Je m’en fiche 01

2022.07.13

So, our 2022 EU trip is now over, and I’ll get to that shortly. A version was written, but far too much of it was me being a drama queen about my cancer. Perhaps I’m entitled. Perhaps I can’t help it, because I am a drama queen. I’m hardwired that way. When others point it out, presumably thinking that in so doing I might be cured, my attitude – after long years so afflicted, and knowing that the condition is not susceptible to amelioration – is to reply, “sir or madame, you are correct”. And I usually add a photo of some starlet from the 1930s posing dramatically.

So, anyway, having read aloud to Francesca much of what I’d already written, I realized it was really awful. Angst much? I have a July, 2022, visit to MGH upcoming, and we’ll see if the angst is warranted.

Well, that visit to MGH, the giving of blood, the meeting with my oncologist, was now two days ago. I will summarize, so that we can get to our travels without (much) further drama.

1. My PSA was still undetectable.

2. All other numbers good.

3. Three months ago, oncologist said my numbers are “upper echelon” (which sounds great, but imparts very little useful information). I explained that starting about a week or even two prior to coming into MGH I get quite tense, wondering when the other shoe will drop. That is, my good numbers may (inevitably?) change … Doom doom doom. The good doctor (and he is quite stellar) finally got it, the disparity between his view and mine. He said there is no shoe. My condition, presently stable, could stay that way for years. [What!? What what what!?] I was stunned. I decided to run a test to experimentally determine if his words had weight. “How about if we plan to go back to EU in May, 2023?” I asked. Go for it, he responded. He did add some cautionary words, like buying travel insurance, but it seemed he did so because not to do so would be professionally irresponsible. And can I continue to surf, I pressed? In reply he chuckled, which I assumed was a good sign. He has no other patients who surf, and my continuing participation in this strenuous pastime, at my age, is a source of amused bemusement.

4. Bottom line: that tension I feel prior to Boston visits? Unnecessary for foreseeable future.

It’s now two days later, and I’m still dizzy with deep wells of holy shitness. He used the word “years” at least twice. At the end he shook my hand warmly, almost congratulatory. I was too stunned to even bring out the drama queen. Two years prior the words I remember receiving were “Stage 4” and “incurable”. It’s still all that, but … And now we rewind the clock and tell the story of our trip, in as humorous a manner as possible. The majority of this was written before I lost my shoe at MGH.

Early 2022

Yesterday I bought business class tickets for Francesca and myself on AirFrance from Boston to Paris – mid May to mid June, five weeks total across the pond.

[Note added 2022.08.08: I had been periodically getting emails from AirFrance suggesting that an AirFrance credit card might suit me. I’d had a BA card for years, and it helped pad my BA miles. But last year BA had shown themselves to be – how do I politely say this – well, a large spanner in my works. Ok, so now I have potentially years to live, and I’m deeply in love with AirFrance, so I got the card. It’s sleek, sexy, and tactilely pleasing.]

Planning

I had thought we might do something different in 2022. Maybe, after a few days in Paris, we could train to Vienna. But I had misgivings. Like Paris, Vienna in the 1920s was a hotbed of creative activity. I read a book about it. I was not thrilled, as I had been about the ferment in Paris at that time. The names Wittgenstein and Popper popped up frequently, as well as the Vienna Circle. The focus of those people, and that group, was to develop a philosophy of how to do science, and while some of the members of this onanistic cabal brushed shoulders with the likes of Einstein, they never seemed to have actually contributed to the advancement of science. Their whole raison d’être brings to mind an idealistic teenage acquaintance of mine, back in the 1960s, whose goal was to precisely define “love” in 25 words. That goal, like that of the Vienna Circle, was, well, goofy in the extreme.

Part of the reason was that Vienna was then, and is now, stuffier than Paris. I googled the words “Vienna”, and “stuffy”. I was greeted with assurances that, no, Vienna isn’t stuffy. We have nightlife now, of a sort. Come visit. This wording was defensive, and I remained far from convinced. I looked at images that google had accumulated, 95% of which were of grand, formal, Teutonic buildings, most of which had out front an equestrian statue of some really stuffy emperor or lesser noble with a mustache the size of sheep dog. I found the lot of them more than a little offputting.

Ok, rather than blather on this subject any further, we decided that seeing scenery we had not previously seen is insufficient reason to cross the EU to a place even whose cafe culture is stuffier than Paris. New plan.

2022.01.26 Update

Omicron spike diminishing, along with people’s patience with continued restrictions. As a consequence, several European countries have got rid of the testing requirement for entry, if you are vaccinated, which we are, up the wazoo. This trend is likely to accelerate on the assumption we have passed the omicron peak, and no new variant appears to wipe out our entire species. This is a win in either case in my curmudgeonly mind.

First 19 days of our 35 day trip are booked: Paris; Chamonix; Santa Margherita. “But haven’t you been to those places already?”, you ask. “Don’t you want to see something new?” Well, maybe, but to what end? Different scenery? We’ve seen scenery. Other scenery is in all probability more of the same, less than the same, or very uncomfortable to get to. I’m 73, fighting cancer (a phrase I always hated, but now understand completely), and I like cafes, mountains, the Mediterranean, and a couple other things. So just back off. Your input is neither wanted nor required.

Meanwhile, the Dolomite option had been hovering in the background as a 4th stop, and we had both been considering it. However, I initiated the thought quite a while ago, and Francesca, presumably because she wanted to please her husband, also occasionally expressed approval for the Dolomite option, and I began to think it was her idea. But she has an autoimmune condition, which means she needs to avoid gluten, and the milk of black and white cows, and various other comestibles. The brown cows of Italy and France are not a problem; their milk does not have the mutation that makes black and white cow milk hazardous. And at this point you may be thinking we don’t know what we’re talking about, and you’d be half right. I don’t. But Francesca has a Harvard PhD, and the title of her thesis contained the phrase “metabolic mechanisms”. Moreover, since realizing her life depended on a deep knowledge of her condition, she’s read dozens of relevant technical papers and books. She has a focus that is extraterrestrial in its intensity. (I am making assumptions about extraterrestrial mental prowess that is possibly unwarranted, but, come on, we all know they’re wicked smaht.) Trust me, at least for those with autoimmune diseases affecting the thyroid: brown cows good; black and white cows bad.

And that’s why when I suggested driving through the Dolomites to western Austria, thence to Switzerland, she finally realized my heart wasn’t in it, and she told me she never again needs to go to any germanic country. She can’t eat their bread, drink their beer, or eat their cheese. I felt relief at this. Even their cultures – germanic and nordic – are uninteresting to me, and to us. And the dolomites used to be part of Austria, so food-wise it’s all oom pah pah, schnitzel, and ugh.

We discovered that last year, in Aosta. Alpine Italy is faux Italy. Half of Francesca’s genes come from southern Italy. We’re now thinking of heading in the direction of Nice after Santa Margherita. If it can be done in a manner that will not exhaust me, then I’m all for it.

2022.02.10 Update

Ok, trip is crystallizing. After Santa Margherita, 5 nights in Nice; drive to Avignon and maybe 4 nights there; TGV to Paris, and 7 nights there; before getting to the CDG Sheraton the day before flight home. I’m unsure if Avignon is worth 3 full days. Must discuss with Francesca. Our 2nd place in Paris looks very promising (the benefit of having relationships with people there from previous trips). I just wonder if we want more nights there. I like Paris.

[Note added 2022.09.21. Just a quick word about Avignon, our visit there being detailed in a future section. In the film Breathless (a French friend of ours told us), Jean Paul Belmondo – the antihero – tells an annoying tourist, “If you want Macdonald’s, go to Avignon; for fish and chips, Marseille.” I am watching the film in snippets, and have not yet encountered that scene, so I cannot attest to its veracity, but I rather wish I had encountered it before booking Avignon. Alas.]

Negative covid test still required by France just prior to entry, regardless vaccination status, but USA omicron numbers dropping rapidly, and France’s attitude may change by May. (It did.)

Oh, and getting from Paris to Chamonix will now (theoretically) occur like this: TGV to Annecy; pick up car; drive to Chamonix, waking up each day viewing Mont Blanc. Yay.

So, there are to be two TGV trips, but I cannot purchase tickets until March.

And why do I even mention early plans, many tentative? Because it’ll be so much fun watching it all fall apart later. Or not. This is, after all, 2022, not 2021.

Planning under a cloud

TGV tix – Paris-Annecy, and Avignon-Paris – purchased. Everything almost done. WCGW?

Well, I mentioned above how our travels coincided frequently with disasters or near disasters, and each of these was unique, like The Equalizer’s weapons in the big Home Depot like store. Sigh. We’re running out of types of trip disruptors. But one thing we haven’t had, and never expected to have, was World War III. Well, anyway, war in Europe.

A thing I once found alarming was the Millennial and Zoomer habit of blaming on Boomers the world’s decline into post-apocalyptic yuckiness. And, yes, to be sure, Boomers had their hands on the tiller during this recent, noticeable period of global disintegration, but let’s look less shallowly at this fact before we go dooming a whole generation to hell.

During the 1960s a great many Boomers were hippies, in favor of peace and love and LSD. And they were vehemently against an older generation that seemed hellbent on sending them to their deaths in Southeast Asia for absolutely no good reason, other than it enriched the Military-Industrial Complex. Are these the Boomers at whom the Millennials and Zoomers are so ready to point the gnarly finger of blame. Well, no, not really.

See, most Boomers were not Flower Children. Most were on a spectrum from conventional and straight-laced, all the way up to psychopaths. And in every generation, without exception, it is mostly citizens on the psychopath end of the psychological spectrum who seek and achieve power and influence. So, you Zoomers may think you’re immune to this societal disease, and that voices of reason will gain power when your turn comes, but those voices of reason cannot compete with the psychopaths.

And this is especially true in nations eschewing democracy in favor of more oppressive forms of government. I mean, yes, Putin is a Boomer, but do you think he was ever a Flower Child? He’s more like some guy whose happiest moments were in high school (or, in this case, USSR KGB), and he’s holding on to those times, carousing with his buds, invading and bombing a neighboring country, because, shit, they did have a crazy good time in high school. Remember how Czechoslovakia and Hungary rolled over so easily? Good times; good times.

So, yeah, I would prefer that this trip not be disrupted by WWIII.

Je m’en fiche 00

Those capable of beneficially altering the course of theoretical physics, as it pertains to understanding the fundamental architecture of reality, are busy wallowing in a sea of corpses that they have created, using their influence to convince a well-connected younger generation that resistance is futile. Ideas outside the mainstream, like mine, and many others whose work is clumped together with mine … you know, I was going to add “in the minds of the mainstream”, but that presupposes that these alternate ideas have a place in those minds, which I consider highly doubtful.

You might think, given their numbers, that those outside the mainstream could beneficially alter the course of theoretical physics. But nay. Unlike the mainstream, these wild folk are not unified, each wanting as an individual to be The One. Of course, The One they yearn to be is me, right? Right?!?!

I still read Peter Woit’s blog, and discovered in a recent one that some young ruminant at Oxford objected to Peter’s inclusion in a confab over there concerning the future of theoretical physics, because Peter inclines to pointing out the faults in the work of others to actually working to advance the science (which is presently not true; he’s into the twistor thing now). Anyhum, this Oxford drone’s CV lists strings, supersymmetry, and axions as fields of interest. Yikes.

So, is there any reason to care? No, of course there isn’t. Physics has been wallowing in the viscous fluid of bad ideas for almost 5 decades. And, um, …

Yeah, I can feel myself getting lost in more pointless metaphors. Let me end by saying that, as TP is comatose, I will continue to blog about my annual travels. This is pleasurable to me, so much so that the high probability that no one other than myself, and She Who Must Be Obeyed, will ever read any of it – this is immaterial. So, having finished the story of our 2021 travails, I’ll soon move on to 2022. It’s all written, and I find it simultaneously harrowing and hilarious. Ciao.

J’en ai marre 12

Penultimate and ultimate days

Illness having diminished our energy levels, I do not recollect accomplishing anything else other than sauntering in parks and along the Seine that penultimate day.

Actually, we did saunter down a street devoted to fashion as we’d done in Milan, and again we were largely unimpressed with this year’s window displays. This one is marginally better than anything we saw in Milan. Kind of cool.

On our final full day we took the metro over to a Japanese bookstore we’d visited previously. I was after the Blu-ray of the anime, Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul. This film directly follows the Made in Abyss anime series. Not that it’s relevant, but I would advise you not to pursue this anime material. You may already be a fan, but if not … The artwork is truly spectacular, the story outline very intriguing, but the manner in which it plays out is so fuchsia dark. Anyway, Japanese bookstore did not sell DVDs and the like. When we left the USA it was available nowhere, not even onDemand. (When we got back I discovered it was now available onDemand, and I am 1/3 the way through. I can only watch in short bursts. Dark. So dark.)

We did more sauntering after that, then returned to finish packing, and say bonjour back to creepy guy.

On the last day, Saturday, we quickly walked over to pharmacy to get our final covid test. We’d become regulars by this point, the pharmacist charmed by the frequency of my visits, and my extensive use of French. We tested negative, and got official pieces of paper proclaiming as much. (We could not travel to the UK, nor fly home, without this paper and its QR code.) On the way out I turned back in and waved to the pharmacist, and said: “Merci pour tout. C’etait une plaisir.” She smiled, waved back, and said, “Pour moi aussi.” A rare instance in which my French was understood, gratefully received, and the reply given understood by me. It filled me with warm fuzzies.

Then we scurried back, entering the building as quietly as possible, took two trips down the 2 person elevator to get us and our bags out of the building, then scurried some more to a nearby taxi stand … but now we need to back up and discuss the levels of hell we needed to traverse to get out of Europe entirely.

But wait, first, what did Francesca think of Rue Cler?

“This is a heaven second only to the Italian Riviera.

“We discovered this street entirely by accident the first time we stayed in Paris in 2016. We had taken to the French Paris flaneur – wandering aimlessly and watching and pondering – with neither direction or purpose. We’d go out, and 5-10 miles later we’d be tired and go back. And I fell in love with Paris – a little – then. When I worked in the UK once in the 1990s and visited France, I didn’t take to Paris at all. I felt I didn’t like it, but of course I was there in March and it was a cold, dark, drippy time and I didn’t really tour – just explained some results at meetings – so that may have colored my mood!

“It’s best for just watching people and having no purpose. Anyhow, on one of our long flaneur wanderings, we came across Rue Cler. It instantly became our fav street and our fav cafe of all is du Marche, which is the middle of the market part of Rue Cler but on a corner with a cross road. Every single time we’ve been in Paris since, we have never missed wandering Rue Cler and spending time just sitting at Cafe du Marche watching that corner. Rue Cler is a completely cobbled street and narrow for a street. It’s 90% pedestrian only. I say 90 because I see there are special dispensations or exceptions. Now and then a truck or official car creeps slowly down the street.

“Anyhow, to me it’s glorious. It is the perfect combination of one stop shopping and a hundred (not really, but lots) of tiny specialists, all on 2-3 blocks of one street. At its end, beautiful flowers bursting with color and scent welcome one to the market area, the flower shop first. Across from it a display of the most vibrant biological (organic) fruits and vegetables competing every bit with the color of the flowers. And all along there is usually a fish monger, some specialty shops – like, there’s a whole shop of just beautiful honey, a couple incredible butcheries, a cheese shop, a bakery, a chicken shop – yup, exclusively chicken – there is a specialty shop with things like prepared escargot just ready to take back and cook. And wine shops; several wine shops. Some gelateria – oh, it’s France. I guess it’s Glacier instead of gelato. Chocolate shops, a caviar shop, fancy pastry shop – that’s different from the bakery – marzipan shop with practically exquisite art work on them in the window. And a few cafes interspersed.

“And it is a serious walking street. There are those wandering because they are gathering foods. And others wandering because it’s a fabulous pedestrian way and perfect for a walk. Lots of small dog walking.

“Anyhow, ever since finding it we have come here every time, and we have sat and watched for hours from Cafe du Marche, and I have day dreamed about living right near here so I could use these markets daily for whatever I want to cook that night. And NOW we found a way. We’ve rented an apartment for a week on the top, 6th floor, in the middle of the street – on top of one of the florists and one of the pastry shops – with a balcony overlooking it all. I am between the fresh fruit and veg and a little flower shop, a third of a block from Cafe du Marche, across from the honey shop, wine shop, cheese shop, I look out my balcony on the bakery one corner away and flowers and veg the other…..oh, oh, oh,….it’s so fun!

“Anyhow, when we first arrive we were starved, so went straight away to Cafe du Marche. I had what translated to a multivitamin salad! That was the name. So funny. It was beautiful. I had some tiny sardines for appetizer and then the salad was fennel, grapefruit, radish, carrots, rocket, lettuce, avocado, leafy herbs,…..lovely!

“It was a very late lunch, so we ruined my first night of cooking because we weren’t going to want real dinner. But I played the street as I wanted anyhow! I first got some beautiful strawberries for breakfast, and grapes, bananas, carrots, cukes, and radishes. Then I went to the cheese shop and describe what I like and he gave me a couple small bits. And then I went to the butcher and was going for a paté, but found duck fois gras…,ooooooh! Then went to the wine shop and asked what do you have that is perfect with fois gras, and they gave it to me … and oooooooh, they were sooooo right! I would never have paired the golden wine with it, but zowie it was divine! All we had for din was sliced radish and carrot and duck fois gras and the wine they gave me and on my balcony above watching the Rue Cler at night which was something I had never seen before. The cafes become bars and hangouts and it gets very lively and awesome to watch from an Eagle’s eye view! So fun! It’s everything I wanted it to be. I can’t believe I am right here on Rue Cler!”

“This is a kind of bliss to me!

“And we get morning sun, in fact, watch sun rise on my balcony – even when I have to wrap up in a blanket because it’s brisk – while I have a decaf espresso. Preparing to do my wandering in the shops.

“I am thinking to do either duck or chicken with shallots and French tarragon; I saw fresh of both in the veg stand! And of course, something splendid from the fish monger … Beurr Blanc style, of course, so something white. Oooh, and there is a place with fresh butter too! I just love this 1-3 items per place – all specialists – all with the knowledge and happy to help you pair things and you start with an idea then let them build it up….ooh, so much fun. And I am thrilled to notice they don’t snub me for despicable non French at all! In fact, by a second visit, they know me. I walk in to smiles and what am I cooking today? Soooo fun! I’m having so much fun! So living French for a week on a market street.

“Each time, I always start with the butcher because it turned out the fish monger is having renovations, so I first look things over and find some fabulous looking stuff, then ask for suggestions to make final decisions or cuts. Then I go the other way on the street and get some fresh veggies and juice if we need. Then I go to the wine shop and describe what I’m planning. If I mention only the protein, he wants to know which veg as well. Then I get a whole lesson on what grows where in France – he picks the region, describes the setting and how the grapes grow, describes the characteristics, describes how and why that perfectly complements my meal. The wine shop is the best. Class is in session and I listen and soak it all in. Then to the cheese shop and describe the whole meal and wine and get the perfect cheese to follow. And I also ask what he has that is special and I should just try. A different one each day – by day 2 he gets the game and has a suggestion all ready for my cheese adventure. Fresh butter if we need. To the honey shop if more needed for Geoffrey’s tea. To the market at the end for little extras like salmon and crackers. Some fresh eggs from another shop. Last to the basic bakery for 2 of something ethereal, light and fluffy to go with eggs, fruit, and espresso in the morning. This comes last – even though i have literally walked back and forth in front of it 5 times – but last because it has to go on top in the wheely shopping cart and not get crushed! The meal has to be built in the right order, and so do the things that go into the cart, so I might slip into the market for a couple cans, then back to the focus of the meal, then back to the market later for crackers. I’ll grab juice and special jams the first time past the fruit stand, but save fruit til the second to last time past the stand. Must build up the tall cart in layers that won’t damage lower layers, so last must be fruit, eggs, pastry last of all, then back. And then later I get to cook with all the glorious ingredients. So lovely. Fish monger under renovation. Such a shame. But I’ve made the most beautiful ham, and chicken, and thin veal steaks. One day got a whole roasted chicken from the chicken man’s cart – Geoffrey wanted it, but it gave me the bones to make him some beautiful healing soup full of fresh veggies too. This street is just the most fun. By day 2 everyone was greeting me. By day three, most had suggestions for me already and the wine guy delighted in hearing the plan and giving me vintner lessons. It’s horrible that Geoffrey is up on top being sick and sleepy, but the street is a piece of heaven. I try to do all my back and forth and back and forth on the far side of the street so if I am taking too long and he is peaking out looking for me, he’ll see me trundling along. The conversational parts of shopping here take a while – even longer than the choosing! It’s all so very much fun. I’d like to do this … forever! Actually, where i really want to do this is the fishing harbor of Santa Margherita Liguria – get my fish fresh off the boats, then the little markets there for the rest. That would be real heaven; no need to even die because already there. Wander and watch boats. Ride on boats. Breakfast and newspaper at the harbor. Passeggiata followed by fresh fish in the evening, cooking simple and delicate and fresh things – perfetto. But this French version is pretty damn fabulous and magical also.

“Fresh food is glorious – and quality things done right without GMO, pesticides, plastic packaging. We have just given up on so much in America. And there are places like Rue Cler where perfection still lives, where knowledge is still transmitted and where it’s all such a pleasant adventure followed by dancing taste buds. One can taste the very life force of it all.

“I now know this street is not just any market street but a famous one. But to me, it’s just where we stumbled one day. The street is much more a flood of French than tourists.”

Levels of covid hell

It has to be acknowledged that getting into and out of Europe could have been much easier had we not gone through Heathrow Airport (LHR) and the UK. But we had friends in London, and I booked an Airbnb there, which by this point I must already have mentioned had to be cancelled, as well as our intended jaunt down to Porto from LHR. Had we flown directly to Paris, then to Milan, avoiding the Vogons in the UK entirely, our travails would have been reduced by at least 71.074%. But that’s not what we did.

Thinking optimistically in the weeks before we left the USA, I organized everything, including the TGV train from Paris to London through the Chunnel. (That was to be our mode of transportation to get us to Vogon country, and LHR, and our final flight, now 3 days later than originally planned.)

Ok, so flights and consequences:

1. Initial flight BOS to LHR canceled; shifted to flight 2 hours later; no worries.

2. Flight LHR to Porto canceled; no options; canceled Portugal entirely as being too risky; might get in, but be trapped, as rest of EU not keen on Portugal.

3. Flight home canceled; earliest alternative (not via Los Angeles) 3 days later; initial plan, stay a night in hotel at point of travel (train or plane), then 2 nights at Hilton at terminal 2 LHR, this supplying a buffer in case more crap was dumped on us, and giving us an opportunity to tootle into London and see those friends. Everything seemed settled.

Candide was an idiot, and a hugely inappropriate role model.

At some point a week or more before our flight home, my spidey senses tingling, we bought plane tickets from CDG to LHR, with a night at CDG Sheraton prior.

Chunnel train ticket nonrefundable, so I shifted its date to same date as flight. (This was to be a fallback.) Plan in either case would still lead to 2 nights LHR Hilton Garden Inn. Forget not that this is at terminal 2, and we’d be flying from terminal 5. Vogons carefully watching, preparing to throw spanner into our well laid works.

While in Paris, we took metro one day to Gare du Nord, and managed to get promise that we could take later train, if needed. Train was looking better. Couldn’t get refund anyway.

There being little difference between plane and train, we canceled plane and Sheraton. Now we had to fill out UK Locator form online at UK.gov. Keep in mind, train would arrive in London about 40 hours before plane from LHR to BOS. Let’s do some math: 40 hrs < 48 hrs = 2 days.

Near the end of the Vogon locator form, it asked for the code for the covid test we’d arranged to have done 2 days after arrival. (2 days = 48 hours.) And unlike Paris, where we simply popped into a pharmacy and paid 25€ for a test, which was then almost immediately performed, the Vogons supplied extensive (hundreds of items) lists of test facilities, based on region, and the price was going to be around 300£. This, we determined, was extortion and corruption, the UK since Brexit having devolved into a central African republic. I mean – remember the math done above? – we weren’t going to be there 2 days after arrival. (To get to UK and on to Italy we’d had to spend $350 in the USA to get us both tested with documentation to prove it. Appointment required. Contrast this to France where we’d popped into our favorite pharmacy, paid 25€ each, got tested, and 18 minutes later walked out with appropriate documentation. France has it all over the UK and USA.) Nor did it matter that we could get tested at the Hilton. It wasn’t on the list. So aggravating.

Fuchsia. (In case I have not mentioned it, none of my Apple devices has auto-fill suggestions for profanity; if I type in “fuc”, its first suggestion is “fuchsia”; if I ignore that, and type “fuck”, all of my Apple devices feign perplexity. What could I possibly mean by that? Oh well, user error; let them deal with it. But I decided that fuchsia is just fine. No one is offended, and only the in-crowd knows what I’m really saying.)

Anyway, not that we couldn’t afford this Vogon extortion, but the idea of paying it incensed me, and even if we did, what horrible complications might ensue when the Vogons realized we would be unable to fulfill our obligation. And it was perplexing to a major degree how we could pull it off even if we wanted to. This is something set up for people staying in the UK after arrival. We were transiting, so we naively thought we could get a pass on this onerous burden.

(There were several options, including showing up in person at some very inconvenient location to get the test, or, on the other hand, have it mailed to our address in the UK, at which point we presumably cover a swab with snot and mail it back. Hotel addresses not allowed. OMG. And what if we left, as was our intention, before fulfilling our obligations. Would they bar us from our flight home, ignoring how illogical that action would be. I simply wasn’t willing to trust bureaucratic Vogon logic.)

Fortunately, the locator form could be begun several times before actual submission. I had 4 lined up at UK.gov before I saw a way out of our quandary. And keep in mind, I still had PTSD from the week prior to leaving home dealing with cancellation horrors. It was proving almost as difficult to get out of Europe as to get in. By this point I was ready for drastic measures.

Using a voucher to help (none of our canceled flights were refundable), I re-purchased CDG to LHR tickets that would land us at LHR less than 24 hours before our LHR to BOS flight. And we re-booked the Sheraton at CDG, with its single plug and ethernet cable rooms. All good. Then we went back to UK.gov and carried on with our UK- locator forms, this time clicking the “Change flights in the UK within 24 hours, without going through UK border control”, and voilà, after inputing our flights, the Vogon locator form was done. The cost of our Chunnel tickets would be lost entirely. No voucher; just gone. But no exorbitant covid test fee, so it balanced out.

Now, if you’ve been paying close attention, you may have noticed the flaw in this. Our flight from Paris was scheduled to arrive in the afternoon at LHR, and our flight from LHR would leave the following morning. Since we were not going through border control, that meant a hotel stay was out. We naively started calculating how many hours we could camp in the 1st class BA lounge, and how many we’d need to spend trying to be comfortable in the terminal itself (a little over 9 hours; doable, but not preferable). We’d manage.

So, ok, it’s 24 hours before our CDG to LHR flight, I get on the BA app and check in. Boarding passes are put in my iPhone Wallet. All set. Brimming with confidence.

The following day, a few hours before that flight, and 24 hours before the flight home, I try to check in for our LHR-BOS flight. No go. In fact, 4 times in a row no go. I try a minor hack, re-inputting some data, and am finally supplied with a reason. We are required to check in with a person once at LHR. Fuchsia. Does this mean I have to go through UK border control, thereby violating the terms of our Vogon locator form?

Knickers now in a twist, we head to our CDG gate, hoping to find someone to clarify the situation. We espy a pair of pilots, and I explain our quandary. I am told that everyone is now required to check in in person at LHR, but there is a transit office we may be able to use that will not require us to pass border control. Ok, deep breath. Deep breath.

Still waiting to board our plane, two black women come up to the desk and begin fussing with terminals.

Why do I even mention that they were black. Because I want to, and because, in addition to a 10 year old scamp (white boy), one of the myriad personalities residing in my cranium is a slightly heavy 48 year old black woman with a rich sense of humor. Go figure. As multiple personalities go, those two are pretty good.

Suzanne prods me to go use my French and question them as well. Ok, so …

Miracle the First

Hearing my plaint, one of the women took my phone open in the BA app to our flight information. She began furiously typing information into one of two terminals at her station. She went to the side briefly and an incompetent 3rd women arrived stage left and used the same terminal to input something. Our lady thought her efforts had been lost, but she quickly brought up her info on the 2nd monitor. Idiot white woman then departed and our fierce co-combatant went back to the first terminal. Francesca, now at my side, described her efforts as being like playing a computer game. We hoped she was winning. At one point she said voilà, softly. She wasn’t done but “voilà” sounded positive, and Francesca and I shared hopeful glances. Francesca could see that our Saint was slowly turning a bunch of red Xs on the monitor into green checks, this being the goal of the computer game. Some more time passed, some mechanical noises came from under the desk, and she pulled out 4 boarding passes, 2 for CDG- LHR, which we didn’t really need, and 2 for LHR-BOS, which we needed desperately, more desperately than we even knew at that point. In awe, my goofy old guy side bubbled to the surface, and I bowed a couple of times to our Savior, arms outstretched (Wayne’s World unworthy style). Francesca said our Savior was at first nonplussed and weirded out by this bizarre American genuflecting before her. But then she smiled, recognizing that this obeisance was well deserved. And it was.

Shortly thereafter we boarded the plane CDG-LHR, thinking we’d very likely have to sleep in terminal 5 at Heathrow. Still, we had one hope; there was a flight to Boston later that same day, and if we could take that instead, we’d be able to sleep at home.

Miracle the Second

We made it to LHR, all the efforts of Vogons and covid unable to prevent it. We disembarked, walked past some people lined up to talk to BA people at desks, and confidently strode up to some electronic gates that would let us into the terminal proper. This required a scan of our LHR-BOS boarding passes. However, evidently mistaking us for Balrogs, the annoying machines would not let us pass, for our flight was not the same day. A guy noticing our chagrin explained that terminal 5 was closed at night; there would be no overnighting. I looked around at the small area we were in and imagined overnighting there. Fuchsia.

The guy told us there was a LHR-BOS flight later that same day (someone somewhere told us it was canceled; it was not). We assumed we’d have to get into the terminal to see if that could be managed. We told the guy we’d love to do that. Delighted by our ready acquiescence, he took us up to one of the desks, jumping the queue by a fair bit, and introduced us to Savior number 2 (I suppose the guy was really Savior number 2, but never mind; let’s call him Savior number 1.5). She verified that there was indeed a later flight we could catch, but all 1st class seats were taken. What about business class? Plenty of seats there. Will we voluntarily take the downgrade? The alternative looking very bleak indeed, we said yes, most assuredly. She typed away, and then said it was no longer possible. An unspecified “incident” had occurred at Terminal 5, and many things that once were possible, our change included, no longer were.

She told us we had two options: pop over to terminal 2, and overnight there, or get to a hotel, evidently intended for stranded travelers. Hotel sounds good (she explained that terminal 2 is in any case not very comfortable). Francesca took the lead at this point, more than once needing to shush my repeated mentions of terminal 2. Francesca wasn’t going to sleep in a terminal if a hotel was a viable alternative. Her comfort was now in jeopardy, and she became ultra-focused. Geoffrey, stand aside.

But we’d need to go through security and outside, a thing we’d promised not to do on the Vogon Locator form. She told us to stay there, came around the desk, and pulled us over to a more secluded spot out of earshot. Here’s what we were to do, she almost whispered: try for Fast Track first. If that fails, when confronted by border control tell them a fib. The boarding passes we’re holding were just given to us by the lady inside (Savior number 2). Our connection had been missed and we were rebooked for the flight tomorrow morning (our intended flight for the last month). As a consequence we are being sent to a hotel, which we promise not to leave. And, “oh whoa is us”, we were to simper, then ask if the border control person is ok with this (we are not to mention it’s 80% fabrication.) Once through the Vogon checkpoint, we are to find the hotel guy a short distance to the right outside in the main building. His job is to help people like us, pathetic and downtrodden.

Francesca adds: “You must add how the woman said to me, ‘You did not have these tickets; I just adjusted your bookings because you didn’t make a connection.’ – (she repeated that 3 times to Francesca) – ‘You JUST got these tickets and ended up in this situation which is why the locator form has different data.’ Then she made me (Francesca) repeat, ‘I just got these tickets and got stuck spending a night here.’ “

She was super – not a Vogon.

Miracle the third

Have I ever mentioned how focused and determined Francesca gets when her comfort is on the line? We got out to where the security Vogons were processing passengers, and the line up of passengers was long. Very long. Very very long. Ugh. At least that was what was going on in my mind. Francesca’s mind was going, “No fuchsia way”. She asked some guy about Fast Track, and he pointed us in the direction of some nearby kiosks. No one was in line there. And when I say no one, I mean not one person. They were our personal portals to a better world, and Francesca dragged me over to them. We were required to remove our covid face masks to be scanned (I recall that when we entered the UK our faces had been scanned, so we were in some Vogon database). Then we slid our passports into the slots. And then, holy mother of Cthulhu, the gates opened and we exited. No border control personnel to whom to fib – our lies now a thing drifting in the cosmos, space dust, forever unused. We went through the Nothing to Declare door and were never questioned by anyone.

Miracle the fourth

The hotel desk for stranded travelers was off to the right, as promised. It had a list of 4 hotels. The first three were about 100£ each, and the fourth, a Marriott, was about 149£/night. When we (actually, it wasn’t “we”; Francesca is really good at dealing with situations of this ilk, and she shunted me off to the back) explained our predicament, the guy manning the location was very apologetic; the cheaper hotels were booked up (possibly due to the “incident”?), and only the more expensive Marriott had rooms left. We always are willing to pay a bit more for comfort, and even before being told this we had decided that we wanted the Marriott. When told we were happy with the Marriott, the fellow looked relieved and delighted. Francesca offered a credit card, got us booked in, and then another miracle: he handed Francesca a paper and said to wait on nearby seats for the ride to the hotel. Not long after the driver came in, our helpful hotel guy indicated we were the customers. Francesca showed the driver the paper (actually, maybe she didn’t even need to), and he led us out to a brand new F-Pace Jaguar that would take just us to the hotel, and pick us up in the morning at 8am. And, just to be clear, we were the only passengers. The cost of this was mysteriously already defrayed, and not by Francesca, who paid for the hotel. So instead of sleeping in a terminal, we found ourselves in a very comfortable hotel, breakfast included, and a Jaguar to supply transportation. (This hotel was a little distance from the airport, maybe 100£ cheaper than the Terminal 2 Hilton, and a lot nicer.) We conversed with our driver, who seemed very concerned about covid, and wondered how long this problem would last. He was not chuffed upon being told by Francesca that it would not end, and even less chuffed when he learned she had a Harvard PhD, and her views likely had some weight.

Our hotel room, by the way, had all the needed outlets and USB plugs to keep us fully charged. The CDG Sheraton had one plug near the floor of one wall, and, for the modern digital traveler, an ethernet cable. I haven’t needed one of those in over a decade. Still, French Sheraton restaurant food was very much superior to British Marriott. Quelle suprise, huh? The British do not do food.

As a bonus, our London friends – the entire reason we’d even bothered to fly BA through LHR, instead of AirFrance straight to Paris, Ubered down to us (first mistakenly trying to get let off at a quarantine hotel), and we were able to spend a few pleasant hours imbibing and chatting. Old times were brought up, repeatedly. Diseases were discussed. And then they left, warm goodbyes were given, and the last of our European friends we’d planned on seeing on our jolly summer holiday in Europe were gone, each needing to make a special trip to see us due to our scrambled travel plans.

The next day we had our free breakfast (to which the Vogons attached a VAT that we had to pay … pathetic), then got ready for our 8am pickup. New driver, ex-military, and considerably less concerned about covid. As he’d trained for jungle warfare in Belize, we discussed the film Terminator, and I mentioned talking down a Vietnam vet who was having a panic attack on a boat from the Yucatan to a nearby island. The Mexican coastline there looks quite jungly, and indistinguishable from the coast of Vietnam. It freaked him out, which I totally understand, and he scared the other passengers away from his location. But shit, the guy clearly needed someone to talk to. That would be me.

Dropped off back at Terminal 5, we went through their TSA, and the lies told on our locator form never came up, we never had to pay the 300£ covid test extortion fee, and although they took some of Francesca’s liquids (too many for their little plastic bags), we got through security with 3 hours to spare. (Note, boarding passes had to be shown, and we were leaving, not entering, so Locator forms were irrelevant; they didn’t care where we were once gone from their green and pleasant land. Had we not had those boarding passes for LHR to BOS, however, that Savior #1 gave us at CDG, none of this might have been possible.)

I had pills to take, so we went to 1st class lounge to get some spring water. The asinine lady at the entrance desk tried to point us to a long queue of people waiting to get into Business Class lounge. (I imagine my rumpled self did not look 1st class.) Francesca, however, was having none of that and pointedly stuck our 1st class tickets under the nose of the obnoxious Vogon; she saw her mistake, apologized, but hardly profusely enough for my tastes, and we entered the lounge. (Do NOT mess with Francesca and her comfort!) Oh, and insult to injury, prior to this Francesca had bought some Louis Vuitton boots (no longer duty free – the post Brexit Brits are after every pence they can get). She was carrying a Louis Vuitton bag, for fuchsia’s sake. Of course, the rest of our luggage looks decidedly used. Still, LV bags don’t go to business class, nor do they stand in line. Francesca excels at avoiding travel induced queues. I think I’ve mentioned that half a dozen times. I just sit back and let her lead in these situations.

[As frustrating as the LHR Vogons were, in the past the Brits in general have served us well. On 9.11 Francesca was working in Britain, and her coworkers were solicitous well above the call of duty. Quite touching, in fact. And some few years later yet more eager terrorists had planned to blow up four planes heading from LHR to the USA, at least two of which were headed for Boston, and one of those was a flight that Francesca, her mother, and I were slated to fly home on. The British Secret Services literally saved our lives by catching the miscreants, and grounding all planes out of LHR for nearly a week. And BA refunded our tickets (we flew home out of Shannon on Aer Lingus). (The full story of that horror can be found in my first travelogue, available on Amazon.) Still, in the heat of the moment Francesca and I may have expressed views of the English that are not entirely warranted. She excoriates rather fiercely below, but we recently discussed those past good deeds, and we decided to forgive much. I mean, crikey, they actually and truly saved our lives. And more recently it was a cluster of saintly Brits who enabled us to escape LHR in comfort. So, you guys, sorry for being harsh … heat of the moment and all … you understand.]

Francesca spots some Vogon corruption

“Corruption in triplicate.

“First corruption was them setting up a system forcing anyone passing through UK to pay hundreds for products and services they’ll never use so all the cronies get rich never having to provide either – just take the money. Everyone involved and dealing with them knows it’s a scam – but at government level that can’t be stopped.

“More corruption!

“So our emergency ‘incident’ Hotel was completely prepaid Room and vats and all. I paid in full at the airport as arrangements were made. But we had dinner and I put it on my room. So they presented a bill with all items and the vat. And, stupidly, I didn’t just charge it then because usually that is an easy and safe thing to do. I signed it to my room. Then I asked, can I round this up to include tip – as I am not carrying pounds. Yes, of course, thank you so much.

“So the next morning, I check out. For room it says zero as it was previously paid. Then it has from the bar the final total of last nights bill. Then it has vat tax for a second time.

“I pulled out last nights itemized receipt and demonstrated that the vat was already in the amount and that a part was tip as well. ‘Yes ma’am. We know. But we are obligated to tax all money run through the hotel – again’ – so there is actually double vat on the meal. There is vat on the vat! And there is vat on the tip!

“This government is absolutely exactly as corrupt now as a 3rd world country. Pathetic. It’s not that this amount is too high. It’s the principle, and that they are disgustingly, pathetically corrupt now.

“And third corruption: since Brexiting they have canceled duty free entirely. I mean, there is shopping – tons of it. But nothing is duty free. UK won’t allow it. But of course, there is nothing indicating that to shopping travelers! The shop clerk whispered it to me apologetically.

“The UK gov are soo desperate. I think it’s actually really not a first world country any longer.

“Boy are they a mess. They lost their minds and ethics.”

Departure

First class on flight was very nice, staff super, and once airborne I began to decompress (this process will take days; it was almost as stressful escaping Europe as getting into it). While actually in the EU, there were few problems, the worst being the lethal feather pillows at the hotel in Lyon that caused my lungs to get congested, and eventually led to an illness we are still suffering from.

Below, Francesca making herself at home on flight to Boston. I did not breath easy until Ireland was behind us. Yes, it was nice to see London recede into the distance (which I could view on the TV screen set to Flight Monitor), but I wanted the Atlantic Ocean under me, and all European land masses behind me.

Thinking back

The day we got home the EU tightened entry recommendations (adoptable by member states) for the EU by US citizens. Italy was the first to adopt the new regulations. Sweden has since closed itself to Americans entirely. The door had been slammed shut behind us. Well, our idiot country is one of the hottest covid hotspots in the world, so who can blame the EU.

That summer there were perhaps 7 weeks during which our trip was even possible. Our 5 weeks was nestled in the middle of that ΔT. The future is very uncertain. Covid will continue to mutate and adapt. Travel as it used to be, free of masks and proof of vaccination and various other restrictions, may be over for the rest of my life. That will depend on many things, not the least of which is the ability of modern medicine to keep me alive. Go team go.

Today we walked on the beach; I patted a dog; I was home.

Home cafes

The weekend after our trip home was Labor Day weekend, and the nearby city of Portsmouth, now evidently renowned from coast to coast for its upscale charm, was loaded with tourists. This town, already pre-covid rather Parisian in nature, became even more so when covid forced the many restaurants and cafes to set up outdoor tables and chairs. We went into town that Sunday, and at one point we sat outside a coffee place and had a drink, watching the people go by. It should have been very Parisian. But at this point, an idea that had been simmering in my grey matter since we got back, this idea came to a boil. Cafe people watching in Portsmouth is very very different from cafe people watching in Paris. The people we watched in Portsmouth are noticeably bigger, beefier, and heftier than Parisians. This is true in every dimension, and probably in a few that are presently only theoretical. Many of the men have their northern European heads shaved, which gives a kind of Wehrmacht feel – Paris occupied, as it were. And then there is style. Parisians dress with style. I’m not talking about Coco or Louis V style. Just pleasant, not an eyesore to be found, at least not among the people not sleeping on the street. Americans – at least that long weekend in Portsmouth – fuchsia. I can’t even begin to describe … Ok, we’re a nation, sort of, of individuals. We have no real culture – the country is too big. What we do have comes from TV, and haute cuisine for the average Yank is anything above Burger King. The beefiness of the people I watched spoke volumes about the quality of their diets.

Still, the northern Europeans we saw in Varenna were just as jarring, big, and annoying. And sure, I’m tall, and rarely encountered Italians or French of a similar stature. But although my cancer meds have caused me to get a tiny bit pudgy around the middle, I’m mostly slender … and I get along great with most dogs. I can forgive much in a person if they value dogs more highly than humans. Still, try to do it with some style.

[Now a year after our return, I recently encountered an article with a list of fashion faux pas that Americans are guilty of in France, and the whole of the EU, really. I remember only two items. One is baseball caps. Not done. In my favor, I’ve always loathed the things, owning but one that was a souvenir from a physics conference. The other faux pas is khakis. This one made me shutter, for I often wear khaki colored trousers when traveling. Ah well. Maybe I’m given a pass on that as I don’t don baseballs caps, ever.]

I miss it already.

J’en ai marre 11

Monday

We accomplished two major goals today: hot chocolate at Angelina’s; and soufflés at Le Récamier, our favorite restaurant in … hmm, THE UNIVERSE. (Francesca’s second favorite restaurant is the truffle restaurant on via Fiori Chiari in Milan, that via being my favorite street (ok, I’ve said it; Rue Cler is my #2).)

As usual Francesca ignored the muggles queuing outside Angelina’s, pushed through to the front of the line, and went into the little shop near the door. In there can you not only buy worthy items to take home, but also cups of their finest hot chocolate to take to the park across the street. She read somewhere that this is how the locals avoid lengthy lines of tourists.

As to Le Récamier, well, words do not suffice. However, there was a comprehensible bonus. At a nearby table sat a pleasant looking woman, and a sterner looking Frenchman (maybe; his provenance was never established). Behind the woman, on the ground, was a container with screening on the top. Periodically a little face would poke out of the top and bark. We, of course, were thoroughly entranced. Two soufflés later the little guy escaped and made a beeline for our table. As the woman seemed unconcerned, we proceeded to treat the wee pup like our dearest long lost friend. He responded in much the same way and licked our hands vigorously. Unsatisfied, I got up, moved around our table, knelt on the ground (we were seated outside under their awning) and proceeded – to the dogs utter delight – to commune properly. Later, my possibly flagrant violation of protocol finished, I told the headwaiter, “Pardon, mais j’adore les chiens.” He replied, to my utter delight – I kid you not – “Mais oui.” Perfect. I’d only ever heard that phrase in movies.

The dog’s owner, by the way, is an American woman living in Paris. The dog herself was born in New York City. Perhaps it overheard our conversation and recognized kindred spirits. Or maybe it’s just … (the woman told Francesca that the dog loves Americans because they’re the only ones who respond right. Francesca thinks that the dog overheard our conversation, had us pegged for the right sort, and made every effort to escape confinement before it was too late. Excellent.)

Francesca and I are more effusive than most – and way more effusive than your average Parisian – in showering affection on receptive canines. A pair of youngish French women witnessed me frolicking on the floor of the restaurant, being vigorously licked by a bundle of cuteness. This seemingly overcame their French reticence, and when they got up to leave they sauntered over to the dog’s owner, who now had her boofy dog-faced beastie on her lap, and took their turns with the little beast.

Tuesday

Francesca succumbed finally to my illness, and since I proved myself covid free on Monday at a nearby pharmacy, we now know it’s a different virus. A bad cold. Still, we had enough energy today to go up the Eiffel Tower – a fifteen minute walk away. Anthony Bourdain advised against this touristic activity, and with good reason. Still, the view is impressive, and the misery of standing in line to get tickets, then again to get on elevator 1, and again for elevator 2, then that whole ordeal repeated in reverse to get back down, it was only half as bad as Anthony suggested, because covid had greatly reduced the number of tourists, especially Americans and Chinese (zero). By the end I was worn out and “rough”, Francesca’s way of describing my mood near the end of a tiring day. After another 15 minute walk we were back at our favorite cafe on Rue Cler, and shortly after that I had a beer in hand and was cured.

(Saying the Eiffel Tower slog was half as bad as it could have been is like saying an Iron Maiden is half as bad as it might have been because the inner spikes are slightly blunted. I’m not saying don’t do it, but if you’re over 70, and tall, and not fond of mobs of people … Still, nice view.)

Two more full days in Paris, avoiding the creepy guy who lives downstairs, trying to see a couple more places, then – or so we hope – scoot down to pharmacy, get official covid negative stamps, get luggage, check out, get taxi, go to Gare du Nord, and put ourselves in the hands of the fuchsia Vogons until we land in Boston on Monday. Details to follow.

Oh my fuchsia gods

So, ok … wait … trying to hold back tears … trying … not succeeding. (Wait for it. Starting to encounter roadblocks re getting home at this point.)

Creepy

The creepy guy, and the woman whose apartment was directly across from his, were possibly more than just creepy (but probably not; keep reading). He latched onto Francesca on one of her solo shopping trips. That was Tuesday. Later that day, spotting us entering the building, he shouted at us, ran around the stairs up to the 6th floor, and with his small amount of English, and my meager French, managed to get us to accept an invitation to drink champagne with him and the creepy woman the following day, Wednesday, in the morning at an undefined time. Francesca, ever the one to maintain certain social proprieties, suggested we go buy some flowers and a small cake to contribute to this gathering. Keep in mind, everyone on Rue Cler knows everyone else. It’s like a small village in the midst of this grand city. We described to the florist what we intended to do the next day, and she looked concerned. She warned us that the guy had a reputation of being bad with women – even dangerous. But she looked me over and determined that I could protect Francesca if necessary. The couple, by the way, are likely 5 to 10 years older than I am, so bring it on.

Francesca’s enthusiasm for this fête had by this point dropped to zero. She confessed to me that the morning he had glommed on to her, he had tried to convey that he was a photographer, and he showed her some pictures of women he’d photographed, and without exception they looked like they could have been drugged. I made a vow that I would use my cancer as an excuse not to imbibe in anything offered.

Wednesday morning dawns, and Francesca is now sick enough that she will spend the day in bed. Together we went down to the floor in question and knocked first on his door. Eliciting no response, we tried hers. She opened up and I tried to explain that we could not come to their little party, as is too sick. Three things prevented her from understanding what I was saying: my French; her total lack of English; and the fact that one of her two brain cells had died some time ago. We handed her the flowers and cake, and, ignoring her perplexed demeanor, went quickly back upstairs, and put Francesca back to bed.

(Actually, we first went to the wrong floor, and, after knocking on a door, a woman came out, saw two people she quickly determined were Americans, one of whom was holding a cake and flowers. She told us we must be looking for the Americans staying in the building; they’re on the sixth floor. Oh but that’s us. I don’t recall how this confusion was resolved, but the point is that she – and maybe everyone else on the street – knew 2 Americans were staying on Rue Cler. Funny place. At our home in New Hampshire there are 3 neighbor homes within 150 feet of our house. In 3 years we have spent 3 or 4 minutes (total!) talking with any of them. It’s been months since our last interaction. Exactly like Rue Cler? Sigh.)

But creepy guy was not to be so easily put off. He knocked on our door around 11am, and when I cracked the door, still in my pajama top, he vigorously and enthusiastically told me to come on down for cake and champagne. And he did mention the cake, so he had talked to creepy woman, but even if he understood from her that all bets were off, he was not to be deterred. In a raspy voice I explained that ma femme was too sick (mauvais rhume). We would not be able to attend. Did he commiserate? Express sympathy? No, he looked pissed, and, having shot his bolt, departed.

Later, spying me from his window leave the building, when he saw me coming back he went downstairs and when I pushed the elevator button he casually walked by outside the door, eying me suspiciously, in his best creepy guy way. No bonjour, wave, or anything friendly; just creepy guy suspicious. As I was alone, and carried a bag of medication from the nearby pharmacy, what could he do but stew?

The lady at the pharmacy became our favorite person in the neighborhood. More on her later.

As to the creepy guy, on our last day, as we headed out to do some touristy things, from the elevator we heard his door close, the sound of his feet scurrying downstairs, and when we exited the 2-person lift he pretended to be just coming in and gave us a friendly bonjour. I am hoping he did this to get back on our good side so that he could at some later date get us to drink his iffy champagne. I hope this, because discovering us gone the next day would certainly put his knickers in a twist.m

Parisians are not known for their effusive friendliness. If a Parisian is effusively friendly with you upon first meeting, well, that Parisian is likely a mass murderer, and on simply that basis alone it’s wise to avoid them. When we first arrived at the apartment building this guy and the woman were all over us (she insisted on fixing flaws in my attire – wrinkles and whatnot; and only in hindsight do I see this as beyond creepy in a mortuary kind of way). I was slow to read the signs … well well.

Postscript

The matter did not end there, as I exchanged messages with Paris Perfect about our concerns. They actually investigated. The best case scenario: the man is eccentric, but likely not harmful; the woman has dementia, which we were anyway guessing to be true. The two of them seem to have a symbiotic relationship: he supplies the brains; she the money. From the moment we entered the apartment building they were all over us, and it was mildly off-putting. Anyway, … anyway … I wish them well.

Tourists

Before leaving our home in New Hampshire I had read about a newly refurbished department store/indoor mall, called La Samaritaine. The building had been empty for 30 some years when Bernard Arnault, 3rd richest man in the world, got hold of it, gutted the place, and on its steel framework hung a lavish and very very pretty alternative to the Galeria (Paris; not Milan). The locals were pissed, because it used to be a kind of Sears, selling crap to the masses, and now it seemed distinctly aimed at rich tourists. Well, we were tourists, although not even in the top ten of the world’s richest people. Still, we were tourists. And the place was worth a visit. We had lunch there, looking out over all the splendor of its interior. I liked it. A lot.

In one of the upscale shops they had a single shoe on display. Francesca and I love this thing, and not as an actual piece of footwear, but as a gloriously offbeat work of art. It’s a good thing we’re a couple, for I can think of no one else in my life who would deem it praiseworthy. My sister, in particular, cast aspersions. I think one of us is adopted. She’s long suspected that we only share one parent. This shoe, and our various reactions to same, corroborates her suspicions.

J’en ai marre 10

Some other points.

Many street beggars in Lyon are young, look fit, and have an obligatory dog with which to generate sympathy. (They do this in the States as well, so I presume these (mostly) young people (and mostly male) googled how to beg for money while looking eminently fit and employable. “Get a dog; make it look a little scruffy.”) It came close at times to making me give in. Aww, poor dog. One young man had a book instead of a dog. He was focused on this slim volume. Addiction to literature is not a terrible excuse for being poor. Still, I passed by, curious, but unwilling to part with the hard earned. (Not that I any longer work for my monthly check. I find it perplexing to receive money that I did not directly work for. I do not complain.)

Remember the underwear that was left on a sidewalk in Milan? As pissed as I was by this incident at the time, I must confess that I wasn’t really thrilled with my purchase. They only vaguely approximated what I really wanted. To wit, I am addicted to Pullin underwear, which sport elaborate art outside, and occasionally inside. I have one pair that has a woman holding a halberd, the staff of which is a long baguette. My diminished junk is nestled against this artwork, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Although no one is likely to see these artworks, knowing they are on my person fills me with quiet joy. Not all works of art, however, are to my taste.

For example, I have never been a fan of old religious artwork portraying suffering sinners, or Dutch/German-looking baby Jesuses. Today at a local museum I discovered I am still not a fan. It inclines my modern mind to mockery.

Francesca reminded me that I’ve said nothing about the Old Lyon and Croix- Rousse neighborhoods that she had us find and wander around in, as she’d found something online indicating that the area was old, and had funky stairways. So, here I am mentioning Old Lyon and Croix-Rousse, as Francesca requested.

Below, my favorite way to hide my male member while out in public, nestled against this perfect piece of underwear art.

I may not have delta covid after all. We’re at this hotel for 4 nights, leaving tomorrow for Paris. Last night I discovered the pillows are feather filled. I am allergic to feathers. This may explain the excessive phlegm production, and coughing up of same. Maybe it’s lung cancer, but I’ve had this cough for 40+ years, so maybe not.

(In the end those pillows led to an illness that would plague me even after our return home. I did not need that aggravation. We had stayed at that boutique hotel 3 or 4 times before, pleased with their morning and evening food offerings. The evening offerings had been greatly cut back, the pillows almost killed me, and, yeah, so we won’t be staying there again.)

On train to Paris, a world in masks. It cannot be denied that travel like this is imperfectly pleasant. Although I don them with only minor protest, I dislike these masks. My right ear has decided its purpose in life is to hear only high pitched sounds. It has very little use for muffled sounds, and simply surrenders entirely when speech emanates from behind both a mask and a sheet of plexiglas.

Paris

Rue Cler Paris Perfect (Airbnb) apartment satisfactory. I mean, it has a balcony overlooking Rue Cler and our favorite cafe. Francesca loves this street. And it’s my favorite street in Paris, and if I didn’t feel so wretched, I’d be outside with Francesca right now food shopping. Francesca, however, doesn’t need her wreck of a husband to do what she’s doing. She’s in her element (one of many), and relishing every minute. I taught her how to say “I would like”, and “please”, but the notoriously uppity Parisians have met their match with Francesca. Their barbs and glares are powerless against her bubbly enthusiasm. The tidal wave of her charm overcomes all opposition. And indeed it did; in short order they recognized this effusive American and welcomed her at every street shop she visited.

As to me, maybe I do have covid. I feel marginally better today than yesterday, and last night I perspired buckets, but nothing compared to 2016. I wrote elsewhere about that maladie, and at the time only the knowledge that friends in Portugal and the states were suffering from something with identical symptoms kept me from seeking professional help. Anyway, my right lung tends to get icky if it gets too filled with mucus, as happened in Lyon due to those fuchsia feather pillows. If that’s the case, this may be bacterial instead of viral. Or it may be fuchsia both. Just my luck. I thought the cancer might prevent me from ever returning to Paris, and yet here I am, looking out over the rooftops of the Rive Gauche from our bed. One of those rooftops, by the way, prevents Napoleon’s Tomb from getting wet when it rains. We’ll never see that tomb, in all likelihood, for the prospect of doing so fills us (well, me) with ennui, at best.

Oh, I was talking about this apartment. Small. Filled with anal reminders (well, one) that if we break stuff, they’ll be requiring our life savings in recompense. 1500€ if the mechanical toilet gets busted due to trying to flush anything not on the allowed list: poop; pee; their toilet paper. Every time I go, fear of this fragile mechanism makes me shit bricks, which, of course, is counterproductive. Perhaps I am too imperfect for Paris Perfect. But they have been very helpful, and they can’t be faulted on that account. And it’s comfortable, has a washing machine, dishwasher, and functioning stove. (I was probably only griping because I felt sick.)

Something more needs to be said about that toilet. I’ve encountered many bizarre European devices with which one can rid oneself of one’s bodily waste. Some examples I’ve mentioned in the past: the bombs away porcelain hole in the ground; the platform toilet with which one can inspect one’s output afterward, but which prevents pooping entirely – while seated – if one’s poop is in any way majestically long and hearty, reaching the platform before leaving the body; the unenclosed urinal on the way to the lady’s room beneath a French restaurant; the French cafe toilet I got locked in, leading to much hilarity; and the urinal in an Italian park that consists of a 3.37 foot high porcelain plinth with a drain at the base on one side, completely open and unenclosed in the midst of families cavorting in the middle distance. (Note: at the time I was far too shy to use the thing, though I very much needed to. Yet now, testicles gone, sexuality reduced to “none of the above”, I find my bladder is nowhere near as shy as it once was. Fascinating. That plinth would not phase me anymore.)

But in all my years overseas I’d never encountered a “mechanical toilet”. Instead of a handle, one needs to press a button to flush. Flushing does not occur instantaneously, but requires some revving up of an unseen mechanism, and then a terrifying sucking sound pulling everything down that was in the water, but having very little, if any, effect on bits that may have got stuck on the walls higher up. Annoying, but not the biggest problem.

You know the old saying: “yellow is mellow, brown is down”. That is, if you’re at all interested in conserving water, and all you have to do is piss, well you could forego flushing entirely. You could do this repeatedly – I am not advising this – and the worst that would happen would be … well, use your imagination. One thing that wouldn’t happen, in a conventional toilet, is the fluid level in the basin changing. This is achieved by magic, of course, but the mechanical toilet, in eschewing magic for technology, is less forgiving. Empty your bladder in the thing, and the level in the basin rises by that much. So, imagine, if you will (and you probably won’t), what happens if you do this repeatedly without flushing. The mind boggles. Flushing very quickly becomes mandatory, brown or not.

Below is Francesca on Rue Cler with baguette and other comestibles. She is very happy there. By the way, vehicles rarely drive on this part of the rue, but mostly delivery vehicles. It is very pedestrian friendly.

2nd full day in Paris. On the first day I stayed in bed 80% of the time. Whatever I picked up in Lyon is knocking me for a loop. In addition to feeling wretched, I am also feeling guilty for diminishing Francesca’s Paris vacation. On the bright side, this apartment has a balcony overlooking Rue Cler, our favorite street in the world. It’s a culinary theme park, as it were, and Francesca absolutely loves taking the wheeled shopping thingy and roving from store to store – much of their wares set out on this mostly pedestrian street on wooden stands – collecting comestibles for our meals, and interacting with the vendors in that way of hers against which Parisian hauteur is not remotely proof. (Actually, I’d be hard pressed to choose between Rue Cler and that street in Milan with the truffle restaurant, and my favorite shop in the world.)

One of her missions will be to get a juice she’ll be pleased with, my two choices having fallen short. And she found it utterly inexplicable that the French would make raisin juice. I see her point, but she was mollified when I explained that raisin is French for grape. Still, she prefers her grape juice from vineyards, with a vintage, and all that high falutin’ sommelier rating stuff.

J’en ai marre 9

T plus 17 days?

Morning. Annecy. Breakfasted in room. (Meal prices in this hoity toity hotel are exorbitant; there are limits to how far we will go to pamper ourselves.) A friend from Switzerland is due to arrive this morning. His failure to effectively communicate leaves uncertain how this day will play out. The expectation is, since he is a doctor, we will discuss cancer. Oh yum. And old times, and new. He’s to stay in this hotel. We shall see.

He’s here. We lunched. Found a really nice Japanese shop. A long protest march against quelque chose went by outside. The two shop-girls barred the doors. They were impressed and found it sweet that I could say “I love you” in Japanese. (It evidently never occurred to them to wonder why I’d learned this phrase, conveying a sentiment I can express in many languages. Ever hopeful, I never got to exercise my linguistic skills to fulfill that hope, back in the days when that hope could have been acted upon.)

I texted a friend at home that a protest was working past our location. He wondered why the French felt so pulled to this activity. I explained. There is one big sport in France. We have 4 into which to pour our energies. The French have supplemented enthusiasm for soccer (Yay, tie score; 1 – 1. How exciting.) with enthusiasm for protesting. It is a sport here. It even has its own season.

Definitely having fun.

Francesca says: “And don’t forget to add something about the WWII airplane dog fights book guy whose French sternness and aloofness just melted away watching Americans get excited over his book!”

This incident occurred in a tiny bookstore here that we visited prior to the Japanese store, or after, but unlikely simultaneously. Inside there was a pleasant looking fellow whom Francesca evidently found initially stern. He had written a book, historical, as described above. He was selling them in the bookstore. Probably because I thought it might improve my French, and because we have a young friend very very much into all things aviation, I picked up one of his books, and while giving it a gander, he began to hold forth in French about the books contents, and what therein might interest me. Yeah, well, I could just stand there pretending I understood, or take matters into my own hands. I looked at the desperate fellow, and said, “Je suis décidé”, indicating that I would indeed buy a copy. His reaction was one of surprise, delight, and eagerness to inscribe something inside that I would be happy with. Then the booked was wrapped, put into my shoulder bag, and shortly thereafter we departed. I’d like to be able to tell you what the inscription says, but the book is upstairs, on my bookshelf, and still in the wrapping supplied by the author. As I have no plans to read it any time soon, it would be a pity to tear off the wrapping at this point. Sorry.

2021: Year of masks.

T plus 18? days.

Swiss friend departed after torturing me with some frisbee on the grass near the front of the posh hotel. This sport/pass time was how we met over 40 years ago. (Only recently – a month after our return – did it occur to me that he may have had an ulterior motive for making a frisbee toss possible. Maybe he was testing me – checking to see how I may have degenerated. He is a doctor, after all. And maybe I was testing myself. I was satisfied, by and large, with my performance. Although I feel the meds I take daily have decreased my muscle mass and dexterity, what muscle I have left still retains the memory of numerous Frisbee throws.)

Tortuous drive followed from Annecy to Lyon. (Well, by this point you will have noticed that all our drives during this trip were torturous.) What should not have been torturous was returning the car, but it took an hour to stick our Sixt rental in a qualified return spot on a Sunday. Office closed, of course. A nearby address on rental email was a nondescript opening in a wall. Irrelevant. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. (I mean, really, I stood in front of that address, just around the corner from the official office, and it had maddeningly little to do with anything Sixt related – or even car related. Phone calls were required to help us fulfill our quest.)

Eventually discovered we should drive the rental down to level 2 of a certain subterranean parking garage. The femmebot helped us find the garage (on the far side of a nearby park consisting of dirt and trees). This was entered via a ramp into the bowels of the earth, only slightly more noticeable than the one we encountered in Paris a few years ago. There was nothing – absolutely nothing – outside this underground garage indicating that this was a Sixt rental car drop-off point, or, from a distance, that there even was a garage at the specified location, for it consisted of an opening – a hole – level with the park itself, and a ramp leading into the earth’s bowels.

On foot we found the ramp. Then we retrieved the car and drove to the top of the ramp. There was a gate bar that opened when I pressed a button to collect a ticket. Down the ramp a garage door slid open as we approached (which is just as well, as the bar had dropped back down behind us at the top of the ramp). Now inside, I turn a corner and, VOILA! A sign for Sixt (quite small, but the right yellow color). Only here, through gate, down ramp, through the opaque garage door, did we see our first indication we had done this thing correctly. We drove down another level and parked. We collected photographic evidence that the act was complete, and departed in a cloud of profanity. Miraculously, on a Sunday, we soon encountered a cafe selling beer and wine. We drowned our sorrows. This was just so fucking French. I decided to ignore the fact I’d got a parking ticket in Annecy on our last day. Fuchsia.

(The look on Francesca’s face when we finally exited the parking garage says it all. See below. I wish I could show you the entire 3 second gif of her face, for it does this little shake that is quite frightening, full of feelings of fiery condemnation.)

(We gathered a great deal of photographic evidence to support the fact that the car had in fact been returned on the day specified, but it was not needed. In our experience the French are unwilling to concern themselves with such minutiae.)

Oh, and my iPhone 7, five generations old, is acting its age, and hasn’t long to live. And we wear masks most places. And our vaccine cards are frequently inspected querulously. As fun a trip as past years? Are you even listening? (And yet, … Francesca would cavil with my querulousness. She had a lovely time. Of course she didn’t spend the many days I did rearranging everything after numerous cancellations, and we haven’t even got to our struggle to get out of Europe at the end. Wait for it. Fuchsia Vogons again, of course.)

Head shaking; lips quivering; yikes.

You know, like 19 days.

Today we discovered Lyon is really pleasant and nice. Last time here we did the Basilica and Roman amphitheater. Entertaining, yes, but involving much vertical displacement, burning the leg muscles, and causing much free perspiration. And we saw the museum of miniatures, also cool. And there was the young people nightlife near our hotel along the river. And somehow, during that earlier trip – perhaps because we had only two days – we’d convinced ourselves that Lyon had shot its bolt. We were very very much wrong.

Yesterday we moseyed into Presqu’île … Let me explain. Two rivers run through Lyon: the Rhône; and Saône. They merge at the Musée des Confluences at the south end of the city. This museum we’d also visited 2 years (or 3) ago. The museum and its setting are unmissable.

So, right, the funky hotel we stay at is on the outside edge of the Rhône. Cross any of several bridges and you’re on Presqu’île, the region between the rivers. We crossed a bridge and moseyed down to the tourist office to buy a pair of 3 day City Passes, which get you onto and into lots of stuff for free, or at a discount.

You can buy these online, but I was hesitant to do so, at least until we waited 30 minutes in the tourist office for the next available window to be free. Finally, fed up, I used our personal wifi pod and bought the things with Paypal. I wandered up to a desk where two young women were messing with stuff, showed them the pdf of what I’d just bought, and said, “Je suis fini?” Evidently set on giving us official plastic City Passes, one of the women copied a code from our pdf into a computer, and voila, official plastic City Passes. Naturally, while all that was occurring, our number came up and we had an official window to go to. We indicated by word and gesture that the woman standing at that booth was no longer needed. I think this shaved 10 minutes off the whole process. I say this, because when we entered there was a French couple at one window, and when we left they were still there. I’m thinking some sort of Dr Who baddie had hit the trio with a freeze ray. No other explanation fits the circumstance.

By the way, two additional years of Duolingo French seems to have improved my language abilities to the point that when I speak French people no longer look at me quizzically, with a tinge of annoyance inversely proportional to one’s distance from Paris. Still, while gratifying, this also has the disturbing side effect that the person I am addressing assumes I can take it as well as I can dish it out. I cannot, and when they start slathering me with fluent French spoken at speed, the best I can do is listen attentively, pretend I understand, and pray the speaker is not imparting information of grave importance to the survival of the western world, which we highly prize.

Quick note: in speaking English a la Lumiére in the animated “Beauty and the Beast”, the French accent is reasonably pleasant. The converse is likely not true, judging from the winces evinced when French is spoken a la Geoffrey just about anywhere.

Bogging down now, as this is yet another day, and both yesterday and today the highlights were ferry trips up and down the Saône. During one of these we discovered that Lyon, like Paris and Milan, has a fancy area of modern architecture, the Confluence, a ways north of the Musée de Confluence. We had no idea; yet another indication of how far short we fell of fully comprehending this city during our last visit. We really like these modern bits.

We spent a lot of time on these ferries. Our Lyon Passes got us on for free, and you could see a lot of riverside Lyon nearly top to bottom. And, of course, as has been mentioned often, Francesca loves being on boats – moving boats especially.

J’en ai marre 8

T plus 15 days?

Took gondola and ski lift up mountain in Aosta yesterday. Very very pleasant. Well above heat of the valley. We could see the back (Italian) sides of both Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.

(It is worth mentioning that Aosta is pretty obviously a ski resort in the winter. In the summer they switch from skiing to mountain biking, which is hazardous, requires more skill than skiing, I suspect, and considerably more protective armor.)

Francesca arrives in Aosta

(Suzanne’s take on Aosta, differing from mine in significant ways. By the way, she spent time in Tucson some years ago as she was one of the scientists involved with the Phoenix Mars Mission, and it was run from Tucson.)

We safely got to Valle D’Aosta.

I felt it was worth giving it a chance because my friend Laura – a sommelier in Tucson with whom I was very friendly while i was there – told me that THE most special region of all wine regions in Italy is actually Valle D’Aosta. And it’s a very tiny region and makes very little wine, so exports very little, but it’s like a sommelier’s Mecca of a sort. Like they don’t consider themselves complete until they have come here and stayed to test the wine because they cannot do it elsewhere – tiny region, much never exported. It’s primarily a white wine region and we tried it last night – absolutely positively unique – golden wine – I mean rich golden and flavorful – even while managing to be crisp. She was right. It’s unlike anything else. The closest thing I ever had was a wine made by 17 century methods – a rare special wine Klein Konstantia in South Africa. But that was much sweeter. The wine here is full of a very extraordinarily unique and delicious terroir. I see why this ranks as such a special thing for real sommeliers.

And we are staying in a building on the corner deep in a pedestrian zone – this building was made in 1748 – that date is carved into the stones above door in that is a very old wood door just tucked between a gelateria and shop full of tiny carved houses! (Not kidding. House about as big as a mushroom – I guess they are faery houses … in case you happen to have such a need!). The whole pedestrian zone is old buildings and its alleys are not big enough to convert to roads anyhow. All the building stone – thick, heavy, huge stones – so relocation is not option either. The bottom – the ground floor – cobble street level is all shops and restaurants or cafes and the next 3-4 floors – never more – are residential dwellings – fully Renovated to modern – if the one we are in is typical.

Ok – so I had my wine last night. My total reason for making this a trip stop. I had to buy a whole bottle in order to get a spectacular and special one that is really representative – the stuff by the glass is …no, just no. But no problem because in any restaurant you can stick the cork in and walk away with the rest of the bottle. So we have it and are set for the rest of this portion of the trip.

And following the suggestion of the apartment owner, we let them talk us into taking a traditional meal for the region … well, no … they were pushing – it was a suggestion and that sounded like a good thing to explore.

Weeellllll, no! Basically, it is nothing at all like any Italian food. It’s alpine cuisine. Not unlike Alpine French, and Austrian, and some Swiss and German. It’s meat, meat, meat, meat, meat, cured meat with way too much salt, and cheese….but not soft, ethereal spoon cheeses like France, or light soft Italian ones, but heavy artery hardening cheeses. And they do that awful schnitzel thing of coating a plate size piece of meat – cow or veal – it’s thin breading on both sides. Yuck. I didn’t eat it. My whole main. I said I was full, paid my conto, corked my wine and left. They gave me the meat thing in a nice box. I thanked them. We took it, walked to the edge of the pedestrian way down a side where it got rougher – and til I started smelling urine – and placed the box on the edge of a big stone flower box next to a bench – and left. We had seen people begging. Looked pretty homeless to us – or quite down and out anyhow. We tried to find a place to leave the meal they might find it.

Then my response to this meal was to get up with the markets this morning. I had to go to 7 different little hole in the wall markets to put together fruit: berries, figs, pears, peaches….oh, figs – wonderful fresh figs! One of my favs! And salad type veggies: green lettuce, purple lettuce, carrots, artichoke, olives, plus garlic and scallions. And a few eggs, a jar of tuna, some smoked salmon and a chicken breast and some herbs. That’s it. We’re not eating out for a single other meal. I hate their style food. It’s too heavy. It’s not good for me. It’s too meat focused. It’s too touristy. I just hate it. I have fish, eggs, and chicken and veg and fruit, and I am chef for the rest of this stop. So glad I have a full flat with kitchen – and excellent complete kitchen.

Also so glad it is a short stop.

The food shops are like a counter full of meat the length of the little shop … oh, and some eggs in the shelf behind. Or a counter full of meat and a little side row of one tray of chicken. Or tuna on the small side shelf. It’s over 90% meat in every food shop.

I admit, I had some thin slices of a ham leg that was very special – almost like an Iberico ham leg. But the rest – no no no! Not for us. I hunted down and pieced together my own food and we will eat my way.

If this place was empty … or just the small local population, it would be quite nice. It’s nifty looking. Interesting little mountain village. But oh the horror. It’s a flood of Italian and French – but tourists – it’s August and Europeans all go on holiday. So the shops cater to it. The restaurants cater to it. They are rushed. It’s not one table used one per meal but they can change and serve again. One has to weave among too many chattering tourists and I find it most unpleasant.

Can’t wait to meet up with Macé and family and get the heck out of here.

[Geoffrey aside: Macé is a Swiss friend, and a doctor now. We were supposed to see him in Portugal, but, the gods canceled that part of our trip. I met Macé when he was 14. He was not a doctor then, but he played frisbee. I must add that at the time I was unaware that Francesca found the touristy nature of Aosta in August less pleasant than did I. I am aware now, having read her account of our stay there. Also, I need to add that Francesca has a Harvard PhD, her field of study the chemical analysis of anthropological and archaeological artifacts. This sheds light on what she writes below.]

Anyhow…..I like Chamonix about 5 orders of magnitude more than this. This is cram packed with the unsavory kind of tourist – even if they are all Europeans themselves. I cannot even fathom the horrors of this place if it we were whole world tourists. They have just ruined this nice little mountain town and made it like a playground.

Anyhow … after my shopping – my serious hunt for lighter food – I came back and put it all away and then we trundled up the street to the archaeological museum. That was quite cool – to me. Cool and almost empty! And they had the artifacts from right here 7000 years ago. Really amazing stuff. They had large stone tool blades – almost like Solutrian points – so long and so thin – to fragile for combat – they could only be ceremonial! Very beautiful and highest end of skill to flake. How fascinating they were found in neolithic sites in these Alps. And, of course, tons of Roman stuff. The archway in town is from 25 BC. And the museum had a special exhibit inspired by MoMa in NYC in 1955 called The Family of Man with stuff from all over the world and it was unexpected and very interesting. And I bought us passes to go into all the archaeological sites from Roman through megalithic, I shall work on those when I go out.

That’s it. Not shopping here. Not eating out here. We’ll hole up in our flat above it all listening to the hum of the tourist throngs.

Chamonix is so very much better than this. And it’s not so far away. We’re within site of Monte Blanc.

Tourist traps are not for me.

No one else is paying attention to the archaeological past of this place. The ladies at the museum asked me 3 different ways when I was after tickets if I really meant it – if I was lost! A 3 floor museum and I saw 2 other people in it who didn’t work there!

They then had to call about our vax cards because they have not had any Americans and had no idea what to make of this – but wherever they called on the phone indicated they could accept our white vax cards and let us in … with the only 2 already there! Ha! Least crowded place in the whole town.

Ah well. It was a long way to come for trying special wine and seeing the alpine Neolithic artifacts and megalithic site.

Never coming back!

That’s our day. We came back for tuna and salad for lunch at home. We’ll go out later to some of the archaeological stuff. Then home for chicken for dinner.

(Roman. Not sticks in the ground, so even I thought it cool.)

Goodbye to Aosta, and a good riddance from Francesca

And today we did the 3 hour teeth clenching drive through the Alps to Annecy. Prior to entering the big 10km tunnel – ruler straight – under the mountains (there were at least 10km of shorter tunnels prior to that; so much fun), we had to go through “control”. This entailed paying a toll, but there was evidently more to it than that, for you had to do this with a person – an official person. It took some people a long time to get the green light. When our turn came, after 30 minutes in line, I handed over my British Airways credit card, with which our toll was paid, and which seemed to act as some kind of official documentation. I think he assumed we were British, gave the card back, and lifted the gate, and off we went in a fraction of the time of many who’d been in front of us. A bit over an hour later we arrived at our posh hotel in Annecy, my hands thoroughly cramped. I have special gloves I wear when this happens, and down a big pill full of magnesium. That generally fixes me.

As we pulled up to the front of the hotel we were asked by a young man if we wanted him to take our luggage. I politely told him to bugger off. This place charges for every little thing, and we’ll deal with our own little things, merci beaucoup.

Walked to Annecy old town in evening. Picturesque, in a kind of Diagon Alley kind of way. Very nice meal consumed. Yeah, so that’s the bright side. On the dark side, Annecy is one of the premiere August French vacation destinations, complete with what looked like a real Diagon Alley, a pleasant lake in which to cavort, and Alps looming off to one side. In short, it is mobbed with people who refuse to understand my French, and far too many of whom sport shorts, bathing suits, and flip flops. They are here to cavort in the water, bask in the sun, and be something all together more relaxed than they are in the places in which they live and work.

We purchased some groceries on the way home. Heavy. It started to rain. We learned that one does not hail a cab in Annecy, but with the help of a woman in a hotel outside of which we were standing, one was called. It was not her job to do this, but she eventually understood how pitiable we were, and took pity on our pitiable-ness. The cab driver was from the Alsace and asked at one point if we spoke German. I can get by in the language, but it gave me intellectual whiplash making the effort to shift. Francesca’s nonItalian grandfather was from Alsace. We connected splendidly with the cabby.

T plus 16 days?

This hotel (Imperial Palace) is posh, and stuffy, and they charge 6€ for a small bag of peanuts in the bloody minibar. Fooking ‘ell.

Like many places in Italy and France – but enforced more in France – masks are mandatory in indoor public spaces, and in restaurants it is not uncommon to have to show the spiffy cell phone EU proof of vaccination thingy before being seated. Our pathetic American vaccination paper cards have so far sufficed, but they generally give rise to a quizzical lifting of an eyebrow or two before being accepted. On the other hand, we would not even be here were we not vaccinated. Most people realize that, as we are American, and as we are in Europe, we likely had to experience extensive anal probing to get into the continent, and so are very likely safe.

I frequently forget to mask when I enter some establishment, but Francesca usually chastises me into compliance. My mask, by the way, is an EU flag; you know, light blue, with a circle of stars, although one fewer star since the Vogons buggered off?

Good riddance. (Francesca questions my knowledge of star count, but, still … Vogons.)

It is nearly 10am. I need to take my cancer meds, two hours having passed since breakfast. And I need to wait another hour before eating again. Francesca meanwhile …

I find it difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that my wife takes serene pleasure in just relaxing in the lap of luxury, requiring of her husband no prodding to go out and look at stuff. We are done for the nonce with rushing about being tourists. I must attempt to unwind.

Lunch had. Joked with wait staff. Discovered why people express surprise when we ask for butter. This most recent waitress, when I used my best French to request a bit of butter with our lunch, looked nonplussed. Was my pronunciation so bad? I tried again to say butter in French, which is the sound one makes just prior to vomiting. A waiter who knew English stepped over to help. It seems my pronunciation was ok; it was the concept that was inexplicable. In this season the French do not have butter with lunch or dinner. Once we explained that we had been unable to purchase French butter in America since the start of the Covid plague, they became more sympathetic, and butter was supplied. They even were sympathetic when we asked if we could take the leftovers in a small plastic bag. Bizarre Americans.

J’en ai marre 7

2021 Travels Part 7

Francesca’s Post Truffle Post

Then we wandered the fashion district for a postprandial sort of passeggiata and that was very interesting. We appreciate creativity in all its forms. Often just the window displays are real works of art. But no! This was the very first time it ever disappointed. Most subdued window arrangements I have ever seen. Nothing vibrant or explosively creative in any of them! Is this covid effect!?

A few nice dresses that were dead 1920 inspired. I loved them, oh course. But even the majority of shoes and boots were just boring. I can hardly believe I’m saying this.

Can’t wait to see if Paris is suffering the same malaise. Why would covid make it all so dull?! After WWII it was spectacular fashion houses and design that burst to pull people out if the hardship and trauma and sacrifice of war. Why is fashion not bursting with fun now? The world needs oomf again. Even Gucci was dull! And ever since the guy was killed and his crazy sister inherited his fashion house it has been utterly nuts – even to me! But nope…toned down.

(My pic. This is about as good as it got.)

End of truffles; Me Again

A couple of years ago I snapped my favorite picture of that year’s trip in Milan’s Galeria (amazing bookstore there, as well as excellent cafes for a man to have a beer while waiting for his wife and his old girlfriend while they shop). That picture was of a police woman in high heels looking absolutely amazing. You probably didn’t get my travel memoir of that trip, so you don’t know what I’m talking about. I have no sympathy.

Anyway, the picture below, taken at almost the exact same spot, may be my favorite picture from this trip. (In future, I should just hang out at that spot and wait for the perfect photo opportunity to arise.) A fashion shoot was taking place, and the model is changing shoes. It reminds me of the scene in the film Red when Helen Mirren, dressed to the nines for an important political soirée, and she’s just completed some spy stuff and is no longer in sight of the other guests, and she has more spy stuff to do, and unlike the vast majority of films with female spies in high heels who run around doing their spy stuff in entirely impractical footwear, Helen is handed a pair of very practical boots and immediately dons them, for she is a professional, and she has spy stuff to do that involves guns and punching. So, yeah, I love this picture, and the juxtaposition of practical and sexy footwear.

T plus 13 days

Yesterday we left Milan, got to our rented VW, and spent a relaxing and glorious 2 plus hours skirting death with Italian drivers. And I am reminded of something worth saying. We travel with a wifi pod, the SIM chip in which was activated prior to our flight from BOS to LHR. When we arrived in Milan it crapped out, which was unfortunate, as it gave me access to the frequently useful femmebot, and she was supposed to guide us to Fiumelatte. But no. We had to resort to the German GPS that came with our car, a domineering and unfriendly mannbot all of the instructions for which were in French (the car had an F plate). Anyway, later I discovered that Milan itself was the problem. Our private wifi pod functioned (so far) everywhere that wasn’t Milan.

So, still yesterday. Got to Aosta, got into our new apartment. It is comfortable, and the stove works. (That new stove in Milan petered out after 2/3 of a use.) However, we need to climb 50+ stone steps from the street to our door, and probably because this building was constructed in 1748, the steps are of random heights, hence require constant attention. Getting our things up the stairs left us drenched and exhausted. Cool showers were needed.

Later we ventured out into the picturesque town surrounded by snowy peaks. The town itself, however, was warm, and throngs of Italian tourists mobbed the pedestrian ways. At this point I started to realize something. I had always heard that Paris empties out in August as Parisians take to the cooler countryside to vacation. Clearly the same is true in Italy, and Aosta is a prime destination for those escaping northern Italian cities.

This fact crystallized into certainty when we later went to dinner at one of the better restaurants in town. We arrived relatively early (19:30), got seated after our American vax cards were perused, and then I made the huge mistake of ordering the 3 courses on a page of local mountain foods. I find Italian menus perplexing in the extreme, and I was getting increasingly frustrated trying to order just enough food for me, and not a battalion of hungry soldiers. Well, that battalion would have eventually pushed their plates away un-emptied having been served what we were served. As to that, unlike better Milanese restaurants, there was very little pause between the courses. They were happy to have us finish and leave, and seat some later arriving Italians at our table. (This was not the rule, and in the off season it is never the rule, in our experience. You sit down to dine, and the table is yours until you crawl away from it. But that restaurant was touristy from the get-go, and we were the wrong sort of tourists for that season, and patrons were waiting. Ciao.)

And now we get to meat and cheese, and today, specifically at 2am = 02:00. I have written in the past of an experience with Camembert, which is (to me) basically cheese LSD. Last night’s dinner was laden with tasty mystery cheeses, which had me awake (and angry as sin, for the first time, at Italy’s inland diet) for 4+ hours. MSG only does 2 hours, so Francesca thinks the culprit was formaggio. Fuck.

By the way, in the dozen days of our Italian journeys, we have seen fewer than ten – if that – Americans. It’s a blessing, and a sign of how hard it is to travel to Europe from the USA in a plague year.

(We occasionally did see a fair number of Americans, but without exception we did so at crux points – places where they needed to congregate in order to get through some official barrier, like at airports.)

Below the steps leading up to our apartment, Even individual steps were not uniform. A route had to be learned from top to bottom that would minimize the risk of injury. The top two steps pictured are particularly bizarre, and I conclude from this that they were not intended for elites – the kind of people who would have you incarcerated (or worse) for discommoding them in any way.

And speaking of elites, people who swoon over castles and their often elaborately furnished and decorated interiors, are idiots. 99% of those people, were they transported back to the time of the castle’s construction, would have been minions: laborers, lackeys, serfs, etc. (Not me, of course.) Their lives would be full of hardship, a fair bit of pain, and short. Well, yeah. But ok, so the swooners maybe don’t care. The British to this day doff their caps to their pedophilic betters. Stupid of me to even bring it up. Skip this paragraph and carry on.

We saw a Roman theatre ruin today. Cool. There was an even more ancient site, a 7000 year old megalithic ruin, consisting of some sticks in the ground indicating positions of some megalithic crap. It was a trek. The day was hot. Francesca failed to convince me of its worth. Wasn’t on my bucket list; still isn’t. I hate bucket lists. I’ve always hated them, but now – the big C looming over my future – I loath them with added fervor. We did not go see the sticks. (That’s the trouble with the majority of archaeological sites of the order of 7000 years old. Their building materials tend to rot away, and special devices are required to figure out the outline of settlements from such times. Once the outline is determined, you put away your devices and put sticks in the ground to indicate important corners. Maybe add a plaque with an artists rendition of what the place may have looked like. Add a goat to the scene, and voila!)

Today is day 1 of a several day heat wave which will haunt us in Annecy and Lyon, our next two stops. Tomorrow we hope to take a gondola up a nearby mountain. If we succeed, I shall write about it. If we fail, I shall sit on the toilet all day and try to rid my body of dudgeon.

Most of the pleasures of this trip have been of this sort, the sort I’m about to write about, if you’ll just be patient. She – pictured below – and her brontosaurus, saw us looking in the door of a shop at her; oh, these people are looking at me; I will go over, say hello, get cuddly scratches, and the world will be a better place. Fortunately she wagged in English. Dogs.

(Remember the dog in Matera I wrote about to which I gave my Dog Whisperer look from some distance, and who immediately recognized what the look meant, and was all gung ho to respond, and almost pulled his owner off his feet in his/her effort to fulfill the promise of the look I’d given him/her/them? Remember? I recently had a similar experience at my favorite local surf spot. I was sitting on a bench atop an embankment watching the sea, and a girl was walking by beneath me with a smallish bulldog kind of beast, and evidently I must emit some sort of magical dog friendly aura by this point, with a range of 50 meters or so, because even prior to me doing more than just noticing the boofy, it stopped, and resisted being pulled further away. The girl turned around, and I said to wait just a second. I walked down the embankment, the dog waiting patiently, refusing to budge, and we shared a priceless moment together. I almost felt that the dog had turned the tables, and was doing some Geoffrey Whispering, for I really felt drawn. The girl said I must be a dog person. I replied: “you have no idea.”)

(Francesca has reminded me of a detail of the brontosaurus dog encounter of which I was unaware, for I was so focused on the boofy. She – the dog – approached us full of hope, but as I had made the eye contact, the boofy was locked onto me. When she reached us she handed the brontosaurus to Francesca, then turned her attention back to me. She clearly knew we were together, and just as clearly felt Francesca looked trustworthy. “Would you hold my brontosaurus for a moment while I commune with your husband?” And then, communing done, she carefully took her brontosaurus back, and retreated into the shop, as pictured below.)

J’en ai marre 6

2021 Travels Part 6

T plus 9 days

The day started off auspiciously. I promised the Swiss Miss (called Heidi in a previous memoir) that I’d take her to a special place. It’s in what I now thoroughly realize is my favorite neighborhood in Milan: Brera. There is a little street we happened upon maybe 5 years ago, and as I wrote about in a previous travel memoir, there is a little shop on that street with the most amazing window display I had ever seen. There is no 2nd place worth mentioning.

A couple or more years after that we were back in Milan searching for that same shop, and after carefully studying pictures I’d taken previously, we worked out the name and returned. It was still glorious.
It’s called Il Segno del Tempo, and I hesitate to share that with you, for it’s like giving away the position of a secret surf spot, one carefully guarded by locals. And indeed, my impression is that this little street is intended primarily for locals, and those of some means. Still, probably no harm done, as fewer than 10 people have ever read any of my memoirs.

So this morning we hopped aboard the #2 tram and got off at the end of the street of my secret spot. A quarter mile walk brought us to the shop, and it easily lived up to my expectations. I placed my iPhone against the glass and took several pictures. (The door to the shop had never been open or unlocked in all the times we’d visited.)

I noticed a man in the back, and when two workmen got his attention he came to the door and talked to them. The door was opened. I was not about to let this opportunity pass. When the workmen exited, I told the man that this shop was the most amazing I’d ever seen – or words to that effect; I fawned, shamelessly. And would it be possible to come inside? Yes, of course. Keep in mind, this fellow told us that he had only worked there for a year, and he was not an owner. I think we lucked out in this regard.

So, we got in, and I was now surrounded by works of art and science that thoroughly captivated me. Goosebumps occurred. I was simply awed in every direction I looked.

And lo! There was an elevator to yet another floor. Would we like to descend to the other level? Does the pope do cosplay?

(I’ve since visited their website and got an impression of how much disposable wealth one needs to buy their stuff. After our return we discovered our furnace is no longer viable, our circuit breakers ought to be replaced, and we’ll soon need to pay property taxes. Consequently my disposable wealth has few significant figures to the left of the decimal point. Sigh.)

Upon exiting, still giddy with excitement, I half noticed that Heidi was perplexed. This whole eye of the beholder thing is at times aggravating, especially when you are swooning and those around you are making a brave effort to partake in said swooning, but failing utterly to understand why they should do so. Francesca shared my rapture, but Heidi was just nonplussed. But I did not care. Heidi actually wanted to go to parks and walk amidst greenery. I like parks, but they’re not why I come to Milan repeatedly. (Why would anyone go to any remarkable city to sit in a park? Anyway, I found her brave confusion slightly aggravating. I shared something precious, and got a “That’s nice” in return. My fault entirely. In my heart I knew Heidi’s tastes did not encompass this sort of thing. Ah well. And anyway, I hadn’t dragged everyone to this street and shop because I thought it would please anyone else. Nay nay. I needed to be there, and again experience the wonder of that little shop.)

Still, later, when asked to briefly hold a bag containing some undergarments I had just purchased, and, a short time thereafter, perplexed as to why she was holding a bag, she put the thing on the ground, where it remained when we sauntered off … anyway. My fault. And my subsequent ire when I raced back to find it, leaving Francesca and Heidi behind, and then I couldn’t find the fucking thing because I didn’t remember the location, and I told them curtly on the phone to take a tram home, and hung up with noticeable dudgeon, and fortunately found a taxi stand that got me home 60 seconds before them.

Still, I got inside the shop, and it amply fulfilled my expectations. And we got Heidi to the train, and hours later she got home. She is more of an Indian Ashram kind of person. Expecting Milano to thrill was an error on my part, but it was where we were, and it was nice she came down to visit.

As to that, Heidi was not the only one to travel some distance to see us. There would be two other visits, and I was grateful for each. Still, the nagging fear that they were doing so because they might not see me again did not lift my spirits. Ç’est la vie. Ç’est la mort.

T plus 10 days

Sauntered back to our street via Piazza Gae Aulenti. I said hi to a couple dogs. We ate. Walked. Trammed. Rested. Discussed recent events, myself putting a forgiving spin on everything. And now I’m typing. Tomorrow is our last full day in Milan.

Discovered today a long street of outdoor dining a couple blocks from us. Walked halfway down. This place looks nice. 40 or so tables, only one other one taken. Time: 19:40 = 7:40 pm. By 9:40 pm all tables full, people waiting for early birds to leave. Italian notion of proper dinner time differs from ours. Radically differs, truth be told.

As of yesterday, by official mandate (if that’s what it’s called), some venues require proof of vaccination, and a temperature check, before entry is permitted. This being Italy, the mandate – as happened tonight – is often ignored.

T plus 11 days

I should explain. Regarding Il Segno del Tempo, my enchantment is 1/3 the objects, and 4/5 the arrangement of the objects, the magical design, as one only ever sees in Italy, especially in Milano, the heart of design in this country. New York, Paris, Milan, the fashion triumvirate, and while Milan is the smallest, it is in my mind the greatest.

Well, speaking of fashion, we hadn’t done the long fashion street yet, so today we took a tram to my favorite street, lunched at a nice place that smelled of truffles … A word: Francesca is wild about truffles, and even the smell makes her weak in the knees. Curiously I don’t seem to have the right genes for the things; I’m never sure if I can actually smell anything, and maybe I taste them … maybe; I’m just not sure. I suspect they are aphrodisiacs for women, and not for men; or it could simply be I was born wrong – sideways or something.

After lunch we moseyed down to the fashion district and ogled this year’s Fall styles by all the leading designers. Even before surrendering my testicles I was fond of fashion, it being but a part of art and design. Should I be more or less attracted to this artistic milieu now, without my little Gundam pilots? Studies have not been made, so I am unsure.

(Heidi knew of my medical condition (she is a nurse, and her husband a medical doctor), and how I’d chosen to confront it, before coming to visit. She seriously wondered if lacking testosterone would give me a higher voice – more feminine. It hasn’t, but I tried to fulfill her expectations a couple of times, and much hilarity ensued. (But really, why would my Adam’s Apple suddenly pop up out of sight in response to that surgery? Still, I do get hot flashes, and that’s fun.))

Now thoroughly hot and sticky, we headed through the amazing Galeria, across the Il Duomo piazza, and hence to the #2 tram, which took us back home and into a cold shower. And a nice lie down. Ciao.
A heatwave is approaching and will encompass all the region between Milan and Lyon, during the next nine days of our travels. This does not make me happy. If our next place, which is not air conditioned, is too unbearable, we will retreat to Chamonix, higher in the Alps, as we did two years ago.

Francesca’s truffle experience

(Her words, typos corrected by the husband person. Why does my Mac want me to replace the word “by” with “buy”? Am I for sale?)

“Today’s beauty was invisible. It was taste and smell. When we were passing by a day ago my knees almost gave way. The entire street had the divine headiness of truffles. I was so desperately sad we had eaten lunch already that day. Had to go back and have some!“

[The restaurant referred to here is at the end of my favorite street with the little shop of wonders. We got back to it, as I wrote above, and …]

“Oh oh oh … I had fresh black summer truffles shaved on carpaccio with parmigiana – next to our ‘offbeat curios shop’. I ate so slowly to savor eat bite and rest in between.

“Heaven.

“And you might wonder if a restaurant would be mad at us taking up space for so long. No! Not at all. They actually gave us the premiere spot. It was a corner building with a double row of tables all along two sides and where the sides intersected there was a single round table – with as much area as the 4 seat rectangle tables but because of the space around it it was set only for 2. So it was like the best double in the whole place. And we came along and they motioned to it and I thought that’s a mistake and was trying to figure out where to go, so the manager or owner … the clear top person running the place at the time, walked over to the big round corner and pulled a chair out for me! It was true. They put us right in the corner where people going along both alleys saw. Then he gave us complementary glasses of Prosecco. I had the carpaccio and truffles and then some porcini mushroom riso, and I asked for a glass of the best wine to go with the funghi – and he nailed it. Then I had my decaf espresso and suddenly a complementary limoncellos arrived and then when I asked for our bill, another little glass of limoncello arrives. And I was watching; I was there a long while and watching both ways and watching both alleys and chatting with various waiters. And I specifically was watching for others to get free things – free drinks … nope. We were being spoiled. I don’t know why. But they were lovely to us and didn’t mind us taking up space a while – in fact – the biggest table there. Other guests – not all – one large table of many tables put together for 10 all along half the building length – certain ones kept leaning out and examining us – like they were trying to figure out who we were … as if we were someone. The restaurant made us look like we were! Or it must have been my fabulous new shoes with black silhouettes and long flowing lovely scarf!

“Anyhow – everything about the meal was beyond expectation. And I went in with high expectations having been completely intoxicated by the smell the day before. The free Prosecco was not because of the truffles either. It was given to us while we viewed the menu before we ordered even a thing.”

I snapped this picture at the end of the meal:

J’en ai marre 5

2021 Travels Part 5

T plus 4 days

Some mystery food purchased at a butchers evidently had MSG in it. Sleepless until after midnight, then at 01:30 the windows start flashing and the sky started booming, all quite close. Ended around 03:30, and got up at 07:30. Oog. During the MSG inspired sleeplessness, I couldn’t stop thinking about the dog and how little time I had to solidify our friendship. Maybe tomorrow night when we go back one last time to that restaurant.

From an email I sent this morning: “Suzanne went to mass this morning in Fiumelatte, and the old aunt was there (of course), and she grabbed Suzanne and introduced her to several other old women.” Even the fruit and vegetable seller in Varenna recognized her, pleased at her attempts to communicate in Italian. Big smiles were exchanged, and I could not help but contrast this with my own attempts to introduce my Duolingo French in France. Reactions have varied from wan forbearing smile to a look not dissimilar from disdain. In our conversations here we’ve come to learn the Italians are not overfond of the French.

T plus 5 days

Soporific day. Pleasant; not too hot. We walked to Varenna, bought round trip ferry tickets to Menaggio, them tootled across the lake. We were required to disembark and wait for a ferry back. It was 20 minutes late, at which point we were happy with our minor excursion, for a lengthier one – to Como, for example – would have been of an entirely unpredictable duration. We have a dinner reservation.

Francesca’s university teaching in September, which was to be in person, may not be, Massachusetts being the timid state it is, and conflating the delta covid numbers in Missouri and Arkansas with their own. Francesca is feeling very strongly that if this is the case, then she wants to teach most of September from Santa Margherita on the west coast of Italy. We have been there three times before. This would get us back in time for my oncologist appointment in midOctober. I need to check for how long the chip in our wifi pod is scheduled to work, but I think until midSeptember. I could always add a month.

Ordinarily this prospect might please me, but I have just got to the point of relaxing after our flight home was canceled, UK friends visit needing to be canceled, and trip plans needing to be frantically rearranged. I still have some PTSD, so adding a couple weeks to our trip would lead to more hectic planning, albeit without the tight deadline. Oh, I just today learned from our Milan host that Italy tightened entrance requirements on 29 July. We entered on 28 July, which he had forgotten. All the more reason for me to be chary of overstaying our welcome in this country.

So, remember the dog who poked me in the butt to make sure I was aware she was leaving. We saw her again in the square in Varenna today. I said hi, but the scene was somewhat hectic, and she only vaguely acknowledged my attention. But in the evening the whole group of five people and one dog were at the quiet restaurant again where we had first met. I said hi to her when they entered, and they had a table further away this time. The dog crawled under at one point to look at me, and to make sure I knew where she was. When we left I walked over and knelt on the ground in front of her. She was close to tears. I was close to tears. We’d known each other for such a short time, and this might be our last meeting. We said fond goodbyes, some good scratches being offered, fury heads nuzzling into nearby thighs. And then we had to leave. She watched us walk away down the sidewalk. I know this, because I kept looking back. It would have been socially irresponsible to return, but both she and I wanted that. Sigh.

T plus 6 days

Soporific again, but more so. We both had after breakfast naps, then started packing for departure tomorrow. Milano, next stop.

T plus 7 days

Leaving Fiumelatte fairly painless. At first it would have been hard to get lost. There was one snafu after the femmebot told me to take the 2nd exit at a roundabout, and I took the third. A quick u-turn and we were back on track. And then the track merged with a more main road, with millions of trucks, and some fun passing trucks in tunnels … I aged a couple of years, but c’est la vie.

Our place in Milan is quite nice, although practicality is given second place to design. The bedside table – quite artistic in a 19th century sort of way – is attached to the wall in such a way I cannot plug in the device with which I charge my devices. And evidently wastebaskets are a design faux pas. Still …

T plus 8 days

So, evidently lived in previously, this apartment has not been lived in since the bizarre design-focused renovation. It’s really cool and all, but many things you may be accustomed to working one way, they function differently; presumably the trusted past is bourgeois crap. Even the bed pillows compress too much to be comfortable. But they are chic. Fortunately, Francesca brought two smallish pillows with her, and adding one of those proletarian cushions on top of the one supplied suffices.

Oh, and the kitchen is filled with all new devices, including an untested countertop convection stove. It has touch sensitive controls, the idea being, I suspect, that actual knobs are passé, an embarrassment to one and all. So, yeah, Francesca cooked on this elegant device, and just short of completing the process of preparing dinner, it got all sulky and stopped working. This is now the morning after, and it’s still sulking. Oh for a knob to twist peevishly.

And to top all that, today my former inamorata is coming down from Basel to visit. And despite that romantic tie having finished 40 years ago, Francesca still finds her presence unsettling. But she is one of my valued collection of European friends, and, anyway … The fact that I am no longer physically capable of infidelity has no bearing on Francesca’s feelings. But we’ve all been together twice in past trips, and we have even been put up at the home of the Swiss miss, her husband, and two grown children. Should be ok. I’ll try not to be stupid.