This spring a couple of friends and I traveled to the Hungarian city of Esztergom. Known for its history and beautiful architecture, we had a fun afternoon exploring the old buildings and enjoying delicious food.
Esztergom is known for its Basilica, which is both the largest church and tallest building in Hungary; this last piece of information was unbeknownst to me when I enthusiastically agreed to a mid-week adventure.
Here’s the thing: my fear of heights has caused me to bail many a staircase in Europe.
While there were a couple of tricky, anxiety-inducing moments, I not only climbed the Basilica, but even completed the outdoor walkway around the dome–a huge accomplishment for me! It helps to have supportive friends encouraging you to work through your fears.
That being said, I literally never want to be that high, walking around a huge dome on a narrow, outdoor path, absolutely ever again.
Esztergom is a lovely city with beautiful views of the Danube. We only visited for a couple of hours–plenty of time to walk through the Basilica, castle ruins, and grab lunch– but you could definitely spend the whole day exploring this city, one of the oldest in Hungary.
Where are we?
Settlements in the area have been dated back to the end of the Ice Age (!!!), about 20,000 years ago. In 901, the Magyars conquered the Pannonian Basin and the (mostly Slavic) people who lived there. The ruling prince of the Hungarians then named Esztergom his chosen home. Esztergom Castle was built and became the only royal palace in Hungary until the Mongol siege of the city in 1241. During this time, Esztergom was the center for the Hungarian state and religion. Over time the ruling of this area changed hands, although the city remained an important place for commerce and Catholicism.
Basilica of Esztergom:
Mária Valéria Bridge & Víziváros:
Esztergomi Prímási Pincerendszer:
This was a lovely trip to see more of Hungary and I’m so glad we had a chance to visit before Kristin and Casey moved back the US.
Read more about Casey’s amazing travel adventures here. Kristin’s beautiful photography portfolio can be seen on her site. Stay tuned for the Heather and Ashlyn podcast coming soon 😉
Reading: Shut Up You’re Pretty (Tea Mutonji) Watching: Unbelievable (Netflix) Listening: Buried Truths Season 2 (WABE Atlanta)
This spring we traveled to Stuttgart, Germany to attend the FIG World Cup for my birthday. My first time in Stuttgart, the trip included three of my travel favorites: library, pubs, and a cemetery (plus bonus this time–my first elite gymnastics competition). I saw the queens of the sport (Simone Biles AND Aliya Mustafina) along with wandering this beautiful city.
We stayed a little outside the very center of Stuttgart and I preferred that location over the touristy area of Schlossplatz. Our street had so many adorable restaurants and shops–definitely recommend staying near the Lehen neighborhood if you don’t mind putting in the extra steps on your Fitbit.
Pro tip: Stuttgart (and Germany in general) has great public transport available and journeys are MUCH cheaper than an Uber ride (save that money for extra spätzle!) Our way home was pure Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: bus to the train station, train to the airport, plane to Vienna, car from Vienna to Hungary. All a part of the lovely adventure.
Where are we?
The sixth largest city in Germany, the area of Stuttgart is spread across a number of hills. Commonly described as “zwischen Wald und Reben” (“between forest and vines”) due to the close proximity of the Black Forest and the city’s numerous wineries, Stuttgart is definitely a walkable city with some elevation–getting those calf muscles working!
Stuttgart was founded in 950 AD by Duke Liudolf of Swabia (the root of the name derives from the Swabian word Stuotgarten meaning “stud farm”) for the purpose of breeding warhorses. Swabians are Germanic peoples native to the Swabian region of Germany, an area that is now present-day Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria.
Like most German cities, the population and physical landscape drastically changed during WWII. In 1933 the Gestapo occupied Hotel Silber, a site used to torture, detain, and transport political prisoners. The Old Synagogue was destroyed during Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) and in 1934, the Nazis began to arrest members of the Jewish population of Stuttgart; many were deported to the prison camp in Welzheim or to the Dachau concentration camp. From 1941-1945, more than 2,000 Jews were sent to Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Riga, and Izbica; only 180 survived the war.
Stuttgart was heavily bombed by Allied forces throughout the war. On September 12th, 1944, the Royal Air Force dropped over 184,000 bombs on the city. The attack completely destroyed Stuttgart’s center and killed 957 people. Overall, the city was hit by 53 bombing raids, which leveled nearly sixty percent of the city and killed 4,477 of Stuttgart’s inhabitants. Following the end of the war, the rubble in the city was used to build Birkenhopf, an artificial hill that is now the highest point in Stuttgart and a memorial to those who died during WWII.
We we only had a weekend in Stuttgart, but I think you could spend at least a week in the city and still not see everything on your list. I was bummed to miss the botanical gardens in Wilhema and the Ludwigsburg Residential Palace, but incredibly thankful for the opportunity to see all we did during our visit.
Restaurants & Pubs:
Paul & George:
Misch Misch Coffee:
Little Italy Stuttgart:
Bonus: Stuttgart World Cup
We attended my first ever elite competition while in Stuttgart (best birthday present ever, Chris!) The World Cup was AMAZING and our seats were great. Unfortunately, my camera is terrible, so these potato-quality photos don’t really do the event justice. In an effort to practice mindfulness and being present, I also only took a a few photos. I’m always trying to document everything, so I tried my best to relax and enjoy the event in real time. I’m.so.glad.I.did.
The competitors included Simone Biles (USA), Ana Padurariu (Canada), Elisabeth Seitz (Germany), Lorette Charpy (France), Aliya Mustafina (Russia), Hitomi Hatakeda (Japan), Kim Bui (Germany), Zsofia Kovacs (Hungary), and Carolyne Pedro (Brazil).
This competition was so fun to experience in person! Of course it was amazing to see Olympic champions Biles and Mustafina compete–Simone literally tumbles feet higher than anyone else and Aliya’s bars are one of the prettiest routines in the world–but also so cool to see athletes newer to the scene (Padurariu’s beam was fantastic and she looked as if she was having the time of her life, Charpy’s beam and bars were awesome, and the powerful Pedro finished her day with a great floor performance).
For me, I loved seeing the German athletes compete in their home country. Two-time Olympian Bui is still competing (and looking amazing, especially on bars) at AGE THIRTY. She is currently earning her Master’s Thesis in–wait for it–immunotherapy treatments for cancer patients, specifically engineering protein cells to combat the disease (!!). Elisabeth Seitz, a two time Olympian herself, rocked the arena on both bars and floor to take the bronze medal.
❤ Stuttgart. So, so thankful.
Reading: Every Day is for the Thief (Teju Cole) Watching: The Case Against Adnan Syed (HBO) Listening: Reveal: Lasting Impact (Center for Investigative Reporting)
“Larry Nassar … was far from a lone wolf… He was enabled by others and if they lied about it and if they obstructed the investigation, if they destroyed documents then they should be held accountable.”
Fitzpatrick, Sarah, Tom Costello, and Adiel Kaplan. 2019. “Congress: U.S. Olympic Committee, FBI Failed to Protect Athletes from Larry Nassar’s Abuse.” NBC News. Available here.
This is a continuing series of posts on how Michigan State University, the United States Olympic Committee, and USA Gymnastics are changing (or not) following the largest sexual abuse case in the history of sport in the US. Need a recap on how we got here? Check out my last post here.
As always, there’s a ton of developments to unpack, including just two weeks ago when a congressional report found that the USOC, USA Gymnastics, MSU, AND the FBI all “had opportunities to stop Nassar but failed to do so”.
I’ll be posting a review of the report, which includes damning evidence of both individual and organizational cover-ups, as well as prioritizing institutional protection over athlete safety, in a separate post.
These organizations are (still) failing at creating meaningful change. Just last week at the US Championships, where Simone “greatest of all time” Biles won her historic sixth all-around title (along with unveiling two of the most difficult skills in gymnastics history, tearfully addressed the short-comings of the USOC and USA Gymnastics. Both organizations failed to protect her from sexual abuse; she currently still competes under these institutions, who also make money off of her domination of the sport:
“But it’s hard coming here for an organization having had them fail us so many times. And we had one goal and we’ve done everything that they’ve asked us for, even when we didn’t want to and they couldn’t do one damn job. You had one job. You literally had one job and you couldn’t protect us…. How can we trust them?”
The Associated Press. 2019. “‘You had One Job’: Tearful Simone Biles Attacks USAG over Nassar Scandal.” The Guardian UK. Available here.
Bilesshut down the Ranch, USAG trash CEOs, and continues to speak out against the organizations that allowed Nassar to abuse hundreds of children and women. The truth is that she doesn’t have to keep holding USAG and the USOC accountable–I can’t imagine the emotional and mental toll it takes to continuously do so while competing–but she does. Biles is providing a voice to the many who aren’t heard and because she is absolutely the best there is, forces people (and organizations) to listen. As Nastia Liukin said on day two of the US Championships broadcast: “Simone’s got enough gold medals at home. Someone give this girl a crown.”
Let’s get into it:
Michigan State University
In May, MSU named former Stony Brook University president Samuel L. Stanley as the new president for Michigan State. He was unanimously voted into the position by the MSU Board of Trustees following the resignation of Lou Anna Simon in January 2018 and the term of controversial interim president John Engler ended. Stanley served on the NCAA Division I Board of Directors from 2014-2018 and the NCAA Division I Board of Governors from 2016-2018. Remember that last year the NCAA cleared MSU of any wrongdoing concerning Larry Nassar, as well as the abuse allegations made against the university’s football and basketball teams. His salary could include up to $5.3M by 2024; he started at the university on August 1st.
June Youatt, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at MSU, testified at former Michigan State University Dean (and Nassar’s boss) William Strampel’s court hearing. She stated that she:
“was aware of complaints about Strampel making inappropriate or sexual comments, but recommended he stay on as dean after confronting him about the alleged behavior… [She] testified Friday that a number of anonymous comments collected as part of the university’s five-year review process for deans ‘indicated that there had been some sexual comments made.'”
Gibbons, Lauren. 2019. “MSU Provost Recommended William Strampel Stay on as Dean Despite Complaints of Inappropriate Behavior.” Michigan Live. Available here.
June Youatt is still employed at MSU and continues to hold the position of Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs.
In June, William Strampel was found guilty of misconduct in office, as well as two charges of willful neglect of duty in relation to his role as Larry Nassar’s supervisor at Michigan State University (he was found not guilty of second-degree criminal sexual conduct.) This month he was sentenced to 11 months in prison. Strampel is the first person to be sentenced for his role in enabling Nassar.
Former MSU president Lou Anna Simon was charged in November 2018 with lying to police; her trial finished in July 2019. Eaton County District Court Judge Julie Reincke will announce a ruling later this year.
Kathy Klages, former Head Coach for the MSU Women’s Gymnastics Team, was also charged with lying to police for failing to report allegations of abuse against Nassar. Her case is still pending.
“MSU is paying the full costs of Simon and Klages’ defenses. The university is paying for half of Strampel’s defense, since only two of his charges related to the Nassar scandal.”
Banta, Megan. 2019. “Former MSU Dean William Strampel Sentenced to One Year in Jail.” Lansing State Journal. Available here.
On June 20th the Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill to add athletic trainers and physical therapists to the state’s list of mandatory reporters of child abuse. This is the direct result of survivors pushing for legislation to create stricter laws for protecting victims.
Michigan State University has yet to respond to a January report by the US Department of Education. The report found that the institution continuously violated federal law that requires universities to publicly report safety issues.
In June, the MSU Board of Trustees voted unanimously to approve an independent investigation of how the institution allowed Nassar to abuse women. MSU will hire an outside firm to conduct the research, specifically non-criminal actions, including the culture of the campus and administration, with the goal of:
“helping the Board of Trustees to identify who knew what about Nassar, how he was able to abuse and identify actions that might have involved neglect, violations of university protocol or other behaviors that need to be addressed.”
Kozlowski, Kim. 2019. “MSU to Launch Independent Investigation in Nassar Scandal.” The Detroit News. Available here.
Chicago-based firm McDermott Will & Emery will conduct the investigation. The decision was met with approval from Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly come forward against Nassar:
“It’s truly independent. MSU has not done an independent review of everything that’s happened. And they’ve worked directly with survivors in selecting a firm…that really emphasizes the importance of accountability and transparency and independence from the board… It’s exactly what we’ve been asking for, what I’ve been asking for, for the last three years. “
Wells, Kate. 2019. “MSU Promises New Nassar Investigation is the Real Deal This Time.” Michigan Public Radio. Available here.
USA Gymnastics & United States Olympic Committee:
This May, three former USAG athletes testified to the Texas Senate committee to provide more time for for abuse victims to take legal action against their perpetrators, including institutions. 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Tasha Schwikert, her sister and national team member Jordan, and World medalist Alyssa Baumann expressed concern that the law needed to expand to include a longer statue of limitations, as well as the inclusion of legal action against organizations that enable abuse, a policy that was originally in the bill, but was quietly removed by Craig Goldman, who introduced the legislation. All three athletes were abused at the former National Training Center in Texas. Tasha, now a lawyer, stated: “I was just there doing gymnastics, trying to live out my dream of being an Olympian, and they allowed this child molester to abuse hundreds of gymnasts doing the same.” The bill passed in late May, now allowing victims of abuse to file lawsuits up to thirty years after they turn 18; legislation also included the provision allowing victims to bring charges against institutions as well.
According to the Wall Street Journal, USA Gymnastics is now facing over $1 billion in claims from former athletes.
Former Olympian Terin Humphrey, a representative on the USA Gymnastics Athletes’ Council, was removed from her position following controversial comments on recognizing abuse in the gym. The Athletes’ Council is the voice of the gymnasts within USA Gymnastics.
Humphrey was then replaced by former 2012 Olympic alternate Anna Li, who, along with her mother Jiani Wu, is facing allegations of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse of athletes in her gym. Complaints filed with USA Gymnastics contend that the coaches screamed obscenities and pulled the hair of athletes. This week Li resigned from the position; Li’s resignation is the fifth USAG official to do so in less than twelve months.
Administrative costs for the US Olympic Committee doubled from 2017-2018, including a $5.2 million investigation into the organization’s handling of Nassar abuse cases and a $2.4 million severance provided to former CEO Scott Blackmun. Blackmun was notified of Nassar’s abuse in 2015 by former USAG CEO Steve Penny. An independent investigation found that Blackmun never disclosed this information to anyone at the USOC and failed to ensure the complaints were reported to law enforcement. The report also found that Blackmun put the interests of the institution over athletes, athletes that helped earn the USOC $323 million in 2018. The $2.4 million given to Blackmun is more than the USOC provided to fund SafeSport, the organization tasked with investigating abuse allegations.
In response to Simone Biles’ criticism of the organization last week, USAG CEO Li Li Leung stated that they “are working to foster a safe, positive, and encouraging environment where athlete voices are heard.” Yet, there has been little, if any, substantial policy changes or structures in place since Leung was hired.
“Denhollander said it’s ‘an incredible burden that none of these athletes deserve… it’s unconscionable,’ she said, calling Biles’ and her teammates’ circumstances ‘manifestly unfair.'”
Svokos, Alexandra. 2019. “With Nationals Underway a Year Before Olympics, USA Gymnastics Still Struggles to Earn Trust.” ABC News. Available here.
While many critics claim this is “just” a gymnastics problem–some even calling to end the sport–the issue is that perpetrators of sexual abuse are everywhere. It’s not a “Nassar” problem; it is a cultural and policy issue:
In May, Ohio State University found that a team doctor abused at least 177 men during his time at the institution. OSU staff knew of the abuse as early as 1979, but instead chose to protect the institution over athlete safety.
In June, former Olympic track athlete Conrad Mainwaring was arrested for felony sexual battery. An ESPN investigation found that the coach had molested at least thirty men during his time working at a high school in Los Angeles.
MSU physiology professor Robert Wiseman was suspended for six weeks after MSU found he had sexually harassed six women over twenty years. The first woman filed a report in January 18th and Wiseman was suspended over a year later. He finished his suspension on April 4th and has resumed his position at Michigan State.
US Champion Chris Riegel stated that he was sexually assaulted by his coach from 1973-1981; he reported the abuse to the USOC and USGF (the organization replaced by USA Gymnastics) but the reports were ignored.
Simone, and all of the other former and current athletes that have and continue to compete for the USOC and USAG deserve better. I can’t imagine competing and earning money for organizations that not only enabled abusers to assault athletes, but seemingly still are unwilling to enact tangible policies to address these issues. Less talk, more action.
Required Reading: Larry Nassar’s Digital Ghosts (Mary Pilon) available here.
Reading: Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) Watching: Dexter Season 2 (Showtime) Listening: White Lies (National Public Radio)
Last year while visiting Edinburgh, Chris and I took a day trip with our friends up to a couple of locations at the boundary and just beyond into the Scottish Highlands. While we had hoped to travel farther north, our time constraints in Scotland made a quick journey the best option for us. Our tour included Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond, and Glengoyne Distillery. Castles, lakes, and whiskey–is there anything more you need in life?
Nerd alert as I discuss the human-created and geological differences between the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland. The social science geek in me (of course) is (always) interested in the impacts of history and culture on landscapes. While the human-created “Highlands Line” is the divider between the Highlands and Lowlands, it isn’t a a static, distinct boundary, but instead changes as people move, cultures shift, and languages change.
Where are we?
Mainland Scotland is divided into two main regions: the Lowlands and the Highlands. The definition between the two regions is not clearly defined; while the Highland Boundary Fault cuts between the areas north and west of the major fault zone, exact boundaries have never been truly defined between the two regions. Historically and culturally, the division between the two areas started during the Middle Ages when Lowland Scots replaced Scottish Gaelic in most of the Lowlands.
From the 15th century to the mid 1900s, language became one of the biggest divisions between the Lowlands and Highlands; Gàidhealtachd (typically the Highlands and Islands) is the Scottish Gaelic-speaking part of Scotland, although the Highlands form of Scottish English is spoken there today. Clan units governed the Highlands until the Jacobite uprising of 1745 and remains a source of romanticized culture (see: Outlander).
The Lowlands include Scotland’s largest cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow; the Highlands are sparsely populated. While the Highland Boundary Fault does not necessarily define the line between the two regions culturally, it does play a huge role in the geology of both areas. The Highlands contains the majority of the mountainous terrain in the United Kingdom, while the southern part of Scotland is flatter, with less elevation.
You can spend weeks (or in a perfect world, years) exploring the Scottish Highlands. The landscape is absolutely beautiful, with so much to see and experience. We just crossed over from the Lowlands and our tiny sliver of the Highlands was one of my favorite days in the United Kingdom.
St. Mocha Coffee Shop & Ice Cream Parlour:
Incredibly thankful to experience a little slice of the Scottish Highlands ❤
I absolutely adore Scotland and can’t wait to visit again.
Reading: Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed by Men (Caroline Criado-Perez) Watching: Years and Years (HBO) Listening: The Scarlet E (On the Media)
I LOVE GLASGOW. This January we traveled to Scotland’s most populous city to fulfill our teenage dream of seeing Cake play a live show. Wintertime Scotland may sound intimidating, but so worth it.
Pro tip: If you’re cheap like me, traveling off-season is a great way to save money on transportation and accommodations (flights and apartments are usually a lot less expensive) meaning more funds for whiskey and postcards. We’re walkers–our favorite way to travel around a new city is on foot–so we definitely packed our winter-wear for this trip. For me, this meant double leg warmers and wearing something other than flats.
This is a really long post but Glasgow is too amazing to not discuss #allthethings. Get ready for a an extra intense history overview and too many cemetery pictures.
Why “a life less ordinary”? This quote was written on the floor of the entrance to Hillhead Bookclub, where we had dinner our last night in Glasgow. Is this also an excuse to reference Danny Boyle’s 1997 film starring Ewan McGregor, Cameron Diaz, and Holly Hunter? Am I pressuring you to listen to the soundtrack that includes the best version of REM’s Leave? Yes to all those things.
Where are we?
Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland and known for its industrial landscape. While the origin of the name is under debate, it is believed that Glasgow is derived from Middle Gaelic, meaning “green basin”. The city has the largest percentage of Gaelic speakers outside of the Highlands and Islands. Although the indigenous language is not recognized by the United Kingdom or European Union, Gaelic is an important part of Scottish culture and history.
A great source of fishing, the River Clyde and the surrounding areas were settled by many different communities near Glasgow. In the 6th century, Christian missionary Saint Mungo (you know, THE St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries in Harry Potter) established a church where the current Glasgow Cathedral stands.
Walking through the Merchant City area, I was surprised to see a sign for Virginia Street; ever the pochemuchka (the Russian word for the one who asks too many questions) I had to learn more about the connection between the American south and Glasgow.
Many of the streets and buildings still bear the names of the Tobacco Lords, the group of merchants that made the most profits from transatlantic trade (and some owned plantations in the New World too) although there have been calls to hang plaques to tell the full story.
Glasgow became a central trading port following the Acts of Union in 1707–the treaty that combined the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland–and played a large role in transatlantic trade and slavery. A central part of the triangular route, much of Glasgow’s wealth was derived from slave labor:
“There are 19 recorded slave voyages which left from Glasgow’s satellite ports of Greenock and Port Glasgow over a sixty year period from 1706 and 1766 – with these direct voyages estimated to have carried around 2 to 3,000 people directly into slavery.
Yet Glasgow was far, far from being an innocent bystander in the slave trade.
The very reason the Tobacco Lords became successful – and why the city prospered as a result – was because they were able to monopolise the produce grown by slaves on the plantations of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland, namely tobacco and sugar. So much so, in fact, that for 50 years from 1740 to 1790, Glasgow became the hub for the world’s tobacco – at times trading more than all the English ports put together.
A trade built almost exclusively on forced slave labour. ”
Williams, Craig. 2018. “The History of Glasgow and its Relationship with the Slave Trade.” Glasgow Live. Available here.
While the city profited from slave labor in the New World, many Scots and the University of Glasgow played a large role in the abolitionist movement. Following American independence, Glasgow continued to grow during the Industrialized Revolution, which saw steel making, shipyards, and heavy industry further the development of the city. After WWII, economic decline led to de-industrialization of the city.
Glasgow is known for its architecture; there are a large number of historically and culturally important buildings throughout the city. During the Industrial Revolution, many of Glasgow’s red and blonde sandstone buildings were covered with a black layer of soot from industrial pollution and furnaces. The Clean Air Act was passed in 1956 and many of the city’s 1,800 buildings were restored to their original appearance.
In 2013 “People Make Glasgow” became the official motto for the city.
University of Glasgow:
The People’s Palace:
The Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis are absolute must-sees if you’re planning a trip to Glasgow.
Glasgow Botanical Gardens:
More Beautiful Places:
Restaurants & Pubs:
Innis and Gunn:
Papercup Coffee Company:
++Special shout out to the Old Ship Bank pub in Glasgow too! We stopped by to use the bathroom and ended up hanging out with an older gentleman named James, a native of Glasgow, for hours. He told us about the history of the area, current politics, and his excitement for a date he had scheduled for the next day. The pub was awesome and just felt so Glasgow… that’s the only way I can explain the atmosphere. The entire space was filled with people who just returned from a funeral and, according to James, this is “typical” for natives of Glasgow.
Voltaire and Rousseau:
I ❤ Glasgow
Don’t forget that you can download the MWA Map and have all of my food/pub/sites/bookstore recommendations with you whenever you travel.
Currently: Reading: Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture (Roxane Gay) Watching: Big Little Lies Season 2 (HBO) Listening: Burn it all Down
This is less of a “Queen You Should Know” and more of a “Queen You Already Know but Need To Know More About.” While you’ve probably seen Josephine Baker’s performances (or still photos of them), the story of her early life, work as a spy during WWII, and pursuit to end discrimination, is less well known than her famous nearly-naked banana skirt dance in 1926.
The truth is, we can’t talk about her enough.
Josephine’s humor and immense dancing talent made her a famous in not only Paris, but across the world. Even as a global star, she was often denied equal treatment in the United States. During a time when segregation ruled America, the iconic WWII spy was told she couldn’t use the same facilities, stay at the same hotels, or eat at the same restaurants as her white counterparts.
Why Josephine? I first read about her story a few months ago when I received Josephine Baker’s Last Dance as a part of my Call Number book subscription and last week I made sure to visit her (small) memorial plaque in Paris. This June, Josephine would have turned 113 years old. Throughout her life she had relationships with both men and women; I think it’s fitting to highlight a bisexual woman during Pride month.
Known as the “Black Venus” Freda Josephine McDonald was born in St. Louis to Elvira McDonald, an adopted daughter of African and Native American slave descendants. Josephine was exposed to performing early; she was brought on stage with her mother during the finales of her family’s song and dance act. She was hooked to music and dancing from a young age as her neighborhood included many musical influences including Booker T. Washington.
Josephine grew up extremely poor and her family struggled to make ends meet. By age 8, she was working as a live-in servant for wealthy white families. While working for the first family that employed her, she was severely burned by the woman of the house as punishment for a mistake made in the kitchen; Josephine was also sexually assaulted while working for a different family. At the age of 12, she dropped out of school and worked as a waitress and street dancer. The relationship with her mother deteriorated, and by age 13, Josephine began living on the streets of St. Louis. She married a man named Willie Wells under pressure from her parents and the couple divorced less than a year later.
Following her divorce, Josephine began working with a street performance group, the Jones Family Band. Known for her creative dancing style and humor, she began earning larger roles within their shows. Not the “typical” dancer, Josephine relied on her comedic abilities and unique choreography. At age 15, she married Willie Baker and also found success as her performance group began booking shows in New York City. Josephine took Willie’s last name even after their marriage ended. Her career began to take off as she performed in venues as a part of the Harlem Renaissance ad during this time she also had a relationship with Clara Smith, a Blues singer.
In 1925, her dancing style and blackface “comedy” gave Josephine opportunities abroad; she moved to Paris at the age of 19 where she became an instant success through her performances. During this time, the French were becoming more enamored with black culture–well, their idea of “black culture”–and Josephine was able to manipulate these perceptions into creating her own image. Cast in an all Black dance troupe, La Revue Nẻgre, Josephine’s performance in essentially only a banana skirt on one of the largest stages propelled her to stardom:
“In an article on the 110th anniversary of her birth, Vogue described how her legendary ‘danse sauvage’, or ‘savage dance’ ‘radically redefined notions of race and gender through style and performance in a way that continues to echo throughout fashion and music today, from Prada to Beyoncé.’ Her playful onstage demeanor and approach to race, gender, and sexuality through performance earned her the acclaim of intellectuals and artists such as Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo, and Ernest Hemingway, who described her as ‘the most sensational woman anybody ever saw’.”
Norman, Dominique. 2018. “Black Excellence: The Ever Legendary Josephine Baker.” V Magazine.
By 1930, Josephine was the most photographed woman in the world and most successful American entertainer working in France. Known for her unique style, dance, and humor, Josephine had finally found the home abroad that had been denied to her as a child growing up during the Jim Crow era of the American south. In 1936, she returned to the US to star in the Broadway revival of Ziegfeld Follies but the show was met with mixed reviews and Josephine was attacked personally (Time Magazine called her a “negro wench”). After attempting her open her own club but met with continued discrimination, she left again for Paris in 1937, where she gave up her American citizenship, became a legal citizen of France, and married a French industrialist named Jean Lion.
While Josephine returned to France heartbroken by the racism she experienced in the United States, she was determined to continue building her career in France. As WWII began to engulf Europe, Josephine supported the French through her performances, opening a refugee center, and becoming a spy for the resistance. In 1939 she was recruited by French military intelligence, the Deuxième Bureau, to collect information on enemy military troops. At a great expense to her own personal safety, Josephine used her fame and charisma to successfully gather information for the resistance from high ranking Italian, German, and and Japanese officers. She often used sheet music embossed with invisible ink or carried messages in her underwear to communicate this intelligence back to allied forces. During this time, Josephine also met and began a relationship with Mexican artist and icon Frida Kahlo.
In addition to her work as a spy, Josephine traveled Europe and North Africa to entertain troops. In 1941, while performing and also passing on information to British and American forces, Josephine’s health deteriorated; she suffered a miscarriage that resulted in an emergency hysterectomy, which then led to severe infection and sepsis. Still, Josephine continued her work as she recovered.
Following the war, Josephine received a number of accolades: Croix de guerre, the Rosette de la Résistance and was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur by General Charles de Gaulle.
As the Civil Rights Movement gained traction in the United States, Josephine became one of the most famous supporters for equal rights. She denied performing for segregated audiences, refused to support segregated businesses, and wrote articles about the injustices suffered by African Americans in United States. She was threatened by the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations; she publicly stated that she would not be deterred by their violence. Josephine’s voice, which had brought her fame in her adopted France, was now being heard as one of the loudest supporters of equal rights in the United States.
In 1963, Josephine was the only official female speaker at Rev. King’s March on Washington. Many were concerned that her history of risque performances and allegiance to France would hurt the movement, but Josephine gave a powerful speech:
“I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad. And when I get mad, you know that I open my big mouth. And then look out, ’cause when Josephine opens her mouth, they hear it all over the world. . . .
“I am not a young woman now, friends. My life is behind me. There is not too much fire burning inside me. And before it goes out, I want you to use what is left to light the fire in you.”
Goldstein, Jessica. 2011. “March on Washington had one Female Speaker: Josephine Baker.” The Washington Post.
During her time working on civil rights in the United States, Josephine began adopting children from different religions and ethnicities to form the family she nicknamed “the Rainbow Tribe”. Her goal was to prove that children could become “brothers” regardless of their history or background; Josephine would eventually adopt twelve children.
Following Dr. King’s assassination, his widow, Coretta Scott King, asked Josephine to take his place as the Leader of the Civil Rights Movement; she declined the offer out of protection of her children, who she felt were too young to lose their mother.
Josephine returned to France and continued to perform across Europe. She starred in a biographical show of her life and fifty years as a performer, Joséphine à Bobino 1975, in Paris. Four days after the production’s opening night, she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and passed away at the age of 68. Josephine is the only American-born woman in to receive full French military honors; over 20,000 people paid their respects to her funeral procession as it passed through the streets of Paris.
Many iconic singers, including Rihanna, Diana Ross, and Beyonce, pay homage to Josephine through their own performances:
Josephine Baker is remembered not only for sense of style, unique performances, and activism, but also for always embracing her own identity. She helped defeat the Nazis in Europe and combated American injustices while always being herself. Truly a queen.
Sources: Goldstein, Jessica. 2011. “March on Washington had one Female Speaker: Josephine Baker.” The Washington Post. Jerkins, Morgan. 2016. “90 Years Later, the Radical Power of Josephine Baker’s Banana Skirt.” Vogue Magazine. Jones, Sherry. 2018. Josephine Baker’s Last Dance. Gallery Books: New York. Matthews, Dasha. 2018. “The Activism of Josephine Baker.” The University of Kansas City. Norman, Dominique. 2018. “Black Excellence: The Ever Legendary Josephine Baker.” V Magazine.
Currently: Reading: As Lie is to Grin (Simeon Marsalis) Watching: The Office (NBC)
Our December adventure continued as we flew from Lisbon to Seville. Lonely Planet’s Top City of 2018, we wanted a warm, relaxing place to visit between the blizzards in Ohio (where we were prior to Portugal) and the cold weather in Hungary. This was my first trip to Spain and I LOVED so many things that Seville has to offer: beautiful architecture, good food, a ton of walkable green spaces, and the site for Game of Thrones‘s Dorne.
Where are we?
Located in southern Spain, Seville (pronounced Suh-vee-yah) is known for its well preserved historical sites and streets lined with beautiful trees filled with bitter oranges. The city is over 2,200 years old (!!) and the landscape shows the impacts of the many cultures that have influenced the development of the city over time. The earliest signs of humans living in the area dates all the way back to 8th century BC when Seville was still an island (geology that I am not even going to try to explain #knowyourlimitations).
Originally founded by the Romans (and named Hispalis) the area was renamed Ishbiliyya following the Muslim conquest in 712. Muslim rule ended in 1248 after the area was taken over by the Christian Kingdom of Castile under Ferdinand III. The transitions between cultures and religions can be seen in a number of buildings throughout the city.
In 1478, the first tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition took place in Seville. Following Columbus’s expedition to the New World, Spain became a political powerhouse. Due largely to its location on the Quadalquivir River, in 1503 Seville was the only city given the monopoly for trade with the Spanish colonies and taxation of goods (and people) through the port. This was the “Golden Age” for Seville as the economy grew due to the the imports from the Spanish colonies, particularly gold and silver. By the 16th century a number of factors ended Seville’s Golden Age: the Great Plague of Seville killed nearly half of the city’s now booming population, the New World port monopoly was broken when the city of Cadiz was also given access, and the loss of the Spanish colonies in America.
I wanted to share the lesser-known story of the people that were forcibly sent from America to Europe and sold into bondage. The first victims of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade were brought from Cuba and sold in Seville: the indigenous Taíno were not only the first New World natives to meet Christopher Columbus, but also the first of the Caribbean indigenous groups sold as slaves in Seville. The colonization (and resulting genocide) of the New World was profitable for Spain (and Seville).
I know, I know, this is a pretty heavy history introduction. I promise this post has a lot of fun information too, but I also wanted to include these important historical stories as well. They’re important and they matter.
Seville’s official motto is N08DO: “No me ha dejado“, which translates to “She (Seville) will not abandon me.” You can see the sentiment across the city.
Canal Walk Near Arsenal:
Torre del Oro:
Parque de María Luisa:
Plaza de España:
Alcázar de Seville:
Restaurants & Pubs:
Taqueria La Lupe:
La Tradizionale Pizza:
Taberna del Dragón Verde:
And, of course, ice cream:
Highly recommend Seville! We had so much fun wandering the city and snacking on churros (just don’t eat the oranges!).
Whelp, bad news if you opened this link thinking: “It’s been over a year since the sentencing. USAG has a new CEO and that At the Heart of Gold documentary I saw on HBO waiting for the new Game of Thrones episode seemed really positive. Surely, we are moving in the right direction!” Unfortunately for all of us, there’s a lot to unpack here. Grab a snack and take a seat as this is a long post.
This quote from ESPN sums it up:
For a moment, it felt like gymnastics was turning a corner. After three years of turmoil, and hundreds of accusers detailing Nassar’s sexual assaults, the sport and its amazing athletes were finally starting to be back in focus.
But then USAG’s new president and CEO had to remind everyone just how much work there is left to do to save the sport in this country.
Here is part “who even knows at this point” of my ongoing (and looks to be never-ending) series: “How Institutions Totally Mess Up Actually Holding Themselves Responsible for Enabling Sexual Predators and Make False Promises to Create Meaningful Change”.
Michigan State University
On April 3rd the Michigan Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Larry Nassar; his forty year sentence will still be carried out. However, the state appeals court is still reviewing Nassar’s separate appeal based on the grounds that his rights were “violated” by statements made by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.
In late March Detective Andrew McCready of Meridian Township, Michigan, formally apologized to Brianne Randall-Gray, a survivor of Nassar’s abuse. McCready was tasked with investigating Nassar in 2004 and admitted that he was fooled by the former doctor; he sided with him over Randall-Gray, who filed the complaint after she was molested during a scoliosis exam. The police launched their own independent investigation and Randall-Gray stated that, “They made a mistake, a mistake that they will live with the rest of their lives. I offered my forgiveness in the past and I continue to extend my forgiveness to them.”
Christine Moore, MSU’s Title IX investigator for the 2014 complaint by Amanda Thomashaw against Larry Nassar defended her actions and findings in court on April 8th: “I did the best I could at the time.” The Title IX conclusion favored Nassar; two reports were generated (one for Nassar and one for Thomashaw), which was the first in the history of the university. Moore is now an MSU assistant general counsel. She stated that she never informed then-president Lou Anna Simon of the complaint, although she did notify her supervisor, MSU police, and MSU general counsel.
MSU Assistant Chief Valerie O’Brien and Detective JJ Bradoc, a married couple employed at the university, were placed on paid leave administrative leave. O’Brien oversees the investigative division for Michigan State, which includes sexual misconduct. O’Brien handled the Title IX investigation brought against Nassar in 2014 by Amanda Thomashaw.
During a hearing to determine whether former MSU president Lou Anna Simon knew more about the complaints against Larry Nassar than she originally told police, Paulette Granberry Russell stated that she “cannot recall stating to President Simon a matter involving Larry Nassar” but:
Sometime between May 14 and May 19, 2014, Paulette Granberry Russell created an agenda for a meeting she would have with then-President Lou Anna Simon, was notified of a sexual assault complaint against Larry Nassar, exchanged emails with university officials about that complaint and other ongoing issues and met with Simon.
Prosecutors believe Granberry Russell (senior adviser in the university’s Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives) and Simon discussed the Title IX case against Nassar during a meeting in 2014.
“Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak”, an exhibition in special collaboration with sexual assault survivors, was opened on April 16th at Michigan State. The exhibit includes a wall of 505 titles (one for each known survivor), a timeline of the abuse, sculptures, and a triptych by sister survivor Jordyn Fishman. The exhibit will be on display until 2020. It’s a beautiful and impactful exhibit.
USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee:
On April 24th, new CEO Li Li Leung stated in an interview with NBC News that she too was treated by Larry Nassar but that she wasn’t abused because her coach was present. This is a troubling statement because many of the women assaulted by the former doctor had parents, coaches, and other athletes present at the time. Remember: your own experience does not mean that others did not suffer in a similar environment. As CEO, this is insulting to all the athletes she clearly hasn’t listened to enough:
While it’s a relief Leung didn’t have to experience the horror and trauma, it’s astonishing how tone-deaf she sounds. So many of the survivors had parents or coaches in the room with them while their abuse happened, so to say that’s all that’s needed to prevent this is frankly insulting to all those who have come forward. Did she not take the time to watch any of the victim statements? So many of them talked about that very detail at great lengths.
After outrage over her comments intensified, Leung tweeted:
I understand how my comment seems insensitive to the survivors and their families, and I apologize. My intent was not to diminish what they’ve been through. I should have clarified that my experience was completely different from theirs and it is wrong to suggest I could have a solution based on my experience alone. I cannot know all necessary steps to take until I hear their stories, and hope they will have a dialogue with us regarding athlete safety and well-being going forward.
1984 Olympic All Around Champion Mary Lou Retton furthered the terrible-ness that is tone-deaf commenting with your foot in your mouth by saying that athletes could avoid sexual assault “by going to a reputable gym.” What. Does. That. Even. Mean. The top elite athletes from the very top gyms in the country–Madison Kocian/WOGA, Gabby Douglas-Chow’s Gymnastics, Aly Raisman/Brestyan’s, Jordyn Wieber/Twistars, Simone Biles/Aimee Boorman–were abused at the National Training Center, ran by Retton’s old personal coaches, Bela and Marta Karolyi. The Karolyis are still under investigation for their involvement and “reputable” coach John Geddert has been abused by numerous athletes for allowing, and being a part of, abusive practices. The fact that Retton mentioned she had a call with Li Li to “pick her brain” when the CEO has yet to speak to Aly Raisman or Simone Biles speaks volumes.
On April 23rd, Senator Chuck Grassley formerly asked the United States Olympic Committee for more information on the halting of the decertification process against USA Gymnastics. In the letter, Grassley references the idea that USAG filed for bankruptcy as a way to stop decertification and gave them until May 10th to respond. The bankruptcy also places a hold on any lawsuits against USAG.
Last month USAG paid a total of $1.4 million in legal expenses (including $700,000 in legal fees to six law firms).
Nearly 200 girls assaulted by Larry Nassar at the Twistars Gym owned by the now-disgraced John Geddert, settled with the 2012 Olympic head coach for $2.12 million, the maximum payout allowed by Geddert’s insurance coverage. Remember that Geddert was a long-time friend and supporter of Nassar, who walked in on the former doctor abusing an athlete and responded by laughing at the gymnast’s discomfort.
On April 29th, the Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company filed a lawsuit in Denver against the the USOC stating that leaders of the organization knew of prevalent sexual abuse since at least 2010 but claim they had no cases brought forward by athletes; the insurance company believes they are not liable to cover the Larry Nassar lawsuits against the USOC because the organization “denied it had ever had an allegation or claim of sexual abuse” when filing for insurance coverage in 2015. This is counter to 2010 USOC documents that state: “the issue of sexual abuse is very real in sport and that a call to action is needed”. Sexual abuse claims were filed in the sports of gymnastics, field hockey, karate, swimming, curling, archery, rugby, rowing, snowboarding, and skiing.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stated that she can not meet with survivors of Nassar’s abuse due to a “legal conflict.” DeVos was under scrutiny, particularly in Michigan, due to her changes in how sexual abuse cases and Title IX complaints are handled at the collegiate level.
But DeVos, who is from the Grand Rapids area, rejected the request to meet with Nassar victims until after the changes to Title IX are finalized, Slotkin said.
“Therefore, I want to thank you for your request that I meet with Michigan State University Title IX survivor-advocates to hear about their experiences and views on how to prevent sexual assault on college campuses,” DeVos wrote.
“However, as you are no doubt aware, the law prevents me from doing so at this time.”
DeVos has criticized campus sexual misconduct rules established by the Obama administration and said her proposal is meant in part to be more fair to students who are accused of misconduct, saying one person denied due process is one too many.
She stressed that confronting sexual abuse on campus “head on” is one of her highest priorities as secretary.
Women’s Athlete Representative and a member of the selection committee for competitions for USAG, 2004 Olympic medalist Terin Humphrey, posted online that “what some consider coaching, others consider abuse.” The meme further stated that athletes should “get ready” to be screamed at by coaches. 1984 Olympian Kathy Johnson Clarke replied: “Yes, at times elite athletes need to be called out for a myriad of ineffective, unproductive, behaviors, but in your face “ass-chewing” is abusive & destructive.”
USAG named Dr. Edward Nyman as the first full-time Director of Sports Medicine and Science for the organization. There was an almost immediate backlash from survivors and athletes (most notably Simone Biles, who tweeted: “I’m sorry…. what”). No real communication was made on what that job entailed or how the new director would interact with athletes. For the record, this position was purely administrative; he would not have been treating gymnasts personally, although no one knew that at the time.
The following day, USAG stated that “Dr. Nyman’s employment will not continue due to a conflict of interest, and we will immediately renew our search to identify a qualified individual to lead our sports medicine and research efforts.” They further replied: “To provide clarity, the decision to terminate Dr. Nyman’s employment was not based on any comments made on social media platforms or anywhere else. In accordance with our employment policies, we cannot comment further on this personnel matter.” WHAT. THE. HELL. What kind of disqualification does a director of sports medicine have and how did you not catch this before offering him the position?
USAG then stated on May 7th that Nyman was terminated “for his failure to disclose athlete safety complaints involving the club with which he is affiliated to USA Gymnastics.” His wife, Amy, owns the New Heights Gymnastics Club in Ohio and USAG has known of allegations of misconduct against the club (including intoxication of coaches in front of athletes) since at least 2017. The complaints are bad enough that USAG referred the club to the U.S. Center for SafeSport in February 2019. That’s right, THIS FEBRUARY. AS IN THREE MONTHS AGO FEBRUARY. Nyman countered that he discussed these complains with USAG in-house counsel Mark Busby before being hired by the organization. USAG released a statement citing:
“This demonstrated poor judgment and created a conflict of interest that disqualified him from serving in this important role. We are confident this was the best decision for the welfare of ‘our athletes and our community… We have learned through this process and received important feedback from our community about this position. Athlete safety is our north star and it will guide us to make the right decisions, no matter how difficult or how they may be perceived.”
Wait, where have we heard that statement before? Right. Every. Single. Damn. Statement. Released. By. USAG.
Nyman then countered with his own statement explaining that he was open about the allegations and goes into detail on A LOT of issues he reportedly saw in his 24 hours working for the organization (no one is concerned with athlete safety, Li Li is focused on the image of USAG, and that the “change” he advocated for “scared” those at the top of the organization). If what he is saying is true (are we really surprised by them?) then USAG is in even worse shape than we thought. Nyman was tenured assistant professor at the University of Findlay and he states, he didn’t “need” to take on the role. The issue is the lack of communication and transparency here where USAG releases vague press releases and those wanting to tell their story are forced to do so through a Facebook post (rant).
His statement also mentions, by name, yet another potential case coming out of USAG: trainer Stephanie Peters’ complaint against a male national team member. Is a Facebook post the best way to “out” this information? Yikes. Double Yikes.
Nyman says he is not the co-owner of New Heights. But that has also been a source of controversy (yes, even more), considering he was listed as such in a BGSU press release.
The point here is simply WTF. The back and forth between Nyman and USAG demonstrates the serious lack of ability of USA Gymnastics to successfully investigate and hire someone in a position as important as head of sports medicine in the aftermath of the largest case of sexual abuse in the history of sports in the United States. On top of that, the failure to communicate the position and how this person would interact with athletes–some of whom are survivors still competing for the organization–is baffling to to me. Firing Nyman makes sense; but the point here is how the hell was he even hired in the first place? How inept and incompetent can you be?
If, and that’s a big if, USA Gymnastics is decertified, the big question is who will be in charge of not just the national teams, but the hundreds of clubs that make up the organization of the sport of gymnastics in the United States. At this point, could anyone or literally any other governing body do a worse job at mismanaging communication, athlete well-being, and safety? Even the mess that would be left in the wake of a decertified USAG would be better than the dumpster fire that is currently running the show. Can we truly trust an organization that has failed to learn from its mistakes? Is the USOC even capable of overseeing these governing bodies when they have allowed this abuse and mismanagement to thrive?
Remember that this goes beyond Larry Nassar. Shenea Booth, a gymnast who was abused by her coach over 200 times, starting at the age of fifteen, stated:
“Everything should change about USAG,” she wrote in a survey submitted to the organization last year. “The focus needs to be on the safety and well being of the athletes.”
Meanwhile, she wants to make sure the public knows that the problems with USA Gymnastics go beyond Larry Nassar — and didn’t end just because he went to prison.
“Unless people continue to speak… there’s a lot of stuff that could just kind of fall away.”
While in Lisbon we took a short bus ride to the small seaside town of Peniche, Portugal. Heather planned our day trip and it was fun to the visit during the off-season. During the tourist months Peniche is crazy busy, but while we were visiting the city was a ghost town. This meant we could wander the cliffs as we pleased and more importantly, the line for kebabs was non-existent.
Walking around the coast of Peniche makes you feel like you’re on the edge of the world. In some areas we were staring toward North America and in others, to Northern Africa. It was beautiful.
Up until the Middle Ages the coastal town was actually an island! But over time, the water in the channel between the island and mainland began a pretty intense siltification process caused by the winds and sea currents. As a result, the channel eventually evolved into sand dunes.
The biggest sites for the town are the old fortress and the beautiful views from the cliffs.
The above moment comes back to me all the time. I felt both overwhelmed at the pure hugeness of this instant of time–sitting at the edge of Europe and staring out into the vastness of what. is. life–while also feeling so small and thankful to be for this experience. Last month, during a mindfulness exercise, we had to choose a location where we found peace. For me, it was this moment in time. Calmness does not come easy for me and I’m eternally, incredibly, grateful for this very small moment in my life.