Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mona Lisa, St. Helena and Caroline

I just read the most fascinating book -- "The Emperor's Last Island," by Julia Blackburn. It's about Napoleon's exile to St. Helena, a tiny volcanic speck in the vast South Atlantic Ocean. The British sent him there after the Battle of Waterloo, and Blackburn traveled to the island, said to be one of the most isolated spots on the planet. She described Napoleon's former home there, which apparently belongs to the French government and is maintained as a sort of museum, as well as the location of the tomb where he was buried after his death in 1821. (His body was later moved to Paris.)

I've always wanted to go to St. Helena, as well as its sister islands, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. They are not particularly close to each other, but they have common volcanic origins and I learned about them as a kid through stamp collecting. (They all issue stamps, mainly for export to collectors. Only a few hundred people live on the latter two islands, and finding a postally used stamp from any of them can be a challenge.)

I looked around online and found that flights are now available from the UK to Ascension, a somewhat barren rock used mainly for military and communications purposes. They apparently have a hotel and are trying to develop some tourism. St. Helena fosters tourism as well, but it doesn't yet have an airport -- so getting there involves travel on a Royal Mail ship! Getting to Tristan involves ships too and seems most difficult of all.

As we have discussed, I am always attracted by remote places, so I'm toying with the idea of someday visiting Ascension and/or St. Helena. I would love a place with few people, lots of hiking and interesting flora/fauna/landscape features! Maybe for my 50th birthday?

I met up last night with my Peace Corps friend Caroline, who is in London on business and who I haven't seen in years. We went to dinner and had a pint at a pub afterwards, laughing about our experiences in Morocco and catching each other up on news about our lives and those of our friends and acquaintances from that time. Seeing her was like leaping back in time!

(Photos: Mona Lisa, I believe, guarding a doorway near the Westbourne Park tube station.)


  1. Oh- how I love those re-connections! Perfect!
    I used to have a bamboo curtain like that Mona Lisa one but mine was of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She eventually fell apart but I loved her.
    Hell yes! Go wherever you want for your fiftieth birthday! Sounds wonderful in a sort of strange, adventuresome sort of way.

  2. I love it when my daily scan of a few selected blog sites provides me with something so interesting that I find myself looking further into the subject. That is exactly what this post did for me this morning. I had never heard of any of these islands so I was off trying to learn more. Wow, they are very remote. I'm trying to imagine living in such a remote place. It conjures up all kinds of images and fuels my imagination. It makes me think of that little Pacific kink in the time zone where it's noon Thursday in Hawaii and noon Friday on Kiritimati even though the islands are on practically the same longitude and only separated by 1300 miles. Okay, I better stop exploring now and get some work done.

  3. Mona Lisa shows up everywhere!

    St. Helena sounds fascinating but I don't do ships/boats! :)

  4. Had several of those reunions myself last weekend.

  5. I love this post -- the two photos, the ruminations, the names of those islands. I think I'd go to Ascension, first. What a fantastic name for a place!

  6. The first time I learned about St.Helena was when I finished reading War and Peace. My ex-husband was an expert on everything Napoleon...I still have many of his military miniatures from the Prussian and Russian wars. Really interesting stuff! And now I just may have to start photographing this miniatures!