Saturday, November 19, 2016

Getting Around

I am normally a good travel planner, but I made some rookie mistakes on this short sojourn to Paris. These were compounded by some unusual issues.

No problem getting from Geneva to Gare de Lyon, where we expected to pick up Line 1 of the Metro to La Defense, a short bus ride or walk from the friends' home where we are staying. Except Line 1 had a problem, and they weren't allowing people to board. Two hour delay they said.

My first mistake was not having a Metro/RER map with me, or having checked alternates online when we were still in Geneva. I would have realized we could have taken the A train. But we were also somewhat concerned the Line 1 shutdown may have signaled a more serious problem, ie the recent terror attacks on Paris. So we went back upstairs to grab a cab for the journey across town.

Less than halfway there, the taxi developed an engine problem, and the driver said we'd need to get out and take another cab. We happened to be near Stalingrad, which is one of the more troubled areas of the city, and I had visions of walking the dark streets, dragging two suitcases, looking for an unoccupied taxi to get us out of there.

Fortunately, the 1st driver was very professional and actually called for the backup cab, who pulled up right behind us on the street. Within a minute we had transferred the luggage, paid the 1st driver, and were on our way again. The 2nd driver was very pleasant; D-L chatted with him the whole rest of the way. We saw a few sights: L'Arc de Triomphe, la Tour Eiffel, and the Pigalle sex district.

Only took us an hour and 45 minutes for a trip that should have been perhaps half that or less by metro and bus. Not to mention rather expensive.

The next day, I was heading to see a client in a suburb northwest of Paris. I thought I had mapped out the train route to Cergy, requiring two different lines and buses on each end. Our host commented that the lines I was looking for did not go from La Defense, so I re-looked online and discovered I needed only one direct train on the A line. Instead of more than an hour, it should take less than 30 minutes.

At the train station, I rushed into a store to buy a bottle of water, only to learn later it was lemon water. Okay, but not great with the pain au chocolate I bought as breakfast.

In Cergy, the client had said to take the 44 or 60 bus, which I could not find (and if I had, I had neglected to print out the name of the bus stop nearest the client's office). So I got a taxi instead, and fortunately he knew where to drop me off.

At Cergy train station for the return trip, I learned my 2nd ticket, which I had bought at La Defense, did not work in the opposite direction. Had to buy another ticket. Skipping the entrance turnstills which only worked with electronic passes, I stuck my ticket in the 1st machine slot available. After it was stamped, I looked up to see that that particular turnstile was closed and sealed off with construction tape. The ticket clerk kindly let me through a side gate.

Probably a sign that we've been traveling too much. Road weary. 

Did I mention I forgot my gloves?

Saturday, October 29, 2016


A friend recently announced that they were "leaving Facebook," calling it an addiction.

Certainly it can be. Scrolling through posts from friends, friends of friends, and sites we chose to like once upon a time can be time-consuming.

I find, whether it's good or not, that I get much of my "news" via FB, whether news of some major event in the world such as an earthquake or political shitslinging, or news from family members, friends, and a few business colleagues who are also friends. I also regularly check news aggregators such as Drudge, and Twitter is pretty much confined to professional aviation connections.

The best thing about FB is that I can keep up with what my grandkids are doing. It fills in the gaps between visits and skype calls.

I also love the wide-ranging diversity of views from people I know, some very right-wing tea-partyish, others radical liberal. I may not share their views, but I like that they voice their opinion, and I think it's good to keep an open mind, not listen just to people you tend to agree with.

When I post or share something potentially controversial (which is almost everything these days), I sometimes pause to think which of my family/friends/colleagues will be offended, and will it sour or kill a longstanding relationship. (Doesn't seem to stop me from posting, though.)

I love the intelligence of many of my friends, especially the ones who will push back and challenge something I post. Maybe I didn't explain myself thoroughly enough. Oftentimes, I am spurred to go do my homework to better understand and define where I stand on an issue.

In general, I avoid posting responses to people with huge followings, simply because my email will then fill up with replies from people with contrarian opinions. However, from time to time I will post on a fringe site such as DailyKos just to be provocative and stir things up. After a few predictable nasty replies, usually name-calling with no substance, I will take down my original post to shut off the stream.

I especially love to challenge statements which appear to be unsupported, for example, people pushing the theme that the Russkies are behind the DNC hack and Wikileaks posts when not a single person has offered any proof. That's one of those "big lies" - tell it often enough, and some sheep will believe it.

My brother claims that I post photos of everything I have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and perhaps at one time I was, almost. I do get some good recipe ideas from other people, though.

Most of all, I like videos of kittens. Call me addicted.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


Having been in five different countries in the past couple of months, and three more coming up, staying in a dozen homes and hotels, we've experienced a lot of variation in shower water pressure.

My favorite is Geneva where the pressure is strong and the temperature fairly consistent.

My least favorite is Argèles-sur-mer in July and August when the village is flooded with tourists and the pressure can at times drop to a trickle. However, the touristas do bring money into the village, which enables the local merchants to survive year-round, for which we are grateful. Like yesterday when I needed mozzarella to make a pizza and could dash about 50 metres down the street to the green grocer and be back in less than five minutes.

Now that the tourists are gone, not only does the village have a very different dynamic of mostly locals, the water pressure is more than adequate. I can stand in the shower long enough to get some serious thinking done.

Just, please, don't turn on the dishwasher while I'm in there.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

I have a French disease (Ménière’s)

You don't have to grow old to be preoccupied with aches and pains, but experience does foster the angst.

Donna-Lane, having survived two bouts with cancer in the past five years, tends to become concerned with every new twitch and bump she feels. Has the cancer returned? Quite a legitimate fear. But so far so good, her checkups have all been clean since the chemo and radio treatments ended in March.

Since she and I have been together the past three-plus years, I have almost never been ill. Maybe one mild cold for a few days.

Yesterday was different. Severe nausea, which worked itself out, and dizziness, which is the concerning part. I don't have any heart issues, etc., but I do have an inner ear issue known as Ménière’s. It was first discovered in the early 1800s by a French doctor, Prosper Ménière. (Why would someone want to have a disease named after them?) More than 600,000 people suffer from it in the US.

Is it hereditary? Experts are unsure whether it's genetic or environmental or a combination of both. However, my older brother also has it. And my mother, though not diagnosed as such, has been having dizziness issues. Then again, she's 93 and otherwise going strong.

A potential problem with Ménière’s is vertigo to the point of suddenly falling down, even though remaining conscious.

No, the world is not spinning. It just feels like you've had a little too much to drink.

But think of the ramifications. How long would I be able to sit at the computer to research and write? If walking through the apartment was a concern, what about walking around the village? Driving a car? And worst, could I keep my balance swinging a golf club?

Giving up the car and driving would not be tragic. It would be somewhat limiting for reaching off-the-train-and-bus-route places. But we could survive. There are always friends with cars for really important short trips. D-L managed without having a car for years. And at some point, assuming we grow old(er), they'll probably take away our licences anyway.

I start asking myself, do I really feel dizzy? Really feel nauseous? Or am I imagining feeling those things because I'm overly concerned about those symptoms and the possible progression?

The mind is a mystery when it comes to physical aches and pains.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Where is the discussion of REAL ISSUES?

Thus far, the media coverage of the US Presidential campaign has focused almost entirely on character flaws. Hillary's corrupt pay-for-play style of governance, whether pandering to Wall Street or accumulating personal wealth through the guise of a charitable foundation. Her lies and evasion on why she used a personal email server for classified government business. And now the dodgy tactics of hiding possibly serious health issues. Trump, well, he's as off-the-wall and over-the-top as they come, mostly bombast, but potentially a dangerous wild-card if he gains the reigns of true power. Let's hope there would be cooler heads around a President The Donald to tie him up and gag him whenever critical decisions are to be made.

The mainstream media, which has foregone all pretense of objectivity, only stokes the fire of name-calling, much the same way CNN and Wolf Blitzer seem to love a plane crash. It brings in viewers, eager for the gory details. Facts are irrelevant. Cue the talking-heads gossip.

The real casualty of the campaign is serious discussion of serious issues: 

- Jobs in an economy that the government pretends is recovering but uses flawed formulas and has left the middle class and poor way behind as the 1% hoards all the wealth; 
- An education system which has abandoned the teaching of critical thinking in favor of standardized test-taking and whose undisciplined students are falling further behind the rest of the world ; 
- A health care system, also rigged for the benefit of the elite, in which hospital costs and drug prices are way out of line with other developed countries;
- An increasingly surveillance-driven police state in which all emails, social media, vehicle movements, and especially dissent are monitored, guilt is assumed rather than innocence, and too many cops shoot first and cover-up later;
- Continual undeclared war around the world, dropping US bombs indiscriminately on supposed combatants based on sketchy information and any civilians who happen to be in the blast radius (Clinton and Trump will both continue the warmongering - in fact, they will likely ramp it up to the threat of WWIII with Russia and China);

There's much more, of course: the environment; the TPP treaty which cedes more control to multinational corporations (the same ones who avoid paying taxes); bankers who should be in jail for fraud and manipulation; the preservation of Social Security and the threatened theft of the elderly's lifeline; etcetera ...

I understand the anger of many of America's citizens; the regular folks have been ravaged by the corrupt politicians and corporate charlatans for decades. I understand the fear of many of America's citizens; in Europe, we have suffered several heinous terrorist attacks close to home.

Anger and fear can be and are often destructive. They don't have to be. They can be channeled to start to fix things and build a society founded on mutual interests and a measure of trust.

But first we have to openly, calmly and rationally discuss real issues. Not orange hair and blue pantsuits.

Thursday, September 1, 2016


One of the things I like about Europe is use of metrics on roadways. The conversion is relatively simple in the kilometres to miles direction. 100 km equals 60 miles.

If we're traveling a long distance, it's easy to determine how long it will take us to get there. Averaging 100 km per hour (60 miles per hour), a distance of 350 km will take us about 3.5 hours.

Also, calculating with kilometres makes it seem like you're covering more ground in a shorter time.

On the golf course, I'm less enamored with the use of metrics. I've played for 50+ years and therefore memorized how far I hit each club ... in yards. When confronted with a distance to the green in metres, I have to do the mental calculation -- not that hard, roughly a 10 percent difference. 100 yards is about 90 metres, etc. But I'm never quite sure because my golf clubs, too, are used to dealing in yards.

Also, it's deflating. Seems like I'm not hitting the shots as far as I used to. About 10% less far. Not good for the ego.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

My Life in a Backpack

We were checking in at Carcassone airport for our Ryanair flight to London. I had paid for one checked back of 20 kilograms; as it turned out, I could have gotten away with a smaller charge for a 15kg bag, but with Ryanair (and other low-fare airlines) having an overweight bag could cost you even more, so pay a little upfront to eliminate the risk of paying later. (Ryanair's CEO once proposed to charge passengers to use the toilet on the plane during a flight!)

The queue was quite long and only two agents to handle the 40-50 people checking bags. For a good 30 minutes, I got to observe the people snaking through the stanchions with me, and could probably write an interesting short story with them as characters. D-L sat over yonder and waited, and of course struck up a conversation with the woman seated next to her.

As he was tagging my suitcase, the young man asked if he could check my carry-on luggage -- my backpack -- gratuit ... for free! My initial reaction was near-shock that Ryanair would offer anything without charge. Even the drinks and snacks on board are cash or credit card.

But then I realized something even more important. I simply did not want to be separated from the things in the backpack: my computer (and power cord), iPad (and power cord), camera (and power cord), tape recorder (and power cord), papers I had brought to work on, notebook, pens.

With the exception of Donna-Lane, my day-to-day life is contained in that computer. All my work files, financial records, thousands of photos, my connection to family and friends all over the world.

That's why those electronic devices are in the backpack. That's why they don't leave my possession, except when I have to place them in the tray to go through security (and then I don't go through the scanner until they do). The idea of risking them getting lost enroute to and from the luggage hold of an airplane is anathema.

Oh, I know all about backups. Yes, I could replace the computer, iPad, etc. within a day or two and be back in business. But what of the instant "fix" I might need from scrolling through emails and Facebook if I am without an iPad for hours and hours? What of scanning the news of the world headlines on Drudge? How could I survive without cute kitten videos?

No, thank you, young man. Keep your hands off my backpack.