Sunday, November 25, 2012

How I View Republicans

I have friends who are Republican, personally and on Facebook; I know other people, some professionally and some casually, who are Republican.  I’m just turning 66 myself and so am in the thick of the age group that makes up a lot of Republicans.   I’m a white guy, too.
I was downsized, personally and professionally, and have had to compromise on whatever it was I thought life was going to give me.  What I felt I ought to have.  What was supposed to be mine. When I get angry and really start thinking just about myself, I can justify any injustice in my life as the fault of, well, somebody.  I didn’t screw up; I got screwed.  The Government is always a good one to blame.  It’s always the Governments fault.   This seems to be a central premise in the make-up of a person who is Republican.  It’s because of the Government they’re not rich or maybe they got their share of the pie in spite of the Government, who is keeping them from getting more.  If it wasn’t for the government, my life would be better.  I should be able to have what I want, from and out of life.

Republicans seem to me to have, to a greater or lesser extent, an undercurrent of anger, arrogance and self-centeredness about them.  Well meaning, but with a twist of control to it, and narrow in their thinking, with a little bit of an “I’m owed” chip on their shoulder.   The kind of person who is thinking - What’s in it for me? What do I get out of it that’s for me?

Republicans seem to be of two types of people, that is, folks who are of the mind that nobody gives you anything and you have to get it for yourself and others who believe it is the will of God.  But what they both share, it seems to me, is that they have this underlying sense of anger. 

Republican people with a religious bent seem to have, just under the surface, an attitude to some degree that they expect you to recognize their effort that came to them from God to give to you.  It may come across as patronizing, to a greater or lesser extent, but the attitude that comes across is like “Hey, I’m out here doing work and you should appreciate this because it is by God’s grace that I come to you,” or something along those lines.  You know what I mean.
The folks who believe you have to get your chips when they hit the table, scrambling for what is considered to be their share makes up what seems to me to be the other type of Republican.   They were raised to understand that every fellow is in it for himself.  If you want something, you just have to work hard at it.  It is the concept of Rugged Individualism.  They play by the rules, play to win, and may or may not weigh the costs of deviating from the norm in order to succeed.  If it wasn’t for the Government they wouldn’t have to cheat on their taxes.  

I guess it could be argued that most people, regardless of their political affiliations, possess many of these traits, or at least a little bit of them.  But, I would argue, people who tend to be Republican share a lot of these characteristics.

I continue to wonder why the basic Republican platform of being against  gay marriage, women remaining secondary to men, white men ruling, guys getting paid more than girls, going back to the 50’s or 70’s when times were good and everyone knew their place, continues to try to be brought back.  

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mt. Lincoln to Lafayette Loop Hike

Saturday, July 21, 2012. Judy and I arrived the day before at the Lafayette Place Campground in Lincoln, NH to spend a long weekend camping and hiking. This was the first time for us as a couple to engage in this type of activity. After agreeing on the placements of the tent, picnic table, screen room, and car relative to the road and fire pit, we assembled the camp, together. It was nice to stand back and feel relieved to find that we’d done it without any arguing, fighting or carrying on. It was a good omen and the rest of the weekend went by like a perfect summer’s breeze, as well.

 In the morning we set out to walk the Mt. Lincoln to Mt. Lafayette loop, 8.9 miles of the Franconia Range, with a total elevation of 3,900 feet. By the end of the day we’d actually climbed over and walked the ridges between three mountains – Mt. Haystack, Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette and stopped in the Greenleaf Hut on the way down for a bit of rest and refreshment.  I even bought a t-shirt.

 It was just after 9 a.m. when we walked out of the campground, through the tunnel under the highway and up to the trailhead. We headed up the path and, at the intersection of the Bridle Path trail and the Falling Waters trail, came to a decision whether to go up the former, making a clockwise loop or taking the latter and making a counter-clockwise loop. People I work with and some others I’d spoken to felt it was better to descend Falling Waters trail; now that I’ve done the hike, I think people like going up the Bridle Path trail and stopping at the Greenleaf Hut on the way to the top of Lafayette because then the action is up front. There’s a sooner sense of reward from the initial effort and an emotional boost to continue.

 My reference book, The 4,000 Footers of the White Mountains, recommended ascending the Falling Waters trail. I believe the more important part of making the decision on which trail to go up, really, was which trail at the end of the day, when you’re really tired, is considered to be more difficult to go down. In hindsight, I am not sure which trail was harder, but we decided to go with the book.

 Falling Waters trail was pretty steep from the get go and we ascended through a hardwood forest along side of a number of really pretty waterfalls. Some were smaller, others larger but they were all really cool to see. At one point the route went up a stone staircase; we just went up and up. When we finally got above the tree line and got to the top of Mt. Haystack, the views were magnificent. Visibility was over 50 miles and it seemed like we could see forever.

 As we looked north, we could see the ridge trail that would take us to Mt. Lincoln and ultimately to Mt. Lafayette. Walking along the ridge was an incredible experience. The path was about four feet wide and most of it was lined with stones. As we were in an alpine zone with really fragile vegetation, the intent was to keep hikers on the trail. On either side of us the mountain fell away and in front of us the trail extended onward. A slight breeze cooled us as we walked, a cerulean sky above us dotted with cumulus clouds gave us the feeling we were walking on top of the world.

 Looking to the right we saw the Pemigewasset Wilderness and the peaks of the Bonds; to the left we saw Lonesome Lake and the sheer edge of Cannon Mountain and it’s ski slopes. We reached Mt. Lincoln and stopped to eat lunch. Looking around, I took in the others walking the ridge. I saw we were in an international mix of people. I saw separate groups of Japanese and Chinese hikers; a group of French-speaking women passed us as did another group of men speaking exclusively German. Everyone was friendly and we were all inspired and awed by the views.

 As we walked along, we could see the gray boulders of the top of the ridge give way on either side to sloping forests, the flanks of which looked like undulating deep green waves. We then hiked over to Mt. Lafayette; again walking along a ridge that I could have walked along forever it was so beautiful.

 At the top of Mt. Lafayette we were among a whole bunch of people. In fact, it felt crowded at the top. However, people were friendly and everyone was smiling and looking out over the range. We met a girl waiting for her father to make it to the top; barefoot hikers who denied problems hiking that way; and, people who were probably marginally fit for the hike but had made it to the top, anyway. We also ran across hikers who were heading up to Mt. Garfield.

 Looking at the next segment of our hike, we could see way off in the distance, about half way down the mountain, AMC’s Greenleaf Hut. We could see the people going up and down the trail, little dots of bright colors against a gray green background. The Hut was our next stop.

 We took the Greenleaf trail, as it was the only one to take, and joined the throngs of folks heading up to the top or down to the bottom. The trail was like a busy sidewalk, in that people were streaming past, going in one direction or the other. My understanding is that the person heading down has right of way over the person coming up, but it didn’t always play out that way. Sometimes it was a matter of who got to which spot first and, rather than contest it, I just stepped to the side when a person ascending kept on coming.

 My experience has led me to know that it is more difficult to descend than it is to ascend. I also believe it is more dangerous going down; you have to pay more attention to where you are in space, whether your body is over your feet and that your center of gravity is neither too far forward nor too far back. Descending is certainly more taxing on the knees and ankles. I was glad to have trekking poles, which help a lot.

 Greenleaf Hut is very cool. I had never been to an AMC Hut before so it was a new experience for me. We were able to walk around inside, checking out the bunk beds, which were four tiers high, the bathroom and the main area. The place was run by 20-somethings so it was pretty loose and relaxed. We had home-made lemonade and maple bars, Judy re-filled her water bladder and I bought a t-shirt and an AMC patch, as I am a card carrying member. The prices were reasonable, the staff friendly and the atmosphere very casual.

We learned that up to 48 people could stay in the bunk area and that everything that is made and sold up there is carried up to the hut on peoples’ backs. As we descended along the Bridle Path trail, we came across two different women, Hut workers, with boxes of stuff strapped to a heavy wooden pack frame that they were carrying on their back. Each was carrying a load that was close to 60 pounds.

 As we passed them, I saw that one of the boxes was full of lemons. I thought about the lemonade we’d drunk and the maple bars we’d eaten at the Hut and how that was the fruit of some pretty intense labor.

 We got back to our camp site at about 6:20 p.m. Our hike had taken us just a tad over 9 hours. Not a bad day’s walk, for sure. Taking rest stops and an extended break at the Hut, we averaged a mile an hour. I think that’s a pretty good pace when you’re climbing up, over and down multiple 4,000 footers up in the White Mountains. The next day, Sunday, Judy elected to not go with me while I climbed Mt. Cannon.

 She took the tram up to the top and we met for lunch. It was a great camping weekend and a picture perfect hike. I have been told that the Lincoln to Lafayette loop hike is the best way to see the beauty and grandeur of the White Mountains. I couldn’t agree more. If you can only take one hike while you’re up in the Whites, and you have the physical capacity, this is the one to take.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dixie the Airedale Dog

I remember it was Labor Day weekend, 2001, and I was sitting on the back deck of our house in Catonsville, MD. My relationship in a shambles and rapidly unraveling. I said to my soon to be ex-fiancee,"Okay, who gets the dog?" Her reply was "You can have it." And that's how Dixie, the Airedale dog, came to be fully mine. She was about 2 months old at the time. We had driven to Buffalo, NY in early July to get her, the product of Tara and Dominik. Dominik was the 2000 Airedale of the year. Dixie was the last of the litter, born on May 5, 2001. She died today in my arms, March 22, 2012, just a couple months shy of her eleventh birthday.

Dixie and I went through a lot over those eleven years. She was bitten by a copperhead snake in August 2002 and contracted Lyme disease that December. We had been on our usual five mile hike that Sunday morning in August, taking the Panther Branch Trail along the Gunpowder River in the Hereford area of Baltimore County. We had just crossed over a meadow, heading back into the woods when Dixie, ahead of me by about 60 feet, stopped to smell something in the trail. All of a sudden she jumped about 5' in the air, came down and ran around behind me. I looked at her, at the coiled up snake in the trail and back at her. Dixie's eyes were glazing over, she was drooling and panting heavily. Picking her up, I carried all 50 pounds of her two miles out of the woods to the car. When we got to the emergency vet hospital about two hours later, the treating vet told me the snake must not have injected its venom into her, rather only biting her to get her away from it. If the snake had, the vet said, Dixie would have been dead before I got her out of the woods.

On another trek on a different Sunday along that same trail, Dixie had her first encounter with a horse. When the riders came into view, coming up the trail we were going down, Dixie stopped, barked, then stood up on her hind legs and stretched herself as tall as she possibly could, her front paws extended skyward. Coming down onto all fours, she ran around behind me and started barking. The horses ignored her and the riders laughed. It was pretty funny. After that, whenever we'd see horses, she ignored them.

Dixie developed Lyme disease in December 2002. We were hiking through 6" of snow on a warm winter's day at Double Rock Park in Parkville, MD. Two days later I noticed she was kind of lethargic and stiff. The vet felt all around her and found, deep in her shoulder, a deer tick literally the size of a pinhead. A biopsy of the tick and a blood test confirmed it. Nine years later, at the Tufts Veterinary School, I was told the impact of the Lyme was end stage arthritis in every joint in all four legs. The Lyme had also caused her to have hypothyroidism and a heart murmur.

One time when we were walking along a trail in the Fork area of Baltimore County, Dixie took off after a fox. A few minutes went by and all of a sudden this fox came racing out of the woods and turned onto the trail, toward me. When the fox realized I was there, all four of its legs starting churning pell-mell. It reminded me of the roadrunner with Wile E. Coyote hot on its tail. The fox finally got its feet in gear and took off up-trail. Moments later Dixie came charging out of the woods, frantically crossing back and forth over the trail, trying to catch the fox' scent. I was able to leash her and calm her down. The fox was long gone.

I remember the first time Dixie got a haircut. It was done by a breeder who also showed dogs. She told me that Dixie was a prime example of her breed, but because her two front lower teeth were slightly crooked, she would always be a runner-up, never getting the blue ribbon. Since I was never going to show her I didn't care about that slight imperfection; however, I did take a class in Airedale grooming, bought all my own equipment and bathed and groomed her myself. I have always liked the show cut on an Airedale and Dixie always looked like a champion.

Dixie had a wonderful, sweet disposition. She was good around kids, the elderly and would let both pull and tug on her without a complaint. One of her favorite activities was to chase squirrels. One day she finally cornered a squirrel in the yard of the house I owned in Parkville, MD. She was so excited but didn't know what to do next because it was the thrill of the hunt she liked; she didn't want to eat it. For a few moments there was a stand-off and then the squirrel zigged and took off like a rocket. Dixie shook herself and walked off, as if to say - "I let it get away." One time Dixie was not looking where she was walking and ran into a pole. She stopped, shook herself and then looked at me as if to say, "What? I didn't see anything happen. Did you?"

One time, after moving to MA, we were taking a neighborhood walk. I had Dixie on a retractable leash and she went up to and put her nose under a parked SUV. All of a sudden she backed out with a cat attached to her face. The cat jumped off and Dixie turned away. The cat jumped on Dixie's back, bit her on the shoulders and then jumped off. I started pulling Dixie away and the cat jumped on Dixie's haunches and bit her and then jumped off. As I was pulling Dixie away, I kicked at the cat. The cat jumped on my leg and bit me several times. Dixie and I both had to go through the full series of rabies shots. The cat was never found and I got a letter from the town animal control putting Dixie into quarantine for 30 days!

Dixie has been my best friend and my constant companion for over ten years. Together we waded many streams, hiked many trails and traveled many miles. She went places with me dogs weren't allowed to go but her regal manner, disposition and looks got us past.

The last few years of her life were really hard on her, and me. It finally got to the point of her not being able to walk, not wanting to be touched because it hurt her too bad. I couldn't groom her, she just wanted to be left alone. Her immune system became so compromised that whenever I left her outside in the yard, from lying down she would get a rash and would itch and scratch.

Two years ago, the cats Gus and Ollie came into her life. She loved them and they all enjoyed playing together. I think the two cats helped extend Dixie's life as they gave her a reason to live. The three of them would tease and swat and rub against each other. At the end, Dixie could only lay there and look at them. She would bark like crazy when she heard one of them at the door, telling us to let them in. To the end, she guarded the house and its occupants, even though she couldn't get up and wouldn't have been able to do much.

Through her obvious pain and discomfort and inability to move, she would wag her tail and look at me with the unconditional love only a dog can give. Dixie was the love of my life. We got each other over the rough spots of life for a decade.

I decided to have her cremated. My plan is to carry a little bit of her ashes with me as I go on the hikes that I know she would have wanted to go on and leave a little bit of her on the trail along with my footprints. Dixie, the Airedale dog: The best friend a person could ever want to have.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

British Virgin Islands Sailing Vacation

At the end of our first day of sailing I chose not to go onto the Willy T. What I was thinking at the time, when the others on our trip motored by dinghy(a fleet of four)over to the Party Boat anchored in a cove just off Norman Island, was that I wanted to commune with the sea, the stars, the air. I wanted to feel the gentle rocking of the boat as the waves pulsed beneath me. Instead, my ears were blasted by techno-rock ricocheting off the swells. spars and hulls of the various sailboats moored among us. Everybody had a good time on the Willy T - drinking and dancing on the second level. I missed watching 20-something aged women lay virtually naked on the bar and have guys suck shots out of their navels - What goes on in the BVI stays on the boat. Fortunately, everyone made it back to the four sail boats we'd chartered for 10 days, starting the day after Thanksgiving 2011, to sail, literally, around the BVI.

We had chartered three 43' and one 51 foot mono hulls from Footloose, at Road Town. There were six people each, 3 couples, on the 43 footers and 9 singles on the larger boat. It was a good mix of people, we all got along and had a good time. On our boat, we all took turns with each of the shipboard tasks, so that by trip's end we had taken a turn at hoisting sails, pulling on the jib, steering, grabbing mooring balls, anchoring, and docking.

We employed a buddy boat system so at least two boats stayed together each day. We had an itinerary that we followed, not real rigidly but one that got us from place to place, snorkeling to hiking to swimming in a variety of settings and places.

From Norman Island we sailed over to Soper's Hole, snorkeled at the Indians and went ashore at Pusser's Landing. The Indians are large slabs of rocks that rise vertically about 50' or so from the sea. Snorkeling there was like being in a saltwater aquarium. There were fish of all colors, sizes and shapes. The water was crystal clear, the seas calm and the sun bright. In fact, throughout our entire trip the weather was in the low 80's and the sun shone brightly in a great big blue sky with white puffy clouds. It rained the day we arrived at Road Town and the day we left. In between it was postcard-perfect.

On day three we sailed from Soper's Hole to Jost Van Dyke, stopping by the Soggy Dollar Bar, where the Painkiller rum drink was invented. The Painkiller is an incredible drink that does take all pain away. It goes down easy, sneaks up on you in a wonderful way and mellows you out so gently you don't feel a thing. We moored off shore and took the dinghy in. We pulled up onto a beautiful beach, walked across incredibly soft sand into a stand of palm trees in which the Soggy Dollar Bar was nestled. Afterwards, we sailed to the eastern end of JVD and had supper at Foxy's, a place, like the Soggy Dollar, not to be missed.

In the afternoon we sailed into Little Harbor, moored, dinghy-ed to the dock and hiked about a mile or so over to the Bubbly Pool. The Bubbly pool is a miniature circular beach into which the ocean deposits waves suited for body surfing. You stand in chest deep water, catch the wave breaking through the hole in the rocks, and surf it into the pool, which at its end is as gentle a pool of water as you could ever find. Babies were playing in the water at the beach while adults were body surfing. It was a beautiful piece of nature's architecture.

The next day we sailed over to Monkey Point on Guana Island and had a great time snorkeling.

In the morning we sailed to Saba Rock and spent the night anchored, not able to go ashore on this privately owned island. Earlier in the day we stopped to snorkel at the Dogs and had a good time. Just prior to weighing anchor in the morning I noticed a big cloud of smoke coming from the bush behind the shore. I learned that in the BVI there is no recycling, no landfills - all trash, including rubber, plastic, metal, glass, whatever, is burned. The smoke smelled like a combination of plastic and rubber.

At Saba Rock, where we went to drop off our trash and take on fresh water, I asked the dock attendant what he did with our trash. He pointed to an island across the harbor, where he said he lived, and told me all the trash is taken there, in bags and however,and burned in a big pile.

I also learned during our trip that throughout the BVI there is no real sewage system, either. When we were at the Soggy Dollar, I realized that when the toilet was flushed, it went down a pipe and right out into the ocean. On board, when we flushed (pumped, really) we were discharging directly into the water. Learning this soiled the trip to some extent, an unfortunate but continuing abuse of what we're doing to the environment.

We stopped at Marina Cay for a night. It is a beautiful little island with a rich history. Subsequent to our trip, I read the book, "Our Virgin Island'" by Robb White. It is a memoir of him and his wife living for 3 years on Marina Cay back in the late 1930's, the island's first residents. The island is very bucolic. We partied at the Rum Island Bar, dancing the night away to our zydeco music. At one point we had the entire place up and dancing. A group of Swedes joined in. They sang happy birthday in Swedish to Tom, our trip leader, who was celebrating his birthday that night. As on many other nights, I had a painkiller and afterward felt no pain.

We spent an afternoon at the Baths. The Baths are a group of huge boulders, some of which fell against each other, that created a subterranean trail that led to a beautiful cove. We walked under, in between and around these huge boulders, the sunlight and shadows playing against their walls, creating exquisite hues of muted colors. I could have spent a couple days exploring the Baths.

On another day we snorkeled over the wreck of The Rhone. The Rhone was a metal mail transport ship that sank in a hurricane back in the 1930's. On the day we snorkeled, the water was clear and we went along the entire wreck. I was even able to see the four anchors that had been cut loose in an attempt to lighten the weight of the ship in an ill-fated attempt to prevent it from crashing on the rocks.

It was a great vacation, full of adventures, learning experiences, lots of drinking, sailing, swimming, snorkeling, hiking, and hanging out with good people.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Madrid, Maine Story

Judy's mother always talked about Small's Falls in Maine so, when we were thinking about going on vacation, we kicked around several places, Block Island, for example. But, after going on you tube and watching kids jump off 40' cliffs at Small's Falls Maine, we decided to go there. Judy had been led to believe that her family on her mother's side came from Farmington, ME, a town about 20 miles from Small's Falls. Going on-line, Judy looked for and randomly chose a B&B around the Small's Falls area. She found one in Madrid (pronounced Mad-drid), about four miles from the Falls. The B&B was called the Star Barn.

The Star Barn B&B was nestled on top of a little rise along a narrow, paved road. It had been a farm and the owners, a 50's in age couple from New Jersey bought the farm, with the intent of making a B&B out of it, lock, stock and barrel from a family estate. Place dated back to the 1860's, maybe earlier. It was classic New England: big house, little house, shed, barn, all attached to each other in a line. The new owners rebuilt the original barn and made it into the B&B. They ran a yoga program out of the barn. Judy & I danced in the studio one night. The owners also operated a gift shop; they only sold stuff made by Maine arts and crafts people. We elected to support the local economy and bought a bunch of items. A wonderful couple, they were open, friendly and made us feel very comfortable. But that's not the story; it's a sort of preamble to the story. Just to let you know, Judy did jump off a 40' cliff into a pool of deep, frigid water. I have it documented. Couldn't get her to do it twice, though. Of course, neither did the other two people with us. One time, that's it. Too cold.

So we get to Mad-drid, ME, check in, check it all out, do the Falls, hike around, check out the locale, take a zillion pictures, and go out to eat. While talking to the owners, Judy mentioned to the wife, Ginni, that she had done some genealogy research on her mother's side of the family. Judy's mother's maiden name was Small, and her mother used to talk about going to Small's Falls, describing it as a favorite spot for her to go. Judy always wondered if there was a connection between the names. Hmmnn. Ginni said that on Saturday the town was having its 175th annual picnic and, if we came, she would introduce us to the curator of the local museum, which was also the historical society and the former school house. We decided to go to the picnic and take advantage of the free lunch. I figured the worst that could happen was the people would be rude to us and we'd leave. On the contrary, we were accepted and joined right in on eating their pot luck food with them right there at a picnic table, one of about a dozen under a white canopy tent. When we arrived they were having a town trivia contest. It turns out that when the population dipped below 129, many years ago, the townspeople took a vote on whether they could afford to remain an incorporated town. By one vote, the town voted to un-incorporate and become a part of Maine's many unorganized territories. Now the kids had to be bused to the regional schools in either Farmington or Rangely, each a bit more than 20 miles away. We met a guy, Charlie Duane, who used to be local but now lived in MA, who had walked the Appalachian Trail in 97 days, from north to south. When he got to Springer Mountain, GA, he decided he wasn't finished walking and so he continued south and walked all the way to Key West. Then he wrote a book about it. I leafed through his book, which was for sale at the B&B, but didn't buy a copy at that moment (I later purchased it from his website).

We were introduced to Evelyn Sargeant, a 78 year old sharp minded woman. Evelyn was the curator of the museum/historical society and a life time resident of Madrid, although she now spent her winters in Florida. Judy told her about the Small's, etc. and Evelyn said there were birth and death records of the Small family and the predecessor family, the Voters. She was going to open the building in the afternoon for the picnic anyway and, if we wanted, we could come over and go through some old books. So we did.

Judy found the birth and death records for virtually everyone on her mother's side of the family dating to the mid-1830's. She found her mother's great grandmother and great grandfather, her mother's father's side of the family, including Judy's Uncle Veo. I took pictures of all the entries. We learned about the Voter's marrying into the Small's. It was Ivan Small who left the farm in Maine, went to Lowell and became a success in finance. Judy knew the story of her grandfather, Ivan, who during the stock market crash of 1929 lost it all. Judy was very surprised to learn that her mother's family was from Madrid, not Farmington as she'd originally believed. She asked Evelyn whether there was any family connection to the Falls, which is a real, true Maine natural wonder.

Evelyn told us that Small's Falls, comprised of three cascading waterfalls with a basin at the bottom of each that stretched about 200' feet through a rocky gorge with cliffs up to about 50', had originally been known as Harvey's Falls. She had no clue how it had gotten officially designated on Maine maps and in literature as Small's Falls. She did say though, that the old Voter farm was still around. We asked her where it was.

Evelyn told us that the farm was about five miles up the road. It had been purchased by Ginni and David Robie who turned the farm into a Bed and Breakfast. It was called the Star Barn. She said they were nice people and might show us their house. Evelyn said when they'd bought the farm, they bought it with the entire contents included. Small world, huh?

The Robies showed us what could be considered heirlooms, restored furniture, old pictures. They took us all over the house, gave us the grand tour. In the area behind the original barn, which they'd razed and rebuilt, they found parts to an old wagon that fit with other parts they'd found elsewhere around the farm. Put together, it was a restored hay wagon maybe 130 years old. When the house was expanded and renovated, they used as much of the original materials as possible. On the outside, it looked original; on the inside, it still retained many of the original qualities, only updated.

After Small's Falls we went to NH where we took the cog rail to the top of Mt. Washington and also did the zip line at Bretton Woods. But those are stories for another time.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Think of being in this scenario: you are in a crowded room in which a lot of people are grabbing at you. In order to get away, you have to cross the room. The exit is at the opposite end. Standing there assessing the situation, you suddenly get grabbed.

In the opening movement of Empi you're standing with your hands at the left hip, right fist on top of left. I've seen several openings from here. The first question is, though, why are the hands in that position? I originally had it explained to me that it was holding a sword in guard position. I never believed that explanation.

I've always interpreted that as a joint lock, in that you've grasped a person - maybe by their head in a headlock, or perhaps you have someone in a wrist grab or joint lock. At any rate, the real meaning is lost to antiquity and forever open to interpretation.

Let's suppose, in the opening movement, and I want you to try this (but make sure your partner knows how to do a front roll, otherwise you might, and I mean this very seriously, break their neck) that your opponent has grabbed you in a rear overarm bear hug, or in a muggers hold (they are behind you and have one arm around your neck). You do the first movement - twist and drop to one knee, quickly. Make sure you keep your back straight. I guarantee you that your opponent will fly over your shoulder. If you interpret the hand movement as a grasp (of them), when they fly over your shoulder and you are holding on to them, you can direct how they fall, plus you can add to their distress. When you practice this with another person don't grab on to them. Be very, very sure they know to tuck their chin and do a forward roll. I almost broke a black belt’s neck while demonstrating this opening movement on him. Tuck the chin.

So you've thrown the opponent who grabbed you from behind and perhaps snapped their neck. You come back up and down block a person's strike coming from the side. Your down block turns into a grasp and, as you shift into horse stance, you pull them into your quick jab punch to their ribs, aiming for and breaking the floating rib.

You next face an opponent from the front and strike at their face. They grab your wrist and pull you in. You go with the pull to fool them, since they think you're going to pull away, and knock them off balance. Using a sliding down block, you knock their grasp from your wrist. If you strike them on the notch of their wrist, you can temporarily paralyze their hand, or you might just break their wrist.

I don't do a stomping kick as I move forward in the movement. If you do, then the stomping kick would be coming down on their thigh, shin or instep. This would make it easier to get out of the wrist grab.

In the kata you repeat this set of techniques in different directions, meaning, I think, that people are grabbing at you from different directions and so you're getting them off you. Then you come to block in front stance, put your arm up and, with your right forearm hit your left palm.

I interpret this movement to mean that after getting people off your wrists you grab a person by the back of their head and smash their face with your forearm. Your leg movement is a stomping kick to the side against their thigh, knee, shin, and/or instep and so the kick serves to set up the forearm strike to the face. The movement of coming onto one leg helps to deliver more strength (putting your body in) to the blow.

You face another opponent to the front and deliver two quick strikes. Then you turn to the side and do a sequence of moves striking and moving in back stance. I have come to the conclusion that back stance knife hand strike is incredibly multi-purpose.

If you step into a person in back stance and have your front leg on the back side of their leg, the knife hand strike will serve to topple them over backward. If your stance is to their front, then your knife hand strike is to their back to knock them over onto their face. Work this with your partner. Do it to both sides. If, for example, you step into them with your right foot forward and to their back side, your right hand strikes them in the chest and they fall backwards over your leg. You have to be in close, so step in.

The series continues with the down blocks serving to knock the opponents grasp off your wrist.

You then come to the sequence of being in front stance and using upward and downward pushing movements with your hands. I was told this was to block a bo staff. And it does. I suspect, given the times, the movements did block long sticks. It's also the same movements I learned to strip a rifle from someone. You push up on the barrel, shoving it into their face while you pull down and in, toward you, on the stock, stripping them of the rifle.

The kata ends with a throw. You down block to check their forward momentum, grabbing their lower body at the waist, the crotch or wherever you can, and also grabbing their upper body with your other hand at their chest, lapels, shoulder, or hair and, using their still moving forward off-balance momentum, throw them past you.

I've read where the jump is actually you stepping over a fallen body. If you think of the jump in the kata as simulating the torque developed by the action of quickly turning your body while throwing them past you, you can readily realize just how far you can toss a person. You might be able to chuck him well into the room, knocking down others.

You step backwards, in back stance, safely out the door at the opposite side of the room.

Tell me what you think - after you've practiced with a partner. Be careful not to hurt each other. If you don't know how to do forward rolls, learn how before practicing the opening movement. Don’t hurt anyone practicing this.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Day 10

We left Orvieto knowing there was much more we could have seen and, to that extent, I felt a little melancholic; however, it was time to head back to Rome and, the next day, fly home. In the morning we walked around Orvieto some more but as it was Monday the museums were closed. I had especially wanted to see the Etruscan art that had been discovered, sometimes accidentally by homeowners whose floors had collapsed into the caves below. Instead, we bought a few things, took a few more pictures and had lunch at the bed & breakfast where we’d stayed.

We had bruschetti that was excellent followed by the best minestrone soup I have ever eaten. It was so good we took pictures of us eating it. Afterwards, full and warm in the belly, we took the afternoon train to Rome.

In the evening we walked around the Trestevere section of Rome, going in and out of shops, looking for last minute presents and generally wandering around. One shop keeper, in response to our question, directed us to the da Oliveria ristorante for supper. On a whim in this charming little ristorante on the edge of the Ponte Sisto, we decided to have, in addition to salad and mixed bruschetti, the roast suckling pig. What we got was a knuckle, with little meat and a lot of gristle. The meal was well-prepared and presented but…. While finishing the chocolate ice cream torte and our glasses of wine, it started raining. It was certainly not a glorious ending to an otherwise, really good though strange kind of meal

Dodging rain falling in torrents from terracotta rooftops and puddles formed on cobblestone streets, we made our way back to the hotel and asked for a six a.m. wake up.

Now, sitting in an airplane nine hours later, with one more hour to go before we land in New York, the vacation is sliding into a memory. We’re now talking about the last hour getting to Boston, then the cab ride home and returning to work. There’s the dog to be gotten, the cats to pick up, food to be purchased. Life returns to normal.

I like traveling. It has its ups and downs but, all in all, being on the road is a nice place to be.

Day 8 & 9 Tuscany

After returning to Florence from the day spent in Bologna, we hopped on a regional train to continue our trip. We were headed to Tuscany. The plan was to go to Orvieto, rent a car and drive around the Tuscan countryside. We did get through Tuscany, but it was on the train going from Florence, at the north end of Tuscany, to Orvieto, at the southern fringe of it. Orvieto is actually at the top edge of Umbria. Orvieto is where we spent the weekend.

Getting off the train in Orvieto Saturday just after 2 p.m., Judy went to find the Hertz Rent-a-car place. She came back to get me and said, “I have good news and bad news.” The good news was she found the place. The bad news was it had closed an hour earlier and was not going to re-open until Monday. What to do?

Orvieto is built on top of a hillside. It sits a few hundred feet up, on top of what could be called a mesa, is a couple thousand years old and has a wall around it. The train station sits at its bottom. In order to think about our predicament, we convinced the train ticket guy, a dead ringer for John Melilli, only with hair, to let us stow our bags while we took the tram up to the city.

We walked the wall at the top that overlooks the plain below with a view like at the top of the Duomos in Florence and Bologna and discussed our options: take the train onto Rome; take the train back to Florence; call Pamela and spend the weekend with her; or, take the train on to Naples. Judy was in favor of the last option. I was inclined to spend the weekend in Orvieto. We kicked around getting into Naples at night, trying to find a place to stay and figuring, since it was a big, port city, we’d end up paying a lot because we would be hot, tired, hungry, lost, and at the mercy of whoever we ran into.

While we were walking up an ancient street in Orvieto we passed a bed & breakfast and had a bite to eat in a wine bar farther up. While walking back to the tram we stopped in at the B&B, inquired, and decided to spend the weekend. It was a good choice.

We headed back to the train station, booked a trip to Montepulchiano for the next day for a day trip (to at least say we went to Tuscany) and lugged our luggage back up the tram to La Palma, the B&B where we were going to stay. Our room is very nice with a big, soft (sort of) bed, a giant chiffarobe and a full bath. It is clean, attractive and the woman who runs it also runs the restaurant downstairs. Her home cooked food was as good as the room we slept in.

We got settled, walked around the town to get a feel for it and found it was really a nice, very ancient town. It has a lot of history, the streets and buildings are all made out of very old, thick stone and, to me, it was the kind of city that symbolized the Old World.

Sunday morning we got up and took the train to Montepulchiano. While on the train Judy said “I don’t have a good feeling about this.” We got off at the train station, looked around and wondered where everyone was. The station was closed, there were a bunch of old guys at one end of the station and, across the street in a bar there was another, separate, group of old guys.

We came to learn that the town itself was 5.4 miles away, the buses didn’t run on Sundays and there was no response when we called the taxi company. Of course nothing was running it was Sunday. We had a cappuchino and a snack in the bar and then went back over to the platform to wait for the train. We would go to either Sienna or back to Orvieto, whichever train came first. We sat for four hours. It being Sunday, the trains ran on a reduced schedule. It got cloudy, it got cool. We got cool looks from the townies. The barmaid did not appreciate us using the bathroom, even though we had bought something. The old guys looked us over and eventually left. It was like a ghost town.

Finally the train came and we went back to Orvieto. Orvieto is actually a cool place. It has a cathedral that goes back to the Etruscan period. It has caves underneath the city that are 3,000 years old. We went through the Cathedral and then on an underground tour of the caves. We wandered in and out of shops filled with dolls, ceramics, clothing, artwork, silver, jewelry, and knick-knacks. It turned out that Orvieto is known for its ceramics and for its wine. We took a long taste of each and found it outstanding. Rick Steves did not list Orvieto in his travel book of Italy. I think that was a mistake.

We found Orvieto to be friendly, accommodating, of cultural and historic interest with good food, interesting shops with a real feel of the “old world.”

Day 7 Bologna

Judy and I took the Eurostar to Bologna today to visit with Pamela. Tim and Scott left to return to Rome as tomorrow they were returning home. Traveling first class on the high speed train, we had soda and cookies during the half-hour ride.

Arriving at the station in Bologna, we wondered where we were supposed to meet Pamela. The exit gave us two choices: Stazione Oest or Stazione Est. To make what could be a long story short, and to shorten our wondering where we were to meet Pamela, Judy asked a guy with a cell phone if she could borrow it to make a call. Another woman understood Judy and started to make an effort to give her hers. When the guy realized what was going on he became very ingratiating to such a beautiful woman and handed Judy his phone. Problem solved; it helped that I stayed far enough away so he didn’t notice we were together. You have to work it how you have to work it.

“Joody!” exclaimed Pamela, waving her arms in the air as she came across the intersection. “Pah-mel-a,” cried Judy, as they came into visual contact. Hugs and kisses all around for the three of us, a fond welcoming.

Pamela took us in tow for the rest of the day, showing us the sights and sites of Bologna. We climbed the Tower, all 500 odd steps to the top, to overlook Bologna, a beautiful, quaint and ancient city. Judy and I remarked how Bologna was smaller than Florence and how Florence was smaller than Rome. But Bologna made up for its size in quaintness and friendliness.

When Pamela first told us she was going to take us to the top of the tower, built in 1009 and finished in 1019, Judy and I were very impressed but we just looked at each other. The day before, in Florence, we had climbed to the top of the Duomo. After that climb my thighs, knees and ankles ached for the rest of the day. I had been grateful for the bathtub at the bed & breakfast so I could soak my legs and feet. But we knew we couldn’t say no and so off we went.

I think, because the steps up the tower were wooden instead of the Duomo’s hard marble ones, they were far more forgiving on our legs. As I sit here and write this, after having soaked in the tub once again, neither my feet nor my legs hurt as much.

The view from the top of the tower gave a magnificent 360 degree view of Bologna. Unfortunately, the day was somewhat overcast and so the view was a tad obscured. However, looking down and around the city we could see clearly. Pamela and I talked about how the roofs were different than in Boston (She had been to Judy’s office on the 30th floor). We both liked the terracotta tiles here better and how the city looked so much more appealing than the steel and glass structures of Boston.

When we got to the bottom of the tower we were met by Pamela’s boyfriend, Massimo. A classic and attractive Italian guy, he was bright, witty, friendly, nice, and instantly likable. He drove a reproduction of a classic Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. Another reason to like him, aside from his obvious adoration of Pamela, was that he was an author. However, he hadn’t given up his day job as a service rep. for the local Volvo dealer. His mixture of humility, machismo and genuineness was infectious. As he and Pamela were only four months into their relationship it’s hard to tell what the future might bring but Judy and I want to think it will bring them together for a long time.

The two of them took the two of us around Bologna for the rest of the day. We went to the Basilica in St. Petronius square, which was very cool. It was the sixth oldest church in Italy. Inside Massimo pointed out to us the Meridian line. The sun shone on this line such that you could tell the time of day, the day of week, the month, and also the season. I noticed the equinox and solstice markings and the related signs of the zodiac.

In the center of the square was a fountain dedicated to Neptune. It was also the local hangout for teenagers in love and for tourists with cameras.

Next we went to a church that was actually seven churches in one. The original church dated to 64 A.D. and, over the years, the church was expanded on six more times. However, each addition, while on top of the previous one, did not obliterate the ones built before. To some extent it was like being in an Escher drawing in which you look in and see additional layers. We were able to get right into the original core of the seven churches, right where the remains of St. Petronius were found and an altar built over the crypt.

In the church courtyard, so the story goes based on a plaque on the wall, Dante sat, meditated and had a vision. The courtyard had, high on its walls at one end under a set of arches, gargoyles that I’m sure were the ones Dante saw. I was thinking he may have sat on the edge of the well in the center of the courtyard, staring up at the wall while meditating.

It was easily the best church of the trip. It wasn’t the biggest like the Vatican nor the most awe inspiring like St. Peter’s but it was the most impressive because there were, well, seven separate and distinct churches in one. It was an ancient church, not a tourist attraction and it was the real deal.

They took us the through the market section and we saw the fresh fruits and vegetables stands and the meat and fish stands. I saw the largest crab I’ve ever seen and, in a box below it, the smallest crabs ever. I saw crayfish; Judy pointed out a whole octopus. We saw a plucked chicken with its head and feet still attached. We saw all kinds of grapes, berries and other kinds of fruit that I hadn’t seen before on this trip.

Bologna is a laid-back, friendly town, home of Ducati motorcycles. An old, old city of ancient history, it is noted for its use of arches in its architecture. I think, if I were to live in a city in Italy, I would choose to live in Bologna.

At day’s end, we all hugged and kissed each other goodbye. Tears flowed between the girls and we hugged and kissed each other some more. Massimo stayed with us until the train pulled into the station. We enjoyed his continuing to practice his English. I wished I spoke Italian so I could speak at length with him on what I knew were many mutual interests. Maybe there will be another time when we cross paths. Maybe we’ll never see either of them again. Maybe our day together will always keep us in each other’s memory. I know I won’t forget them or the day they gave to us to show us their city and a little bit about them.