You gained HOW MUCH on that cruise?!

FB_IMG_1485373261825While being interviewed a few days ago, one of the ship’s food and beverage managers said that passengers gain an average of one to two pounds per day on a cruise. Per day! Not bad if this were only a weeklong cruise. But this one lasts eighteen days.

Could I actually gain thirty-six pounds? Not that I don’t like a challenge, but that’s how much I lost fifteen years ago and promised myself I’d NEVER have to lose again. Besides, I gave away all my fat clothes.

So this is one area in which I am determined to stay well BELOW average.

I do expect the scale to be up a bit. After all, I’m on vacation and the food is delicious and plentiful. The dining room offers modest portions of delectable dishes, appetizers, and desserts, all included in what you already paid for the cruise. So, it’s practically free.

Or one can choose to eat at the buffet. It’s a more casual atmosphere and there are more choices.  Besides, you don’t have to share your table with eight strangers as you do in the dining room. That’s helpful if, like me, your traveling companion resides at the extreme end of introvert spectrum.

Trouble is, at a buffet you can take as much as you like of anything and go back for seconds. Or thirds. Or— you get the idea.

And then there is room service. Food, drinks, whatever you want, brought to you. Day or night.

To counteract this increase in intake there is a well-equipped gym, a running/walking track, fitness classes, and stairs. So many stairs. Yoga, spin, belly dancing, and boot camp give passengers plenty of opportunities to burn off a few of the extra desserts and cocktails. 

However, I’ve learned you can’t out exercise a bad diet. I can eat way faster than I can run.

I just have to make good food choices and move my lady-like keester. You know, that motivation thing. Overcoming excuses–too hot, too cold, ooh look, ice cream! And setting priorities– I really ought to finish reading that book, or work on my novel, or check my email… You know, that stuff.

That being said, I’m at the gym the other morning, using the elliptical when I notice a middle-aged Asian gentleman on a stationary bike. He finishes, reaches for his collapsible cane and feels his way to the towel rack and the next machine in his circuit. Yes, he was blind. By himself. On vacation. On a boat. And did I mention he was blind?

My excuses paled in comparison. I hung my head and powered through a few more sweaty minutes and a 30-minute stretch class before climbing the stairs to breakfast. Then I strolled right past the sweet rolls and pancakes, the biscuits and gravy,  and the explicably ever-present baked beans on toast. I selected poached eggs, wheat toast, and as much fresh pineapple and melon as I could fit on my plate.

Day 15 and I can still zip and button my capris. I’ll take that as a win.

Seriously, what are you complaining about?

untitled gratObservation of my fellow humans is a hobby of mine. And maybe the teensiest bit of quiet judgment. But honestly, the endless variety in shape, size, color, language, mode of dress, experience, and expression fascinates and amazes me. Every day.

For context, at the moment I’m on a cruise ship with 400 of my fellow Americans and 1000 Australians. (Sadly, not one of them is Hugh Jackman) The other 500 passengers are from just about everywhere else. One thing we have in common though, in spite of our differences: We’re all on vacation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a big beautiful boat that will dock in Tahiti tomorrow. So, you know–life is good. Very good.

Nonetheless, it appears that some people can still find something to complain about.

  • One recent morning, after a particularly rough night of twenty-foot seas, I overheard a young man complaining at Guest Services. It seems his stateroom was creaking a lot, and that he (or his pretty young wife standing next to him) couldn’t sleep. Could the Captain do something about it?

Personally, I was grateful that the ship hadn’t capsized overnight and that the Captain was getting us past the storm as quickly and as safely as he could. I was also grateful I packed earplugs. And Dramamine.

  • A New Jersey gent noticed me eating a chocolate ice cream cone and commented that he was glad they finally had chocolate again. He really didn’t like strawberry.

I’m grateful for the self-serve, soft-serve available all day, every day, as well as the forty-seven other desserts to pick from. I’m also grateful for the freedom to not eat strawberry ice cream.

  • This morning, in the ship’s library, as I sat rereading and revising the beast I like to call my “novel,” a woman came in looking for the Sudoku puzzles that are placed there every day. She lamented that the previous day’s puzzles weren’t there. She’d gotten behind.

I’m grateful that the puzzles are placed there, just in case I run out of other things to occupy my time. I’m also grateful that there are entire books of Sudoku and crossword puzzles available (not to mention mobile apps) that one might carry along, say, on a long ocean voyage.

  • At the breakfast buffet, a woman poked at a huge pan of lovely poached eggs trying to determine which ones might be done to her liking.

I’m grateful that poached eggs are available without having to order them special. And that the toast and English muffins are already done and that someone has made Hollandaise. Those facts alone are enough to allow me to overlook the precise degree of doneness that I prefer. That and the fact I don’t have to do the dishes.

Yes, the Internet onboard is a little slow, but again, we’re in the middle of the ocean. And even though the breakfast buffet doesn’t open until seven, they do put out tea things every afternoon at three, including scones and cute little sandwiches. And there is always room service. And did I mention not doing dishes?

There’s plenty to be grateful for. Especially here.

 

Learning to read Australian before breakfast

20170417_072828While the language is the same (mostly), my dearly beloved (db) and I were in for a few little surprises when we arrived in beautiful Sydney, Australia after a long flight on our way to a long cruise. I’m not complaining—who can complain about a chance to travel so far and see such beautiful places? No, I’m merely noticing.

The first thing we discovered was the electric tea kettle in our room instead of a coffee maker. Several varieties of tea and an Arrowroot Biscuit (!) were provided along with a couple of packets of instant coffee. Instant coffee.

Yes, I can–and did–drink instant, but you see, db and I are accustomed to early morning coffee before we attempt communication. Certainly we would survive, but seriously, how do people function and remain married without real coffee? We’ll celebrate our 44th anniversary this year and I know part of our marital longevity is due in no small part to the consumption of a couple of cups of coffee before we speak each morning.

At least they’d have real coffee at breakfast. Right?

Of course, a few of the menu choices at the hotel’s breakfast buffet also reminded me I was no longer in the USA. There were packets of Vegemite and Nutella to spread on toast, broiled tomatoes, muesli, baked beans, and boiled eggs in the shell–served hot! Still, I found enough creamy scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, and raisin toast to fill my plate.

Now to find the coffee before I sat down to eat. I looked around but found no giant urn, no thermal carafes… Oh, wait, there’s a machine. I read my choices. Espresso or long black. What about regular coffee?

Espresso is a shot, right? Not enough. But would a long black overfill the cup I held in my hand? I weighed the risk of going another moment without the requisite amount of caffeine I needed for basic social in interaction. I pressed the button for a long black and hoped for the best. Blessed hot black liquid poured forth from machine.

When I tasted it, it was stronger than an Americano, but definitely “real.” Later, with the help of google, I learned that “long black” is a term used in Australia and New Zealand for a double shot of espresso poured over hot water.

With that long black coursing through my veins and my jet-lagged brain now firing on most of its cylinders, I could face the puzzling items that would appear on the lunchtime menu: rocket salad and cos lettuce with capsicum.20170417_072638

Book review: It ain’t over till it’s over

confedsConfederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War

By Tony Horwitz

Think you understand the Civil War? Think you understand its causes and the influence it still holds on America? This book may cause you to think again, especially about why some folks can’t let it go, 150 years later.

As a boy, the prize-winning war correspondent Tony Horwitz was fascinated by the Civil War, particularly the books of old photos he studied with his Jewish immigrant grandfather. That passion is rekindled when, after returning from assignments in Bosnia and the Middle East, he is awakened one morning by the musket fire of Civil War re-enactors just outside his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Those shots signaled the beginning of a quest.

Throughout his travels, Horwitz demonstrates his curiosity and courage, his sense of humor and of history as he introduces readers to a host of characters including a band of “hardcore” re-enactors who diet just so they can look like starved Confederates and who spoon to keep warm on long cold nights. At every stop, he chats up bartenders, bikers, store-clerks, elected officials, teachers, home-schoolers, park rangers, as well as the staff at small museums and visitors centers. He even embarks on a marathon odyssey (dubbed a “Civil Wargasm”) from Antietam to Gettysburg to Appomattox with the super hard-core Robert Lee Hodge (pictured on the cover) as his guide. Horwitz covers a murder provoked by the display of a Confederate flag. He searches for Tara and meets a young woman who makes a living as a Scarlet O’Hara look-alike. He spends a day with Shelby Foote, as well as time with the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

What emerges defies easy description.

“In the neo-Confederate view, North and South went to war because they represented two distinct and irreconcilable cultures, right down to their bloodlines. White Southerners descended from freedom-loving Celts in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Northerners—New England abolitionists in particular—came from mercantile and expansionist English stock.”

“For the past several weeks people had been talking to me about ‘heritage.’ But like the flag, this obviously meant very different things to different people. For the Sons of Confederate Veterans I’d met in North Carolina, it meant the heritage of their ancestors’ valor and sacrifice. For <others> it was the heritage of segregation and its dismantling over the past forty years. Was it possible to honor one heritage without upholding the other?”

horwitz
Tony Horwitz

The result of Horwitz’s inquiry is a complex mosaic–sometimes funny, sometimes frightening–full of irony and contradiction.  He sees a hardening of attitudes on both sides from the mid-1980s onward. They are more contentious and less interested in facts. While this book is nearly twenty years old now, the conflicts Horowitz exposes resonate even louder today.  Modern battlefields are “classrooms, courts, country bars” where the past and the present rub up against each other, in sometimes deadly ways.

“While I felt almost no ideological kinship with the unreconstructed rebels, I’d come to recognize that in one sense they were right. The issues at stake in the Civil War—race in particular—remained raw and unresolved, as did the broad question the conflict posed: Would America remain one nation? In 1862, this was a regional dilemma, which it wasn’t anymore. But socially and culturally, there were ample signs of separatism and disunion along class, race, ethnic and gender lines. The whole notion of a common people united by common principles—even a common language—seemed more open to question than at any period in my lifetime.”

After this last election, the half of us on the losing side can perhaps feel at least a little empathy for those who can’t let it go.  Americans again face a bitterly divided country. Friends and family members find themselves at odds. And once again our survival as a free nation is at risk. That alone is worthy of our consideration and a look back at what happened last time.

 

Book review: A book for what ails you

paris-bookshopThe Little Paris Bookshop

by Nina George

Are you in need of enchantment? A long vacation? Good food? Wine? A little romance or the chance of finding it again? Are you in need of a remedy for a small sadness?

Kindly come in. Watch your step.

Jean Perdu, the middle-aged proprietor of The Literary Apothecary has just the thing. His shop is actually a barge on the bank of the Seine and his books are organized by emotion and the needs of the readers. “Perdu reflected that it was a common misconception that booksellers looked after books. They looked after people.”

 “I wanted to treat feelings that are not recognized as afflictions and are never diagnosed by doctors. All those little feelings and emotions no therapist is interested in, because they are apparently too minor or intangible. The feeling that washes over you when another summer nears its end. Or when you recognize that you haven’t got your whole life left to find out where you belong. Or the slight sense of grief when a friendship doesn’t develop as you thought, and you have to continue your search for a lifelong companion. Or those birthday morning blues. Nostalgia for the air of your childhood. Things like that.”

On the power of reading good books:

“…reading makes people impudent, and tomorrow’s world is going to need some people who aren’t shy to speak their minds…”

“Whenever Monsieur Perdu looked at a book…he saw freedom on wings of paper.”

But the love of books and the bank of the Seine are just the beginning of this story. When Perdu finds a poignant, twenty-year-old love letter in an old kitchen table, he impulsively unmoors his bookshop and sets off on a quest. As he’s leaving, Max Jordan, a young, reclusive author, jumps aboard.  Yes, it’s a road trip, but the “road” ends up being the system of rivers and canals in France. Along the way, they take on another older man, Salvatore Cuneo, who has been searching for his lost love for decades. So, it is love—or the possibility of love—that sends all three men on this quest. There is a literary mystery to be solved as well.

“We cannot compel anyone to love us. There’s no secret recipe, only love itself. And we are at its mercy—there’s nothing we can do.”

What better place to pursue a quest than the water- and roadways between Paris and Toulon? Author, Nina George’s lyrical and sensuous descriptions will draw you into every village and scene, every meal and glass of wine, every sunset and every tango.  Deep sadness and great love are expressed throughout the book with warmth and compassion. Themes of love and loss, healing and hope permeate this luscious read.

61u6jukitll-_ux250_
Author, Nina George

“All of us preserve time. We preserve the old versions of the people who have left us. And under our skin, under the layer of wrinkles and experience and laughter, we, too, are old versions of ourselves. Directly below the surface, we are our former selves: the former child, the former lover, the former daughter.”

I found this book to be perfectly charming. It reinforces the healing power of books and time, while also reminding us not to shut ourselves away, but to live in the world, to really experience it. It also made me want to book a river cruise in France. Or at least drink in the sunset and some good wine with someone I love. Recommend.

The names have been changed…

screaming coverScreaming in Paris by Brian Lageose

“Once upon a time, an extremely dysfunctional family decided that it would be a splendid idea to take a trip to Paris. In past adventures, this family has been unsuccessful in simply visiting their local grocery store without potential incarceration, so the prospect of descending upon another country should have sounded alarm bells. It did not.”

So begins this book about international travel with a particularly dysfunctional entourage consisting of eight related or nearly-related people: Brian’s mother and two sisters; one brother-in-law; one close friend; and Brian’s partner and said partner’s sister. Five women.Three men. And to add just a bit to the scale-of-difficulty, one of his sisters is confined to wheelchair. “Unwieldy” seems a bit of an understatement. Furthermore, because this is his actual family, and to keep lawsuits and restraining orders to a minimum, he gave them all French pseudonyms. Yeah, it’s that kind of tell-all.

First you need to know that Brian blogs over at Bonnywood Manor and that he was put in charge of this tour because he’d been to Paris before and spoke a little high school French. He could also read a map and tell time. What’s that old adage? “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” Brian took the job seriously, perhaps a little too seriously. Whether he liked it or not (many times not) the gang looked to him for guidance. Or a decision. So, he’s the one looking at maps and schedules while trying to keep folks safe, together, and moving along.

Brian puts readers into each uncomfortable situation with great skill. He crowds us into to cramped restaurants and cajoles us into eating unfamiliar foods. Intestines? Sure. Why not?! He gives us an up close and personal view of the sights (and smells!) of our fellow humans. We get quite drunk.

Of course, the challenges created the opportunities for humor:  An evil concierge who gives them inaccurate directions resulting in an epic journey through much of France in a rented van as they set off to visit a castle in a nearby city. Certain people (you know who you are, Tatum) dawdling and pawing through every souvenir shop. Walking. Standing outside numerous restaurants trying to get eight people to agree on where to eat. Riding the crowded Metro with unfamiliar crotches and backsides pressed against faces and other crotches. Walking uphill. Making transfers on the Metro. Dawdling. Walking. Waiting in line for tours of churches. Walking. Dawdling. Climbing the Eiffel Tower with not one, but two acrophobics. And did I mention the walking and dawdling?

Two things that they could always agree on were the hotel’s divine breakfast buffet and drinking beer on the hotel’s patio. Food and drink are consistent themes, with inherent humorous or embarrassing side effects. And hey, as bad as it gets, guess what? They’re still in Paris!

Brian’s genuine love and affection for his family shines through the humor, though. In spite of his rants, he writes…

“It had been a hell of a week, being responsible for getting these people everywhere they needed to be, and making sure that nobody got lost or was arrested or ate things they shouldn’t.”

In conclusion, if you like your travelogues funny, with dose of sarcasm and snark (think David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day or J. Maarten Troost’s The Sex Lives of Cannibals) you might enjoy this little tome as well. Or perhaps you’re planning a trip to Paris. Or maybe you simply want to affirm your belief that all families are just a little crazy. In that case, spending a vicarious week in Paris with Brian’s  family will show you just how right you are. As a bonus, you’ll probably come away grateful for your own family’s special brand of crazy.

While he does go on (and on), the only thing that truly bothered me was the lack of photographic evidence.

Brian also reminded me that in the most aggravating and embarrassing of situations, with the most aggravating and embarrassing of people–one’s own family–it’s best not to follow our own possibly criminal instincts. We should take a breath and see the humor. And if we’re going to write about them, for godsake, change their names.