Charley Gets Married

Sit at Panera with Charley, disabled veteran of Vietnam era antiwar movement, prolific writer of freewrites and haikus. Describes himself as recognized expert on PTSD based on his experience battling it. Says he has traveled widely to address conferences; others have urged him to submit his lectures and opinions to Newsweek for publication. Right corner of his mouth rises slightly, see beginning of smile.

Tells me about his dream. He’s in Saigon trying to drive down a long road. Traffic is stopped, even on the dirt roads that run parallel to the main road. Armed guards are at every intersection. “I started talking with one guard. I remember him being child-like. The scene went hazy after that and I was uncomfortable that I had had that dream.”

On 100% disability. Knows any money he makes will reduce benefits. Wants my advice on how he might become a professional writer so he can raise the $10,000 he needs to bring recently married second wife, love at first sight, victim of sex abuse and PTSD, up from Louisiana.

Pretty certain likelihood is impossible for his immediate need. Suggest he call Newsweek and tell them what he’s got. They could take it as is or suggest a rewrite. Have to believe it can happen.

I ask, “Can’t you just drive her up in a car?”

He says, “She has a better mattress than I have. And her sculptures won’t fit in a car.” Drifts off momentarily. Returns discussing different subject.


Vibes at Panera

The back room is packed when I arrive at Panera. Pass young couple discussing immigration policies of national politicians, father feeding infant girl, mother restraining young boy. Woman with mole on her cheek sits by wall, recounting shopping adventure with hollow-eyed woman in shawl. Young couple holding hands, eating bagels, solemnly planning tasks of the day.

Spot lone empty seat. It’s mine!

When you sit long enough at one table, the table becomes marked as yours. Your spirit remains when your body leaves. Even first-timers leave it free. Vibe becomes your maître d’.

A Silent Moment at Panera

Young father cradling infant in left arm, holding bottle of milk in infant’s mouth with his right. Infant sucking vigorously on nipple while sleeping.

Infant looks up at father, eyes wide open. Father whispers gently to infant. Infant falls back asleep.

Father smiles as infant twists neck resolutely, mouth still shut tight, pulling at nipple, coaxing final drops. Father pulls nipple from infant’s mouth, rests bottle on table, strategically positions son over left shoulder, where dry diaper awaits its fate. Father gently pats infant’s back. Infant burps; diaper meets its fate.

Father wraps infant again in cradled arm until infant falls asleep. Father places infant in carrier, sends text.

A silent moment at Panera.

The Electrical Storm

Tables all taken when I arrive at Panera mid-morning, too early to be that full. Straighten up in restroom, visualize seat opening up when I’m done.

Favorite seat opening up as I enter dining area. Dump books, knapsack, and coat.

Long line to cash register, stretches to door. Note to woman in front, “Long line.”

Blames last night’s electrical storm. Says power company won’t even give estimate of when they might be able to give an estimate, so severe is the damage. Compares to historic event in 1998.

I ask how long it took to get those houses up, predict this time will be faster because technology is improved.

She agrees, asks how power affected my house. Admit I lost power for just long enough for clocks to all go out. Pretty lucky.

Fill iced tea cup, set up office, plug into Internet.

Oh no, power is out at Panera.

Good Banter at Panera

Standing behind young woman in beverage line, pouring ice chips, then iced tea into my cup as she squeezes four lemons into hers. When she sees me standing behind her, I anticipate, she’ll apologize for making me wait even though she was there first. I’ll tell her she beat me to it. That’s how strangers in line together banter at Panera.

Instead, she reaches for her lid. Then, as she slaps it securely over the mouth of her cup with her left hand, she hands me a second lid with her right. “Might as well get two as get one,” she says. Also good banter.

She hands me a second straw and moves on to find her seat.

Burnout Day; Make Friends over Drinks

Sunday 2/19/17

Burnout day today, chance to readjust to six-hour time change, early morning wake-ups in Madrid, then long drive to Marbesa, where we’re staying, to west of Malaga. Good day to check out the local TV stations.

But four controls? Why so many? Emily tackles the challenge of sorting out the TV controls from the video controls. Turns on the tube, fuzzy background, but can’t get a picture despite half hour effort.

My turn. First, you know we’re in trouble when technological challenge depends on me. I tackle puzzle of four controls. Get it to fuzzy picture, no further, after half hour.

Ask at front desk. Promise to send someone over in hour. Two hours later he comes. Looks behind the set. Vital cord unplugged. Takes two controls and says, “No estan necesario.” Uses other two to bring picture.

Watch a half hour of TV in German. Did we understand any of it? No, except that we knew it was the German version of American Idol and the one singer we saw got all no votes.

* * *

Breakfast at the local restaurants ends at 11. Then the kitchen shuts down until 12:30. It ends at 3, then reopens for dinner at 7.

Before dinner we swim laps in the indoor pool with a guy from Poland. We arrive for dinner before kitchen is open but it’s happy hour so we order wine apiece. Emily goes to bar at five minutes to 7 to get us second glass apiece before happy hour ends. Strikes up conversation with couple living in Canary Islands: Elin, native of Finland, and Patricio, native of Chile. As we’re drinking at our table, Elin comes over and asks if they can join us because she could sense our good vibes. Bond over five wines and a glass of Baily’s. Going with them to Gibraltar and Ronda on Tuesday.

* *  *

Quick note about security. I don’t know if there was a terrorist attack in Malaga in the past decade but it takes us four keys to enter the apartment. One opens the gate to the section where a dozen apartments are situated. At our apartment, another opens a steel door that at home we would call a screen door but here has no screen. A third opens the inside door to the apartment. The fourth, along with one of the first three, opens a second door that we can enter without going through the gate. When the door closes, we’re locked in. We have to go through the process in reverse with the keys to get out.

We have one set of keys. If I leave the room without Emily, she has to either wait for me to return or leave on her own but not be able to lock from the outside.

Takes some getting used to as we synchronize our movements.

Disappointed in Alhambra but Energized by Olives

Saturday 2/18/17

I hate to be doom and gloom while I’m on vacation. But driving from Madrid to Malaga, which was our major activity for today, I was struck by the strange feel below the tires. It was the road without potholes.

More than that, I was struck by the abundance of wind turbines and solar collectors. No, they don’t match the beauty of the mountains in the distance, but neither do oil spills in rivers, my point of comparison.

Back home, we have the nuts in power who are more concerned about pretending that “cutting taxes” is an inherent social good rather than just another bonus for rich people, that it gives society more benefit than improving the infrastructure. They deny the science behind global warming to keep the oil and coal companies artificially afloat. Meanwhile, the rest of the world outpaces us with job-producing innovations in alternative energy.

I was reminded of a newspaper called Continuum that was published by a group of AIDS activists, back when AIDS was killing off the gay community, The editors, paranoid from living in a gay-unfriendly society, claimed that AIDS was a conspiracy unrelated to HIV. The paper folded when the editors all died of AIDS-related conditions.

No joke here. No humorous anecdote. Just the realization that the future never belongs to the ignorant neighborhood bully or the paranoid skeptic.

As long as I’m on a negative, I might as well give you our new definition of disappointment. One of our planned destinations for the week was Alhambra to see the palace. When we realized we would be passing it on our way from Madrid to Malaga, we decided, why not make the trip there today and avoid an unnecessary trip later?

We got there at 4 p.m., time, we figured, to spend an hour and a half inside the palace, see what we could, and still make it to Malaga before total darkness. Alas, tickets were sold out. Who knew they cut off sales after a certain number? The guide standing where the front of the ticket line would have been and turning away tourists said they start selling tickets at 8 a.m. and often sell out by 9. In the summer, tourists start lining up by 3 a.m.  I looked at the positive side: At least we didn’t have to go too far out of our way to find out we couldn’t get in. It would have been worse if we had passed it this time, then made the long trip back to find out they had sold out.

But the ride otherwise was stunning. Olive groves as far as the eye could see, growing on flat lands and mountainsides, like casinos in Las Vegas. In the rest stops, they sell olive oil-infused hand cream, lip gloss, shower gel, soap, perfume, night cream, and body lotion. Plus, of course, extra virgin olive oil for cooking and jars of olives in a diverse range of flavors. If I had seen a tube of olive oil-infused toothpaste, I think I would have taken a chance and bought it.

We saw patches of cacti as we approached Bailen. The sun shone the whole way, and the air was brisk and refreshing.

We saw almost no cop cars the entire journey. Think you can speed? We found out otherwise when we sped in Italy and received a ticket in the mail three weeks later, courtesy of their radar-controlled speed-check system. Spain uses the same system so we were cautious. Speed fluctuated between 120 km/h (72 mph) and 100 km at every curve in the road and 120 again as soon as the road straightened. We followed the signs as cars from the locals sped past us on our left.

We pulled into Elviera, just west of Malaga, in the dark and were aided by GPS to find our lodging, at Heritage Resorts Playa Camino Real.

A Day at the Museo del Prado

F 2/17/17

Early morning observation: If you want butter for your bread in Spain, bring it from home. Spaniards don’t do butter. But they do great chocolate.

Dogs are everywhere as we walk to the Prado Museum (Museo del Prado). Dog walking is a thriving business.

Smokers are everywhere, too. You don’t have to be ten feet away from an entrance to smoke. You can light up as soon as you leave a building. We are on low-inhale mode much of the way to avoid inhaling secondhand smoke. More one-way streets than in Ann Arbor; they all look like side streets. Hilly streets remind me of San Francisco, though not quite as steep. Brick-covered streets give it small-world charm.

Eclectic: Häagen-Dazs ice cream in Chinese grocery store.

Arrive at museum. Cop with machine gun patrolling the street.

I’m not a big museum buff. I’ve been known to say, “I don’t know art. I just know what I like.”

But there was something here for everyone. Torture. Virtue. Ascension. Miracles. Sainthood. Portraits.

Emily notices that all of the angels are boys. The museum guard explains that they are supposed to be neutral but is enlightened when Emily points out, in Spanish, “No vaginas.” True, the neutral angels all have penises. Meanwhile, I read the English translations of the descriptions looking for typos, and find one. In “Tobias heals his Father,” I read, “Painted in Venice, this [is] one of the best….”

Emily strikes up conversation with teacher from Austria, notes that we are in Spain for ten days, then back to ice and snow of Ann Arbor. “And Trump,” the teacher observes, making the correct assumption that we recognize his defective nature.

Several Old Testament scenes. Otherwise, only see three references to Jews: 1. a Jewish doctor; 2. a hooked-nose man over a caption describing him as greedy and money-hungry; 3. a scene in the Plaza Mayor of a man of no faith—probably meaning Jewish—being tried by a religious tribunal and condemned.

Emily marvels at how long it must have taken female royalty to get dressed in the morning with their hoop skirts and puffed up hair.

Late-afternoon lunch outside Prado at El Botanico, where, the menu notes, Sir Paul McCartney and Bono ate.

No butter with the bread but waiter brings me olive oil.

Sonja discovers former Jewish section of town at La Playa de Lavapies. Long walk, Emily asks directions three times, but we find it down long hill, past strip of Indian restaurants. No evidence anymore of former Jewish life. Playa consists of playground with slide and several park benches. Five Hispanics sitting on one passing joint. I go into high-inhale mode.

Emily’s friend Rich Fritzson said we had to stop at the Chocolatier so we walked two extra miles looking for it. Well worth the effort. We each receive a coffee cup filled with the richest liquid chocolate I’ve ever tasted. Served with flour/sugar/grease donut sticks to dip. Sugar rush gives us the energy to walk another two miles to dinner. Arrive at 7:30; dinner not served until 8:30. We fill the time with conversation and two bottles of champagne.

Chocolate, champagne, great art, lots of walking but nearly enough to work off the calories we consumed. A full day, our last in Madrid.

Arrive in Madrid, Meet Harrie and Sonja

Th 2/16/17

Smooth flight from Detroit Metro to Paris, superb service from attendants on Delta. But—kid in middle aisle screaming because mom put his luggage in overhead. Continues until he falls asleep, resumes when he wakes up. Food excellent for dinner (vegetarian) and breakfast (neutral). Meanwhile, complimentary wine and beer flow all night until lights out; flow resumes in morning. Emily and I sit in different rows on flight to Madrid.

Emily kibitzes until takeoff with woman from the Philippines: kids, weather, travel itinerary. I smile at man on each side of me, don’t talk. It’s a man thing.

Glad to travel with Emily, who is fluent in Spanish and can fake it in every other language. Helped us get to the hotel from the airport when we got lost twice, Emily asked taxi drivers for directions. I hesitate when I say “Bonjour” to the attendant. Don’t want to screw up. Fortunately I have a charming smile.

Trip to Spain is life-long fantasy for Emily. Happy to share it with her.

Interesting observation about the flight data chart on flight to Paris: Data differ from seat to seat. When I was 1590 feet in the air, Emily was 1722 feet. Obviously the plane was tilted.

Fun fact: The plane will not automatically crash if one person forgets to put his phone on airplane mode. Don’t ask me how I know.

In Madrid, Trump supporter complaining because there are too many foreigners.

Meet Harrie and Sonja at the hotel. Eat, drink, lots of walking, visit Plaza Mayor, more eating and drinking. Watching the news on TV now as we wind down after a long day that started yesterday. Trump is just as much of an embarrassment in Spanish as he is in English.

On the Road to Spain

W 2/15/17

On the road to Spain today to celebrate an amazing forty years being with Emily (who also is coming). Two days in Madrid, then Malaga, which will be our base for the next week.

Hooking up with extended family from the Netherlands, Harrie and Sonja, whom we haven’t seen since we traveled together in Italy three years ago.

U.S. friends, take care of the country for us until we get back. Keep the borders open. I don’t want to get sent back to Galicia or Austria-Hungary, countries of origin that no longer exist.