Wanderer: Part I  

   I've been pretty efficient in figuring out my life (I'm only turning 70 in a few months), leaving myself some modicum of longevity to enjoy the fruits of those reflective labors.

   For most of my life, though, I considered myself a restless soul, incapable of settling down into a productive and meaningful way of life. What I've come to conclude, however, is that I am a wandering soul incapable of settling down into a productive and meaningful way of life. The distinction is as fruitless as it is semantic.

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We are both going to Hell

   Neither Carol nor I believe in the Heaven or Hell handed down to us by organized religion. In fact, we agreeably disagree on the idea of the existence of an Afterlife at all. Without boring you with details, let's say the core of my belief in an Afterlife is that we have perfectly reversed our ideas of “birth” and “death;” namely I  believe our birth here is actually a death from our previous life, and our death on this earth is actually our birth into the next one.

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Nothing to see here? Let's go!

  I grew up in New Orleans, but have never been to Emeril's, Commander's Palace or Brennan's. I lived in the Philadelphia area for the better part of twenty years and never saw the Liberty Bell. I've lived in the Seattle area for six years, but have never visited it's underground. And although I've only lived in the Los Angeles area for a few months, I'm pretty sure I won't bother seeing the famous Santa Monica pier or stroll down Sunset and Vine or Rodeo Drive. So as Carol and I plan our next trip together, I still have no idea what I don't want to see.

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What if they had served, say, snake instead of turkey?

Carol and I continue to ask ourselves about finding each other, “How did this happen?” The mutuality of the question may be differently shaded: mine reflecting a childlike wonder; hers more of a grownup’s wonder over a perplexing child.

   For instance, our first Thanksgiving together will be celebrated apart. She will be the matriarch of the Madigan family's feast here in California, and I will serve as a  sous chef for my daughter's in Chicago. Both families would have perfectly understood had we chosen one over the other for the sake of being together for the holiday, but Carol and I agree this is the right way to celebrate it this first year. At least when it's over, I will not be returning to an empty house in Seattle, and Carol will not be returning to a room carved out of her daughter and son-in-law's home. That alone is more than enough to be thankful for, regardless of the miles separating us when we do sit down and give thanks.

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I go therefore I am

   Those who have stumbled upon this blog looking for practical travel tips and unique experiences to discover have, no doubt, been sorely disappointed. On the other hand those who've returned from trips and proudly answered the questions, “What did you see?” (“nothing”) or, “why did you go there? (“I don't know”) have been richly rewarded.

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Couplehood from widowhood

If three weeks in Europe on twelve trains to seven French cities with me didn't reveal to Carol why she should hit LAX running and just keep running, I should probably conclude we're a good match. There would be precedent. After all, I'd spent five years with Carolyn fully expecting to hear her crying out in a dream, “the horror, the horror!” That never happened, so I guess I should feel pretty good about Carol and I as a couple. I do, but it's not because I at all believe I bring any special gifts or skills to any relationship, let alone this one. The grounds for success, I truly believe, were, as they say, pre-existing conditions for Carol and I to become a team.

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“We don't want to go home!”

Three weeks on the road should have revealed one of us to have been completely incompatible with the other. I'm talking about me, of course. For three weeks we rode trains from one French city to another with no real itinerary or objective in mind. We stayed in hotels of my personal choosing, which is a euphemism for “surprisingly habitable.” We walked everywhere, with everywhere serving as our primary sightseeing objective. In short, our three weeks of companion travel came very close to the response of “nothing” that I gave to Carol the time she’d asked me what I was looking for when I traveled. And she remarked several times she was having the time of her life. For someone more accustomed to hearing that phrase uttered more in a context of “doing time” rather than having it, I was relieved. I'm also encouraged, which may or may not be a good thing. Probably not.

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When the “shared bathroom” is shared with yourself  

Our apartment was on the second floor (third floor in American nomenclature), a sharply angled and narrow creaking wooden stairway leading up to it. At the landing, the manager opened both doors of the opposing rooms and bid us enter.

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A coffee table book that belongs in your kitchen  

   Carol and I have been talking about our next train trip to Europe, and we've already agreed it would be Italy: Her to visit a friend in Tuscany, and me to continue my pursuit of the Best Lasagna in the World.

   And so comes National Geographic Books’ Tasting Italy, A Culinary Journey,  a gorgeously illustrated (no surprise there) volume that may have booksellers scratching their heads whether to display the book in their travel department or their cookbook section. (My suggestion: stack ‘em in both.)

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Rumbling, bumbling and stumbling, parts II and III

The 12:04 to Strasbourg

 

   One of the traits that I first saw in Carol was how firmly her two feet were planted on the ground. With me, my life reads more like my feet are firmly planted in mid-air. So from the beginning I thought we'd make a good match. Then came Lyon, and I'm no longer sure where our feet are firmly planted, if they're firmly planted or if they're even our feet

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The Days of Wine and ...Whatever

   Worse than sightseeing, for me anyway, is sightseeing with a group. And the worst of all is sightseeing with a group on a wine tour. As Carol and I walked to the pickup point in downtown Lyon for our group tour of a Beaujolais winery, my stomach knotted over the thought of listening to a bunch pseudo experts extolling the virtues of a young pinot noir “with notes of eucalyptus and bok choy,” and the ever-present “soupcon of asparagus.” I only wanted to know one thing: how do you get red wine from white grape juice.

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Nice Knows Sand

   Carol's smile had that special illumination that appears whenever she is walking along a beach. I noticed it first when we walked the Pacific beaches near our new home in southern California. And it was out in force here along the French Riviera, where for me my beaming grin came from how the citizens of Nice handle the sand.

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Reid being Reid

   Carol and I have been traveling together for two weeks now, and we've been having as wonderful a time as I'd expected. It's when I think that everything is going great that I normally start to worry that something is about to reveal itself as terribly wrong. Carol calls it Reid being Reid.

   “I'm having a wonderful time,” Carol said to me, as we waited for our train to Nice. “I love these train rides.”

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“Chasing Cezanne”

 I have reacted to bananas going from ripe to rotten in just a couple of days within a bowl of fruit, so I felt I had a pretty good emotional feel for the painter Paul Cezanne’s better-known subjects even before Carol and I arrived in Aix-en-Provence.

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