Tuesday, January 28, 2014

It's Time to Blog!

I realize this blog looks a little empty.  That's because I've just deleted some poetry posts from here -- I just figured it was more fun to have anecdotes instead.  So I need to get some more anecdotes written up!  I will.  I promise.  Meanwhile, here's a little music to get your day started. :P


Monday, December 29, 2008

More Interesting Quotes from Vincent Van Gogh

Some more interesting quotes from painter Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890).

Talking about light, in a letter to painter Émile Bernard in 1888, from the south of France:

"Oh! that beautiful mid-summer sun here.  It beats down on one's head, and I haven't the slightest doubt that it makes one crazy.  But as I was so to begin with, I only enjoy it."

Regarding the night sky, in a letter to his brother Theo in August 1888, he wrote that he saw:

"...the mysterious brightness of a pale star in the infinite.  ...You must be able to live on a piece of bread while you are working all day, and have enough strength to smoke and drink your glass in the evening....  And all the same to feel the stars and the infinite high and clear above you.  Then life is almost enchanted after all."

In another letter to Theo:

"Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map.  Why, I ask myself, shouldn't the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France?  Just as we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star."

And to a Paris newspaper critic who had praised his work, he wrote:

"It is absolutely certain that I shall never do important things."

If only he knew!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Fragrances of Nature

Have you ever noticed the smell of cement after it rains? Or the odd scent in the air right before it snows?

There are so many fragrances in nature that are lovely and interesting...

The heady scent of gardenias in the early evening.

The sweetness of pink jasmine at night.

The delicate perfection of a good rose.

Salt air at the beach.

The musty smell of old pine needles piled up and moistened by a morning rain.

Rock rose bushes, whose waxy leaves have a most wonderful scent.

A freshly picked eucalyptus or bay leaf, torn in two.

The pure freshness of an early morning.

Isn't it wonderful?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bitten by an Ostrich (and an Armadillo, too)

I just wanted to mention that I've been bitten by an ostrich in my lifetime. And also by an armadillo. I believe this to be a distinction that not many can match.

These incidents both occurred during a trip to a petting zoo when I was six years old.

The ostrich was a hungry bugger. I was holding a hefty hunk of bread in my hand, which was hanging by my side as I was checking out some rather unattractive turkeys. The ostrich snuck up behind me and the next thing I knew, my whole hand was in his mouth. He got the bread, and I got a bandaid.

The armadillo incident was negligible and without effect.

I'm actually pretty proud of all of this. I mean, who do you know who can say they've been bitten by an ostrich? Or an armadillo? Or BOTH?

The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh

I recently read a fascinating article in Smithsonian magazine's January, 2008 issue, entitled "Letters from Vincent".

Something which caught my eye was his lament that he had difficulty in creating from imagination, relying more on painting scenes which he saw before him:
Arles, c. April 12, 1888 My dear old Bernard, ....I sometimes regret that I can't decide to work more at home and from the imagination. Certainly—imagination is a capacity that must be developed, and only that enables us to create a more exalting and consoling nature than what just a glance at reality (which we perceive changing, passing quickly like lightning) allows us to perceive.

A starry sky, for example, well—it's a thing that I should like to try to do, just as in the daytime I'll try to paint a green meadow studded with dandelions.

But how to arrive at that unless I decide to work at home and from the imagination? This, then, to criticize myself and to praise you.
He was a great artist, living a tortured life. I wonder where he is now, and whether he is still painting.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Funchal, Madeira

I've spent a lot of time in Funchal, a beautiful town on the Portuguese island of Madeira (one of the most gorgeous places on earth).

Here are some of my favorite memories.

New Year's Eve. Most ships would go out to anchor on New Year's Eve, and when the clock struck midnight, all the ships at anchor and all the ships at dock in the harbor, along with many cars on the island, would blow their horns. And some would set off a huge fireworks display (along with others on the island). It was magical!

One New Year's Eve, I stayed up all night with a few of my friends.  In the morning, we drove around the perimeter of the island, stopping at a small cafe-in-a-home nestled into the hills overlooking a tall cliff by the ocean, where we had eggs fresh from the hen house. This was a true pleasure.

The dock in Funchal has a breakwater which formed the harbor. If you climbed up a ladder to the top of the breakwater, you could walk the length of it right to the end. It was completely covered in seagull poop and fish bones (from the seagulls).
At the end of the breakwater was a ladder going down the backside (the ocean side), leading down to a small platform off which one could swim. Keep in mind that this was right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The swells were huge and it was often difficult swimming. On one such occasion, I was having a difficult time swimming back to the platform. Despite swimming as hard as I could, I continued to move further out to sea. A friend swimming nearby had fins on, and was able to drag me back to the platform.

There were also giant cement "jacks" lining the ocean side of the breakwater, which helped diffuse the power of the waves before they hit the breakwater. We often went climbing on these giant jacks. They were often slimy and covered with mussels and barnacles. It certainly wasn't safe, but it was a hell of a lot of fun.

Funchal, and indeed, all of Madeira, is studded with avocado trees. I remember one sunny afternoon, walking up a winding cobblestone road up the mountainside. The road was peppered with occasional houses and even more occasional shops where old women dressed in black made and sold handmade lace tablecloths and other lace items. It was quite lovely. Anyway, this street had avocado trees just growing wild all alongside it. We picked some and enjoyed the fresh, ripe fruit.

There was a small, exclusive restaurant located in a basement below a small supermarket (an oddity in itself in those days!). This was up one of these little winding roads on a hill. And in this little restaurant, we would have tornado rossini steaks that were probably 2" thick and served on a 2" thick matching piece of delicious fresh bread, with the juices soaking into it. And all around this steak would be small, delicate servings of various vegetables. And there was a different waiter for every item -- one for the water, one for the wine, one for the bread, one for the meal ... the service was incredible. The entire meal ran about $2.

There was another restaurant, this one a tourist spot, called the Bird Cage. It had some very large bird cages filled with, if I recall correctly, quite a few canaries. Perhaps there were also parakeets. And it had, of course, plenty of small, round tables outside. What was fun about this restaurant was the menu. Somebody had translated it into English for the tourists, and one could order a "tunny fish sandwich".

We used to visit a discotheque up on the hill on our days off. They never failed to play this really dorky tune which, for reasons unknown to me, was incredibly popular in Europe at the time: Popcorn. It was just a stupid tune, and ridiculous to dance to. But the locals loved it and would pop up and down on the dance floor!

Madeira is just a truly gorgeous island. It's green and beautiful, and the people are really wonderful. I've definitely got to get back there one day for a visit.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Volcano Experiment

You know about the volcano experiment that all 4th graders do (when you're about nine years old). Baking soda and vinegar. We did it in class. The thing explodes.

File that bit of info in the recesses of the mind somewhere.

The next bit to file: My teacher in 5th grade (that's a year later) telling the class that she sips baking soda water whenever she has an upset tummy. You just mix a little baking soda in a glass of water, and down the hatch it goes -- instant relief.

Bit filed somewhere else in the recesses of my mind.

Several years go by. I used to like to sip vinegar. (I wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole now, but that's beside the point.) I got an upset stomach. I remembered the 5th grade teacher's handy recommendation to drink some baking soda water. I mix up some baking soda water and drink it down.

BOOM!!! A ball of volcanic gas about the size of a grapefruit happened inside my stomach (I'm surprised it didn't rupture), which then immediately blew out as a gigantic burp.


It was at this point that I remembered the volcano experiment....

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Excerpts From the Fly Letters

Warning: Not for the faint of heart!

I had some problems with flies last week....

Sept. 2nd

I just killed a fly. One down, one to go. There have been 2 flies flying around the office and bugging the crap out of me. I have no idea where they came from. I’ve been taking the garbage out promptly and the place is clean, so I can’t figure that they were hatched inside. I keep the front door closed. I have no idea! Unless maybe they flew in yesterday when I was lugging the laundry out or in or something.

(A little while later....)

That damned fly keeps landing on the T.V. screen. I don’t want to smash him on the T.V. screen and get bug juice all over the screen!!! YUCK!!! I wish he’d land somewhere convenient so I can demonstrate once again that I am not a Buddhist.

Sept. 3rd

Boy, do I have some fly stories for you. I told you in last night’s letter about a couple of flies that were giving me a hard time in the office. Well, things got worse after I finished the letter.

First of all, I got fly # 2 in the bathroom. He followed me from the office into the bathroom. I got the son-of-a-b* with a rolled up magazine while I was pooping.

The war was on.

The next fly landed on the bedroom TV screen. I told you last night I didn’t want to swat any flies on any TV screens because I didn’t want bug juice on the screens. Well, I couldn’t take these damned flies any more. So I swatted the fly on the screen. And, dear, it smeared YELLOW GUNK on the screen. It was TOTALLY DISGUSTING!!!!!!!!! BLAH!!!!! I had to clean the screen with glass cleaner. It was so gross.

Now the flies were out to get me. You think I’m kidding.

I was reading in bed. This one fly kept dive-bombing me and landing on my face. It was really grossing me out. Every time I’d get up and get a magazine (to roll up into a fly swatter), he would hide. I mean this. I even got him locked into the bathroom with me and he hid so well, I couldn’t find him. But every time I would lay down and start reading again, he would start buzzing my head like a barn stormer. I even sat there, duplicating the conditions (all lights off except for the reading light), but no fly. I’d start reading again, and he’d start buzzing me. I even laid there pretending to be reading but with a magazine in hand, instead ... no fly. I’d resume reading; there he was again. Finally, I held my book in one hand, and the magazine in the other. He came. I swatted. He hid IN THE CARPET. The f****r was hiding in the carpet. It was dark in the room. But I KNEW here was exactly there (ESP!). And I swatted his sorry ass and flushed him down the toilet.

What could come next, you might ask? The next fly landed on the pillowcase next to me. Like I really want bug juice on my pillowcase. I swatted his sorry ass and changed the pillowcase.

I thought I had won the war.

This afternoon, I was in the office. I had a nice, fresh, full glass of water (the big 32-ounce size). And a fly came, and buzzed me. I tried to swat him. He got away. He came back. He looked at me, and proceeded to fly into my cup and STARTED DRINKING MY WATER. And looking at me while he was doing it. He was looking at me. I swear. Son of a b*. I tried to catch him, but he got away. I threw out the water and got new water. Of course, now I’m wondering if I can leave my water unattended ever, at all, without knowing if the damned fly’s been in there. BARFFFFFFFFFFAROONIE. I think he did it on purpose, just to creep me out. He was looking at me.

I can’t figure out where these flies are coming from! I remember airing out the place for a few minutes last week after I’d cooked with a lot of garlic, and I remember seeing a huge fly that had gotten in. Maybe it was huge because it was pregnant!!! And maybe it laid some nasty little maggots in some corner somewhere behind the folding chairs or something? I can’t figure it out. There is never, ever any food laying around. I wash the dishes promptly, I take the garbage out regularly, I keep the counters washed, etc. The only other possibility is that they are getting in from inside a wall somewhere. ???

(A little while later....)

I’m going to buy a fly swatter.

Maybe I should go to the pet store and buy about 50 lizards! They eat flies, don’t they? Or is that frogs? I need frogs. Fifty frogs. I can see them now, hopping around the apartment. That reminds me ... once I went out to this park by a lake, and all these frogs had just turned into frogs. There were MILLIONS of them (no exaggeration). They were hopping everywhere, like a carpet on the forest floor. You literally could not walk without stepping on them. It was pretty groady.

When I was a kid, we (kids) used to go into the big man-made concrete creeks in the neighborhood. We’d bring empty coffee cans. We’d collect frogs there and fill up the cans. Maybe they were toads. They were little dudes. Of course, the frogs in the bottom of the can would get squashed and be dead. And the creeks were all slimy with algae and slimy stuff, and invariably we would slip and fall and get slime all over us (and the stink, too). One time we came back and dumped about 3 large coffee cans of baby frogs in the back yard. They were everywhere. Dad was really pissed. I never knew why, but looking back at it now, I think maybe because they would all end up dead and he’d be the guy who got to clean them all up. Our dog was a bit confused and trying to follow them all, but there were a lot of them (maybe 100 or 200). She was standing there, head going this way and that, tail wagging, barking.

One time, I got some chalk and wrote a super bad word on the fence in our yard: “B.M.” (That was the worst word we knew.) (Bowel Movement.) HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! We thought it was So Bad!!! :O

I’m going to buy a fly swatter.

One time, when I lived in this little duplex a super long time ago, the kitchen was carpeted with that flat fake green indoor-outdoor carpet stuff. (Don’t ask me why the landlord did that!) A fly laid its boogers in the garbage, and the maggots came out and were all over the carpet. I came out in the morning to go to the bathroom (which was on the other side of the kitchen) to get ready for work, etc., and there were like 100 maggots on the floor. But they were on this carpet stuff, so I couldn’t just wipe them up — I had to pick each of them up, one at a time, with a paper towel. It was TOTALLY DISGUSTING.

Another time (same place), I was standing on the toilet in the bathroom, cleaning the shelving (sponging them down). They were open shelves (no doors). A fly flew up, landed on the shelf blatantly right in front of me, and laid a bunch of tiny little squirming maggots!!! In front of me, like a big “F You”!!! I killed them. I always thought flies laid eggs which then hatched into maggots, but this one was laying maggots. They were wiggling. Tiny little wiggling disgusting maggots.

I hate flies. I’m getting a fly swatter.

One time in Morocco, I was standing outside.  There was a donkey cart on the street. I was watching the donkey. You know those huge horse flies? They have them in Morocco. I don’t know if they have them where you're from. They are huge (almost an inch long, I swear), and they are fearless. They would land on my lips and try to get into my mouth!!! Blowing did not dislodge them! You had to wipe them off with your hand!!! And then they would be on your hand!!! Well, there were horse flies on this donkey’s stomach. I probably told you this story already. He let his weenie come snaking out, and he started swinging it. It swung to and fro, more and more until finally it was swinging far enough that it was swatting the flies on this stomach. Seriously!!! He was swatting flies on his stomach with his weenie.

This is like a major fly reminisce event!!!!!!!!!

Did I mention that I’m getting a fly swatter????

It’s now after midnight. It took a while to write up the fly incidents. Think I’ll go to bed. I hope to hell that I don't dream about flies tonight! Wouldn’t that just suck? :P :O

Sept. 4th

Okay. Here is, I think (I HOPE), the last fly story!

Last night, after I finished writing to you, turned off my monitor and walked towards the bedroom, I saw A Fly, sitting on the carpet in the doorway to the bedroom, STANDING GUARD, WAITING FOR ME. I swear. I went into the bedroom. He started dive-bombing me. I went into the bathroom and so did he. I was fast, and I closed the bathroom door. He went nuts. He was zooming around the bathroom at about a million miles an hour, whacking into the walls, the ceiling, the mirror, anything. I’m amazed he didn’t get a headache. I had a rolled-up magazine (starting to run out of them, by now!), and I was whacking after him and was worried I’d wake the neighbors (I was whacking those walls pretty hard, and it was about 1:00 in the morning!). It took about 10 or 15 minutes to get that son of a b*!!! But I GOT HIM. SPLAT. In the trash, with the magazine. Bummer, because I hadn’t gotten to read that one yet. Wiped the fly guts off the wall. Done deal. I haven’t seen a fly since then.

I did, however, find a spider in one of my little plastic drawers on my desk, a little while ago. I smashed him with some Kleenex and then I had to wash the drawer, because it had spider guts splurked inside.

I really think I need to figure out a way to live alongside bugs and bug guts, because this is getting out of hand. I may have to post these stories on my blog, just to make it all worthwhile!!! :O

Sept. 5th

No more flies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Nov. 5th

I got to use my new fly swatter.

It works.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Montana and the Mountain Goat

I've been to Montana a couple of times.

It is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places on this planet. Photos do not sufficiently communicate the grandeur of this incredible place, although I'm including four photos I took then (not originally in digital form).

On both trips, I visited friends on the Blackfeet reservation in Browning. I stayed on their couch on trip # 1, and in a local hotel on trip # 2.

On the Couch

I stayed on the couch at the parents' house of a good friend. He was also there, along with his wife and two children, one of his brothers, one of his sisters, and three of her children. The children were precious. Big-eyed and playful, we had a ton of fun. We were spread all over the living room in sleeping bags.

Inside an old tire laying on the front lawn, two puppies curled up along the inner rim, staying out of the sun. They were shy and sweet.

One day, we went on a picnic, the entire mess of us. We piled into mom and dad's pickup truck and my rental car, and took off to a nice spot way out by a lake. There are no roads out there -- not even dirt roads. I was driving the rental car right through tall grasses down the sides of hills. We really had a great time.

There weren't really any street names out there (except right in the tiny heart of downtown Browning), and certainly no street signs. Driving directions sounded like this: "Go way down that road there. When you see the water tower, turn left. Go way aways until you see the...." And the directions worked perfectly, every time. I had several other friends up there and I managed to find them all.

My friend took me hiking up in Glacier National Park one day. This is the Rocky Mountains. We set out in the morning, drove up to the parking lot by Going to the Sun Road, and hiked up to the top. Then we hiked all the way down the other side (we're talking a tiny hiking trail winding all the way down the side of a huge mountain), right down to the very bottom, where there was a beautiful lake. We hiked around to the other side of the lake and sat down in some soft, wild grass for a breather. We just sat in silence and enjoyed the wonder, sounds and beauty of the place. After a little while, it was time to head back. Hiking back up that mountain seemed easy enough for him, but there were times when my legs absolutely refused to move. I just couldn't lift them, and would have to stop for a minute or two. By the time we got all the way back up to the top and then down the other side to the car, I was pooped. Exhausted. We found a restaurant just outside the entrance to the park, and stuffed ourselves with huge buffalo burgers. To say that they hit the spot would be an understatement.

Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump

On my second visit, I collected up my friend's 10-year-old son, and the two of us drove up into Canada to Fort Macleod, where there is an amazing museum situated by a cliff called "Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump". This is where Native Americans had, for thousands of years, run buffalo off the cliff as a method of slaughter. It was a fascinating museum. On the way back, driving through the plains of the Blackfeet reservation (which covers a large area in both Montana and Canada), my young friend drummed on the dashboard and sang Blackfeet songs.

The Canadian border guard, when crossing into Canada, was quite friendly and pretty much just waved us through. The U.S. border guard, upon our reentry into the States, was a different story. He seemed to have some idea that he was perhaps catching somebody smuggling an Indian into the U.S. or something ridiculous. He seemed quite excited. First of all, the Blackfeet have their own treaty up there, with free passage on their reservation lands. And in any event, I had papers on hand for the child. The guard was crestfallen, and it was ludicrous. He was even more disappointed when he determined that all we had purchased up there were a few t-shirts, a mug, a hat and a few fridge magnets.

Clean Air

I did a lot of driving in Montana, as I had chosen on each trip to fly to an airport distant from my final destination, thus affording me the opportunity to see more of the state. I discovered then that I could drive for 4 or 5 hours, and then wipe the windshield with a wet paper towel, and have that paper towel still be white. With the exception of a few dead bugs, the windshield was still clean. This amazed me, living as I do in Southern California (one could say "Smog City"), where cars are filthy again within 24 hours of being washed.

The Mountain Goat

On my second trip, I hiked up Going to the Sun Trail on my own. As I was coming around a curve in the trail, I came across a large mountain goat who was coming the other direction; we very nearly bumped into each other. He jumped off the trail, and I got a couple of nice photos of him.





Here are a couple of other photos I took on that hike:





For a time, I owned five acres on a mountain near Helena. It was a little spot of paradise. I found a full deer antler on it once, and brought it home with me. I couldn't carry it on the plane, though ("dangerous weapon"). I had to somehow stuff it into my backpack and check it through. (Don't ask me why I had a backpack ... my friends would never let me go camping: "Bears.")

I met a lot of really fine people up in Browning. I just love that place! Montana is so very beautiful: words are insufficient. You must go to Montana.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Storm

Throughout the day, the rain had been coming down rather steadily; occasionally, it would whittle down to a flimsy sprinkle, and more often, it would attack the city with sheets of angry raindrops careening in from the heavens. But for the most part, it was a steady, grey rain falling from the grey clouds, through the grey sky and melting into the wet ground beneath.

Now, the scene was changing. Lying in bed, all was dark in my room and on the outside of my cold glass windows. The slight breezes I had felt during the day were gaining intensity, beginning to sound as if they were holding a hectic race of power between themselves. I heard the woos and wahs of the trees outside; my windows began to rattle and bang with a passion. The whole house seemed to shudder with each gust as the wind grew to be a ferocious monster in the dark.

I opened my windows a crack in the hopes that they would not shatter, sending my curtains to the ceiling. A great rumble filled my room and I jumped up to see the tree outside flattened against one window, pushing and arguing with it as if to say, "Let me pass!" The rain was pounding the ground, giving the impression that one was living in the center of a lake.

I went back to bed, and slowly dropped off to sleep amidst the screams of the angry wind, the thrashing rain of the skies, and the growling, groaning pain of the house around me.

In the morning, all was quiet. A few trees littered the driveway; the woodshed had lost its footing and it too lay prone in pieces; the ground was a muddy lake of leftover rain.

The storm was gone.

Sunrise at Sea

SUNRISE AT SEA

It was early morning -- six o'clock, I should say -- when I wandered out on deck. Around me, I saw a breathtaking world of soft violet and rich red. The fog around the horizon met and blended imperceptibly with the sea all around me, and again cottoned into the smooth, clear sky above.

The sea itself had not a ripple on it, save for the wake our ship was leaving behind us. Not a fish broke the glassiness; not a breeze touched its smoothness. Somewhere in the sky -- one could not tell where -- the sun was rising. It cast a glow of warmth, permeating through the fog, flowing through the sky, melting into the water to give an impression of rich depth.

All around was a two-toned beauty -- the blues and the reds blending together in all the world I could see, reflecting off the white walls of the ship as it glided through the sea.

It was a beautiful sunrise.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Playing Go (Baduk) With Korean Fishermen

This little adventure happened in Safi, Morocco (known for its sardine fishing).

It was common, almost traditional, to wolf down our food at mealtimes and then go for a walk out on the docks or the breakwater.

In keeping with this tradition, I was walking with some friends during lunch one sunny North African day, and passed by a Korean fishing boat which was moored behind us. I noticed several grizzled, fiftyish fishermen sitting on deck having lunch (bowls of rice with fish on top), and playing a board game I knew by its Japanese name, "Go". In Korean, it is termed "Baduk". The Chinese call it "WeiQi".

I knew a little about Go (having played it myself), and told my friends what I knew of the game, pointing as I explained. The seaworthy fellows on the fishing boat noted this oddity (a young freckle-faced redhead explaining an ancient Asian board game to her companions), and found this intriguing (or at least entertaining).

So they invited me to come for dinner and play Go with them.

They spoke no English. I spoke no Korean. We determined by pointing to our watches and pointing to bowls of rice and pointing to the Go board that I was to come by at 6:00 for dinner and a game.

Six o'clock arrived, and my friends from lunch accompanied me. Chopsticks in hand, I sat on a low stool set at the board, and ate rice with fish. I played Go with one kindly fellow, his weathered face a study in courtesy, while surrounded by four or five others. They stood behind me and helped me to play. And of course, they let me win.

You know what would be really nice ? I would so enjoy finding these fishermen whose lives crossed paths with mine that day in Safi, sharing another meal and playing another game (and this time, losing). They were a fine group of gentlemen.



Beautiful Portugal, and the Communist Revolution

I spent quite a bit of time in Portugal in the early 1970's. This post is about Lisboa. I will write separately about other wonderful Portuguese towns, cities and islands where I have been.

Portugal is one of the most beautiful countries I've had the pleasure and privilege to live in.

I've eaten many a fine meal at Gambrinus, one of Lisboa's oldest and classiest restaurants. I believe they were established in the 1930's. Portuguese food has got to be some of the best around. And I've watched more than a few movies at the classic Eden Teatro cinema -- sadly no longer a theatre. It had a huge glass front, and you would go inside on the first floor to find various small shops, and then go up the tall stairs to the cinema itself.

Once, someone gave me a sweet little doll. Its little arms and legs moved, and if you laid it down, its eyelids would close. It was fully clothed in traditional dress, detailed in miniature. This sweet little doll was only about 3-1/2 inches tall. I had that doll for nearly 35 years before finally deciding to part with it, the poor thing having lost both its little legs at different times somewhere along the line.

Sometimes I would go to the fresh cheese shop and get queso fresco (the best goat cheese in the entire universe), and to the vegetable stand for fresh, sweet oranges and newly-picked peas in the pod. Beautiful meals they made.

On other days, my friends and I would take the metro (subway) to the Lisboa Zoo, and go roller skating in the outdoor skating rink, under huge oak trees. They played music to skate to. The walk from the metro station to the zoo passed by the Jardin Botanico, a spectacular botanical garden. I remember that I always used to admire the flowers while passing by.

My friends and I used to go to Rossio often -- an old-world plaza in the center of Lisboa, with a beautiful fountain and several statues, surrounded by shops and cafes. There was one little cafe called the "Pickwick", where one could sit at tall, round cafe tables on tall bar chairs, or stand at the bar, and have an espresso and a ham and cheese sandwich. Or some TO DIE FOR Portuguese gelado (which I can say is the best ice cream on the entire planet).



It was near this wonderful plaza that my friends and I wandered out of a discoteque at around 4:00 a.m. on April 25, 1974, only to find the streets crawling with machine gun-toting militia men; a military-led Communist takeover was hotly in progress. There were legions of large trucks driving around, packed with soldiers who would occasionally shoot into the air.



We managed to find one lone taxi and got ourselves home in a hurry, without incident. These communist revolutionaries then proceeded to deface with their slogans the beautiful fountain and statues of Rossio, slashing red spray paint across nearly everything in the plaza.

It was called the carnation revolution, because if you didn't wear a red carnation indicating your support of the revolution, you were deemed an enemy and dealt with accordingly. They didn't last long, in the scheme of things; Portugal's first constitutional government took office in 1976, and they have had a variety of governments since.

The red paint has long since been cleaned up. I hope that Portugal will be able to preserve the wonder and the beauty of this ancient city, full of warm and friendly people.

There was a certain smell of espresso and I don't know what else, all mixed up, which was the smell of Portugal. Sometimes when I drive by a local coffee roasting company, I get a brief hint which always reminds me of Lisboa. I do miss it. I would like to go back one day.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Hurricane: An Essay

HURRICANE

It all began while we were at anchor alongside the Portuguese Açores island of Santa Maria, a mountainous port large enough to berth only its own small fishing boats. We had dropped anchor about a twenty-minute ride by sea-sled or lifeboat from the small dock, giving us a view of what once might have been a volcano, leaving the tip of the mountain poking up through the blue-black waters of the Atlantic.

The weather had been fairly good up to now, with only cold, refreshing breezes and the normal rolling swells of the mid-Atlantic. Life on the ship had the feeling of a never-ending rolling side to side. But not so, now. The breezes had gained speed and force, carrying the spoken word far into the sky before one had a chance to hear what had been said. The swells of the sea had grown in size, and their increasing frequency was heaving the ship into a state of constant pitching and swerving. The sky was darkening into a thick black mass of clouds, rolling and twisting furiously above us.

A few of the crew were ashore at the time, and we sent out a lifeboat with the hopes of retrieving some of them. By this time, the Captain and I were leaning over the port rail on the foc'sle, inspecting the anchor chain. "Hey," he yelled, "check that chain for me!" as we both leaned over to check it.

The lifeboat returned empty but for its skipper and hookman, and the boat was raised and secured in its place on the prom deck. Arrangements were made by radio to accommodate the crew ashore in a hotel for the duration of the storm. We had the rest of the crew below decks, madly securing everything in sight. Nobody wants to be hit by a flying file cabinet! (Well, okay -- those things were already secured -- the regular course of business on a ship. But we secured all the small stuff.)

The wind was up around a force ten now (approximately 60 mph). The ship was being torn from its position, anchors dragging. Soon we would be beached against a cliff we were near. The Captain called an all hands evolution (used only in emergencies). Up on the bridge with him, soaking wet between the rain pelting down and the airborne froth from the ocean, we picked up anchor and steered for the lee side of the island. It took about two hours to make the usually 30-minute trip, fighting against the wind and waves. Once we arrived at our destination, we set a course head-on into the now twenty-foot waves. The winds were now up force 16 or 17 -- 120 mph. The waves were tall and sleek. Pointing up to a crest, the glassy waters turned into a boiling froth which stung the face as the winds hurled the bullets of water through the air. Between the flying foam and the thick wall of rain, our lookout (who had been tied to the flying bridge by a three-inch rope) could not see much further than one or two feet ... the Captain had me order her down. Waves were stretching and leaping up to the flying bridge (our highest deck, five decks from the water line) and smashing down upon us. Our bow was mostly under water, our ship pitching and tossing about.

The storm continued in this way for three days ... we sailed up and back the lee of the island many times, awaiting the end of the winds and waves. By the end of the third day, we felt the waves decreasing in size, the winds calming ... our hurricane left us as quickly as she had come. Smooth seas, electric air -- a deathly feeling of quiet apathy where there had been furious motion for so many hours.

We sent out a boat to get our stranded crew from the island, unsecured below decks, and got some sleep. Life at sea was back to normal; our hurricane had passed on to hurricane heaven and left Old Man Sea pacified once again.




(These are not pics of this storm nor of the ship I was on, but the waves kind of looked like this !)

Storms I've Been In

I've been through some pretty wild storms.

I first became interested in the weather when we lived for a year in Illinois. I was 11 at the time, and in sixth grade. Our entire class went to camp for 4 days, and there, I found a "cloud chart". After that, I got myself a barometer and other similar knick-knacks, and learned all about clouds, weather patterns, etc. It's a passion that's still with me to this day.

In Illinois, they have these tornado clouds -- cumulonimbus mamma (aka mammatocumulus). There's something about seeing tornado clouds marching across the sky. The air gets electric with anticipation. They are the wildest looking things -- sometimes you feel like you've suddenly come into consciousness in an alien world. They often have a green or orange tint to them. And they look Really Scary.





Sometimes during the night, the sirens would go off (tornado warning -- tornadoes have actually been spotted in the area), and we would open our windows and head for the basement.

I've already written about one storm in my "Memories of St. Charles" post. We used to get squalls like this all the time. The only other weather item of note that I recall about Illinois is when lightning hit the big tree in our front yard. I have NEVER in my life heard a noise that loud! CRACK! Split that tree right down the center.

I've been in many, many exciting thunderstorms in the Southeast and all up and down the Caribbean. They are black and roiling and noisy and exciting, and they dump a ton of rain in a short amount of time before moving on and leaving you in the hot, sunny and intensely humid aftermath. We've even had a few of those here in Southern California, as well as up in Northern California, with lightening going on for hours and hours, hailstones popping and bouncing, and wind wailing.

I've enjoyed cold, blustery winter storms while riding the double-decker bus down the bumpy cobblestones of Lisbon, Portugal, doing my Christmas shopping. That's a wonderful memory. The smell of the wet roads, everybody wrapped up in raincoats, the spirit of the season. I would do it again.

During the El Niño of 1997, my husband and I were living way up in the Santa Cruz Mountains in a miniscule town called Lompico, a few "blocks" from Loch Lomond. We lived off a grooved, rutted, cruddy dirt road, on an acre of absolute heaven -- redwoods, redwoods, and more redwoods. However, the drive down into Silicon Valley was torturous, and during El Niño, it was horrifying. As I worked in Mountain View at the time (45 miles each way), I had to get up quite early. It was still dark when I left. I drove on windy mountain roads that paralleled creeks and streams, flanked by cliffs on the other side. Quite often during that winter, trees would fall and block the roads, or mudslides, or bridges would go out. One morning, I didn't even realize until I got to work that I had narrowly missed being covered by a mudslide -- the mud spatter was all over the top of my car and dripping down the sides. I had gotten through just at the moment it was coming down. I saw it as I was driving home (the road home was on the other side of the creek).

We even had snow that winter, right there in Silicon Valley. That happens maybe once every 20 years. And from our office building, I watched as lightning hit a transformer, blew it up, and put the power out in the entire area. Got to go down the stairs in the pitch-black darkness (oh, yeah -- that was fun...).

But probably the most notable storm I've been in was a huge hurricane. It was an incredible experience. We were sailing amongst the Açores islands at the time, and spent three days going up and down the lee side of the islands while the hurricane passed over. We had a few crew members ashore and so had to stay in the area.

You have never seen such a thing as a hurricane at sea! The waves were so huge, you could touch them from the aft well deck (normally, the sea level was around 10 feet below). And the waves were easily 15 feet higher than the aft well deck. That means they were about 25-30 feet tall. And almost glassy. Huge, monstrous things rolling by like an invading force. The spray that blew off the tops of the waves stung the skin, it flew with such force. And the wind just howled. I know that the weather archives show this hurricane as being a Force 1 hurricane (winds 70 mph), but I vividly recall that the winds we were experiencing were 120 mph (perhaps they set the "force" designations at the point that hurricanes hit the mainland). It was an absolutely amazing experience.

We never did worry about a thing, though. Despite the wildness of the screaming wind and the magnificent waves and the mess of it all, we had a captain with years of experience as a master mariner, and he got us through it without blinking an eye.

It was absolutely awesome.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Memories of St. Charles, Illinois

For one year, we lived in "Hillcroft Manor" on Geneva Road, across the street from the Fox River, in St. Charles, Illinois. I was 11 at the time. I don't even know if it's still there. It was a beautiful house on a one-acre hill, built by a piano maker (so it had a lot of gorgeous woodwork). [Note: Some years after writing this post, I found out that indeed the house is still there. A real estate developer has been trying to tear it down. I hope he fails in this quest!]


When we first arrived in St. Charles, we stayed for a few weeks in the beautiful Hotel Baker. It was a very classy place, with a live elevator operator, a very old fellow by the name of George Washington Carver. He and I had the same birthday ! And I celebrated my birthday while we were there. I used to go into the fancy ballroom and play their piano.

I used to sometimes go into the woods that separated our house from the next house over (where, by the way, the 16-year-old boy was very cute and I had a crush on him), and cut little paths with my dad's machete. I would also go across the street to the Fox River with my little cassette deck with the condenser mic on it, and record the sounds of the river -- the birds, the water lapping at the shore, the breeze rustling through the leaves and branches of the beautiful, old trees. I remember once during the cold winter, my kid brother went out on the ice and, poor guy, fell in as the ice gave way. His friend pulled him to safety with a long branch, and my brother suffered the consequences (a bad case of bronchitis).

We also had a school project hatching chicken eggs, and I took three of the chicks home and raised them until we finally gave them to a farm owned by some friends. One of the chicks had a broken leg, due to it having been stuck to the inside of the shell. A farmer friend set the chick's leg with a toothpick, and it grew up to be a healthy and very ornery rooster.

I also remember babysitting the three children of some family friends who lived in a huge fixer-upper out near Aurora, in the corn fields (are they still there ?). The place had no glass in the windows (fixer-upper). I was babysitting a six-month old, a four-year-old and a six-year-old. And two goats. I was "into" weather then (still am !), and knew the different types of clouds and what they brought. I saw a nasty looking black squall on the horizon, and told the kids to get the goats into the basement and that they had three minutes to do it. And we all joined the goats. Lo and behold, within three minutes, there were tornadoes flying around in the sky (none touched down where we were), and a wonderfully noisy storm.

And last, but not least, I remember the Halloween party my folks let me have in the basement. (We had a finished basement.) We played "spin the bottle", and the loser had to kiss somebody (we're talking just a quick peck -- we didn't go any further than that back in those days !). I had to kiss the cutest guy in class, which was totally embarrassing.

Ahhhh, the memories !!!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Adventures in Tangier




I was shopping one afternoon in the Medina in the Moroccan city of Tangier. The souq (market) is a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways, cobblestone, often with a roof over the top, flanked by myriad shops selling anything and everything: leather goods, clothing (Moroccan, French and more), shoes, food, furniture, brass goods, you name it.

I had been to the souq on several occasions, but always with friends. This time, I was there on my own. I think I'd gone to find a birthday present for a friend.

I stopped to look at something at one of the shops, and the proprietor, a Moroccan fellow wearing a brown jalaba, grabbed me by the arm and started trying to sell me to another fellow there. They were arguing in Moroccan Arabic about how many Dirham I was worth.

Of course, as a teenager, nothing much fazed me. I punched the guy in the arm, and just the sheer surprise of it all caused him to let me go. I ran off, and that was that.

One of these days, I'm going to go back to Morocco, and I'm going to make a special stop at the Medina in Tangier. I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Running With the Bulls

Pamplona, Spain is not the only place in the world where people run with the bulls. One such other location is Terceira, Açores (the Açores are a group of stunningly beautiful Portuguese islands out in the Atlantic).

I ran with the bulls in Terceira. Not many people know this fact!

The air was fresh, with a salty ocean breeze. The winding streets were cobblestoned and absolutely packed with people. And I ran with the bulls there.

I've seen it written that the bulls are kept tethered on a line. I do not recall this being the case when I was there! The horns were tipped and therefore couldn't pierce one's body, but I think the bulls were running free ... at least, I thought so at the time! One friend of mine got tossed by a bull. He flew several feet through the air and landed unceremoniously on his bum, and boasted for days afterwards.

As for me, I was helped up onto a fence in the nick of time by several other youngsters (slightly younger than I), from which I breathed a sign of relief and watched the bull trample by.

It's interesting that at that age, nothing seems remarkable. For me, it was just another day off -- no different than hitting the cinema or romping at the beach.

It's nice to be able to say that I've run with the bulls. It's a good memory.




Monday, June 26, 2006

How are your cattle today ?

I found out recently, when reading a very interesting magazine article, that cows are so important to the Masai, they greet each other with, "How are your cattle today ?"

I like that, and am considering greeting others in this manner.