HOME AGAIN IN AUSTRALIA

This is our apartment. We’re on the fourth floor.

In preparation for our return to Australia for the holidays, I boned up a little more on the history of this fascinating continent. A few years ago I treated myself to Colleen McCullough’s novel The Thorn Birds (1998), first reading the book and then with Joy and Gretchen and Brad Jacob spending some pleasant hours in Tillamook viewing the television series based on it (starring Richard Chamberlain, otherwise famous as Dr. Kildare). McCullough’s an accomplished story-teller, but not one you consult for documented history.

 

Last year I turned to Thomas Keneally’s 2006 A Commonwealth of Thieves: The Improbable Birth of Australia. The title gives away the plot. The white man targeted Australia in the late 18th century when the UK attempted to purge itself of the “criminal class.” For crimes great and petty, men, women and children were charged, convicted, condemned, and transported to the other side of the planet to serve their terms (generally 7 or 14 years). Out of sight, out of mind. What happened to these prisoners was despicable. Their stomach-turning story is a reminder that “there’s none righteous, no not one” and some who wear uniforms and bear titles are the least righteous, most cruel, of all.

This year I reread Robert Hughes’ classic The Fatal Shore, published in 1986. It is another tough slog. Hughes is Australian, proudly so, convinced that to fully understand this independent, occasionally fractious, quite secular society those early years must be revisited, painful as they are, back when white settlers with their guns (the military, not the convicts) and deadly germs almost completely wiped out the aboriginal population, replaced by the prisoners and their keepers. The hunter-gatherers thrived, generally self-sufficient and satisfied before the English descended. Then they died. In those early years their white successors didn’t do so well. They lacked basic skills and tools for farming and for re-creating a proper British society on this foreign soil. Basically, they were warehoused here until their sentences or their lives ran out, whichever came first. Too many of them died, also. Others wished they could have. But a large remnant not only survived but in the end built themselves a nation.

I’m typing this post in that nation a little over two centuries later. It’s as modern, attractive, democratic and economically competitive as any on earth. I just wish it were closer to America. What we like best about Australia is this: it gave us our son-in-law.

This is enough of a backward glance for now. Except for one more word. The next time you’re tempted to give up on the human race, pick up Keneally or Hughes. On their pages you’ll encounter at its very worst—and I’m not talking just about the so-called “convict class.” Then glance up from the pages for a look at modern Australia. It’s a country founded on people England wanted to get rid of—they considered them sin-ridden, beyond redemption, the dregs of society—who collectively did not give up or give in but persevered and in the end triumphed. The result looks pretty good!

Sunrise from our balcony–another reason we like coming “home” here.

Our trip to this far-flung island/continent was a bit of a challenge. You have already learned I’m your basic cheapskate. As the person in this partnership in charge of buying airline tickets, I always go for the least expensive. It’s a matter of principle. So instead of flying from Sao Paulo, Brazil through Santiago, Chile—the direct route to Melbourne—I found we could save about $1500 by flying Delta. So we did. From Sao Paulo to Orlando to Los Angeles to Sydney to Melbourne. Total elapsed time from Campinas (friend Carlos drove us to the airport) to Melbourne: 54 hours. That is, it would have been 54 except that our flight out of Los Angeles was delayed, which meant we missed our connection in Sydney, so add on two more hours. Somehow, when we finally stumbled into the Ohanessian home, I had the feeling Joy thought I might have made a better choice.

That choice is costing me dearly, by the way. After the first of the year we’re heading to Southeast Asia. I felt so guilty about this cheap itinerary and what it did to our photographer that I booked us on a sight-seeing cruise from Singapore to Hong Kong. We’ll get to visit places and friends we want to see in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam on the way—and we can sleep in our same bed every night. And don’t have to wrestle luggage. Don’t ask me how economical this trip will be. Might save a marriage, though.

A new twist on a familiar sight. Most early mornings we see hot air balloons in the Eastern sky. One morning we looked to the Western sky and saw these very low-sailing balloons in the middle of town!

One more word about our flight to Melbourne. Two, actually. The first is about our arrival in Orlando. Delta agents lined the jetway from the plane to the terminal with flashlights. The person in charge of turning the lights on was missing, so we disembarked in the dark. That would have been noteworthy in itself; we’d never seen it before. But then it happened again. Our departure out of LAX for Sydney was delayed over an hour because…. the jetway was dark. The person with that key was missing, also. Finally the agents gave up and lined the walkway, flashlights aglow. Isn’t this modern age wonderful? It just takes one person in charge of a key in one city to make innocent travelers miss their connection an ocean away 16 hours later.

Same building as above, different view. When we tell people in Richmond we live in the silos, they know exactly where we mean.

I take a daily early morning walk. I love it. Melbourne has so much to commend it, not the least is what we pay for rent in our kids’ apartment.  (Of course, we have to do repair work. This morning we had to go into Richmond—several blocks away–to buy batteries for the air conditioner’s remote control. It took two trips. The first to buy a tiny screw driver to open the device so we could learn what kind of battery was required. Then we discovered the part we needed to open wasn’t controlled by the screws, so we didn’t need the screw driver in the first place. Then back to the store to buy the batteries. I hope our landlords appreciate the trouble we go to on their behalf.) Obviously, what’s best about the city is that our kids live here. (That’s what’s best about the St. Louis area, also; we head there this summer to be with our other kids there.)

We’re dieting. Our eating has been out of control. We travel without bathroom scales, so we don’t have solid evidence of our weight gain—until we look at ourselves in the mirror or let out the belt one more notch. So as soon as we arrived I went shopping. Couldn’t find SlimFast but found something like it called OptiSlim. Tastes just as bad. Joy insists I supplement the supplement with a bunch of green stuff. My personal goal is to lose all the weight I can before next week when Candy and Michael return. Then out of respect for their hospitality I’ll have to  return to my regular overeating—so as not to upset them, especially during the holidays. I figure a week of dieting ought to do it. It’s amazing, isn’t it, though, how when you are dieting all you think about is food? That’s another reason why I need to limit the dieting to a week. There are other things calling for my attention.

See what I mean? Green stuff.

I wrote Candy in London to alert her about our dieting, so she and Michael won’t be shocked by our svelte appearance when they get here. I also mentioned the work I’ve had to do: replacing the batteries; buying a set of tiny screw drivers for the job  She wrote right back. I think she is sincere: “Oh Dad, you must be exhausted. The batteries, the screwdriver, and all on reduced caloric intake. You deserve a nap.”

Here’s the worst part of her letter, though. She writes of being converted to better eating by a film called ‘Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.’ She’s started making vegetable smoothies to start the day. She says she’s already feeling better. Then this: “I was hoping to inflict it on you guys for a few days when we got back but it looks like you’re ahead of me. Maybe we can meet in the middle. Veggie juice for breakfast.” Sounds like more green stuff.

Lamborghini dealership.

On my walk this morning, I realized for the first time that Richmond, our Melbourne suburb, really is in a relatively high rent district. Last year the hygienist in the dentist’s office explained she couldn’t afford to live near her work but must commute from a suburb farther out. I was surprised.

Would you expect a row of luxury car dealerships across the street from these buildings?

The place doesn’t look that affluent. It is an old town; most of the older houses are quite small. The lots are tiny. Apparently the value is in dirt they sit on. What made me suddenly become aware? Swan Street. I don’t know property values but I can spot a pricey car anywhere. Swan Street is the home of several automobile dealerships. There they are, lined up in a row for your inspection and, they hope, consumption: Maserati, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo and others.

Even the used cars here have “prestige.”
The Hat’s not interested in looking at somebody else’s castoffs.
Classic Ferrari! The little sign by it says “Do not touch.” Too bad. It would make a great vehicle for pastoral calling on shut-ins.

Renault, for us humbler sorts, couldn’t break into the neighborhood; it’s around the corner on Church Street. Still, Richmond auto patrons may be wealthy, prestigious even, but they haven’t caught on to the latest rage: You have to go to Sydney for your all-electric, self-driving Tesla.

Rolls Royce. Now this is more the Hat’s style in his, shall we say, mature years.

As for Joy and me, we’re content with the Melbourne tram system. It’s all we want. Except when we need something more versatile. Then we borrow the O’s Toyota Prius. We don’t look rich but we do feel trendy.

JOY’S PICK OF THE PICS

Neighborhood charm. (This is Joy’s description. Does she mean the house or the jogger?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New twist in an old neighborhood
You might remember the photographer’s love of old doors. These are found close to us.
This neighborhood’s  homes have great potential

BRAZIL: VISA PERSERVERANCE PAYOFF

You might remember from the past couple of posts that I grumbled ever so slightly about the complications of the Brazilian visa application process. On top of all the red tape was the final insult: $160 apiece for Americans, the highest price charged for all countries except Angola. Just taking advantage of us “rich” Americans, I complained.

I gently brought this outrageous gouging of Americans up to Carlos, our host. Unfortunately for me, he explained Brazil’s reciprocity policy: It treats other countries as other countries treat Brazil. American visas are extremely expensive ($160) for Brazilians, so Brazilians charge the same. They call it reciprocity; it feels like retaliation. Carlos travels fairly frequently to the States; he’s had to jump all the hurdles getting into America that we jumped coming to Brazil. He understood our pain. Well, call it reciprocity if you want; it still feels like retaliation.

By our second day here I exclaimed to Joy, “Think what we’d have missed if our visas hadn’t come through on time!” Complaints forgotten, replaced by deep appreciation for Carlos and his wife Malu. They gave us an unforgettable experience.

About Carlos. I’m being too familiar. He’s Dr. Carlos Fernando Franco, Jr., agronomist, professor, entrepreneur, business consultant and coach, leader in his church in Campinas, and Christian Missionary Fellowship’s (CMF’s) liaison/leader in Brazil. Malu is a dentist; she has been practicing here for twenty years. We first met the Francos in the 1990s when they visited Central Christian Church in Mesa, Arizona. They hadn’t come to see the pastor, but good friends Chip and Teri Stauffer. Chip and Jeff Greene were CMF missionaries in Campinas, where they established the church the Francos joined. The Stauffers and Greenes returned to the States in time and the Francos later. Carlos has continued in Christian leadership, now as part of five-year-old church  that numbers 7000 in weekend attendance on several campuses. In more recent years Dr. Franco and I have become better acquainted through CMF; he’s on the board and I’m on staff.

The Franco family: Carlos and Malu, their daughter and son-in-law Rebeca and Alexei, and grandson Henrique with his nanny, Lucia. They routinely take a midday break from their professional work for lunch together.

You don’t want to invite the Lawsons for a visit. We accept! It’s Carlos’ fault, though. Because of our CMF association, I was eager to know him better. We had first come to Brazil in the 1980s; we were eager to return for another look and to spend some quality time with the Francos. But we did not expect to be feted so lavishly by Carlos and Malu.

The distinguished Doctors Franco. I think their guests wore them out. Here they are on the sunset cruise on the Paraná River.

We flew from Key West to Sao Paulo via Ft. Lauderdale. Carlos had rented a car and driven to the airport (an hour-and-a-half from Campinas). From the moment he greeted us we relaxed; we were in competent hands. This is his country. And he speaks Portuguese and fluent English.

The first night was the promise of more to come. Carlos took us to dinner at D’Autore Restaurant, where Malu’s nephew Tulio is a chef. We ate too much—as we would for the next several days. Appetizers: beef tartare—special recipe and a special fish hors d’oeuvre. Main course: Argentine beef (which, Carlos explained, was probably raised and grazed in Brazil). They know Carlos here. Waiters hovered. Chef Tulio came to our table to confirm that everything was OK; the Manager materialized. We concluded that we’d be able to adjust to Brazil, so long as Carlos and his Portuguese were with us.

Iguaçu Falls

The next morning we boarded another plane bound, this time, to Fos do Iguaçu. On our own we’d have missed this treat. Carlos booked the four of us into the Bourbon hotel for a couple of nights. Our goal was to see the famous falls here, larger than our Niagara. No, that’s not quite accurate. Our goal was actually to ride to the falls—and into the falls. We were warned we would get wet. (Something was lost in the translation from Portuguese to English. We didn’t just get wet; we got drenched.)

The Hat and Mrs. Hat with the Drs. Franco. Picture taken just before plunging into the falls.

It felt like coming as close to drowning in the boat as you can and still be afloat. Religiously speaking, it was a rite combining sprinkling and immersion.  Joy and I had envisioned a quick ride through the falls to safety behind; we’ve done that elsewhere. The practice here is to plunge into the falls, wallow around in them until nothing dry remains anywhere, then retreat back out into the river and just, as evaporation is beginning to offer a little relief, turn around and plunge in again, as if to guarantee that nothing, absolutely nothing, escaped the inundation.

We had taken the warning seriously, so we secured our valuables in a locker. Most of our valuables. I forgot about my glasses, so they took the plunge with me. As did my iPhone. And my hearing aid.

Joy’s black-and-white photo of Iguaçu Falls.

In bouncing around in the falls I broke my iPhone case, but the instrument survived unscathed. My glasses will come clean one day (Iguaçu’s water is brown). My hearing aid battery gave up the struggle very quickly, but it was soon replaced and this instrument, also, proved itself a hardy traveler. Altogether, the experience warranted an A+.

As if that wasn’t entertainment enough for one day, the Francos then packed us off for  dinner and show at Hotel Rafain’s Churracaria (a barbecue or steak house). The food was, again, outstanding, the buffet a rich array of the finest in Brazilian cuisine. What we’ll remember most, though, was the floor show with song, dance, and vaudeville acts representing several Latin American countries:

This harpist gave us a dazzling display.

From Uruguay: Traditional dances and musicians featuring a virtuoso harpist and “bottle” dancers, two young women who stepped forward from the dance troupe. One by one wine bottles were stacked upright on their heads until finally they were balancing five of them—while never missing a dance step.

Andes mountain people (Bolivian and Peruvian) presented their colorful traditional songs and dances. From Argentina came the tango followed by an alpha male “gaucho” (the man) who whirled a couple of  gauchos (round metal balls that look from the distance like yoyos at the end of a metallic rope). From Mexico came the mariachi band and traditional dances, always a favorite. Brazil’s carnival music and dance from the 40s to the present climaxed the show. Can you tell we enjoyed the evening?

Carlos was eager to see Itaipu, Brazil’s largest hydroelectric dam. Not just Brazil’s, but the world’s. It is located about an hour-and-a-half from Iguaçu. We went by bus. You know how, when you travel, you frequently see people who for some reason or other remind you of people in your past?  Our driver reminded me of one of my best friends, Bill Sherman. Bill’s gone now, but every so often I spot his likeness. This man, except for his brown skin, could have been Bill’s brother). He drove, though, more like a young Jeff Terrill, our oldest Velcro son. It was easy to imagine Jeff pushing that bus to the speed limit and beyond, careening around curves, tossing passengers around with glee, racing to get to the next stop, stomping on the brake, roaring off again. It was fun, if you were properly braced. (Jeff is mature now. Still, he could be tempted…)

Itaipu Hydroelectric Power Plant

Back to the dam. The Itaipu Hydroelectric Power Plant stands as evidence that sometimes nations can get along. The governments of Brazil and Paraguay built it (1975-1982). The cooperation was probably made possible by the fact that both countries were under military dictatorships; no messy congresses to contend with. The result is a plant that leads the world in renewable energy production. In 2016 Itaipu Binacional (operator of the plant) produced more than 100 million megawatt hours of clean and renewable energy. If it hasn’t done so yet, the Three Gorges Dam in China will surpass this record. Still, record or not, a pretty impressive output.

Blue and red macaws.

While in the neighborhood we spent too little time (I could have devoted a day instead of a couple of hours) to Fos Do Iguaçu’s Parque das Aves. It is, hands down, the best dedicated bird sanctuary we’ve seen. A tropical paradise in itself. It looks and sounds and feels like the jungle. The collection of South American winged life, carefully protected and provisioned, quickly grabbed our attention and wouldn’t let go. The park has three aviaries, a butterfly house, and some reptiles (no pictures—not Joy’s favorites). So many birds: macaws, toucans, scarlet ibises, jays, thrushes, eagles, owls, and more. Our favorites were the macaws, dozens of them, who put on an aeronautics show without parallel, accompanied by their own brand of ear-splitting “music.”

Carlos treated us to a sunset cruise on the Paraná and Iguaçu rivers to their junction at the point that Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil meet. There the captain treated us to a 360-degree view of the three nations’ shorelines. To be honest, they all looked pretty much the same, a reminder that, in spite of our prejudices, we humans–and our nations–are more alike than different.

Have you noticed how many photos the official photographer has taken of the Hat in repose? Is there a message here? This one was on the sunset cruise. Joy, who was usually on this love seat beside me, must have sneaked away in the one moment I might have dozed off.
Here’s the proof. Same love seat. Both lovers present.

Unfortunately, after these two days together Malu had to go to work back in her dentist’s office. The rest of us went on to Rio.  “It would be a shame to come to Brazil and not at least see Rio,” Carlos said. We agreed.

Rio de Janeiro, looking at Cristo Redemptor mountain–after the clouds lifted.

We only had 24 hours. So many options, so little time. For sure we planned to go to the top of the mountain to see the famed Cristo Redemptor statue. While we waited until the fog lifted we took in another magnificent botanical garden. You wouldn’t believe it possible to dedicate so many acres in the heart of the city to simple natural beauty, but Rio did it. This was another bit of serendipity.

Just one of so many possible pictures taken in the botanical garden.

We didn’t see the world-famous statue. The low cloud covering simply would not cooperate, stubbornly covering the hilltop until we were back down the mountain. Then, as if gloating, the clouds lifted to show us the mountain top, as you can see above. This picture is of the other side.

We couldn’t remain disappointed, though. On our tram ride down the mountain we met Veronica, a delightful Russian from Siberia (now living in London) who was in Brazil for a three-week holiday. She was traveling alone. I admired her spunk but couldn’t keep from wondering how I’d feel about it if, at her age, daughter Candy or Kim had taken off on her own across the ocean to a strange land. There are some things protective fathers don’t want to think about! This chance meeting happened after friend Carlos had carefully made certain we were always kept of harm’s way; Brazil has another side we aren’t highlighting in this report. He kept us safe. He even drove us back to the Sao Paulo airport, whether to guarantee our safety or keep us from getting loss, I’m not sure. What I am sure of, though, is that he made all the hassle of obtaining our visa worthwhile. It’s a ten-year visa, by the way. Carlos, beware! We can come back.

Joy takes a selfie of her with her delightful new acquaintance from Siberia, Vernonica.

JOY’S PICK OF THE PICS

Bridge connecting Brazil to Uruguay over the Paraná River
White flamingos at rest in the bird sanctuary.
The Hat has many tasks. Here he holds “the hat” behind this orchid for your better viewing pleasure.

FAREWELL TO KEY WEST

This sign means more to us as we prepare to leave this paradise.

Our final week in Key West was pretty, to coin a phrase, low key. We had visited the tourist attractions earlier. We had entertained good friends from Ohio, our Velcro son Brian from Arizona, and romped with the great-grandkids from Tennessee. These past few days have been with Velcro son Mike from California. We conquered the Brazil visa application process and have passports and visas at the ready. The last two days were, as always when we prepare to leave a temporary home, spent on our familiar clean-up, pack-up exercises. Next stop: Campinas, Brazil.

Within two minutes of each other we received two important phone calls. The first was the downstairs rental office. Our visas had arrived. Jubilation! We thanked God that headache was behind us. And we thanked Donna Alexander in the CMF office for her bulldog determination to make it happen, assisted by Debbie Palich. We also owed gratitude to my Key West dentist Dr. Lindner’s office (Pat and Becky) for letting me set up shop there for awhile—and to James who runs the Mail Room downstairs, who helped in so many ways (tapping into his system by Ethernet cable and camping at his counter as I wrestled with the Portuguese application forms online. We immediately sent word to our Brazilian friend Carlos Franco that the loose Lawsons would soon be on our way to his country.

The second call was from Mike. He had landed at Key West International Airport. (Do not be fooled by this grandiose title!) He grabbed a ride on Lyft and was at our place in ten minutes. We’re always eager to have Mike join us somewhere in the world. “What would you like to see in your few days here?” we asked.

The (summer) Hat and Velcro son Mike at the Ernest Hemingway House. When Mike is introduced as my “Velcro” or “adoptive son” people catch on quickly that he’s not my biological offspring!
Mike and Joy at Hemingway house. If she didn’t look so young perhaps she could fool them.

First choice was the sunset cruise. I was glad. It behooves the host to do what the guest wants. This host was delighted with Mike’s first choice; he would need company. That would be me. This meant a third round of Lawsons (Round One with the Taylors; Round Two: grandkids Tom and Stephi Arbaugh; Round Three: Prior) for Captain Ricky and his schooner, the Spirit of Independence. The little ship, by the way, was built in Independence, Missouri, the home town of President Harry Truman, whose Little White House is in Key West, just off Truman Street. We enjoyed another picture-perfect evening on the water.

Doing what we do best: eat.

For sure Mike needed to visit the Ernest Hemingway House and its 54 cats. Mike’s cat “Einstein” is only slightly less pampered in California than these denizens of the House are in Florida. Mike was duly impressed—even counted to make certain they had six toes on each paw. This time we joined the tour group and learned more of the life of this talented, tortured, multi-married, bipolar, adventurous but finally tragic author.

Ernest Hemingway portrait

I thought of Ida Boquist, my high school English teacher, who entertained her Juniors by reading Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea to us. Juniors! I’ve often thought of her unorthodox teaching style. She taught us to conjugate verbs and class nouns and write clear sentences, of course, but what has stuck more than anything else was that room filled with 16-to-18-year-olds listening with rapt attention as she read to us as she would to small children. We don’t outgrow the magic of a good story well told, do we?

Ernest Hemingway’s typewriter

Mike spent a good portion of his time here working. He’s the president of FPM (Financial Planning Ministry), a church-related agency assisting individuals with their estate plans and planned giving. While here he was guiding his organization by phone—and guiding his hosts as we updated our living trust. FPM prepares your trust for free if you include among your beneficiaries one of the dozens of churches and organizations that sponsor the ministry. Mike’s service to us wasn’t completely free. I bought dinner one evening.

Key West side street at night. You can barely see the little old couple at the left of the picture.

We spent some time reminiscing, of course. Mike and I began working together in 1979 when I became the pastor of Central Christian Church in Mesa, Arizona. He was already on staff as part-time children’s pastor–the job I thought he was born for (he was that good at it!) until I saw his even more sterling work later as our business administrator and executive pastor before leaving us to lead FPM. We went through some tough days together, including that period when we were afraid we could lose Central Christian Church’s new building. We were carrying a multimillion dollar mortgage when general interest rates rose to 14%. Our lender wanted money we didn’t have. Mike stepped in, negotiated a deal with an Arizona bank we could live with, and saved our building. He remembers the particulars; I’ve spent the years since trying to forget them.

Key West is famous for its many Cuban cigar shops. Here Mike and the Hat examine options–then choose to give this adventure a pass. (And Joy didn’t even  have to make us behave. We are, it appears, maturing.)

That conversation reminded me of another. I was president of Hope International University (then Pacific Christian College) in California at the same time I pastored Central Christian Church in Arizona–accumulating a gazillion frequent flyer points over the nine years–when one of several crises hit there. One day Laure, our Chief Financial Officer–came into my office, closed the door, looked me squarely in the face, and challenged, “Do you really think we can make it?” You tend to remember such conversations. (BTW, we did make it–the Lord is good–and Hope is a thriving university today.)

We took Mike around to meet some of our favorite people here: Captain Ricky, whom I already mentioned. James, who runs the Mail Room downstairs and was so helpful to me in the visa process. Dr. George Lindner who repaired my tooth and whose staff also helped me with my computer needs. There were others, like the proprietors of Frenchie’s Café, whose food was matched only by their good service; and Terri Hill, the minister of our Methodist church home here; and some of our favorite waiters and waitresses in some of our favorite restaurants. We are going to miss this place and its warm, welcoming people.

Frenchie’s Cafe is just off Duval Street–at the quieter end of the famous street.
Frenchie’s Cafe’s co-owner. She and Frenchie immigrated here from Paris six years ago. They have a thriving business. Hurricane Irma closed them down for two months. We were glad they were open when Brian and I stopped by for a cuppa. That was the first of several cups.

JOYS PICK OF THE PICS

Love the colorful porch seating, reminiscent of our days in the East Tennessee hills.
Three diverse chandeliers make a quirky restaurant decor. (I notice a restaurant’s food. Joy checks out the lighting.)
The daily view from Mallory Square–and a good memory to carry with us.
Another memory that time won’t erase: At the southernmost point of the continental United States with our great-grandkids.

WITH THE GRANDS IN KEY WEST

We weren’t ready to say goodbye to Mark and Evelyn Taylor. Some  company never grows stale. Benjamin Franklin warned that “fish and visitors stink in three days.” Not so if the visitors are the Taylors; we’d have kept them around indefinitely. We couldn’t, though. They left us to join a reunion of college friends in Nashville.

Just a few days later Velcro son Brian Matlock arrived. He’s family, not company. We’ve claimed him as our own since 1979, when he joined Mesa AZ Central Christian Church’s youth group, then the church, then the Lawson tribe. Thanks to the wizardry of the internet, he can work wherever he is. Some of his work here entailed instructing us on the mysteries of that same internet! We were not his best students.

Two derelicts, one an ancient pickup truck plastered in decals, the other an aging but not plastered Uncle Brian.

He arrived in time to take in some offerings of the annual Key West Film Festival. As I heard him tell others, together we saw one outstanding film, one pretty good one, and one disaster. That’s about par for the course for such events, I think.

The highlight of the week—sorry, Brian—was the company of grandchildren Stephi and Tom Arbaugh and great-grandchildren Elias, Estin, and Eden. What fun we had.

Fortunately, they arrived from East Tennessee before Brian returned to Phoenix. He’s a very popular Uncle Brian, even though in a sophisticated game of hide-and-seek, when Eden discovered him in the shower (fully clothed, I should explain) hiding behind a bath towel, Eden pronounced it “the worst hiding place ever.” That was after she’d just acclaimed him the most amazing at something or other. I hated to see him go, even though his leaving meant I got to be the most amazing—not ever but at least for the moment.

They are 10, 7 and 5 years old. Together they’re a formidable team when they gang up on the decrepit great-grandfather. Fortunately their parents rose to my rescue from time to time, although usually somewhat tardily. Meanwhile the great-grandmother hides in the kitchen whipping up yet another delicious meal.

Eden on the balcony of the Key West Lighthouse.

One day we took in the Key West Lighthouse (Tom and the children climbed to the top, surveyed the whole island from up there, and returned safely to the three ground-bound adults who were giving thanks for Tom’s supervision.

Arbaugh offspring meet Hemingway House’s feline descendant.

Just across the street is the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum, where we learned that I earlier underreported the cat population: it’s now up to 54 descendants of Hemingway’s originals. The Nobel Prize winning author brought his fame to this town and Cuba, just 90 miles away. While here he wrote To Have and Have Not, Green Hills of Africa, and two of his most famous short stories, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” He lived in this house from 1931-1939.

One of Ernest Hemingway House’s 54 pampered felines.
Stephi escapes from the sun in one of the hammocks.

On another day we went to Fort Zachary Taylor. It was a return visit for Grandma and me. Our earlier trip was really reconnaissance, checking for an ideal spot to return with the family. We discovered it. Tom found some trees exactly the right distance from each other for hanging his hammocks. He also appropriated an unoccupied table  Then we settled in for several hours of playing in the water, constructing a wide variety of sand sculptures, discovering spots the sun screen missed, and of course indulging in what I do best at the beach: snoozing.

The Hat knows how to enjoy the beach!
Actually, all the adults but our official photographer employed the hammock. This is Tom, guarded by Estin.

While at the beach we observed genuine international cooperation. Children with varying accents and languages worked together to build castles and moats and bridges. No prejudiced adults interfered, so peace was possible. The children worked out any differences that arose. Now–how do we apply what we have learned to national politics and international relations?

Tom took this picture of the Hatless with granddaughter Stephi and the great-grands.

The most special day of all was, of course, Thanksgiving. Grandma conjured up another of her annual terrific turkey specials. It’s pretty amazing to watch (that’s my role) her perform her magic in someone else’s kitchen. Fortunately, our apartment here is better furnished than most of the ones we’ve rented; still, it’s a challenge to cook with unfamiliar tools. When we sat down, though, it was all here: turkey and dressing, sweet potatoes, green beans, two kinds of cranberry salad, fruit salad, banana bread, brownies and ice cream (or sorbet for the dairy deprived). Among us these allergies had to be accommodated: gluten, dairy, onions, garlic, celery, soy sauce, MSG, and nuts.

Great-grandpa loves on great grandkids. This was before they beat up on him playing that vicious game, Catan.

Later in the day Tom and Stephi left us for the romantic sunset cruise that the grandparents had enjoyed as couple of weeks ago. We headed for the nearby swimming pool, where these three energizer bunnies demonstrated their swimming skills. For an example, tap here to see Elias mastering the backflip:  Elias’s beautiful back flip into pool. We learned later that Tom, among the most conscientious of fathers, hadn’t see this trick. The grandfather saw it first! (And of course Grandma, who videoed it.)

Then followed an evening with a terrible board game. Eden, Elias and Estin beat the socks off their hapless great-grandparents at Catan, the point of which seems to be to humiliate the older generation by stealing all their hard-earned resources. It took me back to the Monopoly of my childhood. Both games imitate the greed and heartlessness of unregulated capitalism.  They are not pastimes designed to soothe the pastoral soul.

I walked past this badly damaged house one morning.

 

I’ve done a little more walking around the island since last week’s report, finding more pockets of Hurricane Irma’s destruction. I already recorded my amazement at how quickly the area has been restored. But while the progress has been pretty astounding, reconstruction is not complete. Much remains to be done. When compared with Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, though, there’s much cause for rejoicing here.

 

JOY’S PICK OF THE PICS

Joy was impressed with this rooster’s strut.
Key West street art.
A Key West treat: live coconut!
Hemingway House bathroom–notice the interesting floor tile.

A Brighter Smile in Key West

Key West is Rooster country. This gentleman and his peers rule the roost here.

Not everything about inhabiting a disintegrating body is terrible. Sometimes, when things fall off, a serendipitous meeting results. Let me be specific. Somewhere in Europe my front tooth fell apart. Literally. A chip disappeared, leaving behind a disturbingly uneven upper incisor. Well, it wasn’t all that disturbing, at least to me, but then I didn’t have to look at it. When Joy started refusing to sit across the table from me, and encouraged me not to smile, it was time to take action.

So after months of eagerly anticipating our new home in Key West, the first item of business was to find a competent dentist.  This wasn’t a new experience. If you’ve been following lawsonsontheloose for awhile, you know that I lost a bridge on our first evening out, in Shelbyville KY. You might also recall a crown falling out in the Lake District, UK. The repair job there wasn’t entirely satisfactory, so in time I gave up and had the repair repaired in Richmond, Australia. And now in Key West I had to have a tooth-pock packed to restore my smile. Not on the original Key West agenda.

Here’s the deal about being on the loose: it’s probably best attempted with a sound body. (A sound mind would be helpful, also, but I’m afraid it’s a little late for that luxury.)  A pocked tooth is a sure sign, especially when it follows a fallen bridge, a lost crown, and a botched repair job, that serious maintenance on the whole vehicle can’t be deferred much longer.

Dr George and Peggy Lindner

But on the other hand. (I can never say “on the other hand” without thinking of my philosopher friend Bob Wetzel, who has more other hands than anyone else I know.) On the other hand, without my damaged incisor I wouldn’t have met my new best dentist friend. Dr. George Lindner. His office is a short five-minute walk from our new home. He’s not only competent practitioner and the administrator of a delightfully congenial and helpful office team, but he’s a Methodist. After restoring my smile he turned on his own to gently encourage me to attend his church on Sunday. I went, along with Joy and friends Mark and Evelyn Taylor. Turns out the good man is the lay leader of his church and, to our surprise–he hadn’t mentioned this, probably not wanting to obligate us to bring a present–we attended on his birthday. The next Sunday the Taylors were back on the mainland but we were back on our new Methodist pew.

I mentioned Dr. Lindner’s office staff because of their helpfulness. I spent most of the first two weeks here on a most frustrating project, trying to obtain visas for our next stop, Brazil. I’ve been traveling for a lifetime. Hands down the Brazilian consulates in the United States offer the most American-visitor-unfriendly visa application process I’ve encountered. One of the many requirements: the application must be filled out on line with a secure internet connection. I’ve been all over town trying to find one. The Atlanta consulate’s website rejected all of them. Dr. Lindner’s assistants let me use theirs. It worked for awhile, then it, too, rejected me and I left with my project unfinished. But they tried! Who could ask for anything more?

A familiar Duval Street scene. Musicians, artists, vendors, and even sight-impaired dogs greet the tourists–contribution basket at the ready.

In between attempts to secure visas we took in some sights. Fort Zachary Taylor, for example, is of one of Key West’s premier tourist attractions. Built to protect Key West Harbor in 1845, it stayed on the job until 1947. The fort, named for America’s twelfth president, served through four wars (War Between the States, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II) it was finally decommissioned in 1947. At the outbreak of the Civil War (1861) Union troops claimed it. The rest of Florida joined the rebellious South, but the Confederacy never occupied Fort Taylor. Most noteworthy, according to the Fort’s pamphlet “close to 300 vessels were captured and detained by the squadron [stationed here], but because of the fort’s formidable defenses it never saw hostile action.” Now the area serves peace, not war, its beautiful beaches attracting sun worshipers and water rats and children of all ages.

Fort Zachary Taylor’s flag at half mast, we presume because of all the deaths recently

On the day of our visit the parade ground flag was flying at half mast. There have been so many tragedies lately (hurricanes, forest fires, mass shootings, slaughter-by-rampaging truck, etc.) we didn’t know which deaths were being acknowledged.

The historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Duval Street–a street not otherwise noted for its religious devotion.

We didn’t get to see the 37th Annual Key West World Championship races last week, but we did see the boats. They paraded through town and we were among the admirers.  I’d love to show you a picture of these monsters, but it turns out no one in our group took any. “What a bunch of nerds!” exclaimed one of us nerds. So instead I’ll substitute this beautiful sailboat picture. More our speed!

Single sail at twilight. Sunset in Key West is a photographer’s heaven

Back to the visa saga. We can’t blame the Brazilian consulate entirely. In Europe a border policeman informed Joy that her passport was completely full. No place for another stamp. No problem, we thought. We’ll just send her passport in for supplemental pages. Nope. The law changed in January 2016. No more extra pages. A new passport is required. Period. No problem, we consoled ourselves. In Key West we’ll turn in her current one, pay the extra fee to get a new one expedited to her, then pay another extra fee to expedite the Brazilian visa application process. Do you remember Robert Burns’ famous lines, “The best laid plans ‘o mice and men…”? (It comes up often in our travels.) Let’s just say that not until yesterday  were our visa applications on their way to the Brazilian consulate–which wants ten working days for a quick turnaround.  We just made it. If, that is, we didn’t make any mistakes on the forms and the consulate likes our application. If not….

(I should add huge thanks to Donna Alexander and Debbie Palich of the CMF office in Indianapolis. Donna, especially, went way beyond the call of duty to pull this project off, assisted by Debbie. James, who runs the Key West Mail Room shop downstairs, allowed me to plug into his secure system with an ethernet cable and  set me up at his counter, letting me interrupt his work repeatedly to ask for help. Between these old friends and this new one, the job got done! You’d have laughed, though, to see me holding up my iPhone with its Google Translate app to the computer screen to translate the consulate’s webpage from Portuguese to English.)

All along we’ve been haunted by a Catch-22. One visa requirement is documented proof we have tickets into and out of Brazil. When we discovered this requirement we already had tickets into. We hated to buy the tickets out of until we knew we could get into in the first place.  So day before yesterday I bought our departure tickets out of so we could prove we would leave once we got into Brazil.

Traveling can be good for your prayer life.  Or…. I guess I could take up smoking.

Cuban cigars are plentiful in Key West. As are the Cuban cigar smokers. This is a reminder that Cuba is only 90 miles away.

JOY’S PICK OF THE PICS

The oldest house in Key West.
Joy snapped this gentleman’s photo on the grounds of the city’s oldest house. His looks remind her of Roy’s dad. Same hairdo.
Blue Door Illuminated. (You knew Joy would find another door, didn’t you?)
Christmas is coming to Duval Street–well before Thanksgiving!

KEY WEST IS STILL HERE

Joy rented our Key West apartment well before Irma paid her devastating visit. For weeks, when asked what our next stop would be, we answered, “Key West, if it’s still there.” Our Florida landlords assured us the apartment was fine, that the island escaped the traumas of Caribbean islands and other sites in the Southeast, and that the damage was vegetative rather than structural. So we kept on course, still a bit apprehensive about what we might find. But first came our rendezvous with the Taylors.

After leaving Norwegian’s  Getaway in Miami four hours late–the captain had to sneak by another Atlantic storm—we had a few hours to kill before meeting Mark and Evelyn’s plane. We joined a tour group from the ship for an air boat ride in the Everglades, another of Joy’s bucket list items.

Everglades grasses and  waterlilies. Notice the photographer’s shadow in the water. She didn’t want me to point it out.

The wildlife wasn’t much in evidence, though we did spot a couple of alligators, a heron or two, and some other birds. We were then treated to a short show featuring three other alligators.

This fellow was the object of our search in the Everglades.
This old timer was the star of the show we attended after our cruise through the Everglades.

The trainer looked right at home in the cage as he demonstrated how to handle the ferocious-looking reptiles. We were content to remain on the other side of the barrier.

Mark and Evelyn Taylor standing on the southernmost point of the continental USA.

When the Taylors flew in they picked up their commodious SUV rental, crammed in all our luggage, and pointed southward. We wondered what to expect. I was pretty sure we’d have to make our way slowly, dodging potholes, creeping over damaged bridges, detouring frequently, obeying flashing police car lights. Instead, we drove straight through to Key West: no pot holes, no damaged bridges, no detours, no police on patrol. It was dark, so we couldn’t see much beyond the road but we did make out piles of debris on the shoulder. That was it.

Irma’s debris–including some boats– piled up on the harbor jetty.

Later we learned there had been quite a bit of damage, but the clean-up, fix-up crews responded quickly, toiled for long hours, and substantially returned the island to normal. We marvel at Key West’s rapid return to business as usual. Tourism is down—one estimate we heard was about 30%–but that’s being compensated somewhat by rerouted cruise ships stopping here in place of St. Maarten and St. Thomas and other islands destroyed by Maria. What a hurricane season this has been—and it’s not over until the end of November.

We’ve been here over a week now. From the blue skies and friendly temperatures, you’d never guess Irma had ever passed this way. What impresses the tourist is the high level of civic pride here. This is a tight-knit community. The residents we’ve met love to boast about the first responders and then the follow-up labors of police, firemen, volunteers, civic leaders and followers alike. They know them personally. These natives are  not about to let a little storm dampen their joie de vivre.

As a rule I don’t like selfies, but when the vote is three-to-one…

The Taylors will be with us for two of our four weeks here, so we’ve tried to follow their lead in planning our touristy outings. There were a few imperatives, of course: at sunset standing along the waterfront at Mallory Square, a rite observed by tourists and natives alike; a visit to Ernest Hemingway’s house and its 40 cats-in-residence; a tour of President Truman’s Little White House, a nostalgic walk down memory lane for this writer, who remembers his unpopularity (his approval rating at the end being even lower than President Trump’s), his upset victory over Thomas Dewey in the 1948 election, his firing of General MacArthur, his fierce defense of his daughter Margaret’s singing—which needed defending, and so much more.

As a farewell dinner, the Taylors treated us to lobster. To lobster!

Mostly we do our own cooking in our various Airbnb homes, but in Key West you simply have to eat out. The place abounds with excellent restaurants. We haven’t had a bad meal yet—including, I hasten to add, the ones we’ve eaten at home.

The Hat taking lessons for his date with Marilyn (see below). This sculpture is copied from the iconic photo taken at the end of WW II.

Joy and I would be enjoying Key West on our own. We like the climate (November and April are the prime months), the people we’ve met, the laid-back atmosphere, and, as I just said, the cuisine. But we’ve enjoyed it even more because Mark and Evelyn are with us. We’ve been friends a long time, starting somewhere in the 1970s. I wrote a monthly column (“From My Bookshelf”) for Christian Standard for nine years; Mark was my editor as well as my friend. He retired from his position and I from my column at the same time. We have not retired from our friendship, though. He and Evelyn are ideal vacation companions. This is our third one together.

Is The Hat sweet talking Marilyn? He protests that this photo moment was staged, but Mrs. Hat isn’t sure.
Mark snapped this photo of lawsonsontheloose’s official photographer.

We’ve seen two movies. Judi Dench’s Victoria and Abdul, about the ancient queen’s unusual-scandalous- relationship with an Indian subject who became chief counselor to “The Empress of India,” much to the disgust of her government and household. I didn’t know the story; I went because I like Judi Dench. An excellent evening at the cinema.

We also saw a unique film, Loving Vincent, advertised as “the world’s first fully oil painted feature film.” We have never seen anything like it. Vincent Van Gogh completed 800 paintings (and sold just one of them) in his lifetime. The film consists of many of these art works re-painted and animated like a highly cultured feature-length cartoon. Unique. It was particularly intriguing since we were in Arles, France, last year, the site of Van Gogh’s final home. On an earlier trip to Amsterdam I’d taken in the Van Gogh museum. In other words, we’re fans. Many of his masterpieces, which his brother Theo couldn’t sell or even give away, now fetch millions of dollars in art auctions. I’m encouraging Joy’s painting.

One last outing to tell you about this week: a romantic sunset cruise in the waters off the Key West coastline. You’d think we’d be tired of so much sailing after the transatlantic crossing, but we’re originally from Oregon. We never tire of being at or in or on the water.

Mark Taylor has supplied several of today’s pictures, including this excellent one taken on our sunset cruise.

And this time we sailed, the wind in the sails silently propelling us along. A setting sun, a constantly morphing reflection, unfurled sails carrying us toward panoramic views of land and sea, and good companions. All this with just a touch of sea-sickness to remind us of the real world. Who could ask for anything more?

JOY’S PICK OF THE PICS

Ropes on our sunset cruise schooner.
Joy snapped this picture of a pirate ship from our sunset cruise schooner. They fired on us. We survived the attack.
Sunset through the haze.

 

BERMUDA SHORTS

Hamilton’s welcoming clock tower.

A lasting impression of Bermuda: Gentlemen wear shorts. Bermuda shorts, to be precise. Formal attire is a dress shirt and tie, suit jacket, shorts, calf-length dark socks, dress shoes. I couldn’t live here. Joy has long observed, “You only have knees for me.”

This gentleman only got part of the dress code right. Nice knees, though.

Bermuda is a cluster of 180 islands, mostly tiny and uninhabited. Our floating hotel parked itself at the Royal Dockyards, across the lagoon from Hamilton, the principal town. From here we can wander around the historic keep (fortress) and the port’s typical, ever-present shops. It’s too far to walk into town so we hitched a ride on the ferry ($5.00 apiece unless you buy a token at the Information Center. There it’s $4.50. We went to the Information Center).

We had no trouble with the currency. Bermuda prints its own money but not based on the English pound, which we expected (Bermuda belongs to the English Commonwealth) but on the American dollar. Convenient, but you have to ask for the change in US rather than Bermuda dollars, which are only valid here.

Not all Hamilton street scenes are as picturesque as this one, but we’ll remember it.

We aren’t supposed to be in Bermuda. Our original itinerary called for two stops, St. Maarten and St. Thomas. But then along came Irma. It’s heartbreaking. In addition to the physical devastation to these two islands and Puerto and other Caribbean islands, Irma destroyed future income as well. They depend on tourism; cruise ships put food on the table for island residents. It’ll be a long time before they return. Our ship alone deposits 4,000-5,000 visitors at a stop, and they bring their money with them. I hope Americans don’t soon forget the huge need in this post-Irma world.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been on a cruise rerouted to protect passengers from violent storms. It happened once in the Caribbean and then again way up north, when we were sheltered in the St. Lawrence River because a hurricane barred Halifax, Nova Scotia from us. Thanks to today’s electronics, a forewarned ship can be the safest haven in a storm.

Hamilton has a population of 3,686; all of Bermuda totals 65,331, comparable to Johnson City, TN (66,677). It obviously caters to tourists. Excellent shops offering jewelry, exclusive-brand clothes, other unnecessaries. I didn’t see a Ross Dress-For-Less or Marshalls anywhere.

Each of these colorful houses collects rainwater on the roof and stores it for later use.

The city has no water supply. No rivers, no municipal water company. Residents are required to catch rain water on their roofs and direct it to their personal water tanks. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of rain water.

These houses collect rainwater using the on-the-roof gutters you see here.

Bermuda is an ideal destination for water lovers: snorkeling, jet-skiing, swimming, sun bathing (which I’m also forbidden to do—remember the knees?) We are staying for only two days and one night, so we chose to explore Hamilton, the capital, and St. George’s, the territory’s first English settlement, a picturesque village that boasts an 18th-century town hall and a museum featuring crystal, silver and furniture from the period. While older tourists explore the village, younger ones are bronzing their skin on the island’s beautiful, pink-hued sandy beach.

The Hat in his new hat surveys the Unfinished Church exterior.

We’ll never forget St. George’s Unfinished Church. The ruins of what looks like a medieval gothic church rise above the town. So it appears, but it misleads. It isn’t medieval at all. Its architecture is neo-gothic, all right, but the church was constructed in the 19th century. It would have been a beauty when finished, but it never was. The ruins stand as a mute symbol of the fragility of congregations, even those with denominational backing.

The unfinished nave designed to seat 600 worshipers.

 

 

In 1874 construction began on St. Peter’s Anglican Church, designed to seat 650. The congregation it was to house was born in 1612 in St. George’s. But in time that group split, leaving a huge burden for the remnant to carry. Then when Hamilton’s cathedral burned down, funds were rerouted from St. George’s to Hamilton. Storms and more internal squabbling and finally a highly destructive hurricane followed.

That was the last straw. The members opted to renovate their present building and forget about the “new” one. So it stands today, no roof or ceilings, grass floor, empty windows. At this point in my description the preacher is strongly tempted to burst into sermon. But I think you already have drawn the obvious conclusions.

The street sign, unfortunately, says it all.

It’s easy to understand why Americans like to vacation in Bermuda. Temperate climate, friendly people, tempting beaches and shops, plentiful good food and drink, an easy plane trip from our mainland. Our fellow cruisers returned to the ship glad for the rerouting.

The ferry dock at St. George’s where we waited for our ride back to Hamilton.

JOY’S PICK OF THE PICS

Green bananas
A spot of beauty
A gate in St. George’s, to add to Joy’s collection of doors.
House number in St. George’s

ANCHORS AWEIGH

 

The Hat can’t get over the immensity of the Norwegian Getaway, the Lawsons’ home for two weeks.

We’d never heard of repositioning cruises until a couple of years ago. They aren’t new; we just hadn’t been paying attention. These luxury liners follow the sun north in the summer and south in the winter. In the case of the Norwegian Getaway, that’s a two week Atlantic crossing from Copenhagen to Miami.

For most of the two weeks this was the view from our cabin. Tolerable.

To keep the one-way trip from being a financial loss, the companies dangle a deeply discounted fare to prospective cruisers. It’s a pretty attractive carrot. We took the bait. We weren’t alone. This mammoth vessel accommodates 5,000 passengers; we sailed with only 4,000.

The view from our cabin when we looked straight down. Equally tolerable.

Frankly, the thought of being “cabined and confined” for fourteen days didn’t appeal to me. What would I do for so long, especially since we’d be stopping only twice during the crossing? There’s lots to do if you’re into gambling and frequenting the bars and lounges. We don’t do either. (It’s not that Joy and I are too moral to indulge; it’s that I’m too cheap.)

I wonder where Joy got her inspiration for this painting she produced on the ship.

Still, we were never bored or restless. At-sea days are perfect for reading and ‘riting (no ‘rithmetic) and quiet reflection. We haven’t been disappointed. Joy carries her painting supplies, so she’s turned our little stateroom into a studio. The natural light from sky and reflecting ocean is perfect for her work. Before we came aboard I loaded my e-book with enough reading to last the crossing. I also had some postponed writing and rewriting chores demanding attentiion. The ship’s library has become my second home. (I know, I know, what kind of a nerd heads for the library on a cruise?)

There is grave danger in this kind of travel, though: uncontrolled weight gain. The food is plentiful, tantalizingly presented, always available, and completely irresistible. Our package included four specialty restaurants, some of the best we’ve ever sampled. Then there’s the ever-open buffet on Deck 15, a permanently seductive tempter. Somewhere in the back of my mind lurks the warning that gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins. But it’s way back there, where I can keep it under control—the warning, that is, not the gluttony.

This waterslide invites children and adults for a fast ride into the water. Remember when a swimming pool was just a tank?

The main theater presents a free show every night. We’ve been treated to standup comedy, baffling magic, dazzling juggling, Broadway show dancing, hilarious hypnosis (the hypnotist promises–if you’ll buy his elixir, of course–to cure insomnia, obesity, arthritis, etc., just like an Old West snake oil pitch man), a virtuoso violinist, dueling pianists and more. These were consistently top-quality performances. The pièce de résistance was the Broadway musical Millionaires Quartet starring Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. They reenacted the famed recording session in Sun Studios in 1956, which was the only time the originals ever played and sang together. They gave us plenty of Rock ‘n’ Roll music but much else besides: “Blue Suede Shoes, “That’s All Right,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Walk the Line, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Hound Dog,” “Folsom Prison” and more. Interesting, isn’t it? If you live long enough what shocked America back in the day evolves into a classic.  (Sorry we have no pictures of the onboard entertainment.”No pictures or video-taping allowed.”)

I’m stressing the quality of the food and entertainment because it’s so much more than we expected. Since the price was cut-rate we expected a cut-rate experience, thinking the company would need to scale back from its usual offerings. We were wrong.

With all these options, we haven’t been bored at all. We’ve even profited from our near wifi-less condition. It’s available—but did I tell you I’m cheap? We got some free minutes with our package, but not nearly enough to carry on our usual correspondence and blogging, so we are letting the emails pile up and won’t publish this post until we are back on land. We’ve been in internet withdrawal.

These entry arches into Ponta Delgada once stood at the sea’s edge. Thanks to land-fill, they’ve moved inland.

Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel was the first of our two stops. The Azores is a constellation of nine islands, a tiny dot on the map west of Portugal, its mainland. We opted not to take one of the offered tours; instead we traipsed around town on our own (further proof of my financial conservativism).

A good example of Ponta Delgada’s Portuegese architecture

The Portuguese-influenced architecture features black-and-white buildings—whitewashed walls, black volcanic stone trim, tile roofs—and black-and-white patterned mosaic stone street pavement. The iron–railing balconies add to the European flavor.

Interior of Ponta Delgada’s major church building

Spending the day on our own was a good decision, for two reasons:  First, we were able to hone our practice of getting around on our own until we’re lost. On the way to somewhere else we discovered a small but exquisite city park, a tropical oasis.

You can see why Joy liked this tree.

Its wide variety of exotic and domestic flora nestled around streams and ponds compel you to sit and soak up the inspiration. Unless you are a photographer, of course. Then you conscientiously record every spot of beauty—for the sake of the blog readers, you understand. Camera person: No rest for you!

Ponta Delgada park scene

Secondly, Pedro. Pedro Mendonca is our Good Samaritan of the Azores. Joy doesn’t know what she did wrong, but after shooting lots of pictures in the park, her iPhone rebelled. Froze up. Refused to respond. When you are a photographer marooned in a small town on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and more than a week away from your destination, this is serious! Google came to our rescue, we thought, directing us to an Apple store within walking distance. We headed for it. We didn’t have a lot of time. We also didn’t have much hope that the instrument could be repaired. As I said, it’s a small town. And our ship wouldn’t wait.

Keeping our record unblemished, we got lost on the way to the shop. This time it was not our fault. We were following Google’s explicit instructions. We turned left as told. We had been on a modest side street; now we were in what looked like little more than an alley. We walked past two people deep in conversation. Then the older lady, who didn’t speak English, called out and motioned us to turn around. Dead-end ahead. No Apple store in sight. The young man with her interpreted the lady’s concern. Then he made it his own. He lived just a couple doors away from where we stood. He loaded us into his car, drove us to a shopping mall—where we found a computer consulting service that couldn’t help us, and another shop that also couldn’t help us—then, undaunted, drove us across town to yet another one. This one could. It was just a matter of resetting the software, the helpful clerk explained. We’d tried this ploy on our own but Joy’s phone was too new for the outdated steps we had learned a few updates back.

Pedro, our Good Samaritan!

During this adventure Pedro captured our hearts. He’s 38, single, and rebuilding his life after some adolescent mistakes. He has a personality that won’t quit. He told us he’s in college studying geriatrics. In our opinion, he couldn’t have chosen a better field. He has already mastered the art of taking care of old people. I tried to get him to accept a little gas money for his trouble. He would not. A quality guy.

We had only one regret about the day as we boarded the ship: we had to say goodbye to Pedro.

JOY’S PICK OF THE PICS

Bird of Paradise in the Ponta Delgada park.
Another addition to Joy’s old doors collection.

Wunderbar, Wunderbar Copenhagen

“Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen / Friendly old girl of a town

‘Neath her tavern light / On this merry night

Let us clink and drink one down

To wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen…”

Do my fellow old-timers remember Danny Kay singing this song? Later the lyrics call her a “salty old queen of the sea.”

Guard on duty at Amalienborg Palace, home of the royal family.

And a queen she is. Situated directly across Øresund Strait from Malmö, Sweden, Copenhagen is ideally situated for shipping and sailing all over Europe and beyond, making her one of Scandinavia’s prime ports. The larger metropolitan area is home to over 2,000,000 residents, including thousands of foreign students and a multitude of immigrants. Many of the natives stand so tall this visitor feels like a pigmy among giants. (Of course, this is not exactly a unique experience for me!)

The city is passionate about the green movement, targeting a carbon-neutral environment by 2025. We admire this country’s increasing use of solar panels, windmills, and recycling. Another goal: up to a third of cars here will run on electricity or biofuel by 2025. Generously wide bicycle paths are everywhere—and woe betide the absentminded pedestrian who gets in the way. Public transportation is excellent, though our use of it has been tentative because of the language. Signs are in Danish, a rather daunting language. Not really a problem when walking, though, since everyone we’ve dealt with speaks English.

Frederik’s Church, otherwise known as the Marble Church–even though it’s constructed of limestone. Even the 19th century, when it was completed, wrestled with budget constraints.

Denmark is officially Lutheran, but only a bare majority of Danes are adherents. As our guide explained, repeatedly grumbling that his tax dollars pay for the official religion, most people use churches only for baptisms, weddings, funerals, and special ceremonies. Not for worship. Not everybody sloughs off religion, though. Immigration has made Copenhagen a religiously diverse city. Islam is now the second largest faith represented here (about 10% of the population).

Our guide told us a touching story of the of Copenhagen’s successful collaboration with Malmö in saving the threatened Jewish minority. In World War II Nazis occupied Denmark, but Sweden was able to maintain its neutrality. Copenhagen secretly transported its Jewish population of over 7000 to safety in Malmö. This act of the Danish Resistance, helped by many other sympathetic countrymen, saved 99% of the Jews. After the war, they welcomed their old neighbors and friends back to the homes and businesses they had protected for them. It’s an inspiring example of humanity at our best.

Copenhagen’s ultramodern Royal Danish Opera House

We anticipated that our stay here would be costly. We were right. Copenhagen ranks as one of the world’s most expensive cities. It’s also rated one of the “most livable.” Its encouragement of bicycling and walking and discouragement of cars is one of the chief reasons, along with its good food, cultural activities, encouragement of community life and its many parks and public squares and gathering places.

One of the thousands of bicycles that zoom around the city.

You’ll recognize some famous Danish names like Hans Christian Anderson, whose tales of the “Ugly Duckling” and the “Little Mermaid” and many others still resonate with children and adults alike. Søren Kierkegaard, nineteenth century philosopher/theologian, was a huge influence on the twentieth-century existentialist movement.

The city is filled with statues. Here is composer J. P. E. Hartman.

Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize physicist so big in the world of quantum mechanics, was Danish, as was Tycho Brahe, the 16th century astronomer who insisted the moon orbits the earth and the planets the sun. (He was wrong about the sun orbiting the earth, though. That discovery came later.) Brahe’s artificial nose was also famous. He lost the real one in a sword fight. In his day people thought it was gold or silver but it was probably brass.

One of my favorite Danes is the late Victor Borge, famous for his  madcap antics at the piano (which he played very well when he actually wanted to). Because we are in his country, we You Tubed some of his concerts for an evening’s entertainment in his honor. (You can push this “honoring” business too far. This is also Prince Hamlet’s country, but I resisted the not-very-strong temptation to read or view Shakespeare’s Hamlet. With Las Vegas fresh in mind, an evening of literary tragedy didn’t appeal.)

I must add my favorite Danish movie (and one of my all-time favorites), Babette’s Feast, directed by Gabriel Axel. I’ve used it in class to illustrate some aspects of the Eucharist (communion). If you haven’t viewed it, do so with this Christian rite of worship in mind. Another outstanding Danish movie director was Carl Theodore Dryer (1889-1968).

Vitus Bering (1680-1741) of Alaska’s Bering Straits was also Danish.

Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid really is little. Maybe this is why The Hat likes her.
When we saw her a few years ago, she was partially submerged in the water. The city raised her up for better viewing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of our best experiences are serendipitous. After a long walking tour of Copenhagen, to which we added another half hour so we could see the Little Mermaid, we tried to take a taxi back to our apartment. Only we couldn’t find one. So we kept on walking in what we hoped was the right direction. It was nearly 3:00 and we hadn’t had lunch. We also couldn’t find a restaurant. Finally, with our strength ebbing dangerously, we spotted a little café (Café Paris, to be exact) across the street. It was really a take-away deli, with only a couple of small benches for those eating in, but the place was clean and the little chicken kebabs and the fresh vegetable salad were as good as you could find anywhere. Best of all, though, was getting acquainted with the young man who served us.

The Cafe Paris, where we ate one of our best–and least expensive–and our Iranian host.

He’s Iranian. His family had to flee Iran in the 1970s when the Shah was deposed. His father moved the family to California when he was just a baby. In 2006 he migrated as an adult to Copenhagen. If we lived in this city I’d eat at his table at least once a week. Friendly, helpful, and a good cook! He can’t return to Iran since the revolution, because “my family’s name is on the list.” Those hateful lists!

After all the eating we’ve been doing while on the loose, we were glad  to find a Tivoli Gardens mirror showing us as we like to think of ourselves–thin.
Carved wooden madonna and child.

One of our best outings was our visit the National Museum in the Prince’s Palace. The exhibition starts 14,000 years ago with Danish pre-history. Artifacts from the Ice Age and the Viking period, church carvings from the Middle Ages (triptyches, stand-alone saints and biblical figures), objects from ancient Greece and Egypt and Roman empires and even the Near East can be found here. Joy especially enjoyed the tableaux 0f village life: clothing, household utensils, other furnishings. I was fascinated by but didn’t particularly enjoy the instruments of torture and punishment and weapons employed through the ages. As we nearly despair over the cruelty and violence of our own era, a visit the past is instructive, isn’t it?

Autumn leaves on the Charlottenborg Art Museum walls.

We took in an emotionally wrenching exhibition of “The Best Visual Journalism of the Year 2017.” We should have been prepared for it, since photo journalism almost always focuses on tragedy, heartache, war and loss. As one of the photographers said, “The most important side to any conflict is the third one: that of the ordinary people caught up in the violence.”

Just a  couple of pictures Joy took will have to stand for the many; we can’t bear to publish the worst. This first one does not come out of global conflict but makes a statement about worldwide competitiveness.

These little Chinese girls are doing their toe-pressure training exercises. The sadness in their faces touches this parent’s heart. They devote 30 minutes a day to this one exercise.
Would-be rescuers toss a life jacket to refugees. This photo represents too many of the world’s people fleeing from disaster in their home countries–and the inadequate resources dedicated to saving them.
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” This man’s city has been nearly destroyed, but he plants and waters these sunflowers.

Our last tour was of Christiania, an autonomous, anarchic enclave within Copenhagen’s city limits. In the 1970s a military installation. This was when the worldwide “flower children” movement was flourishing. The city’s hippies moved in, claimed squatters’ rights, and now several hundred run the little settlement (about 84 acres) almost entirely independent of the city government. Drugs that are illegal in Copenhagen are illegal here, too, but the city turns a blind eye (and an inoperative nose–the smell of hashish is strong). Christiania is now a top tourist attraction. So we had to investigate.

One entrance into Christiania.
The most prominent mural in the enclave. Almost every building is covered with artistic (and not-so-artistic) graffiti.
Before entering Christiania we paused to be refreshed by this scene.

[Note: This is probably our last post for a couple of weeks. On Sunday we sail aboard Norwegian Getaway for a two-week repositioning cruise to Miami (if it’s still there). We’ll be out of touch by phone and email until we hit America’s mainland and then it’ll take us awhile to catch up. Thanks for your patience.]

JOY’S PICK OF THE PICS

Poster of a coming exhibition in the National Museum.
Tivoli Gardens is ready for Halloween. Our visit was on Friday the 13th. We escaped unharmed.
This is Roy’s pick for Joy’s Picks. You can see why I like it.
On the tour to Christiania we were caught by a heavy downpour. Then came the rainbow–and the end of the rain. A good note to conclude with, don’t you think?

 

We’re Singing in the Rain–in Tallinn and Helsinki

Tilting windmill at Open Air Museum in Tallinn

Earlier this week you received three photos of Tallinn’s Open Air Museum. You shouldn’t have. Joy forwarded them from her camera to Word Press’s media library for inclusion in today’s post. Somehow they went directly to all lawsonsontheloose.net subscribers. Isn’t modern technology the best? In those words all travelers know so well, “We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Father-daughter stroll in Tallinn woods.

Our timing may have been off but our intentions were noble. We wanted to share our refreshing day in the woods with you. Estonia is mostly rural, replete with forests and scarce population. To spend all one’s time in the city is to miss some of what’s best about this nation. Of course, the Open Air Museum is not really rural, situated on the outskirts of the capital (hence the name Museum, a protected glimpse of the past). Altogether these 178 acres hold 68 farmhouses, 12 farm-yards, church, school, tavern, windmills, storage sheds and more. The regular tourist season is over, so we had to peer through the small windows to see how Estonians lived in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. The Museum even included a farmstead from the 1930s—the decade of my birth. I’ve reached the historical curiosity stage!

Tallinn’s Old City  Orthodox church

We’d been in Tallinn a few days when we spent the day in the Open Air Museum with daughter Candy and son-in-law Michael, who took a vacation week to join us here. (That’s not exactly a true statement. Thanks to the magic of modern technology, both of them spent several hours a day working over the telephone and internet. Still, we got to be with them while they worked and they got to play a little with us.)

It’s kind of crazy to go north in late September. Tallinn and Helsinki are near the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska. The color of the leaves and the chill in the air announce autumn’s arrival. Our experience here offers additional proof that I missed my calling. I should have been a weather man. I can end a series of sunny days whenever I want. All I have to do is schedule an outdoor excursion a few days from now and voila! on that very day the rains will fall. Thus it happened on our one-day ferry ride to Helsinki.

Umbrellas don’t last in Helsinki wind

It rained. And blew. And destroyed two expensive umbrellas—turned them inside out and broke their ribbing. And I had paid a solid euro ($1.18) apiece for them. You’d think for that kind of money they’d have lasted more than just a few minutes before giving in to the forceful gusts.

We can’t complain, though. While we have been indulging ourselves our world back home exploded with grief. First Hurricane Harvey pounded America’s mid-Southern states. We had barely caught our breath when Irma devastated much of Florida and the American Southeast. Then what Maria did to Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands beggars description. As if what the insurance companies like to call “acts of God” were not enough, along came a home-grown terrorist attack in Las Vegas to set a record for domestic slaughter.

What is most disheartening of all regarding Las Vegas’ tragedy is that even this heinous act won’t be enough to convince diehards that America needs protection from our insane addiction to guns for killing one another. My frustration and sense of helplessness in the face of such suffering, so much of it inflicted by humans, grows daily. While we are here comparing the violent histories of Estonia and Finland and Belgium with today’s news, we have to conclude that the human race may be getting bigger but we’re not getting smarter.

That’s the negative. The positive note in the news has been the reporting from all these hard-hit areas that many heroic individuals, first responders who defy the odds to get to the maimed and bereft and the government agencies working around the clock to provide relief. Compassion is not dead. Americans rise to the challenge of disaster relief; now if we can just get with the program of disaster prevention. We can’t prevent hurricanes; if we can’t prevent, we can at least dramatically reduce, homicides. Yes, I know the slogan: “Guns don’t kill; people do.” But they use guns to do so. (I’m from gun-toting country. My people are hunters. But they don’t hunt people! And they don’t stockpile military weapons of mass destruction.)

Candy couldn’t resist. Note the writing on the brick wall, “Save the camera honey, enjoy the view.”  IN ENGLISH!

Now back to the subject at hand.

Like Belgium, Estonia and Finland are relatively new countries. Finland celebrates its 100th anniversary this year and Estonia does the same in 2018. However, most of this past century both have been squeezed by communism and fascism and territory-grabbing by more powerful neighbors. Only after the collapse of the Soviet Union (1989-1991) have they been able to breathe free. Even now they cast a wary eye eastward. Both countries joined the European Union, belong to NATO, and in other ways lean toward the West, but cautiously.

Tallinn street

Through our walks and walking tours we soaked up the charm of Tallinn. UNESCO dubbed the Old Town a World Heritage Site in 1997, freezing it in time. We walked the original cobblestone streets (which feel a lot like Bruges’) and gazed at its famous churches and houses and towers and warehouses dating back to the Middle Ages.

Palace of Catherine I, built by her husband Peter the Great. Now a museum.
Piano Duo of Argo and Arko. They were practicing for an evening performance as we toured the Palace. We lingered and enjoyed the free concert.

We were glad to have the Ohanessians with us. They do a better job  negotiating the mysteries of other languages than we do. We’ve been adrift before but we could usually find enough similarities between German, say, or French or Spanish and English that we could guess the meaning with modest success. Estonian, however, is not an Indo-European language. Its cousins are Finnish and Hungarian. Its grammar is complex (14 noun cases says Wikipedia; our guide said 16) and its pronunciations are incomprehensible, at least to this half-deaf speaker of English. Some examples:

Maantee, as in our address (13 Paldiski manatee), is road. Bread=lieb, ticket=pilet, church=kirik, pen=pliiatsi, weather=ilm, butter=või. For example, Google Translate renders the sentence, “Let’s go to town,” as “Läheme linnale.” You see the problem. Fortunately, English is once again the “go to” language, so we were comfortably able to ask for and receive directions. The Estonians have a reputation for being rather stand-offish, but their brusqueness quickly dissolves when helping a stranger. Of course, it helps to look pitiful. I’ve mastered the art.

One of Tallinn’s claims to fame, perhaps the one we heard most about, is that Skype was born here. In fact, Tallinn’s often called Europe’s Silicon Valley, one of the top 10 digital cities in the world. Indeed, it’s one of the few places we’ve been where we haven’t grumbled about our internet connectivity.

Olde Hansa restaurant. While walking along a Bruges canal I met two English ladies on holiday. They insisted we dine here. We did as instructed and feasted on elk, bear, and beef steaks and boar sausage.

Just one meal to report. I can’t improve on Olde Hansa’s web site spiel: “The medieval restaurant Olde Hansa is the home of a rich merchant, whose guests enjoy delicious, authentic Hansa-era meals and drinks, true period music and always friendly service. All of the dishes on the menu, including many wild game delicacies, are cooked using 15th century recipes and methods.” We feasted on bear, elk and wild boar and, once our eyes adjusted to the candlelit semi-darkness, loved the ambience.

This young university graduate skillfully guided our city walking tour.

Our beautiful walking tour guide, whose name sounded to me like Mabel as pronounced by an Aussie, a Tallinn native, loves her town and infected us with her enthusiasm as she described the town square, the ancient wall and towers, and the charms and history and quirks of Estonians.

On a gray, rainy day it’s easy to understand Estonians’ love of color. This is the Old Town Square.

A constant challenge here is the question of identity. Who is a genuine Estonian? Since the land has been occupied by Russians, Germans, Frenchmen, Danes and Swedes (have I left any out?), and since the occupiers left a remnant behind when they withdrew, the estimate is that no more than two-thirds of the people are Estonian; the rest have their roots in these earlier occupying countries. Who then can vote? Who really belongs? Once again we also learned the power of language to divide: Estonian speakers and Russian speakers hold each other in mutual distrust. Still, they have been able so far to stick together as one nation.

Coming into the Helsinki harbor
Crossing to Helsinki in the big ferry. Passengers travel in surprising luxury.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The highlight of our day in Helsinki was our visit to Temppeliaukio Church (Rock Church), the city’s primary tourist destination, in the heart of the city.

The church in the rock

It’s simply stunning, a place of worship that itself is an invitation to worship. The rock was excavated and then walls extended to form a stone circle domed with copper held aloft by reinforced concrete beams. The acoustics, as you can imagine with all hard surfaces, make it an ideal venue for concerts. We just wanted to sit quietly and, as we have done so often in these adventures, give thanks. In spite of all we humans do to destroy it and one another, it’s still a wonderful world we live in.

JOY’S PICK OF THE PICS

Our Olde Hansa server, dressed in his medieval finest.
An interesting face on a Helsinki tram
Open the book and you have a lamp.The Finns are very proud of their modern furnishing designs
…and are having.