Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Santa Barbara Christmas

The best thing you can do at Christmas is to spend it with family, which we did, in Santa Barbara.  We had last- hour shopping, stockings, cookies for Santa, and kids waiting at the top of the stairs for the signal to come down to see what Santa had left for everyone.  After, it is always the best breakfast of the year.

You may know some about Santa Barbara....the Mission, State Street, and the Fig Tree.  But you may not know about the beaches, especially the beaches north of town around Goleta and Isla Vista.  On a clear day you can walk miles and miles glimpsing Santa Cruz Island across the channel dotted with oil rig platforms.  Today the off shore breeze steadily pushed us downwind until we turned around bending our heads into the bluster.  Seaweed, sea foam, and sea debris found repose on the seashore along with the palm-sized rocks, sand, and occasional mussel shell.

We had been here once before, but that was a tragic day.  Then, someone, shrouded and carried up the cliff by orange-coated rescuers, had not woken up from a night spent in the beach dune at the foot of the cliff.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thanksgiving at Panoche

Colorful Lichen
Due to unforeseen circumstances, we trekked to Panoche with our delightful neighbors in tow for Thanksgiving 2010.  There were two of us, five of them, and one neighbor for the traditional feast of roast turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, and the ubiquitous pumpkin pie.  (Actually this made our 5th pie since roasting the Halloween pumpkins the last few weeks.)

It was a cold but sunny three days, about 50 degrees.  With the sauna that Boyo built into the rocks as his first project on the property, we all managed to have a refuge of warmth each morning.  The boys were led to the cave where they discovered a huge icicle.  Hiking along the old cow paths, taking sheltered meadow naps in the sunshine, tracking birds by their calls, shooting Austin's pellet gun, and fixing the fixins kept everyone busy.  At night we watched movies in between viewing Jupiter and three of its moons through the telescope.

The photo is of a different trip to the property.  Usually there are no low clouds so you can see down nearly 3000 feet to the Panoche Valley below.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tampa Museum of Art

The Tampa Museum of Art was our destination with Mag and Tim after a great lunch at the Crazy Buffet.  Having only been in this building less than a year, the museum was exhibiting The American Impressionists in the Garden.  There were 40 works and 4 whimsical sculptures; so it was easy to see without being rushed.  My favorites were the Childe Hassam paintings.

Also on view were metal sculptures of Dominique Labauvie: Musical Lines in My Hands.

Tim and Me

The next door Children's Museum has wonderful glass mosaic designs on the exterior of the building.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Honeymoon Island State Park

It has been about six months since we have been back to Honeymoon Island State Park.  Today we walked the Osprey Trail where before we have seen horned owls with owlets, bald eagles with eaglets, osprey with their young, wood peckers and other song birds, armadillos, and gopher tortoises. Other folks have seen 11 different kinds of snakes that include 3 venomous...coral snake, pygmy and Eastern Diamondback rattlesnakes. Several osprey, two tortoises, and a raccoon were all we observed.  Many empty nests littered dead tall trees.  Near the water we saw           (literally) an army of tiny fiddler crabs no bigger than an inch moving from the water inland over dried seaweed.  They parted  as we walked through them, none of us missing a beat.

How many fiddler crabs can you count?

The trail is a long loop through diverse ecosystems containing pines and live oaks, cabbage palms and saw grass, or myrtles, sea grapes and mangroves. Part is shady with mosquitoes, and part is in the glaring, hot sun.  Chuck was with us as we alternately swatted and sweated.

The Chuckster
If you have the time, there is a ferry to the island that eventually becomes Clearwater, after a few miles.  It sports a marina, a gorgeous, long empty beach, and another trail carved by the settlers who used to live there. A small but highly informative Nature Center is also nearby.  Proceeding west from the parking areas, is the beach that shell collectors frequent.  I don't think I have ever seen a beach with more shells.
Gopher Tortoise

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hydro Biking

We went to Hudson, Florida to visit long time friends, Terry and Darla.  They live part of the time in their house on the canal that leads out to the Gulf of Mexico (which you can see in the photo). Terry and Boyo decided to go Hydro Biking.   A person sits on a bicycle seat, pedals with the feet, and guides it with handle bars...just like a bike except there are floats to keep you aloft.

There are several canals to explore, and they were gone quite a long time.  It is a fun and relaxing activity provided you have a comfortable seat and don't wander out the channel to the gulf.  The Hydro Bike is only used on flat water.                             Boyo says, "It's fun!"

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Little Feat-Free-Clearwater Jazz Holiday

One of Boyo's favorite musical groups is Little Feat.  And we couldn't find a better place to see and hear them than at Clearwater's Jazz Holiday, their 31st annual free four day happening along the western Intercoastal Waterway of Florida.  The headliner was Doctor John (aka Night Tripper) and the Lower 911, but we were there for Dixie Chicken, one of Little Feat's long time hits.  No disappointment there.

Coolers, food, and drink were not allowed with you at the gate, just your lawn chair and enough money to buy a beer, a glass of wine, or something less powerful and your supper of which there were many reasonable choices.  On the seafood front our choices ranged from fried frog legs and gator to the usual shrimp.  There were Greek gyros, hot dogs, wood fired pizza, red beans and rice, or fresh BBQ items.  It was a beautiful warm evening no matter what you chose to eat.

The crowd was appreciative and reminiscent of our Friday night Boardwalk concerts in California except that the music started at 5 and ended at 10 pm.  Mostly it was an older crowd, but I saw this girl and her dad enjoying it all.  She asked him for the phone to take a photo.  2010 meets 1973.  Lowell George would be happy to know that his music is still making fans.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Bob Dylan at the USF Sun Dome October 7, 2010

Last night we went to see Bob Dylan and his band play a concert here in Tampa, Florida.  Where else but in Florida could you buy a $60 ticket to see Bob Dylan in concert on the day of the performance?  Well, maybe it is more than a lack of culture in Florida, maybe the warm weather just draws folks out to the beach and they get too tired to do much else afterward, maybe Jimmy Buffet is just too much more of a draw for the parrotheads, or maybe the times have truly changed.  I don't understand it.

But we had a great time.  At the stroke of eight, the band stepped out onto the stage, followed five seconds later by the man himself.  A silent twenty minute film preceded their arrival.  There was no opening act, no prerecorded music. Bob Dylan played guitar, his B-3 sounding organ, his harmonica and sang it all himself.  There was a bass player, rhythm guitar, lead guitar, keyboard/banjo player, and a drummer; all totally into the legend.

Bob played and sang 17/18 songs, all with his raspy voice.  The man turned 69 in May.  He wore a light grey hat with tiny red and white feathers tucked into the headband, black pants with two reddish/pink stripes down the sides, black pointy shoes, a black jacket with silver buckles, and a striped shirt with a bolo tie. (The only other time I saw him, he was a man in a white suit on a spiritual quest.)

When I first looked at him through my binoculars, I thought, "Oh man, we are all getting old."  But we could see that he was having a lot of fun up there.  He would look back at the keyboard man, grin, and stick out his tongue. His energy was there; we could feel it as he sang and played, the audience could feel it when they sang along..."How do you feel...",  and the band could feel it as they backed him up by playing their hearts out.

Pompano Beach, Florida

Touch down at the Ft. Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport was 10:15 pm, but it was like it was 7:15 pm for us.  That was good, because we couldn't find our condo in Pompano Beach until midnight.  We almost walked to the beach that was only a block and a half away, but we nixed that over getting up early to take a sunrise stroll.

We did not make it for the sunrise, but it was a beautiful, warm and breezy day with waves breaking close to the beach.  The first thing we spotted were yellow taped areas marking off an area about 10-12 square feet.  Upon closer inspection we spied a cautioning tag attached to the marker closest to the water.  It warned us that if we disturbed this area in any way, shape, or form, we would be cited with a $50,000 fine for abusing a turtle nesting site.  No identification or date was written, so we did not know when the tape was placed nor what kind of turtle was involved.

I spent some time looking up what Pompano Beach had accomplished in helping the potential newborns to survive.  In 1999 a law was passed that lights nearest the beach were to be turned off so as not to distract the newly hatched turtles away from the water.  It is usually the bright full moon that draws their attention towards the sea.

There are three kinds of turtles that use this area for nesting:  loggerheads, greens, and leatherbacks. The loggerhead turtles' peak nesting time is late June into July.  The gestation period of 53-55 days would have them hatching in mid to late September.  The greens are a little earlier nesting, while the leatherbacks are unpredictable.  The marked areas we saw must have been a late loggerhead nester.  I wonder if anyone will come back and watch the little guys and gals as they head off to the water?

Once when we were in Mexico, we stayed at a housing development on a beach where nightly runs were made along the beach to discover turtle nesting sites.  If one was discovered, the Mexican Marines that were on patrol, would dig up the eggs after the mother laid them, place them in styrofoam boxes packed with sand, labeled with the date, and placed in a storage shed until the due date for hatching.  Once they started to hatch, the turtles were herded towards the edge of the water with humans lining the way.  We were told that about 75% of the turtles would survive. If they were left to fend for themselves, the eggs would often be dug up by the locals for food, or if they did hatch, raccoons, foxes, and birds were the on land predators; in water, fish and other birds would attack them so that only about 3% survived.  By the way, we got to see a mother turtle lay her eggs there in the bright full moon off Mexico's western coast.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Burning Man 2010 Rap Up

One of the Rovers with Burner gifts
I love Burning Man.  We had heard about it years before we actually started going.  And before I quit nattering on about 2010, I wanted to mention two more important aspects of Burning Man that I really hadn't written anything about before, especially for you who have never been there before.

First is that no money changes hands at Burning Man.Yes, you do pay a big ticket price to get in for the week, but if you are on the email list, you know when the tickets for the coming Burn are first put on sale, which are the cheapest ones.  The longer you dither about going, the more it will cost you.   Of course, it used to be free.  But that belongs in another post about what it used to be.  It is what is now...we have to live with that...there is no going back with over 51,000 people attending.  Okay, you can buy ice which benefits the Gerlach community.  And you can buy coffee, etc. at Center Camp. But THAT IS IT!  If you missed out, go read about BM as a gifting society, or better yet, visit the Burning Man web site.

S-Car-Go  (Totally Solar Powered)
Second is about participation.  I have mostly written about playa art.  That is significant, but so much goes on everywhere. Many Burners (as we are called after attending a Burn) create a theme camp and devise interactive events.  There is a printed guide that tells you about almost everything going on...when and where...activities galore. Just reading it every day is an activity.  Of course, it is important to read it ahead of each new day, and I don't think a lot of folks do, or so many more would show up at the activity if they did.  You can participate in so much.  In the past I have made tassels (yes, those kind), formed a clay star cup and glazed it before it was fired on the playa, learned some knot tying, and participated in the CT Parade.  Pretty tame stuff really, yet interesting and fun. I still have those tassels and that cup.

The Many Faces of  Hope and Fear

There are discussions, debates, socials, teas, cider, hurricane, home brew, sangria, margarita, martini, whiskey, wine, and bloody Mary parties.   All graciously provided by your Black Rock City community.

Many people try to set group world records, such as fire eaters, hula hoopers, stilt walkers, and fire dancers.  You can find all kinds of music, dance, and performances, with fire included, to view or to get involved.

Hells Bells

Our participation over the years as artists has been important to us.  The second year we went, Boyo brought into being those nine incredible Rovers visiting from the other side of Scorpio, and I created their Mothership.  As he designed and built S-Car-Go, I made Your Psyche's Wish.  Next were Boyo's Hells Bells and my Many Faces of Hope and Fear. S-Car-Go continued to evolve while he created the Sundial with Chimes.   This year we had no car, no project, just old tennis balls for your kickstand.

Nighttime S-Car-Go

Now it is time to begin preparing for Burning Man 2011 Rites of Passage. Will you be a part of it? Will I?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

BM Saturday September 4, 2010

It was windy; so much so that we feared it would be like last year when the Burning of the Man was delayed by a couple of hours.  Short white outs were happening.  We decided to leave early...BEFORE the burn.  This is serious.  Well, we have seen many burns, extremely close up, from afar, and in between.  It can be downright scary, especially when the wind creates fire vortexes like fire tornadoes.  But the Burn is the catharsis.   It is why a lot of people go to Burning Man.  For others it is the cycle of life:  birth, life, death, rebirth.  I am not sure what it is for me; maybe that is why I still go.  I go to see the art. People create the most amazing things.

And one of the most amazing works of art at Burning Man is always the temple.  The first temple, Temple of the Mind, and many others after were created by David Best.   These most beautiful structures on the playa are for public expressions of grief.   People create the most moving tributes in words and pictures to their lost ones.  Sometimes the memorials are searingly angry; some are extremely forgiving; most are just saying goodbye.  The temple is a highly emotional place. It is hard for me to be in one for very long.  This year's temple, Temple of Flux, created by many from the Flaming Lotus Girls was very different, but incredibly beautiful in its own right; and a glorious burn on Sunday night, if the pictures are close to reality.

When you leave early, you not only miss the Burning of the Man on Saturday, you miss the Burning of the Temple on Sunday (which we have never seen). But by leaving early, you can get off the playa in 20 minutes.  Think of that!

BM Friday September 3, 2010

The wind started up today forming funnels which actually create a shadow on the ground.  I never knew that until I almost got caught in one while riding on my bike.  Some people try hard to get caught.  The wind did not stop all day, but it did not create white outs as sometimes happens.  It also did not stop us from spending three hours life drawing.  The models would sit from a minute up to 15 minutes.  You had to learn to sketch quickly sometimes.

That evening, Pat, our neighbor to the east came over and introduced himself. He is a big land owner in the corner of Nevada next to Oregon and California who builds and restores stagecoaches by remaking everything utilizing his blacksmith shop.  Judy, his wife and life partner, are dedicated individualists living off the land, honoring the traditions of the past and rejoicing in living life at its fullest.  In case Burning Man gets kicked off BLM land, the festival may move to his property.

Across the street was a Seattle pizza group with a mobile pizza oven.  Each evening they fired up the oven with applewood to produce the BEST PIZZA ON THE PLAYA in about 90 seconds to pass out to everybody.  What a treat!  Their group included an Oregon beekeeper who provided the honey for the yeast in the pizza dough.  He regaled us of bee tales for at least an hour.  We also ran into an old friend from Southern California.  There are lots of interesting folks in the outer reaches of Black Rock City.  And it was such a good time that we did not even go out to the playa.

Monday, September 27, 2010

BM Thursday September 2, 2010

We decided to move today because the generator problem wouldn't stop or go away.  Since this group wasn't very conservative during their week on the playa, they needed the honey pot drivers to come and relieve them of their burdens.  Then they ran an even noisier pump to run water from their water trailer to all their RVs.

There was just one tiny, little reason we couldn't leave until mid afternoon.  The eye sugeon from the group to our left had pulled in and parked his SUV exactly in the spot to block us from leaving.  He had had an adventurous evening the night before and was sound asleep.  Apparently no one knew where the keys were.  Since it was another gorgeous day, we pedaled out to the playa to see the areas we had missed.  There was also time to do some more life drawing.

I found a wonderful homage to Richard Serra.

We moved over to about 5:15 on Jakarta.  (Some signs replaced it with Jerusalem.)  Our neighbors were scattered individuals, no roundups, no square ups.  It looked great.  One guy had a motor home with the ubiquitous generator running, but it was a lot quieter.  Hopefully, he would turn it off after an hour or so.  That night we wandered around the SE quadrant.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

BM Wednesday September 1, 2010

Another beautiful day!  Cloudless and no wind.  The weather was getting warmer.  Seeing art on the playa was naturally on the agenda for our day.

We heard the Kinetic Art Cars were going to be on the playa as self-propelled taxis.  They are such amazing, beautiful vehicles that are built to run (and race) on land or water solely through human pedal power.   Races take place around the USA yearly.

I found Anti M, a woman who provides a venue for unwanted art to find a new home, over on 4:00.  Last year I took home several pieces.  This year I took none, but I left several pairs of earrings for new owners.

I climbed the man- three flights.  There were gargoyles on each of the four corners at the top.  At night he was mostly lit with green and pink neon.

We saw the very nice Dragon Labyrinth.  The artist was one of our fellow life drawing devotees.  She was a gallery owner from Calaveras County, California.

Some art is more of a statement: many trophies around a skeleton in a coffin; a heap of debris including an old ripped chair, a colorful empty stage...  all part of a Metropolis.

As for the continuing saga of the noisy generator back at camp...Boyo talked to the owner again, this time trying to convince him to move a car in front of the area of the noise to block the sound because the plywood didn't really help very much.  The owner wanted to move the looked bad, it touched the paint of the motor home.  What to do?  What to do?  The owner left saying he would move a car.  There wasn't any action, just talk, and Boyo moved the plywood back in place.

Brief describes our foray out to the Esplanade (the first parallel street) tonight. The mutant art cars were moving all around lighting up their immediate areas.

This moving sphere changed colors from blue to red and back again every few minutes.  We found a ride on a bus from which we could not see out, but it did take us across the mile+ playa from 3:00 to 9:00.  The night was warm, and we sat and watched the lit walkers make their way up and down our street.

BM Tuesday August 31, 2010

Tuesday was a great, clear, coolish day to ride out and view art on the playa. We started out together, but my bike broke-a loose bolt, and Boyo took it back to camp for tools to fix it.  I continued on his bike which is light and different; it seemed easier to ride through the playa snakes.  The condition of the playa is the third phenomenon to address.  Depending upon the weather over the past year since the last burn and the weather in the last few weeks (which included snow this past Saturday), the playa is either easy to ride on with a light, easy crust or difficult with deep, drifting areas of sand that can stop even the hardiest of mountain bike tires.  This year seemed relatively easy compared to some years, although there were some sandy areas to watch out for and dodge or find the shortest distance through.

Most art I saw was rather uninteresting, uninspired.  Then I saw the woman, the giant dancing woman.   She was, by far, the best piece I saw. The artist had left her grounded foot uncovered, and you could see how the internal structure had been built.

The second best was a movie theatre way out near the Perimeter Fence.  It wasn't finished yet, but it looked like an old building with Coca Cola painted on the side wall over painted bricks. There was an art deco decoration in front with two movie posters...Metropolis and The Last Picture Show.  The entrance was covered with plywood.  A separate ticket booth wasn't completed either, but you could tell both buildings had great potential.

Soon after, amazingly enough, I ran into Boyo. He told me he had talked to an artist who has come every year for 12 years with a project.  His commentary seemed rather negative: 20,000 early entry passes had been given out this year (no wonder the city seemed half full when we arrived); he had only a short time to set up his art; and funded projects have to be done on Sunday or before Monday's opening (a plus in my book).

We went back to AEZ to do more nude drawing hoping it would not be all males today, and it was, but the guys running the activity gave us all very cool pins for our hats of a nude woman with the man in the background.  One guy said some female models would be there on Wednesday.

It was substantially warmer today.  On the way back in to our camp, Boyo picked up some scrap plywood to attempt a generator noise blocker, just in case.  Good thing.  The generator was going great guns.  He went over to talk to the owner again, but this time he was met by two women of the group.  One of the problems was that they thought you had to run the generator to have heat at night.  The generator was turned off immediately.  They advised him that if he wanted anything done, always talk to the women.

We got to sit out and watch the crowd go by.  I put out my tennis balls (my gift); old ones with a small knife slice in them to allow it to be fitted onto a kickstand to hold the bike up easily in the sand.  I gave away several to grateful bike riders.  Burning Man is a gifting society.  You don't gift to expect something in return. You gift because you want to give, to share, to express friendship, to commiserate, to participate, to be a fellow human being, to show joy....  And that gift isn't always tangible.  It could be a hug, a smile, a pair of spare goggles to someone during a dust storm,  a chance encounter that leads you on to imagine, to create, to inspire.  Larry Harvey, a founder of Burning Man, really started something big.

It was still cool out tonight.  I got cold, my feet got sore, and I was behind in my journaling, so I only made it out to catch the last of Dr. Megavolt's performance.  He controls huge bursts of electricity wearing only a shiny silver suit with simple head gear.

BM Monday August 30, 2010

It doesn't take long to suss out your our right and growing behind us was East Coast Overdose, a group of professional guys from Manhattan who set up an awning with stools and a bar full of alcohol bottles to draw in the babes.  They seemed to be highly effective in doing so and always had a crowd of twenty somethings gathered to drink and chat and drink.  The head honcho, a lawyer, told us he would make us whatever we wanted whenever we wanted it.

To our left was a group of friends with their kids in funky trailers, motor homes, old Volvos and trucks.  We could not see them as they were in a roundup formation facing away from us.  Friendly but focused inwardly.

Across the street was the problem.  Sunday night we had noticed the ominous, giant motor home.  It, too, was part of a group of recreational vehicles but in a squareup due to their size, but these were the same slick-looking brand, high-end, "We use all the amenities and more" kind of rented motor homes.   The first time boyo went over to ask them about THE GENERATOR, the owner assured him he was only topping up the batteries for a couple of hours.  Okay, we can live with that.

The second most observed phenomenon at Burning Man after the neighborhood is THE WEATHER.  Usually the weather is the first topic, but not the first day. This Monday was windy and cool.  After participating in a session of life drawing at the AEZ (Alternative Energy Zone) theme camp, we rode our bikes out onto the playa to check out some art.  As it got windier, we headed to Center Camp to escape dust.  However, it looked like rain, and we battled against the wind and dust to reach home before it began to sprinkle.  The clouds just seemed to open up and dump out the water.  It has never rained like that before...really, really wet. Gradually the rain clouds moved on, and it began to clear and dry.  In the east we saw a rainbow form, then a second rainbow.

The playa is amazing at soaking up the water.  By dark we were able to head out on foot in our Leopard coats and LCD lights to try to catch Dr. Megavolt as we had heard him interviewed on 94.5 BMIR, the local Black Rock City radio station.  Walk, walk, walk.  He didn't show, but we saw a lot of other night life.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Burning Man Metropolis 2010

Sunday August 29, 2010

Sunday is usually the day we say goodbye to friends in Fernley, buy the final freshest fruits and vegetables to last a week, and fill up the tank of our 1988 20 foot Sprinter Motor Home for the hour and a half trek to Gerlach, Nevada.  Today was no exception. Last year we had found a great place overlooking the playa to camp before heading in line to get in soon after midnight Monday morning.  It was about 6:00 pm, and I was settling down for an evening of freshly roasted chicken, chopped vegetable salad, and red wine.  

Not the boyo.  He had out the binoculars scanning the area, looking for the staff way in, and figuring out how to get in to Burning Man early.  To his supreme joy, he discovered that the DETENTION vehicles were moving. (Detention is for those cars, trucks, vans, buses, rvs, and other zealous folks who arrive early.)  It took a while to confirm his belief, but disregarding food and drink, he said, "We're going in now."

To those of you who know what that means, you might be surprised to know that we were in by 8:00 pm and camped along the 7:00 radial between Florence and Guangzhou.  WOW!  We are not really sure why it happened, but one rumor thrown out by folks around us was that there was a 'soft' opening because too many cars were filling up the roads around Gerlach.  Perhaps the most compelling reason was that there was a big party planned by the usual suspects in detention.  A night of revelry purposefully planned outside the gates was perhaps enough to spur the officials of the area...BLM, Washoe County, and Pershing County... to act and have the gates opened six hours early.

We did not bring so much this year, so we just set out the chairs and went walking around.  The streets were a bit emptier.  I loved it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Post Impressionisms

Spain - familiar, earthy, the perception of an unhappiness or heaviness in people,  the presence of graffiti in Madrid, Barcelona and other cities that was more interesting than in other countries, the gales of laughter that made our stomachs ache in a wonderful way, the ubiquitous Burger King and McDonald Restaurants, the many reminders of the Civil War which still deeply affects the nation, five days in Barcelona, the long alleyway that wound down into the vibrant center of immigrant life in Madrid,  the swallows swooping past the balcony with their loud chirps as they ate the insects that rose up from the roadway into the heat of the day in Madrid, the evening heat, the summer light at 10 pm, the Pepsi/Coke, massages, hamburgers, and water hawkers on the beach, the great cafe con leche, the public notices of pick pockets on the metros, the plaza majores, the pet dogs, the great shoes and summer dresses of the Spanish women, the secretive obscure/private...even the language.

France - greater prosperity than Spain, how we literally broke bread together every day, almost every meal and how satisfying it was and how it held us together, the ripeness of the melons and peaches, baguettes and ice cream everywhere, the greens of the countryside and covering the hills of limestone - so different from the golden colors we saw in Spain, the narrow winding roads strung with small villages, each punctuated by a church steeple, a day on the smooth flowing river with its trailing water plants and feeling we were a moving tableau pulling together toward an unknown, living within the rock walls and feeling the sense of being a part of history, descending into the earth and feeling closer to death, riding on the River Styx and rebirth as we walked away from the round hole in the earth, hearing the sound that did not end in the Monastery.

England - practicality and common sense, friendly, thoughtful, helpful people, the neat and tidy and compact character of Dover, the whiteness of the cliffs with afternoon tea, hearing the echos of centuries in the Canterbury Cathedral as we sat in the wooden choir seats at Evensong, looking up to see Big Ben when reality touched concept, completing complicated underground rides with huge escalators, riding a tourist boat down the Thames with guide patter, lunching in Greenwich, hearing the diversity of languages and listening to the variety of English dialects, noticing how noisy London was, loving the taxi ride to the airport when the driver called me Luv.

Norway- how amazing it was to use the internet to find my relatives and how welcoming they were to Austin and me; how so expensive it was...two burgers, one French fries, one coke for $45, $13 beer, incredible glaciated scenery, huge slabs of granite, farms and water and more farms and water, wheat grain for cows; caviar, cheese, whole grain bread, sliced cucumbers, and eggs for breakfast,  Sood: lamb meatballs in thin broth with boiled carrots and potatoes, roller coaster sled ride with sharp corners and a ski lift to pull you up the hill in your sled, Lolita and spheres at the lake, very clean tidal fjord water.  Jim

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Coots, Geese, and Swans

Kew Gardens is a lovely, huge green area with many large conservatories or green houses to display plants from an ocotillo cactus of Mexico and the largest indoor plant, a Chilean Wine Palm, to live butterflies enclosed in a tropical area.  We found a Christmas tree sized Douglas Fir on the grounds and looked for the redwood grove, but it eluded us.  There was an amazing amount of things for kids to do from taking a tree canopy walk to climbing like vines.

We discovered a beautiful lily pad pond.  Near that was a pond with a beautiful bridge to use as a crossing to an original Japanese Mikuna house that is made of wood with a thatch roof.   A mother coot and two small ones were wading close to the bridge while many Canadian geese and at least five swans were swimming on the other side.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Off to Colleges?

As the concessioners (over 60) that we are, we went by express bus to Oxford at half price: four GBP.  That is about $6 each one-way for a 100 minute journey.  Did you know that the University of Oxford, the oldest in Britain, is made up of 39 colleges in which you have a tutor, your personal tutor, for most or all of your studies, and that you study exclusively in your chosen area?  So if you chose to study history, you probably would not study any science or math.  There are lecturers as well, but they stand before 200 or 300 students in courses that many people have to take.  Our informer did not go into much detail, but he stressed that Oxford and Cambridge were unlike most universities in that you had a tutor, did not change your area of study, and only studied your field.

These colleges began as part of churches educating young people and just grew until they were united in name as the University of Oxford.  The University has no jurisdiction over the individual colleges.  We took a walk around several of the colleges:  Christ Church, St. Mary the Virgin, Brasenose College, New College, Queen's College, and Magdalen (Mordlin) College.  At St. Mary's I climbed the tower and had great views of the city.  Many of the colleges have now started charging admission for visitors, so we skirted them still enjoying their spires, towers, and high reaches.

Grades for recent exams were just released this last week.  Journalists reported in the abundant free papers that too many students are getting the highest marks, and there is not enough room at university for all who want to attend.  Students willing to put off beginning their studies often take a gap year to travel, gain experience in their field, or study abroad.  I thought that was a great idea.

About half way through, we followed a three foot passage, St. Helen's Way, to the Turf Tavern, a great old ale house.  Today was one of the few days in which we have had to contend with rain.  The patio chairs were wet, but it was warm and dry in the pub.  Fortunately we only encountered the rain when we were catching our bus on the way back to Greenwich.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Boats and Meridians

The National Maritime Museum has an incredible array of real boats, toy boats, model boats, and memorabilia about Britain and her naval history, including Nelson's uniform coat and pigtail when he was shot.  

The Royal Observatory Greenwich is located at 0 degrees 0'0" Longitude, the Prime Meridian of the World, which defines Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).  There was a very long line of people who wanted to get their picture taken standing over it.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Guess What We Did Today

Did you guess that we went to a museum today?  You're right!  In fact, we went to two of them.  Both were close to where we were staying.  The first one was the Albert and Victoria Museum where everything in the world that might have been buried, burned, or blessed has been donated, given, or purchased.  What an eclectic mix of objects; everything you could imagine and beyond:  Bernini's Neptune and Triton, a plaster cast of Michelangelo's David, Vivienne Westwood dresses, Ming Dynasty vases, Rodin sculptures, church altars, Raphael paintings, aprons, teapots, Dale Chihuly glass pieces, architectural models, you name it.  One exhibit scattered throughout included seven small structures designed and built by seven architects around the world.  They reminded us of interactive Burning Man projects in which we could climb or stand inside.  You could spend months in these buildings and still not see everything.

The second museum was right across the street, The Natural History Museum.  It was packed with kids and their families, most of which were in line for the Dinosaur Hall.  It is the only portion in which you had to stand in line...about 15-45 minutes.  I enjoyed it, but my favorite was the Mineral Hall and Vault.  They have so many rocks and minerals, including four great samples of benitoite from San Benito, California.  We  have only seen broken, tiny eighth inch pieces at the Panoche Inn, but these were beautiful dark blue, one inch pyramidal pieces.  The Vault held gorgeous gemstones that have earned places in history through thievery, political unrest, or gifting.  There are two dodo birds in the Bird Hall....

And Then There Were Two

Very early this morning another half of our group flew off to Santa Barbara.  We are on our own.  Sometimes it feels like we left something back in the room.  But as we work our way from place to place, that feeling disperses because you have to work at finding your way. 

And finding our way included arriving at the wrong place just because our map did not have the new museum listed.  Our destination was the Tate Museum, as listed on our map.  Arriving there, it is now the Tate Britain.  As nice as that is, we really wanted the Tate Modern.  Now if we had only looked in the opposite direction while we were gazing at St. Paul's Cathedral and the Wibbly Wobbly Bridge, we would have seen it two days ago while on our Thames River cruise.  It has a giant tower and the name of the building in plain view in very large letters.

The museum itself  has over 65,000 works of art inclucing several of the artists we have seen on this trip:  Anish Kapoor, Richard Serra, Joan Miro, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, and Eduardo Chillida.  There are also big spaces for performing arts.  As most museums in London, it is free except for special exhibitions.

Not having enough of museums yet...we left for the British Museum.  On the way we walked the Wibbly Wobbly footbridge and ate lunch at Cafe 101, a small restaurant run by the Salvation Army.  Few tourists there.

Arriving at the British Museum, the first thing we saw was the Rosetta Stone.  It is amazing.  After looking at many of the treasures of Mesopotamia, Assyria, and Jericho that Britain acquired many years ago and knowing about how treasures of Iraq and other places in the Middle East have been destroyed or disappeared over the last several years, one could almost be glad that so much is sitting here in this museum. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Day in the Life

Today was the only whole day Kathy and Austin had in London, so they got to choose what we did.  Of course, we had to muck about figuring out transportation and boarding passes for the airport, arranging housing for Jim and Becky's last six days, and eating breakfast.  We finally got started about 11 AM and were off on the bus to Buckingham Palace to see if we could see the Changing of the Guard.  Since it happens every other day, we hoped to see it, but we didn't, besides, we were too late.  No matter. 

We headed on towards Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament.  At the entrance to Downing Street we peered down towards #10.  No one seemed to be about except some folks getting their picture taken in front of it.  They must have had some pull as most people cannot get onto the street as of 2005.

For the main adventure of the day, we took a river cruise down the Thames to Greenwich from The Eye of London, a gigantic ferris wheel like structure.  There was a Ricky Gervais type guide on the boat, so we enjoyed the commentary about the buildings we saw on the way.  At Greenwich we ate lunch with most of us enjoying traditional fish and chips. 

Back on the boat, we got off at the Tower of London.  It was nearly ready to close, so Austin decided to tour a naval ship that was commissioned in 1936 until 1963.  The Belfast played an important role during World War II by destroying a German ship that was four times its own size and helping in the D-Day invasion at Normandy.

We had not been on the London underground yet, so we made our first foray late in the day.  It isn't much more complicated or easier than the metros in Madrid, Barcelona, or Paris.  You still have to know where you are, where you are going, and which line to follow.  It is probably easier to take a bus if you know which one will take you to where you want to go.  Or you could take a taxi, which Kathy and I did coming from Charring Cross Station.  There is lots of construction going on about the city in readiness for the Summer Olympics in 2012.

After checking out Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, we had a bit of supper at the Eastside Bar and Restaurant, a part of the Imperial College campus where we are staying.  The beer and food are a good value compared to restaurants off the site.  Saying good bye to Kathy and Austin was hard tonight.  Our adventures together are nearly over.

Canterbury Tales

It really is pleasant to be in England where the people really are cheery, friendly, and helpful.  As we were trudging down the narrow sidewalk in Dover looking for our B and B, a woman walking from the opposite direction stopped and asked us if we were finding what we were looking for.  She confirmed we were going in the correct direction.

Patricia, owner of the East Lee Guest House gave us great directions to catch the bus to Canterbury, the bus driver happily told us he would take us to London or Canterbury and gently placed our bags in the storage area of the bus, and finally, the tourist information lady directed us to our next B and B, let us know she could provide cheaper tickets for the Roman Museum, and wished us a lovely day in Canterbury.  My watch band had come unglued and needed to be repaired.  I stopped in at a shoe/watch repair shoppe where the owner quickly and competently reglued it at no charge.  How cool is that?

The Canterbury Cathedral was so different from the other cathedrals we have visited (and you have read about here).  It is the Church of England or the Anglican Church.  There are no images or figures of Jesus on the cross, there is only a simple cross on the altar, and women are part of celebrating the service.  We saw the crypt, the treasury, and parts of the building that ranged in age from the 7th to the 12th centuries.  There were many, many highly detailed leaded glass windows that portray the various stories from the Bible; these enabled the early residents of Canterbury to know them since most could not read.

Late in the afternoon we were able to attend Evensong, a daily worship service in which, today, the Northern University of Illinois Chamber Choir sang the prayers and responses.  It was simply beautiful to listen to their voices magnified and echoing in the high vaults and domes of the cathedral. 

While in Canterbury we poked around in the little shops, spent some money on clothes, and sat down to have tea and tarts on a little patio while watching the people wander by us.  Our quaint Tudor House B and B looked as if it had been a part of Canterbury for hundreds of years, complete with cracks and creaks.

Tomorrow we meet Jim and Austin, who will be flying in from Norway, in London.  Hopefully, we will get them to share photos and stories.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cliff Notes

We had a smooth ride from Paris to Calais on one of the efficient, clean and fast European trains that make travel within Europe so easy.  Calais is a blur because Becky and I just had time to catch a cab to the ferry.  Another hour and a half of floating pleasure complete with a glass of complimentary champagne (B's planning paid off again), and we were in Dover.  The White Cliffs were visible from miles away.  We got ourselves to the B and B and decided after lunch to walk up to Dover Castle and to the top of the cliffs.  Well, we hiked up and around and through the woods and over the hill and dale (whatever that is) and along the busy road for two hours, but we made it.  There they were, the tops of what we had seen before.  But we did learn how important and celebrated these distinctive white cliffs are to the British and many others.  We came down on a path that we had found on our arrival and made it down in 25 minutes.  Kathy

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Last Day in Paris

What would you do if it were your last day in Paris?  Jim and Austin cannot answer that question because they left this morning for Norway at 8 am.  Kathy and I made sure the Picasso Museum was closed for two years, then we headed to a local market.  It was small, but the sharp eyes of Kathy discerned a small black coin purse laying next to a fish.  She pointed it out to the fish monger who looked up to find the little elderly Parisian woman to whom it belonged.  When he saw her wandering over to the fresh vegetables, he ran over and handed it to her and thanked Kathy profusely on his way back to his stand.  Major crisis for French woman averted by observant California tourist.

Next I introduced Kathy to the BHV, a huge department store of 8 floors.  We availed ourselves of their services and headed to the nearby Pompidou Centre to view their modern art.  One floor was a special exhibition of the works by the women held in the collection:  Elles@pompidoucentre.  It was extensive and amazing. 

Taking a break for lunch, we went back to the 5th floor restaurant with views of the Seine at the Bazaar de L'Hotel de Ville.  It poured rain as we sat and ate lasagne, bread, and a mixture of salads, dessert, wine, and cafe with other Parisians.

The rain stopped, and we returned to the Pompidou for the next floor of their main collection.  And that is what we did all afternoon.  It was so luxurious. What a great museum.  Big open spaces, plus lots of interesting nooks and crannies where old films illustrating the periods of art were playing.  I saw a copy of the Surrealist Manifesto.  One section was art created between 1905 and 1945 and another section featured artists working through the 60s.  From the large windows there were (post rain) fabulous views of all parts of the city.

For supper we wandered into our neighborhood marche, discovered various meat tangines, couscous, and mixed vegetables, and ate with the locals.  John, Erin, and Kylie came back around 8:30 pm, and Kylie is staying with us while they go out to eat and stroll on their last night in Europe.  They leave here in the morning about 4:30 am, and Becky and I are leaving for the train station at 7 am.  Much too short a visit, but sweet.

Friday, August 13, 2010

What To Do In Paris

Jim and Becky got back to the apartment first, so here is their day:  First we checked out BHV, the local department store that has a huge hardware store in its basement; sort of like Home Depot in a very old city.  Things and things and things are for sale.  We ate a sandwich on the 5th floor with great views towards the Seine. 

Next we took a cruise up the Saint Martin Canal 4.5 km for two hours that began in the old moat of the long gone Bastille, now Paris' Marina.  We rose in four double locks (about 80 total feet) and went through three turning bridges and one that lifted.  Many foot bridges passed inches above the people on the top level of the boat.  The cruise ended at Parc de La Villette, a site of a huge mirrored geodesic sphere, a submarine, the Science and Industry Museum, and many other gardens and buildings.

Our last adventure of the day was a metro ride away to the Basilique du Sacre Coeur.  We saw it from afar nine years ago, but climbed all the steps and toured the inside today despite the crowd of tourists.  It is free to pass quietly through its side aisles.  Perhaps many tourists go there to sit on the steps which are reminiscent of the Spanish Steps in Rome and enjoy the view of the city.

Or you could walk, like the rest of us, from our apartment in The Marais to Notre Dame, passing the Pompidou Centre, a building that was built inside out.  Everything that is usually hidden, like the plumbing, is featured all around the outside.  It is strange to see an inside out elevator. 

After feeding tiny birds from your hands, you could then walk to the Louvre and spend the next three hours seeing everything possible.  After you walk through the Jardin des Tuileries, which is next to the Louvre, stop for a bite to eat at a table under an umbrella where a woman might exhibit a phobia of birds.  Continue to walk all the way down the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, where you can see some military exercises.

Lastly, you could walk to the Eiffel Tower where only two of us (John and Austin ) had the energy to take the stairs up to the second level.  Finally, catch a taxi with a driver that combines speed and agility at the wheel with a lively vocabulary and the hand and arm gestures to match.  Kathy

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Our Apartment in Paris

We flew to Paris this afternoon. (We did see the huge Miro mosaic wall at the Barcelona airport).  Two cabs and an hour later we climbed two floors to our tiny Paris apartment with its book lined walls and impossible staircase to a tiny second floor. It is such a different living experience for us all on this trip, and it is a good thing we all enjoy each other.  We are on the Right Bank in the Marais.  Tomorrow we are going to the Louvre (Kathy and Erin), Parc de la Villete (John), the Sacre-Coeur (Becky), Eiffel Tower (Austin) and the BHV Hardware Store (Jim) and all of the above (me).  Shoud be an interesting day. Kathy

Ramblas Ramblings

Daily life on La Rambla is an everchanging, unchanging process.  First, there are tourists, tourists, and some more tourists whether it's midnight, noon, or anywhere in between.  There were a lot of people in various costumes attempting to engage tourists into interacting with them: exchanging photo ops for a few euros.  Several women were princesses in elegant and colorful gowns.  Two were mythical winged creatures, one of which so frightened a woman that she fell flat onto her behind.  Fortunately she had a sense of humor about it all.  Another man was portraying himself as a baby in a buggy.  All of his body other than his head was hidden in the buggy.  A couple painted completely from head to toe in contrasting blues and greens rode on mounted bikes with skulls on the handlebars.  There were two guys close to each other who portrayed Johnny Depp's movie characters Edward Scissorhands and the pirate, Captain Jack.  Perhaps the most popular character was the headless person sitting in a chair with a hat suspended above where his head should have been.  Young children were particularly taken with him. 

There were the countless purveyors of postcards, periodicals, plants, birds, ice cream, souvenirs, whistles, and the local food products such as wine, sangria, beer, and tapas.  If you sit down at a table on a terrace, it costs more than if you stood at the bar or took it to go.

The Erotic Museum hasn't changed much from the first time we were here, and it is directly across the street  from La Boqueteria, the local market, with perfect piles of endless varieties of fruit, nuts, vegetables, candy, beans, breads, eggs, fish, seafood, and meats.  It is the easiest place to buy your picnic lunch..

Austin and Jim became fascinated with the shell game grifters.  It looks so easy to spot under which tiny box that tiny white pea of a ball is hiding.  "Look at that...that tourist over there just won a 50 Euro bill!"  Having a room three floors above the walkway let Austin get some close up views with John's camera.  Soon he could identify two other shills working with the shell box handler.  One was a tall, dark haired German tourist with a bag slung over his shoulder.  He was always the easy winner.  We wondered how many times he won that same 50 Euro bill over the course of the day as we saw him two days in a row winning.  Another was the young woman who would give a little hand gesture to the shell handler to point out those with more than simple curiosity, whereupon, he would move closer and show the 50 Euro bill he was willing to pay you if you played the game and won. 

Austin said that when the police were headed their way, the grifters simply melted into the crowd in opposing directions then meet up about a 100 feet away after the police had moved on down the street.  Perhaps there was a fourth person who kept a lookout.

Jim and I saw a game going on this afternoon about 2 PM.  Two young twenty-something girls were thoroughly caught up in the action.  The shell handler "fumbled" the boxes and made sure the girls "thought" they knew where the ball was located.  They each reached deep into their bags and pulled out a 50 Euro bill to match the one the handler had in his hand because they were "sure" they knew where the ball was, and the handler was going to pay them double if they won.  It seemed a sure thing to them.  I was an arm's length behind them saying, "Rick Steves says, "You'll never win. "  I was outshouted by the shills, but then I did not want them to notice me. 

Of course, they did not win.  When the handler revealed that there was no tiny white ball under their chosen box, they uttered little gasps of dismay.  The other shills in the crowd attempted to console them.  Hopefully, they learned a lesson about a sure thing.  Later, discussing these observations and events, it was revealed that a couple in our group had experienced something similar in their life and had lost or given up in time so they did not lose.  Hopefully, we disabused Austin of his desire to beat those guys by choosing the other box.