Iberian peninsula-Barcelona

I wish I had more time in this city and a little less rain. I’d like to return in the spring and maybe visit the nearby islands.

Anyhow, I wanted to share a few more photos before we head to Madrid, Spain’s capital city.

Iberian Peninsula-Museo National d’Art

Day two in Barcelona I had the morning free so I decided to visit the Museo National d’Art de Cataluña. I have been lucky enough to visit some of the world’s greatest museums in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Paris, London, Rome, St. Petersburg, etc and I wanted to add this one to my list, as well as the Prado in Madrid.

The museum is in a gorgeous setting, a former palace set high upon Montjuïc overlooking Barcelona. The permanent collection is dedicated to regional art and piece of monasteries mounted in alcoves similar to the Cloisters in NYC.

If you keep a good pace and don’t linger, you can see the majority of the collection in a couple of hours and daily admission is quite reasonable.

The museum is organized in chronological order so you can go directly to the period you enjoy the most. Here are a few of my favorites.

The Iberian Peninsula-Antonio Gaudi

Today was Sunday and our first official day of touring. Breakfast was included every day so it was back to the hotel cafeteria. We had to wear a mask to enter and give our room number (I did mine in Spanish; all those Duolingo lessons paid off). I must say the breakfasts on the trip were really good; a mixture of American and continental cuisine. The problem was the eggs, bacon, and/or sausage were put out in unheated trays so always cold unless you caught the server bringing out a fresh tray. But the croissants, local cheeses, and meats were excellent.

Barcelona had so many things to see, I’m going to break it up into three segments. The first is the distinctive architecture of Antonio Gaudi, a pioneering figure of Art Nouveau. The Basilica de la Sagrada Familia remains his crowning achievement, a project he worked on for years right up to his death. He lived in a small house nearby and donated most of his earnings to the church, including those he did for wealthy patrons like Casa Mila. The church is still one of the most popular tourist attractions in Europe for the last century.

Homebound Diary

virusOfficials in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus have shutdown many public places like restaurants, clubs, theaters, bowling alleys, beaches and suggested no gatherings of more than ten people and even then you must maintain a distance of six feet apart. Now we have been asked to remain in our homes for a period of two to six weeks.

This is one person’s imaginary, hopefully funny, accounting of that experience…

Day One:         Not so bad. I’m getting a paid day off work. There are lots of things to do around here. Maybe I’ll clean the garage.

Day Two:        Forget the garage. I’m binge-watching all eight seasons of Game of Thrones.

Day Three:      No new sports in three days. They canceled the NBA and March Madness. I never got to fill out a bracket. Just noticed a woman sitting next to me on the couch; turned out to be my wife.

Day Four:        Counted the floor tiles in the kitchen twice. Two are missing. Number one suspect is my neighbor.

Day Five:        Experts predict a baby boom in nine months. It would take a hell of a man to accomplish that when you have to stay six feet apart.

Day Six:          Doctors recommend meditation to alleviate the stress of dealing with the impact of the virus on our lives. I’ve been doing that for years, but I call it “afternoon nap.”

Day Seven:      Run out of food, so I must venture forth. It’s recommended you should wear a mask, so I’m going as Freddy Krueger. That should shake ‘em up at the supermarket.

Day Eight:       Had an interesting conversation with the dog today; she has a fantastic grasp of Plato’s teachings.

Day Nine:        Starting to hallucinate…keep seeing hoards of Democrats chasing me, trying to shake my hand…

Day Ten:         Today, I invented a new variation of the Kevin Bacon game…Six Feet of Separation.

Day 11:           Stores out of toilet paper. I had to put a two-sheet limit for each visit to the bathroom and confine peeing to the shower or backyard. Don’t ask.

Day 12:           Organized the spices in the pantry in alphabetical order. I ordered a new bottle of wattleseed from Amazon. They say the estimated delivery would be 2024. Throwing out all recipes that call for wattleseed. Discovered I don’t have any recipes that need wattleseed.

Day 13:           Stores out of meat. Shot a moose today for food, but the antlers are preventing me from putting it in the freezer. Guess we will have to barbeque the whole thing.

Day 14:           Cable TV went out. The Internet is down. Read all my books twice. We are reduced to doing charades of Gilligan’s Island episodes.

Day 15:           Looking forward to the end of home isolation, so I can participate in the annual community May Pole celebration and dance. TV is back on. Waiting for the Governor’s announcement…

To be continued?

 

 

Iberian Peninsula-part 2

Returning back to my room in the hotel, I was exhausted but pumped that I had decided to make this trip. After losing your mate so suddenly, it gets you thinking that life is precious, every moment counts. I had turned 75 in January and had no clue how much time I had left. Diane had beaten breast cancer twice, but acute leukemia took her in a week with no warning.

So here I stood in Barcelona, alone, determined to squeeze every drop out of my time remaining.

The tour schedule had us meeting this evening for an orientation and welcoming dinner. I had three hours to shower and get a short nap before heading downstairs. By my calculations, I had been up for 30 plus hours with a few moments of closing my eyes on the plane. I was running on pure adrenaline.

A hot shower never felt so good. And when I hit those cool crisp fresh sheets, I was out like a light. Fortunately, I had left a wake-up call with the front desk, but it took a second call from Angel, our tour guide, to prod me into action.

Our 22 person group was seated when I arrived, although some were still getting drinks from the bar. Angel had matched up couples at the different tables and there was only one seat open, with three lovely young ladies. Fortune had smiled upon me. It turns out we were the “single” members of the group. I am still getting used to that term. I hadn’t been single for more than a year (between wives) since I was 21 a total of fifty-two years of marital bliss!

Amanda, Alicia, and Mani were all friendly and made me feel part of their tribe immediately. Mani offered to share her bottle of wine, as we introduced ourselves and started to get to know one another.

Dinner turned out to be okay, sort of like eating in a college dorm cafeteria with trays and a lot of noise. We all ate together which established a pattern for most of our tour. We set another tradition that night adventuring forth on a cold rainy windy night, without coats, to a series of restaurants on top of a circular arena shopping center next door to the hotel.

The place was jumping. After all, it was Saturday night in downtown Barcelona! We got into a place after a short wait. And after a longer wait ordered drinks. Mani could decide what she wanted to eat or drink, so we went through two waiters who grew impatient on a crowded night before the manager came over. Alicia and I ordered Mojitos, delicious! Mani decided on a vodka martini but they said, martinis are made with gin. We reminded him of James Bond and so gave in to her request.

Of course, they didn’t have the brand of vodka Mani preferred, but finally, the manager brings a glass of ice, a bottle of vodka, and a bottle of vermouth to our table. By this time, the place has cleared out, Alicia and I have finished our mojitos, and the manager is clearly flirting with Mani.

He pours the vodka and starts to pour the vermouth. Maní says “no vermouth.” The manager then starts an argument that she ordered a martini and it’s not a martini without vermouth. Technically, he was correct, but Mani didn’t care. He threw up his hands in frustration and hauls off the two booze bottles. They kicked us out at 11 pm when they closed and we all retire to our rooms and nine hours of blissful sleep. Thus ended day one.

The Iberian Peninsula

I just returned (March 2022) from visiting Spain and Portugal, my 51 and 52 countries. The significance of this trip is multifaceted— the first international visit since 2009, the first during the era of Covid-19, and the first solo travel since my wife of wife of 48 years passed away from cancer.

I really didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t taken an escorted tour since TWA went out of business—jammed together on a bus with strangers, rushed about with no time to take pictures, following a bobbing raised umbrella through winding streets, locals looking on with amusement (and sometime distain).

I was used to traveling with my wife, booking our own hotels, renting a car, choosing our own itinerary, and mostly setting our own pace. If we wanted to spend an extra hour or a day at a particular site, or sleep in one morning, we could do it. but I could not deal with that alone.

So I booked this eight day tour of Spain and Portugal, got a single supplement waiver, packed a suitcase and boarded a plane in LA for a 15 hour overnight flight to Barcelona.

I arrived at six am in the dark and pouring rain, wound my way through a mostly empty airport, to customs, practicing my Spanish phrase, aquí está mi pasaporte.” Receiving a welcoming grunt from a official who didn’t want to be there, I followed the crowd to the exit, watched those returning home greeted by their loved ones, and thought, what the hell am I doing?

I soldiered on looking for an el baño and my ride to the hotel. Found her holding a Globus Travel sign waiting on a family of five who were to become my traveling companions for the next several days. I, of course, was the only one who didn’t speak fluent Spanish, so I got to listen to them chatter on in their excitement, recognizing maybe every sixth word. All I wanted was a shower and a bed somewhere out of the rain.

On the ride into the city center, we were informed (fortunately in English) our hotel had changed and we wouldn’t likely be able to check into our rooms for another four to five hours. I prayed the lobby had comfortable couches and the other guests didn’t mind the smell of the 24 hours in the same clothes vagrant sleeping there.

My dismal outlook for this journey improved immensely when Angel Dias greeted us and had managed to secure our rooms early. I rallied once in my room and looked out the window. The sun had come up, although you couldn’t see it for the clouds, and the rain had slackened enough to see the beautiful Plaza de Cataluña and the Palau National just beyond up the steep Montjuic.

Grabbing my umbrella, I ventured forth and my Spanish adventure had begun.

Virus

With all of the world’s attention on the recent pandemic, I thought it would be fun to share an excerpt from my first novel, “Drafted: I’m Not Supposed to be Here.” This is a true story from my Army basic training when I caught “upper respiratory infection” and was sent to the hospital. Perhaps you will find the military’s solution to this highly infectious virus as crazy as I did.

Sarah started her day the same as she always did since becoming an Army nurse. Up at the crack of dawn, a quick shower, then after donning her crisp, white nurse’s uniform, she drove her permanently assigned jeep to the base hospital, arriving at oh-eight-hundred hours.

Just inside the entrance, she grimaced at the hand-colored picture of the stern-faced base commander, General Herbert Wolf, with his pencil-thin mustache, hanging next to a photograph of the commander-in-chief, President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Sarah hurried along the black and white square tiles, past the functional plain gray walls, until she reached the elevator, which she took to the sixth-floor nurse’s station.

She signed in, picked up her chart and began her morning rounds, starting with sickbay. Military procedure calls for all soldiers, even if dying, to rise up when revelry sounded at oh-six-hundred hours, make their hospital bed, and then sit in the hard wooden chair beside it until the doctor or nurse showed up at oh-nine-hundred hours. It didn’t make any sense, but it didn’t have to…this was the Army.

Sarah picked up a tray with a bottle of aspirin and several small paper cups filled with pink Cool-Aid and entered the “upper respiratory infection” ward. She got her usual amount of whistles and woo woos. “Okay, boys, you all behave now.” She turned away so they couldn’t see her smile, secretly pleased that her package could still deliver.

The soldiers each wore a blue hospital pajama bottom and a white T-shirt with his last name stenciled in black letters on the front. Sarah handed each one, in turn, an aspirin and a cup of pink panther piss–the affectionate name given by the patients to the administered Cool-aid drink.

“What’s the chance of getting some penicillin or anti-biotic, darling?” One soldier asked.

“Slim to none,” said Sarah. “You soldiers will be just fine.” She drew out the word “fine” at the end, which gave away her birth state of Georgia, although she hadn’t lived there for more than ten years now. It didn’t make much sense to Sarah to keep forty men locked up in one big room with no ventilation, coughing on each other like crazy, and spreading germs, but she accepted it as hospital policy, along with not distributing any penicillin.

The doctor arrived right after Sarah completed her rounds. He started his examinations with the first soldier on the right side of the room. The man held up his T-shirt, while the physician listened to his breathing with a stethoscope. If the Doc heard a raspy sound, “One more day of bed rest.” If the lungs sounded clear, “back to duty.”

The fifth soldier being examined leaned close and whispered, “Doc, please let me out of here or give me some penicillin. I am going to die in this crappy room unless I can escape from all these sick people and sleep.” He slipped a twenty-dollar bill into the doctor’s pocket.

The doctor smiled and announced, “Nurse, release this soldier with a three-day pass.” The other patients moaned in envy as the happy man ran out the door shouting, “I’m free! I’m free!”

Doc finished up and hurried out the door, nurturing the hope of another round of golf before night fell or the fall weather turned nasty. Sarah gathered up all the empty cups in a plastic bag and tossed them down a trash chute outside the ward entrance, and walked back to the nurse’s station to write up the morning report. Free car, free housing, surrounded by single men, and they still pay me every month. Nope, not a bad life at all.

Boy on Bike vs Car (Memoir #4)

Baseball 001_2 (3)As a kid in the 1950s, I lived in the small village of New Carlisle, Ohio. It wasn’t precisely Pleasantville, but darn close. Like a lot of young boys back then, I played little league baseball. My position was catcher, and I did a fair job at it. The ball fields where we played and practiced were just outside the city limits, past the grain elevator, and across the railroad tracks, less than a couple of miles from our home.

The speed limit for cars in New Carlisle was 35 mph, but as soon as you crossed those railroad tracks, it jumped to 55 mph. Teenagers had drawn a line across State Highway 571 at that spot because it was exactly a 1/4 mile flat straightaway to the leading edge of the bridge that crossed Honey Creek. Most drivers, even if they weren’t drag racing, hit the pedal when they crossed that line.

I would ride my bike, a three-speed Schwinn, to and from practice and the games every day in the summertime. This particular day, I rode through town, crossed the tracks, and as I got close, turned my bike to the left to cross State Highway 571 and down onto the gravel road that led to the practice field.

I usually cleared myself before crossing the road, but my head must have been in the clouds because I didn’t look back until I was a third of the way across. Bearing down on me was a car close enough to make the grill appear like grinning death. The driver must not have seen me either because he did not slow down.

I stood up on my pedals and pumped for all I was worth. My burst of speed probably saved my life because the car narrowly missed my leg but still slammed into the back tire of my bike. The collision threw me into the air. Instinctively, I tucked into a ball, did one rotation, and came crashing down, tumbling through the ditch next to the highway–I had no protection because it was the fifties–nobody wore headgear or pads.

The driver, a young man, probably in his thirties, slammed on his brakes, pulled over to the side of the road, and ran back to me. “Are you okay? I didn’t see you until the last minute. I am so sorry.”

I had picked myself up out of the gravel where I had landed and brushed off the dust and the small sharp stones partially embedded in my legs and arms. I had several cuts and scratches but didn’t break anything. “I’m okay.”

The man insisted we file an accident report with the police, so he picked up what was left of my destroyed bike and put it in his trunk. I climbed in the car beside him, and we drove back into town (remember it was a more innocent time back then). We both made statements (I kept assuring everyone I felt fine), and then the man (sorry, I don’t remember his name) drove me back to the ball field, gave me $25 cash to replace my bike, and drove off.

I told the coach what had happened and said that I was okay and ready to practice. He said, put on your catcher gear, and so, I did.

This is not quite the end of the story.

While still at the ball field, my mother gets a phone call from the police asking if I had come home yet, was I still feeling okay, and what did she want them to do with my mangled bicycle?

She said, “What are you talking about?”

And the cop said, “Your son got hit by a car.”

I imagine she gasped a little at this point. “Where is he now?”

And the cop says, “He left here in the car of the guy that hit him. I think he was taking him back to baseball practice.”

“Don’t you know?” I never heard my mother curse, but I imagine the cop got an earful of angry shouts about how could they let me get in a car with a stranger and just drive off like that.

Keep in mind there were no cell phones at this time, and certainly no pay phones at the ball field, so she had no way to check on my whereabouts or well being. We only owned one car, and my dad had it at work in Dayton, so other than walking the two miles to where I might be, she had to pace the floor, hoping I was okay and would show up unharmed after practice.

When I walked in the front door (coach gave me a ride), I received a rollercoaster of emotions–happiness, anger, frustration, and concern. Mother reminded me that this was the second time I had almost given her a heart attack. (For the first time, see Memoir #2). I said, “sorry,” and that was that until my dad came home from work and I had to repeat the story once more.

Upper Respiratory Infection

Here’s an excerpt from my novel Drafted about catching a virus in the Army and how they dealt with it…

*   *   *

Sarah started her day the same as she always did since becoming an Army nurse. Up at the crack of dawn, a quick shower, then after donning her crisp, white nurse’s uniform, she drove her permanently assigned (it’s good to know people in high places) jeep to the base hospital, arriving at oh-eight-hundred hours.

Just inside the entrance, she grimaced at the hand-colored picture of the stern-faced base commander, General Herbert Wolf, with his pencil-thin mustache, hanging next to a photograph of the commander-in-chief, President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Sarah hurried across the black and white square tiles, past the functional plain gray walls, until she reached the elevator, which she took to the sixth-floor nurses’ station.

She signed in, picked up her chart, and began her morning rounds, starting with sickbay. Military procedure calls for all soldiers, even if dying, to get up when revelry sounded at oh-six-hundred hours, make their hospital bed, and then sit in the hard wooden chair beside it until the doctor or nurse showed up at oh-nine-hundred hours. It didn’t make any sense, but it didn’t have to…this was the Army.

Sarah picked up a tray with a bottle of aspirin and several small paper cups filled with pink Kool-Aid and entered the “upper respiratory infection” ward. She got her usual amount of whistles and woo woos. “Okay, boys, you all behave now.” She turned away so they couldn’t see her smile, secretly pleased that her package could still deliver.

The soldiers each wore a blue hospital pajama bottom and a white T-shirt with his last name stenciled in black letters on the front. Sarah handed each one, in turn, an aspirin and a cup of pink panther piss–the affectionate name given by the patients to the administered Cool-aid drink.

“What’s the chance of getting some penicillin or antibiotic, darling?” One soldier asked.
“Slim to none,” said Sarah. “You soldiers will be just fine.” She drew out the word “fine” at the end, which gave away her birth state of Georgia, although she hadn’t lived there for more than ten years now. It didn’t make much sense to Sarah to keep forty men locked up in one big room with no ventilation, coughing on each other like crazy, and spreading germs. Still, she accepted it as hospital policy, along with not distributing any penicillin.

The doctor arrived just after Sarah completed her rounds. He started his examinations with the first soldier on the right side of the room. While the man held up his T-shirt, the physician listened to his breathing with a stethoscope. If the Doc heard a raspy sound, he’d pronounce, “One more day of bed rest.” If the lungs sounded clear, he’d say, “back to duty.”

The fifth soldier being examined by the doctor leaned close and whispered, “Doc, you have to get me out of here or get me some penicillin. I am going to die in this crappy room unless I can get away from all these sick people and get some rest.” He slipped a twenty-dollar bill into the doctor’s pocket.

The doctor smiled and announced, “Nurse, have this soldier released with a three-day pass.” The other patients moaned in envy as the happy soldier ran out the door, shouting, “I’m free! I’m free!”

Doc finished up and hurried out the door, nurturing the hope of another round of golf before night fell or the fall weather turned nasty. Sarah gathered up all the empty cups in a plastic bag and tossed them down a trash chute just outside the ward entrance, and then headed back to the nurse’s station to write up the morning report. Free car, free housing, surrounded by single men, and they still pay me every month. Nope, not a bad life at all.

 *  *  *

Broadway 1969

Hooker hours in the glowing night
Shocking colors scream for your attention
Dollars down for anticipated delight
Bare bulbs and peeling wallpaper

Striped legs dangling from below
Exposing velvet thighs that call
Girls that say no in the day
Become night prey from alcohol

Flashcubes blind starry eyes
Floating bosoms dance to the beat
Bag ladies roll their carts along
While pigeons decorate Mr. Cohan

Lulu glows above selling sneeze control
While gay applause rings out at Liza’s debut
The Great White Way reports the Times
Just swallowed another Jersey tourist

Such a life here, not all can lead
Though many willingly pay the price
It’s a lover’s leap to any other street
But a lost Broadway dream can steal your soul