And Home Again

tcbjsbhomeTo Fort Lauderdale where the Ramada Inn had kept safe in the Lost and Found the sandals I’d left there in October.

Across the country by train, four nights in sleeper cars via changes in Washington DC and Chicago.

These Amish elders, with whom we shared the Metropolitan Lounge between trains in Chicago, seemed to use the time for serious discussion.

Long miles across North Dakota and Montana in the snow. The sun so far in the south, our train made a shadow even at mid-day.

Right to our own doorstep. And our own snowstorm.

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Last Stop in Madeira Before Atlantic Return Crossing

image1-56Our day on Madeira proved to be quite magical, and a wonderful way to end the land part of the journey. It started with Tom getting up early with me to watch us come in in the dawn dark. The island is a mountain cut with canyons, and from the harbor side it was spangled uniformly with lights. The canyons weren’t visible. By the end of the morning we had threaded through tunnels, wound along impossible roads, stopped to peer off precipices, and come back to the ship through old streets with beautiful trees, so we felt we had taken the island into our bones. We pulled out into open ocean at the end of the day, still in the bright sun, with an inexplicable feeling of longing.

image2-22Our taxi driver had created our route and was voluble in heavily Portuguese-accented Spanish. From him we learned what had created a mysterious band of grey, dead, trees above the city (a forest fire last August caused by a cigarette smoker.) He took us to beautiful corners of the island on everything from one-lane, serpentine cliff-hangers to freeway viaducts.

If anyone’s interested in some out-of-the-way reading, Ann Bridge has written some good novels that are strong in a sense of place. One of them, The Malady in Madeira, had been up to now my sole knowledge of this place. She died in 1974 or so, had been a diplomat’s wife, and was a good observer of people and places.

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Turning Westward from the Far Mediterranean

27 November 2016

I walked in old streets in Cádiz yesterday, no camera in hand. The whole immense bright clean industrial city was as though disappeared. It was Sunday, a few stores open here and there, buildings almost meeting overhead behind shutters, narrow cobbled one-car-width streets with a small raised sidewalk on each side, barely wide enough to get you out of the way of the occasional car. They converged at a little plaza with trees and a church. I could have been in the 16th century, between cars.

We are about to come in to Casablanca. My first time on the continent of Africa. It will be purely symbolic since it’s just that….a touch. But I can pay homage to Humphrey Bogart et al. And I want to know what it looks like. Just looking at all sides of Gibraltar was good too. The cliffs, how it lies in relation to Spain and the sea. We will see Madeira too just that way, our day in Funchal.

Have been drawing and sketching. Happy.

We got talking about our time in Spain and Portugal in 1979. There was a flock of goats in the Algarve, just as we’d crossed on a ferry into Portugal.

26 November

Chugging toward Gibraltar today, arriving after lunch which is unusual, and leaving this evening. It was strange going along looking at the coast of North Africa, blue in the near distance, mountainous, all yesterday afternoon.

We had a wonderful talk about Garibaldi yesterday. Had never realized what a universal man he was. Lincoln considered hiring him in the civil war, but thought better of it as G. wanted to be in charge of everything.

23 November

image3-9MALTA – For any one living in the 1940’s, not to mention in the 1190’s or 1430-40’s, there would have been no question of where Malta was or of why any of it was of the least importance. For me it has been an abstraction of indeterminate location, made of stone, a place where people convened, made momentous decisions, or chopped off people’s heads, built rosy-sand colored walls. We now know a little more about the turns of their roads, their soil (gravely and rocky), that they built stunning walls with little mortar, and that they have a traffic problem at rush hour. Their big cities are more like towns, but they have fine shops, huge hotels, and you can drive a loop from one end of the main island to the other, on good roads, in a little over four hours.

I never heard any one speak the language, which is mostly Arabic, and I don’t know how you pronounce names like Qawra. But the signs are mostly written in the Roman alphabet, and in English.

image1-55When Jean la Vallette finally ended up there with his Knights of St.John, having been driven out of Rhodes, where the hospice they started in the 12th century still exists, it was the end of their long and bloody journey. He is buried there, and the port of Valletta where we were docked is named for him.

The sun rose just as we were leaving for another island yesterday and cast our moving shadow along the harbor walls.

image2-21I found this unexplained “paper boat” sculpture made a nice design with those two little white cars. The memory we will take away above all though is the clouds. It’s almost as though the firmament is marking this ombel of the sea with an exclamation.

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Another Family Rendezvous in Athens

nov-misc-joan-and-tom-00820 November, 2016

Just getting ready to turn out the light after this wonderful day in Athens with cousin Margaret and her husband George Stathapoulos. We did use the wheelchair we’ve rented from the ship to go the endless yards of pier and terminal, leaving and returning. Stowed it in the trunk while we were with them. They pulled up just as we emerged at 10:30.

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George and Tom

Athens is very different than it was in 1978. The air is smogless. The traffic moves, at least on a Saturday, in reasonable ways. Trees line boulevards, and there is not only the magnificent 1896 stadium but also the whole complex that was built for the 2004 Olympics.

Margaret and George’s street is quiet with pretty trees, and from their fourth floor apartment, filled with sun and with art work, including a piece of Tom’s, you can see all across the city and to Mt. Hypettos and Mt. Pendeli beyond.

We steam all day tomorrow, down from Piraeus and during the night across to Valletta on img_1619Malta: these places we’ve heard about all our lives, specially during the 1939-45 war, but never seen. It’s supposed to be rough weather tomorrow, nice again the next day. Thank goodness my sea-sick years are over! I used to have to be at the helm on a sailboat or I’d be endlessly sick. That ended when I was in my fifties. Wonderful being able to have these glimpses of past, present  and future. Margaret had just gotten a sweet video of Lily which I could look at on her laptop while she was getting lunch on the table.

One world, even though we are going through a rough time right now! My journal, with daily segments from the Times Digest we get aboard every day, will be an archive of a society in torment.  Hope, love and work….my mantra for the next years.

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Messina and Beyond

image2-20It’s barely sunrise, and we ghost into this lovely harbor on the Greek island of Corfu.

We passed Stromboli yesterday at about this time, a fuming volcano in the middle of image3-8nowhere as we approached Messina.

We went through the Straits of Messina mid-morning with a freighter right next to us, pilot aboard, through big tide rips, mountains on either side. Mt. Etna wasn’t visible though, as she would have been if it hadn’t been cloudy deep in the mountains on Sicily.

And we spent the rest of the day and night powering across to this little community of Kerkira on Corfu.

image1-53I have to go back to Naples with this picture of Tom on the bow with mountain sitting right there. I spent the morning walking and taking an R2 city bus across to Garibaldi Square where I finally found Feltrinelli’s bookstore embedded in the train station. It seemed it was the only place I could buy an Italian phrase book. And I am so glad I had the experience of being in downtown Naples by myself. It is indeed terrifying, as the traffic is kind of a free-for-all, but the bus driver was helpful, pointed me in the right direction, and I held on to my wallet/purse as though I knew what I was doing and where I was going!

The taxi driver I found at the head of a long line of taxis, when he heard me lamely trying to say where I wanted to get back to, asked me if I spoke Spanish. So I gratefully explained and we shot off into the maelstrom.

I love this little painting I bought on the sidewalk outside the cathedral in Malaga.image5-2

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Rendezvous in Barcelona

image1-49Friday 11 November
Coming into Barcelona at a little after 6:30 AM, we’re approaching in the dark, the city sparkling along the broad curve of the harbor. We’ve come into the Mediterrancean, had a day in Malaga, and a windy, bright day in Alicante, both cities on that SE coast of Spain, ports with big Marinas, shore-side esplanades, parks with ancient fig and banyan trees between the palms. The Phoenicians were here and everybody since. Now the Castillo sits above the modern city, and in Barcelona the ridge above the port is terraced with Cedars of Lebanon marking the levels like bars on a ribbon, old fortification walls silhouetted at the top.

We should all go revisit those wonderful Yves Montand films, “La Gloire de Mon Père” and “Le Château de Ma Mère.” Even though they take place in France, the “garrigue” is much the same: scrubby, dusty, and hot, not even enough water for rosemary or thyme. We’re right along the coast from France, just down from Catalonia. Tom and I, when we came up and over through the Pyrenees at Andorra, and down to Valencia, remember cloaking our slight concern about being safe (or not) while camping by referring to them as possible “banditti.” We may have confused it with Italian opera, but we slept safe nonetheless.

We do treasure the memory of looking out over Spain as the sun was setting and watching a group of rooks playing, circling higher and higher on the air currents until they were almost invisible.

image1-51Now two hours later, we’ve communicated with Dexter who is working on some film editing with his students in a film studio in Barcelona, had lunch in the Rotterdam Lido at the Dock, rented a wheelchair for the rest of the trip from the ship front-office, and had a nice afternoon in Barcelona, came back and had beer over free wifi in the terminal before reboarding. It took Tom a long time to consent to the wheelchair idea, but it makes ALL the difference. These glistening modern terminals are interminable, and then you add just walking along sidewalks, and he’d be done in.

On to Livorno (Sunday 13 November)
Went ashore today in Livorno, the town full of strolling families, bundled up, as it was cold, Sunday, not much open. But the two things we needed–suspenders and a black tie–we found in the distinguished little shop right off the square. Though I can say lots of things in Italian (as long as they occur in opera, and that’s not always very useful) I bought a pair of handsome, conservative suspenders, adjustable for buttons or clips, and a black silk pre-tied bow tie in a combination of Spanish, French and English, all in bits. The lovely blond young woman who was running the shop intermittently helped an aged man tie his just-bought shoes. And we were on our way.

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Landfall: Sunrise in the Azores

image2-17Have come up to the Crow’s Nest to watch the dawn break as we approach the Azores. We dock on the first one at 9 or so. It’s still dark now, and I just went on line for a few minutes and found this (email from home).

There she is. Long rain storm before sunrise, but now brilliant. The “shield” silhouette like Kilauea.

LATER – We’ve had a lovely day, renting a car here in Horta, on the island of Faial, and driving way up into the hills. Very reasonable. Good roads. Had lunch at a local coffee shop.  “Obrigada,”  is what I say. For Tom, “obrigado.” The vegetation up in the hills is very like the Coromandel peninsula in NZ..  tree ferns, lots of mosses and ferns, some huge trees. And everywhere you look, another big or small caldera. This whole complex of islands is part of Portugal – geologically all volcanic, over millions of years.

Happened to be sitting next to a couple at the last lecture who prove to be kindred spirits, probably in their 70s. She, Carly, got her graduate degree in Folklore at UCLA, sings! and I did remember to bring two copies of “Saving Songs.” Look forward to that. We exchanged cabin #’s. He, Dean, looks like St. Nicholas, long white beard, and is a computer person. He’s worked with people like the paleontologist and the plate tectonics guy who are our speakers, Charles Sronka and Stuart Sutherland.

THURSDAY – The captain said in his noon report that indeed the storm and resulting swell WERE stronger than predicted….steady 50 k winds and gusts to 60… But it has lessened now and they’ve reduced speed to make the going more comfortable; we can make it up tomorrow coming in to Horta in the Azores. There is something about feeling a great ship being strong and at the same time flexible, working all her joints and holding it all together.

This nice assistant Maitre D’ stopped so we could take pictures at lunch.

Have just finished rereading A Man Called Ove, and am starting on another re-read: the one Anderson Cooper wrote with his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, during the year before she died.  There’s a Swinburne verse at the beginning that I am memorizing, which starts:

From too much love of living
From hope and fear set free
We thank in brief thanksgiving,
Whatever gods may be,
That no life lives forever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Haven’t quite got it yet, but almost.

image1-47WEDNESDAY – They had these paper napkins out at lunch on Halloween, and I covered my journal with one of them. They just fit when you unfolded one, with enough left to fold over the edges.

TUESDAY – I’m awake, but it’s still early, 4:30, and I can hear a big storm outside and feel even this great ship being moved around, tossed up and then settling with almost a thump in the trough of a wave. It’s a good time to stay in bed and not try to walk around.

fullsizerender-9We came back to our cabin and found this little elephant waiting for us on the end of our bed the other night . I thought of our great-grandson, Noah, because it’s almost his birthday and I know he is fond of elephants.

These two huge seals are up by the swimming pool right where the big Mother Bear and her cub were on the last ship. I’m going to draw these seals if I can ever find the good pencils I bought specially for this trip. I can’t find them anywhere! Maybe they got left at home.img_0055

We are probably out of the shelter of the Bahamas now. I’m in bed and can feel the ship begin to pitch and roll a little more than it has been. 5:41 AM. We had dinner at a table with six other people, one Dutch couple, two men from California, a couple from western New York state.  The ship started in Boston, and the line at Open Seating early-sitting held several people who were quite indignant at being made to stand in line. Actually they were mostly indignant at where the crew had placed the sign explaining what was happening, explaining that they couldn’t have the tables they’d had last night. We left before dessert and went up and along to where there used to be music on Amsterdam, and sure enough, there was: pianist, violin, two young women, Ukrainian this time. Very good. The pianist did the announcing, replacing the mike each time carefully on the right side of the music rack. We each had a Cointreau on ice, but no chocolates. Too bad. Our “Explorer 400” promotion gets us free drinks the whole trip. At dinner, that means wine by the glass, $8 and under, which still gives us a huge choice. Creme Brûlée very hard to resist, and it’s on the menu EVERY night.You could over-indulge seriously if you wanted to!  TV has a music channel that plays all the time.

While I was up talking to the pianist when they took a break, our friend Daniel from the Amsterdam South Pacific cruise came up behind Tom, he  says, and said softly “Art Is; Letters Are,” in Tom’s ear. What fun to see them again, of all people!: Daniel and his quiet Chinese- scholar wife, Carol. So far we hadn’t recognized any passengers or crew. Except I did see in a seat ahead of us at the recital the old guy who virtually lives aboard. We think of Nancy and Kirk, and wonder what we’ll find in the way of of daily offerings on sea-days.

image1-45Our Lanai stateroom is really nice – the ‘sitting room’ part looking right out onto the port promenade deck through glass french doors that are one-way. You can go out directly from the stateroom onto the deck, but to come in, you go along to a regular entrance. To help us find our doors, we are right at the number 4 Boat-station sign. Inside, we’re just one door away from the base of the Atrium. The deck-plan is identical to Amsterdam.

We’re so glad we did the small upgrade that gives us this nice change.

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