The Recorder – World traveler celebrates common humanity: photos of Greenfield woman decorate her home

The walls of Flo Stahl’s living room in Greenfield are adorned with large framed photographs she has taken throughout half a century of world travel. The images are displayed next to a large world map dotted with red and blue push pins.

“The blue pins represent places that I have visited that are in the United States or claimed by them,” she said.

The red pins indicate more than 30 other countries visited by Stahl.

Several framed newspaper clippings also indicate a rich history of political life and professional adventures. In the early 1970s, Stahl achieved a number of “firsts” in the municipal government of Avon, Connecticut, including being the first woman elected to what was then known as the Board of Selectmen, now called Town Council.

On another wall is a large metal sign – AVON RESUME – which graced the successful CV business that Stahl founded and operated in Avon for over thirty years.

She began her travels around the world with a trip to Russia (then known as the USSR) in her late forties. Her most recent trip was in 2018, at the age of 87, when she traveled to Iceland with a group led by Dr Richard Little, Professor Emeritus at Greenfield Community College.

Stahl has traveled both solo and in groups, often with an organization called the Friendship Force, founded in 1977 by Jimmy Carter around the time he became the 39th President of the United States.

Still active today, Friendship Force International is a non-profit organization whose mission is “to improve intercultural relations, cultural diplomacy, friendship and intercultural skills through host families”.

Stahl has stayed with Friendship Force members in many different countries and returned the favor by welcoming people to her home in Avon.

“I was also involved in a group called Road Scholar, which used to be called Elderhostel,” she said. Road Scholar is a United States-based organization that provides educational travel programs primarily for seniors.

“Each country has its own beauty”

Stahl’s photographs evoke journeys that showed him “not to be afraid of people from other cultures and to welcome differences”.

She added: “Each country has its own beauty, but I also understood that people all over the world are more alike than different when it comes to emotions, reactions and instincts.”

Stahl came alive while providing details of her travels and the resulting images that decorate her home. Her clear eyes moved lovingly among the photographs.

At 90, Stahl is in great shape, thanks to a life of activity. Her silky silvery hair reaches the top of her shoulders. Often possessed of a serious and thoughtful face, she is also quick to smile and laugh.

Most of the large photos are of surprisingly good quality, despite Stahl insisting, “I used regular cameras, nothing special. I have no formal training as a photographer.

When asked what types of cameras she uses, Stahl skillfully moved into another room, reappearing with a small package. “Let’s see,” she said, “mostly I used this one,” producing a Fujifilm Panorama 312 Zoom.

“And later this one,” noted Stahl, revealing a smaller General Electric (5X optical zoom) 8.0 megapixel E850.

“Standard cameras, the bigger one using real film,” she said. “Oh, look what I found at the bottom of the bag.” She held up a film cartridge with a smile, adding, “Do you remember that?”

Memorable images

Stahl only appears in one of the travel photos that adorn her walls: an image of her holding a young orangutan while standing next to another woman.

“I went to Borneo in 1990,” she said, explaining that the woman was her Filipino guide. “The orangutan was about 2 years old. Every time I look at this photo, I remember exactly what it was like to hold this wonderful being in my arms. She was very relaxed, as she was used to being held by visitors.

A triptych of images from the Czech Republic stands out. The representation in the center is a lithograph showing a section of 15th or 16th century Prague, and is flanked by two photos taken by Stahl while in that city.

“Do you see this church? Stahl said, describing the solitary steeple in the lithograph with his finger. “I took a photo of this same structure in 1997, almost 500 years after the second bell tower was added.”

The magnificent building is “Church of Our Lady before Týn”, built in the Gothic style in 1256. “Týn” is the name of a court which was visited by merchants, the usage deriving from an ancient word for “fencing”.

The second bell tower shown in Stahl’s photograph was added in 1511; the twin arrows rise to over 250 feet.

The other photo Stahl took in Prague’s Old Town appears to have been taken from a low-flying plane or drone. But Stahl explained, “I picked it up while standing on the top floor of one of the other old buildings featured in the lithograph. What a spectacular sight.

With a shudder, she added, “These pictures represent so much history.”

Animals in the wild

In 1998, Stahl captured an image of the famous Victoria Falls – which straddles Zimbabwe to the west and Zambia to the east – from the Zimbabwe side. She spent a month camping with a group in a Zimbabwe national park that year.

Pointing to a wonderful photo of an elephant taken at sunset, she said: “I was so happy to take this photo because it was dangerous to be outside at night and – shortly after taking the photo – we had to go back to our tents. “

She added: “One day, towards the end of the dry season, I spent hours on a raised wooden platform near a waterhole, overlooking the savannah. Many different animals came to the water, and when the elephants arrived, I was ready with my camera. The photo also shows a number of gazelles, which appear to be overshadowed by the massive elephants.

“Do you see the dark spots in the water?” Stahl said, moving closer to the picture. “They are mudfish. They burrow into the mud as the water level drops. As we watched the scene, a baby elephant was surprised by the beating of the mudfish. The baby cried out, making an incredible sound.

World travels

Stahl took a photo of the Eiffel Tower on New Years Day 2001, pointing his camera through the closed window of a moving bus.

When the photos returned from the developer, Stahl was amazed to see that she had managed to get a perfect shot of the sun setting behind the Paris monument. “I had no idea I would get this wonderful image. I just point my camera and click! “

A 2004 photo, taken by Stahl in western China, shows a garden in Dunhuang. “I stood in the lobby of our hotel and noticed that the garden was beautiful when viewed through a set of sophisticated doors.” Stahl’s perceptive eye allowed him to see something the others might miss as they rushed past.

“On our way to the Gobi Desert in northern China and Mongolia,” said Stahl, “we got to see the famous terracotta soldiers,” referring to the many sculptures unearthed in 1974 by farmers from the Chinese region of Shaanxi. The life-size figures represent the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, who was buried with the sculptures around 210 BCE, on the assumption that he would be protected in the afterlife by the awe-inspiring figures. .

Stahl has embarked on many trips “because I love natural history and am always curious about how people from other cultures live. It is a deep yearning for me, and I was so lucky to live my dream.

When a visitor marked various pins on the map, Stahl responded with short thumbnails or impressions of various locations.

In Greece, Stahl was stunned by “mythology, history and places like the Parthenon”. Borneo’s tropical rainforests captured his imagination as easily as world-famous landmarks like the Pyramids of Egypt and the Panama Canal. The great Inca ruins of Machu Pichu in Peru deeply moved Stahl, as did Iceland’s geothermal pools.

“Incredible planet”

Closer to home, Stahl found much to inspire and interest him; she worked on an archaeological dig in South Dakota, where the behemoths roamed.

She misses trips and would like to have traveled to more African countries.

“What an incredible planet we live on,” Stahl said, “and the point is, we could all share it peacefully. I think we could, if we made that choice.

After a pause, she continued, “I really don’t remember a place where I didn’t feel welcome. The bureaucratic obstacles of the mid-1970s in the USSR were difficult. But overall, what I have learned from my experiences is that it is a tragedy to see our planet as a place where differences are to be feared. Suspicion is so common now, but I saw it wasn’t necessary. I lived it. People everywhere are lovely.

Stahl’s words take on special meaning in the darkness of the year, as humans await the return of the light.

Eveline MacDougall is the author of “Fiery Hope”. She would like to receive home and garden story tips from readers: [email protected].

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