Europe, Part II

This is the second part of the European Vacation salvage from 2014. The previous post is Part I.

 

An ancient bathroom throne.

We drove out through a couple of small villages on the way to the abbey and even stopped at what looked like an American flea market. I was taken aback by the wondrous old tools and the brass and copper items. I was not even tempted to buy anything. I’d have to get it home. And that ain’t happening.

What did impress was the width of the streets the the towns. Some were–and this is no exaggeration–narrower than my driveway. But the locals drive them. We drove them. We were not comfy.

I’m still fighting a cold and it’s getting late, so I’m going to bed. Toodles.

Even the village streets are decorative.

I will not say “Touchdown, Jesus!” Promise.

Wanna drive this?

Sonya in the Whisper Room at the abbey.

Gratitude: A Bunch of Things

Today, I am grateful for:

When I have a cold, it’s difficult to find much to be grateful for, but I believe that is the time I most need to practice gratitude. So let me do this:

I’m grateful I get to see my darling grandgirl Madeline (and her family) in less than a week.
I am grateful that my cold is better.
I am grateful to be out of big cities and in lovely rural country.
I am grateful for the rich and natural welcome the French, Dutch, Scottish and Irish have given us. I am certain the Spanish will be their equal over the weekend.
I am grateful we are traveling by car for a while. I like the idea of mass transit. The delivery is not quite as invigorating.
I am especially grateful to be losing weight and not to be hungry. I’m having to force myself to eat. I hope that continues. I’d love to weigh 175 again.
I am grateful for this elegant old French home we are staying in. We move across the way in a couple of days to occupy one of the other buildings. It’s pretty, too.
I’m grateful the goats here like me. I thought maybe the old black alpha male would whack me with his four-foot horns, but he’s an old sweetie.

A Day of Solemn Recovery

This is part of the compound we’re staying in. It’s two doors down. Beautiful?

Yep. Even in France.

I took the day off yesterday. Like OFF. I slept a good portion of it, but did wind up walking for about an hour and a half and getting a few photos, all on the farm here.

Sonya drove about 30 minutes or so and found a narrow path up the back side of a mountain that overlooks a huge, sprawling, ancient castle. I was impressed she did the very difficult climb over a narrow trail (all roads in France seem narrow to me, even the footpaths). She was energized enough to cook a good dinner for us last night of salmon, pasta and grilled veggies. It was the first food I had eaten–save for half an orange and a banana–in two days.

You know, I’ve taken something like five major trips in my life and come down with a nasty cold halfway through three of them. I don’t know what it is unless my body simply doesn’t like being away from its natural comfort zone. In the future, I will limit my trips–providing I have enough money after France to take any–to a week. Not a minute more. That’s enough for me.

We’re going to venture out today to see what we can stir up. This place is simply covered with castles and small villages that are quite lovely. The country French people are as lovely as their surroundings, as well. I’m finding that I truly like Europeans because they seem to have a firm grip on what life means. I have no clue, but I like to watch them.

After about 10 days on the road, Leah Weiss asked me if I was homesick yet. “No,” I said. I’ve discovered that comes on the 14th day for me.

Here’s some of what I saw yesterday.

The grape fields are going into their fall color mode.

Individually the grape leaves look like this.

These sprigs held grapes.

When I was young, I built rock walls like this. Now I just admire them. It’s easier.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cooling My Heels on the 13th Day

The building materials in France look fine, last a long time.

This has been a day of snoozing and reflection, trying to shake this sore throat and travel weariness. I sometimes forget how old I am and try to go at a teen-ager’s rate of speed for too long. It catches me and forces a slowdown.

Who’s your daddy?

The cold has had something of a good side effect: I seem to be losing weight. I haven’t been really hungry since I’ve been here and yesterday I didn’t eat at all. I’ve had a banana and half an orange today and it’s nearly 5 p.m. Not a big hungry. But I’m loving the solitude. Sonya took the car and headed off on an adventure. My guess is she will find a castle with a gift shop and get lost in shopping for old stuff.

I’ve come to some distinct conclusions about travel, something I’ve ever much liked. I still don’t like the travel. I do like the destinations, especially when they are like Northern Ireland and Southern France. The big cities are great for 24 hours. Not a minute longer for my taste. Far too much stress and hassle.

The people all over Europe–the ones we’ve met–are divine. We were struggling through the Paris Metro yesterday and several times, Frenchmen simply nudged Sonya aside, picked up her bags, smiled and lugged them up the steep steps for her without a word. Such a sweet gesture. Neither of us knew what to say beyond “merci,” which didn’t seem enough.

Can I eat these? Prob-ly not.

I will never pack big again, no matter what I’m told. Small is good. Small is excellent when you’re lugging those damn bags through big crowds or trying to squeeze onto a subway or a bus. I have not worn half the clothes I brought, nor will I. I’m leaving half this crap at my son’s house, so when I return, I won’t have to bring much at all.

I will remember to take time for myself on a daily or every-other-day basis. Sonya and I get testy with each other because we both live alone and we’re living together right now with people we’re not married to or romantically involved with. Friction is inevitable and I think we both know that. Today’s solitude has been a godsend.

I’m going for another walk. I think it could help my appetite and maybe when Sonya gets back, I can eat with her.

Freshly plowed fall field.

This is our charming living room.

Do goats really climb trees. Not so much.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Return to the Tragi-comedy of All-Day Travel

This is our bungalo on the farm.

There was a point this afternoon when the tragi-comedy was swirling that I took out my note pad and began jotting this all down. There was an Laurel and Hardy routine sitting there waiting to be snapped up.

The farm’s owner lives here.

 

This trip has had more snafus than the 8th Army, but this was ridiculous, Ollie. Sonya was standing at the Enterprise car rental counter in the small French coastal town of Brasiers (OK, cut the cute jokes), telling the clerk that we had walked half a mile uphill in the hot sun  dragging our ridiculous bags (I’ve learned my lesson, Leah; promise) to Avis. The Avis lady told us the car had been rented through Enterprise.

We trudged back down the hill to Enterprise where the clerk was away from the office–bathroom break, I’d guess–and upon return, he said he’d found the reservation but the car was at the airport–16 km away–and not at the train station where he operated. The cab ride to the airport was 30 Euros–about $40.

This old boy is part of a good-sized herd.

 

This came on top of what was already developing as The Day Hell Forgot. We’d awakened early (me 7, Sonya 8) this  morning so we could get a jump on the 10 a.m. strain from Paris to Aude Cathar County in the French wine country. We had rented a half of an old house here for a few days and were looking forward to getting out of the city, the stress and the unaccustomed large crowds. I knew this was going to be a slog.

First, we had to go half a mile through complicated Paris streets to the Metro. That meant arranging and carrying all that baggage. It meant climbing flight after flighty of steps at the Metro station. It means pushing the bags out of the train before we were trampled and getting a seat on the high-speed train before it took off. All doable, but we’d be cutting it close. That, of course, translates to stress, a constant companion on this trip. We finally got it all done. Sonya has said more than once, “It ain’t always pretty, but I always get it done.” Yep, true so far.

Just up from our bungalo.

 

So, we are totally tied up on the train for four hours arriving in this amazing county and we begin the absurdly complex trek out to the farm, where grapes and a number of animals live with an Englishwoman named Jilly, her son Oliver and her Iranian husband. Off the road and on the way to the farm, my jaw dropped and stayed there. Tomorrow morning, I will take the camera out. Tonight, I’m simply too tired and the light is gone. Sonya took me out to the front steps a bit ago to look at the stars. I’d forgotten there are so many.

LET ME MENTION that on the way to the South, we continually came across France’s dependency on fuels other than oil, coal and the like. We saw huge nuclear reactors and giant wind generator farms all over the place in this wine county. France is just so damn civilized.

IT’S SATURDAY now and I took a bit of a walk this morning to get some photos in the glorious South France light, but alas, it’s overcast. I’m still feeling puny, so I asked Sonya to head out on her own today and I’ll stick with the farm, do some hiking here and try to catch up with my cold, which is keeping me up for much of the night. My guess is that Sonya will enjoy a day of solitude and privacy. I will, too. Close quarters like this cause a strain on even the closest relationship. I once spent 10 days on a sailboat in the Bahamas with some very good friends and by the ninth day, we could have all killed each other. This is Sonya’s and my 13th day.

Scenic, but not especially useful.

The kitchen window.

The black dude’s brown buddy.

This is the lock on our front door. Love it, or what?

 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

One Final Look at the City of Light

It was an overcast and gray day in the City of Light today, but what we saw in downtown Paris was anything but dull. It is, indeed, a lovely city, one of a kind and its charm and allure are undeniable.

My first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower was almost breath-taking, although I have seen it thousands of times in photos and film. The real deal is, as Sissy Spcaek once said of Loretta Lynn ,”Real real.”

Our day revolved around seeing rather than doing–although getting around is a pretty good case of “doing.” We had a couple of requests from friends to take photos of “a perfume factory” and “a used bookstore,” which I did, and to “bring me back some Paris dirt,” which I gathered at a huge garden in downtown. My pals should be happy. I also picked up goodies at both Chanel and the Shakespeare Bookstore for the writer of the two.

We ate a wondrous late lunch at a small bistro across from Notre Dame (I never could find the football stadium) and I don’t believe I’ve ever had a quiche that was in this league (salmon). I also had my first French croissant. It was out of this world.

Don’t have much time to write tonight because we have to get ready for the trip to the South tomorrow. Here are some photos of the sights, sounds and faces of Paris today, including one from a wondrous food market on the street we ran into accidentally on the way home. Enjoy.

The Eiffel Tower stands watch over the City of Light.

Pampa at Chanel, Mecca to many women.

Shakespeare Bookstore across from Notre Dame.

Pampa does a book-look.

Paris cops are everywhere.

Sonya walks through the outdoor market which was noisy, colorful and wondrous.

Boats on the Seine.

Pampa eats his first croissant

Smoking girls near the Seine.

Sonya in Chanel showroom. This place is the essence of glamor.

Shoes for the rich.

Mom helps a little girl.

Style of the street.

Chanel shopper scores.

Even the fences are special in Paris.

Motorcycles are everywhere.

Eiffel from the Plaza.

Another exotic vehicle.

Lovers beside the Seine.

This Californian said she was trying to blend in, so nobody would suspect she was a tourist.

Street merchant in downtown Paris.

Tourists trying to find their way.

Downtown lunch.

I love this old man’s look.

Sweeping out the street near a cafe.

Portraiture downtown.

Waiting for the light to change.

Old lady driving fast.

Guess where she’s from?

Bet you didn’t know I love redheads.

One last homage to Paris.

 

Finding a Solution to Our Differences

My friend Roland Lazenby posted a piece from Daily Kos that I just caught up with, having to do with the GOP’s attitude that the poor are that way because they choose to be. As Rush Limbaugh would say, “Screw ’em.”

That’s a sick, narrow, troubled view from a party that reflects its own illness daily. I’m traveling through several countries that seem to have solved that kind of unhealthy attitude. Europe has its problems, but I haven’t detected the kind of hatred for the poor mentality some have in the U.S. Despots have used that type of ignorance to their advantage through the ages, solidifying the rich, repressing everybody else and having those in the middle blame those at the bottom for their lack of progress.

I am especially impressed these days with the way the Netherlands works. Northern Europe is mostly socialist and on the surface it is expensive. But those countries traditionally rank with the Top 5 happiest people in the world. They are safe, secure and content and their governments work their butts off to ensure that state exists. I’m not sure how expensive safety and security should be, but my guess is you can’t put a price on it … though the GOP would certainly try.

Our government’s primary purpose of late seems to be splitting us into ever widening factions–guns, abortion, health care for all, healthy food, smoking, dirty energy, living big, and the like. We hate each other because of beliefs, rather than searching for ways we can make those beliefs work together.

I am basically opposed to both abortion and a population out of control. I accept abortion because, first, it is not my right to take away a woman’s choice, and second because our population is out of control–it is the world’s No. 1 problem. All other problems stem from population. I believe I can talk to those who oppose and those who support abortion, but the response I get will not always be thoughtful and understanding, one willing to consider options.

And that’s simply too bad. I have no solution to our differences. But our Northern European brothers and sisters seem to have found one.

 

Gratitude: Staying Positive

Today, I am grateful for:

A positive attitude in the face of challenges that could turn days into dust. We’ve had a difficult, stressful 10 days in Europe. There have been delicious payoffs, as well, that would have been nearly impossible to appreciate without being able to absorb the situations travel–this much travel–put us in.

I am grateful that I can maintain an even temper–most of the time–despite the challenges. Losing my head helps nothing.

 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Looking at Paris My Way

Paris today in the rain. This is exactly what it looks like.

No comment needed.

 

Today’s trip to the Musee d’Orsay (the Big M’O, according to the French) was almost uneventful–certainly when compared to recent adventures–but we did, indeed, have a problem figuring out how to buy our subway tickets. Sonya and I nearly came to blows, but a kindly African-Parisian came to the rescue. Sometimes the people in this city and the other cities we visited have delighted me with their kindness.

I fell in love with this kid.

Anyhow, the museum was a real highlight, playing to my interest in the works and lives of the impressionists and post-impressionists. Of course, we weren’t allowed to shoot any of the works inside, but it’s the streets of Paris that interest me in any case. Here are some of the shots I took today.

I was impressed at the number of college classes that were being held inside. Lots of intimate discussion going on over some famous works.

The Seine has been an interest of mine since I was a kid watching Film Noir. I took off for a walk down its banks while Sonya visited the museum shops and I found what I wanted: rain, lovers, atmosphere, Paris.

Look close. I’m under the waiter’s arm.

There’s a lot of graffiti and it’s generally gorgeous.

Animated Parisian woman in front of the color.

This sad woman was panhandling.

Merchant on the walkway along the Seine River.

Sonya loves this cat.

Plumber’s butt with Speedo tan.

Paris can be extremely colorful.

I will refrain from comment.

More Paris, more rain, more beauty.

The bistros get busy, even in the rain.

The editor at lunch in a palace. Really.

Sonya outside the Big M’O.

Lunch was in this room. Sigh.

Pampa meets the River Seine.

Inside the Museum d’Orsay, there is  place to collapse. It is often needed.

Lovers walking along the river Seine. Ahhhhhhhh.

I like this shot a lot. It feels like the Paris I saw today.

Inside the sculpture hall at the Musee d’Orsay.

Tour boats tie up here.

Bike rental is big and convenient in Paris (where biking is a risk).

Two views: The homeless reality of a modern big city against the Louvre.

The mosaic of bridges down the Seine.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Finally Paris … and More Stairs

This is downtown Paris. A lot of it looks like this. I couldn’t stop looking or photographing.

Cops rousting kids downtown.

We cruised into Paris about 2:30 p.m. (14:30 Parisians will tell you) and it was immediately mesmerizing.

We didn’t have a lot of time to get out before dark after we finally found our place and climbed the obligatory two flights of very steep, winding stairs with 4,000 tons of luggage. I hate luggage.

But we did take a run out to a grocery store in the ‘hood that was recommended and picked up some goodies for dinner. The neighborhood is African principally and Muslim secondarily. We walked probably seven to 10 blocks and found all kinds of ethnic twists and turns and one thing they all had in common was the presence of cops rousting teenagers. I must have seen four or five sets of three cops with a kid looking embarrassed.

The grocery run was a bit more difficult, since we don’t speak French and only one young woman in there did. But we got it all done, cooked ratatouille (I love it), pasta and salad with a wonderful French olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Good first din-din in Par-ee.

Here are a few pix from today.

View from the front apartment gate.

This is Brussels. In a hurry Brussels (as the train sped past).

More downtown Paris.

The buildings are ornate. Nearly all of them.

The streets were full of people at dusk.

I love he look of the woman on the right. One more view below.

 

Photo of the Day: Newsies

Saw this on the tram coming out of Amsterdam this morning. The young girl is surfing the net and the old man is getting his news the old-fashioned way.

 

What Do You Mean My Ticket’s No Good?!?

Busted: On a train near Rotterdam.

Sonya keeps talking about Mercury  being in “retrograde,” an astrological reference with an ill wind connotation. It means traveling will be a problem until about Oct. 24 and electronics could cause a headache, as well. I’m becoming a believer.

Today’s adventure involves train tickets that we discovered are two days out of date, some kind of glitch in making the reservations online. In short, they were no good. We got to pay the full price for those, then pay again in order to get to Paris. Doesn’t look like a refund is in the stars. We were sent to one place for a solution, then another and finally got a phone number.

The bad tickets were an interesting discovery. A 30-something couple came on the train and had tickets for our seats, for which we also had tickets. Only ours were dated Oct. 12 and theirs Oct. 14. Today’s the 14th. We were in their seats.

The conductor was direct, though a smidge confusing. Sonya thought he was throwing us off the train, but he actually gave us a choice of staying on—albeit in an alcove where comfort was not an option—or getting off in Rotterdam. We chose to wait in the “tipper, “ a couple of jump seats next to the baggage until Brussels, where we got to pick out real seats through to Paris.

I’ve been impressed with the train, which travels at upwards of 200mph through the lowlands and French bread basket. The wind turbine farms show France to be far ahead of us in that statement about wind power, and the farms are simply lovely in this flat country with few distinguishing marks.

As we entered France, the heavy overcast broke in favor of scattered clouds and a bright sky. Paris should be stunning in the late afternoon October light.

The bottom line for all the problems is that we’ll get to Paris pretty much on time and I got to see some windmills, both modern and ancient. I like the old ones best. Still, this little glitch will cost us double, somewhere in the neighborhood of what a plane ride would cost. The adventure continues.

A LITTLE LATER: We caught a cab from the train station to our apartment in what at one time could have been an upscale section. That was long ago, but it has a certain charm of its own and the apartment is just fine, owned by an exotic-looking Parisian. Sonya staked out the bed and I get a comfy sofa in the living room. I like this place.

We’ll venture out in a bit and see just how hospitable this place is. As we arrived at this apartment complex–with a heavy gate–a couple of cops were trying to calm a domestic dispute. It was more comic than threatening, but the gathered young men didn’t look innocent. We also encountered one con man at the airport and I thought we had another one with the cab, but he turned out to be OK. Guess we gotta be on the lookout while looking out.

Gratitude: A Willingness To Learn

Today, I am grateful for:

A willingness to learn and to keep resistance to a minimum. This trip has been a real slog–an exciting slog–one filled with the new and the challenging. I’m learning a lot about things that will serve me well in the future, I think.

There have been some difficult adjustments and some invitations to simply accept and move ahead, making the best of those things which make me uncomfortable. It isn’t easy, but it is possible and with that small open door, I will run through.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Who Needs Van Gogh? Not Pampa

A duo named Havin’ a Bubble entertained the kids with, well, bubbles.

Andy strings out the bubbles with his “machine.”

Big bubbles, little kids.

 

Overcast, dreary Holland was a sheer delight today, compensating for its clouds and its cool with color, art and fun in the park.

I began with an early walk, but the center focus today was to be Van Gogh’s museum, something Sonya was more excited about than I. I slogged through with her, though, and when we’d finished, I hauled out for the streets to find some excitement. Amsterdam seems to always have its fill.

The first discovery was a band called Compulsive Gambling, a duet of 20-somethings who sang and played the bejabbers out of some fine music. The singer, AnneFleur Schoch, is a delightful young woman who said the band’s newest album is due in two weeks. They have a website (compulsive gambling.de) and you can give a listen.

Pampa digs bubbles, too.

Irishman Andy and his partner Karlota entertained the kids with their bubble “machine,” which was a webbed rope, dipped in water and detergent. It made huge bubbles and one splashed on the lens of my Canon. The kids love them and Andy says you can see what they do at their website (just type in the name and Google will do the rest.

One of the coolest adventures featured a kid named Marco Johnsen who was giving away hugs. “No, it’s not a job,” he said, smiling. I got it. Marco was thoroughly enjoying himself.

We wound up the day with a one-hour tour of the canals of the city, which was an informative feast for the eyes. Amsterdam is as pretty a city as I’ve ever seen.

We’re going to Paris in the morning and I have to pack. Or is it unpack? Hell, who knows, but I gotta go. Thanks for looking in.

This is Compulsive Gambling, picking and singing.

My new buddy Anne-Fleur belts one out.

Marco Johnsen plants a hug on me.

Pampa sits in a national symbol.

Cruising along the canal in Amsterdam.

Posted by Dan Smith at 2:51 PM No comments: Links to this post

Amsterdam, Where Bikers Rule

Gathering at a traffic light.

The bicycle culture here in Amsterdam is a strange combination of Dutch efficiency and derring-do. The bikers, in generally obey the rules, operate their bikes with an almost professional skill of handling and are courteous.

They also text while riding, whiz through tiny openings in negotiating other bikes, ride with hoodies through intersections not looking anywhere but straight ahead. It seems to be a situation made for accidents, but the riders don’t even wear helmets, so the wreck must be the rare exception.

Trams and bikes co-exist.

I met an ex-pat American on a tram yesterday who talked about how the clean Dutch “drain the canals in the city every two months or so” and said, “You should see all the bikes they take out every time.” I don’t know if that means the riders accidentally drive into the canals or if they just get mad and toss them occasionally. The ex-pat did say, however, that “the canals look really clean, but they aren’t. I pulled out a cup of water when they were newly filled once and it was darker than my beer.”

Back to the bikes: I’ve never seen so many or such variety. The Amsterdam residents call themselves “the bicycle capital of the world” with good reason. I have no idea how anybody ever finds his specific bike because there are so many on so many racks, but they do. The variety is wild. Moms carry their babies–I mean BABIES–in cribs built into bikes, there are huge grocery bins at the front or back. There are comfy seats for doubling up and double-wide bikes for two people (side-by-side, not front-to-back). The colors form the spectrum with many bikes being obviously hand-painted and decorated

They have specific, and large, bike lanes on both sides of the street, each going one way. If you walk into the red bike zone, you’d better watch your butt because they zoom along at 15 to 20 mph and some don’t seem to be looking for anything.

The one fact I have to remind myself of is that these one-speed bikes of all sizes, shapes and prices are not recreation machines. They are modes of transportation. I checked prices in a bike shop this morning on my early walk and they ranged between 129 Euro (about $1.50 to 1E) to about 1,200 Euro. The 129 Euro looked pretty stable, but not fancy. Certainly serviceable.

In any case, I’ve yet to see anybody hit anything, so maybe the subtlety escapes me. I expect so. These lovely people are quite skilled.

Posted by Dan Smith at 4:33 AM No comments: Links to this post

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Beautiful Day in Beautiful Amsterdam

This is me at the harbor. Don’t know what the sign’s for, but it seemed right.

Bike attire.

Amsterdam smacked me between the eyes today with just about

Bike shoes.

everything I want–at first glance, anyway–in a city. It is bright, clean, imaginatively erected, colorful, historic, an architectural masterpiece, a biker’s haven, filled with boats, almost devoid of cars, home of a crackerjack public transportation system, diverse as any place I’ve ever been and almost as friendly as Ireland.

The prevalence of bicycles and the absence of cars was the first eyebrow-raiser. I knew this was the capital of the world for bikes, but I had no idea a big city like this would have so few cars. Public transportation is wonderful and with the flat landscape, dang near everybody rides bikes. I understand cars are prohibitively expensive to own, so that would help explain some of it. I love the variety, the color and the styles of bikes. They’re all over the place.

We’re in a small three-story flat downtown with a staircase that would make Alfred Hitchcock blush. We lugged those increasingly heavy bags up the steps early in the afternoon after flying over from Dublin and almost immediately went to the center of the city to the Eye Museum, where we had a late lunch, watched the boats and bikers and generally enjoyed being here. It is stunning and the unseasonable 60-degree weather brought out a large number of natives and guests.

I’m loving Holland and tomorrow I follow Sonya’s lead to some of its museums.
Add caption

This was the bike scene at the train station.

There are canals all over the city.

This is where we’re staying.

This represents driving and talking on the cell. I saw people texting.

Hitchcock’s stairwell.

Colorful kids downtown.

Hanging out on a pretty day.

More bikes at the canal.

A fairly typical street scene.

Sonya near the eye museum.

Amsterdam Central is breathtaking.

The old man in front of the extraordinary Eye Museum of art.

Dining hall at the Eye Museum.

Schooner passing during a late lunch.

Posted by Dan Smith at 2:59 PM 1 comment: Links to this post

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Challenging Day Rewarded in Dublin

Our bags outside the empty BnB door this morning.

Bertie Ahern, former head of state.

This one’s been a long day with highs and lows of equal merit and finishes with a flourish. We had a lot of fun after finding out that the Airbnb where we were staying in Dublin was not open to us. It’s a long story, but let’s just say we got stood up.

The jilt came after we took two long bus rides to the Dublin suburbs and showed up at the house at about 10:30 this morning. We made a call to find out what happened and were told we’d need to stay there–or do whatever we wanted–until about 5:30. We thought better of it and took a room near the airport at a Holiday Inn. We’d been up since 3 a.m. to get ready for the flight over to Dublin, where we will fly to Amsterdam tomorrow. We had decided on a chill-out day. The best laid plans …

Anyhow, the Holiday Inn not only worked out, helped round out our Dublin adventure because we got to tour downtown on the way over to the hotel and once there, we went for a walk in an historic park, ran into the former Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, the former Taoscieach (head of government, 1997-2008) at a football stadium at the park across from the Holiday Inn.

My first swan.

Great blue heron in the park.

I had stopped there to ask about the beautiful stadium, about 12,000 seats, and the young man I was talking to, after explaining that this was where a well-known group had played for some time, said, “There: The white-haired man is the former head of government.”A few minutes later, a woman in middle age gave an opinion of Bertie that was not so kind. “I wouldn’t even give him the time o’ day,” she said, when I asked if she thought I should go over and say hello. “He’s the one that put us in the fix we’re in.” Damn liberals.

I saw my first swan in the park and got a brief history, revealing that the park had been the estate of one of the privileged until the IRA burned it to the ground in the late 19th Century.

Found a real appreciation for Dublin on a day filled with challenge and fulfillment. But we leave tomorrow for another adventure. Seems Sonya has also adjusted our schedule to extend our stay in the South of France and trim our trip to Marsailles. Good move, I’d say.

This is near our hotel. Frank Gehry would love it.

These evergreens in the park are quite old.

A father and his children share a quiet moment under an old tree.

Sonya iPadding on the crosstown bus.

Posted by Dan Smith at 2:58 PM No comments: Links to this post

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Very Different Edinburgh Than Expected

This is Deacon Brodie and me in downtown Edinburgh today. Dr. Jekyl was based on him. Hmmm …

Today offered an interesting contrast in what was offered and what was expected of Edinburgh. What I saw–and it was limited pretty much to Old Town and getting there–was not anything like what I expected. This is Gatlinburg the Ancient, a tourist destination with some great old buildings, a lot of cheap stuff in the guise of expensive, must-have garb with the Scottish logo on it and a lot of Japanese tourists and damn nearly everybody snapping pictures with iPhones.

Little girl unicycles on the canal road.

It was not an unpleasant experience, but the constant shopping, which Sonya seems very good at and the city-street walking was tiresome. I actually enjoyed my lonesome morning walk a bit more.

Our flat is a couple of blocks from a canal that runs through the city and offers a picturesque look at a pretty city. It is Edinburgh’s greenway and it is travelled much the same Roanoke’s is: foot, bike, skateboard and even unicycle. Dogs are welcome. People pick up after their dogs.

We’re still battling the language barrier, the money barrier, the transportation barrier and at 4 a.m. Saturday, we have to leave for the airport to catch the 6:30 flight back to Dublin. Ryanair chooses your flight time after you book your flight, so this was given us, not selected. We have to catch a taxi to catch a bus to the airport, then in Dublin figure out how the hell we’ll get to the Airbnb early on a Saturday. Could be another challenge.

We decided tonight to take the day off as much as we can tomorrow and I welcome that. We’ve been going hard and the stimulation is exhausting. I’m sleeping well and Sonya says I barely snore at all, which cheers me. Maybe I have a future.

This dory was parked on the canal.

“Narrowboats” carry tourists on the canal.

Housing abuts the greenway near our flat.

More greenway housing and an Edinburgh sky.

Primary school at recess near the flat.

Sonya in a downtown phone book.

Not much surprise here. The guys rotated.

Pampa up top on a double-decker bus.

My new buddy.

Edinburgh Harbor from the castle.

Edinburgh Castle in the round.

Same castle, different view.

This castle guide was knowledgeable, enthusiastic.

Arthur’s Seat dominates the high skyline downtown.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sonya’s Photographic Adventures

Sonya climbed this fence to take a pix of the house. The lady approaching wondered, I think.

Sonya at Edinburgh Castle.

My traveling buddy Sonya Chappelear is the daughter of a professional photographer and she’s in a constant dither taking photos, regardless of where we are.

She photos sites, menus, clothing tags, curb and gutter, people, vehicles, spires, clocks … the whole deal.

Today, we ventured into Old Town Edinburgh, the pretty part (if you strip out the tourist ticky-tack, which makes it look more like Gatlinburg at times). Her iPhone was at the ready. She even bought a four-lens packet for it before we left Dublin yesterday.

Anyhow, she was climbing fences, stooping, sneaking around, doing the whole deal. Look for her Facebook posts. They’re there. She even shot some photos of me. And, of course, I shot some of her.

Sonya loves monuments.

This, of course, is my glamor shot of Sonya.

Posted by Dan Smith at 2:10 PM 1 comment: Links to this post

A Scottish Burger To Die For (Of)

So you think we have big burgers in the U.S., right? Well, yeh, we do. But not this big. This two pattie monster with chicken breast filet and big mushrooms on a bed of lettuce was being eaten by Jordan Duffy of Edinburgh today at lunch.

Jordan and his partner Taylor Bailey were eating one table over from Sonya and me today at Deacon Brodies Tavern in Old Town, a short walk from the Edinburgh Castle. I was mesmerized by the burger and began a conversation with Jordan and his newly-pregnant lady, a delightful young couple.

Seems Jordan works for a company that has invented a specific type of roof tile only available in a few places, but expanding rapidly. The tile is composed of recycled materials and is about as ecologically friendly as it can be. Not only do the the tiles insulate, but they are inexpensive to make (“They pay us to take the recyclable material,” says Jordan).

Jordan can afford the burger these days.

Posted by Dan Smith at 1:57 PM No comments: Links to this post

Gratitude: An All-Night Sleep

Today, I am grateful for:

Last night I slept straight through. Didn’t even get up to visit the loo in our modest flat in Edinburgh. Which may be a minor miracle. “I got up four times last night,” has a completely different meaning at 68 than it did at 28, but last night, I didn’t get up at all, for which I am delighted. Means I should be a bit fresher today.

Posted by Dan Smith at 4:18 AM No comments: Links to this post

The Confusing Division in the North

This is one of the roads we traveled in Northern Ireland. “Road” is generous.

The surface relationship between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is a curious thing. There is no border that I saw and when I asked about a border, I generally got a a tiny smile and a change in subject. They were partitioned by British Parliament in about 1955 during The Troubles when people in the North wanted to bring everybody together in opposition to England.

I don’t know if that indicated a sensitivity to the topic or a simple unfamiliarity with why there is no sign of a border. These are separate countries, not just states in a single country. They have different histories and have not always liked each other, primarily, I think because of religion (the north is primarily Catholic, the south Protestant).

In Northern Ireland, it’s miles for the highway signs and pounds for money; Irish Republic uses kilometers and the Euro. Those simple differences can be both confusing and inconvenient for a traveler and maybe even for a citizen. Kenny Martin lives near the dividing line in the Irish Republic. My guess is that has to keep two kinds of money with him, depending on where he’s going to spend it and he would need to pretty quickly be able to translate kilometers into miles (and kilograms into pounds–the weight, not the money).

Sarah McCloy, who was born in the North and attended a tiny protestant elementary school there until she was “six or seven” had to leave when her school was bombed and destroyed. She was raised in England and studied elocution. She has more of a refined British accent than an Irish brogue, but she is Irish through and through and harbors no obvious ill will toward those who hated her when she was a child. The healing seems genuine among the Irish, but the border? I just don’t know.

Sonya and I kept both pounds sterling and Euros with us, but our rental car (a little tin bomb that oversteered radically) showed us how fast we were going in km/h, while signs in the north gave speed limits in mph. we had to translate on the fly or simply follow the other traffic’s speed. We were later told that the Irish like to speed.

We’re in Scotland today where everything is uniform, including the school children in their blazers and pleated, tartan skirts. That will make it a smudge easier to negotiate and give us a little less to think about.

Posted by Dan Smith at 4:16 AM No comments: Links to this post

Thursday, October 9, 2014

On to a Working Class Neighborhood in Edinburgh

Here we are, arriving at our Edinburgh flat.

Sonya and I flew over to Edinburgh from Dublin earlier today and got an earful about Ryanair, the discount European airline. Seems the Irish–at least–have strongly mixed feelings about its inexpensive fares and its constant nickeling and dining.

Dinner at the pub.

I think we both agreed that the 45-minute flight was uneventful, clean, comfortable (we were on the exit aisle, so we had tons of leg room), but small amenities simply are not there. I don’t mind that at all. We did mind that it is so very difficult to book a flight, to pay for a flight, to download a ticket, etc. There seems to be a profit center in all that and it appears–I stress appears–that Ryan doesn’t want you to take the basics and leave the rest.

One woman in our airport bus sneered when we said, “Ryanair.” She dislikes the service, but said, “A couple of years ago I booked a $600 flight to London with three days’ notice. That was before Ryanair. Recently, I took the same flight for $230. That’s Ryan’s doing.”

In any case, we got what we wanted and we got it on the cheap. This is not a top-end vac a and considering the cost of things over 23 days is important. Tonight, we are on the second floor of a three-floor flat in downtown Edinburgh. It is a building constructed as part of an huge apartment project in the late 19th Century and it has the worn and beautiful look so common in Edinburgh, an old city by anybody’s standard.

Edinburgh loves red doors.

At Lou’s farm, we had separate quarters and separate loos (that’s a bathroom for those of you who aren’t as sophisticated as me). Here, we have a small room with two tiny (children’s?) beds and the loo is on the third floor up a narrow, winding stairway. Sonya and I, as I have mentioned, are not intimately involved and won’t be, but we can share sleeping quarters. This, though, might challenge us since I snore upon occasion. We’ll see.

On our bus ride over from the airport, which took 45 minutes, we kept looking for Edinburgh, but only saw a modern, business-y city with a lot of people in ties and suits catching the bus, which pretty well stayed full. The old city finally showed up as we neared our temporary flat. I’m deeply impressed with the public transportation here. Comfortable, cheap, fast and convenient. We need something like that in the states.

Our landlady is an easy-going 40ish Scot named Becky Smith (my sister’s maiden name) with a college-aged son, Brandon, whom she said might be a bit noisy upon occasion. Becky says her brother-in-law is Dan “but not Smith.” There is another boarder named Susan who is from New Mexico.

Becky sent us down to a nearby pub tonight and I jumped at the fish and chips, which were fine, if not over the top. Sonya did a burger. Good, she said. Our young waitress, a church music instructor by day, says she moved here from South Africa after her mom and dad split.

I’m getting jet lag and I miss Lou’s farm and those wonderful people. I think that feeling may linger for a while.

This is the street where we’re staying. Working class, old, comfy, Scottish.

Posted by Dan Smith at 3:55 PM No comments: Links to this post

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

More Fascinating People and a Trip to Carlingford

This old bucket sat in the bay at Carlingford.

This is not a toy.

The conversation has been swirling tonight. Joy Carroll, the New Zealander who is working on the farm, brought home her Irish boyfriend, a bright bohemian named Kenny Martin from Narrowwater Castle, about 20 or so miles south of the farm.

Kenny grew up during the most recent troubles, one of those who thought the bombings and killings in Northern Ireland were normal. He says almost all the family violence took place in Belfast because of the proximity of the Catholics (“I’m no longer practicing that”) and Protestants. There are/were walls separating them throughout the city, but they didn’t stop the violence.

Sonya at the castle door.

Kenny heard about British soldiers storming into nearby houses and rousing families into the street. “It grew old eventually, but at first it was exciting,” he says. He didn’t want to say a lot for general circulation because “I’m a private person,” but the war left scars on many people like Kenny, a man who has overcome it to a great degree. He’s an easy-going, talky, fun-loving man who makes fun of the fact that he’s short. And he has a serious political side that I like a lot.

Kenny trains people in the forest (“climbing trees, that sort of thing”) and is a personal trainer and a festival music professional. He went to art college and is a vegan, one who stood toe to toe with Sonya talking about GMOs and knowing a great deal about them.

Victoria, whom I mentioned earlier, sat with me for a while and talked of becoming interested in creative writing, especially the short story. She gave us the name of a friend who lives in Paris, very close to where we will be staying, and says the friend will get us inside the culture. I like Victoria. She’s smart, free and lives life her way. She seems balanced and happy.

Earlier today Sonya and I ventured down to a little village on the peninsula south of here called Carlingford. It’s small, charming and has what Ireland believes is one of its great pubs if the awards on the wall are telling. It’s P.J. O’Hare’s and we had lunch there. The food was grand, the rain hard and steady and the fire warm. I now have a lasting impression of a real pub.

One of the highlights of the walk through Carlingford was a stop at the Carlingford Castle, built in

Love this business name.

1200 and host to King John (Magna Carta John) in 1210 for three days. The bay was sprinkled with boats and made for some nice photography.

Boutique, not a bar.

The ride down and home was, of course, an adventure. This time, we got lost on a tiny road (and “tiny road” in Ireland is the norm, but this was ridiculous). Sonya negotiated, I fretted and I think we could both have used a four-pound Valium by the end of the day.

When we got home, I took a nap. I needed it. All this fun is exhausting.

Pampa at the castle with Sonya on his shoulder.

Beautiful downtown Carlingford.

Carlingford Castle is 814 years old.

Colorful trawler with the village behind.

I’m a sucker for pretty flowers.

 

Posted by Dan Smith at 5:24 PM No comments: Links to this post

Gratitude: Being Prepared

Today, I am grateful for:

An opportunity to learn. This trip to Europe, my first, has already been enlightening on a number of levels, not the least of which is “be prepared.”

I’ve already lost one of my primary credit cards, but I put into place some backups before I left home that should make the loss minimal in damage.

It is amazing how many glitches happen in a very short while and it is equally amazing how anticipating them can help ease the stress.

Posted by Dan Smith at 5:38 AM No comments: Links to this post

A New Vision of a Formerly Troubled Spot

This is the close view of the monkey puzzle tree.

My preconceived notion of Northern Ireland has been shot to hell. This is not a dreary, violent, angry place. It is quite the opposite.

The early fall light here is designed by the creator with photographers in mind, I suspect. There is a lot to shoot and finding the right light is often a matter of turning around. It’s there in its yellowed sweetness, somewhere.

The vegetation is lush and Irish green with a wide variety of plants I simply can’t identify. Louise Anson, who owns the farm where we are staying, has a deep and broad understanding of plant life and points easily to the exotic monkey puzzle. This is a tree that, 25 yards in the distance, looks like a spindly spruce, but upon closer inspection has more of a cactus feel. The farm is dotted with that kind of exotica.

Monkey puzzle tree.

We talked late into the night Tuesday about the plight of Northern Irish women since the end of The Troubles. Lou and her friend Sarah are involved in teaching abused and battered women some of the building arts. “There was no time for that before,” she says. And there wasn’t. The issues of peacetime were not at the top of the list for daily consideration and with bombings in neighborhoods and village centers, the plight of individuals was subjugated.

Building shelves and furniture tends to focus energy in a positive way, says Lou, and it provides, on some occasion, a marketable skill at best and self-esteem at minimum.

All over the country, the mood is bright, even though for the past few years the economy has come down from the extraordinary high of the late 1990s and early 2000s when real estate prices looked like those in California. A man I talked to in a cafe yesterday chatted, almost cheerfully, of losing half of his wealth in the crash. He couldn’t have been much more than 35, but that trauma didn’t seem to linger.

These appear to me to be happy, adjusted people, not the war-weary, dreary, depressed Irish I thought possible. From what I have seen so far, they are a delightful people who are far more interested in helping than in taking advantage of tourists who don’t even know how to count the money, who don’t know a liter from a lighter, who think it’s normal to drive a car on the right, who think a banger is a guy who plays in a heavy metal band.

Last night, on the way home from Enniskillen up near the western coast, we got lost trying to find some food. One of the women working at the shop where we stopped (convenience stores here have the best eats!) and asked directions stopped what she was doing and spent a good 20 minutes writing out a complex, detailed–and, as it turned out, perfect–narrative to get us back where we needed to be. I was touched at her kindness and good cheer.

It’s like that everywhere. Surrounded by physical beauty and lovely people. I could live here.

Posted by Dan Smith at 4:07 AM No comments: Links to this post

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Challenging Trip to Enniskillen

This is the castle at Enniskillen. It was a battle getting there. Quite a battle.

Churches are beautiful in Ireland.

We took what was to have been a two-hour trip up to Enniskillen today and it turned into an 11-hour challenge that had me looking for the Valium and halfway wondering what bourbon tasted like in the old days.

Sonya is working on a book that begins in 1840 or so in a Northern Ireland village called Enniskillen, which is still there, but has grown to a good sized city. She wanted to get a feel for the terrain and the people.

What we both got was an ulcer (not an Ulster) getting there and–especially–getting home, in the dark.

As mentioned earlier, I don’t have insurance for this trip, so I can’t drive. Sonya had to do it all and my sympathies are with her. This is left side of the street, right side of the vehicle, left-handed gear shifting driving for a woman who has not driven a straight shift for years. There were, as Paul Simon would say, “incidents and accidents” and a heck of a lot of raw nerves. We shared them like an old married couple, I’m afraid and the tension of banging the curb, dodging trucks on tiny streets and remembering where we were supposed to be took a toll.

Senn Fein hates fracking. Me, too.

In addition, I discovered when I bought my daughter-in-law a small gift that my new Charles Schwab Visa card was missing. That meant–likely–that I’d left it on the Hertz counter at the Dublin airport Monday Not a good thing.

Driving home in the dark was … well, a nightmare. It took about 3.5 hours to do the 2-hour drive.

In the middle of all this, we saw a lovely town, experienced more of Irish hospitality that I am becoming very fond of and I found myself telling a charming man in a restaurant, “I have never considered living in another country. I would consider Ireland. Seriously.” He blushed. He should not have. The beauty and the warmth of this little island are legendary for good reason and we keep experiencing it.

Tomorrow, the adventure continues. Not as intensely as today’s … I hope to god.

Sonya prepared: Chilly, windy and sunny in Enniskillen.

Sonya charmed this young butcher, Aiden.

Looking downtown from a cemetery.

Ornate wrought iron is all over the city.

Posted by Dan Smith at 7:39 PM No comments: Links to this post

A Busy, Gorgeous Old Irish Farm

This is Hori (or maybe Hine), named for the Maori, indigenous people of New Zealand.

This 176-year-old Irish farm (here) is called “The Blue Plaque House” and is in Ulster, about 45

My bedroom (self portrait in mirror)

minutes south of Belfast. It is a reflection of how many of us think our ancestors lived. This is idyllic Ireland, green and lush, warm and fragrant, full of light and shadow, brilliant fall flowers and subtle mosses.

The people are as we would have them, warm, open, honest, raw-boned and chiseled, huge inviting smiles, enthusiastic conversation. I feel a level of acceptance and even love here that is rare even in a world of mine that is peopled with golden personalities.

This morning I awoke–late at 8 a.m.; I don’t want to miss a minute–to the flitting presage of Victoria Wallace, a 50-ish woman who teaches piano, is earning a master’s degree at a local university in “translations” and who was off to teach piano, but not before sitting for a cup of tea.

Louise built this from her own lumber.

She was fascinated that we’ll be staying in  flat in Paris in a few days that “is 100 yards from where I lived” and is near the old St. Bernard’s Church, where she was beaten senseless during a protest some years ago.

Joy Carroll, a young woman from New Zealand who is half Polynesian, is also staying here. She showed up at about 9, having stayed with her boyfriend in the castle where he lives (Sarah McCloy, who we spoke of earlier, also lives there) last night. She was in a hurry to get to her chores and whizzed through. Joy works the farm for room and board.

Louise and Saba.

Saba (“Seven” in Swahili) is a young black Labrador who lies in front of the wood stove (which heats the house’s water … hot!) in the kitchen on her red velveteen-covered bed, content to be. She loves a good rub, but won’t intrude searching for it. Outside, two delightful and youthful pigs run to greet anybody approaching their pen, hoping for a treat.

Sonya and I are driving two hours to a spot where she wants to visit in order to do some research for her historical novel.

Yesterday, I could not resist the lure of the photograph this wondrous place offers and while Lou and Sonya went to the grocery store to rustle up some grub, I took the Canon out. Here are some of the photos.

The farm’s trees are spectacular.

Louise outside her lovely farmhouse.

 

Posted by Dan Smith at 6:06 AM No comments: Links to this post

A Spectacular First Day in Ireland

Louise Anson in the kitchen.

Today, I fell in love with two remarkable women in north central Ireland. They are Louise Anson and her best friend Sarah McCloy, a couple of 21st Century women with 19th century grit, independence, determination, creativity and style. They’re also quite beautiful.
They are 50 years old and been best friends since Lou got here from New Zealand some years ago. Sarah lives near Louise’s fairytale farm and makes furniture by hand. Louise is from a hardy family of writers and she farms,teaches and runs her B&B the way it should be run. Her aunt left her this fantasyland of a farm and she has been lovingly restoring it for the past number of years.

Sarah McCloy

 

I’m here with my buddy Sonya Chappelear touring a goodly portion of Europe over the next number of days and this is the first place we landed. It is north of Dublin about an hour and a half, closing in on Belfast.

Louise’s farm was built in 1838 and Sonya found it online as an Airbandb where we might stay. She was attracted because if sounded like the place her historic novel–in the works–begins.

This has been a frustrating trip so far because I’m learning to use a new Mac computer (don’t let anybody tell you that’s easy), the car trip up here was more of an adventure than I was ready for (Sonya driving on the left from the right front seat), my camera isn’t working as it should, I didn’t sleep a wink on the plane ride over and I’m tired.

But tonight, we spent several hours in the warmth of the big kitchen, talking, listening, cooking locally food (including pork from Sarah’s hog and Sarah’s Lou’s garden veggies) and connecting in a way I only hoped possible in a trip like this where people pass, try to speak in different languages and rarely make real contact.

Lou and Sarah are easy to know, open and frank, funny and intelligent. Lou is a sturdy woman with lovely soft eyes, a sudden smile, short, boyish hair and a manner that says “family.” Sarah is taller, slender and almost supermodel shapely. Her face is chiseled and her eyes intense. Her hands are big and talk of working with wood and tools. Both listen with far more than their ears and they speak with a gentle authority. They KNOW and their maturity and open-faced stories pulled me in without hesitation. It was a comfortable and easy step.

They are the kinds of women who make guys like me swoon and I’ll write much more about this and them when I get my head on for this new technology. I can’t get into my blog, except to read it. No posting yet and I have a ton of photos I want to put up.

Tonight, I think, is a full moon and for a man newly in love with two extraordinary beauties, even at a distance, that’s a special day.

Sarah and Louise at the kitchen table with their ever-present tea.

OCT 2 2014

Gratitude: A Lot of Advice, All of It Free

“Daniel is leavin’ tonight on a plane. I can see the red tail lights headin’ for Spain …”

Today, I am grateful for:

Advice. OK, it can become tiresome, overblown and even tedious. But I’m getting tons of it as I face Europe for a long trip and much of it is invaluable (one friend told me to take a laxative because, “You will get clogged. I guarantee it.”)

I’ve had advice on where to go, what to see, how to travel from place to place, how to pack, what to pack, how to get the most from a cell phone, which jacket to take and how to dress in layers. There have been tips on European food that would suit a diabetic, which of my cameras will deliver best given their weight, speaking the language (and where I don’t need to worry about anything but English), and which trains are the best deal. I’m getting a lot of info on dealing with airlines (none of it encouraging) and finding the best places to stay for the price (Sonya, thank god, is dealing with that).

All of it is a lot to absorb, but my guess is it will all be resting in the back of my mind and will come up as it needs to. I feel like I’m ready and Sunday, we’ll fly out over the dark Atlantic.

Salvaging a European Vacation

The following posts are from October of 2014 and are posted on my old blog on Blogger. I am re-posting them here in order to salvage them. Two years of posts disappeared from Blogger recently and some of them were important to me. I don’t want to lose any more, but I don’t have any control, so I thought I’d save what I could–the stuff that’s important to me, in any case. Here goes.

 

EUROPE TRIP

OCT 29, 2014

Final Thoughts on a Memorable Trip

 

The Paris train station where I cooled my heels.

There is no good way to summarize a 23-day, eventful, stressed to the hilt, eye-opening, charge full-ahead, sometimes humiliating, always humbling trip of more than 9,000 miles. But I think the following, written in a Paris train station between episodes and near the end of it all tells a lot.

We’d slid into Paris on the final leg of the trip, finding ourselves once again wedged between trains, covered with baggage and chatting up the locals. It was a strange mixture of the familiar, the wildly absurd, the new, the scary and the teaching moment. I had a lot of the latter during this adventure.

Here are the thoughts of that moment:

The Last Day in Europe

The eager young geologist.

This was to be the easy day, the one where we flew up from Madrid to Paris, caught a shuttle over to the hotel and relaxed until we left for the states tomorrow. 

Didn’t turn out quite that way. 

Here’s the sequence to this point (and I’m sitting in a train station in Paris drinking a diet Coke named Emmanuelle—don’t ask—as I type this):

We leave the curious Tryp Hotel (with children’s beds for adults) on time and shuttle out to the Madrid Airport, getting dropped at the wrong terminal, making a semi-late situation a bit more urgent and leading to the O.J. Simpson Airport Sprint. 

There are problems checking in, but the delay is more annoying than serious. Ryanair is, if nothing else, consistently annoying. The flight to “Paris” is without incident, except when I discover that “Paris” is actually Beuavais, a Paris suburb in much the way Richmond is a Roanoke suburb. 

Beauvais is where Ryanair flies, my travel partner explains, which means cheaper fares. It also means a hell of a lot more inconvenience and hidden fees all over the place. A flight out of Madrid yesterday would been in Roanoke already and I would be in my bed. I’m thinking out loud, “300 Euros vs. Paris; 300 Euros vs. Paris” and the 300 Euros is coming out ahead every time.

We catch a bus to the Beauvais train station, a picturesque little town, and the train takes us to Paris. We’re sitting between cars again because the train we scheduled was later and a considerate French clerk squeezed us on this earlier trip.

Sonya between train cars.

In the process, we meet a nice young geologist from Mont Blanc (Swiss-French) and he helps perk up a sagging day with some lively conversation. The geologist sits down with us and asks, “Do you speak English?” with the intent of getting some help writing a letter to a company official who might hire him … if he speaks the language well enough. We make suggestions and the conversation wanders all over the place. He’s a good kid, looking to find his place in a world he doesn’t yet understand, but one he wants to help improve.

We drag in to Paris about 3 p.m.—I thought we’d be in our hotel room three hours earlier—and Sonya begins talking about “what’s next,” meaning there is no solid plan. She decided she wants to take a bus across town to the Musee d’Orsay gift shop to pick up a big, heavy book she passed up the other day, an art book. I am not happy about this. 

She finds a place to store her luggage for a couple of hours (9.5 Euro) and gets ready, at nearly 4 p.m., to go search out the book, while I wait in the train station, telling her I feel like writing, when I really feel like punching out a marble column at the museum. She does one last check to see if the d’Orsay (The Big M’O, they call it) is open on Monday. It is not. “Paris likes me,” I think and I smile. Finally, someone does. 

She is disappointed, but even more, I think, she is hungry, so she goes looking for Chinese while I sit here writing this, waiting for some break to come my way so I can get to the room, rest and work off some resentment. It is not a healthy moment.

Men and women of various nationalities come hesitantly to the table, tell me a wide range of tales of woe while holding out their hands and I listen patiently. “Sonya has all my money,” I say. They don’t understand and they quietly walk away, looking for another face that appears weary from travel and maybe a smidge sympathetic to misery. 

My new British writer buddy at the station.

This is a large, old train station with a lot of exposed metal, green iron posts and columns. Its floor is concrete, but it is surprisingly peaceful in this late afternoon. The travelers are shuffling, rather than sprinting as they were earlier.  In this little Asian bistro (cookies, cakes, weird-tasting Diet Cokes), all the tables are taken and I’m sharing mine with a young Brit who is quietly eating a tuna sandwich. Europeans don’t seem to understand that raw tuna on bread is not a tuna sandwich, but who am I to correct? The Brit says he is a writer and he looks it: tweedy, trimmed mustache, curious eyes, easy smile. 

Two weeks ago, Leah Weiss asked me if I were homesick yet and I’ve used that as a gauge for this trip’s success/failure. I am homesick now. 

I want something familiar and calm. I want to go to the theater and to paddle my kayak and to hike some of my trails. I want to pay my bills and watch a couple of episodes of “Foyle’s War.” I don’t want to chase any more trolleys or trams or cabs or trains or anything else with wheels in the next year or so. I don’t want to have to face a train conductor telling me my ticket is no good.

I don’t want to figure out what the hell five kilograms is in pounds and I don’t want to have to convert any more Euros to dollars so I’ll have an idea how much I’m being overcharged. I don’t ever want to pay $34 for another Caesar salad. Hell’s bells, I don’t want to pay $34 for Caesar.

Soaking all this up will take some time. I will go back through the photos and really examine them and see some stuff I didn’t see the first time. It’s all been so frantic that consciously absorbing has simply been lost in the shuffle. Over the next while, I will come to understand some of why things developed as they did, what lessons I need to take and keep, how much of a good look I’ve had at myself in many ways and what I need to change. There are some obvious flaws I hadn’t seen before and they’ll be changed immediately. Nothing says, “You need to fix that,” better than seeing the big, festering pimple in the mirror.

For now, the clock is ticking on my traveling companion, and the train to the shuttle to the hotel to the bath, to the soft chair.

 

 

Gratitude: A Home to Love

Today, I am grateful for:

Home. Simple. Honest. Safe. Predictable. Content.

It’s the little stucco Cape Cod with the big deck and the bigger yard, the soft and lovely mountains surrounding it, the company of friends and family, the purr of the old pickup, the smell of Goodwill, the taste of real Dan Homebrew Coffee and the warmth of a thick beef stew on the stove. It is being surrounded by those things most valuable to me and being able to touch them when I care to.

Nothing else is quite like home.

 

 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cordoba: One of My Favorite Stops

The trip to downtown Cordoba yesterday was an eye-opener for me. I hadn’t expected this modern city with the respected and preserved past to be so sedate and pristine. Evan assured me that, “not all the people here live like we do.” It’s basically a poor city in a poor economy, but one where people seemed content in our excursion.

I like Cordoba as much as any place we’ve been in the past three weeks because I feel relaxed in its expansive parks, beautifully preserved palaces and cathedrals, buildings with stories, heroic statues of its leaders. It appears to be a proud city and it has considerable reason to be that.

We’re going to another part of the 300,000-population city this morning, one that reflects its ancient Roman past and some of its Moorish civilization and this evening, we’ll catch a train to Madrid, then tomorrow fly to Paris for our Tuesday flight home.

I don’t have photos with this because the disk is caught in my point and shoot and I have no idea how to get it out. I’ll figure it out when I get home. I’m probably going to do one of those coffee-table  books in the next couple of weeks and I may have to determine whether the disk is worth more than the camera. Could be.

 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Trip to a Restored 8th Century Castle

 

Castle Almodovar in Southern Spain.

Friday, we drove 14 miles west of Cordoba to Castle Almodovar, an 8th-Century Moorish structure that has been completely and privately restored to its initial grandeur. And grand it is. This is a huge castle, standing high above the town of Almodovar, a picturesque Spanish village that spreads up the side of the mountain toward the castle like spilled milk with its white concrete houses.

The village of Almodovar below.

I’m still not at playing strength, but my mind is sharp enough to recognize something special and this castle is all of that. We’ve spent time with some of the castle ruins of Europe in recent days and they are fascinating, but seeing a working castle gave me something of an answer to my constant question, “How the hell did people live in these things?” Well, they did, and in a relative sense, quite comfortably, it appears.

In fact, there is a significant section of the castle, built a bit more than 100 years ago inside the main court walls, that houses a family now, amid the tourism.

The day in Almodovar was crystalline with an azure sky and the olive and almond tree countryside a lovely middle green. The road to the castle was like so many of the small-town Europe roads, too narrow for anything to navigate, besides a slim government worker on foot. My daughter-in-law, Kara, talked of acclimating to the small streets when they moved to Spain about a year ago. Hers were tales of horror. I don’t want to try it. Even on the right side of the road.

The castle, which was built in 760, was actually used as a royal residence once it came under Christian rule. The castle was run by the Order of Caltavara, then the Order of Santiago before finally going to the Earl of Torravla in 1903. He began restoration.

View from inside the castle.

 

The castle trip, I hope, was a solid step back toward my normal life of enthusiasm and energy because I’ve really missed it. (Sonya is suffering, too. We’re both doped up pretty well.)

We’re all going downtown to Cordoba today to get a feel for the city, which has about 300,000 residents and is far more bustling than you’d know. Evan’s family’s house is considerably more splendid than I imagined. He tends to undersell everything, so I thought maybe this was Spain’s version of Vinton. It’s not.

This is one of the new suburbs so rare before recent years in Spain (and most of Europe). Ev says the walls and iron gates and window bars are a recent development, coming from the Franco era when fear was the dominant attitude in Spain. “It’s now cultural,” he says.

The fences don’t make bad neighbors, however. Yesterday was one of those frequent festival days this country so enjoys and when Maddie and I took a walk and bike ride on the spectacular greenway across the street, joyful noises emanated from all over the neighborhood. “People use the hell out of that park,” Evan noted. I could see why and how.

 

Oz and I look down on Almodovar.

 

Kara chases Oz. Not an uncommon sight.

 

Oz pulls the sword from the stone at the ancient sword display.

 

Proof: A kid’ll eat the middle of an Oreo first.

 

Kids, start your engines!

 

The smith neighborhood from the front yard.

 

Casa de la Smith, Cordoba, Spain.

 

Maddie rides laps around the house.

 

 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Finally, the Family; Finally

 

Pampa and the Pampettes, together again.

 

Maddie in her evening mode.

 

It’s nearly 9 a.m. in Cordoba, Spain, and the Smith household is going full throttle. We got in, after yet another nearly full day of travel, yesterday evening and I can tell you that there is nothing superior in the human experience–mine anyway–than the sound, the look and the feel of a child running across a train station lobby, arms spread wide, yelling, “Pampa!” My heart melts.

That’s what greeted me. Twice. Once from Madeline, once from Oz, her little brother.

Just an hour earlier, I was steaming at the ears because we had yet again had a train mishap. Our train was to leave at 5:35 and we simply missed it. By a minute. Even though we had been waiting for it for nearly three hours. Sonya managed to get another train to Cordoba 10 minutes later, arriving nearly an hour earlier than the one we had originally scheduled, but we had to pay twice.

The trip down from the South of France wasn’t especially eventful, but it was beautiful. This part of the world is hotter than Florida, but its short trees almond and olive trees, high vistas, beautiful white or beige homes with terra-cotta roofs combine to keep it old looking and interesting. Saville was gorgeous, but Marseilles, an old Sailor’s town with a rough reputation, was swirling with chilly wind when we got there. The ocean was rough.

Oz, the couch potato.

My cold is still hanging on (takes two weeks no matter what you do, a doc once told me) and the bronchitis is scary. There are periods when it feels like I’m not going to be able to breathe, but I suspect I’ll muddle through. As you can tell from this first post in a couple of days, it’s all left me drained and not especially good at writing, but I’m hoping that will come back soon.

 

 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

In Southern France, a Home That is Safe

 

Olgica Chopra: 9/11 had a strong impact.

Shortly after the attacks of 9/11, Olgica Chopra’s father-in-law, who had lived in New York for 30 years, decided he’d had enough. He wanted peace and quiet and he would not get it there. Olgica, an art consultant in New York at the time, and her academic husband were asked to find a suitable place for him in France, preferably the southern portion where it would be safe, warm, remote and relatively inexpensive.

View of the living room.

They landed him an apartment in Montpillier, a short distance from where Sonya and I spent the night last night with the lovely Olgica in the 400-resident medieval village of Durfort. Mr. Chopra apparently found what he wanted and Olgica (who is Czechoslovakian) ran into an irresistible project: a 14th Century apartment in what would have been a middle class section of a farming community.

The apartments are humble outside, striking when you pass the door, especially this one. Walls are nearly two feet thick and Oglica’s is three stories tall. She lives on the first and second floors and we share the second (bathroom and our kitchen) and sleep on the third.

Olgica is a tall, lithe, athletic woman with a regal bearing and an easy smile that has been used much. She is a kick-boxer, a runner and an art expert. She talks of work-life balance and natural living. That was out of balance in New York, she says, and spending time with her young daughter became more of a priority. She is the very essence of Southern France, from what I’ve seen, and I feel fortunate to have met her.

I’m not as taken with the bricks and mortar of Europe as many are, I’m afraid, but the people encourage me with their openness, optimism and genuineness. We have much to learn from people like Olgica.

***

 

The patio is lovely, a serene place.

I spent almost all day (20 hours of it) in bed yesterday with this dang cold. Went to the doctor Monday and he pronounced it bronchitis, something I haven’t had since I quit smoking more than 20 years ago. It has been draining and annoying and I have eaten but once in the past four days. I’m hoping for a better day today. Tomorrow, after a quick two-hour run down to Marseilles, flight to Saville and train to Cordoba, I get to see Maddie and the gang. I can’t wait. It’s been a looooooong slog in Europe and I’m ready for some family time.

 

Southern France, as you must know, is astonishingly beautiful.

 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Time to Take It Down a Notch

 

This will be me for the next couple of days.

 

After trying to figure out what to do for this miserable and sometimes debilitating cold for the last couple of days, I think I have it. I’m going to rest. Take it easy. Sit outside with the birds and the cats. Drink some coffee. Wander the farm fields. Visit the goats. Watch for eagles. Nap. Take meds. Eat a bit.

I’ve been trying foolishly to keep Sonya’s pace nearly 15 days and it simply does not work. She’s 20 years younger than I and has conditioned herself for trips like this for years.

My inclination toward team play has gotten me into a physical mess, which is entirely my responsibility. Sonya is a big girl who can take care of herself and who functions well on trips alone. I’m having to learn all of this trip business and figure out how I fit best and get the most. I don’t do either by wearing myself down and coughing all night.

I want to have some energy and good cheer when I see the grands this weekend and I want to enjoy Cordoba. It would not suit if I had to be confined apart from the group because I was contagious and it would not work at all if the airline refused to let me aboard the flight home early next week. So that’s the deal. I’m done with adventure for now. I’m going to try being an old man for a while. A happy old man.
Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Day of Lively Diversion

 

The ancient abbey is richly appointed.

Today, I learned our farm mistress paints her chickens. Seems the purples and other colors don’t bother the chicks, but they keep eagles and falcons at bay, wondering what the hell they’re looking at. Jilly says she considered painting her white horse with black stipes, but couldn’t find the black paint in the same spray cans that sheep farmers use to mark their stock. Comes in most other colors. Sonya suggested purple.

* * *

Anne Gauchet

I sat on a bench for a while today at the Caunes-Minervois Abbey about half an hour from the farm with Anne Gauchet and talked about ancient Roman archeology and translating highly technical information for organizations like nuclear power companies and IT firms.

Anne is a fascinating woman who is retired and lives in Carcassonne, a sort of capital of this small region. She is French, British and Dutch and caught my ear when she instructed Sonya and me to stand at opposite ends of what she called the “whisper room” and have a quite conversation. Our voices stayed at a whisper, but what we said was clear as if we’d shouted.

She invited us to go see her tomorrow. Hope we can work it in.

The old abby is an interesting place, though churches, especially Catholic churches with all their finery, are not my cup of tea. This one was started in the 8th Century and has been added on to over the years as political infighting and all the other side issues the church has found itself involved in moved past. It is richly appointed, as befits the largest private landowner in the world, and my guess is that most of its worshipers over the years were poor, even destitute.

 

Carilion’s Nancy Agee’s View of the Healthcare Bill

Carilion’s Nancy Agee

Carilion CEO/President Nancy Agee will shortly become chairwoman of the board of trustees of the American Hospital Association and has been named one of the 25 most influential women in healthcare nationally.

The AHA has 5,000 health care organizations as members and another 43,000 individual members.

Carilion is the largest healthcare organization in Western Virginia and operates seven hospitals, the VTC Medical School and Research Insitute, Jefferson College of Health Sciences, Carilion Wellness, the Institute for Orthopaedics and Neurosciences, Velocity Care, Carilion Children’s Hospital and Lifeguard (helicopter ambulance service).

The healthcare bill being argued in the U.S. House will have a direct effect on hospitals nationally, as well as the uninsured and the insured. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill–as written–could eliminate 24 million Americans from the health insurance rolls. Costs for their care–when it is given at all–would likely fall to the hospitals.

A new poll suggests Americans oppose House Speaker Paul Ryan’s bill by  21 points (45 percent to 24 percent), with 31 percent offering no opinion. Five percent of respondents strongly favor the bill, and 32 percent are strongly opposed to it.

Agee was asked to comment on the bill. She responded via email late last night on the way home from a conference in Phoenix. Here is her response:

“About 20 million people have attained coverage since the beginning of the Affordable Care Act, either through Medicaid expansion or the exchanges. We know that people who have health insurance are generally healthier, seek healthcare earlier and don’t get into a catastrophic situation as readily.

“So, obviously, affordable healthcare is important. Perhaps the operable word there is “affordable.” And that’s really a problem, because coverage has expanded, health care premiums have risen, [as] have out-of-pocket expenses for healthcare, which has impacted others … [That] is concerning.

“Health care costs are crowding out what people would pay for food, housing, etc. If the current bill stands ( and I have no doubt that there will be modifications), the Congressional Budget Office suggests that over the next 10 years many Americans would no longer have health insurance.

“The bill doesn’t really speak to the issue of out-of-pocket cost. The administration has made some improvements on attempting to stabilize the exchange market. And this needs to be furthered.

“About 20 states didn’t expand Medicaid, including Virginia, so,in some ways, the new bill has more limited impact on those states. That said, all hospitals took major cuts to facilitate Medicaid expansion.
“As a matter of fact, Carilion has experienced cuts in the neighborhood of $100 million or more since implementation of the ACA with virtually no reimbursement advantages. So, the American Hospital Association (and I agree with its stance) is trying to assure equity going forward for expansion and non-expansion states.”

Acoustic Poetry at Mill Mountain Theatre

The singers in full voice at Mill Mountain Theatre Friday.

Mill Mountain Theatre’s first concert production of the season Friday evening may well be mis-named. It is called “Acoustic Legends,” but I’d prefer “The Poets.”

MMT puts together these musical celebrations (in five days) with specific themes, often using cast members from its plays and some of its staff and the reception has been very good. Tonight the theater was a near-sellout and the older crowd (including me) was treated to music it recognized and cheered.

Among the mid-20th Century musical poets celebrated tonight were Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Kenny Logins, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Jim Croce and even Eric Clapton (playing a George Harrison song). There were some other notable ballads sprinkled about, accompanied by talented musicians on piano, guitar, bass and drums (three of the four singers played either guitar or piano, as well).

Madeline Corliss, who was in MMT’s “White Christmas” and the holiday music concert last year and is based in New York, carried most of the female portion of the evening and was especially impressive singing Joni Mitchell. Mitchell’s music is especially difficult to perform.
Morgan Hollingsworth did a fine James Taylor and a touching “Danny’s Song” (Kenny Loggins). He’s a first-timer at MMT and is also based in New York. Brendan Hembree played a good guitar and sang and played the upbeat Paul Simon song, “Me and Julio” and Eric Clapton’s “Layla.” (Side note: Duane Allman joined Clapton’s band in the studio at Muscle Shoals to record the famous guitar solo in the middle of “Layla,” the solo that became Clapton’s signature.) Hembree is also a New York resident.
Seth Davis, resident music director for MMT, played piano and sang back up vocals, while MMT’s Alicia Varco, assistant to the MMT producer, sang two songs by Carole King and staged the concert.

I will assure you that this is worthy music performed by talented people and it can especially be appreciated by the over-40 (maybe more like over-50) crowd. There is one more performance Saturday night at 7:30 and tickets are just $25. The concert lasts about an hour and 45 minutes and it’s well worth your time and money.

 

A Short Walk Through Maddieville on Her 12th Birthday

My son, Evan, admires his new girl.

I once read that the shortest 12 years in a woman’s life come between 28 and 40. I’d say the first 12 will give that 12 a run for its money. Today is my grandgirl Madeline’s 12th birthday and there are times when that 12 years feels like 12 minutes.

This picture (left), for example, is burned into my mind (with an accompanying smile) and it is of Madeline and her dad 30 minutes after she popped into the world, raising holy hell.

It was a while before she and I connected because I’m not very good with babies, but the minute she said her first word, we were off. I had told Maddie’s mom and dad that any time they needed a babysitter, just call me and “I’ll help you find one.” I meant it, too.

Maddie and her mom, Kara.

From the time she could walk, Maddie and I managed to find our own adventures, generally stuff I like to do because when she was itty-bitty, she didn’t know what she liked to do. Hiking, paddling, biking and the like were part of the deal, but then so were ballet, theater, concerts, lectures, movies and small parties on the deck.

Swimmer Maddie with Annette and her girls.

I introduced her to the swim team at Hunting Hills and she went from a little girl who could barely tread water to a swimmer who was winning medals (thanks to one of my heroes, Annette Patterson). I’ve always thought that athletic competition helps a kid grow up when it’s not overdone and it certainly was a benefit to Madeline.

Maddie and her Viking bud Charisse Ælfwynn.

I talked to my friend Jeffrey Rigdon about Madeline becoming a Viking and he enthusiastically invited her to join the crew of his Viking ship for parades. Maddie loved dressing up and wielding her sword as a Viking princess. She especially liked being in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Roanoke, the one we called St. Maddie’s Day because it came on her birthday (and for a year or so, she thought the parade was for her. We didn’t disabuse her of that notion).

Spanish Maddie with her flamenco dress.

My heart sank when the family moved to Cordoba, Spain, for two years, but that was only temporary. Each change brings new–and sometimes wondrous–opportunity. I visited Europe twice while she and her family (including a new brother, Oz) were there and fell in love with Northern Ireland, Amsterdam, Paris, Southern France, parts of Spain … all of it. It was especially gratifying to share that with family.

Uniform Maddie.

When Madeline started school at the British School in Cordoba, a private academy where the Spanish kids get immersed in English and the immigrant children get to speak a familiar language, she had to wear a uniform for the first time. I never liked school uniforms before, but I came to appreciate the simplicity of not having to keep up with the other kids and of simplifying choices.

She and her family are now settled just outside Memphis in Arlington, Tenn., and the adventure continues. She’s not a lot closer (12-hour drive to Memphis, 12-hour trip–cars, planes and trains–to Cordoba), but it seems so. I haven’t planned a trip to Memphis yet, but it’s coming. I miss my girl.

My dimpled sweetie at about 6.

Genocide Anniversary: A Roanoke Kurd Reflects

Sana and I at 16 West yesterday.

Today is one that will give pause to Kurds all over the world. That includes Roanoker Sana Baban Hasan, who was a year and a half away from being born when the genocide occurred.

On March 16, 1988, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army unleashed chemicals on the Southern Kurdistan town of Halabja, killing nearly 5,000 people and injuring as many as 10,000 others, almost all of them civilians. Many others died later from complications of the gas attack, which has been officially designated as genocide by several international institutions.

The town fell to the Iraqi army two days before the attack, making it even more reprehensible. Kurdistan is a region of Iraq, but they have been at odds for many years over a number of issues and during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, Kurdistan was on the Iran side. During the Iraq-U.S. war, Kurdistan was our ally.

Sana, who is 27 and doesn’t always use Hasan because of its obvious Muslim identity, has become known in Roanoke as a pot-stirrer. Since Donald Trump became president, she has helped organize protests and cultural celebrations, and her profile has grown from quiet cosmetologist and wellness worker to that of of a woman with her fist in the air.

The civic activity–in concert with a number of other women who have joined the national groundswell–has been costly for her. Her Kurdish boyfriend gave her an ultimatum to give up the protests or lose him. Her brother, a Republican, has taken a strong stance against her beliefs.

She was nearly convinced at one point to give up her Sunni Muslim religion. “I was going to be baptized because of Sept. 11,” she says. It would be easier in the U.S. of today to make that change. But she’s not about easy. She notes that “the Koran talks about Jesus.”

Her family is split down the middle: Mom is a Muslim, Dad a Christian (they are divorced and Sana doesn’t see her father–“I still love him,” she emphasizes).

Sana and I sat down for a conversation at 16 West–something of a safe haven for the disaffected–yesterday and I came away convinced that this young woman is bound and determined to make a difference. She’s been in the U.S. since she was 5 and became a citizen (beyond Trump’s goose-stepping brownshirts’ reach) in 2013. She likely knows more American history and civics than most Americans because of the rigors of becoming a citizen. She speaks without the hint of an accent.

Her dad was a plumber and government worker in Kurdistan, who also worked quietly for the U.N., says Sana. He came under suspicion of the Iraqi government and decided to get out. The family went to Guam and then was granted asylum in the U.S. by the State Department, something unlikely under Trump.

She becomes frustrated that people will look at her as an alien and a terrorism threat even though “Kurds have fought ISIS for years. We were a U.S. ally.” Iraq, she says, “wanted our oil.” Like a lot of countries, I imagine.

Sana says her section of Northern Kurdistan (the city of Slemani in the state of As Sulamaniya) is international with a wide variety of cultures on display, a sophisticated and cultured area. Her family taught her to respect all cultures, she says.

These days “I stand up for those who can’t speak English. I’ve done some work for the refugee office and I have met a lot of great women.” She graduated from Patrick Henry High School in Roanoke and attended Virginia Western Community College for three years. She still hopes to get her bachelor’s degree.

Her goal in the short term, though, is “to change minds. Not all Muslims are the same. I am happy and thankful to be in the United States, but people tell me to keep my head down and don’t complain.” However, she is a citizen and she understands that citizens have a responsibility to their country.

That, I think, makes her an American more than any piece of paper.

 

Hey, Pampa, What’s for Supper? My Roots

Pampa’s Unparalleled Southern Cornbread in a square iron skillet.

Pampa’s World Famous Chicken ‘n’ Noodles.

Tonight, boys and girls, we harken back to an America that may not have been all that great, but it sure did eat well, especially if you lived in the rural parts of it. The food often wasn’t good for you (as the death rate from heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol would attest), but that food sure did taste good.

We’re not going for the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, greens cooked in pork fat style of Southern meal this evening, though. This one’s a smidge healthier, simpler and there’s a choice.

Pampa’s Yummy Veggie Beef Soup.

First, we have the cornbread, which is served best with butter and buttermilk–both of which will kill you, but we’ll do them in moderation. The cornbread is not optional. The chicken and beef are.

There’s the vegetable beef soup with dang near everything I could scrounge up in the kitchen (whether fresh or frozen) to go with browned ground beef. You might otherwise choose the noodles and chicken, which also has some fresh and frozen veggies involved. Margie had four (yep, 4; the woman eats like a linebacker) bowls of it last night and I still have leftovers.

It’s cold outside. It doesn’t have to be cold inside. Bon appetit.

Question for Trumpsters: When Is ‘Again’?

Sen. Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn (McCarthy’s Steve Bannon) at the Army-McCarthy hearings, which began 63 years ago yesterday.

What I’m interested in is the “again” portion of “Make America Great Again.” What period does Trump want us to return to? I’ll be curious to know what you conservatives think. What period specifically and why?

Suggestions? Here you go:

We won’t even discuss the Obama years, but how about the 2000s with George Bush in the White House and the government (and financial institutes) in tatters.

The 1990s with Clinton setting a standard of behavior in the Oval Office that makes even me cringe.

The ’80s when Reagan was robbing Social Security, invading countries without telling us, trading arms for hostages.

The ’60s and ’70s with Vietnam, race riots, women’s rights protests.

The ’50s with the HUAC and Joseph McCarthy, in effect, investigating people for being liberal and scaring the hell out of the half of America that saw this as Germany in the 1930s–sound familiar?).

The ’40s with WWII raging because the civilized world couldn’t figure out how to work with Germany and Japan.

The ’30s with the Depression.

The ’20s with a country setting up its financial collapse with its lazzie faire reaction to big industry.

The ’00s and teens with laws that permitted industry to work 10-year-olds 12 hours a day, had no protection for work in dangerous places (like mines and assembly lines), didn’t allow women to vote.

We won’t go back into the 19th Century because none of you was alive then and couldn’t speak from experience. But pick your time frame and tell me how it was good, so good that you want to make an “again” out of it.

Another Challenge from Off the Rails

Kathy Guy and Miriam Frazier of Off the Rails Theatre in Roanoke have a habit of challenging audiences with their edgy productions of theatrical outliers and lesser-knowns.

Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” which is neither, is next on the list and is a play that (according to a New Yorker review) combines “comedy and farce with philosophy, mathematics, landscape styles and mystery plus a hint of sex.”

Reviewer Brad Leithauser went on to gush that I feel irrationally, impossibly confident that “Arcadia” is the finest play written in my lifetime.” Britain’s Royal Institution named it the best play about science ever written.

This version of Arcadia will be directed by Michael Mansfield and features actors Alana B. Alley, Nick McCord, Steve Glassbrenner, Brian Lee, David McCall, Mary Ellen Apgar, Spencer Meredith, Amanda Mansfield, Kelly Anglim, Owen Merritt, Salena Marie Sullivan and David Schultz III. That’s a big cast for a little theater, and it gives a lot of reason for optimism that this will be a smashing performance, especially with Mansfield at the controls.

Performances will be held March 30 through April 2, ThursdaySunday, and April 6 – 8, Thursday through Saturday, at Community High School in downtown Roanoke. Curtain times are 8 pm except for Sunday April 2,  at 2 pm. Tickets are $15 (Friday, Sat., Sun.), $10 on opening night, Pay What You Will on April 6, and $5 for students.

Reserve your tickets at 540-676-1415.

Building Man (and Son)

This sofa was made from discarded lumber and salvaged fabric and foam.

I have never pretended to be a good carpenter, but that hasn’t stopped me from carpenting. I thoroughly enjoy building things–from sofas to decks, from utility buildings to radiator boxes, from shelving to urban gardens.

Ev and I put up a wall.

Above is a cargo-style couch I built for a friend at Christmas in about 1978. He immediately sold it, said it was to big, too heavy and “hell, I could be buried in that thing.” But it was a fun project, a resourceful project. I acquired the wood from scraps that were being thrown away in the new subdivision I lived in at the time. The padding and fabric came from a furniture mill (and cost a total of about $4).

That’s me: Hammerman.

The building my son, Evan and I are working on here (in about 2001) was a group effort. My new wife Christina (now my favorite ex-wife) and the best neighbor anybody ever had, Dewey Houck pitched in significantly. Dewey, an engineer, pitched a little more than significantly. He was the coach.

The building, which was 13-feet tall at the roof’s peak, was a thing of beauty and when it was finished, Christina made a ceramic sign for the front dubbing it “Taj Ma Tool.” Christina has always been funny.