Thursday, October 27, 2011

Look! Cats! And Dogs!

Well, while I try to get the pictures of Susanna and Provence together, here are a couple of shots of the other residents of Casa de los Muertes.

First, please meet Gracie Anne Whitesocks. Don't be fooled by the pose, she's not really thinking.

Next is Memo, senior cat present. She inherited the title from Gus, who is no longer with us in body.

Don't mess with me.
Now, the youngest member of the menagerie, Seymore Catz

I'm not sleeping, I'm planning an ADVENTURE!

And finally, though not completely, Tucker the Australian Cattle Dog, with Pi (3.14 times a normal cat.)

We're not related, just buddies.

 Not present during this photo shoot were Nyx, the queen of the night, and Oliver, the dog with no brain.
Now that I've figured out how to add photos to the blog, next time should be easier, right? RIGHT?

We can hope.

Stay well, peeps.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Am I a Sick Puppy, or what?

So, there's this story in the news about a man whose mother's ashes were stolen from his car by mistake.,0,7165807.story

My first thought was to call them and offer some of our children's ashes. You know, because we have extra.

My second thought, and the one my wife came up with as >her< first thought when I told her about this, and she stopped laughing at my first thought, was that we still have some of her father's ashes, would that be OK?

We're obviously in serious need of help.

I still think it's funny.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Interlude: Susanna meets the Pacific Ocean

While I finish more posts about our trip to Provence, here's part one about an old friend.

Way back on 1968, while we were living in Italy, my parents bought a boat. Typically for my father (my adoptive father: my biological dad had died 4 years before, and my mother had remarried in 1967), the boat was beautiful and seriously impractical. That was my dad to a tee: always the esthetics mattered most.

Susanna was (and is) a gorgeous wooden sailboat, built in Venice the year I was born, 1957, at the D'este shipyards from a Laurent Giles design. If you are a wooden boat fanatic (there are no other types, from what I know) you will know who and what I'm talking about. The rest of you should just understand that it is meaningful to us weirdos, kind of like owning an original Carol Shelby Cobra. She's 48 feet overall and 10 1/2 feet wide. Supermodel thin, that is; almost anorexic. She's also deep, at 7 feet 9 inches of draft, and the combination makes for a couple of things. First, she's fast: we've legitimately seen 9+ knots, which is Usain Bolt speed for a wooden. Second, she loves to dip her rails under any serious wind, making life somewhat wet for all aboard. Third, she's totally the wrong boat for a family, unless you figure that the 2 boys (my brother and I) would sleep up front with the anchor chain, and everyone else gets a 1/2 twin-size bunk. Which we did.

You just kind of get used to it, and we sailed her all over the Med until 1973 or so, when we shipped her to the US. My parents had split up by this time, and my mom wanted to sail. (Although the marriage lasted less than 5 years, they remained best friends and frenemies to the end of their lives last year.) My mom and occasionally my dad sailed the east coast for the next 35 years, until shingles put an end to Mom's summer sailing. I was an occasional guest, mostly for races: the boat was too cramped both physically and emotionally for me to spend a lot of time on her. But my brother loved it, and went many, many times.

When Mom died, she left the boat to the three of us brothers, two of whom (me and our older brother) gave our share to YB (I don't have his permission to use his name yet.) The reason is that, while any boat is a hole in the water into which you throw money, a wooden boat is also the nautical equivalent of a Brazilian mistress: demanding, exciting and highly impractical. And OB and I just couldn't deal, each for our own reasons. So YB ended up with the boat. Which was fine with him, he loves her and couldn't wait to bring her out to SoCal and go sailing. Which he did, and here are the pictures to prove it.

So Susanna is now in her third ocean. We'll see how long she can stay: the area isn't great for cruising, in that there are few destinations nearby, and long trips up and down the West coast are or can be a real ordeal. But for now, she's in Ventura, and we've already been down to Catalina and back, and it was a great trip.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Well, it turns out that sleeping through church bells is harder when you haven't been up for 24+ hours. Last night's sleep was, shall we say, compromised by the incessant "tolling of the iron bell" (as Roger Waters once called it, and that is what they sound like), and so we didn't get up for the Monday market outside our front door particularly early.
But soon enough, we found our way the block and 1/2 down onto the main street, which was now filled with stalls and people, from one end to the other. We took one look at the chaos, and decided that we needed more coffee. But when we sat down, I noticed that the man next to us, middle-aged, good-looking-in-a-"I'm a typical french farmer"-way, had a glass of rosé and some pastis.
Now, I'm a big fan of pastis, and ouzo and all such anise-flavored liqueurs, a taste I acquired when I was a teen-ager in Greece, during the summer I turned 16. I spent a good portion of it working in a boatyard on the island of Syros, and everyday when we finished, the whole crew went to the bar for drinks and meze (snacks). I discovered that I had a huge tolerance for alcohol delivered in this form, which isn't actually great until you learn to handle it, which took a while. But once I did, it became my competitive drink of choice. Remember the scene at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Karen Allen is drinking with the Russian soldier, and drinks him under the table, only to get up and go back to work as if nothing happened? (I heart me some Karen Allen.) That's me. So, don't challenge me, OK? Or you'll be tasting black licorice in your sleep.
ANYWAY, I ordered a pastis, Joy got some coffee, and we watched the show for a while. Amazing what a little alcohol in the morning does to your disposition.
Eventually we went browsing through the stalls, admiring the cheeses, the cured meats, the handbags, the leather goods, the fresh vegetables, just an amazing amount of things to look at and touch and talk about. I keep trying to use the French I remember, and the stall owners are great about helping me out. It is a fact of French life, apparently, that everything comes with a lesson, an explanation or some conversation, and because I'm in the right frame of mind (i.e. not in a hurry), this seems wonderful.
We gather enough goodies for lunch, and head back to the apartment with some salami, some brie and banon cheeses, bread, ham, olives and wine, and just enjoy the shit out of it.
Lunch over, we head out to see what there is to see, and end up in a little town called Beaumes-de-Venice, which literally means "Canals of Venice". Except that here it doesn't, as Beaumes in Provence means "caves", like for storing wine, and "Venice" refers to the old name of Provence, Comtat Vennaissin, or the country of the Popes. Oh well, it's so pretty no matter what it's called, and we drive and stare.
We stop for a short wine tasting at a local vineyard, where Marina, the proprieteur, chats with us about our trip and her recent 6-week tour of the US. She's really fun, mid-30's and so excited about their wines; she and her husband have owned the vineyard for about 5 years, and are changing the way muscat (sweet) wines are made here, so that they have more acid, rather than the cloying sweetness that is usual for this type of wine. We buy a bottle, and head out, smiling.
A couple of hours driving later, we're back at the house, and take a break before dinner. It seems that that's all we do, isn't it? Eat and drive, eat and drive, and drink more wine.
Yep. That's why we're here.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sunday is funday

Since we got to bed not too early (ahem, midnight) we slept in until around 10AM, which is unheard of at home: the dogs and cats just won't put up with laziness like this. Well, fuck 'em, we're on vacation and the dogs are at dog camp, being treated like kings, I mean, come on, treats, walks, someone to THROW THE BALL, NOW, HUH, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!!

Excuse me.

Anyway, we get up and fart around figuring out what we want to do, which is go get coffee and croissants, but it's a bit late, so let's just get dressed and head out to explore, but look, there's a cafe so let's sit down and

slow down, (phew)

and have the coffee and realize that we're in a foreign country, we have no plans, no one to meet, just the two of us at whatever pace we want to set.

OK, then. Wow. Relax, what a concept.

Looking through our guide book, the increasingly indispensable Cadogan guide to Provence, we find that there's a market and some antiques over in Isle Sur la Sourge, about 20 minutes from us. Want to go? Sure, even though we really don't get the whole "fill your house with the stuff other people don't want, especially if it's old and kind of beat up", but we love to look at it and chose not to take it home.
Whatever floats our boat, you know?
Anyway, we head over, using maps instead of GPS, so that we can begin to learn the area, and drive through this incredible countryside, just beginning to show autumn in the browning leaves of the grapevines. Bright blue sky, warm and happy, we drive the narrow roads, pulling over as necessary to let the impatient few past.
Eventually, we reach the town, and park in a sort of random mass of vehicles. Serious, people, lineups aren't your strong suit, I get it, but still, it looks like you all spilled hot coffee on your laps and then just got out. So we just pull in and stop, and get out and walk to the market, which is almost over, as it's now 12:30 and they end at 1, but who cares, we're here to enjoy , which we do, browsing among the sellers of linens, and trinkets and antiques and Jesus there's a lot of stuff!
Are you hungry? I am.
So we find a place that has a table left, even though by the time we get there it's almost 2, and they're running on empty, but a kind waitress takes pity on us, and we sit in the shade and order wine and salads and just take in the town. (Pictures are coming, I swear.)
Lunch over, and the wine finished, we head out for more exploring, and poke our heads in random shops. Many aren't open (it's Sunday, after all), but some are and we enjoy looking at bunches of stuff we don't usually see, linens, and soaps and wood bric-a-brac, and tourist crapola, but DIFFERENT crapola that at home, so it's fun. Joy finds a table cloth that she takes a fancy to, so we buy that, and a few trinkets for loved ones, and eventually find out way to an ice-cream shop that makes unreal apricot and lemon sorbet, and then sit by the stream and watch the ducks dive for invisible fish and tidbits. Soon, we head back, and unload our loot, and take a nap. (That's when I posted the previous post.)(I don't nap)(usually.)

After nap and showers, we're ready for more, so we go out looking for dinner! Now, I don't speak French, really I don't. I'm fluent in Italian, because I grew up in Rome, and kept it up over the years, so I have a good accent and a firm grasp of the grammar, but French I have to fake. Well, I seem to be doing OK, because I can make myself understood pretty well, and it gives me such a thrill to be able to ask directions or about the menu, or really, anything. It's really cool, and I'm happy that I had all those French lessons in high school, even though I hated them at the time. But it's been 35+ years! Anyway, we stumble though the menu at a lovely outdoor restaurant call Le Gouses D'ail, or the Garlic Cloves. We eat and drink and eat some more and drink some more until we're stuffed and drunken again, but this time the car is already at home, so we stagger home, and sleep it off, and next thing you know, it's 6:30AM, and the church bells next door are ringing, every freaking HOUR, twice.

WTF is with THAT, anyway? Is it really neccesary to ring the chimes twice each hour? Plus the little Bong on the 1/2s? I've got to find someone to ask. Maybe tomorrow.

Location:Bedoin, France and Environs

Sunday, October 2, 2011

In the air tonight

So, having "won" a week's stay in Provence at our Spring Gala (which, if you know school auctions means "I paid full price for it and maybe a bit more"), Joy and I decided to use it and take a real vacation for the first time since we got married. We're had weekends away, but going somewhere, just the two of us? Are we really allowed to do that?

Hell, yes.

So, after my dad's death in May, I got on it and booked us via air and train to a little house in a little town in Provence, called Bedoin. About 90 minutes from Marseille, close to Peter Mayle territory, it's on the foot slopes of Mount Ventoux, which you have seen if you watch the Tour de France. It's not too imposing, until you try to ride up it, which I'm not going to, ever. Reason? No wineries or good restaurants, which ends that discussion.

Anyway, we hopped an Air France flight to Paris, which was pretty good: plane was clean, seats were comfy, food was mediocre, but it was still actual food, and the cabin staff was friendly, which is what i had found when I flew to Milan in May. I tried out my 35-year-old, recently revived french (thanks, Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur) and they pretended I was making sense, which was great fun.

We got to Paris around 11AM, having napped overnight, and headed for the TGV to Avignon, something I have wanted to do since the train went into service in the 80's. Nice ride you got there, mes amis. Smooth, fast, still can't understand the conductor for shit, but maybe it's time to get my hearing checked since everyone else seemed to have no problem. Got into Avignon around 5, and picked the wrong side of the train station to look for the car rentals. 15 minutes later, we found someone to ask (still in French) and walked back through the train station and, voila, the car rentals appear. Thanks for nothing, Garmin (which is a whole 'nother thing I'll tell you about some other time, when my blood pressure is lower. Grrrr.) 30 minutes later, we're on the road to Bedoin, and by 7:30 we're there. By 8:15 we're having a slow, relaxing dinner. Get ready to be hungry:Apperitifs: pettillant de Maison, sparkling wine with a dash of limoncello (lemon liqueur) and a splash of grenadine.Veloute of white beans with scallops and chorizo for me, tortilla wrap of spanish ham and cheese for JoyLasagna of eggplant and lamb for Joy, wild boar stew for me. Mmmmm, carnivore. Wild blueberry tart for Joy, and pain perdu with carmel for me. Plus 1 each 500ml bottle of local red and white wine. Glad we didn't have far to go, as the wine went where wine always ends up and we still had to shoe-horn the car into the "garage". Which we did, and not to much cursing, as it was after 11.

A long day, but all worth it. Can't seem to post pictures from my iPad yet, but I'll suss that out and then, watch out! Or I'll put them on Picasa and post a link. We've had the day out today, and now we're off to dinner, so further posting will happen later or tomorrow.

Moving right along

Well, life continues here at Casa Clusterfuck, with more dead bodies lining the floors and walls. Let's give a big hand for a life well lived to Uncle Jerry (my father's oldest brother), Aunts Judy and Ann, and my step-sister Susie. Bringing the 15-month total to 7. Jesus. I try to not dwell too much on this round, because I'm already swimming as fast as I can. But there's no doubt it affects me deeply, even though I was not as close to these folks as my parents (duh.) So, here's to being alive and doing my best to enjoy the rest of my life. I "won" at a school auction, a week at a house in Provence (if you know school auctions, you know I paid full price for it, but the school got the $) and Joy and I are now here in a small town called Bedoin, near Carpentras. I'm going to try to keep a little log and post pictures etc. Stay well, peeps. I lean on you all more than you know.