Tuesday, September 30, 2014

10 Lessons Learned

Based on our extended trip to Quebec and New England, a few things I'll try to remember for the future:

1. Read things thoroughly and with comprehension - directions for meeting up with someone, the details of the bed-n-breakfast you're thinking of booking, etc. Had I read more carefully, never would have booked a loft room with no privacy in an owner-occupied B&B. It turned out okay, lovely people, but not our preference.

2. When crossing the US border, Customs gets confused when a male and female are driving in from Canada with American and Swiss passports and two different last names. (At least they didn't rip the stuffed animals open looking for drugs.)

3. I will never, ever, ever, ever live in an area where rush hour traffic moves at a crawl. (Drove through NJ, NYC, and Boston.) Feeling very homesick for Argeles-sur-mer, where we can walk to everything. 

4. If there's a grocery store in downtown Montreal near St Laurent and St Antoine, I haven't found it yet, despite directions from three different people. Before rolling into a city, especially later at night, best to stop on the road where you see can stock up.

5. Before starting the trip, print out Google maps with sufficient detail for the places you are going. The TomTom download didn't work, and discovered that gas stations don't always carry paper maps anymore. I did download some Google maps to the iPad for reference, but at times we were outside the perimeter of the map, befuddled as to how to navigate into the perimeter so we'd know where we are.

6.  When Donna-Lane says she knows which direction to take in an area where she used to live, she's usually right (but not always).

7. When I say I know which direction to take, I'm usually right (but not always).

8. Take the 1-inch plug for the wireless mouse out of the USB port while transporting the laptop. Otherwise, you'll be buying a new wireless mouse when the plug breaks off.

9. Build in a day of doing not much every few days. Non-stop travel, meetings, socializing, and sightseeing can wear you out without an occasional break.

10. Try to pack things in the same general place in your suitcase. Beats searching through everything to find that one little electrical converter plug you need to charge your phone.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Who's That Woman In Our Bed?

Fortunately, the young woman didn't call the police. Hopefully she'll now lock her door.

D-L and I arrived in Montreal after an eight-hour drive up from Boston, the last two hours of that at a crawl on 10 West - seems like half of Quebec was returning from the shore, the lakes, and the mountains. We managed to find the condo we are renting for the week near the Old Port and the underground parking.

Donna-Lane was a little uneasy about being on the 15th floor. She said she learned when working for the National Fire Protection Association that firetruck ladders can only reach the 7th floor. (Note to self for future rentals - lower floors only.)

But she wasn't nearly as uneasy as the unknown young woman whose apartment we walked into by mistake. Guess I mixed up the numbers. The door was unlocked, as the condo owner said it would be. But when we walked in, it was like the 3 Bears walking into their house after Goldilocks had been there -- dirty dishes in the sink, clothes on the floor -- obviously someone was still living there.

D-L discovered the startled young woman in her bedroom, studying for exams.

I started to fire up the computer to double-check the reservation and to call the condo owner's backup friend who would help us with any difficulty. Then I pulled the paper from  my pocket on which I had written the essentials.

Oops. I had the wrong condo. The young woman had every right to be in her own abode.

I hustled down the hallway, found the correct condo, then retrieved D-L and our luggage as we profusely apologized to the young woman. D-L wished her well with her exams.

The correct condo is wonderful, and we're looking forward to a pleasant week in the most European-like city in North America. (And not behind bars.)

You can read D-L's version of the event at: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/.

Friday, September 26, 2014

I Went to Harvard

And I have the t-shirt to prove it. (D-L's blog has the details: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2014/09/harvard-square.html)

Donna-Lane and I are on a 'Nostalgia Tour' of New England. First we visited Johnson City, New York, where my 91-year-old mother still lives in the same house where I grew up. We also attended my 45th high school reunion and got re-acquainted with a few friends I haven't seen since graduation.

D-L and I hit golf balls at the driving range where I spent hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hours in my teen and college years. 

Of course, we stopped at Lupo's Char-Pit, where I cooked spiedies one summer during college. (Again, Sam, sorry I ate up most of the profits.)
We also visited the old Cider Mill, where we watched them make the fresh cider and donuts and took some pumpkin pictures.
Enroute to JC from Montreal, we stopped for lunch in Saratoga Springs, renowned for its horse races and farms.
After a couple stops in New Jersey and overnight with a friend on Long Island, we just made it to the Cross Island Ferry (see D-L's Skin of Our Teeth blog - http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2014/09/the-skin-of-our-teeth.html). Enroute to the ferry, we saw a small roundabout (rond-point in French) and it made me homesick for Argeles-sur-mer.

We stopped briefly in southeast Massachusetts, where we saw a couple of college friends of D-L's whom she had not seen in more than 40 years: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2014/09/voices.html. They served us an amazing lunch, including my first whole lobster (hey, I grew up well inland - the freshest fish was a week old).

Now we're touring the Boston area, visiting more old friends, and tomorrow D-L will show me some of the places where she grew up in Reading, MA.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Living Out of a Suitcase

D-L and I have trouble enough finding things in the Warren where we live (a majority of the time). You'd think when we travel - and have less stuff to deal with - it might be easier.

It's much harder.

We're on the road for a stretch of nearly two months. Geneva, Paris, Montreal, Johnson City, New Jersey, Long Island, Cape Cod, Boston, Montreal again, Geneva again, Stuttgart, Cologne, Amsterdam, Geneva again (D-L), Dallas (me), Berlin (me), Geneva again (both), then finally back to Argeles-sur-mer the end of October. Yeah, I know, exhausting just thinking about it.

Since we are packing all the time we can into seeing friends and relatives (http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.fr/2014/09/visiting-home.html), attending business meetings and conferences, and a little sightseeing along the way (not to mention re-proposing at the Eiffel Tower - http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.fr/2014/09/she-said-yes-again.html), we're not taking a lot of time to pack our stuff for the next leg of the journey. After all, we're currently driving, and there's plenty of room in the trunk.

But when we arrive at each new home where we're staying (family, friend, or b-n-b), and haul the suitcases and backpacks into the bedroom, we're never quite sure where anything is.

In Johnson City, we misplaced the power cord for our iPads, so went out and purchased a new one. Of course we found the original when we re-packed to leave. (At least now we have one with an American plug and one with a Swiss plug.)

Fortunately, we remembered the load of laundry we'd done the last evening at my mother's home. But I think I may have forgotten to pack the mouthwash, which may not be pleasant for D-L or anyone else on Long Island until I can get to a store.

Notes for writing projects ... medicines (I think they're in the top pocket of the black carry-on) ... hat and gloves (for when we hit the expected cold weather in Massachusetts) ... and are the smartphones charged?

Then there's waking up in the middle of the night - where are we? and where's the bathroom?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Visiting Home

A classic - and still open! - the Red Robin Diner

Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again.”

After you’ve been away for any stretch of time, home is no longer what it was when you lived there. And you are no longer the same person.

Oh, there may be some things about your former home that seem familiar. The layout of the streets. The houses on the street where you grew up. Maybe even the diner is still there where you hung out with your high school friends.

But now there’s a new highway bypass and road noise you didn’t hear growing up. The street has lost a few trees to disease, and several people have put aluminum siding over the stucco. The diner seems old and tired, the silverware has lost its sparkle, and your friends have moved to Florida or Arizona or Virginia.

Home changed while you were gone. You changed too.

I recently journeyed to the village where I grew up to attend a high school class reunion. 45th year reunion.

I was surprised by the large turnout, about 100 total, including spouses for many, out of a graduating class of 237. The size of the crowd made more sense when co-hostess R announced that fully half of my classmates had remained their entire lives in the village. For them it was an evening out, much like any other social function for the past four and a half decades, except with people they haven’t seen in decades, or perhaps never really knew in high school to begin with. My first impression was “who are all these old people?” Some of the women were recognizable, particularly those whose hairstyle hadn’t really changed, but it was more difficult to superimpose vague memories of yearbook photos with guys who had lost their hair or grown a mustache or beard (like me).

We got a prize for traveling the furthest – about 6000 kilometers (3600 miles) – and just about everyone we greeted seemed to know ahead of time that we lived in France. My junior high girlfriend, D, part of the reunion committee, had apparently spread the word. Most wanted to know what it was like living in Europe, and we repeated the highlights about the low-stress lifestyle, the huge beach, the mountains, some of the places we’ve seen. A couple of classmates recounted their own travels to Europe, including places near Argeles that I didn’t know about but Donna-Lane did.
My favorite place at CFJ pool was the high dive.
During the open mike session there was plenty of nostalgia. Remembrances of teachers, popular and otherwise. Classmates who had passed away already – though not many – our group is in our early 60s. Funny personal incidents. Homage to old hangouts, some of which are still hanging on. Several comments about the huge CFJ pool, now only an historic postcard memory.
Loved to sit in the 3rd base bleachers to try to catch foul balls
The “old” high school, our building, is a sad-looking excuse for a few low-end retail shops. We still refer to the “new” high school, even though it was under construction as we graduated. Many of the stores on Main Street are shuttered, as shopping moved to the Mall on the somewhat-growing side of town. Johnson Field, home to the Triplets and our high school football games, was razed in favor of a highway that helps speed people through Johnson City without stopped to appreciate it. The one business that has grown the most is the hospital – guess there are lots of aging folks in the region.

Disappointed that the Endwell Bakery is no more. When I was dating K, I’d buy three dozen chocolate eclairs a week there just to see her. More disappointed she didn’t attend the reunion. A couple of girls I dated were there; the rest were just photos in the yearbook and mental images of clandestine notes passed in class and kisses in dark corners.

We had the farewell brunch at the Traditions Resort, which has aspirations of becoming a casino. They inherited the mansion which had been the "Homestead" for IBM training classes and the IBM golf course where I spent the majority of my teen years. The resort did not incorporate the sprawling complex of country club buildings, which included swimming pools, a bowling alley, basketball court, tennis, ballfields, and the restaurant overlooking the 1st tee where Rocky served up the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever tasted. Disheartening to see the weeds and decay of such an icon building.

It was good to visit for a brief time, see some familiar faces, most of whom I’ll probably never see again. It was better to give a glimpse to Donna-Lane of the place and people (especially my 91-year-old mother) that helped shape who I am, even if much of it is gone or changed. Seeing certain places revived a few long-forgotten memories. It also made me appreciate how fortunate I have been in the places I’ve been, the interesting things I've been able to do, and especially the people I’ve known over the years. 

But Wolfe was right. You cannot truly ever go “home” again.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

She Said Yes ... Again

My original plan was to propose to Donna-Lane ... a year and a half ago ... at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

This week we finally got there. Well, almost.

We didn't quite make it to the top of the tower. Turns out, D-L is afraid of heights. As we arrived near the base of the tower, courtesy of a pedi-cab bicycle, she suggested (hopefully) that the queue to go up in the tower elevator might be too long. It was, so I considered my first alternate - a photo from the Trocadero across the way, ET in the background, fountains in the foreground. But when I looked, the fountains did not seem to be operating.

So, time to improvise. I remembered from a previous visit, about 17 years ago, that there was a long grassy lawn on the south side of the tower. Bit of a hike, and as we headed in that direction, the grass was surrounded by a makeshift fence - ground under repair, apparently.

As I glanced back at the tower to gauge the perspective, there was an area of grass and trees to the side. Probably couldn't get the entire tower in a photo, but could get enough of the base to know what it was.

So I set up the video camera on the ground, pulled Herr Hare and Hunny Bunny from my bag -- after all, we needed "witnesses" -- and retrieved the ring box from my pocket.

D-L's perspective on the proposal is on her blog: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2014/09/the-proposal.html.

I was originally going to propose on Valentine's Day 2013 when we were in Paris, but we never got to the Eiffel Tower that trip. The weather was too cold and rainy.

Besides, I had already proposed in Argeles-sur-mer ... just before Christmas 2012. Wanting to purchase the engagement ring from a local jeweler, and concerned that if I waited until February they might not have the ring we wanted, we had gone to the bijouterie and picked out D-L's desired ring. I proposed in her Nest ... maybe not the Eiffel Tower, but every bit as memorable.

Huge Day for the Bell Family

My grandson, Sawyer Bell, as Abner Barlowe (center, in hat)
Today is one of those days when hard work, perseverance, talent, passion, frustration, tears, and laughter pay off with the joy and sweet satisfaction of success.

The success belongs to my grandson, Sawyer Bell, as well as to his mother Alicia (my daughter), his father Bryan, and his sister Georgia.

Sawyer will be the one on the screen tonight at 8 Eastern, 7 Central on the Lifetime channel in the United States (repeated at 10/9 if that time works better for you). He plays Abner Barlowe, the youngest son of fiesty widow Belle Gatlin Barlowe, the heroine of Deliverance Creek, a TV movie produced by renowned writer Nicholas Sparks.

However, every one in the Bell family deserves credit for the tremendous effort and sacrifice they have made over the past three years to reach this point: the discovery of Sawyer's awesome natural talent for acting through a community children's theatre program in Plano, Texas (thanks Sara and Danny); Alicia's diligent "momager" research to wade through the morass of acting business charlatans so she could identify the right people to work with in the business (she should write a book on the process); little sister Georgia's "shadowing" of Sawyer as he rehearsed lines and songs for shows, and her own emergence as an acting-dancing-singing-modeling prodigy; Bryan's do-anything utility role ranging from long-distance chauffeur to steady encourager; acting, voice, guitar and other classes, photography sessions, audition videos. During all this, Alicia and Bryan have also excelled at significant full-time jobs (Alicia in technology communications, Bryan in IT) while covering all the normal duties of parents with young schoolchildren.

There were times that it seemed Sawyer's "big break" was about to happen, and then it didn't quite materialize. Easy to doubt all the time, money, and angst that had been devoted - maybe this was not the path they should pursue.

Deliverance Creek seems to be the breakthrough. A national TV premiere in which potentially millions of people will see Sawyer/Abner in action, adding to the flavor of the film. He's not one of the main characters in the Civil War drama - at least not yet. If the audience is responsive, the show could become a regular series. Perhaps his role will grow as his fan base clamors for more.

I don't know if Sawyer will pursue his acting career into adulthood.  He certainly has the wide-ranging talent and great looks. And the passion for doing a great job. He says, only partially joking, "I was born to do this." I've told him that he may become a one-name superstar: when people mention the name "Sawyer," everyone will know he's THE Sawyer. (To see more about Sawyer, his website is sawyer-bell.com)

I wish I was in the States to watch it live - get out the popcorn, make sure the DVR is recording it so we can re-watch Sawyer's scenes again and again, and give him a huge hug ... give them all a huge hug. I may get to see it in a couple days - as soon as they post it to iTunes, from which I have pre-ordered the movie.

Can you tell I'm immensely proud of all of them? Sawyer will receive many very well-deserved accolades in the coming days and weeks. As someone who has witnessed the "behind the scenes," I can tell you this has been a team effort. True success usually is.
Sawyer with his "little sister," Casey Charland

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Trying to Be More Observant

Since I started blogging and working on a novel, I’ve become much more (consciously) aware of details of the people and things around me.

For example, as I write this, I’m in the Montreux Jazz Festival Café in the Gare Lyon train station in Paris. The man at a table a few feet in front of me is in a business suit, white shirt, no tie, high forehead, bald on the top back of his head (where guys can’t see it in a mirror); he’s got a 33cl glass of beer, and is reading a magazine with two more in a plastic see-through bag (can’t tell the name on the magazine but it has a red band across the top).

There are two women at the high-stool counter. One looks like a petite but older version of Shelley Long when she was opposite Ted Danson in Cheers – medium-length flip haircut, a Cindy Crawford mole on her left cheek just between the edge of the mouth and nose. Her friend has a boy’s cut hairstyle and is wearing black-rimmed glasses. She has on a long-sleeve white ‘dress’ tee-shirt with horizontal navy stripes and a wide vertical red stripe down the middle of her back.

The washroom attendant asked my name after I gave him a tip, so I asked his name in return.

Donna-Lane and her friend L do writing exercises in which, while seated at La Noisette in ASM, they observe a person (not someone they already know), then write a fictional story with that person as the central character. I should probably do something similar to practice my story writing. For now, the occasional heightened observation will do.

I love to people watch, sitting at La Noisette or some other café, watching the world go by. Observing facial features and wondering which person is a Brit, who is French, etc. Check out the way people dress – mostly casual for the market days, but the occasional classy dresser. Scarves really make a difference, we’ve noticed, even for the men. Feeling sympathy for the poor little dogs who are constantly dodging legs and the kids in strollers whose only view of the world is adult butts and an occasional glimpse of the kiosks when there’s a gap between people. (If it were me, I’d give up and go to sleep til the thing was over.)

I like to point out people who resemble celebrities: there’s one who looks like Candace Bergen, there’s one who looks like Jack Nicholson (whom D-L detests because he’s a Los Angeles Lakers basketball fan and she’s a diehard Boston Celtic). I hesitate to ever mention someone might look a little like George Clooney – if the real George ever walked by, D-L would dump me for him in a heartbeat. (Must be the Nespresso coffee that appeals to her. Yeah, I’ll go with that.)

The waiter reminds me of a bit character in some TV sitcom but I can’t place him just yet. Short, half bald, attentive, pleasant, but with a face that suggests he could turn sour fairly quickly. Too small for Danny Devito. More like a shorter version of the mother’s boyfriend on Mike & Molly (is that still on?) Can’t be easy being a waiter in an expensive city like Paris, though in Europe the wait staff is actually paid a living wage rather than an artificially and pitifully low rate (less than $3 hour) in the US where they have to make it up in tips (then get harassed by the IRS for allegedly underreporting cash receipts). All the waiters and waitresses in here are wearing pink ties, which reminds me of D-L’s successful battle with breast cancer three years ago. (Did I tell you she’s published a book about theexperience on Amazon Kindle?)

The lights are black and shaped like the end of a cucumber, hung from the ceiling, with a goldish pattern to diffuse the light and add that jazz festival ambiance. There’s a four-screen TV display on one wall, a large screen mounted on poles behind the reception counter.

Outside it appears the sun is just starting to head toward setting, abut 6h30 pm. There’s a stone building opposite with a mix of architectures, including what resembles the front end of a submarine complete with round porthole.

An outdoor café sprawls under square white umbrellas and light green sailcloth.

Both women are now on their cell phones, ignoring each other’s company, a practice called “phubbing,” according to one presenter at a multimedia festival we attended last year in Nyon, Switzerland. Interesting, at least to me, the woman in stripes has a red leather jacket across her lap, and the Shelley Long sort of look alike has a leather purse of almost identical red. Did they coordinate for the day?

The place has gotten much busier since I sat down and there was only one 30-something redhead at a table nearby. She’d gone by the time I returned from washing my hands, but I’m not going to take that personally.
On the front wall, above the rack of beer glasses and other wait staff items, there’s an art deco (I think) with white, black and brown ceramic tiles arranged in a somewhat orderly, somewhat random, completely hideous pattern. If I worked here, I might see that in my nightmares, but more likely I would almost never notice it. (At least, before I became more observant, I would probably have never noticed it.) Maybe I'll use the wall in my book.

Monday, September 8, 2014

My Mistress

The most prominent mountain peak in the Pyrenees range in French Catalonia is Canigou

It's not the highest mountain in France (just over 9,000 feet, compared to nearly 16,000 feet for Mont Blanc, inthe French Alps south of Geneva), but Canigou is certainly the most prominent in this part of the south of France. When the skies are not overly hazy, you can see it from just about everywhere.

I especially love the view of Canigou in the spring when there's still snow on the summit - which often lasts into June or even early July. I also like the view from the golf course in Saint-Cyprien, the view up the river on the highway from Perpignan, the view on the way to the airport when the road curves and the mountain rises right in front of you ... you get the idea. Next summer, my friend R and I plan to hike to the top of the summit.

Donna-Lane jokes that I am so in love with Canigou that the mountain is my mistress. Well, not quite, since Le Canigou is male gender in French.

As we have been developing our patio and choosing different types of pots and plants, we had a large space on one wall that would be perfect for a picture. So we commissioned Rosella to create an artistic rendering of Canigou with some cerise (cherry) trees in the foreground, based on a photo. The artwork is on six different ceramic tiles, and then all six are mounted by her husband Joseph to another single piece of ceramic so it could be bolted to the stone wall of the patio.

We can see the artwork from the dining area, the den, my desk, and the master bedroom. Our neighbor and landlord, C, and her visitors can also see it from her patio on the level above.

It's just the right piece to complete the view in our little semi-outdoor oasis.

Friday, September 5, 2014

I Did It

I managed to figure out how to retrieve a photo from my iPad to my blog.

The photo is of my grandson, Sawyer Bell, and the young lady who plays his little sister in Deliverance Creek, Sept 13 on Lifetime.

What Beach?

Argeles Plage
Hard to believe, but I have not been to the best beach in the world all summer ... or all spring, for that matter. I think the last time I had my toes in the sand was at the 'polar bear' plunge on the 1st of January. (video link for YouTube).

We talked about going to the beach from time to time, and our friends visiting from the UK and elsewhere seemed to go regularly. But we were generally too caught up in work or socializing, or when we weren't the weather wasn't quite great (relatively cool most of the time we were here in August), or we were traveling up to Switzerland.

However, Donna-Lane, who does not swim, did one-up me by taking a swim lesson from our friend M in a mild stretch of water at Saint-Cyprien. D-L said she was terrified, but to her credit she still went through with it.

We did get down to the beach area and the port together, of course, for some fine dining, and the climax of the Argilarium metal dragon event.

I would love to go down to the beach the next couple days (maybe Tuesday) because September is, IMHO, the best month to be here -- the Med water is still warmish, and most of the 100,000 tourists have gone home. Wednesday we hit the road for a series of trips and won't be back in ASM until November.

Now, I've never been much of a beach person. Never lived near the ocean before last year. Though we did have a nice little sand beach around the pool where I lived for awhile in Texas.

But here's one that my long-time friends will find hard to believe. I did not play golf all summer either. Going to have to fix that when I get back.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Mixed Bag

"Mixed bag" is one of those odd phrases that everyone seems to know what it means but when you think about it literally, what kind of "mix" is in what kind of "bag"?

The French would use the word mélange for mixture.

It's been one of those days. A few things accomplished. Some things I intended to accomplish not quite done yet. Some positive surprises. And a whole lot of frustration.

The frustration is mostly technical. Dropbox cloud storage, for which I paid for an upgrade to Pro a few days ago and showed 2 TB in my account, now seems to have forgotten about the upgrade, dropped me back to a mere 2.5 GB, and is warning me my storage space is full. I've also been futzing with various websites, trying to secure some accommodations for upcoming travel, bumping up against sold out properties or b&b's with ridiculous security deposits ... even "shared bathroom" situations, which I much prefer to avoid.
Got all excited when I learned I could download my grandson's new TV movie - Deliverance Creek - on iTunes ... after it airs on Lifetime on Sat Sep 13. I downloaded the trailer and ordered all episodes of the "series" - but couldn't get it to play on my computer. Assumed it was a "can't view a US TV show on a computer with a French IP address thing. (However, after re-booting the computer, I could see the trailer after all! That means, when the movie comes out A WEEK FROM SATURDAY, we should be able to watch the entire TV movie, either when we're in Paris or Geneva. Whooo hoooo!!!)

One pleasant surprise was United Airlines offering bonus miles for purchasing reward miles, which I've been needing to do to reach an award level. They've taken my money and given me credit for the miles I purchased, but not yet the bonus - which has to wait until they see how many other people take them up on the offer. If it works as advertised, I'll be slightly over what I need and saved about $120 in the process.

Good thing D-L is not here, as the Warren looks like a War-zone. I decided to pull everything out of the closets and cupboards, partly to get packed for the travel, partly to see what's available to eat. The interim is not pretty for anyone who prefers order ... oh, it's orderly, but it's orderly in piles here, there ... if I ever get to bed tonight, I'll have to clear a space to lie down first.

Oh, and I found a misplaced hard drive that I thought I lost two months ago.

Mixed bag indeed.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Frigo magnets represent some of the places we've been
Fall in love, see the world.

The fall in love is wonderful and entirely sufficient, even if we spent all our time in one place. The see the world is a bonus.

In the past couple of years, Donna-Lane and I have been (not necessarily in sequence) to the south of France (Argeles-sur-mer, our home base); Geneva (our second home base); other places in Switzerland such as Einseideln, Stans, Payerne, Neuchatel, Môtiers, Montreux, Morges, Martigny, Les Marécottes, Gland; through the Mont Blanc tunnel; Milan and Sesto Calende, Italy; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; London, Croydon, Brighton, and Oxford in the UK; Barcelona, Bisbal, and Figueras, Spain; Carcassone, Sete, Thuir, Maury, Banyuls, Collioure, Ferny-Voltaire, Evian, Perpignan, Villefranche-de-Conflent, Marseilles, Toulouse, Paris, and other locales in France; Saint Petersburg, Russia; plus part of our honeymoon in Arans and Andorra la Vella, Andorra.  Separately, I've been to Las Vegas, Atlanta, Houston, Orlando, Johnson City, Washington DC, Montreal, Berlin, and Dubai. D-L also went to Malta.

We saw the world's best-ever tennis pro, Roger Federer, play in person at the O2, and I was at the NCAA basketball Final Four and The Masters. We've taken in theatre in London, a Shakespeare-Dickens history walk, canal boat tours in Amsterdam and St. Pete, the Montreux Jazz Festival, Russian ballet and folk dances, and dozens of castles, cathedrals, museums, and Roman aqueducts and amphitheatres.

We have reveled in the spectacular scenery of the Alps, the Pyrenees, glacial lakes, and the sea. Centuries-old buildings and newly planted grapevines. Plus an abundance of flowers of every color, shape, and aroma.

Met old friends (mostly new to me) who originate from every region of the world: lots of writers, artists, film directors, doctors, economists, engineers, pilots, sailors, and much more.

Dined in everything from elegant restaurants to holes-in-the wall cafes, and tasted several dozen dishes I've never had before.

Started to learn French, but also dealt with Spanish, Catalan, Swiss-German, Russian, and other languages.

Not bragging (well, maybe a little), just really, really enjoying the opportunity to see so many places together with someone so special.

In the coming months, hopefully we'll also get to Ireland and Scotland (Saint Andrews, to be sure), more Germany and the UK, France and Switzerland of course, as well as continue our honeymoon in Monaco, San Marino, and Leichtenstein. Maybe even the relatively new principality of Sealand off the UK coast, if and when they can accommodate visitors.

Mostly we walk around the places we visit, soaking in the culture, the history, the art and architecture, the food - the richness of life. We also get to meet many interesting people who add to the richness.

It's an amazing world out there. Hope you get to see and experience some of it yourself.

Noises in the Night

There are noises in the night that you'd rather not hear.

Last night, or maybe early this morning (I'm not really sure), I got the hiccups. Or maybe I was dreaming that I had the hiccups.
I thought surely I would wake Donna-Lane, but when I reached over to her side of the bed she was already gone. Which means one of two things: either I was snoring too loudly or she had gotten another early start to her day.

Hiccups and restful sleep don't go well together. So I tried one of the anti-hiccup techniques I had long ago learned: hold my breath as long as I can. (Probably not the smartest thing to do when you're more asleep than not.) Not sure how many times I held my breath but it finally worked. Hiccups gone.

Enter mosquito.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Communicating with Bells

In Argeles-sur-mer, and in many villages throughout France and Europe, church bell ringing is quite normal.

It didn't take me long to figure out the one bell = quarter hour, two bells = half hour, three bells = three-quarters hour, and four bells = on the hour ... followed by however many rings were required for the specific hour.

I haven't yet memorized the ringing pattern for other occasions, assuming there is a pattern, but one can usually tell by the day and time of day why they're ringing: Saturday evening and Sunday morning for mass. If it's the middle of the day Saturday, probably a wedding. Middle of the day during the week, a slower pace to the ring, probably a funeral.

We live, at most, about 100 metres from the 34m-tall church tower of the Church of Notre-Dame-del-Prat, though the bells can be heard for miles around. I thought initially that the constant ringing might be annoying. Instead, they are rather a comfort. The bells represent an orderliness to life and a tradition that began centuries ago (as early as the 5th century).

Fortunately, I'm a very sound sleeper, so once I go to bed I usually don't hear the bells, even very late at night. (I think they stop after midnight and resume around 5 am.) Then again, I don't usually hear the noisy street sweepers and recycle/trash trucks in the early morning either.

One time, at the end of a guided history walk around the village, we were able to go up the winding stairs of the bell tower to the top. The views of the village, the mountains, and the sea were spectacular - probably why they used it as a watchtower in times of invasion. However, we needed to hustle back down before the top of the hour - you wouldn't want to be standing next to the bells when they're peeling out their message.