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A. CHRISTMAS IN MENDOCINO:

Peter and Barrie returned to the Bay Area the day after the Christmas party. I resumed spending my days sitting by the window watching the waves crest over the bluffs and a hawk hunting gophers in the backyard. When not daydreaming by the window or amusing myself on Facebook, I wander about the town Christmas shopping, searching for the appropriate and affordable gifts for those on my list.

Nights are another thing. I sleep ok but, before I fall asleep and after I wake up, I feel an existential malaise that is difficult to describe to those who have not felt the night that never ends bearing down on them like an out of control train. It isn’t fear, I think. More like the sad wonder of a sunset.

For the past few days, they have been removing some of the large trees that menace the house. Over the last year or so, two of those trees have blown down, one of which destroyed the pump house. During my walks, I sometimes stop to watch them work. I find that watching other people work relaxes me. I wonder if Gautama sitting under his bodhi tree observed some people working in the fields when he decided to live a life of contemplation was a good thing and we should all do it if we could figure out a way to get away with it.
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People have begun arriving for the Christmas Eve celebration my sister holds every year. A few years ago about twenty of us, friends and family, gathered together at a house that she rented for the holidays a few miles up the coast. Some of us slept on the floor. I slept on a sofa. We all cooked most of the day and ate and drank in the evenings. A great storm blew in Christmas Eve, throwing up giant waves that crashed on the beach, driving us all inside where we sang carols and opened presents.

That was a far cry from the Christmases of my youth when uncles, aunts, and cousins would gather with our family. The women would prepare endless amounts of food while the men napped in the living room. Dinner was a loud affair with everyone shouting and drinking wine until the arguments and tears erupted among the adults while the children hid in quiet corners and learned to hate the holiday for which they had spent weeks in eager anticipation.

Anyway, this year it was planned to be a smaller affair than usual. First to arrive late Friday evening were George and Maryann’s children Brendan and Katie with their significant others, Ashley and Quinn. The next morning we all got up, fitted a Christmas bow on Bingo the dog and watched Brendan, dressed in fuzzy brown PJs, make us all breakfast.
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Chewbacca and MaryAnn Rule the Kitchen.

That afternoon, I went to Fort Bragg and my favorite bar in the area, Milano. They were having their Christmas party and it was crowded. Most of the regulars were there. The old man who owned the place and always sat on the stool by the wall at the end of the bar, however, was missing. Perhaps he died. He was not looking well the last time I saw him well over a year.

I took an empty stool and ordered a Stella. There was food at the party, a potluck. The bartender urged me to get some food but I demurred for some reason or another. The noise in place was almost defining, There were several little groups talking loudly, others pounding their dice cups on the bar-top. A few people sat quietly staring at their drinks. I made a friend.

I Usually, I do not talk to anyone preferring to watch. But Gene, who sat down next to me, insisted that I engage him in conversation. “What’s your nationality?” he asked. “Italian,” I responded. “I’m Bohemian,” he said. I thought he was playing with me, but since I could not figure out the joke, I ignored it. I then asked him what he does for a living “I’m a stone contractor,” he said. Not knowing what a stone contractor was, I ignored this too. “I’m retired,” he went on, “but I still work 5 hours a day.” How one can work five hours a day and still consider himself retired I could not comprehend but I let that pass also. “I like my clients,” he then declared. “I did not like mine,” I responded. He stared at me a moment then said, “Attorneys are the most difficult to get to pay their bills.” “I can understand that,” I replied. “After all, they spend most of their working lives helping people to avoid paying their debts, financial or otherwise.”

I was happy when I left and drove back to my sister’s house. Shortly after I got back, two additional weekend guests, Debbie and Shelly, arrived. We had risotto for dinner.

The next morning, it was the day before Christmas. We had a long breakfast where we talked about many things that made us laugh and some that did not.

That evening, we gathered for Christmas Eve dinner. Maryjane (she who had married a clown) and her current husband Jovan, and Nancy and Duncan joined us. Before dinner, we snacked on stuffed calamari, baked eggplant, crab cakes, shrimp cocktail and a lot of other things — too many for me to remember.
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Debbie and Katie.

At dinner, we toasted to good friends and holidays and then dug into the marvelous cioppino my sister had prepared.
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Happy Holidays to All.

I sat between Nancy and Shelly. Nancy told me about her father (or Duncan’s, I forget which) who led a wonderful and exciting life and at 95 years old lives by himself in a house in Oregon, still drives and cooks his own meals and refuses to go to a senior home. Shelly, a potter by trade who’s studio is at the Women’s Pottery Studios on Noe in San Francisco told us about her good friend and studio mate who died at 105. She began her ceramics career in her late 40s. When she was 80, she was “discovered” by the critics and became a bit of a celebrity. She made well over 5 million dollars from her pottery in about 5 years. Because so many of her clients and friends were in the entertainment business, she began being offered roles in the movies. She was the voice of the grandmother in “Titanic.”

Following these uplifting tales and several different desserts, I went to bed.

The next morning, Christmas, it was Panettone and presents, coffee and wrapping paper, giggles of happiness and moments of silent contemplation of fleeting pleasures that penetrated the veneer of joy like no-see-umm pricking your skin.
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Christmas Morning with Bingo and George.

I then left drove five hours back to the golden hills where I opened more presents.

A woman, Wanni, who I assisted in the sale of her business, gave me a lovely blanket, fleece on the inside and smooth and soft to the touch on the outside. Adrian also gave me a number of great gifts as did Dick and Hayden. We then had dinner and I immediately went to bed where clutching my marvelous new blanket I thankfully quickly fell into a deep almost dreamless sleep.

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An Aging Childe Harold.

 

 

B. MOLLY HAD A BABY ON CHRISTMAS DAY:

On Christmas Day, Molly had a baby. I was not there at the birth, but I had been there over 20 years ago at Molly’s birth along with her father Maurice, a dear friend and a kind gentle man. When the nurse brought tiny Molly into the nursery, Maurice. for a long, long time, stared through the glass at her with a wonder and love that stayed with him for the rest of his life. Molly soon became the child of all of us, our family and friends. She was a quiet waif of a child. Usually, she sat silently at the edge of things — an innocent in a cynical world. She wore large round glasses and had a shy smile. Often, she babysat my grandchildren, traveled with them and at lived with them in their house when Maurice worked.

When we awoke on Christmas Day, we learned she had given birth — to a boy, a Christmas baby she named Amir, Emmanuel, Duncan Trad (Trans: Prince, Messiah [God is with us], Dark Warrior [dark of visage, not of heart] Trad) a fitting name for someone born on this day. A few years ago, Molly wrote a prescient poem that she shared with me. Read it slowly.

A New Years Poem
I have a desperate attraction to new beginnings
Sometimes the numbers on the calendar look so beautiful
I think
Today’s the day I drink less and run more
No smoking, all veggies
Honesty, integrity, self-reliance, perseverance, creativity,
No fear, live large,
Dream big, be bright, believe in love and believe in yourself!
And I do
Today is an auspicious day
Today is my new beginning
Sometimes I just feel it, on a Tuesday
Today’s the day I keep doing yoga
I don’t back down when I’m right
I go to bed at a reasonable hour, pay my bills on time
Clean out the toe jam, learn all those languages
All the little steps start here and I’m climbing
I can feel it now, right now, and I won’t look back
This is it!
Today is an auspicious day
Today is my new beginning
Then I find myself making the same mistakes
Who manufactured the grooves in my record?
How would it feel if the dj scratched me across the turntable?
The dissonant rip, like a zipper coming undone
A cut away from the 4/4 time that I was trying so hard to hold
But this is why the crowd came to the club
To hear the sound of the universe tearing into a new song
The maligned has become music
We throw our hands up and we dance
I am scratched across the turntable and the crowd is screaming
We are scratched and screaming
And the dj takes it back, and the song plays
All of it is beautiful
Every moment new
Every moment auspicious
Every moment beginning
Molly Trad

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Molly and Amir Emmanuel Duncan Trad

 

 

C. SORROW.

Within minutes of finishing the above joyous account of a Christmas birth, I received the following distressing email from Naida regarding my dear friend Bill:

“I have been sitting with Bill next to his bed. His coughing woke me at 5 a.m. He asked me what my name was. I told him and, when asked what I’ve done all day, explained that I am his wife and I’ve been taking care of him. He said he’d been put away into in some attic. I told him he’s downstairs. He said he wants to see out the window. I explained that the sun wouldn’t come up for a couple of hours. He said, “OK. When it’s light I want to see out the window.” He also said, “I feel weird like I’ve been separated from all civilization” — followed by his characteristic sarcastic “huh” of a laugh. Then he asked if any of his relatives were coming to see him.”

Bill, a gentle giant of a man, has been my cherished friend for more years than I can remember — always cheerful and always seeming happy to see me when I visited he and Naida at their beloved ranch along the Cosumnes River near Sacramento.

Few people know that Bill was quietly responsible for the passage of the California Coastal Conservancy legislation, a key element of California’s Coastal protection program over 40 years ago. We were on the floor of the Senate. We clearly did not have the votes. Bill privately spoke to Senator Denny Carpenter a vocal opponent of California’s Coastal Protection legislation. He asked Carpenter to speak in favor of the legislation when it came before the Senate for its final vote. Carpenter agreed and did so, turning enough votes to pass the bill. So, whenever you visit a beautiful section of the California coast or San Francisco Bay that the Conservancy has had a hand in preserving, please remember Bill, Geyer.

I will miss him greatly.

And, the Great Wheel grinds inexorably on.

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POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN MENDOCINO:

Feeling a mix of anger and fear caused by the doctor’s report, I set off to Mendocino and my sister’s house for the weekend and hopefully some solace. Not too much of the drive penetrated my fog of worry, but I remember passing through the lovely Anderson Valley in what was a relatively fast trip. My sister and George were entertaining some friends staying in the Tower House. The woman was a professor of psychology, I think, and her husband a fireman somewhere in the East Bay. They had two delightful little girls that insisted on demonstrating how well they could do splits. I learned that they had once lived in EDH just a few blocks from where I live now.

I did not do much while I was there except walk around the town and eat the great food my sister and George prepared. One afternoon the sunlight was so clear, I walked about the town taking photographs of the houses.
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Angela Lansbury’s house in “Murder She Wrote.”

Regrettably, I had to return to the golden hills on Monday because I had scheduled an emergency appointment with the supervising oncologist. The drive back was as uneventful as the drive up.

BACK IN THE GOLDEN HILLS:

I had two doctors appointments scheduled for the week. One on Tuesday and another on Friday after which I had planned to return to Mendocino until Christmas. Unfortunately, SWAC had arrived for the holidays and had invited some guests to stay at the house during the holidays. Her strenuous complaints to Dick prompted me to make alternative accommodations to save him from ceaseless tsuris. Although it really does not bother me too much since I have made my life such that I can just float above such discomforts but, I cannot help but wonder what sort of person would want to force someone who may be dying of cancer out of his home in order entertain some guests.

During the two days there, I continued my daily walks but did not swim or exercise at the health club.

On Tuesday, I saw my supervising oncologist for a second opinion. He said that there was only a slight swelling of the lymph nodes and that there was at best a small chance of a reoccurrence of cancer. Nevertheless, he thought I should have a biopsy just to be safe. I agreed.

On another point related to the foregoing paragraph, I was pleased and humbled by the number of people who had read through the last issue of T&T, expressed their concern and offered me their support and good wishes as I dealt with my health problems. Thank you all.

A BRIEF SOJOURN IN SACRAMENTO:

So, on Tuesday, I left for Sacramento to hole up with Norbert and Stevie until my Friday doctor’s appointment. My first stop was at Sacramento Campus Commons where Naida and Bill Geyer live. Campus Commons is a marvelously well-done subdivision on the banks of the American River built in the 1960s before developers learned that they could eliminate all amenities and open space in their products and people would still buy into it in their panicked rush to escape the growing presence of minorities in the cities. Bill and Naida moved there to avoid the burden of managing their ranch nestled along the banks of the Cosumnes River in Rancho Murieta.

Naida was recuperating from recent heart surgery but was in good spirits. Bill’s doctors told him there was little more they could do for his spreading gangrene that would prolong his life. Nevertheless, he seemed quite cheerful and accepting of the diagnosis. We talked about old times and joked about our fears for the future. Then we took a walk (Bill in his motorized chair) through the grounds.
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Bill Prepares to Set Off on His Motorized Scooter.

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Campus Commons.

Then I drove to Stevie and Norbert’s home to spend a few days before my next medical appointment. The first evening we had a delightful meal at a restaurant in Freeport. There are people one meets in life whose kindness to you goes beyond understanding and whom you could never repay. Stevie and Norbert have been that to me over the years.

The next day, I spent the afternoon strolling around Capitol Park a place I have grown to love.

Then came my Dr.’s appointment. He indicated that although he did not believe there should be a problem, he did feel swelling in one of my lymph nodes and confirmed the prior doctor’s recommendation that a biopsy be performed. Directly after the appointment, I set off to my sister’s home in Mendocino.

MORE MENDOCINO DREAMING:

I do not remember much of the drive occupied as I was with a mix of anger and depression that only dissipated when darkness fell as I drove through the redwoods and my malaise was replaced with a fear that I would surely drive off the road in the gloom.

After a not very restful sleep at my sister’s house, I walked through the town of Mendocino and that evening accompanied Maryann and George to the Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department’s Annual Christmas Dinner. It was pleasant and enjoyable.

During the pre-dinner drink fest, a woman came up to me and said, “Hi, my name is MaryJane and I married a clown.” I eventually learned that she grew up in Queens NY in a very large and loud Italian family and when she arrived in her mid-teens promptly ran away — she did not run away to the circus, but she did get a job as a ticket taker at Madison Square Garden where, when the Ringling Bros. Circus came to town, she met her clown and after a brief but I am sure fun filled courtship married him. Alas, “He was a good clown but, a bad husband,” she told me and so they soon divorced. She traveled about the country married and divorced a second time and eventually found herself in Mendocino. “With a name like MaryJane where else would I end up other than where the best marijuana is grown.” Here she married a carpenter who also doubled as a volunteer fireman and who was retiring that evening. “I finally got the turnout outfit I wanted and now I am retiring,” he complained to me. (A turnout outfit is the gear provided by the department that a fireman jumps into when he goes off to fight a fire.)

There were many other stories from that evening I could relate but I think that one is enough.

The next day I walked through the town taking photographs and trolling the shops for Christmas presents. I was told, later, that Christmas sales are down because most of the shops depended upon the expenditures of the dope growers spending their gains from the harvest but now with legalization, they are wisely hoarding their profits.
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Mendocino in the Morning

That evening Mary and George had their Christmas Open House. Peter and Barrie and Norbert and Stevie drove up from San Francisco and Sacramento respectively. There was plenty to nibble on including something delicious called a taco-ring and plenty to drink including Champagne and Prosecco. At one point I was talking to a local artist who was aware of my health problems. She told me here previous husband, a well-known sculptor, had the same cancer I have and described in detail the horrible three years of intensive suffering he went through before he died. He had been someone who had always exercised and was a bit of a healthy life fanatic and could not understand why he became so sick. During the period of this turmoil, their 17-year-old son was discovered to have an abnormal heart and had to endure a series of heart surgeries. After her husband died and the son finally had recovered, she began to suffer from PTSD and after two years was hospitalized in an effort to cure it. After she was discharged, she married a local fireman and woodcutter and now lives happily in a large house in the forest with a 10,000-foot studio where she makes large elegantly dressed dolls that are sold at Neiman Marcus for $5000 each.

The next day, Peter, Barrie, and I toured the firehouse while George explained how the various pieces of equipment were used and told us stories about brilliant rescues of people who had fallen off the cliffs and into the ocean and about fighting fires and paramedic techniques.
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Peter, Barrie, and George at the Firehouse

Then, we visited with MaryAnn at the West Company economic development center in Fort Bragg. After that, we walked along the magnificent Ft. Bragg shoreline park that extends about 10 along the coast. Later, we had lunch outdoors in a restaurant at Noyo Harbor where a young man was cooking freshly boiled crab that he shared with us.
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Barrie and George Enjoying a Crab Lunch

That night, Peter and Barrie, and George and MaryAnn each described and argued over the specifics of their long and amusing courtship. I had little to say since most of my marriages were spur of the moment affairs.

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.POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN EL DORADO HILLS:

 

The skies over the golden hills have been a clear brilliant blue for the past few days. The temperature has gotten a bit chilly recently. Fall colors have been out for a week or so but they seem less vibrant than usual. I guess that muting is caused by the dry weather these last few months.

The slight chill in the air combined with the warmth of the water in the pool make swimming delightful. This afternoon while swimming, I noticed a snake, large centipede, and a spider in the water with me. I was startled. Then, I realized today was Halloween and someone was just messing with me. I, nevertheless, still moved to another lane. When it comes to creepy crawlers, I am a wuss.

On Halloween night, HRM took an autistic boy from the special needs class at his school trick or treating. It seems H has been especially kind to the boy in school and the boy was able to express his wish for H to take him out on Halloween.

Adrian left for the week. He went back to Sunnyvale to resume work on the tech start-up he is associated with. Dick returned from Thailand that evening. I sat by the door with a bowl of candy waiting for some kids to ring the doorbell. Only about three groups showed up all evening, so I sat there and ate most of the candy myself.

Shortly after Halloween, the weather turned cold in the golden hills — not winter cold, but chilly and overcast enough for sweaters and jackets.

Recently at the Health Club, I observed an exercise on one of the exercise machines I had never seen before — the exercise of pelvic thrusting muscles. I never knew there was a need to exercise those particular muscles. But, I guess if you think about it, it might come in handy someday. Anyway, a young woman approached the hamstring strengthening machine, the one where you lie prone on your stomach and lift a roller with the backs of your ankles. She squeezed her body between the bench and the roller, placing the roller across her pelvis and her hands behind on the bench and commenced to vigorously and salaciously trust her pelvis forward and up. Silence descended on the club as everyone, male and female alike, stopped what they were doing and, not wanting to be accused of voyeurism, watched the performance out of the corner of their eyes. Old guys like me have no shame anymore so we just gaped. The exerciser, a trainer at the club, was retained by a young man Immediately after she completed her workout.

It is too cold to swim alas, so I work the treadmill and the weights at the health club and watch the thrusting expert whenever she chooses to perform. I read a lot now that even going for a walk is unpleasant. A few days ago, I read a novel by Terry Pratchett that I do not recall reading before. It is called “The Thief of Time”. I thought I had read all of his “Discworld” novels, but I do not remember this one. Reading it confirmed my belief that Pratchett, like Vonnegut and Pynchon, is one of the great novelists in modern English literature. In the age of quantum physics and the fall of the American empire, only fantasy and humor can capture the sly absurdities of our times.

Time goes on. I do the same things day after day. Ennui sets in so I decided to spend the weekend with my sister and George in Mendocino.

 

B. MENDOCINO DREAMING:

The drive to Mendocino was uneventful. Little traffic, mostly sunny. I stopped for my usual ice cream sundae in Lucern on the shores of Clear Lake, passed some of the burned over the terrain of the recent fires and arrived in Mendocino about four and a half hours after I left the golden hills.

Some walks through the town and along the bluffs and on Friday night we had dined at the next door neighbors house and discussed the fence erected by another neighbor that has everyone upset. The neighbors, who are also committed travelers, told stories about their recent boat trip along the Arctic Circle and their planned trip to Asia in March.

The next night we traveled to Elk, about twenty miles down highway 1 from Mendocino to visit Bobby Beacon’s bar. Bobby resembles a rustic Sidney Greenstreet only taller. His wealthy parents left him a piece of property in Mendocino about 10 miles on each side. There on a hill from which one can see far up and down the coast (all which we were informed was Bobby’s) sits his bar in which Bobby lives in a few rooms off the barroom. In one those rooms, open and accessible from the bar sits a grand piano on which, now and then, Bobby plays for his guests. In another room, there is a large ergonomic chair surrounded by the latest computer equipment and a 78-inch screen. The bar is not open at regular times like an ordinary gin mill. When Bobby feels in the mood to converse with friends, he turns on a bright light on a long pole sticking above the roof or the bar.It can be seen far up and down the coast. It informs those who are interested that Bobby is in a mood to talk with his friends old and new. In effect, Bobby makes his friends pay for the pleasure of his company. Bobby is very conscious of the value of money. When he tells his stories and he tells and they are interesting, they tend to be about money or outsmarting the government. He also tells stories about animals that wander around his property or that he sees in the ocean from his bar.

Bobby collects fire engines — real fire engines not toys. They sit on his property and rust. It seems that many years ago when the local fire department presented Bobby with the estimated cost for them to his property in their district, he decided it would be much less expensive to form his own fire department for his property alone. Then a piece of legislation was passed that required Fire districts funded with public money to offer at a discount any equipment they consider obsolete to a fire district not funded by public money.

Anyway, we had a good time.
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The next day, it rained. I sat by the window and watched the slate grey ocean fling it’s white spume upon the black rocks. When I tired of that I read. The day after, still raining, I left to return to the golden hills.

 

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I do not know why it is but I usually find the most unpleasant trips the most interesting. It was that way on my recent trip back from Thailand. We left the apartment in Bangkok at about 7PM in order to get to the airport early enough for me to get a good seat. Suvarnabhumi Airport was more crowded and disorganized than it usually is. After a difficult time securing my ticket, I was told the flight was delayed until 6:30 in the morning.

I waited. Slept in fits on uncomfortable chairs. Walked around a lot. Drank water. Thought about how annoyed, uncomfortable and tired I felt and what I would do to the CEO of the airline if I had him in front of me. Eventually, we boarded the plane and took off. I was too exhausted to sleep. The movies were unappealing and the food not much better.

Because the flight took off so late, I arrived in Shanghai just as my connecting flight to the US was leaving. I rushed off the plane. Well, actually I did not rush because I had been seated at the back of the plane and no one but me seemed to be in any particular hurry.

As I exited the plane, I saw a young man with a sign that announced, “Transfer Passenger Assistance” and showed him my ticket. He looked confused. Walked away to speak to someone, returned and pointed vaguely toward a corridor leading from the hall. I had forgotten how the Chinese bureaucratic system differs from that in the US. In the US, probably for reasons of cost, people relating to the public are trained, for better or worse, to handle a number of somewhat discretionary activities. The Chinese it seems are not. Each functionary there appears to have been assigned only a single, not particularly discretionary, action.

Anyway, after passing through several hallways, I entered a large room containing several counters. Above one was a sign in English that read, “24-hour transit passengers.” I guessed that was the counter I was looking for. There was a long line and only one clerk. When I got to her and showed her my ticket she responded, “Transit Hotel.” I asked “Where?” She handed me a paper with my name on it and pointed to another traveler and said, “Follow that woman.”

“That woman” proved to be another lost and confused American who missed the same connecting flight as I. We passed through another warren of hallways until we came to a room even larger than the previous one with a lot of counters around the walls in front of which were crowds of clamoring travelers. We noticed a group of people in the center of the room who we recognized from our plane and asked them if they knew what was happening. One said, “I think we are supposed to wait here until someone comes for us.”

I noticed a counter over which was a sign that read something like “Transit Supervisor.” I approached him and asked what it is we should do. He pointed at a bunch of chairs against one wall and said, “Sit there, someone will come for you.”

So, we sat there for a long time and to our relief eventually, someone came and ordered us to follow him. We asked where we were going but received no answer. He marched us to a bus, too small to sit all of us and our luggage so many had to stand in the aisle amid the piled suitcases.

After a long long ride that ultimately brought us back to an airport hotel across the street from where we began, we disembarked and entered the hotel and milled around the lobby until one of us thought it would be a good idea to approach the reception desk. We did and at first, they did not seem to understand what we were all doing there. Then one of the women behind the desk motioned to us and began assigning rooms. When I approached and asked for a single room she said brusquely, “Two to a room” and assigned an elderly Japanese man to room with me. At first, I was offended that I had to share a room and with another, an old man no less, but I then realized he was no older than me and perhaps even younger. He spoke barely any English and I no Japanese but I soon discovered him to be one of the nicest and kindest people I had ever met.

I then asked about dinner and there ensued a several hour hullabaloo where I turned into the ugly American. I thoroughly enjoyed it, shouting away and laughing until everyone turned their back on me except for the servers who laughed with me (or at me, who knows).

Eventually, dinner arrived. It was as expected unappetizing.

The old man decided to go out on the town to a  symphony or something I might not have understood properly. I declined preferring to cry into my pillow.

The next morning at the airport the lines and confusion were staggering after about an hour or so of standing in a line that bearly moved, a guard came by and asked if I was on the plane to SF. When I answered in the affirmative he whisked me through everything and off I flew.

Having slept well the night before, I could not fall asleep during the flight so I watched all three episodes of Lord of the Rings. I found Frodo’s bulging eyes disconcerting and wondered why everyone in the movie had blue eyes.

After arriving in San Francisco I set off for Hobbitown in the Golden Hills. It took five hours or so to get there.

Back in El Dorado Hills.

Now some might wonder how I could equate EDH with the Shire. Easy, they both have a certain picturesque attractiveness; they both are set among rolling hills; they both are self-indulgent inward looking societies; they both see the outside world as full of orcs, goblins, sorcerers, violence and malevolence and; the citizens of both have hairy feet and do not wear shoes. Well, actually, the citizens of EDH do wear shoes.

I have resumed my life here as before; wake in the morning; drive HRM to school; Bella Bru for cafe latte and cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese; walk about three miles around the lake; return home and read a book; nap; have dinner and; retire to my room for my daily dose of existential anguish.

On Wednesday, I leave to spend a week at my sister’s home in Mendocino. She is hosting an engagement party for her son Brendan and his intended Ashley. She expects about 60 people to spend the weekend in and around the house. The Paella Lady and her huge paella pan will be there. Also, lots of Italian and Philippine food to eat and I expect a lot of music too.

On Sunday we plan to attend Paul Bunyan Day in Fort Bragg.

Life is good.

 

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A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN SACILE, TAMAI, AND VENICE:

Sacile and Tamai

On Saturday, Vittorio and Teacher Brian intend to go off on a 30 hiking pilgrimage from France, through the Pyrenees Mountains, and across northern Spain to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela a journey of about 500 miles. Their friend Marco decided to hold a bon-voyage party for them at his house.

Both Vittorio and Brian are accomplished hikers. Vittorio hikes 20 kilometers several mornings a week. Brian, an American originally from South Dakota, who now teaches physics and other sciences to high school students at the nearby American military base (hence the nickname Teacher), has an interesting back story about his commitment to hiking. When he was a young man serving in the military he was diagnosed with a large growth in his lower spine. After its surgical removal, it was feared he could never walk again. But he did and now hikes regularly through the Veneto plain and the pre-alps.

Anyway, we gathered at Marco’s for the party. I was pleased to see Professor Hank and his wife there. He is a professor (hence the nickname) of economics at a college in New Jersey and used to teach the same at the military base. Like Teacher Brian, he and his wife have a home in Sacile and spend summers there.

The dinner, in good Italian style, lasted from 7:30 when we arrived and until 1 AM when we left. It began with Prosecco, moved through Thai main courses (Vitorio’s wife and several other people there are Thai) and finished off with Italian pastry, sweets, liqueurs and cherries marinated in grappa. It was a truly multi-cultural meal.
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Professor Hank, a thoughtful gentle man whose company I find extremely enjoyable. As usual, when he and I get together, we talked about many things including the possibility next summer of he and I traveling together to visit his friend who lives in Marshall Tito’s old villa on the Ischia coast of Croatia. Thereafter we would take the ferry to Bari and tour Calabria, his wife’s birthplace. After that, I could go on by train to Sicily and visit Antonio and my family before setting off to Thailand. This excited me because I had hoped to take a similar trip this year but had to cancel it because I had not yet fully recovered from my treatment.

Venice

On Monday I set off to Venice. I wanted to see how the Biennale exhibits had changed since I visited there almost two years ago.

Although I visit it often, Venice is not my favorite city. Perhaps, it is because of having read Thomas Mann or seen the movie made from his book. Perhaps, I am terrorized by people who creep about at night in masks and garish costumes. Perhaps, it is the signage for the route back to the train station that always seems to lead me through a section of the city I had never visited before, usually, one that I never even knew existed, and lose me there (this visit was no different). But mostly I think, it is because I have never eaten a good meal in that city. Despite whatever it is that puts me off, I still find myself returning again and again and happy I did so.
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Back in Sacile and Tamai

The rest of the week included trips to the markets, mornings and evenings in the cafe’s talking with Hank, Lucia and others. I marvel at how these few people, Vittorio and Anita, Lucia, Professor Hank and Teacher Brian have become such close and important friends of mine despite having first met them only a few years ago and having visited with them only briefly since. I consider them as close and as dear friends as any I have made in my life.

On my last full day there like my first, I accompanied Vittorio to a nearby town where he marched with his band in a religious procession. Although growing up in Tuckahoe where religious processions were common, I have rarely seen them since then. Along with the procession, the town held a soccer tournament and hosted a dinner beneath a grand tent where I watched some men play “scopa” (a popular Italian card game) well into the evening.

 

B. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN ROME:

On Friday, Vittorio drove me to the train station for my five hour trip to Rome. The train ride was uneventful other than when somewhere in the middle, I noticed my suitcase was not where I had left it. After some frantic searching, I found it at the opposite end of the car. The car itself was full of American college students on their way from Venice to Rome so I guessed it had been moved to make room for their mountains of luggage and backpacks. I otherwise dozed, read, or watched the hill town pass by my window. Sometimes, I tried to guess their names and recall if I had ever visited them.

Having lived in Rome for three years back in the late sixties and early seventies, I consider it my home. There are four cities I think of as home; Rome (and Sabina), New York City (and Tuckahoe), San Francisco, and Bangkok. I have lived for a considerable length of time in all of these cities. Whenever I return to any of them, I find myself just as happy sitting quietly or strolling around as I would in some more energetic or social activity; so it was with this trip. I am still too weak and ill for anything more than the briefest of walks. Nevertheless, on Saturday morning I ambled to my beloved Borghese Gardens and sat on a bench near the magnificent Borghese Museum that as usual had sold out its tickets for admission about a week in advance.

I sat where I usually do, on a bench near the accordionist. I have been coming here for about 10 years now and sitting on that bench listening to him play. He bills himself as “The Ukrainian Organist,” but I suspect he is just an ordinary Slavic accordion player. He plays light classical music which I always felt had been written specifically for sunny days in a park with breezes rustling the leaves of the trees, filtering the sunlight and dappling the ground in shadow or destined to be stolen by some modern musical comedy composer caught in a momentary lack of inspiration. Today alas, he, the musician, seemed distracted. He’d play only a few bars of a piece before jumping on to another. Even his piece de resistance the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach(what the phantom of the opera plays in his grotto under the Opera House whenever he has agita) seemed forlorn and discordant — at least, more so than it usually sounds.

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The “Ukrainian Organist” at the Borghese Gardens

On Sunday my delightful cousin, Federica picked me up at my accommodation in the Castro Pretoria section of Rome. She first drove us to the “Quartiere Coppede a fantastical mix of Ancient Greek, Roman Baroque, Mannerist, Medieval, and, overall, Art Nouveau mixture created by the mostly forgotten architect Coppedè in 1919.
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Fede and Pookie Footloose in Rome.

After that, we drove out to Sabina where we had a great lunch with her parents and another cousin Andrea.

Lunch was the typical 3 or more hour affair. It began with kisses and hugs all around followed by the antipasto. I do not recall all the ingredients included in the antipasto but I remember fried zucchini and potatoes, tomato and peppers (or perhaps just red peppers) and olive oil on a lightly baked breaded cracker of some sort, I think. Small mozzarella balls, mixed vegetables, and cantaloupe with Parma ham. The pasta course contained cold Ziti (?) mixed with vegetables. Then we had turkey involtini and a salad. A fruit compote followed by ice cream cake (chocolate) made up the dessert —followed, of course, by coffee. This was all accompanied by interesting conversation and a very good chilled white wine that I, unfortunately, was unable to drink more than a sip.

We also spent some time looking at old family photographs and watching the finals of LeMans on television. (Andrea is service manager for Ferrari and had a professional interest)
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The Cousins and me

After the lunch, Fede drove me back to Rome and the next day I set off for Thailand.

 

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A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN TRANSIT:

The last few days before leaving on a trip are usually part of the voyage itself, even if, like me, you just fuss and fume about not doing anything to prepare. A few days before departure, I did manage to throw some clothes and medicines into a suitcase.

Usually, I have no anxiety about going on a trip — no matter how long and arduous it may be. This time, however, I was apprehensive. Perhaps, it is because of the state of my health or maybe it is my age. In any event, whenever I think about my travels this summer an indefinite shadow of concern rattles around the back of my mind.

On Wednesday evening, Dick drove me to Sacramento Airport for my overnight flight to New York. After saying goodbye to him and to HRM, I walked into the airport. I decided to act the part of a bent and befuddled and creepy old man. An easy task since I am, in fact, a bent and befuddled and creepy old man. So, leaning heavily on my imitation black thorn shillelagh cane, I stumbled around and forced everyone to repeat whatever they tell me twice. I did this because I thought it would help me get assigned better seating and boarding preference (it did), and also because many, many years ago when introduced to “method” acting one of the exercises was to stumble around like an old man. Now that I am an old man, I thought it would be interesting to see how accurate we had been. It was great fun.

In New York, I managed to spend a bleary-eyed day at Kennedy Airport waiting for my flight to Milan. It doesn’t matter how old, bent and befuddled you may be, in New York they will still tell you to “go fuck yourself” or the like if your responses are too slow.

No matter how tiring and uncomfortable traveling may be, especially by airplane, there is usually something interesting to watch. That is probably because unlike passing strangers on a street or in a restaurant, on a plane or waiting around an airport boarding area you are involved in a short term community and with people with similar goals— to survive the trip.

While waiting in New York’s Kennedy Airport at what I thought was the correct gate, I noticed that the boarding area across from me was fitted out with tables and chairs decorated as though a party was going to be held soon. Waiters spread out among the other gates in the area offering everyone free fruit juice. Soon strangely dressed people began to drift in outfitted in various odd costumes usually including a strong dose of sequins. It all began to resemble a Fellini film. Then the star of the show arrived. At least I think it was the star since almost everyone in sequins and some without would come over to her, smile and then kiss and hug her. She was about six feet two inches tall with one of those tight skinned expressionless faces like Trump’s wife’s that are the frightening wonders of modern cosmetic surgery (you wonder how and why). Her breasts were out of a porno comic, her butt something that would make JayLo’s appear malnourished and her dress easier described by what it did not cover than what it did.

Anyway, eventually they all gathered at the tables and after about 20 minutes or so of partying and picture taking, they all got up, including the super-star, and marched through the gate marked “Vienna.” So, if you read or hear about anything unusual happening in Austria during the second week in June, I’d love to hear about it

Shortly after the carnival departed, I learned I that I had been waiting at the wrong gate. So, I rushed across the airport to the correct one where I was met by Frank Cozza, an Alitalia employee, who Nikki arranged to take me through security and generally ease my transit. He told me that he had paged me for an hour or more. But, I guess, with my diminished hearing and all the partying, I did not hear it. Frank arranged for me to decompress for a half hour in the first class lounge.

The most interesting thing about the flight was that sitting a few rows from me was about five deaf Italian women who had been visiting the US and were now returning to Italy. Although I cannot read sign, I could understand them easily since I am proficient in Italian facial expressions and hand gestures. In the US and most other places, I guess, signing carries the message with facial and hand gestures used for emphasis. In Italy, or at least among these women, facial expressions and hand gestures carried the message while the signs seemed to be used only for emphasis.

They were loud also. At the luggage carousel, everyone’s eyes were drawn to them as they talked or argued in sign over the various pieces of luggage that trundled by.

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B. TAMIL AND SACILE:

 

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Pookie a Child of the Corn. 

 

The following day, I arrived in Italy, the land of expressive hands and dramatic noses. Nikki met me as I exited the plane at Malpensa near Milan. He was scheduled to fly a plane to Tokyo in a few hours. We had lunch. I ate spaghetti and lobster. I actually could taste the lobster. Perhaps my taste is returning. Or, perhaps I can only taste things that come packed in their own slime.

Then it was off to northern Italy by train to Sacile where I was met by Vittorio who promptly drove me to a cafe where the two women owners implored me to assist them with drafting their proposal for developing a techie way of assuring artist profits in the face of discount sales. I agreed. At a little after one AM, I finally got to bed following well over two days of traveling with little sleep.
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Sacile

At 8 AM the next morning, Vittorio and I drove across the Veneto farmlands toward another town where he was to play in a marching band during a commemoration ceremony for the town’s Alpine troops who died in the two world wars. As we drove, on our right the pre-alps rose above the fertile plain like a Roman shield wall before an assault by the Gauls. It was a lovely day.

Vittorio plays tuba in a number of bands and orchestras in the area. Like with Peter Grenell, who I often follow along to his various gigs, I happily follow Vittorio along to his whenever I am here. I guess I can be viewed as a “geriatric groupie.”
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Vittorio and His Tuba

Vittorio’s band mates and the Alpini veterans all wore their distinctive hats with one stiff erect eagle feather jutting above each. I learned that the dark feathers ment the person had been an enlisted man and the lighter stiff erect eagle feather signified an officer. I could not help noticing that the stiff erect feather of the officers was, on the whole, distinctly smaller than those of the enlisted men’s except for one or two of the officers whose stiff erect feathers were larger than everyone else’s. You may make whatever sociological conclusions from that you want.

Upon our return, we stopped in Sacile for Prosecco at Lucia’s “Le Petite Cafe.” Disney-world is not the happiest place on earth, Lucia’s “Le Petite Cafe” is.
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Lucia and Vittorio at “Le Petite Cafe” in Sacile.

Following an afternoon nap, we set off for a bon voyage dinner in honor of Vittorio and Teacher Brian’s impending 30-day walking pilgrimage to Compostela in Spain. But, that is for my next post.

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I arrived in Bangkok, the city of the “Sidewalks of Death.” Should one stroll about the town one might: find the sidewalk beneath of him suddenly open up, plunging him into the fetid miasmatic water below and carrying him off to the equally pestilential waters of some ancient canal, there to drown — trip on a crack in the pavement sending him tumbling into the street where he is maimed or killed by hoards of crazed bikers trying to beat the traffic light — be attacked by rabid soi dogs and sewer rats who gnaw off his ankles — be abducted by an evil tuk-tuk driver and disappear forever — be set upon by a group of manic ladyboys pouring out of an alley who either ravish his body or beat him senseless and steal his money. I love this city.

 

The flight from Rome to Bangkok was uneventful except during the leg from Kuwait to Bangkok where the young man sitting next to me, who appeared to be a religious of some sort, insisted that I listen to a recording of incessant chanting by some Iman or something. That was OK because there is nothing I prefer to sleep through than chanting.

 

Bangkok is hot (but not as hot as is parts of California right now). It rains every afternoon and evening— often big grumbling thunder showers. So, I go about whatever I go about these days in the mornings and lie in my bed and stare at the ceiling or tap away at my computer in the afternoon and evenings.

 

Thailand is billed by the Thai Visitors Bureau as the “Land of Smiles.” Thais have at least 15 types of smile, none of which means I’m pleased to see you — except for of shopkeepers, grifters and bar girls who unfortunately see you only as an ATM machine.

 

In the morning, as I walk from my apartment to the health club, I check to see which of the denizens of the street I have come to recognize over the years are missing since the last time I visited. The massive homeless young man often seen sprawled in a stupor on the sidewalks of Soi Nana or wandering in a daze down the street seems to be gone. The one-legged “king of the beggars” as I named him because of his handsome features, meticulous trimmed hair and beard who I now and then see entering for lunch some of the better restaurants on Soi 11, has resumed his post on the sunny corner of Sukhumvit and Soi 5.

 

My part of Bangkok continues to change and disappear. The old buildings with the cheap restaurants, go-go bars, and nightclubs get torn down, replaced with gleaming silver towers boasting that they contain the greatest award winning condominiums, or offices, or the finest of the three or four other luxury hotels with the same name in the city. The people who lived, worked or played there move out and new people move in — the ongoing migration of a vibrant urban area. The extent of pain and dislocation caused by it is usually a function of how rapidly it occurs.

 

One of Thailand’s major preoccupations is with massage. It is ingrained in the religious and cultural subconscious of the country. The Thais even developed their own brand of massage that is taught in the most prestigious temples throughout the nation. It consists of vigorous application of the hands, elbows, forearms, and feet by the masseuse to various points on the customer’s body accompanied by periodic sudden stretching or wrenching of his joints. Although a Thai massage can make you feel great after it is over, many people find the process too painful. As a result foreigners often, after a brief flirtation with “the real thing,” eventually turn to more traditional massage with its vigorous rubbing of the body with oil, with or without a happy ending. Many “legitimate” massage establishments do not provide happy endings (it is, in fact, illegal).

 

Speaking of legitimate massage in Bangkok, I would like to make a pitch to those who may visit the city to try Silk Spa on Sukhumvit Soi 13. It is rated by several travel magazines as one of the best massage parlors in Bangkok. My old friends, Gary and Pui, own the place. Gary is Canadian. He plays ice hockey in the Thai ice hockey league. The Spa is located on Soi 13 about 50 yards off Sukhumvit. Inside, it is a little gem of a place. Gary spends many days designing and building the interior. The evidence of his craftsmanship is everywhere, from the handsome gray slate floor and attractively painted walls of the massage rooms to the marvelous two person sauna with its shining blond wood. I go there three or four times a week after I finish my mornings at the health club.
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Although I like Bangkok a lot, there is one thing I despise. That is when I am riding the bus or the Skytrain and hanging onto the strap because it is crowded and I see someone, who I am convinced is older and more decrepit than I, get up out of his or her seat and offer it to me. I usually reject the offer somewhat coldly, unless of course, I am very tired. Then, I take the seat and sit there mortified (a word not often used anymore) on the one hand and relieved on the other. It is these internal conflicts that…Hmm, I think I’ve gone on about this long enough.

 

I spent a couple of delightful hours with my friend the Old Sailor. He is a kind man who has lived a fascinating life as a sailor, commercial deep sea diver, treasure hunter, and the like. He lived most of his life on or by the sea in South Florida (Key West), the Virgin Islands, Easter Island and French Polynesia (Bora Bora). He now resides in a second rate hotel in Bangkok. The walls of his room are covered with photographs organized by year. When I asked him about that, he said that he was beginning to have trouble remembering things. He had, he went on, an interesting life and he did not want to forget any of it before the inevitable dimming of the light.

 

One day, at a nearby Italian restaurant, in the course of our rambling conversation, he began a sentence with the words, “I sailed the Windward Passage three times.” It seemed to be an interesting story was in the offing and I was right.

 

One time, he either worked for or partnered with the Captain of a boat docked somewhere in South Florida. The Captain was having a dispute with someone over money or ownership or something like that. So, in the middle of the night, he and the Captain took the boat, leaving with no money between them and almost no gas to power the engines. So, they broke into a nearby refueling dock during the dark of night, refueled, and set off for wherever. Needing money, they stopped in the Virgin Islands and found a gig towing a large sailboat through the Windward Passage south of Cuba to Jamaica.

 

Somewhere near Cuba, a storm came upon them. At that most inopportune moment, their engine decided to quit and the boat slowed down. Unfortunately, the large sailboat did not and it smashed into their stern grabbing onto it like a shark grabbing onto a seal. Even more, unfortunately, the bowsprit of sailboat broke off and began thrashing back and forth across the deck making it impossible for the two adventures to get to it and untangle the lines and separate the boats. So, they spent the night hoping they would live to see the sunrise. The tale stopped there. Obviously, at least the Old Sailor survived. I do not know what became of the boats or the Captain or whether whatever he was fleeing from eventually caught up to him. I see in this a potential Hemingwayesque novella, “Captains Not So Very Courageous.”

 

A few years ago, some travel magazine commissioned a poll in which people from many countries of the world were asked if they thought it was ok to cheat foreigners out of their money. The citizens of no country responded with acceptance of such callous amoral behavior anywhere near 50% except for the Thais, over 80% of whom could see no problem in that conduct.

 

On Wednesday, I had lunch with the Gemologist. He is also a well-known ethnologist (The Vanishing Tribes of Burma), artist (sculpture and painting), adventurer, writer, businessman, raconteur, and man about town. I have written about him before. He has recently returned from several trips into the hill country of Burma where he photographed one of the hill tribes in their traditional dress and re-established his trading connections with the Gurkha miners and gem merchants working there. He has resumed trading high-value rubies and sapphires and showed me photographs of several beautiful examples (in the one million dollars and up each range).
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A Million Dollar Flawless Sapphire Recently Sold

 

It is always a pleasure spending an afternoon with him. We spoke of many things, mostly our disappointment with the political situation in America and the rigors of getting old.
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