Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Journaling in a Sauna

Morning departure for Italy. Drive to the Cinque Terre area. Dinner is not included today.

For once the itinerary is right. We left for Italy. We arrived in Italy. We are on our own. This is going to be a short entry for several reasons, not the least of which is the cost of internet time. The sauna-like conditions of this room are also a big factor.

We left Nice around 10 a.m. with our new driver, Antonio, who has photos of a priest, Pope John Paul XXIII and the infant of Prague by his head in the bus, but he looks not unlike a mafia hit man.

The drive was lovely over the Highway of Tunnels. Ian says there are "hundreds of them" and we certainly went through our share, passing past lots of terraced hills covered with greenhouses and gradually getting into more popuplated areas. The first thing I saw crossing a bridge into the Genoa area was an Ikea.

We are discovering that the vagueness of the information prior to departure about the Italy portion of our trip were because there dont seem to be any plans. We are in a gorgeous 4 star hotel about a mile from everything. When we arrived Ian said we were on our own and that he was going to go off and study what he could do with us tomorrow.

Jeri and I have a gorgeous room with a fabulous view, but no balcony. Char and Pat have not quite as gorgeous view (but almost) with a balcony that wraps around two sides and comes with a table and chairs.

There is a private beach covered with chairs which you pay extra to use. There is also a lovely pool on the roof with a pool boy so straight out of an Italian soap opera that Im afraid to go up there alone for fear he will be giggling at me behind those dark sunglasses.

We hiked 1/2 mile into town and found some pizza to eat (we arrived during the mid afternoon siesta time and almost everything in town was closed) and then the younger set plus Pat went on a hike while Char and I came back to the hotel.

I think this is my second time staying in a 4 star hote and I am even less impressed than I was in the first. It is assumed that because you can afford a 4 star hotel, you can afford to pay for just about everything. Jeri is of the youth hostel and farmers market set and I am perfecty fine with a comfortable bed close to something interesting. This expensive amenities stuff is for the birds.

However, that said, Cinque Terre is beautiful and maybe Ian will have learned enough about the area that he can give us more direction tonight and we will have a better plan for tomorrow.


Hotel Regina Elena
Lungomare Milite Ignoto, 44

Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy

(2 nights)

SantaM.jpg (45501 bytes)

Monday, June 29, 2009

It Wasn't Supposed to Hurt This Time

Around 7 p.m., a group of us walked from the hotel down to the beach, past the reviewing stands where the girls had gathered the night before to cheer on the last of the triathlon competitors, down the stairs to the rocky beach and out onto a bit of rock that jutted out into the ocean. Char pulled a baggie from her purse and we all, one by one, climbed out onto the edge of the rocks and tossed a handful of Michele's ashes into the Mediterranean.

We had dealt with the news of her death, cried through her memorial, scattered most of her ashes in Mendocino and now, a year later, we didn't really think that it would still be emotional...but it was. Michele's dream was to go to France and she never made it. Now part of her ashes will remain in this country forever. I get emotional even writing about it several hours later.

Sheri and her daughter Ashley accompanied us and we decided that by now, especially since they were with us for this "ceremony," they were definitely "family."

This is the first day since the trip began when I wasn't convinced I'd die. (OK...slight exagageration). I'm actually feeling better about walking, though the group would be hard pressed to know that! I'm still bringing up the rear, stopping to catch my breath and huffing and puffing when I go up hill, but I can tell that it's really getting better.

We went to a hilltop town of St. Paul de Vince today. Unlike Eze, you don't have to hike up a tall hill to get there. In fact, our driver, Thierry, dropped us off at the top of a hill and we walked DOWN to the town (and then up through the steep, winding streets). This is a picturesque place which obviously thrives on tourists, but it's so charming you don't mind. And mixed in with the souvenir shops are art galleries and other interesting things to see. I helped do my bit to support the local economy.

Char, Pat and I found a nice restaurant overlooking the valley and had a wonderful, relaxing lunch (Char and I each had jambon et melon, prosciutto and cantaloupe that was just the refreshing taste we were looking for, then we went back to the agreed-upon meeting spot for the group and watched people play boule,, which I recognized from my childhood near North Beach in SF as bocci ball.

We drove back to Nice and had to say goodbye to Thierry, who will be replaced by another bus driver. Many of us kissed him goodbye. He's been a real gem and such a sweetheart for the past several days.

The plan was to go to the beach and swim but I had an unexpected ... uh ... intestinal event which made me nervous about being away from a toilette so I opted out of the trip. I actually think I napped a bit while the others were swimming.

When Jeri came back, I was feeling OK again, so we went down to join the others in the Pinata party, as well as Shirley and Jenny, who have become a real part of our group. I have a wonderful photo of Pat sitting at the table under an umbrella she'd brought along because, of course, it was raining.

We had some wine and cheese and mini salamis (thinner than a hot dog) on baguettes while we tasted wine and then headed out on our mission to scatter Michele's ashes.

After the ashes had been scattered, we went to the big plaza to find an eatery for our last dinner in France. There was much hilarity and good food (I had gnocci with roquefort sauce, which is perhaps not exactly the wisest dinner to have after a bout of diarrhea, but it seems to have assimilated just fine).

Then the long walk back to the hotel and now I'm sitting here and the others -- all of them, I think, are out laughing on the patio, which is just steps from where I am sitting, so I think I'm going to end this and go join them.

Tomorrow I have to leave my French behind on the Riviera and try to pick up a bit of Italian. I also hope to swim tomorrow, since we will be at the hotel with the rooftop swimming pool...our first four-star hotel on this trip.

(oh dear...someone from the hotel staff just came past me to tell the group to be quiet, so all the fun seems to have ended... I guess we are too rowdy a group!)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Why is my dinner looking at me?

Enjoy an orientation tour of Nice with your tour manager this morning. See the city's many sights, including Cimiez, then continue to the hilltop village of St. Paul de Vence, home of the painter Marc Chagall. Enjoy afternoon exploration time in Nice to discover the Old Town or catch some sun on the beach.

I don't know why I'm leaving in these tour descriptions, because we pretty much haven't followed the itinerary ever since day 1!

Today was our day to tour Monaco. After breakfast here in the hotel, we boarded the bus again and made our way out of town. Some had gone down to the beach early in the morning because there is a Triathlon going on today and they were able to watch some of it.

The drive to Monaco took awhile but the scenery was spectacular. I'm not really much into the "lives of the rich and famous" and can get tired of ostentation pretty quickly, but this was definitely worth seeing, even if only for the yachts in the harbor. My God are those impressive!

We went first to the palace grounds, walked through the garden and up to the chapel, where Ranier and Grace (and all of Ranier's ancestors) are buried, and then onto the grounds in front of the palace itself. The view is, of course, spectacular. Ian generously gave us 30 minutes, I think, to enjoy ourselves and then to meet back at the "yellow submarine," which sits in front of the Oceanographic Institute that Jacques Cousteau used to head up.

They are getting ready to start the Tour de France here, so the shops are all full of memorabilia of the race and the town filled with banners and posters. We will miss it (perhaps fortunately), as we will be in Italy when the race starts in Monaco the first week of July.

From the palace, we went to the Casino in Monte Carlo, a place that held absolutely NO interest for me. Some of the others went in and played the slots for a few minutes, but it was not the 30 minute stop that Ian had expected (I suspect maybe it was he who wanted to play the slots!)
Next was the place I'd been dreading, the hilltop town of Eze. It's very high up and the only way to get there is to walk, so Char and I opted out and found a nice place to sit on a bench in the shade and just talk. It was delightful. So nice not to feel rushed!

Then we drove to a perfume factory and had a tour. Very interesting. I had never thought about how perfume was made before...it's even more complex than wine making! I think we all came away with some purchases. I bought Jeri a little soap duck, which is hand-painted...and one for me too.

Ian had hoped to take us somewhere else, but is saving that for tomorrow. Instead we headed back to Nice. The younger ones went back to the beach to check out the Triathlon, I laid down on the bed and slept for nearly 3 hours.

I thought I was to wait for the group to meet at 7 to go to dinner, but Shirley and Jenny (sisters from the Danville area) came in, having had dinner and saying they had just seen Char and Pat at a cafe. They took me there and I joined them. Char and I each had the "salad royale," which was a HUGE plate of smoked salmon and three enormous prawns (still with head and feelers attached...which is why I entitled this entry "why is my dinner looking at me"? We sat there eating this glorious food and listening to an accordionist seranading us with La Vie en Rose. How much more "French" can you get?

We came back to the hotel and sat in the courtyard for a while regaling Shirley and Jenny with tales of our many camping adventures over the years!

We will have most of tomorrow free, after our town visit early in the day, and we plan to go down to the beach and send the last of Michele's ashes out into the Mediterranean. She dreamed of going to France and never made it while she was alive, but she has had a great trip so far and we will leave her here when we go to Italy the next day.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Convivial Propinquity

In the morning drive through the famous lavender fields of the Camargue area to Aigues-Mortes, known for its authentic medieval ramparts. Continue to Cézanne's town of Aix-en-Provence, then on to Nice, the Côte d'Azur's cosmopolitan capital. Upgraded dinner this evening.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," said Ian. "Recline your seats and get into a mood of convivial propinquity as we continue on toward Nice." (Yes, he really does talk like that.)

We had left the wonderful Hotel Calendal that morning and taken a "stroll" through the winding, twisting streets to the center of town and the farmer's market. Oh my. Such an experience for all the senses! I could have stood at the spice area alone all day. Mountains of curries, peppers, and spices I've never heard of before. Baskets of lavender blossoms (lavender is VERY big here!). Then to the fruit and vegetable displays (I bought peaches that tasted like real peaches...can't remember the last time that happened!), the cheeses, the meats, the sausages, the clothes, the housewares. The market runs the entire length of the town and Ian had given us 2 hours to wander.

I went off on my own for awhile and listened to a guy playing an accordion, laughed to see American Indians in headdress performing to a repetitive 12 note "tune" that repeated endlessly. I even was hit up for a donation by the local SPCA and played with a tiny terrier puppy who looked like he was about a month old. He was in a box with 4 tiny kittens next to a cage with two young goats.

After 2 hrs we met Ian again and were taken through the town church, and then through the streets again "just a bit" to the bus, which was about 5 miles away (OK--I exaggerate, slightly) On the way we passed through the Van Gogh walk. I've now photographed the famous cafe he painted and stopped at one of the overlooks, where is posted a picture of the painting and you can look up and see what he saw when he painted it.

People on this group have been very kind to me and very patient. Not only is the weight a problem, but humidity is about 60% and on a good day, humidity can lay me low without having the Bataan marches to deal with. I try not to be too much of a bother, but sometimes it can't be helped.

After we left Arles, we drove to Les Beaux. I don't know exactly what Les Beaux is because I opted out of the tour when I saw it would involve climbing a very steep mountain. What Ian neglected to mention was that there were lots of shops and restaurants en route and that this would be our lunch stop for the day. I sat in the bus with our driver, Thiery, while it got hotter and hotter. Finally Char came down, having decided not to press on to the top, and we found a rock to go sit in the sun, where a cool breeze played.

Les Beaux is a fortress at the top of this hill. I took pictures from below, but still don't know why it's there. I will research this when I get home again.

My wonderful daughter showed up with a pannini for me and a 1.5 liter bottle of water, most of which I drank in one swallow! Char's kids arrived too and we all sat there having a picnic by the side of the road, while the buses and cars rolled by. Kind of fun, in a weird way.
It was about a 3 hour drive to Nice, and I think most of us napped. I was VERY grateful to Tom for the great battery pack he gave me because I had almost finished my book when the battery of the iTouch signaled that it was almost out. I dug out the recharger and was able to finish the book easily. Thanks again, Tom!

We finally came over a rise and there stretched out before us was the Mediterranian, with a big cruise ship in front of us. We drove down to the coast and Ian showed is the castle near where Renoir lived the last part of his life. He had come to the South of France hoping to help his arthritis, but spent the last years of his life painting with brushes strapped to his hands because his fingers were so affected by the arthritis. I never knew that before.

We drove along the shore, watching the parasailers, the sunbathers (didn't see any topless women, though we have been promised they are there) and eventually wended our way through the tiny streets to the hotel.

Arrival at Hotel Flore was an adventure, as Thiery (the bus driver) had to parallel park on this teeny street with tons of cars, and Ian behind him directing him. He did a beautiful job and we all applauded him when he finished.

The hotel is nice, upscale, and lacks the charm of Calendal. The staff is not really very helpful, unlike Calendal. I miss Arles!

Ian gave us a walking tour to orient us to the town. The rest of the group headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner and Ian suggested Jeri and I walk ahead to an intersection "about a minute" from the restaurant, so I wouldn't have to walk the whole distance. I was very grateful.
We sat and people-watched until the group arrived and then went to Brassiere Flo, which used to be a theatre, now converted into a restaurant. They have kept the theatre motif, however. There is a grand drape on the stage, pulled aside to reveal the kitchen staff at work, for example.
We had a lovely dinner and celebrated Ashley's 16th birthday with creme brulee with a candle in it.

On the streets there were impromptu tributes to Michael Jackson, with dancers and music. The older folk went to the hotel while the younger stayed around to watch.
I took a Tylenol PM for the first time and managed to sleep most of the night, save for an hour around 3 a.m. when I panicked because I couldn't find my glasses. But I did when I woke up, finally and all is well.

Today we pay a call on the Grimaldis. (They may not be home...) :)

We will be staying for 3 nights at the

Hotel de Flore
2, rue Maccarani

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Friday, June 26, 2009

No Charge for the Extra Protein

(Happy Anniversary, Walt!)

This morning journey to Avignon on the fastest train in Europe, the TGV. View the imposing Papal Palace and the nearby Pont du Gard. Continue to Nîmes, a city full of Roman history and known for textiles. Denim, the fabric of blue jeans, derives its name from this city. See the Roman Arena and La Maison Carrée.

I have, from time to time, on this trip, thought I might die.

Today I felt as if I'd died and gone to heaven. Truly.

All I can say is...if you are ever in Arles, DO NOT PASS UP THE OPPORTUNITY to stay at the Hotel Calendel. Rick Steeves recommends it and for good reason. It is absolutely wonderful. Jeri and I have a 2 room suite overlooking the old Roman Arena (smaller version of the Colliseum in Rome, only here they still use it, but for bullfights). The arena is literally across the street from us. Talk about a photo op.

But let me go back to last night first. Our last night in Paris. When I last wrote, I was waiting for Jeri to return from the Louvre so we could go to the Opera House, of "Phantom of the Opera" fame, which she, Pat and I did (Char collapsed after the Louvre, which is how I know I would have been if I had gone. "Breathtaking" is the best way to describe it. The theatre itself was closed because of rehearsal, but they did open a couple of boxes so people could peek in. They do mostly ballet at this opera house now, since they built a newer opera house a few years back. We guessed from the set that the rehearsal was for "La Fille Mal Gardee," though this was not a dance rehearsal. Still we were able to see the ornate theatre and the marvelous Chagall ceiling (the "new" ceiling!). Very definitely worth skipping the Louvre for, at least for me!

After we returned, it rained. Not lots of rain, but lots of thunder and enough to qualify to make this trip officially victim of The Blackord Curse (it always rains when Char travels!). We were all too tired to go far for dinner, so we just went across the street to an Italian place, where we were served by a very bored looking waitress in a shiny blue dress which clung provocatively, and with the greenest nails I'd ever seen. Dinner was very good (I had a salad--I'm finding that I'm so exhausted by the end of every day that I can't eat big meals on this trip. Maybe I'll lose some weight (tho the "pastry a day" and the glass of wine each night might offset that!)

Jeri and I got our bags packed before we went to bed because we had to board our bus at 5:45 a.m., but I hardly slept at all thru the night. Ian met us with bag breakfasts and we headed for Gard du Lyon, where the TGV (the high speed train) whisked us from Paris to Provence in just under 3 hours. Some beautiful scenery en route, especially as we got farther and farther south and saw fields of sunflowers and of lavender so purple it almost hurt your eyes.

We drove from Provence to Avignon, where is the Palace of the Popes. Avignon was the center of the Roman Catholic Church for a few centuries and you obviously can't have a pope without a palace. After Ian's history lecture and getting us oriented to the town, he left us to "wander."Jeri has been so amazing watching out for me. Stairs are increasingly more difficult, the uphills leave me gasping for breath, and the heat doesn't help at all. Jeri waits for me, watches out for me, helps me, but I don't want to tie her down, so I told her to run and frolic and we could meet for lunch, which we did.

Avignon has one of those great town squares, with a fabulous merry go round and lots of room to walk. There are several sidewalk cafes, so we chose on and ordered lunch. Jeri had another galette and I ordered a salad and quiche. The salad dressing was fabulous and I told Jeri to help herself to my salad and we could share. Suddenly she said, "uh...there's a worm in your salad!" as indeed there was. After I'd taken both a photo AND a video, I called the waiter over. He took my plate away and brought me back a new quiche and french fries! (Which I didn't want...I was very much enjoying the salad!) He didn't charge extra for the worm.

Next stop was Pont du Gard, an old Roman Aqueduct. The walk to where you can see it is quite long and both Char and I gave up and didn't actually go UP the the thing, though everyone else did. The black clouds that Ian laughed about when we predicted rain, kept buildig and building and for a brfief moment we had a real downpour. Ian still insists it never happened. But the Blackforfd curse is alive and well in the South of France!

No denying it--it's HOT here. And humid. But once we arrived at the hotel in Arles, all was forgiven when we stepped into the air conditioned room with all the luxury and the gorgeous view.

Ian gave us an hour to "settle in" before we had "a little stroll" around town (Ian's "strols" are the Bataan marches). Sherry, Jeri and I used the time to wander around the shops near the hotel. By the time Ian was ready to stroll, Char had decided she was beat, so opted out. I went as far as the Arena to hear the fascinating history behind the whole development of the Roman games. but then I figured out that a stroll down ito town would mean a stroll back up to the hotel and I just couldn't face another walk up the steep (for me) incline.

But Arles is the place where Van Gogh did some of his better known paintings and there is a Van Gogh tribute museum very near the hotel which I'd wanted to see, so I opted to do that instead. Unfortunately by the time Pat and I got there it was closing, so I can say I was in he lobby, but that's about all. We will be gone tomorrow before it opens for the day.

I came back to the hotel and checked e-mail and then we had a really fun,really delicious dinner here at the hotel. Great camaraderie is developing amolng this group. I like them all very much.
But it is now 11 p.m. Arles time and Ian has called for an 8 a.m. breakfast so we can walk down to the market in town before heading out thru the lavender fields for Nice. I'm going to go upstairs and take advantage of that HUGE bathroom to see if I can't wash off some of the smell of sweat. G'nite all!

Staying one night at Hotel Le Calendal
5 Rue Porte de Laure

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Thursday, June 25, 2009


The best decision I have made thus far was to skip The Louvre. I know some would think that a mistake, but trust me, I am a much happier camper (and I suspect the others are too, not having to wait for me).

Last night the younger set went off to Monmartre while us old fogeys went to a lovely fish restaurant, Mollard, just a block from here. The decorations are lovely. (Do check the link.) There was nothing for Pat, a vegetarian, to eat, so she ordered a fruit cocktail off the dessert menu. Char and I had French onion soup and our two companions, sisters Shirley and Jenny, had a salad. We shared a bottle of wine. We realized when we first got seated that we were grossly UNDER-dressed for the place and we had the feeling that the waiters were rolling their eyes at us, but they finally decided to have fun with us, and made the dining a fun experience, even tho we were ordering the cheapest things on the menu. The people at the table next to us ordered this HUMONGOUS plate of sea food, all surrounded with oystersand topped with a huge lobster. It arrived on a large round platter which was placed in the center of the table on a pedestal. I wanted to sneak a picture, but didn't.

Jeri got home around 12:30 a.m. with fun tales of what they had done in Monmartre (which included eating escargot, which she loved). When Walt and I were in Monmartre was when I caused the international incident in McDonald's. Jeri's experience was much more positive! They climbed up to Sacre Coeur, went to the Eiffel Tower and were at the top when strobe lights started flashing, they rode the subway with musicians playing accordion and clarinet and it sounds as if they had a great time. I'm so glad!!

I woke up this morning at 5 and lay in bed listening to the end of my audiobook, then went downstairs around 5:30 and sat there reading "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" (I recommend it) until Char and Pat came down and then went to breakfast with them.
After the group went to the Louvre, I went upstairs and lay down on the bed and, to my amazement, woke up THREE HOURS later! Obviously not going to the museum was exactly what I needed to do--or not do, as the case may be.

Some observations about Paris: Yesterday was "sale day." Apparently this is a scheduled day, two times a year, throughout the country (though the actual date might change depending on where you live). It's the day when all the stores have big sales, so around here, a shopping area, the streets were clogged and the stores were filled with people. Nearby one store was apparently having some sort of problem because there were pickets out in front and masses of people around them (we saw this from the bus). At night, when we were walking to the restaurant, there were shoe boxes opened and empty around the store on the corner and women still packed tightly in side looking to buy more shoes.

Jeri wants to go bike riding, but I don't think she will have time to do it. But at each end of our block there is a line of some dozen or so bikes which you can rent. There is a machine where you buy a card or something (I haven't examined it closely). Then you take one of the bikes, ride it to your destination, where you leave it at a similar station, pay the necessary fee and voila! You have ridden a bike. Quite an ingenius system...I can see it being a great idea for Davis!
When we were here before, there were people all around the tourist areas trying to sell postcards. I don't remember them being black, but now there are black (can't call them "African-Americans," can I??) men everywhere with small golden Eiffel Towers on a long metal ring around their wrists, holding scarves in one hand and post-cards in another. I have yet to see a tourist buying anything from them, but they must make a living because they are everywhere.
The smoking bans have been in effect in the US for so long that I have forgotten what it's like to walk through a cloud of cigarette smoke on the streets, but you find that a lot around here. The places where we have been inside, though, aren't as smoky as I remember from our one day here years ago.

Though this is a town built on a river and a town which has lots and lots of fountains, it's very difficult to stay hydrated. I haven't seen a single drinking fountain and I have been thirsty the whole time I've been here. Ice, of course, is not a French concept, so even the gin and tonic we had after dinner last night came with only a couple of token, anemic ice cubes. Water served at meals comes slightly chilled, but barely. I suspect I am going to get home and sit down with a tall glass of ice water, with ice cubes, and not get up for days.

We saw King Kong yesterday. They are setting up for Bastille Day and so near Luna Park (I only remember the name of the park from the old Yves Montand song) there are cranes and huge trucks and one long flatbed truck with the body of King Kong lying flat and his head propped up at one end. I was unable to get a photo.

Ashley, who turns 16 on Sunday, is just adorable. She has brought a little monkey with her to photograph all over Paris. We are all enjoying her enthusiasm and I notice that everyone has taken a photo of Ashley photographing the monkey at least once. Her mother said it was the monkey who got Ashley outside on top of the Eiffel, overcomig her fear of hights to take a picture of the monkey.

Tomorrow we head out of the hotel at 5:45 a.m. to catch the bullet train down to the south of France, so this is our last day in Paris. I have to admit I am not sorry. Though I grew up in San Francisco and always considered myself a "city girl," I admit that in my old age, all the traffic and people and hustle and bustle is not to my liking. I will be glad to be somewhere just slightly more calm. I hope! But I am so thrilled to have seen what I have seen and to have (so far) survived.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Just a Hop, Skip and Jump

This is what our itinerary for today says: Bienvenue! "Paris greets you today. Relax and become acquainted with this beautiful city. Special welcome dinner this evening!"

Apparently nobody told Ian.

Ian is our new tour guide as our original one sprained her back; so they called in the big guns--Ian. He is a former art history professor and really knows his stuff. Everything he has to say is fascinating; but he is so eager to give us history, background and tips to increase our appreciation of what we will be seeing that he spends more time teaching than we have to SEE what he's talking about.

After an 11 hr flight on which I got NO sleep; we had 30 min to check into our rooms and meet in the lobby to go to Notre Dame. After he instructed us from three different spots in the plaza in front of the church he told us we had 15 min to tour the inside and meet him back outside to go on a boat ride along the Thames. It was just a hop skip and jump to get to the Metro and it would let us right off at the boats.

The stop was the Eiffel Tower and from there we WERE at the boats but OUR boat was the farthest one naturally;

This is what our itinerary for today says: Bienvenue! "Paris greets you today. Relax and become acquainted with this beautiful city. Special welcome dinner this evening!"

Apparently nobody told Ian.

Ian is our new tour guide as our original one sprained her back; so they called in the big guns--Ian. He is a former art history professor and really knows his stuff. Everything he has to say is fascinating; but he is so eager to give us history, background and tips to increase our appreciation of what we will be seeing that he spends more time teaching than we have to SEE what he's talking about.

After an 11 hr flight on which I got NO sleep; we had 30 min to check into our rooms and meet in the lobby to go to Notre Dame. After he instructed us from three different spots in the plaza in front of the church he told us we had 15 min to tour the inside and meet him back outside to go on a boat ride along the Seine. It was just a hop skip and jump to get to the Metro and it would let us right off at the boats.

The stop was the Eiffel Tower and from there we WERE at the boats but OUR boat was the farthest one naturally

NEW STUFF: OK...I have my second wind, a cheap computer and an ENGLISH keyboard, so let me finish this entry...

First let's go back to the plane. As we got into our "extra leg room" seat, I have VERY glad I wasn't in the cramped seats because we had so little room. I was wedged in and my ploy of getting a window seat so I could lean against the window didn't work because of the shelf between the seat and the window, tho it was big enough to put my backpack on, which gave me all the leg room without having to step around the backpack.

We had several choices of movies and our own TV screen in back of the seat in front of us (the downstairs people didn't have their own TVs) but my butt took up so much of the seat that I couldn't get to the buttons and when I finally, with GREAT difficulty managed to get the TV turned on and actually FOUND a movie ("Doubt") it was the French version and I couldn't find the English version to save my soul. So I watched it in French and spent the rest of the flight reading. I didn't sleep at all.

Ian met us at the airport and our Bataan march began. As I said, we had 30 min to check into our rooms and meet in the lobby to start the trip to Notre Dame. The metro was just up the street, but then there were two flights of stairs down, LONG corridors to walk, then up stairs and then down stairs again and I lost count. At every turn Ian was there to encourage us that it was "Just a hop, skip and a jump." Yeah. Right.

Our 15 min in Notre Dame was very nice and he even gave us an additional 15 to check out the flying buttresses on the side,but then we had to get back on the metro to go to the Eiffel Tower station to catch the boat. "It's just a short bit,"he would say,before leading us into another maze of metro steps and corridors.

For those of you who watched "Biggest Loser, Couples," I really knew how Ron must have felt when starting the program for the TV show.

By the end of the day, people were being very solicitous. At one point, after I told Jeri that I'd gladly pay 10 euros for a bottle of water (1 euro = about .65) she ran off and to check something and came back with a huge bottle of water for me. I almost cried, I was so happy.

When we got off the boat, we just had to take the metro back. "It's just a short walk," Ian promised, indicating that it was "just by that building." I wished I'd had binoculars to see the building Waaaaay off in the distance. "Just a short walk" including walking the distance of one bridge to another, crossing the bridge. Walking to a long incline, then up a couple of flights of stairs and then just around the corner to the metro, which started with a very long set of stairs down, more corridors and stairs again. Ian was there encouraging me all the way, but I was fallng more and more behind.

When we got home, he gave us 15 minutes to "get ready" and then walk to dinner. "Just a hop, skip and a jump." Everything I was wearing was wet, so I had to have a shower (and in so doing flooded the bathroom.) When I got downstairs, everyone had left, except Jeri and Jenny who had waited for me. It wasn't exactly a "hop, skip and a jump," but I did make it...eventually. When I got in the restaurant, the ever buliant Ian said "They've given us a lovely little room upstairs."

I nearly cried.


This morning a guided sightseeing tour shows you many of Paris' most famous sites such as the Arc de Triomphe, the Place de la Concorde and the bustling Champs-Elyseés. Stop for a photograph in front of Paris' most famous site of all, the Eiffel Tower and learn the history of this once not-so-popular attraction before continuing to Notre Dame. In the afternoon enjoy a trip to Louis XIV's Versailles. Tour the Hall of Mirrors before exploring the beautifully maintained gardens. Tonight, see the landmark sites of Paris lit up on an evening boat ride along the Seine.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Bienvenue! Paris greets you today. Relax and become acquainted with this beautiful city. Special welcome dinner this evening!

Mercure Paris Opera Garnier
4, Rue de l'Isly

front-of-the-hotel.jpg (233737 bytes)

We are staying here 3 nights...and Internet access is available.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bon Voyage!

So here's the deal.

I am flying out of here today, on an overnight flight to Paris. I don't have a clue when I will have internet access. When I can, I will make a journal update.

But so you can at least follow along with our locations, I have already posted an entry for each day and set them to upload at midnight on that day, which lists what is on our itinerary, starting with today, which says:

Jun 22, 2009

Overnight Flight
Depart from the USA.

See how exciting this is going to be? LOL.

I hope I'll be able to update frequently, but at least you can check every day and find out where we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to be doing. If there is an actual ENTRY posted, the title on the table of contents will change to something more appropriate. Right now I have every day listed with the name of the place where we will be.


Turner Classic Movies seemed to be in tune with my preparations. I watched "American in Paris" this morning, then "Gigi" and then a short called "Paris on Parade."

There was a flurry of activity around 10-11 a.m. as several of us in the group scurried to check in on line and upgrade to seats with better leg room. I am in row 69 (the back row of the upstairs section), Char and 2 of her daughters are in row 66 and Sherry and her daughter are in Row 68. It's nice to have that little cluster. Don't know if any others in our group are in the already filled seat in Row 68 or the empty seats in 69, or in the filled Row 67, but I'm glad to have the extra leg room seat, even though I'm sure it will still be a tight squeeze. I hope it's worth the additional $65.

In the late afternoon, we went to Ned & Marta's for a Father's Day pot luck dinner. Ned barbequed and we all sat around eating and chatting. It kept me from sitting here staring at my suitcase for several hours wondering what I'd left out. At the end of the evening, Ned set up chairs in front of a green screen and interviewed Walt and Marta's father, Jerry, about their time together in the Davis Comic Opera Company. It will eventually become one of Ned's famous videos, but who knows when that will happen.

filming.jpg (58897 bytes)

Now we are home. I'm going to do laundry and lay out all of my electronic equipment to make sure I'm not forgetting anything, then pack it all up in my backpack, zip the suitcase closed and get some sleep so I can be ready for the flight tomorrow.

Au revoir, mes amis! See ya on the other side of the Atlantic!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Up, UP and Away

We actually went to see a movie.

Jeri and Phil had seen Up, the Disney 3-D cartoon, and she said I had to see it so we could talk about it in Paris (doesn't that sound cool?). So Walt and I took ourselves to the theatre to see Up.

She was right -- it's a great movie. And Steve was right. He said it was the best love story he'd seen in a long time. Go see it. Take the kids. Take the grandkids. The theatre where we saw it wasn't showing it in 3-D, but that didn't matter. It's just as good in 2-D.

And an appropriate film to see right before I'm going to be hurtling through the air in a flying machine.

The morning started with a nice surprise. When I got home from the last planning meeting, there was a box here. Walt says it's like Christmas every day around here, I get so many boxes delivered (well somebody has to help the flagging economy, right?). I opened it and inside was something called a "Morphie Juice Pack." I didn't have a clue what it was.

Was it some other electronic gizmo that Peggy had ordered for me to send to her and just forgot to mention to me?

Then I remembered having a conversation with a couple of people on Twitter about the battery life of an iTouch and would it last all the way to Paris if I tried to read the whole way. The concensus was--no, it will not last. The battery life will probably not be more than 4 hours.

One guy sent me a link to a place where I could get a back-up battery for it. I thought I had decided that it was too much of a luxury and that surely I could make do for a few hours in a plane without the iTouch working!

So what was this ?

Peggy had a saying when she was buying things in the United States. I'd roll my eyes at yet another pair of shoes or yet another 3 pairs of sox and she'd shrug her shoulder and say "it's only money, right?"

Had I made an "it's only money, right?" purchase and then forgotten about it? I could have sworn that I didn't because I decided that I'd rather put the money toward sponsoring a Compassion kid than buying a new toy for me.

I didn't think about it too long because it was 1 a.m. and I had to get some sleep, so I went to sleep (and, miraculously, slept all night!).

When I got up in the morning, I opened the battery back-up and started to try to figure out exactly how it worked. I wasn't really sure. I rummaged around the papers I'd discarded and found the Amazon packing slip, where I could get the product number and look it up, hoping to get a clue from what was said on the web site, but I got a huge surprise. Not only did I get the product number, but I also got a "bon voyage" message from Tom. He had bought me the battery backup as a gift for my trip. What a sweetheart! I've now figured out how to use it, and I'm now set for the duration. I'll be able to read as long as I want on the plane and, assuming I can connect to a USB port on a computer, be able to recharge it before we leave for the flight back home again.

I figure that even if I don't need the extra boost across the Atlantic because of all the other diversions on the plane (movies, games, free booze, food, and, if I'm lucky, sleep!), this will be invaluable on trips to Santa Barbara, when Walt is driving. As the battery life of the iTouch is only 4 hours, I can't read the whole way. Now I can. Thanks again, Tom!!!

We made it a double header tonight, two shows in one day. The second was a stage show, Music Man. I wonder how many times I've seen this show? I saw it with the original Broadway cast when it came through San Francisco whenever that was. It was the first "big" show Paul and Jeri were in. Paul was Winthrop and Jeri was Amarylis and of course I went to every performance. Then shortly after that, Paul did Winthrop again at Woodminster Amphitheatre in Oakland. I don't know that we saw every performance then, but darn near. He later played the older Tommy Djilas and we saw it then.

Then you add all the times I've reviewed it....and all the times I've seen the movie (what can I say--I like the show!)...and it adds up to knowing every single line, every single inflection, every single note. This, of course, can make me very picky when there are little mistakes or when someone has a different interpretation of a character than I'm accustomed to.

But fortunately, this was overall a good production. And--how can I give it a bad review? It's Music Man and everyone loves Music Man...and I'm leaving for Paris on Monday and everything is good.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Last Meeting

This was supposed to be the last organizational meeting for our trip, but, in truth, each meeting we've had has seemed progressively less organized.

Our group was smaller this time and instead of dinner, we were supposed to just bring hors d'oeuvres and desserts.

Gottschalk.jpg (104251 bytes)Instead of making something from scratch this time I picked up some biscotti at Cost Plus (just as well I did store-bought it wasn't touched).

Cost Plus is in the University Mall, right next to the big Gottschalks store which has dominated the mall for several years. It's a sign of the times that this is another business which is going out of business. I didn't go in to see what they had for sale -- it would seem too much like going to a wake.

I just got my biscotti and got on the road again. I was eager to get back into my audio book, "Scarecrow," the latest by Michael Connelly. It made the miles fly by both going down to Charlotte's house and coming back after the "meeting." Coming off the freeway and heading for Char's house, I passed a demonstration protesting "Another day...another trillion dollars" and demanding tax cuts. I wasn't sure what specific thing that referred to, or if it was just in general.

Char's daughter Tavie met the two of us at Char's house and the three of us rode over to the hosts' house in Tavie's car. We were greeted at the door by Buster, a chihuahua who looked very similar to many of our fosters, but who didn't think much of me at all.

The house was pretty spectacular and I loved the back yard. How many houses do you know with their very own gas pump? (Decorative only, of course)

gaspump.jpg (148825 bytes)
(also note the stoplight in the upper left)

And I particularly loved the benches near the fire pit

benches.jpg (133432 bytes)

The pillows on the back of the benches are just painted on, but look quite real. We sat around this firepit after it got dark and toasted marshmallows for s'mores. We're getting to be a chummy group!

When we arrived, people were pouring over maps of...Paris. To date we still had not been told much about the Italy portion of the trip and here we were back discussing Paris museums and eateries again.

After a couple of hours and no information forthcoming, Char asked our "organizer" if she could talk a bit about Italy. Near as I can tell, Italy has good (expensive) gelato. And that's about it. It sounds like we are going to be more on our own than I expected from an organized tour, but I'm sure we'll do fine--I just expected more "organization" than we seem to be getting.

Someone asked if people sharing a room would have single beds and the organizer seemed surprised we hadn't contacted the hotels to request them. She also seemed surprised when she was asked if we would be sitting in a block of seats in the middle of the airplane or if we would have side seats and she said that we should have contacted the airline to see where our seats were. I have not taken an "organized" trip before, so a little more direction in what was our responsibility and what was being handled by the group would have been nice when we had our first meeting several weeks ago!

But I know it's going to go fine. There is no lack of things to do and a number of people to do them with and varying levels of expertise in travel, so I know we're going to have a great time.

Oh. And we need to be careful of gypsies.

I have a feeling this is going to be quite an experience, however it turns out!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Je Parle Francais, Un Peu

Tom spent a summer in Brasil when he was in high school. Early in his trip, he got lost in Rio de Janeiro. The only thing he knew how to say in Portuguese was "You stupid monkey, you're disgusting" (the result of so many of our Brasilian visitors having fun teaching bad expressions to little kids!) Not exactly conducive to getting locals to help you find your way home! Fortunately he was able to get a taxi which took him back to where he was staying again. You don't appreciate until you get to another country the value of learning to speak the language!

As I get ready to leave for Paris, I am appreciating (again) the difficulty of all of our foreign guests, and what a struggle it was for them to communicate in English. I had grand plans for this trip, taking some classes and brushing up my French. Of course I didn't do it.

I was a French major when I went to UC Berkeley. I had two years of French in high school and loved it...and I was pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. Mrs. Gavin ran a French immersion kind of class and we rarely were permitted to speak English in her class, so I quickly got into the ability to carry on a conversation. My friend Anne was also pretty good in French and when we had our nightly telephone conversations, we spoke in French so our parents wouldn't know what we were talking about.

I took a class in French pronunciation at when I went to Berkeley. It was the semester when I stopped attending class entirely and I failed almost every course, but I got a B+ in French pronunciation because they based my grade on the recording I'd made at the start of class. But I am sorely aware that I don't "speak French." I haven't taken a class since 1961 and haven't spoken French since about 1982 (when we had a French speaking guy from Congo living with us).

There's a weird thing about how my brain works--and perhaps how anybody's brain works. When we had Brasilians here, I kind of learned Portuguese by osmosis. I'd practice thinking in Portuguese when I was alone in the car and my brain seemed to click over into "foreign language mode" because when I was stuck for a word in Portuguese, the word that popped into my head was not English, but French.

I am fluent in French...in my head. I can have long conversations with myself. I can even think in French. But there's a HUGE difference from being fluent with yourself in the safety of your own head and opening your mouth and trying to communicate with someone who is a native speaker. It may be even worse if you are able to express yourself clearly, because people think you can speak the language better than you can and the response comes so rapid fire there's no way you can decipher what is being said! I remember the Brasilians who were exhausted at the end of each day just from listening to English.

When we had non-English speaking people living with us, I developed a manner of speaking that allowed me to communicate more effectively. I slowed my speech and used very simple words, yet it still sounded like normal conversation, so it didn't embarrass anybody and encouraged them to respond. It got to be so intuitive that I sometimes had to stop myself from speaking that way with the family. But the average person you meet in another country isn't going to speak to you that way.

Yet, I feel it's important that if you travel to another country you at least make an effort to speak the language. How self-centered we Americans often are to expect anybody who comes to this country to speak the language...but also expect that people in foreign countries should be able to speak English for us as well. UglyAmericans indeed!

We spent one day in Paris on one of our trips to England, when we took the Chunnel over with a couple of friends and spent the day (my claim to fame--accidentally walking down to the street level from the mid-level of the Eiffel Tower; ask my friend Sian about that! It's a LOT longer walk than it looks!). I think that the sum total of my interaction with French-speaking people was asking someone in a bakery how much a piece of lemon quiche was. I handled "combien?" quite well!

But I'm going to have to do a lot more speaking for the 8 days we are in France. I haven't even thought about Italy. Non parlo italiano! (I did, however, grow up in the Italian-speaking part of San Francisco and am marginally comfortable with two romance languages, so perhaps I can stumble through, with the help of a book or something.)

I didn't do the preparation I should have done for the trip. One of my problems in learning several things is that I teach myself how to do stuff and then I can't take a class. At one point when Walt and I were first married, I wanted to learn Shorthand. My mother could write shorthand and I thought it was really cool. So I bought a book and practiced and pretty soon I could write in simple shorthand (and sometimes I could even read what I had written, which was even better!). I liked it so much I decided to take a class in night school, but everybody in the class was a beginner and I obviously already "knew stuff," so the teacher said I needed to go to the intermediate class. But students in the intermediate class had actually studied shorthand, had taken dictation tests, etc. I was hopelessly lost and dropped out after the first couple of days.

It's the same with trying to find a Photoshop class. There is no way I would enroll in beginning PhotoShop because I've been using it for years and I don't need to learn how layers work, for example. But if you get into a more advanced class, you come up with people who worked their way up from the beginning classes and know so much more than you do.

(What they need are intermediate classes for sorta smart people who know some stuff but have never taken a class and want to know more. Or a tutor!)

That was the problem I ran into with on-line French classes. Either I had to start out with the very basics, or I was getting into conversation that was waaay too advanced for me! So I've just been spending a lot of time "thinking" in French, finding French phrase guides to download to my iTouch, and hoping that when I need them, those rusty wheels that worked so well back in the 1950s will start greasing themselves again.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Organized? ME??

It has been sitting there for a week, challenging me.

It's the new medium-sized suitcase that I bought at the luggage outlet last week. Bigger than a carry-on, but smaller than the huge thing I took to Australia. I also had the things I ordered from Rick Steeves--three bags that compress your things and other travel aids.

Having the bags actually made me start planning, and curiosity about how much I could fit in one of those compression bags got me to actually start organizing my clothes into categories. I have a bag for "good" clothes (things to wear if we're going out to a nice dinner), a bag for underwear and socks, and a bag for t-shirts. The leaves the pants to be packed loose, but they fit, two extra pairs of shoes fit. For me to bring three pairs of shoes on a trip is unheard of, but I will have my walking shoes, which I'll wear onto the plane because they are too bulky to pack, I'll have my loafers, which I'll wear with the "good clothes," and because we're going to be on the beach, I decided to also bring my Birkinstocks. Usually I wear the same pair of shoes for the whole vacation.

So clothes are pretty much all packed. And it's not even the weekend -- and we don't leave until Monday.

But it's the other stuff that's the challenge. I'm taking both iTouch and iPod (because the iTouch doesn't have as much battery life and the iPod has all of my audio books) and their charger. I'm taking one camera and its charger. I'm taking the Flip video camera and extra batteries (both of which will go in a camera bag in my backpack). I have a great poncho that folds up into a tiny pouch that will also go in my backpack, and I'm going to get a "bagolini," which also folds up into a small pouch and can hold "extras" that I might buy while on the trip (the idea that I won't buy something to bring home is so ludicrous, I can only laugh. I am the "ubiquitous gift shop" queen.)

I'm trying to figure out money. Not the "how much" of it, but the "how to carry it." I'm taking 2 credit cards and an ATM card. I don't want to take my wallet because it's too heavy or my purse because it's too big. But I need something to put cash and especially coins in (I remember the difficulty with identifying coins in foreign countries, so I generally gave paper money, which were easier to identify the denomination, and then ended up with lots of coins!). I will probably look for a coin purse somewhere later this week. I have a small card carrier but without a purse to carry, I'm not sure where to put it.

I bought a small bag the other day to carry toiletries in (because I hate the one I've been packing for years) but it's like a small black clutch purse, so if we're going somewhere "nice" to eat, I can just use that as a purse and leave the backpack in the hotel.

It is coming together, slowly. By the time we leave for the airport on Monday, I'll be all organized.


I think.

Fred.jpg (100141 bytes)This is Fred. No, I haven't gone completely crazy and agreed to sponsor a third child, but Compassion says that there are kids who have sponsors who never write to them, so in addition to being a sponsor, you can also be a correspondence sponsor and, since I now have this corresponding thing down to a science (you should see the charts and lists I have!), I volunteered to write to a child whose sponsor isn't writing to him. Fred is 6 years old and is in the Philippines.

I don't know if it's the internet that has made this whole sponsoring thing better than it used to be, but this really feels like a "community." Sponsors interact with one another and share experiences, and ideas for what to send their kids or say to their kids. They share letters from their kids and those who have been fortunate enough to visit the centers where the kids go to school, there are lots of videos, blogs and photographs to give everyone a sense of how this organization operates.

I'm somewhat uncomfortable with all the "God talk." Not that there's anything wrong with it, but it's so foreign to my thought processes. I don't see myself sharing bible verses, for example, with any of the fostered children. It just doesn't feel "real" to me. (And, to quote Steve's partner Jimmy, "We were raised Catholic -- we knew nothing about the Bible!)

Another nice thing about Compassion is that they encourage you to write frequently and to send gifts to the children. Nothing can be thicker than 1/4" and pretty much you can only send paper things (though some folks have sent balloons), but I'm finding that I can be rather creative within those guidelines. And I'm always on the lookout for things that I can send when I'm out, though truthfully, with all the stuff left over from my scrapbooking days, I could correspond with 100 kids and send them things every week and never run out of things to send!

I just sent Anjali some blue flowered ribbons to match the color of her blue sari and I sent Pedro, who likes art, a fancy coloring book with geometric designs to color in -- happy to see that it was under 1/4" thick. I made a little book (3-1/2" x 5" in dimension and under 1/4" thick) of pictures of "Our Silly Dogs", which I thought they might like. And I have lots of other ideas of things to send to them.

You read the stories of these kids and you see the pictures from the trips that sponsors make and it just tears your heart out that such poverty exists in this world and how much better if we took a little time to make a tiny corner of the world a little bit better for one kid...or more.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Following is a letter from Joe Solomese, head of the Human Rights Commission, regarding the Defense of Marriage Act to the man who said gay rights would be at the forefront of his presidency. I knew when I voted for him that there would be disappointments, but this one is a biggie.

President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I have had the privilege of meeting you on several occasions, when visiting the White House in my capacity as president of the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization representing millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people across this country. You have welcomed me to the White House to express my community’s views on health care, employment discrimination, hate violence, the need for diversity on the bench, and other pressing issues. Last week, when your administration filed a brief defending the constitutionality of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act,”1 I realized that although I and other LGBT leaders have introduced ourselves to you as policy makers, we clearly have not been heard, and seen, as what we also are: human beings whose lives, loves, and families are equal to yours. I know this because this brief would not have seen the light of day if someone in your administration who truly recognized our humanity and equality had weighed in with you.

So on behalf of my organization and millions of LGBT people who are smarting in the aftermath of reading that brief, allow me to reintroduce us. You might have heard of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. They waited 55 years for the state of California to recognize their legal right to marry. When the California Supreme Court at last recognized that right, the octogenarians became the first couple to marry. Del died after the couple had been legally married for only two months. And about two months later, their fellow Californians voted for Proposition 8.

Across this country, same-sex couples are living the same lives that Phyllis and Del so powerfully represent, and the same lives as you and your wife and daughters. In over 99% of U.S.2 counties, we are raising children and trying to save for their educations; we are committing to each other emotionally and financially. We are paying taxes, serving on the PTA, struggling to balance work and family, struggling to pass our values on to our children—through church, extended family, and community. Knowing us for who we are—people and families whose needs and contributions are no different from anyone else’s—destroys the arguments set forth in the government’s brief in Smelt. As you read the rest of what I have to say, please judge the brief’s arguments with this standard: would this argument hold water if you acknowledge that Del and Phyllis have contributed as much to their community as their straight neighbors, and that their family is as worthy of respect as your own?

Reading the brief, one is told again and again that same-sex couples are so unlike different-sex couples that unequal treatment makes sense. But the government doesn’t say what makes us different, or unequal, only that our marriages are “new.” The fact that same-sex couples were denied equal rights until recently does not justify denying them now.

For example, the brief seems to adopt the well-worn argument that excluding same-sex couples from basic protections is somehow good for other married people:

Because all 50 States recognize hetero-sexual marriage, it was reasonable and rational for Congress to maintain its longstanding policy of fostering this traditional and universally-recognized form of marriage.

The government does not state why denying us basic protections promotes anyone else’s marriage, nor why, while our heterosexual neighbors’ marriages should be promoted, our own must be discouraged. In other words, the brief does not even attempt to explain how DOMA is related to any interest, but rather accepts that it is constitutional to attempt to legislate our families out of existence.

The brief characterizes DOMA as “neutral:”

[DOMA amounts to] a cautious policy of federal neutrality towards a new form of marriage.

DOMA is not “neutral” to a federal employee serving in your administration who is denied equal compensation because she cannot cover her same-sex spouse in her health plan. When a woman must choose between her job and caring for her spouse because they are not covered by the FMLA, DOMA is not “neutral.” DOMA is not a “neutral” policy to the thousands of bi-national same-sex couples who have to choose between family and country because they are considered strangers under our immigration laws. It is not a “neutral” policy toward the minor child of a same-sex couple, who is denied thousands of dollars of surviving mother’s or father’s benefits because his parents are not “spouses” under Social Security law.

Exclusion is not neutrality.

Next, the brief indicates that denying gay people our equal rights saves money:

It is therefore permitted to maintain the unique privileges [the government] has afforded to [different-sex marriages] without immediately extending the same privileges, and scarce government resources, to new forms of marriage that States have only recently begun to recognize.

The government goes on to say that DOMA reasonably protects other taxpayers from having to subsidize families like ours. The following excerpt explains:

DOMA maintains federal policies that have long sought to promote the traditional and uniformly-recognized form of marriage, recognizes the right of each State to expand the traditional definition if it so chooses, but declines to obligate federal taxpayers in other States to subsidize a form of marriage that their own states do not recognize.

These arguments completely disregard the fact that LGBT citizens pay taxes ourselves. We contribute into Social Security equally and receive the same statement in the mail every year. But for us, several of the benefits listed in the statement are irrelevant—our spouses and children will never benefit from them. The parent who asserts that her payments into Social Security should ensure her child’s financial future should she die is not seeking a subsidy. The gay White House employee who works as hard as the person in the next office is not seeking a “subsidy” for his partner’s federal health benefits. He is earning the same compensation without receiving it. And the person who cannot even afford to insure her family because the federal government would treat her partner’s benefits as taxable income—she is not seeking a subsidy.

The government again ignores our experiences when it argues that DOMA § 2 does not impair same-sex couples’ right to move freely about our country as other families can:

DOMA does not affect “the right of a citizen of one State to enter and to leave another state, the right to be treated as a welcome visitor rather than an unfriendly alien when temporarily present in the second State.”

This example shows the fallacy of that argument: a same-sex couple and their child drives cross-country for a vacation. On the way, they are in a terrible car accident. One partner is rushed into the ICU while the other, and their child, begs to be let in to see her, presenting the signed power of attorney that they carry wherever they go. They are told that only “family” may enter, and the woman dies alone while her spouse waits outside. This family was not “welcome.”

As a matter of constitutional law, some of this brief does not even make sense:

DOMA does not discriminate against homosexuals in the provision of federal benefits…. Section 3 of DOMA does not distinguish among persons of different sexual orientations, but rather it limits federal benefits to those who have entered into the traditional form of marriage.

In other words, DOMA does not discriminate against gay people, but rather only provides federal benefits to heterosexuals.

I cannot overstate the pain that we feel as human beings and as families when we read an argument, presented in federal court, implying that our own marriages have no more constitutional standing than incestuous ones:

And the courts have widely held that certain marriages, performed elsewhere need not be given effect, because they conflicted with the public policy of the forum. See e.g., Catalano v. Catalano, 170 A.2d 726, 728-29 (Conn. 1961) (marriage of uncle to niece, though valid in Italy under its laws, was not valid in Connecticut because it contravened public policy of th[at] state.”3

As an American, a civil rights advocate, and a human being, I hold this administration to a higher standard than this brief. In the course of your campaign, I became convinced—and I still want to believe—that you do, too. I have seen your administration aspire and achieve. Protecting women from employment discrimination. Insuring millions of children. Enabling stem cell research to go forward. These are powerful achievements. And they serve as evidence to me that this brief should not be good enough for you. The question is, Mr. President—do you believe that it’s good enough for us?

If we are your equals, if you recognize that our families live the same, love the same, and contribute as much as yours, then the answer must be no.

We call on you to put your principles into action and send legislation repealing DOMA to Congress.


Joe Solmonese

[1] Smelt v. United States of America, Case No. SACV09-00286, Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss and Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support Thereof (June 11, 2009).

[2] Gates, Gary G. and Jason Ost. The Gay & Lesbian Atlas. District of Columbia: Urban Institute Press, 2004.

[3] In fact, in the majority of relevant cases, courts have recognized the out-of-state marriage. See e.g. Pearson, 51 Cal. 120 (1875) (recognizing the marriage of a white man and black woman entered into in Utah that would have been invalid under California’s anti-miscegenation statute), see also McDonald v. McDonald, 58 P.2d 163 (Cal. 1936) (recognizing in Nevada marriage between a husband and his wife although the husband was only eighteen, a violation of California marriage laws).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

All Creatures Great and Small

What do cockroaches do, exactly?

We have a cockroach. I say "a" cockroach because I only ever see one. When I am getting ready to go to bed, it is on the inside of the bathroom door. about 1/3 up from the floor. Always in the same place. Not moving. (I don't kill it because I'm afraid of cockroaches, as silly as I realize that is.) If I wake up at 3 a.m. to go to the bathroom and open the door cautiously, it's still sitting there in the same place as it was several hours before. When I get up at 7, it's gone. I never see more than one. I can't figure out why, if it's just going to SIT there all night, it bothers coming out of wherever it is during the day just to scare me out of my wits.

Or is that the function of cockroaches? To scare people? If so, it's working.

We had some excitement around here yesterday, briefly. I was peacefully sitting in my office when a huge ruckus broke out on the patio. Snarling and barking and Bones shrieking as if he was being beaten (though by the time I got there, he was in safely in the house, just continuing to yelp. Very, very loudly).

I don't know what started it but it looked like one of the two dogs had gone after Bones, perhaps for a good reason (he may have gotten overly amorous with one of them, which would have been very funny since the best he would have been able to reach would have been a knee or something). Or maybe not for a good reason.

What usually happens with dog altercations around here is that either Lizzie or Sheila will reach the tolerance level and roar at the offending foster dog, scaring the bejeesus out of him/her and whichever is not the attacking dog will come to the defense of the foster dog. Maybe not to the defense, exactly, but try to come between the attacking dog and the foster dog. Sheila is usually the defender, but I somehow think that it was Lizzie today. Sheila has a high annoyance threshhold (unlike Lizzie), but when that is reached, she's pretty scary, especially if you are as little as Bones.

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Anyway, the kerfuffle was loud enough that Walt came running down from upstairs and he got the big dogs calmed down while I tried to comfort Bones, who turned around and bit me, thinking I was one of the dogs attacking him.

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It's not quite as bad as it looks here. The mark on the right is only about 1/2" long. I washed it well and it's already healing (of course I had to take a picture first!). But whenever I touched Bones' right side he yelped and snapped again. I had noticed this a couple of days ago when I picked him up wrong and he seemed to have some slight pain on his right side.

I sent a quick message off to Ashley telling her about the incident and the bite. She came over to check Bones, who didn't want Ashley to touch him anywhere. We finally bribed him with doggie treats (he'll do anything for food). She didn't find anything really wrong with him, but thought he might have a bruise or something, since he seems to be able to jump on and off chairs all right and if it were something more serious he would be in pain doing that too. But just to be sure, she gave me some medication for him.

I wondered how easy or difficult it was going to be to get him medicated, but each of the pills had to be cut, one in two pieces and one in 4. When I was dividing the first pills into 2 pieces, one fell on the floor and Bones ate it like it were doggie candy. The other one went into a piece of cheese that he gobbled up as well. It's nice to know that medicating him won't be a problem.

He'll go over to Petco on Saturday and then move to a new foster home, so Walt doesn't have to deal with him while I'm gone.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Living with Gerry

I spent a good part of yesterday re-doing the 1962 scrapbook, gluing all the loose stuff back in it (the glue is Martha Stewart's own, so it should last the rest of my lifetime, right?). It's not quite as good as new, but nothing falls out of it now. I made the mistake of choosing the next scrapbook in line, 1963-64. This one is in worse condition than 1962, but I hadn't looked through it in a long time, so I started looking through it and will probably get it fixed during the coming week. It records a very busy period in my life.

I was living with Gerry at the time (the Gerry whose 45th wedding anniversary we celebrated a week or so ago).

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Gerry and I shared a Berkeley apartment for 6 months, until her graduation (I think I was already out of school and working for UC Berkeley then). It was a shabby apartment that seemed to be uniformly various shades of brown, perhaps the result of decades of human occupation. Brown walls, threadbare brown rug, tired looking green-brown furniture. It had probably been a fancier apartment building in its day, given the marble facade and faux ornate entry way. It was situated over a Mexican restaurant and though our windows opened on the side street, the place still smelled like Mexican cooking most of the time.

I had moved my things in before Gerry came up from Los Angeles to join me. Char, Mike and Walt helped me move. The night I moved in, the landlords, an elderly couple (they were probably 50. LOL) sat on the marble steps, rocking back and forth silently watching us unload the car and take it all upstairs to the apartment. At some point some piece of furniture we were moving hit some of the marble and chipped it. They just looked at me with deadpan faces and observed "you broke it" and continued staring off into space, rocking back and forth, not saying anything else. (We found out later they had been fired, so I think they didn't care about the building any more...we laughed about this for years. A "you hadda been there" moment.)

The apartment opened into a living room and there was a bedroom off to the left with a pocket door that closed it off from the living room. The small kitchen was off to the right of the living room. Both rooms had Murphy beds, which folded down from the wall. Gerry slept in the bedroom and I slept in the living room.

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We learned a lot about cooking in that apartment. I didn't really know much about cooking when I left home. I don't really remember my mother teaching me much, or letting me cook. I had cooked for the guys at "Newman Inn," where Walt lived, for several months, but I still didn't know much. Gerry and I bought our first garlic press and were very excited about it. We also learned a lot about cooking with bananas. Gerry loved bananas and we made so many things with them that at Christmas, I put together a banana cookbook. (Ever had banana meat loaf?) I've lost my copy of that cookbook. I'd love to look through it today, so many years later and see what recipes I included.

Even in those early days, I was already showing an interest in what would become cake decorating. In the photo below, we had a football game party and I made the cheese mold in the center of the table, shaped and decorated to look like a football.

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We had lots of parties, I think, in that apartment. The funniest thing I remember happening was the night that during a party we looked out our kitchen window and discovered that someone in an upper apartment (we never found out who) had lowered a pancake on some fishing line and it was just hanging there outside the window. We did the only logical thing--we poured syrup on it.

We also discovered cheese fondu and I made a cake for our friend Ed's birthday (he wasn't there, but we all blew out the candles for him.

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(Gee--look at how cute I am, all thin and in a dress and wearing an apron!) This party was held in the early part of November, 1963. In only a couple of weeks, the world would change and we'd never quite be the same again.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


We were not "people who travel." That was what rich people did, and we weren't rich. That we could afford a summer vacation at all most years was pretty good and we considered ourselves lucky. My grandmother saved ,money all her life to achieve her dream, which was to travel to Hawaii. She fell in love with the place. She stayed at the Princess Kaiulani Hotel, which she thereafter referred to as "my darling Princess K." She was able to make the trip two more times, and the last time she went was with my mother and me after my high school graduation.

We never would have gone at all but for two things. First, my godmother had died the year before and left me $500 in her will. That was a huge sum of money in 1959. Ordinarily, it would have gone to pay college expenses, but I was going to enter the convent so my parents decided I should blow it on one huge memorable vacation. It was such a big deal that our next door neighbor threw a going away party for us, and, since these were the days when you could still accompany people to their gate when they flew out of an airport, there was a group that came with us to see us off.

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The lady on the left was our neighbor, my mother is in the middle, and her sister Jean is on the right (I wonder how long that lei lasted on the l-o-n-g flight!)

The three of us flew over to Oahu (my father died in 1987, at age 72, without ever having been in a plane) and took the ship home again. It was one of those wonderful/horrible experiences. We had a wonderful time, but spending two weeks with my grandmother was not pleasant. It was even less pleasant on the trip home, when we discovered that even a luxury liner like the Matson's Lurline was not large enough to get away from her. My mother and I would relieve each other, and one would spend time with Nannie while the other got a chance to have an hour without having to cope with her.

But my memories of Hawaii are mostly very positive. We stayed at the Reef Hotel, which was new then, and the next door neighbor of "My Darling Princess K." We were part of an organized tour and our tour guide was named Vern, a delightful man. The first night we went out on a sailing ship (the Barkentine), sailing along the shoreline.

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(My mother is a year younger than Jeri in this photo!)

I remember that we spent a lot of time touring the Morman Temple on the island and there was always that wonderful fresh pineapple. In fact, my daily breakfast was always banana bread and fresh pineapple (see? more pleasant food memories!)

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We went to the famous Kodak Hula Show and, having been there again in 1997 with some Brasilian friends, I don't think that it had changed at all from 1960! We also attended a broadcast of the very popular weekly radio show, Hawaii Calls, where I just fell in love with the voice of Haunani Kahalewai (in the middle of this photo), "Hawaii's first lady of song." I bought two of her albums after we returned home.

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I don't know if everybody got a script of the show, but I have one, autographed by host Webley Edwards.

Of course we had to go to a luau, where I discovered that I loved raw salmon and hated poi (Walt, who grew up in Hawaii, says he's amazed at how many people have tasted wallpaper paste, since everyone says it tastes like wallpaper paste!)

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There were other trips, around the island, to a pineapple plantation, some great meals and a wonderful dinner we were treated to by the family of one of my teachers, who was Chinese. We went to a Chinese restaurant, but we got to eat upstairs, where the tourists didn't eat. The room was filled with her relatives and I think we were the only people who spoke English, but it was the most fabulous Chinese dinner I'd ever had, until I went to a gourmet dinner with Martin Yan at the conclusion of our Chinese cooking course many years later. The dinner in Hawaii was made even more pleasant by the fact that my grandmother chose not to go with us!

At the end of the time on the island, we boarded our ship, heavily covered in leis.

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The leis were made of plumeria, which is very fragrant and our stateroom was so heavily perfumed that it made me sick to my stomach to be in there, so we let them all go out the window, following the superstition that if they float toward the island you will return. It must have worked, because I've been back a couple of times now!

All things considered, it really was a good trip, though I suspect my mother and I would have had a lot more fun with just the two of us. But traveling with my grandmother was a bonding experience, if nothing else!

About a year after our trip, my grandmother heard from someone -- I don't remember who -- that Vern had undergone a sex change operation, which was very definitely a surprise for us!