Tuesday, September 30, 2014

a most wanted man

It appears that Felipe Zapata, John Calypso, and my mother (my mother, folks!) have joined forces to have me, to use Felipe's term, "institutionalized."  I suspect that is not quite the same thing as being declared an "institution" or even a "national treasure."

Now, I will hold my hand up (as Dr. Bob is wont to say) to being a tad eccentric on some topics.  The weather comes to mind -- and my tolerance of it.  You can now add dry cleaning to the list.

One reason I drove from Bend to Salem was to drop off my dry cleaning.  I know that sounds as if I crossed over the border of Eccentric to the land of Crackpot.  But hear me out.  It is not as odd as it first seems.

On the cruise and in London, I managed to accumulate a soiled pile of clothes that need dry cleaning.  During my last trip to Bend, I discovered Darrel and Christy do not have a local dry cleaner.  They are part of the ever-growing group of Americans who do not wear clothes that require the equivalent of chemical warfare to refresh their duds.

I do.  Plenty of wool and silk.  All requiring the artful hands of a professional.

Melaque does not have a dry cleaner.  And we don't need one.  Who would wear wool in the tropics?  The nearest dry cleaner is an hour away in Manzanillo.  And I have no idea how skilled the shop is.

Since I was coming to Salem to see people and take care of some financial matters, I decided to give some custom to my favorite dry cleaning shop in town.

I have been handing over my laundry and dry cleaning to Tammy Nelson and her family at Quality Shirts and Laundry for over 20 years.  And, even though I now let long periods of time pass without stopping to see them, Tammy always greets me by name and asks about my recent adventures.

And that is probably the primary reason I keep coming back.  Relationships with business owners have always been important to me.  I am not going to fly up here from Mexico with all of my dry cleaning.  But when I have a choice while passing through, it is nice to know those old ties are there.

Speaking of old ties, I caught A Most Wanted Man last night.  The movie had just opened in London while we were there.  But it has already slipped out of the first-run theaters here in Salem.

I ended up seeing it at Northern Lights -- one of those establishments retrofitted from an old time cineplex to a new-fangled brew pub.  The screen and sound were decidedly 1970s, and so was the ticket price.  $3.

In this filming of a
John le Carré novel by the same name, American intelligence with its reliance on arrest, torture, and electronic surveillance is taken to task by a German intelligence officer who believes in the superior nature of human intelligence. 

But it is more than that.  It is also a film about personal and national redemption.  And because the novel is by
le Carré with his peculiar form of of Manichaeism, American optimism is mocked in favor of European angst.

Given its ideological straight-jacket, I liked the film.  Because human intelligence is all about convincing people to act against what they perceive to be their own interest, the plot takes time in rolling out and developing.  To have filled the movie with chases and gun fights would have made the subtext fraudulent.

The real reason I went to see the movie is P
hilip Seymour Hoffman.  It is his last starring role.  And a great bit of acting it is.  He so commanded this film that every time the scene turned away from him, I was never quite certain if he would return.  A similar sentiment was applied to Frederich Hölderlin: "Whenever he left the room, you were afraid you’d seen the last of him."

And we have.  But it was a brilliant chord that set his departure.


Monday, September 29, 2014

wagons ho!

I am on the move again.

Today I am on my way to Salem and Portland. 

To Salem for a chat with my accountant to determine if there are some alternatives to coming north in February to file trust tax forms.  And to Portland to get a date certain on when my retirement funds will be transferred to my bank account.

The Portland trip is the most urgent.  That money makes up a sizable portion of the purchase price of the house in Barra.  I will update you on that process as soon as I get some good information.

I am hoping I can let you know about that this afternoon.  If not, I have another essay warming up in the wings.

See you in Salem.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

the drowsy chauffeur

I felt well enough to get out of bed this afternoon to take a drive through Bend.

In the battle against colds, there is a moment of irrational exuberance when the Nyquil is left behind during the day for the comfort of Dayquil.  I say "irrational," because, based on my experience, Nyquil drugs you up enough to let you know you are severely impaired. 

And Dayquil?  It provides one of those paternalistic impairments.  The type of drug that tells you: "Go ahead and drive.  You can still see, can't you?"

So, the drive was short.  And drowsy.  I climbed up Pilot Butte to get a Peregrine's view of Bend and its accompanying scenery.  It was not the best day for mountain sighting.  Clouds were rolling in from the Pacific and hiding the peaks of the Cascades.  A sure sign that snow will soon be on the way.

But there was no snow today.  The temperature in Bend was perfect.  Around 57 degrees or so.  Warm enough that the windows of the Shiftless Escape (still alive and clutching) needed to be powered down.   Perfect weather for a short-sleeve drive.

And that got to me to thinking how fortunate I have been on my journeys during the past month.  London.  Blackpool.  Oxford.  Le Havre.  La Rochelle.  Bilbao.  Vigo.  Olympia.  Bend.  Each stop has had great weather.  Ranging from the 50s to the 70s.

Christy, my sister-in-law, asked me this morning if I needed an extra blanket.  I told her the temperature has been perfect.  I have been sleeping on top of the covers.

Yes, I know, I am merely stirring up another of those "Then, why do you live in tropical Mexico" questions.  To which I respond, I can tolerate almost any weather.

But I will confess that adding air conditioners to the new house is daily becoming a stronger possibility.

Speaking of the house, I need to being you up to date on some developments.  But that will need to wait until tomorrow.  Or later in the week.

Now, I am heading back to bed to shake off the rest of this cold.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

man down in bend

Today's post will be short. 

I am in bed with one of the maladies travelers often suffer.  A cold.

It certainly could be worse.  The imagination runs wild while sitting on airplanes and standing in line with people who have been exposed to all sorts of microbes.  We live in an era of intercontinental germ sharing.

And I am far more fortunate than my friend Isla Gringo, a former blogger now on Facebook, who suffered a heart attack while visiting family in Minnesota.

Most of my tasks here in Oregon can wait.  So, I will return to the sleep-welcoming arms of Nyquil.

But rest assured, I will be back to continue this journey.  After all, there is a house to be purchased.  And tales to be told.

Friday, September 26, 2014

the red thermos

I think that was their name.  Or maybe it was the Red Thermoses.

The name should have been easy to remember.  It seemed as the band was ubiquitous on the ship.  If there was a stage, there they were.

Four primary musicians.  Bass guitar.  Lead guitar.  Cello.  Peruvian flute.  With an occasional saxophone or keyboard drifting in and out.

All women.  Dressed in rather blocky red outfits that evoked the band name.  The type of clothing cruisers wear to cover the extra pounds that have taken up camping space on hips and thighs after a few days of starchy buffet lines.

I don’t remember ever stopping to listen to them for more than a few seconds.  When I would, it seemed as if they were always playing the same tune.  Over and over.  The kind of tune that is vaguely familiar, but my mind simply could not grab the title.  Something that Karen Ziemba could dance to.

What I did grab was one of the eponymous red thermoses, filled with mediocre coffee, tea, or soup, that were served up by the waiters who drifted through the moving herds of passengers being driven from one eating venue to another.  Like cattle in a Kansas City abattoir.

Of course, none of this happened.  It is all a dream.  Literally.  From Wednesday night.  And one of those dreams that looped around to the same spot no matter how many times I would get up to find the toilet in the dark.  That number requires more than one hand to calculate.

I suspect the proximate cause was my melatonin-fueled attempt to acclimate to the eight-hour time zone shift.  Re-setting my circadian clock is getting more difficult as I age.

What I found interesting is that my mind is still trying to sift through a cruise experience that ended almost a week ago.  I have gone from a cosseted environment where music, food, and amusement were served up with limited variety to a more libertarian space where I can actually make my own choices.  My mind must be purging the more fascist aspects of my quasi-socialist cruise experience.

Or maybe, it is simply having its own party.  And I have not been invited.

Where I have been invited is on a road trip to Portland with the Latsches.  The plan is to drive down on Thursday afternoon.  (That is today as I write.)  I will then fly to Redmond to spend time with my family in Bend.

That is where we will pick up this tale tomorrow.  If I can get some sleep.  I need to get the stopper back in this silly thermos.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

dahlias and dogs

His dahlias were always beautiful.

When the Burkes (including that red-headed girl who had won my fourth grade heart) moved away, an older couple moved in.  They lived on property behind us that once belonged to our house on Risley.

Mr. and Mrs. Strang.  That is how I knew them.  For people a generation older, my brother and I used honorifics.  Calling a 50-year old woman "Mary" was as unthinkable as an adult taking our childish ways seriously.

Scots, they were.  With accents as thick as the oatmeal they ate.

They treated my brother and me with kindness.  Most of that centered around their bumptious Irish setter, Heather.  She loved running circles in our back garden.

But it was Mr. Strang's dahlias that came to mind yesterday morning.  Ken, Patti, and I arrived in Olympia late Tuesday night.  When I woke up yesterday morning, I was welcomed by a sea of dahlias.  Grown by the neighbor next door to the Latsches.

Those dahlias were nice.  But Mr. Strang's were better.  Or, at least, my memory is that they were better.  Memories can do that.  Facts get mangled in the service of nostalgia.

My memory can be trusted on one point, though.  Mr. Strang was generous with the fruits of his labors.  He regularly handed over bouquets, wet with morning dew, for my mother.  And, as I said at the start, they were beautiful.  And large.

I learned several things from that generous man.  Unfortunately, the art of growing dahlias was not one of them.  My attempts in Milwaukie and Salem produced the faintest of copies.

What I did learn was a love for big dogs.  In the form of golden retrievers, for me.  And an appreciation for the art of working hard to create something beautiful.

But, most of all, I learned the power of generosity.  How something as simple as a flower can build lasting relationships.

After Mr. Strang died, Mrs. Strang's debilitating arthritis and a stroke put her in a nursing home.  Despite her physical limitations, her accountant-trained mind was always in high gear.

I enjoyed the hours we would spend once a month reminiscing about our shared days on Risley and trying to figure out the almost undecipherable ways of Medicare.  The first was always exhilarating; the latter was frustrating, and has left me with an ongoing distrust of government medical insurance.

Mrs. Strang died almost 30 years ago.  And, to this day, I remember her and her husband as mentors.  Through their generosity and kindness, I learned new things about myself.

Things -- such as the mere glimpse of a flower that casts a spotlight on a niche of my past that I thought was long forgotten.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

the london bits

I am drafting this on our flight from London to Seattle.

Even though it is an afternoon flight, most of the passengers are sleeping on their flat bed seats.  Me?  I am basking in the glow of my laptop monitor.  That gives you an idea how easily I snooze on airplanes -- even when the conditions are optimum for sleep.

Instead, I will put together some snippets that I have not yet shared with you on our post-cruise London visit.

Even though there was a day when I would make an annual trip to London to refresh my wardrobe, those days are long gone.  On this trip, I had a very short list: an extra formal shirt for my white tie costume (single French cuffs, thank you very much); a lens cap for my camera; a box of pickled onion crisps; and some underwear.

As you can guess from the photograph, I ended up only with two pair of underwear.  And not quite what I wanted. 

During my two years living in England, I became quite fond of a certain style of underwear.  Boxers.  Cotton jersey.  Cloth over the elastic waist band.  Reasonably priced.

Since then, I have periodically replenished my stock at Harrods, Selfridges, and Marks and Spencer.  Apparently, styles have changed.  The only similar product sold by Harrods were brocaded silk at about $470 (US) a piece.  Nothing at Marks and Spencer.  All Selfridges offered were white boxers at about $60 each.  I bought two pair -- and mourned the passing of an era.

This man, perched atop the Selfridges marquee, appears to be suffering the same problem I had.  Searching for a good pair of underwear.


You know how much I love trains.  Rather than hiring a car or taking a bus from Harwich back into London, I convinced Ken and Patti to take the train.  The Harwich Express.

Despite being the only direct train to London that day, we had our carriage almost exclusively to ourselves.  Or so I thought.  Apparently, the engineer had dropped his bottle in the seat behind me.


Shooting the horse-mounted soldiers at Horse Guards is a favorite tourist activity.  I decided to reverse the project.  How the horse boys manage to not laugh when faced with such Kafkaesque behavior is beyond me.


This bar-restaurant may have been on Shaftesbury for some time.  But I noticed it for the first time while on our hop on-hop off bus tour.  Any place named the Ape and Bird deserves a visit.  Next time.


On that same bus, the commentary must have told us ten times about one of the most questionable bits of travel lore.  It goes like this.  If you stand in Piccadilly Circus for 37 minutes, you will see someone you know or recognize. 

I doubt it.  I have.  And I haven’t.  Unless the theory includes the possibility of seeing the same stranger you saw five minutes earlier.  But that would simply be a shameless tautology, wouldn’t it?

In any event, I like these crowd shots.  There are always plenty of stories playing out in the human bait ball.  Such as, what is up with that couple on the far right?

If you look closely, you can see the marquee for the theater where I saw Jimmy Stewart in Harvey in the 1970s.  The circus has been greatly revised since then.  But it still has that “center of London” feel to it.*


And what would a post of London be without a tourist cliché shot?  I waited for what I thought would be  just the right moment.

I can count at least four London clichés.  There may be more.  Take a shot at identifying them.

* – Yes.  Yes.  I know.  Piccadilly Circus is not the center of London.  At least for measuring purposes.  That honor goes to the diminutive figure of Charles I mounted on a horse in Trafalgar Square.  But, I ask you, what is more central -- young people having fun or a monarch about to lose his head?