Friday, March 28, 2014

Riding the wind

Sawyer soars
My grandson, almost as light as a feather and far more agile than me, floated upward without apparent effort. I tended to sink like the proverbial stone ... when I wasn't bouncing off the walls.

We were skydiving ... indoors ... at a new concept branded 'iFLY.' Great fun.

Essentially, you're in a chamber of plexiglass. From below, an array of fans funnels a column of air, and you ride the wind, so to speak. They adjust the strength of the breeze to the weight of the participant.

Sawyer made it look easier than I found it to be. Before the skydiving session, they provide training in how to hold your arms, legs, and head so you become, in effect, an arched flying wing or glider. They also teach you the hand signals the instructor will use to help you in the chamber.

I was so busy trying to figure out whether my knees were properly bent (they weren't), my arms were sufficiently extended (no), and keeping my chin up (sometimes) that I had a hard time focusing on what Josh was trying to get me to do. Not necessarily good practice for the real skydiving I'm hoping to do in Spain later this year - at least for that I'll be strapped to someone who knows what to do and when to pull the cord.

My grandson, by contrast, had even figured out how to tilt his hands to initiate a turn. He spent a lot more time floating on his own than he did being guided by Josh.

In the 2nd of 2 two-minute sessions, Josh latches on, does some turns, and spins you up to the top of the chamber about three times.

And when everyone is done, they fire up the maximum force and Josh does some Spiderman-style acrobatics up, down, and around the chamber.

The iFLY manager told me there are several such facilities around Europe, and they're putting a new one in Paris. I'd like to see them project a computer-generated image of the ground so it could be more like real skydiving, but not sure how that would work with the gridwork through which the air passes.
At least I got a little ways off the ground

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I got pampered by two lovely women

I went in for a haircut and ended up with a spa treatment.

For the past couple of years, the only one who has trimmed my hair is Sonya at The Boardroom: She is a fantastic barber, though I first sought her out as I was trying to learn how to take care of my new beard.

Today we hooked up at the Plano Legacy salon, where in times past I've played a little billiards, had a beer, and generally talked with the bevy of women there about D-L and life in France and Switzerland.

After she'd cut my hair and was prepping for the shampoo, Sonya asked if I was in a hurry, and since I was not, I became the subject of a training session for Toni.

First, I got the paraffin wax treatment on my hands. Then a scalp massage. Actually a couple of scalp and neck massages, first by Sonya to demonstrate, then by Toni while Sonya observed and coached. Then about four facial massages - trainer, trainee, trainer reinforcing the proper technique, trainee. My temples never felt so good.

After that, the hot towel over the face. With a bit of eucalyptus scent under my nose. (No, I did not shave off my mustache; didn't take any photos so I grabbed a generic off the web.)

Finally, the mittens came off and they each massaged down an arm, followed by my hands, complete with cracking knuckles. Sonya even knew where to massage for a golfer's unique palm pain; I'm impressed.

I could definitely get used to this.

What a waste

It took me 100 minutes to go about 30 miles from my grandkiddos' school in McKinney, Texas to downtown Dallas. (Had to go there to pick up some important, time-sensitive documents; otherwise would not have put up with such madness.)

I had almost forgotten how much I hated rush hour traffic in the Metroplex. When I had an office at the DFW airport, I worked from home most of the time and only went in for critical meetings or to check my snail mail. My co-workers probably figured I was traveling most of the time, as I'd go to Montreal and elsewhere frequently. I was just trying to avoid the $25 a day cost in gas and tolls.

Think of all the wasted time Texans and others in big cities waste crawling along the highways on the daily commute. If there are a million people in their gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks and they spend an hour each way each business day, that's 10 million wasted hours a week and 500 million wasted hours a year - and that's just for Dallas/Fort Worth!

I love that we live in a place that doesn't even require a car. We can walk to just about anything we need, take the one euro bus to the 'big city' of Perpignan if necessary, and the inter-cities train or TGV to any large city in Europe. Yes, we bought an inexpensive little car, but it's as much for impromptu excursions into the mountains or to explore castles or (the primary reason) to drive to the golf course.
Our commute is about 15 feet - the distance between the bed and the home office. (Unless, of course, we grab the computers and work in bed.)

I once vowed to never live in a place that had radio traffic reports. Anything that large was too big city for me.

I can imagine the 'traffic reports' in Argeles-sur-mer. "There's a produce truck delivering to the green grocer at the end of Rue Vermeille; you'll need to walk around it, and be careful of the side mirror. On Rue de la Republique, the Wednesday marche is filling up fast with tourists, and the crowd is three-deep at the sausage stand. And at the beach roundabout, there's a line of at least five cars, so plan on an extra couple of minutes before you can stick your umbrella in the sand. Now for a word from your favorite boulangerie ..."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sleeping with Cinderella and Spiderman

Last visit, I slept on a film set ( It was my grandson’s former bedroom, but he’d moved upstairs with bunk beds so his bud’s could stay over.

Since then, that room has been converted into a film audition studio, complete with blue screen backdrop and umbrella spotlights. Sawyer is getting so many requests for auditions for films and other projects that my daughter, his “momager,” decided to also become his cameraman and director. Much more convenient than running around town to other studios. Georgia’s now starting to get requests as well.

Therefore, I am sleeping in Georgia’s former bedroom (she’s now upstairs as well).

I’m enveloped in a metal frame, draped in lace, that resembles Cinderella’s pumpkin coach. The bedsheet is a bright pink. And the top sheet has a Spiderman motif – it goes with the Spiderman pillowcase that I now use in Argeles-sur-mer. For 'company,' there are about 50 stuffed animals of various species, colours, and sizes.

So far, I haven’t awoken in the middle of the night and panicked at the sight of the cage-like structure … nor have I hit my head crawling out of bed while half-asleep.

One advantage - I'm in the middle of the house with plenty of walls and floors between the rest of the family ... so my snoring should be somewhat muffled.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Rock stars

'Spiderman' Sawyer
'I can do it' Georgia
Gonna be sore tomorrow.

Went rock climbing with the grandkids. Originally had only planned to shoot video of them. But when we got there, realized I had not brought my video camera. Only had the cell phone camera.

Decided, what the heck. Give it a try. I'm only four weeks shy of 63. What's the worst that could happen?

After Sawyer and Bryan were trained on how to attach the harness and ropes, and work the ropes to keep them taut so the climber doesn't fall, we headed for the pseudo-rock walls, which featured plastic 'rocks' of various shapes and colors, including color-coded 'trails' which presumably showed easier or harder routes to the top of the approximately 40-foot climb.

Sawyer scampered to the top the first try as if he'd done this numerous times, though this was his inaugural trip. Guess his reputation at school as 'Spiderman' is deserved.
Not my stunt double
And, yes, I climbed to the top as well and rang the bell ... a couple of times. But the final time, using the 'automatic' rope, I tried to grab a large 'stone' which turned out to be slippery with no handhold, and when I lost my footing, the rope released. As I descended somewhat rapidly, I banged my shin against one of the protruding pieces of plastic, and discovered when we got home that I'd broken the skin.

Guess that answers the 'what can go wrong?' question.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Random exploring

Donna-Lane and I love to explore new places, or places that are new to me that she's willing to revisit.

The other day we walked through the village, past the highway, and up the slope of the nearest mountain for about 3km (2 miles), so 4 miles roundtrip, the downhill being much easier than the up. D-L described the journey in her blog --
Our destination was the Ermitage Notre Dame de Vie à Argelès-sur-Mer, which dates to at least the late 13th century.

However, we didn't quite make it. Despite assurances from a woman near the horse and donkey retirement farm that the eglise was not much further up the hill, we gave up after the fourth or fifth bend in the winding road and no ancient stone church in sight.

So today, after picking up the license plates to our new/used car (an event which D-L will describe in her blog tomorrow), she suggested we use diesel power to retrace our steps up the mountain and find the ruins.

We were relieved that l'eglise was not just around the bend where we had given up last week. That would have been frustrating. Rather, it was at least another three-quarters of a mile.

We didn't have time to explore the place, as the late afternoon light was already fading. But we'll go back someday, maybe even walk, now that we know exactly how far.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

International social week

In the past four days, we've dined with friends, some new, some longtime, of 12 different nationalities: American, British, Canadian, Danish, Dutch, French, Italian, Romanian, South African, Spanish, Swedish, and Swiss.

We've shared stories about how each couple met, how they came to Argeles-sur-mer, and places they've experienced in their respective lives. Many of the stories roaringly funny, many touching, a few sad but survived.

For a tiny village in an out of the way place, the interconnections are amazing. The first couple we had dinner with was leaving the next day because the third couple was renting their ASM home starting the next day. Couple 3 are good friends with one of the young men who owns the hotel up the street, the hotel which our landlady had previously owned. They're also friends with a couple of our UK chums. (We had not previously met Couple 3, except through Facebook.)

While we were at La Noisette on marche day with Couple 3, a British friend ambled in, followed a short while later by new friends who had just returned from an errand in Italy. We'll call them Couple 4.

Couple 2 includes a longtime friend and former co-worker of Donna-Lane's and his wife, who is the closest to a south of France 'local' in the group. (She praised my attempts at speaking French, bless her.)

Couple 5 from Sweden and our landlady from Denmark joined us for a Scandinavian evening where we served ... what else, lasagna!

For a guy who used to go out socially perhaps four times a year, four days in a row is rather heady stuff. It's great fun ... and the food is merveilleux, prachtige, vidunderligt, underbart, meravellós, wonderful.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Dropping your drawers

In the Catalan region, some of the shops carry good luck charms known as Caganer Figurines. The figurines depict a person pooping - sometimes it's a peasant, sometimes a world figure such as the Pope, the President of France, the Queen of England, Barack Obama, Albert Einstein, the late Michael Jackson, or a famous futbol (soccer to Americans) player.

This act of relief is believed to promote a good harvest for the following year.

Not sure what made me think of this today.
Maybe it was the Boston baked beans and sausage we had yesterday.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Where shall we go?

Donna-Lane and I like to travel, see new places, meet new people, check out the history and local culture. And, of course, the food!

We've decided to try 'house-sitting.' Pretty simple concept - someone needs a reliable person or couple to watch their house for a few days (or a few weeks), and quite often their dogs and cats, maybe water the plants.

For us, it's a way to visit someplace where we'd like to spend some time, but without the hotel expense.

As writers, we can work anywhere in the world. All we need is decent internet and mobile phone connections.

An added bonus is that the places we visit become research venues for Donna-Lane's next novel ... or the novel after that.

If I'm lucky, the house-sitting location will coincide with the location of a conference or a company or government official I might interview for a magazine article.

So after talking about the idea for weeks, we took the plunge today and signed up to be housesitters. We're willing to go just about anywhere in Europe, but we're especially targeting Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Dublin, London, Vienna, Rome ...

We also listed our apartment in Argeles-sur-mer as someplace another couple or person (or even family) might want to Warren-sit for us.  I posted our listing for "South of France, quaint village, huge beach, mountains" less than two hours ago ... and we already have 28 messages from people wanting to stay in our place!

Perhaps I wrote the message about our place too well?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Brain flush

Some years ago, a professor described nonsensical dreams as a "brain flush." He said it was the brain's way of disgorging all sorts of unconnected baggage that had been stored up there.

In college, we used to joke about doing a "brain dump" right after taking an exam for which we had crammed for hours.

Had rather a brain flush last night that included tram rides in a town that has no trams; a tallish and heavyish woman on the tram, in town for a conference, asking me what there was to do, and me telling her about the available shopping centers (and me feeling bad for such a stereotype response, except in that town shopping was the only thing to do!); getting into a van which I had rented before leaving town (plane, train, bus? don't know how I departed or to where), and discovering there was a helicopter on the roof of my van, attempting to take off in a very dangerous confined area -- I warned them they'd better not try to take off because I have friends at the FAA!

Most of the time I don't remember much at all about my dreams. This one was so off the wall, I got up and took notes.

Interpretations welcome.

Monday, March 3, 2014


There used to be a line from a television infomercial, "Help, I've fallen, and I can't get up." The plea was from an elderly woman or man, and the ad for a wearable emergency alert device.

Some people extrapolated the line into what, to them, passed as humour. For example, a beer drinker who had too many.

After yesterday, I don't see how anyone could consider the line to be funny.

As I was walking home from the library parking lot, an elderly woman, perhaps 40 feet in front of me, walking with a cane, tried to transition from the sidewalk to cross the street. She must have inadvertently planted her foot awkwardly on the curb because she lost her balance. I heard her cry out, then watched as she fell backwards, almost as if in slow motion. The momentum of the fall caused her to bump the back of her head on the sidewalk, and I'd wished I'd been close enough to somewhat cushion her fall.

I was the first to reach her, and set my packages down so I could help her up. Very quickly there were others; two teenage girls who had been chatting near the cinema across the street, two or three men and boys who were down the street toward the newstand store. Together we got the woman to her feet, still a bit unsteady. I tried to explain, with gestures, lacking language skills, that she had also bumped her head.

The woman appeared to be okay, at least said she was, and there was no visible blood. A couple of the men helped walk her up the hill past the cinema. She told them she lived just up that street.

(The photo above is not the woman who fell; it is generic. I would not be so crass as to take a photo of someone in distress before or instead of helping them.)

There are quite a few elderly in the village. Someday, hopefully not soon, I may be one of them. 

It's not easy to get around when you're arthritic, when hips and knees need replacement, when cobblestone or broken pavements catch your shoes ... even a couple of steps can seem a mountain.

The elderly around you have contributed to society and to the life you enjoy today in countless untold ways. They may need a helping hand from time to time. Certainly they deserve your respect.