Wednesday, March 21, 2018

I Know Why We Clean in Spring

That little lump of snow just won't melt.
Things are still on the cold side; 30º and 40º highs (one or two days hit 50º), below freezing most nights. And while the furnace has been working less often lately, and while going outside does not require "suiting up" to battle the cold, still I want the warmth to get here.

I want constantly open windows (as does the cat so she can sit in the sill). I want fresh air blowing through the house. I want green on the trees and a resurrection of the grass in the yard. I want to sit outside in my shorts and enjoy the sun. And even rain: I want precipitation that doesn't make the world icy and slick.

The evergreens keep this sheet of ice intact.
Lower left is the remnants of the huge snow pile mentioned.
The snow is gone. Only a few spots existing in constant shade are still frozen (like the back yard). And that big pile of plowed snow, waist high and as long as a car, is almost gone from the driveway. Finally, there's no need to put a coat on to take the trash out. But still, we may get some snow on Saturday, although it will melt in a day.

The real arbiters of coming warmth are the trees, especially the old ones. They seem to know that things aren't over just yet. When they begin to bud, we'll know that winter is gone. Still, I remember driving into town when I moved here (an April 21st), and snow was falling, skittering across the highway. It didn't stick, but it was a prophetic welcome. After all, one of the reasons I moved here was to have seasons.

The warmer temps (such as they are) seem to have stirred me, like a bear from hibernation, and I've got things going on in my life. The first one is volunteering at the Center. We had our big fundraising event last Thursday, a 12-hour Facebook live stream, where we raised more than $11,000.

From left: Eddie, Stacey (aka Dawson) and Deb play Gay Jeopardy!
The night before the event, I was staffing the desk at the Center while all the preparations were taking place. Someone mentioned having questions for a gay version of Jeopardy!, and since I'm a fan of the show (and a designer), I offered to take the clues and make up Jeopardy!-type cards for the game.

So I sat down with my laptop and read through the questions that had been written.

Eddie and I discuss the origin drag queens.
Questions? They're supposed to be answers; this is Jeopardy!, after all. Looking them over, I realized some of them were way too long to get on a card. Also, we needed six categories (one for each color in the rainbow flag) and there were only five, and the fifth category was a clue short. After some casual conferencing, it was decided the sixth category would be the Pride flags, since I could download those easily from the Internet without having to write more questions.

Galaxy kids (our youth group) join those who made the fundraiser work.
To make a long story short, I left the Center after six and a half hours of rewriting clues, setting up all the cards (in the proper Jeopardy! typeface), and taping everything to the board, since the Facebook stream would start at 8 a.m. the next morning. I was scheduled to "interview" with Eddie, the host of the stream (and our board's president) about the history of drag, as well as sharing my coming out story. Here's a link (Start at 2:32:00 for my bit). If you want to spend the time to watch the Gay Jeopardy! game, here's a link for that.

Texas Roadhouse server joins our group photo celebrating the day.
The wrap-up of the fundraiser was a group dinner at Texas Roadhouse, which had agreed to kick back 10% of any order when the Center was mentioned. I invited Deb to be my guest, since I know her budget is tight right now, and we all headed out to the restaurant after the streaming wrapped at 8 p.m. It was a kind of high, and a great way to end the event, everyone feeling very connected and rewarded for the 12 hours' work. I took half my steak home and forgot it in the car. I retrieved it the next morning, and it was colder than if I had put it in the fridge the night before (one of the upsides of below-freezing nights).

The other iron I have in the fire is directing "The White Crow" for a group here in La Crosse called The Alternative Truth Project. It was formed by a triad of women who had attended the Women's March on Washington the day after the inauguration last year. It grew out of their desire to continue the resistance in a relative, local way.

This is the graphic I put together for "The White Crow" posters.
So they facilitate theater readings, usually about one a month, that relate to what we're going through right now. Since "The White Crow" is about the pretrial interrogation of Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem, it is relevant to the rising taste for authoritarianism in our country just now.

The format they use is casting any old way you want, two rehearsals of the piece and then one performance, for which the group pays the license. The director locates the performance space, acquires the license and arranges rehearsals. And, of course, the group is always there to assist you if you're a neophyte in the La Crosse theater community, as I am.

You are also asked to arrange for someone with knowledge of the subject matter of your play to be available for an after-show discussion. This put me in contact with Rabbi Prombaum of the Sons of Abraham synagogue here in town. He, in turn, has put me in contact with a couple people who might lead the post-play discussion. It all comes together.

I'm including this recent fortune cookie fortune just because.
The first rehearsal is scheduled for this Sunday afternoon at my house, since there are only two main characters in the script, and the performance will be done sitting at a table. Makes sense. I have a dining room with a lovely table.

I'm also going to put my name in at the local community theater group, which I had previously written off as horribly cliquish. The artistic director who squelched me so completely when I tried to get involved has now left, and there is a new person heading up the group, who I am told is much more amenable to new people.

When I found out that half of the people directing this season had never directed before, I thought I would offer my services. They have a very nice facility downtown, right on the Mississippi with a stunning view. I'm hoping something will develop for next season.

So that's about it. Things continue on and I'm feeling good about the coming year. If not chock full o' fun, at least it won't be boring.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Lackluster Winter

The reason I haven't been blogging is that nothing has really been happening. And I'm finding that I have a winter behavior pattern evolving. Depending on the weather forecast, I either just hunker down when it gets really cold (like 12º or less) or I head out on the warmer days and get my errands done so that I can just hunker down when it gets really cold.

It's typical that we have a warm patch after the first of the year here in Wisconsin. People refer to it as the January thaw, and we've had three of them in the last two months. My hunch is it's a global warming thing. And the storms we've had so far have been small, almost bypassing us, and none have left more than two or three inches of snow. I do have a suspicion that we'll have at least one more snow storm before Spring really arrives.

After the last two winters, I have learned that an ice storm is what I really hate. It starts as regular rain during a "thaw," then the rain freezes, placing a thin layer of ice on everything. And as the ground is still well frozen, everything turns to clear (or "black") ice, and it's deadly slick. I was unprepared last year, but this year I have a 20 lb. bag of salt on the back porch, so I'm able to melt my way to the garage, if need be.

But for now, the old snow has melted after several days with highs in the 40s and 50s. We have a storm warning for tonight and tomorrow, then things dip back down into the 30s for several days, then pop back up into the 40s and 50s. (Can you tell that I'm really looking forward to Spring?) For today, though, I turn off the furnace and open the windows to get fresh air in the house after months of being closed up. And Patty, the cat, was genuinely surprised at open windows, delighted that she could sit in the windowsill again, smell the fresh air and watch the dead leaves, freed from their icy prison, skitter about the back yard and driveway.

So, nothing much has been going on. I'm still on the desk at the Center on Monday and Wednesday evenings, and I've taken over facilitating Andromeda, a biweekly "rap session" for 18+ folks on Saturday afternoons.

The Center's director of internal affairs (we also have one for outreach) has resigned, which is a real shame, as she was a very effective leader. We have a great board of directors, though, so I don't think the change in leadership is going to derail any of the Center's plans for expansion.

The Center has gotten the gig of selling beer tickets at Riverfest, which happens on the Fourth of July. This is a pretty big deal. There are three windows selling the tickets. The Knights of Columbus are staffing them during the day, and we'll be selling during the evening. Riverfest is paying our group $400 for the service, but I think the public exposure is what's really important.

A big development is my directing a reading of "The White Crow" with a theater group here in La Crosse called The Alternative Truth Project. They put on a reading about every month. Ours will be in early April. The license has been procured and the reading is scheduled next door at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at 7:30 p.m. on April 7. I just met with the folks at the fellowship and lined up everything for the use of the space.

I have an Eichmann and a Baum (the two characters in the play), so now it's just a matter of having a couple of rehearsals. One of the reasons I picked a two-character play is because you can get a lot of work done in rehearsal when you've just got two actors and the director.

The lion's share of Christmas still up (wreaths and garlands are down and stowed in the basement). Amanda and Natalie dropped by today and we put together a three-person bucket brigade to get the 21 little houses (in their boxes for a month) to the basement. We all moved the boxes to the kitchen table, then Amanda handed them off to Natalie who went up and down the stairs, handing them off to me and I put them on the shelves. We got them stowed and dragged the remaining empty Christmas storage bins and boxes upstairs, so now packing the rest of the holidays will be simple.

As proof that things have been unusually boring, I checked my phone and I haven't taken a single picture since the last entry, so no artwork, I'm afraid. But at least, now, you know how dull my life is.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Chilly New Year's Eve

I'm sitting at the reception desk at the Center for my four-hour Wednesday evening stint. Usually, this is a very boring point of my day, since it's almost 6 p.m., there will be no calls at all, but there is a development committee meeting coalescing in the conference room, so there's lots of activity.

Little houses under the tree
The theological milestone of Epiphany has arrived and passed; the cultural cutoff date when all things Christmas are supposed to disappear and stow in their summer storage places. This rarely happens in so punctual a fashion in my household, no matter its makeup. Realistically, I shoot for Valentine's Day; that way, you get almost a quarter year's enjoyment out of the decorations.

But as long as they're up, I keep the blinds open so the rest of the world can enjoy them. The house is set back on the street, though, so most of the motorists never see the tree, and only the pedestrians who look straight at the house ever see it, either. It may be few who see them, but the decorations are up for them as much as me.

At the Center, More people are arriving, converging for the meeting. It doesn't happen that often (at least not for the adults), but you can feel the community among these people, among us. We focus most of our time/money/manpower on youth programs, since this is where the local need is greatest, but it's still great to get the adults together, even for something as sober as a development meeting.

The mantle from the hall
It's revealing that we still have not had any meetings of the communications committee. Most of the focus is internal with the group right now, finding ways to expand finances, volunteerism and the actual facility itself. 

There's a large open space in the same building, right next to the current Center, which would more than double its size and provide a comfortable drop-in environment for the LGBTQ community. All it would take is knocking out a single wall and the space would be available. The landlord is amenable to renting it to us (there's even rumors of potentially purchasing the building from the owner), so this might just turn into a longterm home for the group.

One potential on the horizon is my directing a reading of "The White Crow," by Donald Freed. This show was my first professional gig as a production stage manager (also running stage manager) at the Los Angeles Actors' Theater (precursor to the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown L.A.). I have yet to find a venue in which to present the reading, but I'm hopeful I'll find something.

New Year's Eve fireworks on Grand Dad Bluff
juxtaposed with the full moon above.

The reading is under the auspices of a group called The Alternate Truth Project. They want me to put it on sometime in March or April. I'm trying to set up the performance at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, which is right next door to my house. I have yet to get anyone to reply to my e-mail, though. I'm also checking with the Pump House Arts Center, as well. Something will develop on this front, I'm sure.

The three women who have organized the group will also be helping out with auditions, since I know absolutely no actors here in town that would be good for the parts. I was told that they don't use props in their readings, but I think it's vital that we have folders and documents to use, as the two actors (one portraying Adolf Eichmann and the other his interrogator) fling documents onto the table to back up their points in what becomes a confrontational debate.

I haven't firmed anything up with them yet, but I'm hoping that things will be in place by the end of the month. There will only be two rehearsals before the actual reading. The group has a robust e-mailing list, so there is little need to publicize. Should end up being fun, and I'm hoping to meet some theater people in the process.

And taxes are on the horizon. I have most of the paperwork I need, I think, now, so it's a matter of getting everything together and processing it.

This last week has been our "January thaw," which means we actually have had several days with highs in the upper 30s and lower 40s. It's almost over, though, as the forecast high for Friday (and into the next week and foreseeable future) is in the teens, with lows in the below-zero zone. So we enjoy the warmth while we can.

With no meaningful snows yet this winter, we have yet to deal with accumulations beyond half an inch. I'm waiting for the big storm that will drop a good six inches of snow. Anything above that, my snow removal guy charges $30 instead of $25. He's still a bargain, and a real convenience. Between him and my snow thrower, the sidewalks always remain clear of snow.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Since I Went Away

So, finally, six weeks after our return, I have reached the first of November.

Somehow, I really can't remember much of what happened in November. I did my stints at the Center, on Monday and Wednesday evenings, and most of my free time was spent processing Paris photos, both mine and David's, and setting up the blog entries. And, of course, there was a Thanksgiving with folks from the Center. I provided the mashed potatoes, as was my tradition with my own family when Mom still did the whole turkey-cooking and multi-side-dish making thing.

I think she got it right when she just started taking everyone out to Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant. The one year I remember especially was at Spyglass Inn, because they gave everyone leftovers to take home. Now that's classy. I'm thinking that might be my M.O. next year, since I can't see myself going the whole nine yards with the turkey and e'ything.

I've only done that once, and it was for just Steve and I. Kittie and David did come down and help mount a Thanksgiving feast in Pasadena. I just remember having a whole head of cauliflower slathered in cheese sauce for just three people.

So that was November. On December 1st, Pam and Steve and Amanda, sans Natalie, came over and helped me lug Christmas up from the basement. We got quite a bit done in one afternoon, but I was left with the chore of putting all the ornaments on the tree. This was not because of anyone else's neglect; it's because I really take a long time to get them all on positioned the way I like them, distribution wise.

So I had just about gotten all of them on the tree and Christmas would be up and functioning when, one afternoon while browsing through Facebook and our local Rummage Sale page, I found a listing for 20 of those little porcelain house that people collect and put under their tree or in dioramas on a table or shelves.

I'd always liked those little buildings, lighted up inside, but I never had the patience to collect them year after year. So I admired them in other people's homes (Sandy Beck, I'm referring to you), but only had one or two of my own. My sister-in-law Carla had given me one as a present one Christmas, but it got dropped and broke. Perhaps that's why I never collected.

So, yeah; 20 porcelain buildings, also including a little creek running through them, with a bridge and a sleigh, lamp posts and little people. They were all in original boxes. The woman, named Leslie, was asking $125.

Look at all these great houses! Each on its own box.
I had never done a private purchase online, and it soon became obvious is was going to assume the tension and anonymity of a drug buy. I even took out cash for the transaction, as she had requested. After a couple messages back and forth, we agreed to meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the parking lot of Shopko on the South end of town. (If La Crosse has a "bad" part of town, it's the south end … well, and the north end, too. Those of us here in the middle are, well, in the middle.)

Now, I had also arranged to meet on Tuesday late afternoon with Anne, a woman who has organized a performance group here town known as The Alternative Truth Project. They basically facilitate readings and limited productions of socially and politically relevant theater. It sounded like the kind of group I would be interested in, so she and I got together at JavaVino, a fairly hip place that serves really good coffee and fairly decent food. We had neither.

Turns out Anne had worked extensively in L.A. in the entertainment industry, even working with Carl Sagan on Cosmos and several other television productions. It was really refreshing to talk with someone who understood the gestalt of Hollywood and The Biz. I gave her a manuscript copy of "The White Crow" from my theater files and told her it was something I would be interested in directing.

When we got to talking about the local theater scene, I told her about my experience with David Kirkpatrick and working the stage crew on "Boeing, Boeing." She said the guy was a jerk, and that the impression I had gotten about the place being cliquish was wrong. She told me to get ahold of the guy who was now running the company; that most of the directors they had for this season had never directed before. I think I'll give it a chance.

When we parted ways at JavaVino, it was about an hour before my planned meeting down at Shopko, so I grabbed a taco salad and drove down, sat in the parking lot and ate my dinner.

I had sent a selfie to Leslie so she would know what I looked like and told her I would be in a white Saturn sedan (yes, my car is that old: "What's a Saturn?"). She was on time, found me, and we drove to a vacant area of the huge parking lot. I passed her the cash and she passed me the houses, one by one by one one by one by one one by one by one one by one by one one by one by one one by one by one one by one, and then two more boxes with the creek and sundries.

I filled up the trunk of the car and ended up with four boxes in the back seat. It's in the teens or 20s, weatherwise, so unloading the car at home got me really chilly, as I was only in my semi-frigid coat. Even with gloves, I was glad to get inside with all these new purchases. I had boxes stacked everywhere.

It was like my own special Christmas morning, opening each box. These houses were obviously loved. Each was still in its original styrofoam packing, wrapped in its original plastic bag. There wasn't a chip or crack on any of them.

So this weekend, Amanda is coming into town to help me put these up and make them pretty! Since each has its own single bulb, cord and plug, I have to pick up several power strips just to plug them all in safely. When I had them all out, ready to take the above picture, I realized this purchase has added about 30% to my holiday storage volume, something I won't have to deal with until at least Epiphany. Luckily, there's room on the shelves in the basement.

So, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah (what's left of it) and Happy New Year, if I don't make another post before those salutations are appropriate. And I leave you with this:

Monday, December 11, 2017

There and Back Again: the Return Home

For this last entry, I have absolutely no pictures available to post. People on vacation are manic about taking pictures, but on the way home their only focus is the return. So anything visual that might end up here will be coming from David's camera. But, having had requests for this final entry from one of my dozen readers, I thought I'd go with the written narrative.

Like most evenings when big things will happen the next morning, I didn't sleep as deeply as I normally would on our last night in Paris. I wasn't too worried about scheduling, as we all made sure we were ready to up and leave on a moment's notice. We would wake up at 6 and be dressed in time for our car's scheduled arrival at 6:20.

There was a door between the two bedrooms which was closed, so I could hear Dave's alarm go off early that morning. The sun wasn't rising until around 9, so I expected darkness when the sound emanated from behind the door.

We had been sharing my old Brookstone converter to charge our cell phones. Kittie had purchased an adapter as well, but it didn't say "converter" on it, and didn't specifically say it would convert France's 220 volts into a friendlier 110 volts; none of us had the moxie to try plugging their phone into the adapter with the possibility of frying it.

So we had made sure that all of our phones were charged in the evening before we went to bed. This being so, I had my phone on the night table next to the bed (normally I was the last to charge, and would just leave my phone on the kitchen counter to charge overnight).

Dave's phone sounds in the dark. I instinctively turn to my phone to check the time: 5:00 a.m.

What? I guess David had overshot the "6" when he set the alarm. What the hell. Time to get up, since I'm not going to nod off for a portion of an hour at this point. I assume Kittie and David have the same idea, as they are up and about in the next room.

We all throw our clothes on and are in the living room. I mention that we have lots of time now. David looks at me quizzically. What are you talking about? he queries. It's only 5 o'clock, say I. David holds up his phone to show me. No, it's 6 o'clock, he says.  I hold up my phone. No, it's 5 o'clock. He looks.


I check my phone and realize what happened at 3 a.m.: France had changed over to standard time from daylight savings time. The U.S. would not make the changeover for another week.

What are we, in the Twilight Zone? As close as we could figure, since I had full service on the French service provider, my phone made the change, but since David was on a data-only plan, he did not get the automatic update.

Now I start worrying that the driver will forget to change his clock, and he will be an hour late. We'd be leaving at 7:20 if that happened, trying to get to a 10:20 flight. Sounds like lots of time, but it took an hour to get into Paris from the airport upon arrival, so I'm assuming it will be pretty much the same on the way out.

But it's Sunday. And it's 6:20. The driver texts me, we drop the front door keys on the counter, pick up our bags, and we're on our way down the four flights of stairs one last time. Going out the front door of the building, the car is sitting there. There's no traffic so he's not worried about blocking it.

As a last hurrah, David takes video of our drive to the airport. At first I'm amused, but then I realize that this will probably be the last pictures of Paris any of us take. Although I've been longing to return home for the last day or so, I suddenly want to stay just a little longer.

The traffic gets denser and more chaotic as we approach Charles de Gaulle Terminal 2E. Cars pull in at angles, blocking other cars. People, as we did, pop out of the cars, retrieve their bags and push money at the drivers. We enter the Air France check-in area, as we had been instructed online the night before, and find what we think is our line, and wait in it. Back's hurting, blah, blah, blah.

We get to the woman at the front of the line, who is directing travelers to and fro, and find out we're in the wrong line. We have to continue down to the Delta check-in. Another line. Big ol' line. Lots of folks heading back home from their French vacation. We get up to the check-in and discover that the woman back in Minneapolis checked us in on both ends of the trip, and our seats are already assigned. The boarding passes are printed and handed over, and we head to customs. Another line.

We get through that line, up to the customs counter, get processed and walk out and … into another line to go through security. Once through, all of us irritated — at the world in general, if not at one another — we start to head to our gate.

A woman comes running up to David, "Did you leave a bag?" she asks. No, says David, and the he realizes he has the bag he bought back on rue Chapon. He wasn't used to carrying it and forgot to get it off the conveyor once through security. He retrieves the bag and profusely thanks this astute woman.

On to the gate. I am scuttling like a crab, pulling my rolling luggage by its leash behind me. Everybody's hungry. No one's had coffee or food. We find our gate, each with mildly murderous thoughts behind our eyes, then David backtracks to find something to eat. I can't tell, but I think he wants to kill me … or Kittie … or maybe strangers. Or perhaps I'm projecting my own state of mind. When did airports become such evil places?

When the flight is called (we're flying a A380 Airbus), we sit back and let everyone else go through the line. After about half an hour, the line has thinned out, so we get up and queue up.

At the gate counter, boarding passes are being scanned and a few folks are being pulled over for a final security search. Perhaps it's her trench coat, but Kittie is pulled over. Having no contraband, she is cleared and joins David and I, who had been hanging back, waiting for her.

We get on board and find our seats. The Airbus has four seats across between the aisles, seats as small as on domestic flights, with just as little leg room. Kittie is squeezed between a stranger on the left and David on the right. David is squeezed between Kittie and myself, and I hang off slightly on the right, just impinging on the aisle space.

On top of the seats having less room, the arm rests do not fold up in our row, which removes another four inches from our personal space. The flight is eight hours long and incredibly cramped. The arm rest between me and the aisle does fold up, and i ride with it up, so I can at least scoot out a couple inches into the aisle and give Kittie and David a bit of breathing room. It doesn't really help, and the carts whack me in the shoulder every time the attendants go up and down with food and drinks.

We left Paris at 10:20 a.m. and arrive in Minneapolis around 2 p.m, CDT. When I attempt to stand up in the plane (we waited for most other folks to deplane), my back sings out. I exit hunched over and stiff as hell. And, of course, the first thing that we encountered is a big ol' long line.

It's the line to get into the line to go through customs. Hobble, hobble; hunch, hunch. "Last chance for bathrooms before entering customs," a sign declares. Folks dash out of line and return looking guilty about joining their parties, already in forward progress. Hobble, hobble, four steps and stop. Four steps and stop. The line crawls, back and forth, twisting like a Disneyland queue from hell.

We finally make it up to the kiosks and, since we are family, we all move to the kiosk together. If you haven't been through the process yet, it is fully automated and bureaucratically intimidating, in a nonhuman way. It scans your passport, then it takes your picture and uses facial recognition to verify your existence. It then prints out a pass, complete with the just-taken picture.

After all three of us are electronically folded, spindled and mutilated, we move to the baggage claim area, where I pick up my green bag, hook on its leash and begin dragging it behind my bent frame and into another line where a humorless agent is checking passports and printed custom passes against the human in front of them. Folks are occasionally moved off to the left, where a waiting area holds several folks who look very non-American.

Being a fairly straight-acting white male, I make it through with no problem. So do David and Kittie, despite her Inspector Gadget trench coat. We walk out into the passageway and the relative freedom of Trump's America.

At this point, Kittie and David have to make a fairly quick dash to find their next gate, as their connecting flight home leaves fairly soon. We hug and kiss goodbye, and I hobble off to find the signs that direct me to the shuttle services. And a place to sit down; please, God, a place to sit down.

I have an hour and a half to wait for my shuttle to leave (Minneapolis to Rochester). There are several short rows of those semi-comfortable black leatherette seats that populate airport spaces. I sit and stretch in America for the first time in a week.

When the time comes, the driver enters the waiting room and begins reading off names. One by one, passengers get up and collect their bags as their names are called.

The shuttle is one of those vans that has been converted into an 11-passenger limousine. As we follow the driver out to the curb, he loads the baggage into the back. I hobble up with my green compatriot in tow, and as he tosses it into the back, he says, "There's a seat up front with me, if you want to sit there." My God. A person has actually seen my discomfort and addressed it. Of course, I take him up on his offer.

The ride to Rochester, where I will connect with the shuttle heading to Winona and La Crosse, is uneventful. I've taken this ride before, and there are always a few couples, a spouse with a spouse, one of whom is heading to the Mayo Clinic; always looking nervous, worried and worn from a journey to what they hope is a medical solution for whatever physical conundrum they face. It pulls at my heart just a little.

It had snowed slightly the night before, and the remaining snow hides in the shadows, changing them from black to white. When we arrive in Rochester, it's raining.

I get into the Winona-La Crosse shuttle, asking for and getting the front seat once again. My back is already feeling better, and I'm standing almost upright.

Since I left my car at Pam and Steve's in Ettrick, they had offered to pick me up in Winona and drive me back to their place to retrieve my car. I accepted, of course, and gave Steve the pickup information for Winona before I left for Paris.

My drop-off point is, unfortunately, not the previous spot where he picked me up from earlier shuttle rides. So, he at the south end of Winona and me at the north, I give him my location and directions, but he is unfamiliar with the landmarks I mention. (I forget that I'm more familiar with the north end of Winona, having stayed with Amanda there for a month after first arriving from California). Despite some discombobulation on Steve's part, Pam enters the address of my location into her phone, and soon they find me.

We head back to Ettrick and I stop off, sit for a bit, talk a little about my trip and share some pictures. Then, realizing I've been up for almost 24 hours, I decide I'd better leave and get back home. They offer to have me stay the night, but I want to get home to my own bed and a cat that might or might not be extremely pissed at me.

Pam, kind soul that she is, helps heave my green companion into the trunk of my car, and I drive off home, to La Crosse.

When I get home, I wrestle the green guy out of the trunk, reattach its leash and roll it to the back porch, struggling up the three steps, then under the kitchen table. Since it's full of nothing but dirty laundry (and a few souvenir refrigerator magnets), I leave it in the kitchen, planning to feed the soiled clothing into the laundry chute near the back door tomorrow, when I'm rested.

As I head toward the living room, a furry visage appears on the landing of the stairs, peering with saucer eyes. The cat looks at me in amazement for a moment, then lets out a yowl I had never heard. I hold out my hand and she rubs up against it with ardor.

Patty, the cat, had not been left alone for a week. My niece Emily, who works about a mile from my home and commutes into work from Ettrick each day, had agreed to stop by on her way home from work and feed the cat. Since Patty is terrified of everyone but me, Emily knew she would probably never see her. They did have one encounter under the armchair in my bedroom.

So Patty had been fed and attended to while I was gone. But now I realize I need to provide bonding behavior, so I feed her some canned food, which she has been without for a whole day (the day before having been Saturday). There is always ample dry food.

She eats until I walk from the room, then follows me like a puppy. It seems she's not angry at me for my absence, but is delighted for my return. I sit down and turn on the TV to catch up on the week of wackiness I have missed in Trump Land. During my cable news briefing, Kittie texts me that they have arrived safely home. It is finished.

For the rest of the evening, the few hours before I collapse in ecstasy in my own, perfect bed, the cat is never more than a foot from me.

And when I go upstairs and undress for my first long, sound sleep in a week, she is right there, on the bedspread, lightly yowling and purring at me. It will be two or three days before she realizes things are back to normal. It will take me considerably longer to make the same realization.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

There and Back Again, Part 6

Saturday, October 28

Two of many, many booths touting chocolate
On our last full day in Paris, it being a weekend day, I had hoped that the workers would not show up next door, but they did. We were driven out of the apartment fairly early, and set out for the Metro, since the trip to the Porte de Versailles (where the event was taking place) was fairly direct, with only one change of trains.

When we arrived at the convention center where le Salon du Chocolat was being held, we encountered another monster line. And, again, standing about, my back started twingeing. The muscle is just at the pelvis and rather deep in the flesh.

Chocolate gown
The effect of the malady is like a low-level Charlie horse that knots up when standing up straight. So ambulation is possible, but it has to be hunched over, the epitome of old-person existence.

Edible clothing
I think that half of my irritation came from hobbling around like an old man and how people could care less. Couldn’t they see the look of discomfort on my face?

It’s another example of what my dad used to tell me about worrying what other people think: “You’re worried about how you look or act? Nobody pays that much attention to someone they don’t know. It doesn’t matter what they think because they probably don’t think anything at all.” Or something like that.

White chocolate orchids as garb
The convention hall was huge, and the salon spread over two floors, with hundreds of booths. There were two presentation stages upstairs (one for demonstrations and another for musicians and performers) and one downstairs (for lectures on chocolate).

I was a little disappointed that there weren’t more samples being given out, and the booths that did have samples had tiny, pea-sized chunks of chocolate to taste. Obviously, everyone wanted you to purchase their wares.

A dress that melts
One thing there wasn’t was a plethora of places to sit. Large platforms around the entertainment stage help perhaps 40 people. A few of the wiser participating booths had worked in chairs in their booth area, which always attracted attendees but rarely resulted in any sales.

We started out on the second floor of the event. Two of the things I wanted to check out were the chocolate sculptures and the fashion show, which touted dresses made with elements of chocolate.

Is that a chocolate bodice?
They had had a live fashion show the night before on opening night (the BBC even carried news of it), so the garments were now on mannequins. The news had said that there were problems with the stage lights melting the chocolate during the show, but whatever damage had been done was not evident.

Very big chocolate fox
I didn’t find a collection of chocolate sculptures, but there was one huge fox, perhaps five or six feet tall, that had been executed in chocolate, but if there was a competition on opening night, the competitors’ handiwork was nowhere in sight.

The other thing I wanted to check out was molded chocolates to buy (you know, little hearts, shoes, cars and every other object imaginable). There were perhaps a dozen or so booths that carried that sort of thing.

Most of these exhibitors were there to make network connections. At some booths (especially those from foreign countries like Japan and Brazil), it was obvious they were shunning the consumers and looking for that one broker or middle man who could make their chocolates famous.

The lecture room had places to sit! Cacao genetics.
After standing for so long, I simply had to find a place to sit. I took the escalator downstairs, where most of the foreign booths and raw-materials providers were situated. Then I found the lecture stage. Even though there was a lecture currently being presented, half of the chairs were empty.

I slipped into an available chair in the front row and proceeded to listen to a very interesting talk about the genetics of cacao, the biology of the bacteria naturally occurring on the cocoa bean and how this all affects the roasting process and the consistent taste of any given brand of chocolate.

About that time, Kittie showed up. While she missed most of the lecture, she did take advantage of the seating. It was early afternoon and she suggested we find food. This was not going to be easy within the confines of the salon.

Copper pots pepper the ceiling
of  the delightful Chez Clément
There were two places selling prêt-á-manger foods (sandwiches and such) but, again, no place to sit down. The few seats that were available at one spot were constantly full, with folks waiting to take them over the moment someone abandoned their table.

So, after some consideration, we decided that we should leave the exhibition (there was no re-entry) and look for real food somewhere nearby. And we found it. In spades. A bistro across from the convention center called Chez Clément.

The place was a delight to the eye. The general motif was copper pots, coursing across the ceiling, fashioned into the front door handles, augmented by cutlery fashioned into shelves and lighting fixtures. The look was definitely playfully French provincial, and the menu reflected that.

Checking out the menu
Our waiter seemed a graduate of a mime school; he said almost nothing while serving us, but was funny as hell, picking on Kittie the entire time. Of course, she loved the attention.

I’m unclear as to what I ate there, but I do remember that Kittie finally finished her gastronomic bucket list by having French onion soup. (You may recall, from earlier entries, that she had her foie gras and escargot earlier in the week).

Kittie got her onion soup.
After we ate, we headed back across the street to snag a taxi. The woman driving it knew a little English, and she was very nice. I had noticed her standing outside her taxi, vaping, when we came up. This seems to be the alternative for many previous smokers in Paris.

She got us to the apartment, right to the front door, and I didn’t have anything with which to tip her. Kittie was digging around for cash, but the taxi was blocking the street, so the driver acquiesed to the cars piling up behind her and left.

More copper pots continue the motif in the prep area
Once in the apartment, Kittie and David set back out to find a small carry-on that they could purchase, as they had packed in two tiny carry-on cases and had no place to stow their Parisian purchases on our return flight. They were back in a flash: David had found just what he was looking for in a shop next door. It was a nice, hard-shelled roll-around with a handle.

Also while packing, Kittie realized none of their luggage would accommodate the chocolate advent calendar that she had purchased that day. I offered to put it in my checked bag, then mail it to her when we got back.

Spoons as decor
Not long after, David held up a huge icing spatula he had purchased at the exhibition. It was about 18 inches long with handle.

“This kind of looks like a machete,” he said, holding it up. It really did. “I don’t think I should put this in my carry-on.” I heartily agreed, and it was added to my bag, along with Kittie’s calendar.

That final evening in Paris, we had one duty: to eat all the food that had accumulated in the refrigerator over the past week. And we did. The only item that was thrown out was the sautéed marigold greens.

We got everything packed and ready to go. The car to the airport was supposed to arrive at 6:20 the next morning, and it being a Sunday, we could not rely on the workers to wake us. With all the bags ready to go, David set his alarm for 6 a.m. All we would have to do is throw on our close, drop the keys on the counter and pull the door to as we left (it was self-locking).

That final night I slept relatively well, until something happened at 3 a.m. that no one was expecting. At least not us.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

There and Back Again, Part 5

Friday, October 27

Seemed only to open at night
Friday morning, we got up with the construction and headed out to find a place that was serving breakfast. I really wanted to sit in a cafe, drink coffee and not worry about dishes. We walked down rue Beaubourg and found a corner bistro serving omelets and similar breakfast fare and we ordered ham and cheese omelets all around.

After eating and another cup of coffee, we headed out to find a taxi and headed to the Louvre. Things were really hopping there. We had our museum passes, so I expected to get in fairly quickly. But there was a security line, and the things they were checking were purses, backpacks and the like.

Kittie and David at the Louvre
Now, I knew that they would be stopping people carrying stuff, so I advised Kittie and David, and took my own advice, and we didn’t carry anything. But this did not matter, as those of us without any packages or parcels were required to stand in line with those folks who feel it necessary to carry their worldly possessions in a ruck sack when they travel.

I think they would do well to create two lines, one for those with bags and one for those without. The French, though, don’t seem really good at streamlining that kind of procedure, though they excel Americans in setting up and installing (instilling?) bureaucratic structure.

I had started out the day feeling good, but by the time I had stood in line, my hip was aching once more, but a good stride and the reasonably wide open spaces of the Louvre would work that off.

The graces or muses or something
This museum, too, had changed over the decade I had been absent. On top of that, they had several exhibits closed down, the most notable one being the Egyptian antiquities. I tried to get my bearings in the place, but it, too, was a labyrinth, and things didn’t flow from one to the next as I thought they would. I guess this is what happens when you adapt older buildings as museums rather than building them from the ground up, like Americans do.

Venus and Cupid
Today, we decided to kind of hang together but not expect everyone to stick together all the time. We had a general plan of attack, starting at the Roman antiquities and concentrating on sculpture.

The things we did not get to see that I would have liked: the Asian-Oceanic exhibit and the collection of Arab art and artifacts. Another closed-off area was the medieval art wing. All three of these are exceptional collections.

It's that satyr guy I can't remember
In fact, walk into any room or hall in the Louvre and you’ll see enough to fill an entire regular museum. And to think that a good portion of the Louvre’s collection is in storage.

After we cleared the Roman sculpture and finished the smaller Roman artifacts rooms, we headed over to see the most famous painting in the world: her; the L de V bee-atch, the MoLi, dog.

Emperor Claudius, my favorite
She is situated on her own wall in the center of a large hall. There are ropes blocking off access at about six feet from her, and she’s in a bulletproof glass case. There she sits, grinning smugly at all these idiots in front of her, pushing, jostling, craning their phones into the air to get a picture of this trollop. And she just smiles back, like she’s the only one who gets the joke.

Now my back was bothering me. I hobbled and bitched. Kittie and David tolerated it as gracefully as possible, but I could tell it was getting as tiresome for them as it was for me. So we wandered around and got lost once or twice, but we finally found the main area below the pyramid and headed to the eatery (a cafeteria/restaurant affair with a food court atmosphere).

There she is back there!
I remember ordering a hamburger (I stayed at our table to save our seats while Kittie and David stood in line; of course there was a line). What I got was a kind of bland pulled-beef sandwich in the most mediocre tradition of prêt-á-manger. I can’t recall what Kittie and David had, since all of it was just okay.

After lunch we were all refueled, slightly rested, and I suggested that we walk over to Notre Dame. My back was feeling much better, and it couldn’t be more than half a mile. That way, we could see the Seine. Of course, as usual, it was rush hour and the Quai du Louvre, which we walked down, was crowded with pedestrians.

Look at them look at her looking at them.
This trek was a good thing and a bad thing: a good thing because I found some refrigerator magnets that I had seen when we were driving past the day before in the taxi. The stall that was selling them was right on our route.

The woman from whom I purchased the magnets (two of them; one of Monet's Irises and one of Lautrec’s Chat Noir) didn’t say a word to me, but earnestly wrapped the magnets each in a little bubble-wrap bag inside a tiny white paper bag. She then handed me the items and a lovely smile broke across her face as our eyes finally met.

What would you keep in this box?
Taking the walk was a bad idea because it was not a half-mile, but a mile between these places of interest. Also, waiting for traffic lights is not unlike waiting in security lines, and my back was knotting up and I needed to relax. And I find just the potential of discomfort, the anticipation of it, is almost as debilitating as the actual condition.

It was around 4 p.m. when we got to Notre Dame. It was as crowded as any other popular landmark, and there was a long, long line to get in. Since the cathedral closes at 5 p.m., there was little point in standing on line. And even if we did get inside before closing, the sun would have gone down by that time, and the whole point of Notre Dame is the stunning stained-glass windows. Kittie and David saw the wisdom in this, and spent some time wandering around the exterior as I sat on a stanchion and stretched.

Notre Dame Cathedral.
The long lines are behind the doors.
After Kittie and David had seen what they wanted to see, we headed to the taxi stand, getting a most unpleasant driver. It was obvious he did not want the fare (he was playing solitaire on his iPad), and took us begrudgingly because it’s the law. Once we got to the Marais (our neighborhood), he took several wrong turns and ended up dropping us off like three blocks from the apartment.

So we walked up the street to our place, climbed the four flights of stairs to the apartment and I, at least, collapsed. But only for a time.

Selfies prove you were there.
I am finding that, in writing these missives, my memory dulls once we have returned to the apartment and trudged up the four flights. Then the shoes get kicked off and my thoughts turn to relaxation.

Cantina California was open
Such is the travesty of old age and infirmity. Where evenings were
once a time for partying and celebration, as I’ve aged, evenings have become the time when I unwind, relax, withdraw from the crazy and find my center. Perhaps this is why I can’t clearly remember what thing happened on which evening.

In any case, we headed out to dinner and ate at a place called Cantine California. David had poo-pooed it once earlier in the week when we walked past. In Paris, he thought, we should be eating French food. He would derisively point out every Starbucks and McDonald’s that we drove past in taxis.

The bar inside Cantina California
When we went out, I was looking for a certain restaurant, only to find out it was really more of a bar and smoking spot. This was true with the Royal Beaubourg and the Maryland (the name of the restaurant Kittie had spotted the previous day). I soon realized that a “tabac” sign on an establishment meant it was a bar that served food, and not a bistro, cafe or brasserie.

After once or twice around the block looking for something new, we stumbled upon Cantine California. I was just wanting to sit down and have a drink. I don’t know whether it was my whining or his spirit of adventure, but David decided to give it a try. I’m glad he did, because it actually became one of my favorite meals of the entire vacation.

My bacon-guacamole burger with fries. I'm sorry, but
the French do better American food than we do.
I ordered a bacon-guacamole burger. It was a gem of ground beef, like a juicy, tasty cabochon, on a brioche bun with lots of lettuce, tomato and sautéed onions. It was so juicy, and with the guacamole there was no need for condiments although, being an “American” restaurant, they did have ketchup on the tables.

Our server was new to the job, and she spoke a fair amount of English. She was kind of amused that people from California were coming to eat there. Her service was wonderful and attentive, and David flirted like hell with her, which she loved. I left her a €10 tip, even though the tip was included in the price.

After dinner and a drink, I was feeling much better. We got back to the apartment at a reasonable time, though, because the next morning was the raison d’être for the trip: le Salon du Chocolat.  It would be our last day in Paris.