Monday, February 1, 2016

It's a Musical!

Before our most recent trip to New York City, I had never seen a Broadway musical. The day we arrived, we went to see Kinky Boots. The next day we saw a taping of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert then in the evening saw An American in Paris. The third day we went to a taping of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. The fourth and final day we saw Something Rotten. All these shows were entertaining, of course, but I have now seen enough Broadway musicals and taping of TV shows.

It wasn't all song and dance, however. We walked around Times Square and Rockefeller Plaza and strolled through the snow in Central Park and along the Upper West Side. We visited Trinity Church (and Alexander Hamilton's grave) and St. Patrick's Cathedral. We saw the Sorolla paintings at the Hispanic Society of America in Washington Heights and spent an afternoon at the Frick Museum. We were awed by the beautiful and moving 9/11 Memorial downtown. There was even time for stops at the New York Public Library, Bryant Park, and Grand Central Station. Amidst all this rushing about I sometimes had to sit down for a rest.

Central Park

Click on the image for a larger view on Flickr and more details.

(We arrived just two days after one of the biggest snowstorms in New York history. We saw snow everywhere, piled up along curbs, in the middle of the street, along the sidewalks, but it had no effect at all on the life of the city. New York had done a remarkable job of bouncing back and getting on about their business.)

I wasn't especially pleased with my snaps on this trip. It was cold and whenever we were on the streets we were bundled up, making it difficult to reach in my coat and get my camera out. But I did get a few snaps worth sharing, in this Flickr album: A Few Days in New York City.

This was our first visit to New York since 2007 and we liked it so much that we're going back in less than three weeks. American Airlines is offering round-trips from DFW to LaGuardia for $81; with a fare like that, who can resist?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

On Diplomacy

In these early days of presidential primary season, virtually all the Republican candidates are calling for vigorous military action against our enemies, real and imagined. Obama is weak! Carpet bomb ISIS! Our military will be so strong no one will dare challenge us!

Such talk makes me ill. Almost 50 years ago, I was in Vietnam, a UH-1 (Huey) helicopter pilot for the U.S. Army. For a year, from 1968 to 1969, I flew missions as part of a crew (two pilots, a crew chief, and a gunner). We always flew by ourselves, a single ship, sometimes in air traffic jams around huge airports like Tan Son Nhut (Saigon) and Bien Hoa, sometimes alone in the sky for miles and miles, eventually landing in a soccer field next to a school, on a bare piece of dirt alongside a canal, or on top of a mountain. We went into the southern Highlands, Song Be, out to the coast, Phan Thiet, and deep into the Mekong Delta, Ca Mau.

Many times we would land to be greeted by kids. Smiling, happy kids, in awe of our aircraft, eager to see it, and us, up close. These young fellows below are middle-aged men now, if they are still alive, which I most dearly hope they are.

1969:  Sa Dec

Vietnam was hot so I often flew at some altitude, into cool dry air, to escape the heat. The green fertility of the tropical country was overwhelming, nature unleashed to grow as much and as fast as she could manage.

Losing altitude made the damage to the country sickeningly apparent. Vast forests had been sprayed with Agent Orange, leaving bare trees and lifeless soil. Arclight strikes, massive raids by fleets of B-52 bombers, left miles of bomb craters disfiguring the landscape.

The U.S. then had, and has now, the mightiest military in the world. At the peak of the war, when I was there, we had well over 500,000 troops in country. (Compare this to the Iraq war, when our strength peaked at 170,000 in 2007.) As for carpet bombing, by the time the war was over we had dropped over 7 million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia -- this is twice (yes, TWICE) the total of all bombs dropped in Europe and Asia in World War II. We lost over 58,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. Estimates of total deaths caused by both sides range from 1.5 to 3.5 million people.

After all this, we lost. No other outcome was possible. The Vietnamese were fighting for their own country, spurred by hopes of independence and freedom from foreign domination. The Vietnamese fighting on 'our' side gave up, having nothing to fight for; their own government was unbelievably corrupt and at the end fled to the U.S. and Europe with tons of gold.

The widespread destruction I witnessed in Vietnam convinced me that never again would the United States commit so many resources to such a senseless and foolish war. How wrong, how very wrong, I was. Now, in 2016, some Americans want to do it all again. They want to waste dollars and lives in a vain attempt to, what? Fulfill some hapless leader's egotistical fantasy? Prove to ourselves that we are tough and fearsome? While the rest of the world cries out, the Emperor has no clothes.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Bronze Age

We're beginning the new year with a short trip to Washington, D.C. There's always things to do in the nation's capital, but the special reason for this trip is the exhibit Power and Pathos at the National Gallery, an impressive display of 50 Hellenistic bronze sculptures.

(Quick history refresher course, if you're interested: The Hellenistic period begins with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. and ends in 31 B.C. with Octavian's victory over Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium. During these three centuries, Greek culture, art, and science dominated the Mediterranean world.)

There are not many of these sculptures still in existence, and the ones that remain are scattered all over. Usually you have to travel far and wide to see individual pieces. Back in 2002, on a car trip through Italy's Le Marche region, we visited the small town of Pergola to see the magnificent Gilt Bronzes from Cartoceto di Pergola. In 2009, during a trip to Rome, we oohed and aahed over this life-size figure, called simply The Boxer.

The Boxer

Click on the image for a larger view on Flickr and more details.

We're staying at a hotel near the Mall and a couple of Metro stops, so we'll be able to wander about and find other stuff to look at. If they're interesting enough I'll blog about them or maybe even take a snap or two.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Scooters of Lyon

As in most European cities, Lyon's streets and sidewalks are a busy mixture of pedestrians, motor scooters, bicycles, buses and trams, cars, and even skateboards. Add to this mix something new, at least to me: scooters. Yes, scooters, the kind where you push yourself along with one foot while grasping a small set of handlebars connected to a steerable front wheel.

The first one I saw almost ran us down. The Lyonnais are quite nimble and proficient, able to zip with ease around and through crowds of mere pedestrians. Bicycles and motor scooters have to go in the street, contending with the dangers of cars and trucks, but scooters use the sidewalks.

The scooter riders (drivers? users? daredevils?) cut across all age groups and demographics: small children, students, GenXers and millenials, professionals, a few almost as old as me, alone or in groups, sometimes whole families.

Here then is my small selection of snaps of scooters in Lyon. It's not easy to take a photograph of someone on a scooter. They are upon you and past in a flash, so many of my snaps are of the scooters receding in the distance as I fumble with my camera.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Week in Lyon

The flocks of summer tourists have flown home by now, back at their daily grind of work or school. Souvenir stands are shuttered. English-language menus are gone from restaurant windows. Pickpockets and petty thieves have migrated to warmer climes. In short, Europe has largely returned to a life of normalcy.

Thus it is time for us to leave our apartment in Texas for a new adventure. There is still much to see and do in Italy and Portugal but today we're striking out in a new direction: France! We've been to Paris a couple of times but the rest of the country is unknown to us.

We're flying to Madrid and then on to Lyon for seven nights. Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France, has been at the top of my to-go-to list for quite a while. Just north of the city lies Beaujolais and beyond that, Burgundy, while south are the vineyards of the Rhone. At the very least, we will not go hungry or thirsty.

As usual, the language will be a challenge. We are trying to learn the words for all the varieties of organ meats like brain and tripe so that we don't accidentally order any. I do know that I must be as polite as possible. Bonjour, madame! S'il vous plaît! Merci! Bonsoir, m'sieur! But I probably should go easy on the exclamation marks.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Nigel and the Pope

As his eyes slowly opened, he became aware of the faint morning light, the first vague shadows emerging from the darkness. Beyond the gauze curtains, rippled by the warm breeze, he could see sunlight upon the terrace. He sat up and noticed the disarray about the room: his tuxedo, her gown, the empty bottle of Cristál. And beside him, Aliá, still asleep, facing away from him, the sheet turned down to her thighs in the heat, the indentation of her spine and the smooth curve of her hip reviving in his mind the consuming desire of only a hour before.

The .45 automatic, a large and elegant N filigreed into the ebony grips, was on the bedside table. Picking up the pistol, he firmly but quietly pulled back the slide then eased it forward, chambering a round. There was work to do today, payments to be made, contracts to be filled.

He reflected for a moment on the turmoil and violence of his existence, the moments of passion stolen from the days and nights of confrontation and death. How different, how very different, from those simple days on his father’s estate, the carefree days frolicking about the grounds, safe from the world’s terrors. And his dear nanny, Deirdre, always stern and proper when his parents were about, but so affectionate and devoted when they were away from prying eyes. His life had been turned upside down when she left to marry that doltish dustman Archibald. Ah, Deirdre, he thought, if we could have frozen space and time and the farthest reaches of the cosmos, if we could have stayed forever within a world of our own making, if we could have.

But of course they couldn’t. He turned and lightly stroked the small of Aliá’s back. In his mind he again said goodbye to fair Deirdre, then smiled as he thought, if only I had known what was to follow. The reflection ended, the smile gone, he knew it was time to get moving.

An hour later he was quickly pacing back and forth across a large room, oblivious to the elegant furnishings, the ornate wall hangings, the echoes produced within the 30 foot ceiling. He chain-smoked as he walked, hesitating slightly whenever his cell phone rang only to be ignored. “Damn him!” he thought. “He must come through! And it had better be quick!” He could hear the sounds of an immense crowd outside. “Jesus, all those people acting like sheep, crowding into the square, whenever he decides to show his bloody face! Just so they can hear him pontificate some stupid bullshit! ‘Blessed Pontiff’ my ass!”

After several more circuits of the room and not a few cigarettes, he abruptly stopped as the doors opened, and in walked the Holy Father himself, accompanied by three red-robed cardinals.

“It’s about fucking time! Couldn’t you have cut the crap short today?” The pope smiled wanly at this stern rebuke, as the cardinals raised their eyebrows and opened their mouths in silent gasps.

“Tell these guys to beat it; you and I have to talk.” The pope, showing the debility of age, turned stiffly to the cardinals and made a slight hand gesture, bidding them to leave the room. After they had left and closed the huge doors, the pope finally spoke.

“Now, my son, please, let us talk.”

“There’s not much to talk about. It’s quite simple. You, the great and powerful Holy Father, started this mess. You stirred things up with that Papal Bull, you brought back Deirdre to be involved in this harebrained scheme of yours, then you left me in the lurch. I expect you to finish it, and quickly. If you don’t, you’ll need more than that bloody Popemobile to protect you when you go to Rio.”

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Write About What?

Fingers poised above the keys, he was ready to begin writing. Yes, write, but about what? He would think of something, a subject would present itself, some topic would drift into his consciousness, and then he could get down to the real business of writing. He would assemble words and sentences and paragraphs with rigor and precision and even passion, crafting prose that awed with its brilliance and wooed with its ardor.

Politics was out. Everybody talked and wrote and screamed about politics. Not only had everything already been said, it had all been said too many times over and over. Besides, no one wanted to listen about politics, they only wanted to be heard. No, no, politics would never do.

Religion? Pass. He worked all that out in his head over 50 years ago and had nothing more to say.

Art presented possibilities. Everybody loved at least some kind of art, painting or pop music or decorative plates or video-on-demand. Art could be sad or funny, inspiring or insipid, and you could say ridiculous things with big words and somebody somewhere would take you seriously. On second thought, maybe writing about art was not a good idea.

Between art and politics and religion was culture. Ah, modern society. There might be some heretofore unseen insights that he could discover and share. This was a fertile field full of social media, clash of generations, riches and poverty, the –isms of race and sex, the complexities of being human in an increasingly inhuman, impersonal world — he perhaps could make new connections to startle and illuminate.

Yes, culture. His fingers relaxed slightly as he thought about culture. He thought some more as he pulled his fingers away from the keyboard and placed his hands in his lap. Still thinking, he turned to look out the window. It was hot out there, sun glaring, and he had to get up and close the blinds a bit to keep the room cool. That’s better now, he thought as he sat back down and started thinking about culture again.

Culture was really human nature writ large and to do that any justice one needed to write a novel, even a trilogy, or a big heavy book of history or philosophy. Proust wrote a gazillion words and even he couldn’t cover it all. The more he thought about it the more he felt that it was a bit more than he wanted to tackle, not right now anyway. Maybe next week.

UncaMikey visits Marcel

Technology is a popular topic and people always seemed eager to learn about the latest gadgets and trends, but he didn’t own a smart phone and wasn’t quite clear on the concept of Twitter. Thirty years ago one could make jokes about not being able to set the time on the family VCR but that was child’s play, today it’s all a blur, clouds and streaming and hashtags and trending topics. He wasn’t ready to write about technology but was open to reading about it. Tomorrow, maybe.

He noticed it was late afternoon and that he was getting a bit drowsy. His fingers were no longer ready to pounce on the keyboard and his brain had given up the search for a suitable subject. His passion for words had waned as his body felt the inexorable pull of the couch. Creativity yielded, as always it must, to lethargy. It was time to lie down and take a nap.