Tuesday, April 30, 2013


As a fanatical movie devotee, I have concurrently been a huge fan of Inside the Actors Studio since its inception in 1994 with its first guest, Paul Newman. The charming and enigmatic James Lipton, the host of the show, is as captivating and entertaining as the myriad actors he interviews in a very different format than found on normal talk shows, giving a greater look at the performers' work and greater insight into their true selves.

I have always been delighted by a series of questions posed to every guest at the end of the regular interview segment. James Lipton has always given credit for the questions to the French television personality Bernard Pivot, who used them on his show, Apostrophes. But that is NOT where the genesis lies; it resides, rather, in the hands...of a writer!

As it turns out, Bernard Pivot developed this set of questions from a questionnaire answered by the French essayist and novelist Marcel Proust. Proust originally answered this questionnaire while still in his teens, in a 'confession album,' a type of autograph book popular in the late 19th century. The title of that which Proust wrote in is self-explanatory; it belonged to his friend Antoinette (daughter to a future French president) and was entitled "An Album to Record, Thoughts, Feelings, Etc." It has since become a tool for an artist to reveal aspects of themselves and their work outside of the normal 'interview' format. It's modern evolution has been used to reveal the inner depths of the respondent. 

How overjoyed I was to find these questions belonged, first and foremost, to a writer. And back into the hands of writers it will go. Inside the Writers' Study will become a regular feature here and will highlight bestselling and award winning historical fiction authors from around the world.

And, what sort of hostess would I be, were I not to put myself to the task to start off the series. Therefore, here I am...Inside the Writers' Study:

What is your favorite word:

What is your least favorite word:

What turns you on:
(Besides men dressed as Musketeers...)...the belief that ANYTHING is possible.

What turns you off:

What sound or noise do you love:
(For all parents, including myself, the sound of our children's laughter is a given, even though mine are grown men, otherwise...)...the sound of wind sluicing through a tree lush with summer leaves.

What sound or noise do you hate:
A phone ringing

What is your favorite curse word:
When my children were young it was Son of a Biscuit. Now that they're grown men it's Son of a f--king b--ch! (Oh, the times they are a-changing!)

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

What profession would you not like to do?
Dentistry, anything to do with dentistry

If heaven or the after-life exists, what would you like to hear God, The Source (or whatever Deity you may believe in) say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
Come on in; I'm ready to answer all your questions.

(And exclusive to Inside the Writers' Study)
In one sentence, describe your upcoming or latest release:
Francois I's Italian art thief--The King's Agent--and a mysterious woman embark on a quest across Renaissance Italy in search of a painting presumed to possess mystical abilities.
The King's Agent on Amazon

I hope you enjoyed this first edition of Inside the Writers' Study and I hope you'll return again and again for upcoming editions. Keep a look out for Anne Easter Smith, Beverly Swerling, Lauren Willig, Maryanne O'Hara, and many more! 

Monday, April 15, 2013


There are but a handful of people that have walked this Earth who's legacy is ever lasting. Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, born today, April 15 in 1452, is just such a person, a child of humble origins, who would become not only a true polymath but the ultimate definition of a Renaissance man, a personage of great study and admiration, and a never-ending wellspring of inspiration.

The love child of a respected notary, Piero da Vinci, and a very young peasant woman named Caterina, Leonardo lived, for the first five years of his life, with his mother in the small hamlet of Anchino in the home pictured here, less than three kilometers from Vinci. When his mother remarried, his upbringing was carried out by his father and his stepmothers (Piero da Vinci had four wives altogether who gave him 15 children, the last born when Piero was in his sixties; Leonardo was his first born, before Piero ever married). Some biographies do intimate that Leonardo may have carried ill-feelings toward his mother, instilled no doubt if true, by what would seem as abandonment by a five year old.

The most profound, early influence in the young Leonardo's life was, however, his Uncle Francesco. Sixteen when Leonardo was born, he was a member of Piero's household, a true countryman and lover of animals, a love he passed along to his nephew. Upon Francesco's death in 1506, he made Leonardo his sole heir. Ironically, this genius more than likely had very little formal education due to his illegitimacy. His father would have ensured him some 'elementary' education, but Leonardo taught himself Latin, anatomy, and physics; he would practice autodidacticism for the whole of his life.

Two curious myths are associated with Leonardo's childhood; their truth and their influence on Leonardo are worthy of wonder. The first took place when in the care of his mother; it is claimed that a bird or a kite (citations seem unable to agree on which) landed on the child Leonardo while in his crib. This event is intriguing when taken in conjunction with the young man's obsession with birds and flight. When a citizen of Florence, he would purchase exotic birds from the market place, take them into the surrounding hills, and release them, sketching them in flight. The concept of flight, and subsequent sketches of 'flying machines' would inhabit his journals for the whole of his life.

Leonardo's own journals, those he wrote throughout his adulthood, tell us of the second provocative event. When exploring the hills surrounding his father's country home, he discovered a cave. Though he was terrified by it--that some horrific monster lurked within--he could not restrain himself from exploring it, driven by a ravenous curiosity that would come to define him.

Whatever impression these events made on an highly intelligent youth, his talent as an artist must have made itself readily apparent from an early age. Tax records indicate that in 1466 Leonardo was more than likely living with his father in Florence--a move designed to put Leonardo in the realm of the rebirth and advancements of the artistic community there--in an apartment overlooking the city's main square, the Piazza della Signoria. That same year, when Leonardo was 14 years old, his father apprenticed Leonardo to the studio of Andreano di Cione, most popularly and still known as Verrocchio; his was one of the finest studios in the city, perhaps in all of Italy. Historical records indicate that in all likelihood Ser Piero was an acquaintance of Verrocchio; the hand of fate working with precision of purpose.

Yet Leonardo's artistic promises were, at first, somewhat bleak; in the custom of the era, he came to be apprenticed at a late age, nine or ten being the typical time to begin such work. But it did not take long for the talented and charming young man to make his presence known.

Leonardo was an elegant man, in pose and manner; courteous, mysterious and persuasive. His eloquence was to be his truth throughout his life. While most people, when thinking of Leonardo da Vinci, picture a craggy-faced old man, he was in fact considered one of the most handsome man of his age, some might say too beautiful. With long, flowing wavy hair the color of burnished gold, perfect refined bone structure, and blue-grey eyes, he was appealing and desired...by all. But his beauty would exact a price.

It did not take long, regardless of his late start, for Leonardo's remarkable talent to make itself known. Work produced by the studios of the era, though known by the name of the maestro, were carried out by the employees and apprentices of the workshop. It was in one such work that Leonardo's brilliance shined so brightly, it would, henceforth, be impossible to be denied. In Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ (pictured, 1472-1475, Uffizi Gallery), Leonardo collaborated with his master, painting the angel holding Jesus' robe. It was the most remarked upon, the most praised, segment of the painting. So much so that it is said Verrocchio never painted again. The apprentice had become the master. In 1472, Leonardo qualified as a master in the Guild of St. Luke, the guild of artists.

But it was during these years, that Leonardo suffered the most personal of tribulations. In 1476, two allegations of sodomy were made against Leonardo, that he and two other men, a goldsmith and a male prostitute—such as were often used as artist’s models—had been party 'to wretched affairs and to pleasuring, each to the other, who requested such wickedness of him.' Both charges were dropped, but for the next two years, Leonardo's whereabouts were not precisely known, though most agree he never left Florence. It is a prevalent theory that Lorenzo de' Medici, then the controlling oligarch of Florence and an extreme patron of the artist and profound Humanist, took the young, troubled artist into his home. Leonardo never married; there are no known romantic relationships with women. His most enduring allegiances are with men. In his own words, from within his journals, Leonardo denounced love as an interference in the life of a true artist.

In 1478, Leonardo received the first of his independent commissions; from then on, he was unstoppable. Sometime in the next year or two, he opened his own studio. All told, there are at least fifteen verifiable works by da Vinci, most of them paintings on panels but also including a large mural. There are an additional six disputed paintings and four recently attributed works. Leonardo never signed his work and their ascription is due to hundreds of years of scholastic study and specification. Though most widely known for his Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, my personal favorites include one which is thought to be his earliest complete work, Annunciation (oil and tempera on canvas, 1472-1475, Uffizi) for its use of spatial relation, its composition, and its color.

But by far, the work of Leonardo that most touches my heart and my spirit is, in fact, an unfinished painting, a print of which hangs in my home, has done so for many years. Head of a Woman also known as La Scapigliata is dated in his mature years, near or during 1500. Now housed in the Galleria Nazionale of Parma, Italy, the first mention of it is within the Gonzaga Collection. In his rendering, I see the hand of a man who could see a person's deepest truths. In this woman's face, I found my own heartache--a companion in female tribulations, some one to share long, lonely nights filled with tears. In her swollen eyes, I saw my own and felt not alone.

Considered by many as the father of the High Renaissance style, one of Leonardo's most profound influences on painting was his introduction of the technique called sfumato, though he and his contemporaries did not give it this name. That was done by Micheal J. Gleb in his book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. The technique, one of four which defined the evolution of painting conceived in the Renaissance, used no distinct outlines to the subjects, they are blurred and blended together with the background by full brush strokes, giving the subjects a 'smoky' appearance. The literal translation of fumo in Italian is 'gone up in smoke.' Sfumato has since come to mean 'without lines or borders.' The proper use of the technique produces atmospheric perspective in paintings, an aspect previously not utilized, a facet and style of painting that would forever change the art, that took painting from the flat and lifeless renderings of the Middle Ages into the bursting with life Realism of the what we now call the Renaissance. Perhaps one of the best examples of Leonardo's use of sfumato is in The Virgin on the Rocks (oil on wood, Louvre, disputed dates between 1483 and 1490). Here visible is the mysterious and dreamlike mood the technique accomplishes: figures blend softly into the background, faces emerge from a muted environment, splashes of color become all the more vibrant.

In 1482 Leonardo abandoned Florence for Milan, whether from a lack of favor and commissions from the controlling Medici or for the want of different pastures. There he spent seventeen years--enormously productive years in the fields of both art and science--leaving only as the Duke Lodovico Sforza fell from power in 1499. But during those years, the Duke urged Leonardo onward, bringing out the best of the man, setting him to painting, sculpting, designing elaborate court festivals, weapons, buildings, and machinery. Leonardo's mind brought forth studies on geometry, mechanics, municipal construction such as canals, architecture from churches to fortresses, and yes, to flying machines. His workshop in Milan was a vortex of discovery and production as well as one of the most sort after homes for apprentices. It was here, in Milan, where The Last Supper was born and resides.

Leonardo left many an unfinished artwork, an uncompleted invention, abandoned and was thought, for a time, incapable of finishing what he began through some deficit of ability. But a study of him as a man finds instead one so full of ideas and conceptions, once the puzzle of one project was solved, if only in his head, the astounding intellect needed the stimulation of the next.

After the fall of Sforza, da Vinci traveled for many years, worked for a many and wide array of sponsors, including the despicable Cesare Borgia. His acquaintances included Niccolo Machiavelli and his travels took him as far as Constantinople. It was during these years that Leonardo's father passed and that Leonardo created the most enigmatic, most widely known painting in history, La Giaconda, or, as the world knows her, Mona Lisa.

For three years, from 1513 to 1516, Leonardo worked in Rome, ironically for Pope Clement VII, the son of the slain Giuliano de' Medici. It was in Rome that Leonardo took his anatomical studies to the extreme, doing so, as Michelangelo did in Florence, by dissecting cadavers. But the Pope looked unkindly on such a practice and forbade Leonardo to continue. The ever-reaching artist was ripe for the plucking by a powerful man obsessed with the best artists the world had to offer.

King Francois I (1494-1547, king of France from 1515 till his death) is, inarguable, the man we may look back to in gratitude for the museum now known as the Louvre, the once home of many a French king. So manic was Francois to have Leonardo, he granted da Vinci the station of Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect of the king. Francois' patronage provided Leonardo with a stipend and a manor house in Amboise, close to the Royal Chateau.

Leonardo brought Mona Lisa with him.

The relationship these two men shared was one of profound empathetic intellectual and cultural curiosity, a love of what could be and the ability to see the beauty in all that was. Even after suffering a paralysis in his right hand (possibly from a stroke), Leonardo continued to sketch and draw and teach, living well under Francois' care.

Leonardo da Vinci died on May 2, 1519 in his home in Clos Luce. Legend holds that King Francois was by his side, cradling Leonardo's head in his arms as the artist passed.

"There had never been a man born who  knew as much as Leonardo da Vinci," said Benevenuto Cellini, twenty years after da Vinci's passing.

What brought Leonardo the title of Renaissance man was his contributions to science, math, and architecture. He was a painter, sculptor, inventor, draftsman, musician, anatomist, inventor, and more, so very much more in terms of an example of the limitless possibilities of the human capability. As one of the great naturalists that ever lived, as a man who contributed to the betterment of all areas of life--especially in the realm of art--he is still revered and admired today, five hundred and sixty one years after his birth, deservedly so.

To this humble, striving artist, his inspiration--that from the smallest of seeds there may grow profound magnificence--will never be forgot, will forever be held in gratitude. I feel truly blessed to have him as a prominent character in my upcoming trilogy.

Happy Birthday, dear, dear unforgettable Leonardo!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


The ride out of Waterloo was serene, rolling green fields smattered with flowers flew by; old style windmills stood side by side with the new. The long, lean, lithe turbines stood as a distinct tribute to man’s evolving and growing scientific prowess. I find them beautiful and comforting in their promise for the future. We stopped off in Antwerp on our way to Amsterdam, a city little known to me with a mythical history I found fascinating.

Antwerp began around 970 as a border town of the German empire, today it is one of Belgium’s commercial centers. Located on the River Scheldt, which connects to the North Sea, Antwerp Port is one of the world’s largest, boasting busy cargo shipping and oil refineries. Diamond trading is one of the city’s most affluent businesses. Cruise ships make frequent stops in the city, which also offers a variety of sight seeing boat trips.

In the center of Grote Markt is the Brabo Statue made by sculptor Jef Lambeaux in 1877. A depiction of a naked well-built man, captured in the act of running, holding a large, severed hand in his, the work portrays the leading myth of the city’s name.

The most prevalent legend has it that a giant named Druoon Antigoon, who exacted severe tolls from passing ships, once controlled the River Scheldt. Silvius Brabo, a Roman soldier defeated the giant, cutting off his hand, and throwing it into the river, creating the name hantwerpen, or hand throwing.

A second myth contends that the giant, though indeed slain by Brabo, would demand severed hands for his toll, hence deriving the name hantwerpen. However American Historian John Lothrop Motley (1814-1877) contended that the name evolves from an’t werf, on the wharf, for the city’s location. Regardless of the origin, the hand is the official symbol of Antwerp and is found everywhere, in numerous forms, including chocolate.

Surrounding the sculpture that gives Antwerp its name are open-air cafes, City Hall and guildhouses. Most of the guildhouses where built in the late 1500s and are built in wood but use stone to imitate beams and pillars. This particular group of guildhouses is most notable for their variety; each fa├žade demonstrates a different height and rhythm and featuring glass and windows.

While in Antwerp, we paid a visit to the National Maritime Museum. The building itself was its most intriguing feature, looking like a castle out of a fairy tale.

The building is known as Het Steen, the Stone in Dutch, for it was one of the first buildings in the area to be built from stone. Construction took place around 1200 as fortification for the alluvial mound. During the reign of Charles V, during the early 1500s, the building expanded to include the chapel over the entrance. For almost three hundred years, mid 1500s to early 1800s, the building served as a prison. During the late 1800s more renovation took place, adding a neo-gothic style wing. Since 1952, Het Steen has been the home of the National Maritime Museum.

Het Steen is the only remaining structure of the city’s once vast fortifications. Located on the River Scheldt, the Bonaparte Dock, one of the oldest sections of the Antwerp port, is a ten-minute walk from the museum.

The material on display was…well…boring. Ship models, paintings of ships, navigation devices, lighthouses and all types of sailing paraphernalia filled floor after floor. Perhaps for people who did not live on the ocean surrounded by maritime history, which as Rhode Islanders we did, its presentations would spark more interest.

We spent too much time at this lackluster location, so it wasn’t all that surprising that a group of kids wandered off and could not be found when the leaders decided to gather earlier than advised. It was surprising to find that one of them was my son. My stomach painfully twisted into knots but it was not long before the group came into view. They had gone adventuring, impatient with the bland museum offerings and led by a young man, as white suburban as they come, who wanted to experience life on the edge.

Waiting for them was the line of teachers looking like security guards on a lock down, with the rest of the group lined up behind. My son’s expression turned sheepish as he approached, then turned down right chagrined as they received their stern talking to.

He came to me, an apology quick on his lips.

“You scared me,” I said, hugging him. I felt he had received all the chastising he deserved.

In the Grote Markt, we were set loose to shop and have lunch. The small square thrummed with activity; in the center pristine white tents cover fresh produce and flowers sellers, the fecund and vibrant aromas enticed the olfactory senses while the vivid colors captured the eye. Mom bought a couple of peaches that turned out to be juicy and flavorful (in this heat, on the road, if you couldn’t eat it quick, you couldn’t get it). In two different corners of the square, extravagantly costumed young people posed as living statues while our own young people tried taunting them into moving or speaking.

Back on the bus, we set off for Amsterdam, specifically the museum district. In one direction lay the Rijksmuseum, to the other, the Van Gogh Museum. Between them was a walking mall boasting a large fountain and pool as well as freestanding vendor stalls. Which museum to visit was an easy choice for me.

I first discovered Van Gogh shortly after college; I don’t remember how or where, it doesn’t really matter. The intense colors imprison me, the unfathomable depth drags me in and the indistinct shapes allow me to add my own perspective to the subject. I am empathetic with his tendency to the unconventional.

Like many, Van Gogh’s work is my favorite and his museum was a comprehensively pleasurable and satisfying experience. When I stood inches away from the Sunflowers, I could feel the tingle of a real thrill burst through me. His hands had created this, touched this. His work touched me as it always had, as I knew it would. In some pieces, I felt his madness and especially his despair in my heart and soul. In all I saw and felt his genius. How could they not recognize it in his own time?

From the museum district, we headed for our hotel, our final home for the last two nights of our trip. Once more the tension built palpably in the tight confines of the bus, but our expectations were kept undefined as we left the city area behind and made our way to the countryside. As meadows and farmland grew more and more and more prevalent, we had no idea what to expect.

The Hotel de Rijper Elanden is about a half hour's ride out of Amsterdam's city center. The rooms were spacious and well furnished. The hotel was large and sprawling. They had a massive dining room...reminiscent of the Great Rooms of historic eras...and offered buffet style dining, though by no means was it all you can eat and as a slow eater among teenagers, much was gone before I had had my fill.

Here we finally had some English television stations to choose from but again we had no air conditioning It wasn't an overly bug-ridden area so we kept the single, small window open. There wasn't much of a breeze but what there was brought in the pungent fecund odor of the farm animals that stood all around the hotel, animals sweltering in the continuing heat wave.

Our favorite part of these hotel accommodations was the shower. Unlike other showers encountered on this magnificent, maniacal journey, the problem wasn't with the configuration of the door; here there wasn't any. That's right, no door, no enclosure of any kind. The bathroom was large and completely tiled. In one corner was the sink and toilet, in the other the shower and a drain in the floor. The shower head was mobile and could be used as a hand-held which proved quite interesting if it was held at the wrong angle. I found it ironically amusing that a bath-mat was provided. Where in this all-in-one bathroom and shower would it belong?

Though the hotel could not boast a pool, it did have a splendid moat replete with fountains, one that encircled the hotel and offered paddle-boats. Watching a group of dear girls enjoy their time on such a boat, enjoy with unencumbered abandon, was one of those 'moments' I will always treasure.

There are times when receiving something greatly desired is almost like a tease, a footnote forever reminding one of what could have been, So it was with our guide for our last day.

Ms. L was a young American attending college in Amsterdam. She was bright, personable, witty, energetic, and attractive, everything one could dream about in a tour guide. We had her for one day. Oh, the irony abounds.

As we headed for our first destination of the day, L tried to tell us about the country we were in. Unfortunately this was our grump, suddenly garrulous bus driver's homeland. He obviously--well, in his mind anyway--knew more than L did and continually took the PA away from her to grunt out all of his knowledge. I give him a great deal of credit for speaking more than one language; it's certainly more than I am capable of, but we couldn't understand him. And, because of him, we did get to listen to L.

The day started early as there was a lot still to do and see. Our first stop proved to be another emotionally charged, forever to be remembered moment.

The Anne Frank house looks much like I had always pictured it, ore remembered the pictures from school. I don't remember how many times I had read her diary during my school years; it was a more than a few.

The house and many of its contents have been pristinely preserved and the presentation of information is easily accessed, education and poignant.

In her own words, Anne Frank wanted nothing more than to be a writer, to enlighten and entertain with her words. In this, I completely identify; how well I understand and recognize the need and desire. Yet, being among the startling reality described in the stark imagery of her words, I wondered if perhaps, in comparison, the events of her life make my own tribulations--as dark as they are--truly trivial.

It was a solemn place, one of reverence, much like Normandy, even the most giggly of girls was subdued by the ambiance of our surroundings. My mother, herself a young girl when Anne was living under these oppressive conditions, empathized especially. A siren, the distinctly European siren, went off and for a sliver of time, she felt a wave of panic, one not unlike what Anne herself must have felt at the raucous, threatening sound.

I would be remiss were I not to mention lunch that day. As been noted, I was drastically underwhelmed by the food throughout the trip. But not that day; not that meal. For lunch and free time we traveled to the village of Volendam. The pretty seaside area boasted a large marina where many an impressive yacht lay berthed to its pilings. Along the shore are gift shops and restaurants, fairly reminiscent of my own splendid Newport, Rhode Island. L had been given the chance to tell us about a local delicacy, krokets and Vlaamse frits and we were determined to try both.

Among the plethora of cafes and bistros lining the narrow, partially cobbled main thoroughfare, we found one with small tables outside under a brightly stripped awning that offered both dishes, together in fact, as well as a menu in English.

The food was a delight; the hard crunch of the breaded and deep fried outer portion of the kroket, which legend holds was a favorite of Louis XIV, coupled with the uniquely flavored meat ragout filling was a burst of magnificent flavors and textures in the mouth. The Vlaamse frits (yes, French fries to you and I) were like nothing I've ever tasted. Much of historical data indicates that these potatoes, by whatever name you may call them, originated in Belgium, where, some few hundred of years ago, some one decided to slice up potatoes and deep fry the slivers. But what makes the Amsterdam version so special (worthy of mention in Pulp Fiction) is the process that gives them their unique taste and texture. Deep friend at a low temperature they are then frozen. When ordered, they are once more deep friend and served with mayonnaise (do not scoff until you've tried it). The process gives them greater crunchiness and flavor throughout.

From there we were off to Zaanse Schans, a quaint tourist attraction in Holland. There we found a clog exhibit (including this giant one here holding my son and me), a cheese exhibit (my son found Nirvana), and a windmill farm stretching as far as the eye could see.

The ride to Amsterdam was equally as short. Our guide first brought us to an open market, one much like a flew market in the US except, of course, for the abundance of cannibus memorabilia and accessories. At first I questioned the logic of bringing a large group of high school students to such a place, but as we strolled about the normalcy of its presence becomes clear. To visit this country, one has to see it and accept it for what it is. But then again, one need never return either.

Just walking through Amsterdam is a bit of exercise. Winding throughout the city like the veins of a powerful heart, are the bicycle paths used by the majority of its inhabitants. On these paths the pedestrian crosses at their own peril for it is the bicycle that has the right of way. And though the driver may see you, may in fact be staring at you as they head straight for you, it is clear they won't be moving to avoid any collision. Your survival is your own. I wonder what the point system is.

As we walked from one section of the city to another (pictured here, on the 'nice' side of the city is the Theater Tuschinski, built in the 1920s, it is the location for most Dutch film premiers) the character of the historical metropolis was stark and glaring. It was dirty in both sense of the word: the filth, litter, and garbage--piles of it--are everywhere. And so is the sleeze. The sex, drugs, the seedier side of life is offered as readily as fruit from a farmer's market. The faces of those who come looking for it reflect their not so quiet desperation, their frantic search to find something, anything, to fill the holes in their souls. But there is nothing on these crowded, desolate streets, where the stench of despair hangs thick and heavy, save hollow, temporary satisfaction.

Going home, no matter how wonderful the journey, is always sweet; the familiar and the loved beckon no matter how strong the wanderlust may be.

The return trip was thankfully as free of glitches, for the most part, as the outbound and Lufthansa Airlines is firmly one of the most efficient and well-serving. You could see the fatigue and exhaustion, the longing for home as clearly on the young faces as on the old yet somehow their exuberant spirits could not be denied. Even during the long plane ride home, as we followed the sun west and our internal clocks belied the brightness of the sky around us, their youthful ebullience kept the air filled with laughter.

I have been changed, completely and utterly by all I have seen and experience, by all I endured, and most especially, by all I came to know. I am most grateful.