Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Christmas night, with fire


It is Christmas evening… a cold night (at least for us in the land of no snow and orange trees) There will be frost on the roof tops tomorrow… I will leave the Christmas lights in the orange tree on tonight (big C-9 bulbs… inefficient heat generating bulbs… my anti freezing plan)


The others have gone to bed…


There is a fire burning on the hearth… It has been burning for the last 4 days… dying back overnight… but with more wood, and maybe a bit of kindling it will burst back into flame again each morning… It will burn all night… I will add more wood tomorrow morning… If Tina and I were home tomorrow night I would stoke it again, and it would continue to burn… in the past I have kept the fire alive for as long as 3 weeks at a time…


It creates warmth… not just a higher temperature as measured by a thermometer… but it makes the home warmer… The fire is alive… it glows…


Some years ago in spring, or maybe early summer, a friend, from Maine told me his mother, still in Maine… “Had let the fire go out…” I realize that this wasn’t an unintentional result of lack of maintenance… but a statement… A deliberate act… winter was over… and she could choose to let the fire die…


Now fires, fires in a fire place… real wood fires (gas logs don’t count…) are uncommon and occasionally illegal… At least in urban northern California… they contribute to air pollution… A maker of “fire place logs” aka fake wood, pressed wood, (they don’t count either) has commercials about limiting pollution from fires… and instead, when fires are legal, we should use their pressed wood imitation fire wood… a log wrapped on paper… traditional wood fires are under siege…


We “did” a program for 3 year olds at the farm earlier this month… I built a fire in the wood stove in the granary… our public space… to heat the space… to make it warm for 3 year olds and parents… Many of the three year olds were awe struck… a parent said… “He has never seen a real fire…” I believe that it was a revelation for her… But, we are fast losing the relationship between fire and warmth…


One local TV station offers a Yule Log program… tune (tuning a TV or radio is probably a forgotten idea as well) in to the picture of the burning log… Christmas songs playing… It’s almost as good as a fire… or not.


A well maintained wood fire in a masonry fireplace (not the tin things that house gas logs) while not efficient can warm… beyond the light, the smell and the bit of heat… they warm the heavy masonry mass… a giant heat battery.


There is more to it… the gathering and splitting of fire wood… the storing of the wood… staging it for the fire place… This is more than a thermostat… it requires one to think about how one could heat his house… how to maintain the fire…


I am not a Luddite… I really heat my home with a “modern” gas heater… but I still know how to heat with wood… and occasionally do… I know that fire is not always dangerous and can be a friend… I sit here blogging, on my laptop, by the fire… A fire I value.


In our modern world we are far removed from the need for fire to heat our house… But fire, elemental, visceral can still warm us in many ways… Its Abbey’s beer can again.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Solstice

Yesterday was Solstice… winter solstice… The shortest day of the year… the moment in time when the blue planet we call home changes directions and we move from the days getting darker, to getting lighter…


For those who worship Earth as a god it is possibly the most significant holiday of the year… significant enough for the Romans to usurp it for their Christmas celebration… So the Christians have taken over the Wiccan’s, the witch’s holiday… even if sloppy and missing the day by a bit…


In celebration, I scanned some old slides… Taken as Stonehenge, on Salisbury plain, many, many years ago… August 1973. I was on a trip to Europe to celebrate graduation from high school… a grand circle trip… At the time, visitors were allowed to walk among the stones… to explore… by 1977 the stones were roped off… I generally don’t believe it the supernatural, in ghosts, in haunting… but on a couple of occasions I felt the power of place… Stonehenge was one of those places…


My background… mostly… back nearly 400 years, is English… there is some Dutch and German maybe a bit of Native American… but mostly English, and if English probably Druid… all long forgotten…


In celebration, I lift a glass of mead to the Druids… May their world survive… Merry Solstice.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Our Christmas…

It is the second wave… our Christmas… not the public Patterson House Christmas… not the Google parties… not the City parties… but our family Christmas…


The tree is up… the lights are up outside… the street, our neighborhood is decorated for Christmas… a neighborhood Christmas… a c community Christmas… a Christmas… a celebration.


Five days before the day… there is a fire lit… We have dined… we (at least the ladies) are decorating the tree… the tree which has resided in the house for the last week… We (I) put up lights immediately… we put up beads, the garland soon after… then we stopped… waiting for the decorations…


I had brought down the boxes of decorations… but had missed a box… THE box… the box of glass balls… reflective balls… Christmas balls… We retreated to the attic… to the storage place… and found the missing box containing the Christmas balls… All is good… for it is Christmas and Christmas balls are important…


Earlier, this day, I braved the crowds to purchase the roast… the Christmas roast… Almost 16 lbs of Christmas roast… a standing rib roast… aka a “Prime rib”… our Christmas evening dinner… the center of our Christmas eve dinner… served with Yorkshire pudding… a true English Christmas dinner… my families tradition, a family separated from England, the Christmas homeland for something close to 400 years… The butcher, if he is called that… the meat purveyor at the local mega mart wanted to sell me a trimmed roast… but I need the roast… with the fat… to make the pudding, the Yorkshire pudding… I prevailed… I got the full fatty roast. Fat equals flavor… fat renders for the York… the Yorkshire pudding… Fat is important…


The Ladies continue to decorate the tree… There are conflicts… I am hiding, writing the blog… Apparently there are still “globs of empty space” on the tree… They continue their efforts.


The menu is developing… Hollandaise, asparagus to go with the meat… and pudding… There is a salad involved… this is dinner, our Christmas dinner…


Apparently my wife does not know the Pickle story… so says my daughter….I continue to write the blog… They call me over to hang ornaments… I resist.


The tree is decorated… it is done… Christmas is here… more Christmas will follow… a dinner… a good dinner… with a fire and food and lights… most importantly with family and friends… too all, and too all a goodnight...


Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas is fast becoming Christmas…

It has been an interesting couple of weeks… too much to do, too little time… not really thinking, just reacting… Until a couple of days ago I did not enjoy Christmas… I was providing other people’s Christmas, ignoring or too tired to attend to my own, our own Christmas. Dealing with issues… computer issues… house issues… too busy… then, imperceptibly, things started to turn… to change…


Scene one… Butterflies lots of butterflies… Saturday, I was at work, at the historic house at the historic farm… Volunteers were giving tours… there was a fire burning… two long time volunteers were on the poach, making lace… Someone mentioned butterflies… the lace makers didn’t know we had butterflies at Ardenwood… we walk out… to the butterfly grove… the butterflies take flight… silhouetted against the sky… flashed of orange… magic…


Scene two… Parties… a story in three or four parts…


Saturday Night We were invited to a "private" Christmas party… someone from Tina’s workplace... at a private home... snow on lawn... valet parking... a temporary ice rink with its own Zamboni in the backyard... 3 bars... and a coffee bar… lots of food, really good food… really good wine… a cookie decorating area… Lots of people… Movies and a desert bar downstairs… and Gavin Newsom and Joe Montana (what, you don’t party with Gavin Newsom?!). The hostess drove the Zamboni… she said she would… not just a lap around, she really groomed the ice… All in all an over the top, too much party, really nice party… fun… could fun be possible? Apparently Yes...

Wednesday, we had a party at work, Turkey and ham, and lots of potluck dishes… People I work with but never sit down with… people who’s name I know, or who I might pass in the hall… all sitting down together, eating, laughing… We were lacking a Zamboni, but three people showed up driving street sweepers…


Thursday… lunch… another work gathering… before a couple of co-workers visit the house… the farm… It is the first time one has visited… we have fun walking around… its nice to see the place through another’s eyes… then we meet again at a Japanese theatrical restaurant nearby for the department lunch… everyone from department made it… lots of laughs… relaxed… fun… not really Christmas, but really the holidays…


Friday… Good news… lots of good news… Steph received the acceptance letter from the first of many colleges… Tina got a big raise (not unexpected, but much bigger than expected….) and I am now off for two full weeks, and finished up the arraignments for a job… a side job… consulting for a group in Hawaii… in January… a trip to Hawaii… a working trip… but Hawaii… and a job I love… To celebrate, the three of us do dinner… a nice dinner… we celebrate privately in a public place…


Tomorrow, Saturday… the next party… the railroad museum’s annual dinner… a nice time at the farm… a nice dinner… with friends… I will enjoy…


Next Friday… Christmas Eve… my families traditional Christmas celebration… we have invited many, and all seem to be coming… family, Friends, Friend’s family… co-workers… a full house… a full table… for Roast Beef, Yorkshire pudding… Asparagus and Hollandaise… there will be shrimp before… Rice pudding afterwards… I can only hope that someone shows up at our house riding a really nice lawnmower… It would make Christmas… at least our Christmas.


Scene Three… the setting… outside, the Christmas lights are on… ours and our neighbors… many neighbors… there is a wreath on the door… Inside… the tree is up… it has lights but not yet decorations… The hearth is ready for a fire… Pans and pots and stuff to cook Christmas dinner are being found, being readied… we are preparing for the big dinner…


I think Christmas has arrived…

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I survived Christmas…


This may seem like a strange statement to make on December 10th… but for me, a historic house manager the crisis and stress of Christmas ended today at about 9:48 pm when I locked the front gate at the farm and headed home…


Christmas started on November 15th… this is not everyone’s Christmas start date… Many, no, most prefer to celebrate Thanksgiving before starting Christmas… Laughton Wainwright has a song about this… a too early Christmas… But my house museum Christmas starts in mid November… and ends in mid December…


I started my day getting ready for too many 3 yr olds… lots of 3 yr olds… with parents and sibs… building fires in the fireplace, in the stove… cookie dough ready… lamps lit… Father Christmas was in my office… getting ready, for 3 yr olds…


I welcomed the 3 yr olds… I got the horse… harnessed ( a halter) the horse… and brought the horse out to meet the 3 yr olds… Father Christmas was on the porch welcoming the 3 yr olds…


I and the horse visited the groups of 3 yr olds… we walked about… the 3 yr olds and the horse (Jiggs) enjoyed the visits… Jiggs and I visited Father Christmas…


I put Jiggs away… in his corral, his home… I returned to the house, where Father Christmas held court… the 3 yr olds were visiting Father Christmas… Father Christmas was entertaining the 3 yr olds…


The 3 year olds (and parents) left… and we transitioned to “regular” visitors… we gave tours… regular tours in the afternoon… I ran to City Hall to turn in paper work, paper work which should have been turned in earlier, but didn’t happen due to too much Christmas and a broken computer… but the too much Christmas is now mostly over, and the computer is fixed, and it is now time for paper work… possibly too much paperwork, safety reports, warrant requisitions, budgets, marketing plans… all in all too much, but too needed…


We prepared for our annual Christmas evening in the afternoon, while giving tours of the house… We were putting out oil lamps to light the path as the light failed… the sun went down… the house glowed, wreaths in windows silhouetted by room lights, Christmas trees glowing…


The evening event started about 5:00…. People arrived… they looked about… they said “wow”… I checked on how things were going… I walked back and forth between the train station, the entrance to the park and the house. I tended fires. I talked to our guests… people seemed happy, they liked the house… all was good.


Eventually the event ended… the people left… the lamps were put away… the fires dying… the park, the house locked up… I went home.


Now it is all about the few tours left… and about thinking about next year and the year after… and about the other Christmas celebration… at home…


Monday, December 6, 2010

Weirdness at work… with Reindeer...








At Patterson House, It’s the season of too much Christmas… too much work… too many visitors… too hectic… too much to do…


Around the too much, the too weird has set in and found a home… There is a box of rocks on my desk… There is a story… of course there is a story…


Tomorrow the three year olds arrive… lots of three year olds… invited into our Victorian home… Some think this is the definition of insanity… instead, I think it’s a moment of clarity… On the other hand the rocks may be insanity…


In the middle of all of this my work computer has imploded… dead… blue screen of death dead… a thoroughly dead parrot… About as useful as a rock… I have called I.T. they will address it eventually, but not immediately… leaving me with less work to do at work… at least for now…


The 3 years olds are coming tomorrow… I may have said that already… Steph (aka, the daughter… she has appeared before in this blog) is in the kitchen making sugar cookie dough… we will cook them tomorrow on the wood burning stove in the Victorian home full of antiques and too much Christmas and way too many 3 year olds… and a box of rocks… a really interesting box of rocks…


The 3 year olds, and parents, and siblings are coming to the farm, and the Victorian house full of antiques and too much Christmas (and a box of rocks) for a Christmas field trip… We have Father Christmas, we have chartered a train… we have butterflies in the trees… we have horses and turkeys and a farm full of wonderful things to see… and a Victorian house full of too much Christmas… for the 3 year olds to explore…


Flashback, to Christmas memory, of a Christmas long ago… many, many years ago… when I was a child, not 3 years old, but probably less than 10 (I am old… at least by some definitions) when my grandmother would take us, each Christmas downtown, to downtown Los Angeles, when Los Angeles had a downtown and a downtown shopping district, with numerous department stores… each of which would decorate their windows for Christmas… Magical windows full of too much Christmas… We would view the windows… we would walk about… then we would have lunch… either at a downtown cafeteria… Clifton’s Cafeteria… when downtown cafeterias were stylish and exciting… decorated with rocks as I remember… or at Grand dad’s club…


The trip to view the windows defined my childhood Christmas… Maybe Patterson House’s too much Christmas can define the holiday for a new generation… I hope so… hence clarity… A new Christmas tradition for a new generation... and continued meaning for our old house...


That leaves the box of rocks…


Early during the Christmas decorating season we had an accident… while hanging garland we (me) dislodged a glass lamp shade… a 1903 glass lamp shade… it fell to the ground… it shattered… Being a professional, I knew the shade in question was still available… I knew where… I thought I might have a spare in the attic… among the push button light switches, the knobs and tubes, and the curtain rods… there are also lamp shades and bits of wooden rain gutter… all the things that define a Victorian house…


There on the shelf of spares was a box with a tag marked “lamp parts”…. A promising box with a tag suggesting the possibility of a replacement shade for the 1903 kitchen light fixture… The box itself was interesting as so many things in the attic of Patterson House are… It was old (most things in the attic of Patterson House are old… ) It was a pre-war (this would be World War II… ) a pre-war box from Gump’s department store… (we are back to department stores… department stores used to decorate their windows for Christmas… I might have mentioned this before… but today, instead of windows with too much Christmas, Gumps has a web site… called “Holliday Shop”) back to our box… A box marked Gump’s, San Francisco and Honolulu…


The box, the promising box was addressed to Miss Sally Patterson, Newark California… a box, a cardboard box… addressed to a Patterson, living at the time, a time long ago, before 1941, at our Patterson House, now a museum filled with antiques and too much Christmas… A box with three 4 cent stamps… an old box…


Of course, I opened the precious cardboard box… and found… rocks… non-descript rocks… the now well known box of rocks… The box is special… the rocks may have once been special to someone… but now, they are just a curiosity… and currently live on my desk next to the very dead computer…


The frustration of the dead computer has an upside… I can’t do my work… I get frustrated… the work calls… I get more frustrated… unable to do work, I go outside, behind my office… There resides the fire wood pile… I take an axe… a splitting axe… I use said axe to hit the firewood… to split the firewood… preparing the wood for use in the stove to cook the cookie dough the daughter made for the too many 3 year olds viewing the too much Christmas… The physical exertion helps ease the stress… It warms me… and now I have wood for the stove, to cook the cookie dough for the 3 year olds…


To all a Merry Christmas, and to all a good night…

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A fire burning on the hearth…

There is a fire burning in the next room… A wood fire…. in the fire place, the hearth… the place for fires… in a brick fire place… a masonry fire place… This is becoming socially unacceptable… Fires give off “particulate matter”… soot and smoke… We have days when it is illegal to have a fire… We have “no burn days” I may object… I may burn… (wood)


Edward Abbey talks of throwing beer cans our of his pickup window… because he can… it’s not good for the environment… He does not defend the littering… but he understands the littering… It is of the environment… right for the place… and right for the person throwing the few beer cans now found rusting by the road side… this make sense to me… In the wilderness, trash is not the same as it might be in a different place… This is the West... I am of the West... This makes sense...


He describes a place in which there are few people, and much space… wide open space… a space where one might toss a beer can… might pee on a bush… defile the landscape, but not defile the landscape… the wide open landscape…


I don’t plan on throwing beer cans out of the Escape’s window… but I am building a fire… a big, roaring fire in the fire place… I may try to keep it going through Christmas… not the house museum Christmas, but the real calendar Christmas… December 25th


Fire is important… it may define us as human… we have one burning on the hearth… It will continue to burn for the foreseeable time… the hearth fire which defines home (and hearth.)


Our fire place is made of brick, of masonry… it has mass… mass which absorbs and releases heat.. heat from a fire… a wood fire… a coal fire… the fire which defines…


The fire drives away the cold… it drives away the fog and damp… it creates a warm refuge… it creates home (and hearth)

Tomorrow we have the school classes visiting the house… 300 or more, maybe 600… then the weekend… 400 or so a day…. Then next week the Tiny Tots… lots of Tiny Tots… 300 three year olds with parents and sibs… Bring on the 3 year olds… I am ready…


Abbey would hide… I won’t

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas… It’s here… and here… and here

Tonight we started Christmas at Patterson House… not the preparation, the decorating, the garland and trees and such, but Christmas, the party and celebration…


Tonight we held the preview… for the Historic Patterson House Foundation… our supporters… or friends… a small party… about 50 or 60 folks… visiting the house, the new visitor’s center in the railroad station, the granary for a party… There were Christmas decorations… Christmas cookies… kerosene lamps lighting the walkways… fires in the fireplace and wood stove… wine and libations… a party…


This is our traditional beginning… tomorrow I take the day off (kind of, I will visit work… visit city hall) resting before we start the slog… Christmas weekend… at the park… too many school kids… too many visitors over too many hours… over three days (too many) but fun… and Christmas… our celebration.


We take a day off (Monday) at work but no visitors… then… dive into the fray again… into Christmas… too much Christmas…


The three year olds arrive Tuesday (and Wednesday, and Friday… ) lots of three year olds…aka Tiny Tots… and parents, and siblings… lots of very young people… into the house… (I am not panicking, really not panicking… I think) overlaid with a week of more tours, followed by a week of more tours… and I have jury duty… then, after we finish our special Christmas on Sunday Dec. 19, I am furloughed for five days… a economic issue… which with 4 holidays and a paid day off and weekends equals a couple of weeks off… not working, not allowed to work… off… off… crazy busy followed by enforced leasure… I am not sure what I will do or how I will survive…


But I will survive, enjoy, and thrive... This is the way of the world...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

My 10th Christmas


This is my 10th Christmas at Patterson House as house manager…

My 10th year dealing with the task of decorating a 7,000 foot mansion… preparing for as many as 4,000 visitors… Then dealing with the 4,000 visitors… Walking the thin line between “Victorian” and “Macy’s Window. ” We have too much Christmas… way too much… There are trees, garland, lights (not many lights… and the lights appropriate for 1903… we think about these things…) wreaths (lots of wreaths), and decorations… lots of decorations…

This year, as we head into the season, I am feeling unprepared… There are rooms so far not claimed… I have claimed one room, the library, for a homage to Father Christmas and Santa Claus… using Santa dolls… lots of Santa dolls… which usually live in the attic…

Now, 5 days into the season things seem to be coming together… all rooms are claimed… 6 rooms are done… 6 more are mostly done or at least well started… only a few are so far a dream… but all have stuff staged… all are working towards the day, now two weeks away when we open… and welcome guests…

I am doing the library… (how appropriate) in a Santa theme… (as reported above…) I am using our Santa doll collection to illustrate the progression from Father Christmas and St. Nick to Santa… the red white and blue Santa of Lincoln in 1863… to the red and white Santa of the 1890’s Coca Cola tray and shopping mall of today…

With all this Christmas at work… I am trying to figure out how much Christmas is appropriate at home… I am thinking outdoor lights… a tree, but maybe a small tree… a nativity scene… (Prohibited at work) It is not clear how or where we will celebrate… We will celebrate, we just don’t know where…

Thanksgiving, fast approaching is similarly undefined… I need to think about it more… acquire a turkey (a small turkey) and other supplies…

It's now a bit after 8:00… time to head off to work… and way too much Christmas

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

12 photos…

I have created a gallery of 12 photos… the best 12 photos I took on the recent trip… (at least today’s choices… my choices could be different tomorrow…) They are not a story about the trip… just 12 images that caught my imagination… My eye…


I took a many more that 12 photos… after a pass through the photos, turning them, editing, deleting the obvious, I have 574 photos taken over 9 days… 5 ports…


I find that I take photos, use photos in three distinct ways… for three purposes… The vacation photos from the recent trip are of all three types… The first type are snapshots, family photos… and most of the photo from this trip, are vacation photos… a way of remembering where we have been… All together are a way of documenting our lives… The second type, are information… taken solely as a form of note taking… there are a couple of museum display labels… a museum information card… a menu… I also take photos of books (but not on this trip)… I have in a few cases taken photos of each page of a book, a magazine, a diary, or a ledger… hundreds of pages to document a single book… They are not about art or composition, but about the information. Finally, the third type of photo, the least common, but the highest form are photos as art… The 12 photos my poor effort as art…


There is a long, now more than 100 year old debate about photos as Art… (Art with a capital A, is a form… a practice…) for some photos are technology, chemistry, documents, but not Art… Others recognize that by the act of taking a photo, framing a photo, you are editing reality, and creating an image… a vision… a moment… Many of my photos are not Art… but some are…


Some are closer to a copy machine, a Xerox machine… just recording…


I do both… for different reasons… Today we are celebrating Art…

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Back, at work… And Christmas… in early November

Back, back from vacation, at work…


It’s a big day at Patterson House… it is the beginning of Christmas… when the house is converted from Victorian house museum to Macy’s Christmas window… It is Chaos… with me at the eye…


I got up with the sun… and headed to work… my clocks had not been set back for the change from Daylight savings time… a week or more ago… we were traveling… There are blog posts about the travel… Maybe our home clocks do not accurately tell time…, instead they are telling an older time, an earlier time… a wrong time…


I got to work a bit before 7:00 (as in am… morning…) then wondered why others were not there… I made coffee… I made soup (for the docents…) Turkey vegetable soup… The reviews suggest good turkey vegetable soup…


Eventually others arrived… They started to decorate. I ran around in circles running errands, bringing garland and such down from the attic… hanging wreaths…


We ate about noon… Soup, good French bread… friends…


The trees arrived about 1:30… the artificial trees… many, many artificial trees… a truck load of trees… There are bags of garland, down from the attic… there is other Christmas stuff, boxes of other Christmas stuff… There are ladders… 5 or 6 ladders… Ladders are important.


We continued to decorate… it takes a lot of time to decorate a 7,000 foot house… by end of day a couple of rooms were looking good… maybe 4 more were started… Its Christmas…


Now home… cooking dinner… what’s with having to cook… where is the kitchen staff… the waiters… the bar keeps… Oh, S#@t, I am home, now responsible for my own food, my own dishes, my own laundry and beds and such… This ain’t a cruise… its life… real life… I miss the cruise…


It is now 7:30 pm… Tina, the lovely Tina, just called… headed home from work… Time to finish dinner…

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Home

It’s is Sunday evening… we are home…


The day started when we awoke to find the ship safely at dock in Ft Lauderdale… We rose, we dressed, we went to the last breakfast (I finally ordered eggs Benedict…)


Back to the room, mostly to waste time… then, gathering our stuff, we bid our room goodbye and went upstairs and found a table outside at the stern, and sat and read, and waited… Most of the time at the end of a cruise we are desperate to get off… on a schedule to get a flight, or drive, or something for which we need off… not today… we have a flight to catch, a flight leaving about 5:00, at an airport 15 minutes away… we are going to sit somewhere… either aboard, or at the airport… the ship is a better choice… a nicer place…


For the first time in my travels I heard the “this is the final announcement, would all disembarking passengers make their way to the gangway…” The Lovely Tina and I were being kicked off a cruise ship (in a good way)


We made our way downstairs… to the gangway… off the ship… the port staff had us work our way completely around one room… when questioned (by others) the detour was for crowd control… for a nonexistent crowd… a crowd that had long passed… but the result was we had to walk once around the room, maybe 300 feet, when if fact we could have walked from the gangway to the stairs in maybe 25 feet…


Downstairs we needed to find our bags… Lots of staff wanted to tell us where to find our bags… every 20 feet someone wanted to know our color and number so they could direct us… after the 4th encounter we were headed for our bags… but still ran a gauntlet of staff… all wanting to tell us where to go… (in a good way… not the common and rude joke…) but by the end we wanted to tell some of them where to go…)


We claimed the bags (there were few left to chose from… we really were among the last off…) we joined the line for customs/immigration… We presented our passports and custom forms… we were waved through… emerged out on the street, in search of a cab… lined up… waited for a very short time and loaded our stuff, our luggage in the cab… for a short journey to the airport.


Strangely, the cabbie had NPR on the radio… not the expected choice… most local cabbies are from one of several Caribbean islands… most commonly Haiti… I have received some of my best information on Haiti from cabbies in South Florida… today instead I listened to NPR…


We reached the airport… we checked in… we tried to check our bags… but you can’t check bags before 4 hours before the flight… so we found seats in an overcrowded airport… Many others, like us were waiting to check their bags… We sat… Ft Lauderdale’s airport has free Wifi… I logged on, but eventually, too soon the battery in my laptop was failing… I went in search of power, a wall plug… I am wondering how they vacuum this place… there are very few plugs, most in hidden side halls…


I find one in a public area, plug in and continue… Tina watched the bags… I checked email, I uploaded the photos from Grand Turk… I read about the Carnival ship and its fire… Among cruise passengers there are stories... lots of stories about what happened to which ship... mostly fictional... but there are stories... Spam... the ship aground.. its the ship that was in port with us in Grand Turk... all fictional... but stories...


Eventually I finish the upload, then make my way back to where Tina is sitting… we check our luggage… we go to lunch… we pass through security… again we sit and wait… I find a new power source… (this isn’t easy… but I am good… this one is behind a barrier… I reach, I plug in, I have the power…)


Eventually we board… a full flight… we find places for our bags… we sit… the plane leaves… we sleep… we read… we sleep some more… finally, 6 hours later we are home… we make our way to baggage claim… we call the daughter… we wait for bags… we claim bags and go outside… the daughter arrives in the car with the dog… we load luggage… we depart… the dog sticks her tongue in my ear…


Home… Luggage unloaded… I need supplies for tomorrow… I go to the store… for supplies… I need to make soup for the volunteers… the stock is already made… made some 10 days ago, from a turkey carcass from a previous docent feed… boiled, then strained, and put away… for tomorrow… currently frozen solid at work… I buy vegetables and sausages… and beer… (beer is a reoccurring theme in my life…) Returning home I chop vegetables… onions, carrots, celery, green beans… sautĂ© them… set them aside, chop Italian sausage… brown it… break it up… the put all of the stuff in the fridge… to go to work tomorrow to be combined with the stock, with some kidney beans, some tomatoes, maybe a bit of salt… a soup… I bought bread too… I know what I am having for lunch tomorrow… Unlike the cruise, I had to make this lunch…


Work will come too soon… really crazy get ready for Christmas work… too busy… and it will continue for a couple of weeks… it really is a season… Christmas at Ardenwood, at Patterson House is not a week in the Caribbean… it may be the opposite of a week in the Caribbean…


Soon I will be working on the next trip or trips… there are weekends in Healdsburg (aka the wine country) in Reno (a Rotary train trip) to Florida (parents… I need to spend more time with mom) and maybe Hawaii… (trains… there is a wooden passenger car…) and New Orleans in May (Rotary again) I need reservations for a Yosemite trip, a family reunion in November 2011… Somewhere among all the planned trips are likely trips to Washington DC and somewhere in the American West… the desert… maybe Yellowstone… so far undefined, but a camping trip into the wilderness, the wide open west…


Now at home… food done (for now) a beer at hand… (Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA) writing this blog post… trying to make sense of the trip, now past… working on photos… I am tired but not sleepy… home… with cat hair… Tina has too many cats…

Packing… for home

Back aboard the ship, after our day on the beach… dinner is done… we shared a bottle of Zinfandel Port brought from home with our table mates… We had a nice table for dinner… a couple from Boston, a couple from Florida (formerly from New York)… a couple from Scotland… we also had a couple from Florida (also formerly from the northern eastern seaboard) who while not assigned to our table acted as substitutes when one or another couple was eating elsewhere… much in the spirit of the people who sit in the seats at the Academy Awards when someone needs to go to the restroom…


Part of cruising is socializing with people you don’t know… much as one might at a B&B (bread & breakfast…) We made friends at lunch… at cocktail parties… we made connections… but the connections remind me of Vonnegut’s false connections… connections in passing… connections for the moment… Literature again defines life…


Now after 10:30 pm… We are in our room… We are mostly packed… In 10 minutes or so we will be ready to put the suitcases outside… the clean clothing for tomorrow is laid out… The library is packed…(I travel with books… books collectively constitute a library… this one is about travel… ) We have thrown out much of the mass of paper we received… ads for art auctions, the New York Times “at sea” edition, invitations to make reservations for future cruises… multiple invitations to multiple Captain’s cocktail parties… I took a couple of AAA travel guides, one for Florida, one for the Caribbean, and abandoned them in the ship’s library… I don’t need to carry them home…


The computer is still out, along with appropriate cords… (without the computer I would not be writing this…) I have backed up all the photos to a portable drive, and that is packed… there are a lot of photos… most have been sorted… flipped or cropped as needed, the bad ones deleted, the good ones named… ready to upload when I find a place with a decent internet connection… There is the tail end of a bottle of Scotch on the table… too little to take home, too much to just gulp…


The seas have calmed… we are likely in one of the many passages inside the Bahamas, and are now sheltered from the Atlantic swells…


I have the Waifs playing on the computer… I never think of my laptop as a music device, but it is, and there is some good stuff there… the Waifs, Gillian Welch, and some Matt Nathanson… bits and pieces from others… While I own and use (the lovely Tina might say addicted to) computers, I am a grey beard, and occasionally don’t think of them beyond their abilities as word processors or portals to the internet… I understand that they are also musical machines; movie players… a complete entertainment system… but I usually don’t think that way…


Tina just peaked out into the hall… our bags are gone… beyond recall… the cruise is fast moving towards the end… The end brings thoughts of why we journey, and about the next journey… of the purpose of the journey… The questions are likely rhetorical… without a specific answer… This trip was more about relaxation… a respite… we did visit a couple of new places… Grand Turk and San Juan… I found a San Martin I hadn’t before… an old Dutch city behind Diamonds International…

I took a lot of photos… Some I really like… I am thinking of picking 12… the best 12… or maybe just my favorite 12… 12 that tell a story, or at least say something about the places I visited… a portfolio… Off the top of my head I know of two that will make the cut… The first a photo of a hawser, a heavy mooring line, against a background of the ships dark blue hull…. The second, a series of arched passage ways in the depths of El Moro… Beyond that there are many that come to mind… not any that are automatic… there is a pawn shop sign from St Martin… a sign for the African Market… also from St Martin… There are several of doorways in San Juan… one of a bar… There is a photo of a statue through a barred window in San Juan… there are actually several of that statue… of the same statue, from different windows, from the same window but framed differently… it was a powerful image… I will choose one. There is a photo of the cracks in the iron light house, on Grand Turk… maybe the sign for the prison… I need to find 12… this sounds easier than it is… the 12 need to be good, no, great… If this works, if it gels… I will print each photo, mat each photo… a proper portfolio…


A photo is an interesting thing… a vision of a moment… a fraction of a second… a point of view… an edited vision of a place, a time… I took many, some illustrations of the place… some with deeper emotional meaning… at least to me… If my vision was pure they may have meaning to others as well… maybe even you…

The Waifs are still signing… their singing is more than song… for me, it is taking me back to an evening in a theater in Santa Cruz… The lovely Tina and I drove down after work… found the theater… listened… both girls were pregnant… very pregnant… The concert was good, beyond good, special…. The songs are taking me back there… as I hope the best 12 photos might take me back…


The photos may be the answer to the question why we journey… as the blog is the answer… I am not comfortable just going… just escaping… I want to record it… to explain it… mostly to myself… If you enjoy it all the better… but this blog is really for me… sorry if I am being selfish…


Here on the ship there is an art auction… all cruise ships have art auctions… it is part of the ritual… The art auction folks will tell you why you should buy the art they sell… each piece seems to have a story… I don’t think I buy the story (I have never bought the art…) Tina and I have a house full of art… Her mother was a painter… we have many of her paintings… many good… others just part of a family tradition… we have a painting, a wedding gift from a cousin. We have a couple of prints… from known artists… we have some of my photos… We have folk art... a 19th century Indian basket… items from Mexico, from Peru, a rug from Peru on the wall… it seems that the difference between the art here on the ship, and the art on the walls at home is the story made up by the commercial auctioneers… I think I prefer our art… the art created or collected by our family… just as I prefer to escape the cruise port where they plan my experience, in favor of the local town, the local market and the beach shack…


I think I am defining my future travel choices… my “why I travel”


Now late Saturday, or maybe early Sunday… trying to post the above, but the computer gods are not cooperating… To bed for now…

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The last Supper…


It is Saturday, November 13, our last full day aboard… not exactly aboard as we spent most of the morning sitting on a beach in the Bahamas, but the last full day of vacation…


The dreaded luggage mats appeared on the bed while we were ashore… We must pack this evening… leaving our bags outside our door… from where they will disappear into the bowels of the ship, only to reappear in the cruise terminal tomorrow…


It was a glorious Caribbean day… blue skies, warm water, a breeze… The waters around the island, Half Moon Cay, were those shades of blue only found in tropical waters, deep blue for the deep waters, a azure blue for the shallows, and turquoise near the beach… The clouds are white, never dark grey… the a bright band separating the sea from the green of the islands…


We sat on the beach… I swam… the water was warm…


We returned to the ship about noon, for lunch in the ships Asian restaurant, Tamarind… we had “Japanese” beer with lunch, Kirin brewed in Los Angeles by Anheiser Busch (aka Budweiser), and Sapporo and Asahi brewed by Molson in Canada…


Upstairs people are lounging by the pool… people are getting sunburned… Some are napping, some are behaving badly… This is the way of people on tropical vacations…


Early tomorrow morning our ship will queue up and join the parade of cruise ships entering Port Everglades, aka Ft Lauderdale… take our place in the line of ships, and dock at pier 26 about 6:30 am… The Customs and Immigration inspectors will board, and request our papers… (not ours, as in Tina’s and mine, but ours as in the collective records of all the passengers and crew, this is one of those times that the old saying “We don’t need no stinking papers” just won’t work… you really do occasionally need papers, and we believe ours are in order…) There will be announcements over the ships PA system… people will crowd the public areas around the gang way… impatient to end their vacation… to start the journey home…


I am starting to think about packing, or rather what not to pack… (it is best not to walk off the ship naked, and they get upset if you take the bathrobes, and reportedly, they charge you for them…) Tina is resisting the thought of packing…


Tina and I expect to rise, go to breakfast, the watch the ship wide chaos that is disembarkation… Our flight is late in the day, the airport is nearby, and we are in no hurry… Eventually we will walk off, find our luggage (a much simpler task later when there are fewer bags to search through) present our passports for inspection, declare our $57.00 worth of foreign purchases (the books bought in Porto Rico don’t count, despite what many Americans think, it is legally part of the U.S.)… We will hail a taxi and make our way to the airport… there to check our bags, then sit, and wait for a late afternoon flight… We have a long wait, but not long enough to think about doing something… just a long airport wait… I believe that Ft Lauderdale airport has free internet… if so I will finally post the photos I have been taking… If not they will wait until I get home, and get some sleep, and catch up on work, and more sleep, sleep is important… eventually they will find their way to the web…


Sunday night when we return home, home to California, home to San Mateo, I will quickly fall back into the rush of work… I need to shop, for supplies to make soup… a hearty vegetable soup for the volunteers at work, volunteers who will start to decorate the house for Christmas on Monday, Monday November 16th, 40 days before Christmas… I shouldn’t be surprised or upset… we have seen the harbingers of Christmas on this trip… In Ft Laudedale, the Bass Pro Shop held their “Christmas unveiling” 8 days ago… Christmas Reggae music was heard… more than once… Christmas displays and Christmas decorations for sale in Grand Turk, in Porto Rico, in St Martin… You too can have a tropical Caribbean nativity scene grace your mantle…


So in two days I will be back at work in the Victorian House Museum… preparing for Christmas 40 days before the blessed event… It’s enough to make me dread coming back (not really Laurie…)


As we leave Half Moon Cay, the weather is changing… It is starting to cloud over… to turn grey… The color of the sea is turning from bright blue to steel gray… everything is grey… The seas are rougher, but not the choppy rough of earlier… tonight it’s the long swells of the North Atlantic… all to welcome us back to our regular, not vacation fantasy, world…

Friday, November 12, 2010

At Sea

It has been a slow day in paradise… we are at sea, sailing from St Martin to the Bahamas, and a stop at Holland America’s private island, Half Moon Cay… A cruise ship like Neiuw Amsterdam has a top speed of maybe 25 miles an hour… We will travel at close to 22 miles an hour for about 40 hours… of course all of this is done in nautical miles aboard a ship… But in the end we will travel over 800 miles to get from St Martin to our stop in the Bahamas…


Tina and I got up late, had breakfast in our state room, then dressed and walked around a bit… We were invited to a cocktail party before lunch, where Tina got her 100 day award… (Apparently she has really only cruised with HAL for 99 days, but they are allowing for a 1% error rate… so she got her copper medallion) then lunch, then sit by the pool and lounge and read… We attended a cooking class, then went up to explore the new Asian bar, have a drink, before retiring to our room to get ready for dinner… It is a truly lazy day…


The end of the trip is coming too fast… tomorrow we will lie on a beach, swim a bit, then back to the ship for lunch, probably sit by the pool, think about packing… (but we won’t really pack, just think about it… packing will wait until after dinner… after all we waited until a few hours before the flight to pack for the trip… you may not want to try this, but we are professionals… )


Of course the ship is full of rumors about the Carnival Splendor… an ill fated cruise ship which had a problem off San Diego… variously reported as an engine room fire, or an electrical fire… some rumors have the passengers eating spam… (the cruise line denies that passengers were fed spam) The ship has since been towed into San Diego, the passengers off loaded and safe… but that doesn’t stop the rumors… Apparently the Navy flew resupply missions… (Supplies that included the dreaded Spam… (I would like to point out that there is a really nice Spam museum in Austin MN, I have been there and recommend it, but I digress) Two passengers have been arrested (on felony warrants unrelated to the cruise) There are jokes being made on late night TV… Several passengers have told me that the Carnival ship we saw in Grand Turk last Tuesday has since broken down... We have been told the ship (which may or may not be the ship we saw in Grand Turk last Tuesday) has gone aground... of course... the ship with the issues... a fire or an electrical issue was in the Pacific, never went aground (it was about 200 miles off the coast) and is now in San Diego, safe... but rumors are rumors, and they are so much fun...


Strangely four years ago, Tina (aka the lovely Tina, aka the wife) was aboard a cruise ship off San Diego that suffered an electrical fire that for a short time left it without propulsion, but never without lights, air conditioning, functioning kitchens, an internet connection and the other associated niceties that make a cruise special… Even stranger… our captain on this cruise, Capt. Mercer, was the captain on that ill fated cruise… It is in fact a strange, small world…


Now, sitting here finishing this posting… it is after dinner, after the show, after midnight (or not, we turn the clocks back tonight, and gain an hour of precious sleep) I will post this and head for bed, and sleep, for tomorrow is full of strenuous activities, like lying on a beach, lying by the pool, eating, and drinking those silly drinks many of which contain pineapple or coconut, rum, and small paper umbrellas in them… We must rest, so we can give it our best effort…



A thought on the photos... the internet connection at sea is a best slow... at worst glacial... photos will be uploaded once I have access to a proper high speed connection, and links inserted into each of the posts... I have photos... lots of photos... already sorted... most renamed... but putting them online requires resources not available on-board...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Saint Martin

It is dawn, we have docked in St. Martin… It is warm, it is sunny… the sea is a bit rough… There are two more ships headed in… I can see them on the horizon… It is Thursday (I know because the carpet in the elevator says so…) It is St Martin’s Day… a holiday in St Martin (who knew?) and there was concern aboard the ship, that the holiday, and related holiday store closures might hinder our shopping opportunities… We have been told (by our “Port Shopping Ambassadors” (yes, the ship has shopping ambassadors, two of them)) that the government has relented, and is allowing stores to open, on this most important holiday (St Martin’s Day, in St Martin…) so we can shop!!! Get the credit cards ready… we are coming to support the local (as in local stores owned by multi-national corporations catering to tourists…) economy…


We rise, we dress, we go to breakfast (food is important… this is, after all a cruise…) Soon we will go ashore… As we get ready to go to breakfast, the Freedom of the Seas is docking next to us… it is huge… our ship carries 2,100 passengers and 900 crew… we carry 18 life boats… the Freedom of the Seas carries 30 life boats… she carries nearly twice the passengers… she is huge… She, and her 4,500 passengers are sharing the island with us… and there is a German cruise ship too… smaller… but still, another cruise ship with more passengers… this isn’t a bid boat day here… so with the Germans, presumably there will be “German tourist by the pool making pyramids and scaring the children…“ (Apologies to Monty Python…) Watney’s Red Barrel Beer may be involved… although I didn’t see is for sail on the island… but it’s a steep and slippery slope.


Eventually we walked off the ship… to the official cruise port, “Harbor Village” with its Duty free shops, its safe shops and security… We bought wrist bands for the water taxi, the yellow water taxi… and rode the yellow water taxi to town pier, and the center of town, truly the center of town… we walked off through the thong of folks offering taxi rides and tours of Orient beach (the beach where the cruise passengers, mostly over 50, many older, many a bit overweight go to see naked people, and in some cases get naked… We knew better, we stayed away…) We chose to spend the day exploring Phillipsburg. Phillipsburg is a tourist town, a cruise ship town, for better or worse… but it is a Caribbean town, with a wonderful beach, blue water all framed by green hills… it is a Dutch town, and there is evidence if you look… evidence beyond the Diamonds International, Tanzanite International, Diamonds International Watch & Design, Del Sol or Little Switzerland store… At least the Guavaberry Emporium has a local connection… (We decline the invitation to visit Diamonds International, etc… but we do shop)

We walked about… we found a local chocolate shop… with really interesting chocolates… I particularly liked the red pepper chocolate… (hint, if you work at Google with Tina, you may want to walk by her desk on Monday… there may be chocolates, chocolates from St Martin… “dangerous chocolates” (there were safe chocolates too, but who cares) Chocolates from the Belgian Chocolate Box, by Beatrix… you can visit her on Facebook)


We continued to walk… little by little we found the old Dutch city… it’s still here… just under the surface… overwhelmed by the cruise tourists… If you stopped to look there were finches, colorful finches, in the trees… the old Catholic church backs up to the beach… further west there is more old than new, more real than “cruise”… I think we found at least a little of that older place. I took photos… eventually when I find a fast internet connection I will post them (Cruise ships have internet, but not fast internet, and particularly, not cheap internet)


We found another gift for Steph (aka “Dear daughter”, home with the animals, the menagerie) This not the unwanted tee shirt… It is something different… it will be a surprise…


We watched a couple of parades in celebration of St Martin’s Day… one, escorted by the police, a parade of motorcycles… Harleys and such… many, many motorcycles, more than I thought the Island might host… loud, noisy, all celebrating… followed a little while later by the unauthorized parade, a car, speakers blazing, followed by a mass of bicycles…


Having shopped, having explored, having witnessed and cheered the local celebration we went in search of beer… preferably on the beach, with shade (Tina’s condition) and we found it… (finding beer on the beach on St Martin is not a difficult task… finding the “best spot” to have beer on the beach on St Martin is a little harder) We chose the “Blue Bitch” bar… It is not as derogatory a name as it sounds… all over Phillipsburg we saw dogs, many female, many with evidence of having given birth, several of that color that Steinbeck called Bleu, or blue… I suspect the bar’s name is a reference to these dogs, as well as to the blue dog art of New Orleans, and only peripherally to difficult women… (I don’t know any difficult women, but I understand that they exist) They offered beer, they also offered food, but we didn’t partake (of the food)… they had a live band performing across the walkway… they had a 3 year old dancer… the cutest thing on earth that day… we sat, we drank, and I bought a tee shirt… a pink tee shirt… from the Blue Bitch Bar…


We are passing through a squall… at tropical rain storm at sea… it’s not rough… just a heavy rain… the transition from rain to calm, with broken clouds and sun is sudden, a wall… clearly defined… we are at sea in the tropics… it is wonderful…


Back to our narrative… Back to the pier, back to the water taxi, the yellow water taxi… back to the ship… to our refuge… We ate (by now you should understand that this is a cruise ship… a place to eat 14 times a day…) we sat in the sun… we went downstairs to our room, changed and went to the thallaso therapy pool… (a fourteen dollar word for a high tech hot tub, although the ship has traditional hot tubs too) back in the room now… drinking (another “core” cruise ship activity) and relaxing, and downloading the photos from today from the camera… and writing this… Tina is reading in bed… she just broke her wine glass… she does that sometimes… it’s a gift… (she, Tina, once spilled wine on the same waitress twice at one dinner… she has the gift…)


Tonight we have a cocktail party with the captain… (more drinks) another dinner… (more food) then likely after dinner drinks… (that would be more, more drinks…) then to bed… and sleep before a relaxing sea day tomorrow… It is wonderful to be on vacation.


More, later... Randy

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

San Juan

We have left St Martin… Our transit to San Juan takes us through the North Atlantic, away the protected passages through the Bahamas. It’s a bit rough, not too rough, but the ship is rocking, and I suspect some are suffering…


By morning it’s much calmer, broad, long swells of maybe 4 feet. The ship is still rocking, but no white caps, and a blue sky, a Caribbean blue sky, is showing through big fluffy clouds… We will see rain today, but today won’t be defined by rain.


We pass by El Morro, the fortress, a castle that guards and defines San Juan, enter the harbor and dock… then wait, and wait as U.S. Customs and Immigration inspects the ship, her documents, and calls for several passengers, presumably for “special attention”... It seems a bit overkill for a cruise ship that left a US port with those same passengers only 4 days before…


We had a bit of good news, really good news from an unexpected source… I was wearing a Google tee shirt… (Tina works for Google… Google only hires really smart people… Tina is really smart) So, someone saw the Google tee shirt and said something about the “news” and that I must be happy… The New York Times had an article saying that Google had given all employees (including the lovely Tina, no, the NY Times did not specifically say Tina, or Lovely Tina, but she is an employee and all by definition includes her) a raise, a 10% raise… A quick Google search confirmed the news… (how better to find news about Google than to Google it…) It is not everyone who finds out they got a raise by reading the NY Times, but for Tina it worked…


T. and I walk off the ship, through the throng of duty free liquor store sales people, onto the street with the taxi drivers and shore tour operators… “Tour of the City, $10.00, still some space” “tour of the City, $9.95” “Tour the rain forest”… Within a block we had escaped the port shuffle, then headed down the bay front towards El Morro… It was a pleasant walk… it wasn’t too hot, but it must have been close to 90 percent humidity… We find the “Casita” aka the “little yellow building”… Apparently, there are plans to open it as a gallery, but today it was locked up tight… but the first picture in our walking tour guide is of the Casita, and we found it… we saw it… but we didn’t get inside… renovation is apparently planned…


Having found the Casita we continued along the bay on the walking path… There were fountains, and art work, and a grand boulevard… The walking tour guide said we could see the Bacardi rum factory across the bay, but we were not sure, it looked a lot like a large power plant with lots of smoke stacks… Continuing on we soon found and passed through the City Gate… through the city wall, into the old city… We passed by several government buildings… I took photos… Tina pet the cats… this is a city of cats… lots of cats… Tina likes cats… (Their is a local organization that spays and neuters, vaccinates and feed the local feral cats… this town apparently likes cats)


We walked across the open area around the fort… it’s a very impressive approach…to the gate… through the gate… They charge admission, but I have a National Parks Annual Pass, a magic card, and Porto Rico, although an “exotic” Caribbean island, is part of the U.S., and El Morro is a U.S. National Park, operated by the National Park Service… so we get in free… Score one for the magic card. El Morro is a fierce fortress, more medieval castle than new world fort… there is a keep, a central fortified tower, with a chapel as all castles should have… there are walls, and since this castle is from the age of gun powder, cannon ports. It would be an easy place to defend, but not an easy place to attack…


Having toured the castle, we headed back into old San Juan, the area defined by the city wall, as this was a true walled city… once common in Europe, but not common in the new world… we are in search of historic sites, a beer or two, shopping, and beer… we are feeling the heat and humidity… We have maps… we both know how to read maps… we decide to head for the Casa Blanca… the white house… built for Ponce De Leon… although he died before he could move in, it is now a museum, but it was closed for renovation… We went in search of other (alternate?) wonderful things…


Continuing our wandering, we found the “Iglesia San Jose”, a famous local church… (it made the National Park Service’s map of significant sites… There were only 10 sites carefully marked in brown on the map, in English and Spanish…) but it to was closed for renovation… next door, on the square was the Museo Pablo Casals… (it didn’t make the NPS map) It to, sadly was closed, although this time there was no evidence of planned renovation…


Modern Old San Juan is a study in contrasts and conflicts… not the conflicts of fights, but the conflicts of senses… It is very much a Spanish Colonial city, a Caribbean tropical island city, with the colonial Spanish buildings, the blue brick streets… the language (knowing Spanish was not required, English is spoken universally, but knowing some Spanish made things easier)… and yet this is an American City… The U.S. National Park Service runs the historic forts… publishes a map of the city… the U.S. Postal service is delivering mail… Dollars are not just accepted, they are the official currency… and my cell phone works… I suspect there are conflicts that are not apparent to the casual visitor… Maybe it’s time to admit that there is a long term relationship and offer the population full statehood (assuming they want it.)


We forged on… we found one of the identified shopping streets (when on a cruise, you will be provided with information about shopping, where and who, and in many cases what you must buy to make your cruise vacation complete.) We found a store selling Ben & Jerry’s Ice cream… It wasn’t beer, but it was a close second… We were refreshed… Now refreshed, and on a shopping street, Tina proceeded to shop, not with gusto, but she shopped… We found a Tee Shirt… We liked said tee shirt… it’s goofy with an academic twist… we bought it for the daughter (who has said “no more tee shirts” sorry daughter) We found a cafĂ©, really a bar (the store which sold us the tee shirt recommended it…) it had outdoor seating… we sat, and fulfilled the second goal, beer, cold beer… There seems to be only one local beer… a light beer… Medalia Light… We ordered two Medallia Lights… It was good… strangely while all information about the beer, the ingredients, the marketing pitch was in Spanish, the warning label, as required by U.S. law (Porto Rico is after all part of the U.S., and all Porto Ricans are U.S. citizens…) was in English…


Having drank, we continued our wandering… we found the cathedral, it was undergoing renovation, but was open… things were looking up… we didn’t stop to go inside… We continued our wanderings… We found the Plaza de Armas… every major city with a Spanish heritage in the new world has a Plaza de Armas… This one had a Wendy’s, a Mashall’s and a Starbucks… We asked a little old lady where to eat… She looked at an article we had printed out from the New York Times (the NY Times had an article saying Tina got a raise…) about where to eat in San Juan… she was talking about buses and transfers and long and complicated trips… She made a suggestion about a local place… El Jibarito, with vague directions… We found it… others on the street thought it was a good choice…


It was a wonderful neighborhood hole in the wall… in a good way… It is called La Fonda El Jibarito, locally known as El Jibarito… we received menus… we asked the waitress questions about what we should order… She told us what to eat… we did good… first there were pastiles, banana and masa around pork, like a tamale, fried… I had roasted pork, Tina cube steak with onions.. both with rice and beans, and an order of mofongo to share… How can you visit San Juan and not order mofongo? It may be their national dish… it consists of plantains (aka bananas, just not the yellow things from the supermarket) mashed with garlic and other good things… fried, with a garlic sauce… we also ordered beer, the local beer, Medalia Light… We ate until we could eat no more… It was good…


We were fast fulfilling all of our goals... we stumbled out onto the street… We headed aimlessly… we discovered that our wanderings had brought us to the other significant fort guarding the city… Castillo San Cristobal… As a fortification, the Castillo may be more impressive than El Morro… but it lacks El Morro’s dramatic location facing the sea, guarding the harbor… instead, the Castillo is protecting San Juan from land attacks… Like El Morro, it has layers of walls, gate houses, a chapel, and would, and was a significant defensive position… We explored… as we reached the top, we could look down on the Nieuw Amsterdam, docked about 5 blocks away…

We explored, then made our way back to the ship, our ship… boarded and relaxed… The ship left port just before 8:00, as we went to dinner… now, some hours later, we are at sea again… smoother now… but at sea, with the occasional roll, and the noise that a ship makes as she makes her way through the sea…


Tomorrow we visit San Martin… (their are alternate spellings depending on your political allegiance…) The island is half Dutch, half French, each with their own “style”… We will be landing on the more conservative Dutch side… We don’t really have a plan… we have been here before and there is nothing we must see… but there are possibilities… there is a beach where airplanes pass directly overhead while landing at the island’s one airport… they pass so low that you can feel the jet blast… On the French side is Orient Beach… known for its nudity… the problem with Orient Beach, is that most of the beach goers tomorrow will be my fellow cruise passengers… This is a group which is generally older… and has not wanted for food… Here on the cruise many are eating 7 and 8 times a day… I have seen them do this… Chronological experience and large quantities of food are not a good recipe for a “Beach Body”… In short there are not many of them I would like to see naked… of course I am not sure I would want to see myself naked… I after all am a cruise ship passenger…


Tina and I will likely go ashore and watch airplanes land… and shop… there is information about shopping available… and find beer…

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Grand Turk

We woke at 6:00 a.m. with the dawn… showered and dressed… (Too early for a real vacation, but there is a schedule to me maintained…so we got up, showed and dressed then made our way up to breakfast, to eat and watch as we called on Grand Turk.


We slowly approached the dock, light lines were thrown, caught, and drogue in, pulling in heavier lines, mooring hawsers… each made fast, and pulled tight… a gangway was lowered, the local authorities welcomed aboard… We were here…


After a few minutes we were allowed to disembark… a 9 letter word for leave… We walked off the gangway, down the dock and into the “Cruise Port” and its associated village… a safe, cruise line owned, cruise line controlled tourist village… Full of shopping opportunities, a Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville Bar, A Wave Runner in case you would like to try surfing (without having to go in the ocean) a safe, clean beach, with life guards and security guards, more shopping opportunities, and a shore excursion desk…


We walked through the Village, past the “sanctioned” Taxis, past the sign saying “Please be advised that You are leaving the Cruise Center Property”… to where we could fine Nathan and his golf cart rentals… We had tried to reserve a golf cart from Nathan, but our credit card companies security department is fearful of charges on cards from service stations in the Caribbean, so we didn’t have a golf cart reserved, and there were lots of reservations, but some were from a different ship, (we were scheduled to be the only ship in port… but there was a hurricane, named Thomas, (you may have read about Hurricane Thomas in quality blogs like this one) (sorry Anthony)) second ship, which would arrive later… we were offered a cart for 2 or so hours… we accepted… we left, headed north to the far end of the island… where they have a light house… We only got lost once on the way… It’s not a big Island, you could get lost a couple of times and still find your way in a timely fashion… Along the way, I had to deal with driving on the left… I was ok when just driving, but junctions were difficult, and when cars approached (on a two lane road) I mentally assumed they were passing slower cars, headed my way, just ahead… and would first freak, before remembering… there are on their side of the road… I am on mine… all is good…


We reached the light house… we walked the bluffs, we viewed the reef… Having visited the far end of the island we headed back from where we came, the other end of the island… (this isn’t a big island…. )


Between the ends is found the major (only) city on the island, Cockburn Town… we paused, in search of the local museum which came highly recommended… we only got turned around a couple of times, before finding Front Street, the main street of town… on which is located the museum…


The museum lived up to its reputation… Its significant exhibit concerns a ship wreck, an old ship wreck, excavated some years ago… it is circa 1513, as early a ship wreck as has been excavated in the new world… the exhibits were good, the artifacts were well used, well displayed… the docents friendly and enthusiastic… all around a good deal…


Having done the museum, Tina sat while I explored the town… It was clearly English, clearly a colony… facing the sea… much remained to remind us… two warehouses, covered in sheet iron… other warehouses with the trading agencies name… a small dock… a quay… There was a tourist shop row, colorful shacks on one side of Front Street, a older building with shops on the other… Here and there evidence of Hurricane Ivan, who visited with great enthusiasm two years ago, and generally trashed the place… (Hurricane Tomas visited 3 days ago… it was windy, it rained… It left… the islands were fine…) I shot photos of town, of Front Street and of the H. M. Prison (“visitors welcome”, we didn’t visit) Then, with the second cruise ship visible off shore, we headed back to the Cruise Port…. To turn in the golf cart and explore a modern commercial, corporate enterprise, The Cruise Port…


As expected, the cruise port was clean, full of corporately sanctioned shops, mostly chains found at similar cruise destinations the world over, with a few carefully chosen local options (I assume certified safe) along with neat rows of beach chairs with matching towels and a foot shower (you are required to clean your feet before entering the Wave Runner… after all what is surfing if there is sand…), and a life guard on a jet ski… It was safe (no locals without authorization), sanitary, and had clean public restrooms, but no soul…


We explored, Tina tested the safe, sanitary restrooms, we walked through the stores, then headed up the beach, out of the Cruise Port, towards a known beach shack, a beach bar, Jack’s Rum Shack… It was about a quarter of a mile up the beach, on the beach (who knew, a beach shack on the beach).


We sat down, we ordered beers, we looked about, we ordered a second round of beers, and some jerk chicken… Other cruises joined us, some we knew… the owners dog went swimming in the surf… It was cloudy but bright and warm, then sunny, then it started to rain… more cruise guests joined us…


Eventually we walked back up the beach, towards the Cruise Port (It’s safe, It’s clean, It has security) through the Margaritaville, through a couple of shops (it was hard not to go through shops… it was designed that way) and back onto the ship…


Lessons learned… 1) People are scared of strange foreign ports… they are scared of foreigners… 2) corporations, travel corporations know this and create safe travel destinations and tours… boring travel destinations and tours, but they are safe, and easy, and folks take dollars and speak English… 3) Travel off the beaten path is interesting (more interesting) and rewarding (more rewarding) and cheaper…..


Carnival Corporation (owners of Carnival, Holland America, Princess and other cruise lines) will create ports… create experiences… much as Disney creates rides… But rides are not travel… The Disneyland Railroad is not a tourist railroad, it is an amusement park ride… a Wave Runner is not surfing, it is a ride… a Margaritaville Bar in the Cruise Port is not a beach shack and doesn't have a dog…


Now, 4:00, back aboard… we have sailed… there was a sail away party with drinks with little umbrellas… the official drink was the margarita (we haven’t visited Mexico, but we have visited the cruise port with a Margaritaville) The steel band played… people drank… the ship dropped her lines and sailed away… it began to rain… a warm rain, but outside it looks grey, not at all tropical…


While I love cruising, and am loving this cruise, I am glad we escaped the cruise port… I am blogging, Tina is napping (she sleeps more than most cats...) and all is good in paradise...


The photos can be found at http://picasaweb.google.com/RandyHees/GrandTurk#