Brontë Hallowed Ground 

The Brontë society is in the midst of celebrating the bicentennials of the births of Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne Brontë, with upgrades to the museum, displays from the BBC special “To Walk Invisible”, and artistic expressions of their work. 

In one art piece an artist named Tamar Stone has created a small bed, layered in blankets, shams covering pillows, and a thick, lumpy mattress, each embroidered with the words of these four siblings from their written work. In the artist statement, she writes: Women have always been associated with the home, hearth, and domestic duties. The more I learn about women’s lives being constricted by their clothes and social mores, combined with my interest in the history of housework, the more I have been exploring what was happening to women in their homes and how they were prisoners within their ‘upholstered cages’. In the past our life cycle began and ended in the bed of our home: we were born there and we died there. Today that life cycle often begins and ends in an institutional bed. 


The piece is made to be interacted with, to read the “book” you peel back the layers of the bed, fold over each blanket, read the words each piece holds. When you are finished with the story, you make the bed again. The piece is undone and redone many times each day, the words read over and over and over again.

•••

Our last stop was here, in Haworth, the home of the Brontë Parsonage. Mr. Brontë brought his young family here and shortly after lost his wife and two older daughters. Raising his younger four children with his sister-in-law, he encouraged imagination and storytelling. The young sisters and brother would create new worlds together in their room upstairs and happily recreate these into plays to be performed for the adults on the stairs in the main hall. They were also raised to care for the house: laundry and cooking, mending and sewing, sweeping and bed making. 


The three sisters began publishing in the mid-1840s under pseudonyms. They’d previously seen how the works of women were received by publishers and the public, and chose the names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell to carry forth their stories. Of course we know people were shocked by the savagery, violence, and passion in them- even not knowing the authors were women- and they raved over them. When Charlotte and Anne journeyed to London to clear up a publishing issue, they were received with adoration and praise. But this wasn’t necessarily what the women were after; they just wanted to write. The sisters desired to tell stories that weren’t necessarily neat or tidy, but stories that showed the human experience, real stories as they were real people. 

They of course are some of the best known novels in English literature. 


At the parsonage, there’s a trail that goes back to the moors and on to the Brontë waterfall, and finally to Top Withens. It’s usually always overcast and chilly and deliciously broody. After we drooled over everything in the museum- Patrick Brontë’s spectacles, the table where Charlotte, Anne, and Emily wrote their books, Branson’s brilliant and troubled artwork, we walked the path to the end. 

It wasn’t a hard walk- nothing like an incline on an Alp in Switzerland- but there are moments to stop and catch your breath. (I thought of a trip to Colorado last year with our students and the starting and stopping up a mountain- this may be a trek they could do gladly!) Moor walking can be serious. It’s incredible to think the Brontë sisters made walks through the same way in skirts and corsets and collars so constraining. 


•••

I like the idea of the bed representative of life, probably because I love to sleep. Where we are born and where we die, all in one place. And I know Stone speaks to this as a cycle, but in the context of this trip I pray that this isn’t a cycle, but rather a spiral-

Each time around we see more and grow wider in our understanding of people, emotions, and possibilities. Each time reaching further and further to see new volcanoes erupt, new maps being made. Patrick Brontë offered education to his daughters and pushed imaginative worlds, his daughters in their spiral created works that challenged the world around them and the role and autonomy of women, and we who read them spiral even farther still, searching for the places and voices still needed to be heard. 

A cycle, we are doomed to repeat; a spiral, we can pass by our history and stretch further to a brighter future, repeating the good and laying to rest the unjust. We can still go to bed in a spiral each night, resting with new stories and possibilities in our heads. One of my favorite things about the Brontës’ novels is that we are not doomed to be what our spheres tell us; things are made new including stories. 


This year at Odyssey I went through various women in the Bible with my mentor girls, how Deborah, Lydia, and Miriam offer another story for our hearts. It was fun to see them come alive and be excited about girls who were like them, that they could see similar traits and passions in themselves. One of my girls talked about a bible verse she kept close to her, Luke 7:47: “she is forgiven, for she loved much.” She said she liked it so much because in so many places in scripture we see “he” and here a “she”. We women can see ourselves in this, a spiral of what is possible: we can love much, too. 

These posts have surely gotten sappier as the trip has gone on- which is hilarious- but it’s been a lot more to process than I thought. (And I did think it would be a lot!!) But it’s hard to not be serious and sad and hopeful standing on the Brontës’ moors or in front of the church where Emily Davison’s memorial happened, or in Anne Frank’s room. 

I’m slowly going through Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series (which also makes a person serious and hopeful), and in the second book she says all places are either hallowed or desecrated and our steps can determine what that place is. Oof. We have seen both on this trip, and I hope we have walked them as hallowed and sacred, spaces where women lived and made their beds, where they were courageous and human, where they raised humanity and made new maps for us, spiraling toward the future. May we be a namers and universe disturbers and walkers of hallowed ground. 


•••

Y’all, this trip has been a WHIRLWIND. There’s still a lot to write about, but for now the trip is done and I’ll be back in the states tomorrow with materials for the OLA class and stories for kiddos. I am SO excited for this course and the others this trip will influence and plan to share about those on here as well.

I also want to be faithful to the other places in the world that house the stories of grandmothers. This trip, I hope, has been just a step in that direction, as there are still several continents and countries and cities left to visit and learn about. 

If you want to continue following this, perfect, please do! If not, given the trip is over, I’m totally not offended if you choose to unsubscribe- I get it, it’s 2017 and we get too many emails. 🙂

Finally, after I get back from our first Excursion to Colorado (which is Sunday, prayers for little jet leg turn around!) I’ll stick photos up under the photo tab on this blog and send out a post to make y’all aware. 

Thanks so much for reading now or later all of my rambling and processing. It’s been fun to share and hear from folks along the way!! 

We are Volcanoes. 

A few days ago I mentioned an Ursula Le Guin commencement address that Rebecca Solnit quotes: “We are volcanoes,” Ursula K. Le Guin once remarked. “When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.” 


In Gilligan’s framework, it was here that I wanted to see this ethic of care as a place where both women and men could declare autonomy of self, but that they could work to leave a legacy of care behind. 

In many places on our trip, it’s been difficult to mourn the places where we’ve elevated women to angels or cast them out as demons, not allowed to sit at the table, or silenced by oppression. This isn’t just for “female voice” though, it’s for the voice of care. At Versailles we didn’t see men celebrated for benevolence or care of people, we saw a monument to a man who elevated himself as a god. In Rome we saw men who gave their lives to widows and orphans remembered with opulent shrines and memorials that’s cost could care for how many more widows and orphans. And in all of art museums we’ve seen painting after painting of power as oppression and the “ideal beauty”- often artists showing each other what they can get female models to do for them, what they could do to the female body. (Courbet is the absolute worst at this. THE WORST. Remember the meat cleaver suffragette I mentioned in the last post? I’d totally do that to all of Courbet’s work.) 

It’s true that while the stories of women have been silenced in the years, many stories of care have, or they’ve been dressed up and memorialized to be sexier than perceived, always untrue to the center of the story. 


In Amsterdam I began reading Alison Weir’s biography on Elizabeth I to prep for the Tower of London visit yesterday. Elizabeth spent her early life imprisoned at the Tower, spent days walking by the Tower Green where her mother, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded, and later two other queens before her ascent to the throne. In her reign, Elizabeth famously never married, continually dodging marriage proposals and suitors while working to keep peace after each rejection. She was constantly hounded by Parliament and the court about this as well as naming a successor. However, having lived through the executions of three queens (including Lady Jane Grey who was manipulated into the throne after the death of Elizabeth’s brother) she had no desire to put herself in any sort of similar position. She tried to maintain peace over war (though wasn’t always successful on this front) and she could be cruel to those who crossed her. She was a woman in a man’s position and world, and she was expected to rise to the expectations of both roles, be both sovereign and a lady. 

It was surreal- and enormous- to see the Tower of London yesterday. We saw the Traitor’s Gate that she was paraded through as a princess, the layout of a fortress where she was kept prisoner, the lawn where her mother was killed, the tower where Jane was also kept before her execution. Also, the ravens! Again, we see a place where power is king, a place of oppression and wealth (the Crown Jewels are nuts) and a place where a narrative of care is difficult to find. 


Before we went to the Tower, we stopped first at the Museum of London to learn a little more about our friends, the Suffragettes. There were photos of Sophia Duleep Singh, who I wrote about before he trip started, and film footage of Emily Davison’s death at the Epsom Derby where she ran out in front of a horse. Before the suffragette exhibit, the museum highlighted the plight of the poor and of children: most kids in industrial Britain didn’t live to adulthood; people worked hours a day without break; houses were overcrowded and disease thrived. (Basically, Charles Dickens got it right in case we had any doubts.) So much of these conditions and lack of care from the government pushed Emmeline Pankhurst and company to start the WSPU and begin campaigning for votes for women. And they were militant to do so: they took meat cleavers to paintings multiple times and bombed post offices and chapels. They felt that war and violence was the only language that men would understand; it was the only way to be taken seriously. It was the only way to get the vote so that they could care for the poor and children. 


I don’t know if this is necessarily the case, but this is the way history has happened. They marched, they were beaten, they went to prison, they refused to eat. Their children were taken away from them and husbands left, embarrassed and angry with these women. Some, like Emily Davison, died. It’s all very complicated. And continues to be in places where the vote is still new and uncharted for so many women. 

We are volcanoes. We erupt and change the landscape; we offer our experience as part of the human experience, too. We juggle power and care and justice. As I said yesterday, London is full of these markers of women remembered across the spectrum, and so many times we happened across them both finding them intentionally and serendipitously: the home of Dorothy Sayers, the Women in War Monument, a memorial to Agatha Christie, the grave of Mary Wollstonecraft, the church of Emily Davison’s memorial service in 1913. New mountains emerging, maps literally changing. I am more and more excited to tell my OLA kiddos about these women, and ask them these questions about care, too.





Our last stop is the Brontë Parsonage that we’ll hit up tomorrow, symbolically brooding over the moors as we ponder where we go from here. (How’s that for a final leg?!) Anddd if my heart could take anymore love for London, we boarded a train this morning at King’s Cross station to get there, just like one of my favorite British ladies, JK Rowling, has written about for years. (And all the Harry Potter fans clapped their hands and rejoiced!)

Victoria is Everywhere

In Paris I mentioned our guide, Heidi, sharing with us about the percentage of street named after women was dire. Being a native Londoner, she mentioned that she didn’t think London was the same way, in fact half of the stuff in the city are named for Victoria.

I can confirm this.

London is a comfortable place in this journey. While stumbling through foreign languages and navigating foreign public transit is always an adventure, and indeed a fun one, the U.K. is a beautiful break where I can practice my English and read Tube maps and menus with ease. What a glorious thing to know immediately where an exit is or what meat is on a sandwich. 

Today was a BIG day. We woke up early to catch all of the public transportation to Alton, England where the bus does not run on the weekends and we were gifted a two mile walk to Jane Austen’s house. We’ve walked on average about 11 miles each day, so to start the day off in such a manner felt like a breeze. (My hidden agenda for this trip was to come back with Beyoncé legs.) 

At the station, the information desk gave us a “Jane Austen Trail” guide, highlighting buildings in town relevant to the life of Austen, and it turned out to be hilarious. “This building was owned by a friend of Jane. She wrote about a visit there in a letter once.” “This building was pub. Jane wouldn’t have visited, but she may have known about it.” “This building is where Jane’s cousin’s dog’s aunt may have lived. Probably.”

Once at the house we watched a short film on her life before exploring her home where she produced so much of her work. On display included the quilt she made with her sister, a ring that most likely belonged to her, dinnerware of her older brother, and the top of the writing table that sturdily supported her many drafts of story after story. Most houses like this I’ve been to, everything is behind glass and dustily on display, but that wasn’t the case here: it was a house you can walk through and touch the walls, hear the floors creak as you walk up the stairs, play a replica piano in the drawing room. It’s a museum, but in so many ways a house still lived in. 


In so much of the museum, the relationships of Jane and her siblings comes up time and time again. She was desperately close with a sister who made space in their lives for her to write, one brother gifted her the house we walked through and another helped her find publishers. And, as my friend Sarah pointed out, she drew on these relationships for her stories of heroines who had agency to make decisions in a world where decisions were not afforded to women. The relationships of family in her novels can be complicated at times, but always at their best they are loving and desire the best for one another.


I’ll be honest, I’ve never been the biggest British literature fan- it can be tame- and I confessed this to Sarah yesterday. But it was fun to be at the house with a friend who doesn’t love Jane, she LOVES Jane. And experiencing this with her made me want to love Jane, too. 

There’s a line in a book, Blue Like Jazz, where the author says he didn’t like jazz until he saw a man playing a saxophone, eyes closed, whole body caught in the beauty of the music he was creating. After that, the author says, he likes jazz: sometimes you have to watch someone love something before you can love it yourself. 

After we got back to London, we did a self-guided suffragette tour through the city that I found online. This was A+. We walked by the Caxton Hall where women’s parliament began meeting in 1907 and by Eaton Square where women marched for fair wages. We stood in front of the post office that suffragettes broke windows out of in protest of their lack of voice and paused in front of the Velazquez painting at the National Gallery that a suffragette attached with a meat cleaver after the arrest of Emmaline Pankhurst. (It was a nude Venus with allegory thrown in and honestly I’d take a meat cleaver to it, too.) And, at our last stop at Brompton Cemetery, we searched through hundreds of gravestones in search of Pankhurst’s final resting place, only to find it after we’d given up and began to leave. The mother of England’s suffrage movement, she died in 1928 just two weeks before voting rights were extended to women over 21. (Previously, women over 30 could vote since 1918.)



What a pendulum swing: Austen to the WSPU militancy. 

Earlier yesterday, I started mapping out our locations for tomorrow and found out that Mary Wollstonecraft lived on the same street where the Airbnb is, literally a stone’s throw from the door I walked out this morning. And Dorothy Sayers isn’t too far either. You can find their home locations on a site called “London Remembers” that marks people, places, and events all over London with small blue plaques. 

As we walked around, we talked about the effects of female monarchy on the country, if that has allowed for more progressive views on women and their spheres in Britain and in turn the places of the empire (New Zealander ladies could vote as of 1894) and also gives a stronger reason to by just remember powerful queens and female leaders in the history, but also other female influencers and universe disturbers. There’s a camaraderie of sisterhood and humanity, from the familial relationships at Austen’s house to the plaques remembering those movers and shakers around the city. There’s a responsibility for us all to remember and for us all to continue telling the stories. 

On our way to Brompton Cemetery yesterday we crossed the street and happened to glance up at a small blue “London Remembers” plaque, so easily missed if we’d kept going. It was a remembrance of Beatrix Potter, author of Peter Rabbit, but a scientist and conservationist as well. Another woman moving and universe disturbing, and London remembers her, showing us the way.

Daughters, They are Speaking. 

Pardon this late post! Spotty wifi and a bus trip to London has given me some extra time to think about Paris; hope this is worth the wait! 🙂

•••

Wednesday was a hard day. In the construction of this trip, I had planned France to be a liberating point in lining up with Gilligan’s work, a place where we found women on the brink of autonomy. Sure, they were still in the struggle to have work recognized, but overall traction is gaining and life is moving forward. Instead we found the marks of women and them labeled under the banner brotherhood, angels, and demons. We found women above and below and not at the table.

Yesterday was a little brighter, a little more hopeful.


We began at Versailles, the home of the French court and a one Marie Antoinette just a few centuries ago. Marie was married off to the French Dauphin when she was just 14; all things Austrian stripped from her so that she could be at one with her new country. She fell under criticism for 7 years when no children were born, bearing the brunt of the blame. When she finally had children, the first was a girl before the son, again she had failed. She became a symbol of all that was wrong with the monarch: an out of touch, wealthy, and spoiled woman naive to the subjects below her. Though, most of this was twisted and presented by the media- and they’ve never done this to a woman since.

(NOT.)

Marie’s story is one in which she’s demonized often, her worst qualities paraded for us as a tale of caution. 

Below to corrupt.


But there has been a movement in recent years to come to her defense, to see her as human. She became queen at a young age and was sheltered from the world around her. In Austrian nobility they grew up wealthy, but simply, the French court and culture took getting used to. She loved her children dearly and tried desperately to be a good mother, defamed for even this at the end in the midst of her trial.

As I continued to look at the cities I had outlined for the fellowship, I continued to look for more women, more places to remember people. Earlier this year I began googling tours in each city focused on women, and nothing came up. The closest was a suffragette tour that I felt was overpriced and the reviews weren’t stellar. And then an ad popped up for “Women of Paris” tour- too good to be true, right?

We met Heidi, the founder of the Women of Paris walk, yesterday near the Pantheon for a 2 1/2 hour walk dubbed the essential tour. Heidi’s been a guide for a few years in Paris and began almost immediately to notice the lack of female presence in the history presented. So she’s done something about it. She shared about women we met yesterday and so many others I knew little to nothing about: St. Geneviève, Josephine Baker, Simone Veil, Maria Medici, Catherine Medici, and more. We walked by the house where Colette was kept by her husband who forced her to write books that he then took the credit and wealth for. We stood by the table in Les Deux Magots where Simone de Beauvoir worked. Heidi showed us the first female publishing house as well as the prison where Marie Antoinette spent her final days.


And for each of the women she made them flesh, pulled them away from the flatness and gave them life.

At the end of the tour, she told us how only 2% of streets in Paris have been named after women, and when a group of women discovered this a few years ago, they did something about it. All of Paris woke up the next morning to street signs changed to Rue du Beauvoir and Rue du Curie. The whispers of their stories given voice and named in broad daylight.

The signs eventually came down, but the story remains and the problem was brought to the table. It’s not about street signs, but rather a culture that welcomes all stories as valuable. 

A couple of days ago I checked out The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit, who wrote the essay “Grandmother Spider”. In this collection, she explores the nature of silence vs quiet; quiet a choice and silence a decree from power. In particular, she is concerned with the silence of women and she quotes an Ursula Le Gain commencement address given at Bryn Mawr in 1986. It’s a beautiful quote, but I’ll save it for later; instead, I looked up the commencement address to read last night after our day and want to share something Ursula quotes instead in her speech:

“So I end with the end of a poem by Linda Hogan of the Chickasaw people, called “The Women Speaking.” ‘Daughters, the women are speaking / They arrive / over the wise distances / on perfect feet. / Daughters, I love you.'”


When I read these last lines of Linda’s poem that Ursula quotes who is then quoted in Solnit’s essays after a day at Versailles with Sarah sharing about Marie and then Heidi walking us through Paris to share again the stories of Josephine Baker, Marie Curie, the Medici women, Gertrude Stein, and St. Geneviève, this is what I believe I see and learn in Paris: 

So much of this rests on us to pick up the banner and keep telling stories so they are not ghosts in the silence. We must tell the stories of women and others who haven’t been invited to the table such as people of color, people of poverty, and more. The stories must be told time and time again so that our canon of possibilities and opportunities is stretched and lengthened to a table we can all sit at. We must tell their stories prophetically, stand on their shoulders and lift others to stand on our own, to see over mountains set before us to something better.

One of my favorite things about Marie Antoinette is the small ways she advocated for other women who were friends. Her favorite painter was Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, and because of the queen’s patronage, Le Brun was taken more seriously as an artist and asked to paint other subjects. I know that Marie is complicated- as every person is- but I appreciate this friendship and the steps she gave in her power to someone else. 


At Versailles, the queen’s quarters were closed yesterday (they’re doing renovations) so I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to as the Le Brun pieces there. When we went to Petit Trianon, we saw them. More than that, we saw a place where Marie had tried to carve a world for herself in the sphere she was allowed, a “simpler” house and farm and gardens, away from Versailles’s monument to man and king. 


After a hard Wednesday where it felt like the weariness of allegory was going to kill me, I’m thankful for the historians and for our guide, Heidi, who in all of the places of Versailles and Paris and the world say “Daughters, they are speaking.” Hopefully we learn to listen, we listen with love, and we name people as who they truly are and are meant to be. May we do this with all of the women we know and don’t know in our history, and let’s teach students to do the same. 

Sisterhood, Brotherhood, Humanity. 

“[Women] are far above men to inspire him, far beneath him to corrupt him… but they have no human mind and no human nature.” – Dorothy Sayers, The Human Not Quite Human, 1947.


I love Dorothy Sayers and her essays on women from the first half of the last century. And this small passage comes up time and time again as I’ve read about the women on this trip. For the most part, I’ve somewhat enjoyed digging in to it, this idea that women are above to inspire and below to tempt and are never quite human, and what we can do in our classrooms and lives to help both boys and girls realize that this simply isn’t the case: we are all human. 

But today, oof, today almost became a breaking point. At one point I looked to my friend Sarah and said, “If I see another allegorical painting of a woman half dressed, I may lose it.”

Above to inspire. Below to corrupt. 

Today was our first full day in Paris. I spent time here a few years ago and it’s been fun to come back to a place that’s somewhat familiar, to know streets and restaurants and museums. We spent the morning walking around the city center, running by Notre Dame to remember where Joan of Arc’s sentencing was reversed decades after her death, a quick visit to Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company that continues to influence generations, a moment in front of Gertrude Stein’s apartment, and a walk through the university where Marie Curie studied when her native country didn’t allow women into higher education. 


After lunch, we walked to the Pantheon where Marie was the first women interred by her own merit (in 1995, so just 22 years ago). She’s in a small vault along with her husband, Pierre. A few weeks ago on the way back from a faculty trip to Santa Fe, I listened to a few podcasts about their life together: Marie’s wedding dress doubled as a lab dress- she was a practical woman. Pierre had been working on crystals when he dropped his work to help Marie with her work on radium, recognizing its significance. And, when the Nobel Prize in 1903 came knocking, Pierre threw a fit that Marie wasn’t initially honored as well. Now we know that they are both named on the award. 

As we’ve gone through this trip, I’ve appreciated the stories of those in power- often men- making room at the table for these incredible female voices. I love that image of them sitting all there together around a coming goal, listening and learning. No one above to inspire or below to corrupt, but all there to be heard.

While at the Pantheon, I walked around to learn about the other people laid to rest there as well. The crypt has electronic screens across from each vault where visitors can swipe through the names buried there to learn more about their lives and why they’ve been honored with a place in the Pantheon in the hall of “great men”.


In one particular section, the north corridor, many people are honored for their courage and resistance, several from World War II. Three men are near each other, Pierre Brossolette, Jean Moulin, and Jean Zay, all of who died during the war as part of the resistance movement. 

And then I met the next two women interred after Marie Curie, both in 2015: Germaine Tillion and Geneviève de Gaulle Anthonioz. Both Germaine and Geneviève were part of the resistance as well, and both met in Ravensbrück, the largest concentration camp for women. Germaine also watched her mother be led away to be killed at the same camp. Both women lived through the war and continued to work on behalf of those oppressed. Germaine worked extensively in Algeria and spoke out against the use of torture in war, and Geneviève spent the rest of her life fighting to end poverty. Both went on to publish accounts of their experiences. One of my favorite stories I learned today is that while imprisoned, Germaine wrote an opera comedy for the other women in the camp, to keep spirits up. In honor of her 100th birthday, the opera was performed at a French theater. 


I won’t lie- I think I looked up the other women besides Marie interred at the Pantheon, but didn’t commit their names to memory in the hustle and bustle of preparing for the trip, but my heart lept to remember them today. In the small, free guide to the crypt, I read the short blurb about them and my heart dropped:

“…[they] continued a lifetime of commitment after 1945, placing brotherhood and equality at the heart of their concerns.”

Brotherhood.

I realize that the sentiment is clear and that what this guide is saying is that these women are heroines for the effort they put forth and the lives they continued to save and advocate on behalf of for the rest of their lives. But language is the building blocks to our culture and what are we saying when we say brotherhood- where are the sisters? Where are the grandmothers? It is evident that with 74 men buried at the Pantheon and the fifth woman interred just the year- the second only 22 years ago- that seats at the table are few. 


I do think there’s a time to use brotherhood and sisterhood in our language, Lord knows we need to talk more about sisterhood in this world, but the wording is this felt off. What if instead of brotherhood and sisterhood, they devoted their lives to care- to humanity?

After we left the Pantheon we walked through the gardens and everywhere you look is a statue of a queen or goddess or some half naked allegorical figure  looking out over the scene. I’m sure the artistic nature of it all was impressive, but this was the point where Dorothy Sayers’s sentiment became more reality than anything, especially after the brotherhood of the Pantheon. 

Above to inspire. No room for sisterhood, nor humanity.


I wish that this day had a nice wrap up to it, a moment where it all came together in the backyard of a sweet Swiss couple’s house where we drink Perrier and talk about life. But it doesn’t. At the Orsay, our audio guide highlighted the works of Degas, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Courbet, and Ingres. We looked at the figure of “beauty”- all women nude, all very suggestive. A row of statues by Rodin showed a series of men in athletic form and a row of a suggestive female bodies with no heads. No words mentioned about the artists Mary Cassatt or Berthe Morisot, both artists who gave voice and space to domestic life and women of guilded age Paris, both very welcomed and respected in the Impressionist circle by friends and mentors Degas and Manet, respectively. 


The wrap up is this: I’m worn out from the allegory, from the angel and temptress spheres, from the brotherhood as I’m sure so many others are, too. I’m tired of the statues and the ideal beauty. It’s above and below and leaves no room for flesh and blood people. Angels and temptresses need not courage. These women did.

But I’m glad that Pierre Curie, Degas and Manet (though both questionable at times) and the brave men interred near Germaine and Geneviève saw the courage of these heroines and offered seats at a larger table that included sisterhood and humanity. 

Fresh Air from Maria & Corrie

“Her ideas are still so… fresh.”


While Nina, our guide at the Maria Montessori house, spoke this about the creator of an education movement still happening today, I believe we could say the same of so many women and men we’ve met along this trip and especially in Amsterdam. There’s a reason we’re drawn to Anne’s belief that people are still good at heart, that Maria’s schools and method are still growing, that Heidi has been translated into so many languages.

I framed this journey around the work of Carol Gilligan and the ethic of care. Here, in Amsterdam, I planned to dwell in the development of selflessness and care of others, looking to “grandmothers” to light the way. Surely we have found them. Yesterday I said that Anne was a Namer, but again, we could say this about so many of these women (and men- post on this later!) and Maria Montessori is one.

Maria was Italian, becoming one of the first women with a doctorate in medicine and beginning her schooling methods, the original school still in Rome today. She developed her pedagogy in the early 1900s, framing an environment centered on teaching students how to care for themselves and the world around them. She advocated for freedom in their choices and advocated this for all children on the neurodiversity spectrum. Through relationship and political climate, she found herself coming to Amsterdam to continue her work and here her study remains nearly what it was as she left it with her death in 1962.  



We knocked on the door of her house, now headquarters to Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) at 10:30 this morning to see the place. Officially, it is not a museum yet, but AMI is working to create an exhibition about the life and work of Maria in the next 3-10 years. Nina took us upstairs to see Maria’s personal library of the books that had influenced her, early manipulatively she had created, and the small study where she worked. Nina pointed out Maria’s doctorate degree, an “A” penciled in after “signor” on the document because the form didn’t allow for women. There was a photo of Helen Keller with her teacher Annie Sullivan, trained in the Montessori Method, sent to thank Maria for her work. There were photos and letters exhibited from all over the world such as Italy, England, the US, and India; all of these from and of people whose lives had been changed from her work. In one photo Nina pointed out, Maria stands front and center to receive an award, lecturing to a room full of men listening intently to her speak.

“There she is,” said Nina. “The only woman there and in command of the whole room.”



We talked with Nina about the upcoming Montessori conference in Prague and about the work being done globally with the method, including a new movement using Maria’s work to help elderly prolong dementia. She said that while it only delays the disease, it is effective, and it’s something that children could be a part of too. I love this idea so much, the many generations working together in a room to learn and grow. 

After Maria’s house, we took a train out to Haarlem to catch a tour of Corrie ten Boom’s home. I, ashamedly, have not read The Hiding Place, though two of my mentor girls love the book and have shared about it often. My friend and travel buddy, Sarah, also loves the book as her grandfather gave it to her at an early age. So through them, I knew a little about Corrie: her family were clockmakers, during World War II they built a false wall and hid Jews, she was caught and sent to a camp where she smuggled in a Bible, and afterwards journeyed throughout the world to share her story.

I know we hear these stories often of those in the resistance willing to hide the other at the risk of their own life, but time and again we see the freshness of this, the life of their choices.

At Corrie’s house, we stood in line and while they only take 20 people at a time, the guide graciously snuck us in as 21 and 22 given we had a train to Paris to catch this afternoon. She showed the group photos of the family as we sat in their living room. We saw the false wall and the hiding place with the bookshelf and latch that saved so many lives, and stood in the dining room where many meals were shared in joy and in anxiousness. 

What a fresh idea, to save lives and care for the world.


As Sarah and I talked about this idea of “fresh ideas” waiting in the train station, we talked through to the point that fresh ideas are not necessarily new; they can and probably are old ideas, but they are those that cultivate life around them and offer a different air to breathe deeply.

This morning, before we went to Montessori’s house, we took a tram into the city center and walked to Begijnhof, a small closed-in community formerly occupied by beguines, religious women who chose not to take vows so they could still work and live in the city. The beguines lived here from the Middle Ages on and the last beguine died in 1971. The buildings are still lived in by single women of the city who chose to live interdependently, religiously, and in community; who choose to care together. In the hustle and bustle of the city around it, the Begijnhof is a quiet refuge for those who enter- fresh air. It’s almost like passing through the wardrobe, you find yourself in a different world. 

Amsterdam has taught us so much about caring for others, about choosing selflessness in conflict for the sake of creating fresh air in stale and hurting places. 


••• 

Currently, we’re on a train to Paris, rolling through Netherlandish and Belgian countryside. In Paris we’ve got a whole host of women to meet who have teetered on the edge of voice and autonomy. We’ll hang out with the female writers, Mary Cassatt and Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, Joan of Arc, Marie Antoinette, Marie Curie, and more! Stay tuned!

Being a Namer: Reflections on Anne Frank 

When I was around 10 or 11, I read Anne Frank’s diary for the first time. It was one of those books that I felt deeply. Anne and I were so similar: both young girls who wanted to be writers, both born in June, both loved our parents deeply and yet felt constantly misunderstood by them, both with the middle name of Marie. I remember in the midst of reading it trying to start my own diary- something I’ve never done well- and naming it Kitty, like Anne. 

I read the book over and over again, hoping for a different ending, each time heartbroken that history couldn’t change.

When I was 13 or 14, I was gifted a DVD of the Anne Frank miniseries with Ben Kingsley playing Otto. I remember begging my parents to watch it with me, and being nearly depressed after. I was enraged that the world could go on when this girl did not. And I remember my dad (who probably doesn’t remember this) sitting me down and telling me that maybe I should take a break from watching the miniseries over and over. 

“You can’t dwell on this,” he told me. “You have to live your life and choose to hope. That’s the whole point. That’s how she goes on.”
Like Anne, I felt very misunderstood by a very loving father.


When I got word that I had received the Fund fellowship, I tried to buy tickets to Anne Frank’s house just a few weeks later, but the pre-booked tickets were already sold out. (How crazy!) Fortunately after 3:30 we were able to stand in line to enter the house and museum. 

The line was roughly 2 hours long, and luckily I had a few books saved to a Kindle app on my phone. The last few months I’ve been swimming in Madeleine L’Engle’s works- I mentioned her a few posts ago- and so today I worked to finish the second book of the Wrinkle in Time series, A Wind in the Door. I am forever sad that these books do not get the fame or the tout that Lewis’s Narnia or Tolkien’s Middle Earth does, because they are exquisite in beauty and science. I hate science, and Madeleine has made me love it, the interconnectedness of all the world, from mitochondria to the stars. In this second book, the protagonist, Meg, must go through a series of trials to aid her dying brother, and the first is she must learn to love the principal who has made her life hell. Repeatedly she tells her supernatural helpmate, a cheribum, that she can’t do it, that she hates Mr. Jenkins, and repeatedly he tells her that she is a Namer: she can either name Mr. Jenkins by loving him, or she can let him be “X-ed” or extinguished. 

The cherubim repeatedly turns her to her calling of Namer: “A Namer has to know who people are, and who they are meant to be… If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn’t need to hate. That’s why we still need Namers, because there are places throughout the universe like your planet Earth. When everyone is really and truly Named, then [evil] will be vanquished.”

I think that Anne was- and continues to be -a Namer as well.


I wrote about reading this book with my students a few months ago, and that one student pointed out that Anne’s diary entries from 1944 line up with those dates of 2017: Wednesday, 3 May 1944; Wednesday, 3 May 2017. When I looked to see what her entry was for today, there wasn’t one. The closest was for this last Saturday, July 15th, one of her last entries and most quoted:

“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart… It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

A Namer must know who people are; who they were meant to be.


We walked through the annex that her family hid in, up the stairs and past the bookcase. In the small room with blacked-out windows and dim lighting we looked at where she wrote most of her diary, the faces of movie stars and royals pasted to the wall looking down on her- perhaps the place where she wrote the passage above. We could see the small map Otto kept pinned to the wall, marking the advancements of Allied troops, and the place where they marked the growth of the Frank girls, Anne 13cm in two years, Margot 1. 

Near the end was a small display of how her diary came to be, her desire to create a novel based on it to share with the world, and how her father- the sole survivor of the 8 in the annex- honored her wishes, named her as she was meant to be, gave her story to the world. The final exhibit was several videos of well-known people who had read Anne Frank and those who knew her: tourists speaking to the power of her story; childhood friends sharing that she was not the only person in the Holocast and reminding us that she did not die, but was killed; Nelson Mandela sharing the encouragement her book gave while he was imprisoned in Robben Island. 

Each person having read this July 15th entry, each learning how Anne named the world around her, called forth the goodness from humanity she believed to be there. 

And then, the final clip was of Emma Thompson speaking at an event at the museum a few years ago. Emma said, “All her would-haves are our opportunities.” This line is included throughout the museum.


When I wrote the first post on Anne Frank and reading the book with my students, I shared that the question we wrestled with was where we could find hope. I think that this is it: that this would-have and was for Anne is our opportunity. We, too, can be Namers. We can know who people are, name them so there is no more room for hate, no more room to kill. We can cling to this ideal and name it into reality. In naming, we are all on the same side, no us and them. In naming, we create peace and tranquility and evil will vanquish. 

I think this is the hope, but it’s a hope that we must choose time and time again. This is what I missed when I read the book as a young girl and watched that miniseries over and over again, and I think what my dad was trying to tell me. I’m grateful we get to learn this from Anne and all who have read her story and continue to choose Naming and hope, too.

What We Learned from Georg, Ella, and Johanna

Oh Switzerland. Forget our Florence and Siena campuses, sign me up for a German class and plant me in the rural Swiss countryside and you’ll never meet a happier teacher.

Yesterday we saw the places that inspired Spyri, today we saw the hometown that gave her beginnings. After our trip to Maienfeld, we asked the Swiss information desk how best to get to Hirzel. “Hirzel? Why do you want to go to Hirzel?” She said. “Tourists do not go there, people live there.”

We bought tickets anyway.


The Johanna Spyri Museum in Hirzel is only open three days a week and only from 2-5PM on those three days. We arrived a little before 2 and took in the small, quiet Swiss town nestled on a hill with views of the Alps in the distance before we went into the building and met Georg, the museum director.


The museum underwent a major renovation a little over a year ago, and it includes several “stops” along the life of Johanna, from her beginnings in Hirzel to finishing school to her marriage and move in Zurich to her writing career. The museum has worked extensively to have passages of her books laid out to reflect her life, a few belonging to Johanna herself and all of which you can pick up and thumb through if you know some German. Many outline the gender roles of her day, and stated how powerful it was for her books to not only have children as protagonists, but an orphan girl: the unwanted of the time. Each stop is detailed with photographs of the places, times, and people of Johanna’s life, and with small displays giving grounding to her world, as museums do.


Several times the signs mention (they had an English guide to carry!) the freedom she longed for and the restrictions on women at the times. In one display is a long, metal, pink corset-hoop skirt model similar to what Johanna might have worn in her day. When we asked the museum director what it meant, he explained the tight restriction it symbolized of women of her day, and pointed out the small bird inside of the metal cage. 

“Johanna was Heidi,” he said in accented English and clutching his chest. “She wanted liberty.”


The museum director, Georg, is a retired schoolteacher from Hirzel who lives in town with his wife. Given we were the only two museum visitors for the day (and looking at the guestbook, most likely the only visitors in a week or two) he walked is through the exhibits, offering insights, additional information, and postcards of Johanna. We talked about the Fund trip and he told us about other well-known Swiss women. We stumbled through German and English words all together. He shared photos of Hirzel with us he had taken for a book about the village he had written. He shared the book, too. In the book, he included the stories of expats who had made Hirzel their home and spoke of the kindness of the villagers.

As we left and took photos by the museum sign, he stepped out and flagged us down. He asked if we wanted to walk down the street and speak to his wife and grab some water. “She speaks better English than I do,” he said smiling. 

The hospitality of Switzerland, y’all. 

We walked a few minutes down the road, passed a newly built Catholic church and knocked on the door of an old, large school house with flowers in the window to meet Georg’s wife, Ella.


For the next hour we sat in their garden behind the house talking everything from politics, traveling, life in Hirzel, life in the United States, how many languages she speaks (4), and Johanna Spyri. Ella is also a retired school teacher, and the kindergarten still meets in the large school building where they live on the second floor. She talked about how much Johanna suffered when she moved to Zurich, her unhappy marriage, and the death of her son. But she also talked about how, despite the norms and culture of the women of the day, she found freedom in her writing.

When we asked Ella why she and her husband chose to live in Hirzel, she just laughed and pointed to the landscape. “And the people,” she grinned.


We hugged her and she wished us safe travels as we hurried to catch the bus that would take us to the bus to the Horgan to the train back to Zurich so we could fly on to Amsterdam. 

What a world, this sweet couple and their hospitality to strangers. 

Yesterday I mentioned what I think we love about Heidi is that she transcended her circumstances by being rooted in a place deeply founded in relationships, and that she shared those relationships with others. And today we meet Georg and Ella who welcome us gladly and warmly, sharing stories of their lives and their home. 

I think we nearly cried on the walk to the bus because of how perfect it all was.

I am sure that the Hirzel of today is probably not the same Hirzel of Johanna’s childhood, but goodness if it is similar at all, we see how, in this small day, she could believe so much in the power of relationships. She saw in her community and life what it means to allow others into a narrative, to share new friends with old friends, to welcome the stranger into her home, to know true freedom exists with others. Johanna knew our songs of liberty sound a little louder, are a little harder to silence, when we sing together. 

I think yesterday we saw the full blooms of Heidi and her mountain and today we saw the roots. 


When we were still at the museum, there was a small display of all of the translations of Heidi from across the world: German, English, Arabic, Japanese, and more. Georg told us that next to the Bible, Heidi has been translated into more languages than any other book in history. 

“People really love the story,” he said.

Johanna’s story of a girl on a mountain, the most unlikely of protagonists, sung all around the world loud and strong. 

I am so excited to share this story time and time again, especially with my students. I am also excited and forever grateful that we work so intentionally at Odyssey to create a community like this where we are rooted in place and relationships, where we introduce new friends to the old, where we make time to hear the stories of each other. I so hope that our students carry this with them to others they meet, as Johanna has done for the world, and as Georg and Ella did for us today. 

Heidi’s Alps and Places of Peace

“Because I would rather be with my grandfather on the Alp than anywhere else on earth.”


Today was a joyful day.

The first time I read Heidi by Johanna Spyri, I was in grade school. I loved the story of a girl nearly my age influencing and creating life around herself. I read it again just a few months ago as prep for this trip, and oh my heart, it remembered how simple the story is and how beautiful the message. 

Heidi begins the story as an orphan and in the end, despite adults who have set spheres for her to exist in, has broken through them by loving others and the nature around her. She spends time with Peter and the goats, brings bread to Grandmother, helps Grandfather with chores, and offers Klara friendship. 

Johanna Spyri began publishing later in life, and so many stories revolve around the welfare of children. She saw a group of people silenced, and she chose not only to give them voice, but to make one a hero, or rather, heroine. In a vast majority of books where women and young girls were secondary, she gave the world a story of a girl who stands out.

Today we hiked the world that inspired her work.


A train from Zurich to Sargans and Sargans to Maienfeld, we hiked through the little town mentioned in Heidi as the nearest market city and made our way up to Heididorf. Heididorf is the tourist stop for Heidi; it includes many buildings included in a Heidi film from a few decades ago. And then there is the hike to the Heidialp- the place of Heidi’s home and meadow. 

It took a good 2 hours to get to the top, and along the way the Heididorf group has put up little stops highlighting the passages from the book that correspond to the location, such as Heidi and Peter’s treehouse, Peter’s spring, the Eagle’s Nest, Klara’s resting place, and more. Oof, the sights. (Also, they say this hike is kid friendly but there were definitely places I could’ve laid down and passed out!!) At the top, we grabbed a table at the Heidi snack shack and looked out over the view. I am sure it was much like Spyri saw herself and imagined time and time again for her little heroine. 


On the way up, as my lungs were remembering what walking an incline is like, I thought a lot about how much the story of Heidi lives on, even if it’s a simple story. Nothing awful happens, no great tragedy befalls anyone in the narrative, instead we see a story about relationship: Heidi and her grandfather, Peter, the doctor, Peter’s grandmother, Klara, and Klara’s grandmother. We see Heidi share these relationships with others, and build community among them.

And then there is the matter of her Alp.


Heidi is a character who has roots in ia place where she feels fully free and fully herself: her home on her mountain with grandfather. Her freedom in this place is born through the freedom and empowerment of her relationship with her grandfather, both deeply connected and rooted together. It is a place where together they have made peace. 

As I thought about Heidi up the mountain, the relationships she builds and shares, the joy she brings others in caring for them deeply and without shame, and the immense love she has for a place of freedom built on a relationship of love and freedom, I thought of the other women we’ve met so far. I don’t know if Artemisia or St. Catherine or the saints of Rome had these places of freedom and relationship. We can all draw our conclusions, but I desperately hope they did. We all need those places, of refuge and peace. Of hope. 


Tomorrow we’ll go to Hirzel (the Ticketmaster at Zurich HB today said “Hirzel? Nobody goes to Hirzel!”) and see the little Johanna Spyri museum opened only a few hours each week. I’m eager to learn more about Johanna and her own world she inhabited and all that inspired her to birth Heidi and give her to the world, a story we could find peace and love in, too.