics from President Barack Obama’s victory speech of Nov. 4, 2008. That was a clue we were in for a real treat!

The TCWC opened — almost by surprise — singing from the third-floor balcony overlooking the full audience. TCWC also joined the men’s choir on stage for one of the final numbers wearing multicolored pussyhats — in solidarity with women’s rights — as they came together to sing “We Rise Again.}

(Caveat: I had a good laugh during intermission, when I observed the line for the men’s room was four times that of the women’s room! That is a first in my 72 years!)

The Lux String Quartet also joined the choirs for several selections throughout the evening. I found it interesting during the second half of the evening before the quartet played its one solo piece, “Summerland,” that the TCGMC, now all dressed in black, turned their backs in silence so the focus was on the quartet. Very effective!

It was even more noticeable and garnered a few chuckles when the men turned around to face the audience sporting solid-colored ties aptly in a rainbow of colors contrasting their black attire, for their next song, “1,000 Grandmothers.”

Without question, the highlight of the evening was a seven-part world premier of “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed,” written by Atlanta composer Joel Thompson and directed by Steve Milloy, guest conductor from Ohio. The piece features the last words of seven unarmed African-American men. All were killed by authority figures.

As Christians around the world mark Holy Week plus the current volatile political, social and gun rights situation, Thompson’s timely piece aligns closely with the classical structure of Joseph Haydn’s “Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross.”

Thompson is quoted in the program, “I wanted to process my personal feelings about being a black man in this very racially tense time … and also figure out a universal way to remember the men who had lost their lives too soon.”

As the piano struck slow, low chords and the violins played high, piercing notes, the choir sang, chanted and sometimes shouted the last words repeating them over and over and over and over as each man’s photograph, name and age was displayed on an overhead screen, one after the other.

  • Kenneth Chamberlain, 66: “Officer, why do you have your guns out?!”
  • Travon Martin, 16: “What are you following me for?!”
  • Amadou Diallo, 23: I’m going to college!
  • Michael Brown, 18: “I don’t have a gun! STOP SHOOTING! STOP! STOP! STOP!”
  • Oscar Grant, 22: “He shot me! He shot me! He shot me!”
  • John Crawford, 22: “It’s not real … Ohhhh … ahhhh!!!!”
  • Eric Garner, 43: “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! Can’t breathe!”

It was the most powerful and moving performance I’ve ever seen. I look forward to the TCGMC’s next concert.

The music of Freddie Mercury and Queen will be featured in the choir’s annual Pride concert June 15 and 16 at Ted Mann Concert Hall. (tickets.umn.edu)

12 Action Steps – Rise Up!

  1. Listen to people of color.
  2. Speak out against gun violence.
  3. Support Clean Water Action Minnesota.
  4. Read books by immigrant authors and people of color.
  5. Listen to and support victims of sexual assault and harassment.
  6. Attend a Justice Choir  www.justicechoir.org.
  7. Support immigrant owned businesses, events and festivals.
  8. Join Women’s March Minnesota  www.womensmarchmn.com.
  9. Contribute to the Philando Castile School Lunch Fund.
  10. Demand rights for transgender and gender non-conforming students www.glsen.org/students/trs.
  11. Talk to friends, family and colleagues about race and white privilege issues.
  12. Join the ACLU in urging ICE to abandon plans to significantly expand immigrant detention centers. www.aclu/org/action.

LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — Gaudí’s Sagrada Família — A Site To Behold!

It’s the view, along with the Mediterranean, from my daughter’s top floor flat in downtown Barcelona: Gaudí’s infamous Sagrada Família.

After days of exploring Barcelona and accompanying breathtaking Spanish countryside, which included a five-day trip to Minorca, I toured the Basilica, the largest unfinished Roman Catholic Church in the world, with my former sister-in-law, Heather Carri and her fun friend, Mike.

Designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, construction of the Basilica started in 1882 and continues to this day. Plans are to have it complete within the next 10 years to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death.

The experience was overwhelming, which could be one reason why it took me four months to post these photos!

I chose to simply walk around, be in awe, pray, take photos — along with the hundreds of other visitors — and not listen to taped history, the facts of which I would forget anyway. I didn’t write cutlines for each photo.

To view my ca. 130 photos click on this link: https://www.facebook.com/barbara.lavalleur.1/media_set?set=a.10215836846264292.1073741856.1539231094&type=3&pnref=story

You’re welcome to leave comments and/or questions which I’ll answer if I can or you can find out more on these links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagrada_Fam%C3%ADlia

https://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/gaudi/barcelona-gaudi.html

LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — Only in Minnesota: Art on Ice

For as long as the Art Shanty Projects have been around, a few years now, I’ve vowed to go — yet have never made it — until Sunday.

Of course, 16-degree temperatures were no deterrent. After all, the sun was shinning. Plus, I have a warm hooded coat, terrific fur-lined boots and toasty leather gloves.

Armed with my sharp metal-pointed German walking stick to keep me safe on the ice and my iPhoneX to record the event, I made my way through a well-worn path in the snow to the “instant village” of art shanties that’s graced Lake Harriet near downtown Minneapolis since Jan. 20.

An array of whimsical, fun, artsy small structures were strategically placed not far out on the ice covered lake near the Bandshell. Many look like they might serve as actual fish houses in off season. But there were notable exceptions.

The photos speak for themselves. To learn more about the project — and perhaps bring this brilliant, fun and art-filled event to a lake near you — check out the official website to learn how they did it: http://www.artshantyprojects.org/about/overview

While Sunday was the last day, take heart. It will surely return next winter, hopefully at Lake Harriet, an ideal spot to take advantage of the popular park. Be sure to put it on your bucket list. And remember to bring the kids, grandkids and dog!

LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — A €62 Bowl Of Soup! 

One of the benefits I enjoy when traveling the world is trying new dishes in the country I’m exploring.

My ever-increasing list of favorites include Germany’s humble spätzle, England’s simple Shepherd’s Pie, Scotland’s perfect Scotch Eggs, France’s yummy Brie and Bleu d’Auvergne cheeses, Cuba’s creamy flans and Spain’s authentic paella.

Shortly after arriving on Menorca, one of Spain’s three Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean this past October, I overheard people talking about the island’s famous lobster soup. “You have to try it,” was their consensus.

However, not every restaurant features this delectable specialty on their menu. So I was fortunate when my daughter, Andrea, and I were exploring the narrow cobblestone streets of Ciutadella on the island’s west coast and almost literally stumbled upon Café Bálear.

The modest-size restaurant with my preferred water view was perfect. While the main seating area is inside across the narrow street, we were drawn to the dozen tables outside positioned precariously close to water’s edge at the tip of the marina.

Menorca’s lobster soup is definitely a step up from my regular favorite tomato basil soup. Highly regarded by locals and first-time customers alike, this restaurant has been in the same family for almost 50 years.

We sat at a table joining the mostly local customers sitting comfortably under umbrellas that screened us from the late autumn sun.

Our waiter brought the obligatory menus touting numerous dishes featuring fish and seafood, freshly caught from their own boat, the Rosa Santa Primera.

We selected a starter of freshly caught shrimp to go with a crisp glass of cool wine and crusty white bread. Andrea, who has lived in Barcelona for over a year and enjoys fresh seafood often, ordered a steak.

But I knew my tastebuds were in for a treat when I ordered the Caldereta de Langosta — Menorca’s famous lobster soup — and the waiter’s body language affirmed that I had made “the right choice” despite a significant ding to my pocketbook. At €62 — that’s $73.60! — it is without question, the most expensive soup I’ve ever eaten.

We settled into our comfortable chairs, watching the ever-present birds and other patrons while enjoying our Spanish wine and conversation.

In short order, our waiter arrived with Andrea’s steak and an enormous thick brown pottery bowl — at least 16 inches in diameter — filled with a dark red broth and a huge lobster.

With accomplished flair and only inches from a 4-foot drop to the water’s edge, our waiter ladled out the rich, dark red broth in my white soup bowl and then delicately placed several pieces of lobster in the middle of the bowl, leaving me to strategically remove its delicious morsel of white meat from the spiky shell without splashing on my clothes.

After a second helping in which I managed to eat every morsel of the lobster, there was still a full meal’s worth of broth, which I was able to chill in our hotel refrigerator and enjoy cold the following day.

Somehow, it is understood that you do not share your Caldereta de Langosta delicacy with anyone at your table, although no one ever explained why.

If you go:

  • Menorca: We spent $350 each for the 45-minute round-trip flight from Barcelona, a five-day, four-night stay at the fabulous Hotel Meliã, which included the largest breakfast buffet I’ve ever experienced, plus car rental for five days.
  • Café Bálear, Pla de Sant Joan, 15. Ciutadella, www.cafebalear.com*, website is in Spanish. If you’re like me and don’t speak the language, click on English for a translation. When you go, be sure to order Caldereta de Langosta — Menorca’s famous lobster soup!
  • Hotel Meliã, https://www.melia.com/en/hotels/spain/menorca/melia-cala-galdana/index.html

Upcoming:

My next blog will be Barcelona by Bus, followed by a Tour of Sagrada Família, Gaudi’s cathedral in Barcelona.

LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — Menorca: Mediterannean’s Hidden Treasure

If you’d asked me a couple of months ago if I had plans to spend a few days in Menorca, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean, I’d have said not anytime soon.

However, when you have a daughter who is a seasoned world traveler and lives in Barcelona, Spain, you learn to keep your options open.

Andrea found a terrific buy that included:

  • Round-trip flight from Barcelona.
  • Five days and four nights at Meliã Hotel.
  • Five days car rental.

And all for only $350 each. I said, “Book it!”

So after a few days in Barcelona spent with friends from Germany and England, we headed for Barcelona-El Prat Airport and after a 45-minute flight, landed in Menorca.

Hotel Meliã served as our “home” for the next few days. It was top-notch, beautifully appointed with spectacular water views, the best breakfast buffet I’ve ever experienced (which is saying something given I lived for 20 years in Europe and have done a fair bit of traveling). On our last day, we especially appreciated being able to check out at 5 p.m. vs. 11 a.m., since our flight was at 7 p.m. Basically, we got an extra day at no cost.

Menorca — in some places spelled Minorca — is one of three Balearic Islands, touted in tourist blurbs as “the treasure of the Mediterranean.” It is one of the best preserved and most unique natural environments in the Mediterranean. The other two islands, Majorca, much larger and more touristy, and the smaller Ibiza.

After driving along some of the 134 miles of coastline, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Menorca was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1993.

For sure, its pristine sandy beaches are its main attraction leading to the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. Locals claim that it is easier to get around on a horse than by car due to the miles of meandering bridle tracks and country paths.

The island excursion turned out to be a delightful surprise and one of the highlights of my 17-day trip to Barcelona for so many reasons. We were there Oct. 21-25, which was a great time to go, since most places including our hotel had or were closing for the season the following week.

With the hotel at probably 25 percent occupancy, there were no lines or wait times for service at restaurants, cafes nor any of the other attractions we visited.

The stunning beach cove in front of our hotel had only a fraction of the normal high season swimmers and water activity that made for a more relaxing, quiet atmosphere. We shared the vast comfortable dockside seating areas with only a handful of other hotel guests — mostly from England, France and Germany — for our afternoon glass of wine or plate of tapas. A few times, I was on my own with my leg raised icing an injured hamstring — with a gin and tonic in hand to make it all better — while Andrea was off exploring the more rugged points of interest on the island.

 

Speaking of gin, I did try the local gin, which is famous for its characteristic distillation process used for 200 years. It is made from alcohol derived from grapes vs. grains. The taste was definitely different. I think I’ll stick with Beefeaters.

The temperatures were great, too, for which I was grateful as I don’t do well in hot weather. We enjoyed high in the 60s and 70s with cooler evenings. Keeping with the annual precipitation averages of between 3 inches to 17 inches, we only experienced a few raindrops on one day.

I was happy to take advantage of the Red Cross station next to our hotel right on the beach. It provided me with a free wheelchair for my entire visit, which came in handy when we visited some of the prehistoric sites featuring Talaiots, huge stones of megalithic construction in various locations throughout the island.

One day I hopped on a plastic 3-wheeler, and a Red Cross worker pulled me the few meters to the beach where — with the help of special water crutches — I was able to stand in the clear, cool water which was great therapy.

Given my walking limitations and the season, I thought we did pretty well to visit eight out of the 14 “unmisable” activities listed in the 2017-2018 Menorca Explorer tourist guide.

Fun things we visited:

  • Maó, a town at the east end of the island near the airport with one of the largest ports in the world; a busy waterfront with restaurants, bars, nightclubs, shops; and Town Hall with a neoclassical façade and clock. We stopped for coffee and tapas at an outdoor cafe.  Then we visited the outdoor market where I bought a cool pair of Spanish trousers.
  • Prehistoric sites where signs of ancient settlers and fortresses are left from the island’s British occupation.
  • The ubiquitous, fascinating dry stonewalls called Paret, which are constructed without mortar or cement using different size stones to create miles and miles of boarder walls typically three to 4 feet high protecting livestock and serving to separate properties.
  • A Son Martorellet production of the famous Somni black stallion dancing horses in Ferreries, www.sonmartorellet.com.
  • The Ria Factory Tour & Shop also in Ferreries (www.ria.es), where I bought two pairs of their famous handmade leather sandals called abacus.
  • The plentiful wild olive woods called ullastrar, oak groves called alzinar, pine woods and tamarisks near the beaches.
  • My favorite town, Ciutadella, at the west end of the island with its old quarter of labyrinth of streets, shops, bars, cafes, restaurants, churches, historic art, interesting old buildings, beautiful port and the main square called Plaça des Born with its newly restored Cathedral of Menorca.

Would love to have …

  • Gone on a boat trip around the entire island, however they had stopped for the season.
  • Taken an adventurous visit to the caves — both on land and underwater — to see fish, birds and animals like the famous Mediterranean tortoises and sargantana lizards in their natural habitat.
  • Stopped at the Menorca Museum.
  • Traced the full permitter of the island on the Cami de Cavalls to appreciate it’s ecological and environmental significance.
  • Photographed the five lighthouses which protect ships sailing near the island.

Where to stay:

Where to eat:

Watch for my upcoming blogs about Barcelona:

  • A €62 Bowl of Lobster Soup
  • Barcelona by Bus
  • Sagrada Família: Over 100 Years in the Making

LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — Barcelona: Not What You Think

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to return to reality after a 17-day trip to Barcelona, which included an extraordinary side trip of five days in Menorca.

The initial purpose of my trip was to visit my daughter, Andrea La Valleur-Purvis, who has called the Catalonian capital home for over a year. She loves it, and I can see why. It’s exciting, has a mix of old and new in terms of architecture, is international, very diverse and has countless places to eat, enjoy and experience a special part of Spain. Plus, one of my favorite parts was seeing an abundance of public art everywhere.

Yet, it turned out to be so much more than what I imagined. Having spent 20 years living in Europe in the late 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s, I still have friends and family there. So I was thrilled when they agreed to fly to Spain from Germany and England to reconnect, if only for a few days at the beginning and end of my trip.

Allow me to whine before going into the heart of the experience. You may not feel much compassion for me, what the heck you may be thinking, you just got back from Spain! What’s the complaint? But days before leaving, I pulled a hamstring and, damn it, that seriously hampered my flexibility and mobility.

Boarding passes for my 17-day trip to Barcelona.
Boarding passes for my 17-day trip to Barcelona.

Heck, on my trip to Cuba earlier this year, I took over 5,000 photos. On this trip, I didn’t even take 2,000! Waaa waaa. I even had to use a cane the entire time and wheelchairs at all the airports from MSP to CHI to ZÜR to BAR to MEN to BAR to TOR to CHI to MSP. Plus poor Andrea had to push me up steep hills and over rough track to visit historical sights. What a drag.

OK, I’m done feeling sorry for myself.

With Barcelona being front-page news the entire trip, you might be surprised to learn I saw very little of the political goings on you were reading about on a daily basis here in the U.S. All that despite the fact that Andrea lives only six blocks from the heart of the city center and within breathtaking view of Gaudi’s towering Basilica of the Sagrada Família from her rooftop terrace.

Andrea pours wine while Ingrid takes photos of our spread.

Twice, our taxi was diverted a few blocks due to demonstrations, which still remained out of our sight and sound. Late one evening while on my own and enjoying a glass of wine on Andrea’s eighth-floor terrace, I heard what sounded like three rapid fire gunshots followed by sirens two minutes later. But I was never able to confirm if the sounds were gunshots.

That said, safety was never an issue on my trip. I felt totally safe the entire time.

I photographed numerous flags hanging from balconies. But there were just as many pro as con, for and against Catalonia separating from the rest of Spain. Those flags were identified with Si! signs on their red and yellow strips with a blue triangle and white star indicating their support for Catalonia to separate from Spain. The national Spanish flags are red and yellow with the Spanish coat of arms depicting two crown-topped pillars with red banners displaying the motto in Latin, “Plus Ultra” or “more beyond” referring to Columbus’ discovery of the New World.

My friends from Germany and England, who had arrived hours before me, Andrea and I shared an AirBNB for the first couple of days. It was a newly appointed and very nice two-bedroom apartment that Andrea had booked for us, which also had a balcony view around the corner of Gaudi’s Cathedral.

The bathroom was stylish albeit small, with an open kitchen dining area. A sleeper sofa provided a “third” sleeping area three steps up to a small terrace with two separate seating areas. It was perfect, and we had a blast drinking wine, eating cheeses, breads, Spanish sausages and catching up on the past two-plus decades.

Yes, that’s the Spanish cheese I brought with me from Minnesota.

We had a good laugh when I brought out some snack cheese from my trip that I had in my suitcase when Ingrid, my German friend, pointed out it was “A Product of Spain”! Gez, not only was that illegal, but I could have gotten into deep doo-doo if caught.

Andrea rented a car so that we could cover more ground, especially since I was unable to walk any distance. We drove north to a vineyard and a wine-tasting at a well-known winery, Freixenet. (See note below.)

Thanks to Andrea’s knowledge of the area, we ate at some great places and continued catching up. All too soon, it was time for them to return home. The four of us took a taxi to the Barcelona Airport, with them flying off to England and Germany and Andrea and I taking a 45-minute flight to Menorca (spelled Minorca by some), one of the three Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean See along with Mallorca and Ibiza, where we spent a delightful five days and four night.

I’ll share more about Menorca in an upcoming blog as well as a separate blog about the Gaudi’s Basilica.

If you go to Barcelona, a few of my favorite places and things to do …

Restaurants:

  • El Nacional, www.enlaceionalbcn.com, €58 (a little over $68) for two of us, various tapas and including Cava, the local sparkling wine; it’s a destination as well as a restaurant with four featured sections; be sure to check out their bathrooms.
  • Firebug, www.firebugbarcelona.com, €53 brunch for four, brunch, bar, bistro, very nice, we sat outside both times, bathroom located upstairs; brunch for six including Cava — €74 Euros
  • Patrón, www.patron-restaurant.com, delicious meal, which I didn’t pay for, so no idea of the cost. I sure enjoyed my paella and I ate the WHOLE THING.
  • Cuines Santa Caterina, http://grupotragaluz.com/en/restaurant/cuines-santa-caterina/, various different food bars indoors, outdoor terrace, fun place to share several plates of small, tasty delights! Seven days a week, check website for hours. Again, I didn’t pay the bill, but it was not expensive.

Fun things to do:

  • Freixenet, a vineyard and wine tasting, http://www.freixenet.es. We rented a car, Andrea drove about 40 kilometers or about 25 miles north of Barcelona. It’s in the heart of the Penedés region in the town of Sant Sadurni d’Anora, a lovely drive with views of hills if not modest mountains. Tour the facility and end up in the tasting room where you have a huge selection of wines to taste. Light snacks also available.
  • Basilica of the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family), a trip to Barcelona without touring the Basilica would be like going to Paris without having your photo taking next to the Eiffel Tower. If you’re considering paying extra for the tour up an elevator to one of the tall spirals, beware: the elevator only takes you up. You have to walk down 420 steep and small, tight circular steps, which, given my cane, I was prevented from doing.

Shopping Centers:

  • www.maremagnum.es — a huge shopping center on three levels, open 365 days a year from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with 80 shops of fashion, home and decor, beauty, kids and services plus about 24 places to eat and/or drink. Andrea and I enjoyed shopping at Swarovski, where I bought her birthday and Christmas present. And a bracelet for myself, too, of course.
  • https://www.barcelona.com/barcelona_directory/shops/la_maquinista — the only open air mall in Barcelona and one of the largest in Catalonia with 230 stores. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., right on the harbor with a small albeit lively old market, harbor ship rides and Miraestels, whimsical white floating sculptures by Robert Llimós floating in the bay.

Your tax refund:

Remember, if you want to receive a tax refund at the end of your stay, you need to track your purchases, have receipts, fill out the forms at point of purchase and when you arrive at the airport, you need extra time to go to the proper office for your tax refund. I didn’t and probably lost $100 or so I could have claimed.

LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — Deutsche Einheit

Twenty-seven years ago this past week (Oct. 3, 1990) is a date I won’t soon forget. It was the “reunification” of Germany. East met West or rather East reunified with the West.

For the world, it was a huge celebration — The Wall Fell — it was a strike for freedom, it meant democracy for millions and yes, even the hope of world peace.

Closer to home, as someone who had been living in Europe for 17 years, an American married to an Englishman living most of that time in the former “West” Germany, it was a personal devastation.

It led to the end of my life, my job as an international photojournalist freelancing full-time for seven German newspapers and my family as I knew it. Not that day. Not that month. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but that was the end result.

We had a small scientific instrument manufacturing company employing 10 Germans with customers throughout Europe and beyond. Small companies like ours were left to fend for ourselves, competing with the lucrative “East” for business. The end result was that we lost our home, our business, our retirement and while we didn’t officially go bankrupt, we lost “everything.” Our marriage did not survive the strain.

I’ve always wondered why I’ve never read anything about the hundreds, if not thousands of small companies that went out of business as a result of the Wall falling. After all, the East became an instant investment gold mine.

By 1994, I was back in Minnesota after 20 years (nearly three in England and over 17 in Germany), starting my life over at the age of 50.

Fast-forward to today, I’m a happily married, “refired” —versus retired — photojournalist as busy as ever with a Cuba photo exhibit that opened Friday at the Evansville (Minn.) Art Center and another one scheduled for the Edina (Minn.) Art Center in January.

Last Monday, I spent several hours going through hundreds of letters I’d written to my family, mostly to my mother and two sisters, during those 20 years in Europe, in preparation for writing my memoir. I didn’t stop to read most of them, but in realizing that Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall, I set aside a handful written during that time to read.

In one letter, dated Jan. 1, 1990, I was commenting to my mother about the political situation. “The financial drain on the West is enormous at the moment. It’s fabulous that the East is loosening it’s tethers, but it’s costing! There is resentment here and there. But basically, people are breathing easier.”

Only a few weeks later, in February 1990, I wrote of “changes in Germany and Europe.”

On June 23, 1990, my letter reads, “Checkpoint Charlie was dismantled on Friday, that’s really something.”

Then in a letter from my daughter, Andrea, 15 years old at the time, to her grandparents, she wrote, “East and West are joining tomorrow, people are already out tonight and celebrating. On AFN (American Forces Network, the American Army radio station we listened to), they said tons of people are at the Brandenburg (Gate in Berlin) tonight.”

The letter had a Deutsche Einheit (German Unity) stamp on it and was mailed the day after reunification.

LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — Once In A Lifetime

As a 72-year-old, I sure didn’t want to miss the once-in-a-lifetime Great American Solar Eclipse. So I went to our local library around the corner — Hennepin County Public Library on York in Edina — along with nearly 1,000 other like-minded Metro area people from infants in push chairs to seniors in wheelchairs.

It was totally fun. Even the long line to wait to get into the library was made interesting with conversations with folks like Adolf, who lives in Bloomington for four months of the year but goes to Florida to play golf with all his buddies.

Once inside, all the chairs were taken. Three kind young Edina high school students — Karsten Swanson, Addie McCuskey and Nora Clarkowski — scooted together and gave me one of their seats.

Solar eclipse photo, courtest www.lucnix.be.
Solar eclipse photo, courtest www.lucnix.be.

Nick Skuza, an educational assistant from the Bell Museum of Natural History and fourth-year Astro Physics major at the University of Minnesota, gave a presentation before guiding the crowd went outside. There he guided viewers to see the eclipse through a telescope.

His colleague, Kaitlin Ehret, also a Bell Museum educational assistant, showed young and old how to view the eclipse for those without eclipse glasses by using a Sunspotter, a devise that showed the eclipse on a piece of paper.

Many parents attended the free event with their children, who had made pinhole boxes to view the eclipse.

Like I said, it was totally fun. And I didn’t even have the proper glasses. Although the library staff handed out a good supply — about 200 — and many people brought their own, the majority of us didn’t have them. Not to worry. People were incredibly gracious and kind sharing their glasses with anyone who asked or didn’t! One little tyke, he couldn’t have been more than 3 years old, was randomly handing out his glasses for others to see.

Wow, it was a coming together like I haven’t seen in a long time! No one talked politics. Maybe that was it. Everyone was focused on the one thing they had in common: a keen desire to witness a once-in-a-lifetime natural phenomenon.

The next solar eclipse over the United States will be in 2024. After that? 2045. Then 2052, 2078, and, for my great-grandchildren, a great one over Maine in 2079.

What Is A Solar Eclipse?

A solar eclipse is a natural event that takes place on Earth when the moon moves in its orbit between Earth and the sun (this is also known as an occultation). It happens at new moon, when the sun and moon are in conjunction with each other. If the moon was only slightly closer to Earth, and orbited in the same plane and its orbit was circular, we would see eclipses each month. The lunar orbit is elliptical and tilted with respect to Earth’s orbit, so we can only see up to five eclipses per year. Depending on the geometry of the sun, moon and Earth, the Sun can be totally blocked, or it can be partially blocked.

During an eclipse, the moon’s shadow (which is divided into two parts: the dark umbra and the lighter penumbra) moves across Earth’s surface. Safety note: do NOT ever look at the Sun directly during an eclipse unless it is during a total solar eclipse. The bright light of the Sun can damage your eyes very quickly.

Facts About Solar Eclipses

  • Depending on the geometry of the sun, moon, and Earth, there can be between two and five e solar eclipses each year.
  • Totality occurs when the moon completely obscures sun so only the solar corona is showing.
  • A total solar eclipse can happen once every one to two years. This makes them very rare events.
  • The longest a total solar eclipse can last is 7.5 minutes.
  • The width of the path of totality is usually about 160 kilometers across and can sweep across an area of Earth’s surface about 10,000 miles long.
  • Almost identical eclipses occur after 18 years and 11 days. This period of 223 synodic months is called a saros.
  • During a total solar eclipse, conditions in the path of totality can change quickly. Air temperatures drop and the immediate area becomes dark.
  • If any planets are in the sky at the time of a total solar eclipse, they can be seen as points of light.