Friday, October 31, 2014

Trick or Treat, Sucker!

Oz the skeleton.
Sexy Mads.
So, I'm waiting for the little snot-nosed monsters to show up at my front door on Edinburgh so I can give them some year-old bubble gum and here come photos of my own little Halloweeners in Spain.

I saw the costumes early this week when I was visiting Cordoba and Mads was truly proud of her Monster High character (I have no clue which, or even why) and here she is, looking like a nine-year-old tart. Love it.

Oz is more traditional: a skeleton, though I have no doubt he is clueless about what a skeleton is for.

I'm not sure whether or not I'll have the onslaught I've had for the past few years (350 kids one year; I was giving out quarter slices of white bread at the end), but I'm ready with the candy I dug up from the recesses of one of my cabinets.

Hard candy and bubble gum never go bad, right? They look good enough.

A Little (or a Lot) Less of Me

This is the lesser me: 30+ pounds down from the day I left for Europe, Oct. 5. I weighed 185 the day I got back (Tuesday) and am working toward not only maintaining a lesser me, but reducing even further, then solidifying some chest and arm muscles.

This feels a lot better.

Gratitude: The World Working as It Should

Today I am grateful for: The simple fact that the world works the way it is supposed to, not necessarily the way I would choose for it to operate.

I was having lunch with my pal Linda Webb at Norah's at the Taubman yesterday when I ran into a young waitress/student I've been following closely for some months. Alexandra, when I first met her, was trying to transfer from Roanoke College to Hollins and was having a great deal of difficulty getting her transcripts. Seems there was a particular dean who was simply unwilling to cooperate (ultimately, says Alex, he explained that "you are no longer my student, so I have no responsibility for you").

I called my friend and Hollins President Nancy Gray, who gave some good advice and did what she could, but ultimately, the cranky dean stood in the way of Alex getting to Hollins from all I understand.

During the most difficult part of this period, Alex ran into an old family friend who is an official at the University of Miami. Alex told her story and the family friend said, "Well, why don't you just come on down to Miami? We'll get you in." Promise kept. Alex will major in political science and law. She smiles now. "It couldn't have worked out better."

But for a time, there appeared to be nothing but hopelessness. I'm tickled for Alex, sad for Hollins because they would have complemented each other and truly sad for Roanoke College, an institution I have known and respected for many years. This is not a good thing to allow.

Liberal vs. Conservative: Grossout Response Reveals Political Tilt

This is only mildly disgusting; so does that mean mildly conservative reactions?
It's looking like the intensity of your "Ewwwwwww!" response to disgusting images can tell the world whether you're a liberal or a conservative, a new finding that is perhaps even more relevant today, Halloween. The accuracy of a survey conducted by Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute's Read Montague (among others) is at about 98 percent, according to a press release from VTCRI.

Conservatives, the report concludes, react more strongly to disgusting images like "maggot infestations, rotting carcasses, unidentifiable gunk in the kitchen sink" and the like. The study is published in the new issue of Current Biology.
Read Montague
“Disgusting images generate neural responses that are highly predictive of political orientation even when those neural responses don’t correspond with an individual’s conscious reaction to the images,” says Montague. “Remarkably, we found that the brain’s response to a single disgusting image was enough to predict an individual’s political ideology.”

It appears that "political ideologies are mapped onto established neural responses that may have served to protect our ancestors against environmental threats. Those neural responses could be passed down family lines – it’s likely that disgust reactions are inherited," says the release.

Says Montague, “We pursued this research because previous work in a twin registry showed that political ideology – literally the degree to which someone is liberal or conservative – was highly heritable, almost as heritable as height."

A Full House for the Return of Artemis

In the audience: Poet Mary Hill, writers Sharon Rapoport and Linda Webb.
Hollins legend Jeanne Larsen.
The revival last night of the Artemis series, based on a publication that is back from the dead, drew a full house of enthusiastic poets and poetry lovers. I'm not a poetry guy, but I can appreciate passion and the room was full of it.

There were readings by 11 poets, all local, and the response was enthusiastic and warm. I was especially taken by a fresh, affecting English teacher from Emory & Henry College named Felicia Mitchell. So taken, in fact, that I asked her to teach a class in poetry at the 2016 Roanoke Regional Writers Conference. She agreed and I think she'll be a hit. Felicia, let me add, is funny, not something I generally associate with poetry.

The new edition of Artemis magazine is out and there are only about 40 copies left. I'm not sure where you can get them, but my guess is that a call to the Hollins English Department will help.

Judy Ayyildez reads from her work.
Felicia Mitchell awaits her turn.
A full house greeted the reading of the poetry.

A Case of Overkill (of Me) by the DMV?

(UPDATE: I found the problem with a call to the DMV. Seems when I co-signed for a young friend to buy a car nearly a year ago, I took on a whole lot more than backing up a loan. I am responsible for the insurance on the car, as well, and when it was threatened with lapse in April, everything fell to me. I thought we had taken care of the problem, but apparently the DMV saw it differently and didn't get the proper documentation from me, so, as it turns out, this really is my fault. It also proves the adage, "No good deed shall go unpunished.")

OK, so last night about 9:30, I'm on the way home from a poetry reading at Hollins and I get stopped by the Roanoke City constabulary for a minor violation, one which warranted but a warning citation. During the course of checking out my driver's license, however, Sgt. S.F. Maffee discovers that my permit has been suspended since April.

At first, I think he's joking, but then I remember: cops don't joke. No sense of humor at all. I ask why the suspension and he explains that the DMV apparently sent me a letter in April asking for verification of my liability insurance, a letter I never saw. When I didn't answer, the heavy wheels of unforgiving bureaucracy kicked in and the license was kaput. Maffee says the DMV then sent me a letter telling me I'd been busted. Never got that one, either.

Mafee told me that the DMV sends out these letters "at random" occasionally to make sure people are not lying in their annual renewal of auto registration. It's a spot-check. And it's unforgiving and brutal, more totalitarian than democracy.

I've had automobile insurance continuously since I bought my first car nearly 50 years ago. I respond to mail immediately, especially bureaucratic mail where the sender can scream "Off with his head!" if provoked. There would have been no reason for me not to respond. Ask my Traveler's agent. I have insurance.

So today, Friday, Halloween, I get to find a ride to the DMV, discover what I need to do, get all the info together, go back, get rejected again for some minor reason, get further information, go back ... You get the drift.

And it's all because of a screw-up I had nothing to do with, a crime I didn't commit. Am I annoyed? Does a bear poop in the woods?

Thursday, October 30, 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.
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.