The Black Madonna and a Visit to Josephine Baker’s Mansion

The Black Madonna

The Black Madonna

One of the nuns

One of the nuns

Going to La Chapelle

Going to La Chapelle

Religious Order

Religious Order

Kat at the Mansion

Kat at the Mansion

The Mansion, Le Beau Chene

The Mansion, Le Beau Chene

The Sprawling Grounds

The Sprawling Grounds

Outdoor Bandstand

Outdoor Bandstand

Chicquita's Cage

Chicquita’s Cage

The Aviary

The Aviary

The Restored Foyer

The Restored Foyer

Restored Staircase -- 4 Floors

Restored Staircase — 4 Floors

Indoor Fountain

Indoor Fountain

Part of Living Room

Part of Living Room

Her Bedroom, New Floor

Her Bedroom, New Floor

Stainless Steel Bathtub

Stainless Steel Bathtub

Face Basin/Counter

Face Basin/Counter

BLACK PARIS –  UPCOMING NEXT YEAR APRIL 21-28, 2022.  Covid-19 has dealt the travel industry blow after blow causing us to postpone various tours where we could.  The song that comes to mind is: THAT’S LIFE –  That’s what people say, you’re riding high in April, shot down in May…I’ve been up and down and over and out, and I know one thing, each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race….
We have limited space for next year so inbox me at rivoli98@yahoo.com if you are interested.  In the meantime, take a stroll with me through Black Paris.  The following blog goes back a few years.

Today was my off day but some members in our week 3 tour spent the morning and afternoon with Ricki Stevenson of Black Paris Tours so of course,  after Robin and I have spent 7 years taking guests 5 hrs by train from Paris to  the Chateau in Sarlat, where Ms Baker raised  her Rainbow Tribe, I was anxious and excited to see what her mansion was like –a mere 20 minutes from Paris.

We were picked up at the hotel at 10 am  where we were joined by 6 of Ricki’s guests including the infamous Randy Garrett of the famed “Randy and Jays Barbeque ” which became “Randy’s Rib Joint” and both were  tres popular Paris eating spots back  in the day. Lord knows I spent many a night hanging out eating and drinking good at his place in the early 80’s.  We had Hotlanta, Harlem, Miami, and  of course our west coast aggregation in the house.  A very cool group that was formed impromptu.

We had to hurry  to  the first stop because we needed to arrive before Mass began.  We visited the black Madonna. It was an awesome experience to be there on this  Palm Sunday.  The chapel had already begun to fill up when we arrived. We were all solemn and respectful as some sat, some stood, some prayed and others snapped photos.  Afterwards some got candles, palm leaves and received a blessing from the Priest.

Soon we were on our way to the Marche’ in Neuilly where shoppers had a great time browsing and buying. There were fresh meats, fish, fruits and vegetables on one side and on the other everything from beautiful cashmere sweaters to tiny leather skirts to shoes, beautiful, soft leather handbags and other lovely accessories.

Lunch would be 2 blocks away at a quaint Swiss-themed restaurant, Le Chalet. My choice was swordfish with steamed veggies while others had steak, fries and sipped red wine. Lunch conversations were animated amongst the newly formed acquaintances; mainly travel related including hearing Randy talk about his travels across the Sahara Desert and more recently Madagascar. Randy has been living in Paris since ’72. He has seen folks come and go in the Black Paris community and he’s always down for the talk. He is quite a colorful character.

After lunch we boarded our bus to Le Vesinet to visit Le Beau Chene, Josephine Baker’s Mansion. She was 19 when she arrived in Paris and by the time she was 23 she had purchased this magnificent mansion where she would entertain heads of state, President Charles de Gaulle and numerous celebrities and entertainers.

The current owner, Phillipe Beaudry, an engaging, soft spoken gentleman, met us inside the gates, gave us a tour of the grounds, passing what was once the stables, fountains and ponds, the open bandstand where bands and orchestras would perform for her guests, the aviary for her exotic birds, her greenhouse and the huge cage where she kept her pet Cheetah, Chiquita. Imagine this beautiful, rich, black woman strolling the boulevard with her pet cheetah.

Finally we entered the mansion which was built in 1891, and listened to Phillipe tell us what prompted him to purchase the mansion and commit to the very costly undertaking of renovating; first beginning with the electrical and water system, then replacing floors, bathroom fixtures, chandeliers, etc. we actually thought we would only see the library and a salon, however, we were treated to the viewing of at least 8 rooms including her bedroom and a bathroom with a 2.5 ft deep stainless steel bathtub —–incredible.

This was a most interesting and very full day; my day off, however, I was looking forward to a wonderful dinner at Le Speakeasy along with some Chicago blues. It was quite an enjoyable evening but I can’t stay anywhere very long so by 1130pm Kat St Thomas called it a night.

Amazing Amalfi Coast

image

Our drivers Sergio and Ivo met 60 of us at the ship with 4 vehicles and we were soon on our way.  DeeDee and Nikki had been jokingly inquiring about Guido once we hit Italy so they were surprised when I asked Ivo where Guido and Carmine were.  Lol  yes real life mafia names.  Wait til they meet  Mauritzio in Rome, a true Godfather.  I’ve been blessed with the best connections wherever I go in the world and I tell you my Italian family really takes excellent care of me and my groups.  As we passed Mt Vesuvius and made our way to Positano, it became evident to all that the views of one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world were more than breathtaking   When I stepped into La Tagliata Restaurant, I was blown away with the setup of the dining room.  Pepe, who runs the restaurant is the son of Dora the master chef.  He greeted me with nothing but love.  I have been bringing groups here for the last 7 years and he assured me, this group was in for a treat.  We were served so many courses I lost count— from the anti pasta to the platters of desserts.  I might add that  red wine, white wine and bottled water were free flowing.  After our bountiful meal, the hired  vocalist treated us to her repertoire of Italian standards and got our participation in Volare and Tbats Amore’. Oh and she passed out plenty of tambourines and things. It appeared everyone was having a great time.  Befiore it was over, Chef Dora (Mama Mia is what I call her) came out waving her linen napkin and to say Grazie!  To all.  Shortly thereafter, 54 were on their way to Pompeii while me and my 5 were headed  back to the ship.

We had 8p dinner reservations at Ji Ji Asian Kitchen and man was it a feast.   I highly recommend this Specialty Restaurant.  The 6 of us chose to share: 4 appetizers, 5 mains, 4 sides and a few desserts for a mere $15pp.  Unfreakinbelievable !   Yvonne and I had to rush to our rooms to change and get a blanket then down 1 level to the IMAX theater b/c we had a date with Denzel Washington.  OMG! Our brotha played his part. My friends, MAGNIFICENT 7  is off the richter.

 

 

 

It’s All About The Cruisin’

My friends, it’s been a rough 10 months for all of us; trying to avoid COVID-19, dealing with the shortcomings of our government, the unbelievable turn of events at our capitol January 6th  and then on top of that there’s always someone to test you  and what you stand for in the midst of this horrible pandemic.  For all these things, all we can do is pray for guidance and protection. I’m thankful for so many things especially the ability to reach back and revisit the precious memories we’ve all shared together.   Water relaxes me and soothes my inner self.  Take a trip with me to when we sailed the Western Med in 2016,  sailing out of the beautiful city of BARCELONA.

We had an 11am photo shoot and it was not an easy task getting 97 together in order to capture my vision. Some did not make it on time, too much party last night.  Big up to Gail Jackson Brooks for her expertise in photography and the unknown middle school teacher sent from above that said, “What do you need”? I can get folks organized for you”.. I could not have been more proud with the group turning out with my suggested color coordination. There were several groups running around this big beautiful ship  with their tee shirts on but NONE could compare to the way The Sophisticated Ladies and Gents were shining, truly sophisticated.  Yes, they had it going on.

Briana Moore was instrumental in arranging the bid whist games in the Library.  Ray Mosely, Jo Ann Barbosa, Debra Taylor Johnson, Patricia Nicholson got the Boston Tea Party off to a great start with yours truly just filling in where needed.  You know I aint bidding unless I have a road map in my hand.

I enjoyed lunch at the SEAFOOD SHACK on the back of the ship with 3 lovelies: daughter DeeDee, Nikki Britto and my Road Dawg of 20 years, my fellow foodie,  the incomparable Robbie Bell of Miami.  DeeDee and Nikki raved so about the Lobster Roll; we just had to sample.  The crab cake sliders and the clam chowder was on hit.  And I later found out from Mama Yvonne that the oysters on the half shell were pretty darn good as well.

Some 8 hrs later we all dressed to impress for The Vista’s ELEGANT NIGHT.  Everyone looked like they stepped out of VOGUE and GQ.  The dinner menu did not disappoint with Maine Lobster Tail, huge tender cuts of Prime Rib, Fried Oysters, Caesar Salad, Cream of Mushroom soup, etc.  When the waiters did their dance, they had some of the sexiest moves I’ve ever seen coming from waiters.  They were like Chippendale dancers — real hot stuff.

Tomorrow, we dock in Palermo, port city of Sicily —-home of the Godfather.  I will stay on board… Been there, done that, don’t have to do it again.  However, the newbies are anxious.  Stay tuned!

Abu Dhabi- Great Mosque, Emirates Palace, Ferrari World

At Mosque Entrance

At Mosque Entrance

Kat, Ready For The Mosque

Kat, Ready For The Mosque

The Great Mosque

The Great Mosque

Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi

Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi

Sakari, Getting Accustomed to the Finer Things

Sakari, Getting Accustomed to the Finer Things

Gold Flakes on Baked Delights

Gold Flakes on Baked Delights

Jewels at the Palace

Jewels at the Palace

It's a Family Affair at the Palace

It’s a Family Affair at the Palace

4 Million Dollars worth of  McLarens  at the Palace

4 Million Dollars worth of McLarens at the Palace

Last Stop - Ferrari World. Then back To Our World at the 5 Star Kempinski,  in Dubai

Last Stop – Ferrari World. Then back To Our World at the 5 Star Kempinski, in Dubai

Monday evening was our sunset dinner cruise around the Dubai Creek. It was a nice evening for enjoying the company of those in the group that we had not gotten to chat with. This was another great group that has come together from all parts of the United States. The chefs on the boat are Swiss trained and the food preparation did not disappoint. Tuesday was a leisure day so everybody just did their own thing —- shopping, spa treatments, hangin out in the cabanas poolside or enjoying high teas.

Wednesday was a very full day. We were dressed appropriately for our visit to the Sheik Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, which is a 2 hr ride from Dubai. The Mosque is amazing, from the architecture to the interior. This year the $110 lunch at Emirates Palace was included and we made the Desert Safari optional. That was sweet! The Emirates Palace is the most expensively built hotel in the world. The Sheik didnt like it for his place of residence when built, so hotel it became! This is one of the places one can purchase the 24K gold cappuccino. Aside from their signature drink, gold flakes and shavings are used in many of the bakery delights there.

Lunch was quite a spread! The lamb chops, potato leek soup, cannelloni, potatoes au gratin, crab, cocktail shrimp, and sashimi were my favorites. Sakari did just fine in a high chair nibbling from mom and dad’s plates and saying hello to those passing by. After lunch, we strolled leisurely through this opulent hotel, passing the Gold to Go ATM, and admiring the exquisite jewels in cases valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just outside the entrance, the expensive vehicles were lining up….What a show! Upon leaving Abu Dhabi, we made a pit stop at Ferrari World where some purchased souvenirs and others got their Starbucks fixes.

The Journey From Nowhere To Somewhere

Hello Travelers,  WOW! We’ve really been through it the last almost 10 months.  I’ve been doing my best playing “Dodge Ball” trying to stay out of the way and staying safe until I can get the vaccine.  I like most of you are so ready to begin traveling again.   Auntie Jeanie Presley sent me a YouTube by Steve Harvey of the recently opened Qasr Al Watan in Abu Dhabi.  It wasn’t opened to the public when we were there Nov. 2019 but now it is.  It is beyond fabulous and as soon as we can begin traveling again, I’m there. FYI: Expo 2020 will be taking place Oct 21 – Mar 2022.   I went way back on this blog; granddaughter Sakari was 18 months and enjoying Dubai. She will be turning 8 in March.

Members of our group were flying in from all over, with the majority of them all on Emirates from LAX. Others from Boston, Houston, San Francisco still on Emirates all landed within minutes of our L.A. Flight. Emirates is “special”. They have their own terminal and it’s highly organized compared to where the other carriers fly in and out of. I should know,I flew in on United last year. This is not a public service announcement but treat yourself to the Emirates Airline’s A380 experience. The A380’s are only presently flying from Los Angeles and New York.
After hotel check in, I was more than pleased with my room. It’s basically the same Grande Luxe room type I had last year but I guess I did not pay attention to the 6 ft mirrored wall in the separate shower room, with its shower bench and rain tree shower. There was also the 5 ft by 5 ft mirrored wall above the large soaking tub. Actually the bathroom slightly reminds me of the fabulous bathrooms at the 5 Star Michaelangelo in Johannesburg, South Africa.

I was delighted to have Gail Jackson, owner of Tree House Resort in Negril, Jamaica join us. She loves skiing and spas and this destination provided both experiences. I was also blessed to have my daughter, DeeDee and her family, including 18 month old Sakari, returning guest from last year is cousin Kutina who brought her mother, Patricia this time. Also my favorite cousins Lisa and Weldon Clemons are part of this years group. Yes, this is going to be a very different but still very exciting trip.

We had the same knowledgeable guide as before, Vijay who met us all at the airport and got us safely to the hotel. Before we left home, several had already made reservations for the BEST spas, BEST Restaurants, High Teas and nightclubs. Dubai, 41 years ago, there were no paved roads, no electricity, and no water and now to look at where she is and where she continues to go as she grows is almost incomprehensible. Dubai, even with its reputation of High End Glitz and Glam, it is one of our least expensive tours but also one of those places where you can do what you want to do based on your budget. Take your pick… If you want you can spend $300 per person dining at the Burj Kalifah or $15 at one if the 60+ eating establishments in the Emirates Mall adjacent to our 5 Star Kempinski Hotel. Also Adjacent is “Ski Dubai”, an indoor ski resort, by the way, where avid skier Gail Jackson will be hitting the slopes with several of the ladies in our group this week.

Our first tour day included a full day of seeing and learning about this fascinating new city on the world map. We were up close and personal with the Burj Al Arab, where Tiger Woods teed off from the helipad. You will find nothing but “Suites” here, nothing here is called a room. We visited the Palm, and saw the iconic Atlantis hotel with her underwater hotel suites. We took a 2 hr break at the worlds largest shopping mall, the Dubai Mall, a visit by water taxi over to the Gold Souk and the Spice Souk. Gold everywhere you turn and there’s no escaping the aggressive vendors selling every knock off handbag imaginable but seriously, this is the souvenir spot. The finishing touch on the day’s events was the 60 second ride to observation deck on the 124th floor of the Burj Kalifa in the “translevator but the building has 163 floors. Some purchased the handsomely bound color photo of themselves overlooking this beautiful city, quite a nice memento. Tonight will be the sunset dinner cruise.

Burj Al Arab

Burj Al Arab

Kat in her Abaya

Kat in her Abaya

Burj khalifa

Burj khalifa

Gold shops galore at the Souk

Gold shops galore at the Souk

Rolling Into Florence

Today is December 23, 2020.  This last week I cannot tell you how many have hit me up about the fantastic Italy trips we’ve gone on.   There has been so much sadness and misery surrounding some of us these past 9 months; I want to share a little bit of  good times in Italy. So let’s go back down memory lane. So many want to return and we will.  July 2019 was a 10 day tour and included were 10 fabulous gourmet, “foodie” dinners with wine included.   Let’s get it!

After leaving Siena which is famous for its cuisine, art and medieval cityscape, our journey continued as we were chauffeured by our competent and very skilled bus driver, Michele (pronounced Mi shel ee) and we eased on into Florence.  We had an appointment to enter the Accademia gallery (ack a day mee a)  to see the famed statue David by sculptor Michelangelo. Of course there was a long line but all 30 of us  led by our 2 Florence guides breezed right to the front of the line because that’s the way we do it. We do what we must to make it comfortable for our guests.  While they spent time in the gallery, I taxied to our lovely hotel, The Grand Minerva to chill and  do some work after which I met the group for lunch at Osteria Baroncelli.  Here they had another fabulous meal with a continuous flow of red and white wine.

Florence, is a true shoppers paradise and shop they did.  The July sales had just begun and the shoppers enjoyed the discounts and putting their bargaining skills to use.

The next day was a day of bus, trains,  and boats as we made our way to the famed and picturesque CINQUE TERRE ( sink way tare day)  “5 lands”.   Our driver drove us to La Spezia where we then took a train to Monterosso. Some of my favorite places begin with the letter “M”.  Now the beach town of Monterosso takes her place next to: MYKONOS and MALDIVES. As we exited the train station, Wow!!!  There was the beach; beautiful blue water, colorful umbrellas and tons of people on the beach.  I instantly felt the energy and immediately understood why the train was so crowded.  We touched 2 of the other villages: Vernazza and Riomaggiore which we accessed by train and ferry.  They can have the others, just give me Monterosso where we dined at the Michelin starred  Restaurant, MIKY.  The service was exceptional and the food was divine.  Imagine flambéed seafood Risotto prepared table side by the owner/manager herself.   The group was treated like the royalty they were.

All in all it was a very interesting and enjoyable day before heading back to Florence with our driver and our Guide, Ele who has been with us since day one.  Everyone has taken a serious liking to Ele and will hate to say goodbye.  Now we will always remember her as we fondly remember Nicolette from our 2014 Italy by Private Motor Coach Tour.

Today was the town of  Lucca and then on to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Tomorrow it’s a guided visit of Castello del Trebbio with wine and olive tasting, followed by The Mall Outlet  with priority  entrance at the Gucci shop.

Wednesday, we will all head  to our respective homes and say “Arrivederci” Italy!

Brighter Days Ahead

This past 8 months has been like a prison sentence and I have not ventured out past 45 minutes from my residence these past 8 months but I so look forward to 2021. I am prayerful and hopeful that things will be better for travel and to those that are still on board…..YES, I’m all in for the following: AUSTRALIA, PARIS, MOROCCO, NEGRIL, ROTTERDAM, ICELAND, SOUTH AFRICA, KENYA, EGYPT, and last but definitely not least THE MALDIVES. Why just this morning an 8 year old that was at my birthday party in Mykonos 2 years ago, told his dad he needs to go to THE MALDIVES now because it may be gone in the next century. Wow! Out of the mouths of babes. I’m so glad those of us had an opportunity to visit our 7th continent, ANTARCTICA while it’s still there. There is good news about the vaccine. Well, I get a flu shot, I had to get the Yellow Fever vaccination and pay $325 for it in order to enter Ghana plus carry that yellow card around with all my immunizations listed…. so that being said; if these scientists get the effectiveness together for the COVID-19 vaccine… call me crazy but count me in. Let’s not look at the “right now”, let’s look to the brighter days ahead.

Let’s Talk Black Paris

As long as Europe opens up for us, our group will be going. The new dates are APRIL 15 – 22, 2021. I’ve been going to Paris annually since 1983 and the fact that there is a ban has been a very bitter pill to swallow. Nonetheless, my focus is on 2021 and I so look forward to escorting my group of 25 to the “City of Light”, showing them Paris on the black side and showing them all that has made this beautiful city what it is.
One of the highlights of our tour is spending a full day with Ricki Stevenson, owner and founder of Black Paris Tours. She recently did a very informative interview now on YouTube, of which I’d love to share with you.
You are invited to a screening of Episode #7 of the Griot, where we catch up with Ricki Stevenson, the Founder of the award winning, internationally acclaimed, Black Paris Tours…now celebrating its 22nd year of operation
This lover of Black history turned her passion into a culturally, histororically rich Paris experience that attracts travelers from around the world! Ricki and her crew of scholar-guides (Nawo Crawford, Miguel Guerra and Dedie Stevenson-Bailey) offer Full day tours or two-thirds day tours providing insight into the significant contributions made by Black Americans in France! With each tour they remind us of the importance of knowing who we are, where we come from and the crucial importance of sharing our stories with the next generation.
Check out this newest episode of the ‘Griot: Power in Narratives’, where we use history to help us understand current events and the pressing issues of race, class, gender, and popular culture.Tamara Gibbs~
https://youtu.be/gyl4zVCFX0Q


Do You Need A “Rejuv-acation”?

For the past 7 months most of us have been sheltering in our local areas, not enjoying what we love so much…..traveling around the world.
In order to bring pleasant and happy memories to you, I have reposted over 100 past blogs. We were blessed to move all of our 2020 tours to 2021 but that brings me to this: I’m sure many of you are are wishing and hoping to go somewhere. To date, due to the poor handling of the pandemic in the states, there are few destinations we as Americans can go provided the individual has a negative PCR test, proof of “International Medical Insurance “.and agree to a few safety protocols of that destination.
This will be a 5 night package staying at the 5 star Habtoor Palace, enjoying all that Dubai has to offer as in our past adventures. I’m ready, are you? The 5 night Package includes: airport transfers, daily breakfast, full day city tour and evening dinner cruise. Dates: February 14-19, 2021 $1086pp dbl occupancy. (Based on 20 participants). Interested? Please inbox me at rivoli98@yahoo.com

C’est Parfait in Marseille

The last time I was in Marseille was in the 90’s.  I was on my way back to Paris from seeing my boyfriend in Portofino. I felt compelled to find the intersection of  La Canibiere et Rue du Rhone to take a photo of the intersection where my dad as an MP directed traffic.

Our guide, Martin Grizzell, resident of Marseille and owner of the newly launched Black Marseille Tours met us at city center.  Our tour was a combination of walking, bus,  tram and train.  After our orientation at an outdoor cafe’ where we had the freshest croissants, juice, coffee; we were soon on our way.  As we moved towards Vieux Port (old port), our guide made us aware of the vast contrasts between Paris and Marseille. It is much more laid back and a much slower pace.  This is where Jamaican author Claude McKay finished writing “BANJO”.  The town has named a passage way after Mr.McKay.

Martin made us aware throughout the city that Marseille refused to embrace skavery and there are NO negative images of blacks.  They were about commerce.   It was refreshing to see buildings and statues of women and  men that clearly had African facial and hair characteristics. We saw the various demagraphics of the city and when we walked thru the Arab section of town we could feel the love as some shouted OBAMA OBAMA!   A total surprise for me was  that my dear sister friend, Ricki Stevenson, owner of Black Paris Tours took the train down from Paris to join us. She was accompanied by Richard Greer from the Bay (family of Dorsey’s Bos’ns Locker) now living  in the ATL.  PHOTOS, COURTESY OF MR. GREER.

Our lunch was at TOINOU (twa new) one of the best seafood restaurants in the city.  Robbie and I and several others shared platters of crab, razor clams, mussels and prawns.  Everything was seasoned to perfection.  Others had fish and chips or mussels and chorizo.   A total feast was enjoyed by all.

Mr. Grizzell, is an artist with Quilting pieces in the Smithsonian.  Some participants went to visit his studio and others took the ferry over to go up to La Bonne Mere (cathedral)  where the best views of the city are found.

The tour was wonderful however, my regret is that I tried to include too many.  He cautioned me to keep it small but my heart didn’t listen.  I wanted several to get this experience.  We were 17, it should have been a more intimate group of 8-10. .  At any rate, I trust all that were privileged to join, enjoyed it.

we are now sailing back to Barcelona and soon I will be back on US soil for 2 weeks, then on to South Africa.   See you then!