Monthly Archives: June 2014

Amazon River Expedition

Author: Anthony DeCurtis, Distinguished Lecturer in the Creative Writing Program & Contributing Editor for Rolling Stone

I’m not a specialist on South America to any degree whatsoever, so I was surprised – and delighted! — to be invited to be a faculty host on a Penn Alumni cruise along the Peruvian Amazon. I’m a distinguished lecturer in the creative writing program at Penn and my writing for Rolling Stone (where I’m a contributing editor) over the years about the likes of the Rolling Stones, U2 and Billy Joel has made me no stranger to wild life, though not the sort I was likely to find in one of the world’s most remote jungles. The advantage of my non-expert status, however, was that I fully shared the sense of wonder and adventure that characterized the redoubtable Penn alums on board. As soon as everyone understood that such questions as “How deep is the Amazon in this inlet?” were better addressed to our fearless and profoundly knowledgeable guides, Robinson and Juan Carlos, than to me, we all settled in to our journey and had an unforgettable time.

So what exactly was I doing on the La Amatista, the beautifully appointed small expedition river vessel that was our home on the Amazon? February 2014, the month of our cruise, marked the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Beatles in the United States, so one of my lectures focused on that peerless band and the ongoing impact and significance of its music. A second lecture recounted the equally long and riotous career of the Beatles’ great rivals, the Rolling Stones. Of course, this being a Penn cruise, the alums aboard requested a third lecture about writing strategies, which I was happy to provide – and I got a few tips myself! On the evening after my Beatles talk in the afternoon, our guides and other crew members performed a selection of Beatles classics on the top deck to a wildly appreciative audience. Any footage or photos that might conceivably emerge of me singing “A Hard Day’s Night” and “From Me to You” while holding a glass of tequila have been fabricated, I swear!

But before all of that transpired, we first flew into Lima on a Friday and stayed at the Casa Andina Private Collection, a superb hotel. After breakfast there on Saturday morning, we toured Lima’s colonial section, including Casa Aliaga, which was built in 1535 by a family who came to Peru with the Spanish conquistador Pizarro. That setting prompted a discussion with our local guide about the complexities of honoring the country’s colonial past. The Convent and Museum of St. Francisco, meanwhile, included a stroll through the site’s catacombs, which are filled with the bones of tens of thousands of local residents.

The following day we flew to Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon, which can only be reached by airplane or boat. Iquitos grew enormously during the rubber boom in Peru a century ago, and the downtown area features a two-story building that was used as a warehouse by Carlos Fermin Fitzcarrald, the rubber baron who is the subject of German director Werner Herzog’s gripping 1982 film, Fitzcarraldo. On Monday we visited the thriving Belen market, which, among its many herbs, foods and native wares included aphrodisiacs that tempted some of the more daring members of the Penn crowd. On the bus ride afterwards to Nauta, where we would board La Amatista, we stopped to visit a manatee rescue center, one of the many sites attempting to preserve the hugely important ecosystem of the Amazon. We were able to feed some of the manatees, which was fun and quite moving.

Once we boarded La Amatista later that Monday, it seemed as if our journey had finally begun, despite all that we’d seen and done already. Each of the next four days we rose early and set out in two small skiffs that each held about twelve of us. Juan Carlos and Robinson were compelling guides – smart, funny, insightful and deeply appreciative of all the glories the Amazon contains. They spoke excellent English and shared personal stories of their upbringing with us in casual presentations during dinner on the ship – one of the absolute highlights of the trip. They taught us how to fish for red-bellied piranha – okay, they fished and aided us in the illusion that we were fishing, gently helping us to reel in our catch – and pointed out the endless appearances of squirrel monkeys, toucans, vultures and macaws. One lazy afternoon a group of pink river dolphins frolicked near our skiffs, and an ordinary day suddenly turned magical. Every sunrise and sunset was just breathtaking, the sky seeming the only possible sight that could draw your attention away from the magnificent river and trees.

The residents, called riberenos [Please note: tilde over the n], of the many villages we visited were uniformly friendly and welcoming. We would hike through the jungle and then sit with them to hear their stories and purchase their strikingly colorful goods. In one village a female shaman spoke to us about the mystical and medicinal qualities of many of the plants in the region. She then performed a cleansing ritual, which was riveting.

By the time we reversed our trip – back to Nauta, then Iquitos, on to Lima, and then, finally, home – we had received an invaluable education in one of our planet’s ecological treasures. As I’m sure you know, the Amazon is under siege by the demands of our modern world. Our last night on La Amatista was the occasion of a spirited discussion about the future of the rainforest and of the Earth itself. Problems abound, of course, but the conversation was inspiring, a vivid reminder that we are all custodians of the world’s treasures, whether we are at home in our houses and apartments or sailing on a river that runs deep into the very heart of our entire human history. The connections felt palpable, and still do.

 

Amazon Group

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Filed under Academics, Alumni Programming, Alumnni Education, Faculty perspective, Janell W., Penn Alumni Travel, Travel, Uncategorized

Welcome, 2014 Interviewers!

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People join the Alumni Interview Program for all kinds of reasons- I’m partial to this 2014 grads motivation.

If you’d like to speak with prospective Penn students, click here.

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Fresh Farm Goodness Comes to Sweeten

By Kristy C.

Elise Betz poses in front of the partial share that we are splitting this season

Elise Betz poses in front of the partial share that we are splitting this season

If you stopped into Sweeten Alumni House this Tuesday, you were greeted with the wonderful smells of leeks, parsley, arugula and various other fresh vegetables. That’s because a group of staff members here decided to sign up for a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) subscription program through Red Earth Farms.

CSAs have been gaining popularity over the past few years, as they are a fun and easy way to obtain fresh locally grown produce in urban and suburban areas. Red Earth Farms offers a “Choice CSA”, which allows members the opportunity to choose weekly from a list of seasonal fresh produce. The produce is then delivered to a drop-off point in your neighborhood.

CSAs have a “share fee” in which you pay an amount up front for a “share” in the crops that the farm produces. CSA subscriptions typically last from late Spring until early Fall, with most farms offering seasonal treats to go along with their produce.

Charis Lindrooth (C’87) runs Red Earth Farms with her husband Michael Alhert. When I asked Charis about the benefits of joining a CSA, she stated:

“The member receives produce that has been harvested often within 24 hours of receiving their box. They enjoy the benefits of super fresh produce, they get connected with the source of their food by visiting the farm, through newsletters and through Facebook and other social media. They also know that they are supporting a local, family-owned Pennsylvania farm.”

Sounds great to me! I also asked: Why should someone consider joining with Red Earth Farms?

“We have introduced the concept of online ordering as a way of offering our customers choice in what arrives in their box. We think this is the only way to really make the CSA model a win-win solution for both the farmer and the consumer. Our customers? They love it!”

 So far, I am greatly enjoying the partial share that I am splitting with Executive Director of Alumni Relations, Elise Betz. We are both fans of making green smoothies, so this was an opportunity to get the freshest local greens around! To top it off, the online ordering process has been very easy. Other staff members at Sweeten bought into the Yogurt/Kefir and egg shares, filling up their fridges with fresh farm goodness! A special thanks to Liz Pinnie, Assistant Director of Penn Alumni Interview Program, who made it possible for Sweeten to become a designated drop-off location for the farm.

We hope this is the start of a very healthy tradition here at Sweeten Alumni House.

If you want more information about joining a CSA, check out this website: http://www.localharvest.org/csa/

If you want to know more about Red Earth Farms, feel free to check them out here: http://www.redearthfarm.org/about.php

Oh, and if you are looking for a simple and yummy green smoothie recipe, this is the one that I use almost every single day:

Kristy’s Kale Smoothie Recipe

(makes two large servings)

This smoothie can be made in a high powered blender

Veggie Phase

  • 6-8 baby carrots
  • ½ cup of water
  • ½ cup of plain yogurt
  • A few large leaves of kale (broken up into slightly smaller pieces)
  • ½ cup of fresh spinach (optional)
  • Blend on your highest setting until you have a well-blended liquid mixture

Fruit Phase

  • Add the following into your mixture:
  • 1 banana or green apple (sliced)
  • 1 cup of frozen fruit (I prefer strawberries or tropical fruit)
  • You can also add in 3 or 4 large ice cubes if you prefer a colder smoothie
  • Mix on ice crush until it is nice and smooth

Enjoy!

smoothie

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Celtic Lands 2014

Author: Professor Rebecca Bushnell, Department of English

We arrived from different directions on May 28, but the Penn Alumni group all converged one chilly evening, in Greenock, Scotland, to embark on the SS. Le Boréal for our adventure in the Celtic Lands. Our ship at first looked tiny, docked next to the gigantic SS Queen Victoria, but it was to prove a comfortable and elegant home for the next nine days.

After the thrilling life boat drill in our stylish life jackets, a four-course dinner while we sailed down the River Clyde, and then a night of sound sleep (for those of us who had just arrived in Scotland that morning), we awoke the next day in what felt like another world, moored next to the tiny Isle of Iona, in the Scottish Hebrides.   Tenders took us to the ancient restored abbey of Iona, founded by St. Columba in 563 AD.

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We also visited our first Scottish village (in which I was charmed by my first Scottish cat).

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From there we took the ferry to the Isle of Mull, where we boarded buses for a journey on “one-track roads” in our rather large bus across the island  to Duart Castle, home of the  Clan Maclean,  a great stone keep perched on a bluff overlooking an inland loch.

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The weather was the first of an extraordinary stretch of brilliant blue skies with massive ever-changing clouds (many of us could not stop taking photos of the clouds). The bus then took us to our final destination of the pretty village of Tobermory, where I enjoyed shortbread and tea in the local bakery and bought the first of my little tiny bottles of samples of the local whiskey and brandies from our shore excursions (for my son-in-law, not for me).

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The next day, our ship took us to the Isle of Skye, the largest of the inner Hebrides, which looked almost metropolitan in comparison with tiny Iona and Mull (it had “two-track,” or two-way, roads).  We circled part of the island through magnificent scenery inhabited mostly by sheep (who were omnipresent throughout this trip—thousands of sheep!).

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We stopped for a visit to Dunvegan Castle, home of the Clan MacLeod,  still very active today: the castle had some pretty gardens not yet in full bloom.

There we took the first of our group pictures of what I would now think of as the Clan Penn (I can reassure you that our relations with the Brown, Dartmouth, and Northwestern clans on the ship remained friendly throughout the journey).

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That afternoon, as we left the Isle of Skye, I gave the first of my lectures, on “Shakespeare and the Celtic Lands,” discussing how ideas of England in Shakespeare’s time were forged in both conflict with and assimilation of the countries and people of Scotland, Ireland and Wales.  The sense of national pride  and independence that Shakespeare saw in these often rebellious peoples was evident today  in every place we visited – and it is clearly growing daily.

The next morning we awoke in a very different sort of place, in Belfast, a city with a storied past of shipbuilding now most prominently memorialized in the fabulous RMS Titanic Museum (obviously very popular because it was very crowded on a Sunday afternoon). We took a city tour of Belfast, which included not only the city monuments, but also the working class Republican and Loyalist neighborhoods, where the sense of the past is still very present. Memories of the “Troubles “were vividly depicted in evocative and sometimes disturbing murals everywhere.

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That afternoon, I gave my second lecture on “Shakespeare and World War II,” looking at Laurence Olivier’s film of Shakespeare’s Henry V  produced in 1943-44, on the brink of D-Day. For me, Olivier’s film provided an instructive way  to link multiple pasts to the present, and to look ahead to our destination in Normandy, on the eve of the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

That night all the Penn clan gathered together for a reception, and a more formal portrait: here you see us in one of the ship’s lounges, having put down our cocktail glasses for a moment.

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But our next stop was Holyhead, Wales, and a full day excursion, beginning with the extraordinary Bodnant Gardens, where many of us could have spent the whole day. It was raining lightly part of the time we were there, but it only made the gardens that more lush: water ran everywhere, in the dells and in ponds and streams. The roses were blooming, as only British roses can. Everyone was quite entranced

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We had lunch in Betwys-e Coed, and listened to a charming all male choir, who sang mostly in Welsh, and then charted our course through the magnificent Snowdonia National Park, a land of  rugged and desolate mountains, with some slopes dramatically strewn with slate.

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The day ended with a visit to Caernafron Castle, built by Edward I to contain the medieval Welsh rebels: it was an imposing structure, built to intimidate (and even confuse some of us, like myself, who got lost in its winding and slippery staircases and corridors that led nowhere).

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That night we headed west again, and docked in Dublin, and the Republic of Ireland. Some of us took a bus tour of the city, but since I had spent a long and lovely summer studying in Dublin and Ireland when I was in college, I took off on my own to revisit some old haunts of mine and just to enjoy the city, both what was old and familiar and what was new.

That night we set off on our full day at sea (at little rocky at first), when we were entertained and enlightened  by the various faculty hosts, and by  our special guests, Cecilia Sandys, Churchill’s granddaughter, and Penn’s own faculty member,  David Eisenhower, Dwight Eisenhower’s grandson. The two of them gave fascinating lectures offering personal anecdotes and insight into the historical events involving their grandfathers. Both were engaging speakers, and we felt very lucky to have them with us on the trip.

The next day, June 5, was certainly memorable, as we arrived in Normandy, France, on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.  We began the day on the striking bluffs of Pointe du Hoc, where the brave US Rangers scaled the cliff under heavy bombardment: the landscape is still scarred by deep craters left by the bombs, and blasted German fortification.

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We then traveled first to Omaha Beach and then  to the famous American cemetery at Colleville-sur-mer. Preparations were being made for the ceremony attended by 25 heads of state the next day, but we had a moment for our Penn veterans  to lay a wreath at the memorial.

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As we sang the National Anthem, a WWII vintage plane flew overhead. All of the sacrifices made that time 70 years ago seemed quite achingly present at that moment.

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The day ended with some of us visiting the D-Day Museum in Arromanches, and others in Bayeux to view the medieval embroidery of the Battle of Hastings.  Then our ship left France with us sobered by those memories, and headed for England and for Portsmouth, where we disembarked for the final time, and  visited the D-Day Museum there and Southwick House, where the decision was made to launch the invasion.

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David Eisenhower talks to a local camera crew about the D-Day invasion map at Southwick House.

 

Then it was time for us to go our separate ways. But we all knew we had shared something special on this trip, not only through the experience of amazing natural beauty, but also through so many moments in which the present touched the past. As my remarks above suggest, wherever we traveled we learned that memories in this part of the world are long, and that history matters.

So indeed, it was a journey that I am sure we shall not soon forget ourselves.

 

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Filed under Faculty perspective, Penn Alumni Travel, Travel

The Annual Staff Retreat

By Carol Romani

After a successful year of Alumni Programming, the Alumni Relations staff got together for their annual Staff Retreat.   This year, we learned about our Signature Themes (strengths) and how to build on them for career and personal success.   There was also a great scavenger hunt which sent 6 teams of Alumni Relations staff members on a hunt through campus for all sorts of things! It was a great way to unwind and have fun together after a year of successful Alumni Programming.

Team Redrum in Steinberg-Dietrich at the Joseph Wharton Desk

Team Redrum in Steinberg-Dietrich at the Joseph Wharton Desk

Team Sweeten Slammers on Walnut Street

Team Sweeten Slammers on Walnut Street

Team Quaker Daze and Ben

Team Quaker Daze and Ben

Team Evil Empire with Dr. William Pepper

Team Evil Empire with Dr. William Pepper

Team You Are Toast

Team You Are Toast (possibly trying to spell out a word)

My apologies to Team Fists of Franklin (a.k.a Ben’s Biceps), though you were the winning team in our competition, your photos went missing in the transfer from CityHunt to us.

All in all, it was a great day with my wonderful Alumni Relations colleagues.

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Filed under A Day in the Life - DAR, Carol R., Sweeten Alumni House

My Top Penn List: Alumni Weekend 2014 Tweets

By: Casey Ryan, C’95

First of all I’d like to acknowledge my amazing colleague, Jason Strohl, for running a few stories in lieu of mine because I was going to miss the deadline. Thank you, Strohly, for covering for me.

It’s been a month since Alumni Weekend. I wanted to share with you some of the most enjoyable tweets and pictures (with #PennAW) from the wonderful weekend. (Note: the opinions and views expressed through these Twitter, instagram and other social media accounts are the opinions of those individuals and do not reflect the opinions or views of the University or myself).

10. @yPennAlumni: The truest #PennAW button that ever existed. pennalumni @penn @penn2004 @penn2009 http://bit.ly/1qL0ha2

9. @Penn: For their 5th reunion, @Penn2009 had the right idea for their class gift. #PennAW #ArmyofAmys @yPennAlumni https://twitter.com/Penn/status/468109660705533952

8. @gsh1984: What a great time teaching social media basics with @KarenLGlass #PennAW photo http://i.instagram.com/p/oGZXu0iYBh/

7. @CarlinAdelson: I saw people and it was terrific! #pennaw #by09 http://twitter.com/CarlinAdelson/status/468016479414521856/

6. @heatherette01: A little blurry, but a gem #freshmanyear #roomielove #penn09 #pennaw http://Instagram.com/p/oHqXqcP-46/

5. @IraHarkavy: Amazing day. Congrats to the Young Quakers, who competed against Harlem Lacrosse players at Penn Park #PennAW http://twitter.com/IraHarkavy/status/467807661560692736

4. @ErinnLCarey: This @penn alum from the class of ’54 still has his tuition bill! Grand total, including fees?? $342.50!! #PennAW http://twitter.com/ErinnLCarey/status/467785572665540608/

3. @PennMedAlumni: Our med alumni show off their #pennpride in a parade that leads into the newly completed #pennpark #maw2014 #pennaw http://twitter.com/PennMedAlumni/status/467707493502943232/

2. @thomaswnance: Best Friends Ever!! #PennAW #BenFranklinStatue @ College Green http://Instagram.com/p/oGsoFHKLYo/

1. @KieraReilly: Hi Ben! I bet lots of alumni will come by to say hi today. #PennAW http://4sq.com/S30uFU

There were two honorable mentions:

@jgoldner: When do I get to throw toast? #PennAW”

@johnbudd: First stop at reunion: Abner’s. #PennAW http://twitter.com/johnbudd/status/467425812912685056

I hope to see you come back to campus for Homecoming, October 30-November 1 and Alumni Weekend 2015 May 15-18 and tweet away.

 

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Filed under Alumni Weekend, Casey R., Reunions, Top Ten

Spend Summer on “The Porch”

By: Brian A.

Things are happening down at the Porch at 30th Street Station all summer long!  I wanted to highlight Free Mini Golf every day in June right out front of the station: http://universitycity.org/events/free-mini-golf-porch

Also, the Porch is host to many gourmet food trucks in the month of June:   http://universitycity.org/events/gourmet-food-trucks-porch-11

I thought both of these items were nice to share with alumni and Penn employees alike who are looking to try something different on their lunch break.

theporch

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