Puccini in the Irish Rain

Story of my life: I am in the back of a beautiful new Mercedes approaching Dublin airport when a beautiful Puccini piece for two voices comes on the radio. I ask the driver to turn it up.  He does and the music and sound system together are amazing.  I anticipate the first crescendo of the piece and when it hits it washes through my brain, if you understand that kind of a high.

We pull up to the terminal long before the song is through.   The driver realizes I am enjoying the moment and tells me I with a genuine Irish charm that I am welcome to wait in the car until the song is through. I desperately want taking him up on this kind indulgence, but my travel colleague is out the door and behind the trunk awaiting their bags in the rain.

I tighten my scarf, button up my overcoat and step into the storm, leaving that perfect moment behind, bound to cover just a little more ground.
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Bound to Cover Just a Little More Ground
Puccini in the Irish Rain

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Enrich your life with family and friends who will be there for you in good times and bad.   Meb Keflezigh et al., Run to Overcome

I had to fly to Minnesota in October for a 6-hour meeting.  Loathsome was the idea of the travel days, yet the silver lining was the opportunity to catch up with Tweep Kat and her husband, Marcus.

Definition Tweetup: When two or more people from Twitter meet up, usually for socializing usually involving the consumption of food or in some rare special occasions, beverages.

In the odd confusing world that is social media, Kat is a tweep most dear.   She has a down to earth, joie de vire that just makes her a delight to be around.  She also is the author of  Tenaciously Yours, a blog which among many other things every Friday features Kat’s latest culinary creations.  As much as I detest the practice of defining a person in terms of another person (e.g.  Julie is Karen’s mother), Marcus, despite being cool in his own indefinable way, can best be described as the perfect life-mate for Kat.

Air travel these days being like an old, mishandled box of chocolates,  you never know what you are going to get, but the downside risk exceed the upside.  I contemplated all the options to get from Southern California to Minneapolis.  The smartest choice was to drive to LAX and fly to Minneapolis directly.   There was also an option to fly out of Orange Country airport through Denver.  The day would be longer, but there wouldn’t be that annoying drive to LAX, the worst major airport in the civilized world.

Side Note: All travel is about risk mitigation.  Carry bags  mitigate the risk of a lost luggage.  Direct flights mitigate the risk of missed connections.   One never wants to have unnecessary legs without a good reason, especially in winter months.

Every major petty decision in life requires a tweet.  As I was deciding how to get to Minnesota,  another valued Tweep/blogger, Piper Bayard offered to drive out to the  airport for a quick tweetup should I decide to fly through Denver.  I would also describe Piper as unique. She and I are different on many levels, yet we seem to resonate on the same frequency, if you understand what I mean.  I think that’s more a function of her nature than it is of mine. She is a recovering lawyer and now author of two items on my Kindle, the book Firelands and a very imaginative piece in the Risky Brides collection of novels and novellas.  Both books are available on Amazon.

I had to think about Piper’s offer for a few days, weighing the unnecessary risks of flight delays and the potential delays related to clearing security in Denver.  Having made the commitment with Kat and Marcus upon my arrival in Minneapolis, I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk being late.  After I finished over thinking it , I simplified it down to , “someone was willing to come out and see me at the airport, I should be grateful”.   And with that, I scheduled two tweetups within 5 hours of each other in two separate states. “Crazy Making” is what my wife refers to this desire to fit as much into as little time as possible.

With Author Piper Bayard in Denver Airport
With Author Piper Bayard in Denver Airport

The flight from Santa Ana to Denver went off without a hitch.  I caught up with Piper for tea.   We had about an hour to catch up on her recent travels, having teenagers, being children of the 60’s in the modern world.   We also talked about an upcoming book that she and her partner Jay Holmes  are writing involving a special protagonist. Before we knew it, we were taking the requisite selfies and saying goodbye… for now.

The flight to Minneapolis was also unremarkable and I quickly found the location of our tweetup.   I was an hour early so at Kat’s advice I took a walk down to the Mississippi River.

One of a Dozen Pictures of Trees I took in Minneapolis
One of a Dozen Pictures of Trees I took in Minneapolis

It was a short 10 minute walk toward the river and I marveled at the turning leaves in the neighborhood. It was important to me to see the Mississippi again.  In my life have seen or crossed the Mississippi river at ground level in 6 of the 10 states it flows through, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee , Iowa, Illinois and Louisiana.  I don’t think I will ever forget looking up at the Mississippi river when I was in New Orleans.

The Mighty Mississipi in the North
The Mighty Mississippi River in the North, “when it is still clean” as Marcus pointed out.

I met up with Kat and Marcus at the designated eatery.   The place was a clear winner from a food perspective as it had good beer, fried veggies, and cheeseburgers with the cheese contained within the burger (and they think Everything’s up to date in Kansas City!).

The Cheese was inside the burger
The Cheese was inside the burger

I think social media confuses my brain.  I hadn’t seen Kat and Marcus in over a year, yet through tweets, Facebook and Instagram, it felt like just a couple of weeks, although that could just be the whole life moving faster thing.   We caught up on the things one doesn’t necessarily tweet or post about and shared a meal and a beverage.   It was just good to be around them again.

Post Tweetup Pic with Kat and Marcus
Post Tweetup Pic with Marcus and Kat

 Accomplish something every day and give thanks for the ability to do it. ~ Run to Overcome

After leaving the two coolest people in Minnesota (and possibly all the mid-West), I headed for my Holiday Inn Express in Chanhassen.   I checked in a very  comfy, clean (sterile) and spacious room.  After calling home to check in and putting all the devices to charge, the available options were to check email or watch TV.

There is an emptiness about being in a chilly hotel room when there is nothing left to do in the day, not even eat.   It’s what I call a “now what do I do?” moment.  The feeling of being alone is magnified ten-fold when there is nothing to get done and there are no travel companions to hang out with.  I suspect there is a madness that comes from being in that place for too long.

I sat in the comfy hotel chair with just a single light on in the room and put The Dream Academy’s Life in a Northern Town on repeat (see video below).  I thought about the people I was lucky enough to catch up with today, both at home and on the road.  I thought about the role some of these dear and other people on Twitter hold in my life.  There’s that lady in Scotland, and that guy who just ran his first NY marathon following his multiple hip surgeries.  He has a new girlfriend and she’s a Yankee fan! There is that one lady who recovered from cancer and the one training for the marathon in a few days.  There’s that doctor in Canada, trying to match up for a residency and that other Canadian lady who after finishing her P.h.D. married and just had a baby.  Then there is that certain one in Bahrain and the newlywed who married that special lawyer, FINALLY!  These are all real people and their stories and struggles are better than anything television can dream up.  In social media as in life, there are opportunities that one lets pass by and those one creates time to share a beverage with.

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Travel Day 19: Osaka – Nothing teaches gratitude like not being able to do what one enjoys.

Happy Friday People!

Travel day 19 of 2014 had me waking up at 4:30am in Osaka, Japan after a typical Japanese business dinner.   Japanese sake has no preservatives, so one doesn’t wake up with a headache.  It took about 6 hour and a lot of baby aspirin to relieve the headache I didn’t have.

The meeting for the day took up about four very intense hours and then we went out for lunch (more sushi).  After that, I was free to go back to my hotel.  I packed my bags for tomorrows train trip and decided to take a walk to the nearby Nike Store.

Because it is so humid, I put my running clothes and strapped on my Garmin to take it on a test run.  My Garmin has miraculously recovered from whatever problems it had on Monday when I was in China.  Were I a conspiracy theorist, I would think that maybe the PRC doesn’t want people using unauthorized tracking tools, but that would just be nonsense (This is why they don’t give me access to WordPress in China).

Seems Clear Enough
Streets are a No Smoking Zone

Very quickly, my walk became a run. This was the second run this week and the second since the Big Sur Marathon. I didn’t think the calf would be ready to run again, but it was.    I was able to take some big long strides down the streets of Osaka for as long as my diminished fitness would allow.  It felt wonderful to open up and be able to take a full stride.  City running is fun, except for all the stopping at red lights.

It was about 3km to the Nike Store where I found a few things for the family.  I spent like a billion yen, I’m not sure how much that is in dollars, but I am sure I will hear [it] from my wife the transaction post tomorrow.

One the way home, I saw a Starbucks with a sign for a Marble Carmel frappuccino with JELLY.  Yes, chunks of jelly IN the drink.   Although I am usually a person who goes for the skinny drinks, this had to be tested and it was oh so fun to suck up the jelly.

A Jelly Cappuchino
A Jelly frappuccino and Tiramisu

I think it might have been better as a peanut and jelly frappuccino, but what do I know?  I also had a piece of tiramisu.  Don’t judge, I’ve eaten according to everyone elses rules this week.  In China, one does not eat all the food on the plate at is potentially awkward for the host.  In Japan, one eats whatever is put in front of one whether it is still moving or not.   This was a chance to have just a little moment of self-determination in a week of being a perpetual guest.

As I walked out of Starbucks the skies opened and the rain poured down in buckets.   I ran into a nearby Apple Store to check out the inventory.  It was interesting to see a Japanese Genius Bar and all the users all nicely queued up.

As the storm passed, I made my run back to the hotel.  Surprising the knee and calf did not tighten up as they have during the past six months.  Perhaps this time off from running is helping them recover.   Nothing teaches gratitude like not being able to do what one enjoys.

Siesta in Osaka
Siesta in Osaka

It’s about 7:30pm now. I am packed and ready to hit the road in the morning. I have back to back phone calls with California and Europe starting at 10pm tonight.  But first, I need some dinner.  There is a sushi bar across the street that makes a nice presentation of some good sushi.  As presentation is very important here in Japan, I thought I would share how my dinner was presented.

Presentation of my take-out
Presentation of my take-out

If nothing else, the first work week is over. Tomorrow is a travel day and if the cooperates, Sunday will be a really awesome day.

Peace People!

Travel Day 19: Osaka – Nothing teaches gratitude like not being able to do what one enjoys.

Day 4 – London

<— Day 3

Day 4 was a designated laundry day.  On a two-week trip like this with multiple hotels, laundry days have to be carefully staged.  One needs enough time in a hotel to wash the laundry in the sink and allow it to hang dry.   After everything that needed washing was hung,  I gathered myself for the day and walked over to my sister’s house. We hung out, laughed and listened to the radio while chatting about this and that.   One topic of discussion was an article I read in the Financial Times that morning about how Londoners are getting priced out of the city.   My brother-in-law explained how on the block they live on, several foreign families have come in over the years and just bought up the houses around them.  I noted the concern he had around how many foreigners and are moving to the UK and having multiple children.   My brother-in-law foresees a day in the next 20 years where the Prime Minister would not be Christian.

I showed my sister the pictures from the Rijksmuseum from the day before and she thought it would be a good idea to go to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square and see a painting of Madam de Pompadour.   So we called up my cousin and made arrangements to meet later on that day.

The Climb Out of the Tube
The Climb Out of the Tube

It took 3 trains to get from my sister’s house into London.  Despite my knee, I decided to take the stairs rather than the escalator to get out to the surface.   Stairs, I do them.

My sister and I had quite a bit of time to kill, so went on a bit of a walk about.   We walked by Big Ben and took pictures along the Thames by Queen Boadicea’s statue.   We stopped at a coffee house and had a quick snack along with some tea.

Queen Boadicea's Statue
Queen Boadicea’s Statue

Further down the road we came across 10 Downing Street, home of the Prime Minister.  I remember going by there as a small boy with my grandmother.  I distinctly remember the police stationed on the street entering Downing street.   Now there are iron gates and barricades to prevent entry.  It reminded me of the first time I saw the street in front of the White House blocked off and concrete k rails. The world has changed since the early 70s.  It’s now a much more safe place for the powerful.

10 Downing Street Locked Away
10 Downing Street Locked Away

We met my cousin at the appointed hour and for the third time, the three of us journeyed into the National Gallery.  Much like the day before at the Rijks,  we quickly found our way to the exquisitely painting of Reinette Poisson, Madame de Pompadour.  It was a beautifully detailed peace that represented all her remarkable skills.  Unlike the Rijksmuseum, the National Gallery has a no photography policy.  Guards are posted in each room to prevent picture-taking.   Before our arrival, someone had touched the painting next to Madam de Pompadour and security was all over closely investigating the incident and inspecting that work.  I watched the guards and I waited while walking the room patiently for the moment that was clearly coming any moment now.  The guards completed their investigation, in unison, they turned their back on Madam de Pompadour. I was ready to steal a half dozen picture on my iPhone. I felt so scofflaw Jack Bauer.

Madam de Pompadoure
Madam de Pompadour

From the museum, we walked back to Covent Garden.  When my cousin was a teenager, he walked so very quickly down the streets of London that it was hard to keep up with him.    Now he is older and slower and needs to take a break every once in a while.   It’s so very strange to see a life cohort slowed by age and infirmity.  Now writing this, I think back to seeing my father in New York just 3 days earlier and how he too needed to sit down and take the occasional breather.   This life is getting real people.   My chief people are old.  Maybe that’s why I climb the stairs when an escalator is nearby.

When we arrived at Covent Garden, we found a little outdoor restaurant.  We ordered pizza and caught up.   At one point, after the food arrived, I opened FourSquare, my major social media vice.  I checked in the place we were eating and then my jaw dropped when I realized that on the list of places immediately near by, was New York’s own Shake Shack!

I passed on the pizza and excused myself from relatives to find the Shake Shack.   I queued up ahead of an English investment banker who was wearing a New York Marathon shirt.   He had run the race two years earlier when he was on assignment in New York.   Both of us were wearing knee braces due to running injuries, so we had a great chat while waiting to place our order.  When I got to the front I ordered a ‘shroom burger, a hamburger not served with mushrooms, but made from a huge Portobello mushroom.   And I ordered a chocolate shake as well.

Shake Shack UK!!!
Shake Shack UK!!!

I took my order back to my sister and cousin who were still working on the pizza.   I had a slice, but there was a lot left.  I asked the waiter if we could get a to go box and he said in an interesting way that would not be possible.  My instincts told me to play this one carefully as I knew I was being lied to.   I turned my head to the side a little bit, maintained a steady tone and inquired why they didn’t have to go boxes.  He explained that it was not their policy to let people take food home.  I smiled and went along with his story, deciding not to push and I thanked him.  About a minute later the waiter came out with a box for us.  He explained that he was not supposed to do this, but because I was nice about it, they could make an exception.  My sister figured that most people would have made a fuss.  Had I done so, he never would have made the extra effort to get us a non-existent box.

The pizza went home with my cousin.   We walked to the nearest bus station and we hugged and said our good-byes.   Then my sister and I made our way back to the Tube and three trains later we were home.  Cups of tea followed and then my brother-in-law dropped me off at my hotel.

My room was clean and the laundry mostly dry.  I had seen two of the relatives most beloved by my mother and closest to me on that side of the family.    I crawled into bed and turned out the lights.   Thus ended my last day on this trip without any work colleagues.   The next day was Monday and it would be time to go to work.

Trip Talley
Days Away 4
Hotels 2
Countries 3
Planes 3
Trains 14
Taxis/Hired Cars 3
Friends/Family Visited 6 + 1 statue

 

Day 4 – London

Day 3 – The Rijksmuseum

<— Day 2

Day 4 –>

On the morning of Day 3, I awoke in a hotel room to the sound of rain.  After the sun came up, I made my first peak out the hotel window.  Yep, I was in Amsterdam in winter.

The View Out My Window
The View Out My Window

Eleven months earlier, in a Texas airport I read an article in the Sunday Financial Times reporting that the Rijksmuseum, the national gallery of the Netherlands had reopened after a multi-year renovation.   I had  been to the Rijks museum a half-dozen times before always with colleagues, friends and loved ones, and always during the renovation when only one-quarter of the museum was open.  On this Saturday I would have most of day to enjoy the museum without concern for anyone else but me.

I Got My Ticket
I Got My Ticket

I checked out of my hotel and left my bags at the front desk. In delight, I negotiated the streets of Amsterdam.  Again, I could have taken a cab, but you know, it’s Amsterdam.

I walked in, joyfully paid my money and feeling like a kid in a candy store, entered this place for the first time since June 2009.  The renovated museum was beautiful.  Like a nerd, I rushed through the gallery rooms to find my favorite piece, l’amour merςnant, “the menacing love” by Etienne Maurice Falonet, a statue made for Madame de Pompadour, mistress of King Louis XV.

l'amour merςnant,
l’amour merςnant, by Etienne Maurice Falonet

As the museum had just opened I was afforded the luxury of sitting quietly with this piece for an unusually long while.  People who know me would not believe that I could sit quietly for so long. Although I wanted to see the entire museum, I wanted to savor this precious time with this piece that is so special to me. I took dozens of pictures from every angle I could think of to try to capture the details.  I sat quietly looking at this piece in its newly remodelled home.  I was happy.

The 7 minute video below presents the highlights of my visit to the Rijks.  I had seen so many of these pieces before that they felt like old friends.  I will admit that just seeing the video, I get giddy.

 

As the hours past, the museum filled up.  At one point I looked out the window and saw a line of people all the way down the street, standing in the rain, waiting to get in.  Never underestimate the value of getting to a museum when it opens, no matter how much time you have.

Before leaving the museum, I sat with l’amour merςnant again.  As much as I despise the loving of things, I had to admit that I love this statue.  I said goodbye to the piece and made my way out.

I walked back to the hotel, gathered my luggage and caught a cab to the Amsterdam Central train station.  By 3:30pm I was back at Schipol Airport and then by 6pm I was in London.   Three trains later, and I was at my sister’s house drinking a nice cup of tea.

Traiin to Ealing Broadway
Traiin to Ealing Broadway

Standing on the train in London, it all felt surreal.  I spent about 30 hours in Amsterdam and now I was in here. I did a quick tally and was amazed that I had  been on 11 different trains in 3 days in 3 countries.   Newark to New York and back, across the Netherlands and about London.  It amazes me sometimes just how comfortable I am getting around.  It amazes me how blessed I am.

Trip Talley
Days Away 3
Hotels 1
Countries 3
Planes 3
Trains 11
Taxis/Cars 3
Friends/Family Visited 3 + 1 statue

 

Day 3 – The Rijksmuseum

Day 17,802 – It’s a Tuesday

I’m confused because I’m not sure if today should be considered the first, second or fourth day of my holiday.

The Western thinker in me believes that vacations should have a clearly defined, unambiguous event horizon.  Not so this break.   The Western mind wants to create artificial walls and boundaries and to classify and assign artificial meanings and values. If I were to engage my inner Eastern thinker  I would see each day, each day, each moment is equal and flows directly into the next without effort.  The ease or difficulty making the transition from one event to the next is a reflection of my inner self, not the outer world.

Siri informs me that it has been 17,802 days since the day I was born.  That’s what day this is, number 17,802.   She failed to answer the question about how many days I have remaining.

20140415-071736.jpg
This Works

I took the picture above on my iPhone.  I use that phone for work and would normally leave it locked in the drawer in my office during vacation, but I am trying out a new personal cell and I don’t quite trust it yet.  With one little swipe of the iPhone pseudo-button the deluge of emails are turned off and the phone calls, texts and messages sit in Limbo on some Verizon server somewhere waiting for me; calling to me.  I shan’t peek today.  I peeked yesterday and poisoned the serenity of my drive up to the Central Coast of California.  I won’t be foolish again.  It’s a lot of work to get serenity back once it is poisoned.

On this day 17,802 of my life, I woke up early in Avila beach on the Central Coast of California. Laura and I came here on our honeymoon, 7,639 days ago.  It seems like just yesterday.  I think this is the 9th hotel room I have woken up in thus far in 2014.  I am weary but not tired.  My legs are incredibly sore and stiff from a hilly race this past weekend and I couldn’t just lay in bed this morning.  The girls were exhausted and I didn’t want to disturb them, so I dressed and came down to the lobby to write to you all.  You people never write back and I am getting quite resentful.  Hit the fricking Like button already, will ya?  Would it kill you to leave a comment?  I mean really.

Everyone knows the OC, LA, San Diego and San Francisco.  Few appreciate the Central Coast with its seemingly easy-going lifestyle and attitude.   Some might consider it, the moderate part of California, not politically, but in terms of being neither of the extremes of LA nor San Francisco. All things being equal, the locals seem to pull for the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland teams rather than the LA teams.  You can easily prejudge and stereotype an area by the sports teams that the populus follow.  Stereotypes are great.  They allow you to like or dislike people without having to waste time getting to know them, really quite efficient if you think about it.

The hotel offers me a complimentary copy of Tuesdays The Tribune, the Newspaper of San Luis Obispo County. The front page features a banner “HAVE YOU SEEN THIS PUPPY?” Admittedly, the dog is cute, but I am still trying to slow down enough to read and enjoy this past Sundays New York Times. The truth is I never actioned (that’s one of my work words, actioned) reading the Sunday paper from two weekends ago. That’s one of the first signs that I am out of balance.  I brought two books to read and six magazines.   We are only going to be here 3 nights. We have to get back to the OC by Friday so The Child can start finalizing her Junior Prom planning.   Saturday, the girls will indulge me by going to see a lacrosse game at Whittier College. Then the next day will be Easter, time to get together again with Laura’s family.

Time moves quickly.   The Child turns 17 in 16 days.  God willing, in another 500 or so days she will be going to college. That scheduling and planning that I just did there is fallacy of the Western mind.  A classmate of The Child’s was killed a few weeks back in a skateboarding accident.  I can’t fathom that grief.  There was also recent news of cancer in the family.  Those shocks were numbing.  The Westerner assumes that the universe has made promises to us.  We get attached to those promises and believe that they are genuine.  I learned a long time ago, growing up in Las Vegas, that one should never ever ever believe in a promise.  One should enjoy this moment, this hour, this day and these wonderful beautiful people who are in front of me.   The metaphorical phone can ring so quickly and poison the rest of the day, week, month, or life. It’s a lot of work to get serenity back once it is poisoned.

Carpe Diem, people.  Carpe Diem.

 

 

 

Day 17,802 – It’s a Tuesday

Day 13: Done!

My work in Europe is done. The journey home starts in 15 hours. I will be home in 31 hours.

The ceremonial travel-home shirt has been been pulled from the plastic bag the dry cleaners folded it into two weeks ago. It hangs in the closet until 4am tomorrow.

20140304-141504.jpg
I have been looking forward to my long flight home to celebrate Ash Wednesday with my family. Then last night I realized I was flying 16 hours in Business class on a day of abstaining from eating meat and fasting. Poor planning on my part, I guess.

I could work in my room for a few hours, or I could go for a run. I am tired though. It’s been a long journey and I just want to go home. I don’t really want to do anything.

Day 13: Done!