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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Seasonal Fare

Back and forth to America or is it 'forth and back' ... People ask me if I get homesick -- meaning for the US -- but really home for me is here in the UK. But there is a certain 'familiarity' when I am there that is not easy to explain. It's sort of like being in a 'comfort zone' and at the same time being out of my 'comfort zone'.

We could not find any television we wanted to watch other than certain news type programs on MSNBC -- particularly The Rachel Maddow Show. The trouble with that though was I felt constantly steamed up about the current political situation -- the inability of a democratic Congress to rescind the Bush tax cuts for people earning over $250, 000 a year, for example. The list of political situations and institutions that frustrate me is endless.

But it was quite wonderful to be there for Thanksgiving and to see my mother and brother and sisters and their families. We were not there long enough to do any real travelling other than a lovely day trip to the Boston area, but that was just as well for me and for keeping fatigue abated. Long plane rides are more and more difficult to endure the older I get.

The weather was very reasonable and surprisingly mild, while in Britain the usual New England conditions prevailed. It was a shock to return to a frigid landscape and freezing temperatures. Unlike the New England States Britain does not have any effective procedures for dealing with snow and ice. Grit seems to be a commodity in short supply -- councils are very stingy with it -- at least here in Southport where only the pavements in the town center were treated. So for several days I stayed home or tread very carefully to the car and supermarket carpark where the tarmac had been gritted. Fortunately, for us in this part of Britain a thaw has set in -- at least for the next day or so and I've been able to participate in the annual yultide shopping madness. I'm almost done!!

Not too many complaints about the airline, US Airways -- except for the cramped conditions of the seat being too close together for any semblance of long-term comfort.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Just Can't Do It All in Time ...

For quite some time I have been dogged by feeling that no matter what I'm planning to do I don't have 'enough' time. It's a very uncomfortable and disatisfying sensation and also some how 'disquieting.' I never feel I have all the time in the world. I know people who are able to live in a sort of 'suspended' time-frame. Whatever it is they chose to do at a given moment they can give themselves entirely over to that 'whatever-it-is.'

The result of this feeling is that a lethargy sets in and it's difficult to settle down to doing anything other than mundane tasks -- dinner, ironing, laundry -- whatever. So the question is what do I really feel I do not have enough time to do -- not have time to finish -- so why not just stop and then come back to it? I know that whatever I do it tends to take longer than I think it will. In the kitchen it always seems to take me hours longer to prepare a meal than others. If we give a dinner party I start early in the morning and I'm still never really ready on time. From the preparation of food, to my changing my clothes, I almost always feel shambolic.

I mean, hell, I'm retired -- if I want to stay up all night and watch episode after episode of The Wire, there is no reason not to sleep all day and repeat the next night if I want. But I'll watch 3 episodes - max and go to bed no later than 2 am and hopefully it will be 1.

The thing is that I don't have time to do everything I would like to do. That is the crux of it. I want to study languages -- especially French and Italian. I want to read books about thousands of subjects and then novels, too and I want to see films and tv shows and I want to travel and give dinner parties and even go to church. Oh and then there is Facebook and blogging and emailing and photography, not to mention .....

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Stupidity Underestimated

The electorates in the world's democracies are vastly ignorant and are easily swayed by sound-bite rhetoric. Our psyche's are full of 'now' and not 'how' and especially not 'why'. And intelligent politicians consistently underestimate what ordinary are capable of and/or willing to understand any issue beyond their own backyard. The electorate loves being talked down to; the electorate hates having to 'think'. The man on the street always knows how simple it is to solve the problems legislators and politicians face.

In his innaugural speech, President Obama could see the writing on the wall. He warned the vast crowds that tough times lay ahead, but we glossed over the warnings and preferred to think that all our well-earned economic woes would somehow be 'magicked' away and that we wouldn't have to suffer the consequences of our greed and our belief that we could have it all on the never-never. I despair at the sight of a country that just refuses to grow up. The country cannot survive without a social structure that takes care of a society that is no longer agrarian. We need to accept a responsibility for our vastness and our complexity.

Obama has done what needed to be done because of the mistakes made by others. He has tried to take the nation in a much needed different direction and he has saved us from ourselves. Without his actions the country would have suffered unemployment figures that make the present ones look like a walk in the park. Let's hope the next two years teach us all a thing or two.

I can't help but agree with those who say that the President needs to limit some of his bi-partisan efforts though. It takes two to play that game and so far he's been playing solitaire and looking the fool.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I've been in a lethargic state for a while now. Maybe it's just getting old, I don't know -- but the overall feeling is that I just can't be bothered, even though I still have thoughts and opinions that I feel I want to write about ... I just don't. And since my last post here there has been a lot happening -- a lot to think about and comment on.

First we are back in England, second we've had a fun trip to Italy, third how about those Chilean miners, forth the Conservatives in England are about to destroy the country, and fifth the conservatives in America are going to do their best to destroy American democracy. In addition how about those French taking once again to the streets! Anarchy rears its head again and I can't help but admire their willingness to do more than just talk -- even if when I really think about it I believe that debate and the ballot box are the best, if not most effective ways in the short term, of resolving issues in our democracies. It's about patience.

That's what works best: patience and working together. It's not about immediate results. But that doesn't mean that direct action is not part of the process. For example, it was the direct action of the sufragettes that led ultimately to women having the right to vote. It was the direct action of the civil rights movement that ended the legality of segregation. Direct action in the name of justice is an important democratic right. I'm not so sure that retiring at the age of 60 is. One aspect is concerning me about this universal rush to raise retirement ages, however. Is it possible that one of the reasons people are living longer and enjoying life more because they are able to retire and are we ready as democratic societies to accommodate more and more people in the work force for longer?

Patience is what President Obama is about. He is a thoughful, deliberberative man who understands instinctively and intellectually the difficulties the Nation faces. He warned us that the damage done to the United States by past political policies would take time to resolve. Time and the passage of it are not acceptible to the American psyche. Patience is not a virtue in the United States of American. I hope those of us who believe in his presidency have not left it too late to rally to the cause. I hope that our country will not shoot itself in the foot, will not throw away the great opportunity this President offers us.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Fortunate Summer

It's September already and almost time to leave "Paradise" and head for home. It is especially good fortune to be able to spend summers here in Aynac year after year for 11 years. It is not luxurious living but it is nevertheless a luxury. I am a 'summer junkie'! I love the sun and eating outside and swimming. The weather here is sometimes very hot, but never for too long. There always follow cool days and except for one year, the countryside is green and never too baked. So it is not difficult to go back to the 'real world' with my 'batteries recharged' and ready to face the cold dark days of winter and maybe a decent English Spring.

I also look forward to living my life again, rather than recuperating from it! I love and miss my church, my closest friends, the shops and daily banter in English, as well as some of the modern conveniences that we do without each summer. It's a life that's almost but not quite perfect.

When I leave this library and by limited, but free Internet connection today, it will be time to start packing up and put away for the next summer, God willing. The sun is shining and the weather reports forecast warm weather which means good drying days for the laundry that must be done before we leave. We've done rather well this year and have a managed to dwindle the perishible food supplies better than we usually have!

Friday, August 06, 2010

Summer Pleasures

Simply Honey...

Neil learning to make plum jam!!!!


Early morning sunrise at Le Foyt


Outskirts of Loubressac: remembering Bastille Day 1944

Under the shade of the Capalca Tree ...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wild Baby Beast


Today my friend Polly rescued a cute little feral kitten from blindness. Poor little mite has probably been abandoned by its mother. First thing we saw was this little thing staggering out of the shed door at the end of our patio -- it was mewing away and very wobbly on its legs. Polly went over to have a look and realized its eyes were not open -- lots of muck sealing them shut.

Every summer we find wild cats somewhere on our place. Most often they find a way into the loft/attic space above the ceiling in the bedrooms. We are happy to let them have this space as it keeps other varmints, namely mice, at bay. The thing is though that we are careful not to 'befriend' them in any way as it doesn't help them when it comes to surviving when we leave -- its a matter of peaceful, non-interfering, co-existance!

But we, and especially Polly, could not watch the poor little mite suffer and had to come to the rescue. So Neil got a pail of warm water and with some QTips/cotton buds and soft cotton make-up removal pads she patiently and carefully cleared the little eyes of the muck. Her husband, Chris, pointed out that now there is the possibility that the creature, having had Polly as her first sight/vision(!) consider her to be 'Mom/Mum'!

So now we are in St. Cere and rather hoping that while we are gone Mother Cat will return to find a 'miracle' cure and the family unit will be restored ...

Update: Upon our return home we found the kitten had disappeared -- not to have been seen since -- however, we do believe we can hear what sound possibly like a family of cats up in the mystery regions of the house!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Old Age Adage --- Bah! Humbug!

Yesterday for the first time really, I could see myself as an 'old lady'. It was a brief reflection in the wing mirror of the car -- and it came as a shock. It brought to mind a long ago memory of early teen-age years with my best friend, Roberta. We lived in a part of Torrington, Connecticut, called Burrville and our houses were separated by a 'walk in the woods'. We were part of a team of 4 friends, but because we lived so close together spent more time with each other than with the other two. Her family had lived in Burrville for generations and she would take me from time to time to play Canasta with her 'Grandma'.

Grandma was quite a formidable lady, I believe and I thought of her as being well dressed, well coifed and always manicured. I remember quite clearly how well groomed her hands were -- one would playing cards after all. I also remember that I considered her to be rather an 'old lady', albeit a 'grande dame with plenty of style.' -- in the order of my own grandmother -- although my friend's grandmother was much more well-turned out than mine -- I now refer in particular to my paternal grandmother. My maternal grandmother was another story altogether.

So why was I thinking of this woman? I believe she was 65 when I met her and I am now that same age. Kind of puts things into an awful perspective. Last night I had terrible heartburn and wondered if I was having a heartburn or a heart attack. And worried about the fact I've not yet made a will and on and on the thoughts that haunt in the middle of the night. Bah! Humbug!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Internet Limits and Life is Divine



I have 45 minutes left! The Internet has become an addiction for me. No doubt about it. It is not possible to have a broadband connection at our maison secondaire -- a black hole in connection-ville! But the local library has free access on Wednesday and Saturday for two hours each day. By the time I get over the fiddling around with this site and that and reading the news headlines and checking email and possibly even answering it, time is running short. Nevermind blogging and trying to provide links to various references.

On Friday (day after tomorrow) Neil leaves for 12 days in England and I shall be on my own at the little farmhouse. I have had to do this quite a few times in the past few years, and I quite enjoy it -- though I find it difficult to be hold up at the place for so long. The walk to the village is not that far, but I have to pass by some neighborhood dogs on the way and I find they make me terrible nervous, though I have been assured by my dear neighbor, Simone, that they are not 'mechants'!!! Still I should take hold of my fears and make a regular walk the kilometer or so it is to a fresh loaf of bread!
So here I am recharging batteries and recuperating from minor aches and pains. The wine is lovely, cold and rose from Provence, the bread is yummy, the cheese divine -- for us as we observe the beauty, indulge in the sunshine, plant our flowers -- we are a world away from our real lives though still connected by telephone and television. We have time to linger in another world for a while. It's luxurious and simple, not perfect, but very beautiful, exquisite ... I'll linger a while longer -- perhaps in the shade when I get back to the little house ...

Monday, May 31, 2010

"Coalition" Sounds Good to Me

If anything could be read into the election results in the UK it is this: Equal parts of the electorate want what the other guy is offering. And at the same time it goes without saying that equal parts of the electorat don't want what the other guy is offering. In fact I think this is an attitude prevalent among most western societies. Being far more informed than at any time in our history, we the people are more and more able to grasp the idea that no one ideology has all the answers to the problems that societies face. We also know that no one answer to any problem is "forever".

The electorate, is in fact far more flexible than politicians because politicians almost always are reactive not proactive. And the electorate likes it that way -- unfortunately. At a time of economic uncertainty we look for certainties where there are none. No one knows the right answer to this recession, but most of us think we know the wrong answer. A coalition government at this time is good if only because one of the two paths of economic is bound to work and, therefore, the outcome can be predicted a success for both working together. And as the pendulum swings, and it will, success will appear to swing with having our friendly "flexible" friend.

It's a real shame about David Laws. For such a respected politician, who could experience could have been so beneficial to the country, it is tragic that he could have been undone by such a lapse of judgement. His position, however, was for the moment untenable. However, if the past is anything to go by, there is a lesson to be learnt from Peter Mandelson and the British people might be fortunate enough to get him back. I, for one, hope so. George Osborne is going to need him. David Cameran's statement upon Law's resignation was reassuring and encouraging.

If we are lucky in the UK and this government has the stamina and maintains the good will of the people, it will show that we have grown up enough as a civilization to know that working together to find solutions to the problems of nations is the best way and we will decide that proportional representation is a viable way for democracy here to work. It would be a terrible injustice if the machinations of the media were to thwart the coalition in its effort to prevail.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Hairdryer's behind the Chainsaw: Birthdays, Touring and So On

video
Our first full day in the Veneto and the sun shone -- sunny Italy once again living up to it's reputation! Andrew joined us as we at our breakfast of cake, cheese, ham, tea/coffee and juice, beautifully and charmingly presented by our charming Italian host. Since we had left them the evening before, Andrew and Carla had had a nasty shock. Upon going to car that morning, Carla discovered that thieves had tried to break into the vehicle and had broken the steering wheel from the steering column of her little, adorable car. She was suitably traumatized, this being her first car and she was emotionally attached to it and all the memories it had for her.

It turned out to have been somewhat our fault for upon our arrival the evening before there had been a lot of confusion when we arrived. This due to the fact that we had requested that the food we had brought with us from France we had removed from our own car to make use of her freezer and fridge. With all the bags and it was all too easy to forget to lock up properly. Fortunately, friends and relations were able to get the steering wheel re-assembled to the steering column within a few days at a fraction of the cost initially anticipated and so it worked out with a minimum of fuss ... but all the same was an unfortunate incident. It also underlined the fact that this lovely apartment block in what seemed like a quiet and safe neighborhood, was nevertheless prone to constant surveillance by scoundrals!

Not half a block from our hotel is the motorway heading to the Dolomites and many lovely picturesque villages so Andrew was eager to show us some of the sites. The area reminded us a great deal of parts of Austria and Germany and indeed there were many cars and tourists from those countries in the various towns we visited. Our first stop was an alpine village where Andy was hoping we would have lunch. As luck would have it, the venue was closed on that day and we had to make do with admiring the scenery: a lake and glorious mountains -- not a difficult task!

We continued up the road close to the border with Austria, past one stunning view after
another. This is the downside of such beautiful areas. Soon the oohs and ahhs become redundant murmurs insufficient to describe the exquisitness before our eyes. And so we twisted and turned and wound our way up and up and arrived at the nexted hoped for luncheon destination! Alas! Alack! More of the chosen restaurants were closed that day. But we did find a reasonable restaurant/pizzeria -- and much more Germanic it was than Italian. But the cuisine sufficed for lunch and we enjoyed our food and the ambience of the place well enough.

The birthday evening began with Mother and Son meeting Carla at a wine bar in Conegliano center for a yummy glass of prosecco. It was reasonably warm, pleasant enough to sit outside with our drinks and nice to be able to have some mother/son time, too.
Andrew had decided the venue for his party was to be a Bavarian Beer place in Conegliano -- especially since it did half-price beer on Tuesdays! Good thinking Andy! Unfortunately, for the pocketbooks of many of us, this Tuesday coincided with the beginning of Octoberfest and the special deal was off! In any even, the beer flowed and the party was a great success. Andrew's students arrived en forte, along with Carla's parents and even friends newly made while picking grapes that summer. A short video of Andrew having to conjugate Italian verbs -- some of them very rude -- is above. But a longer version can be seen here on You Tube. In the picture you can see a number of shot glasses, there in preparation for the opening of birthday packages that turned out all to be several parts of the whole. In order for Andrew to open one he had to conjugate an Italian verb in the chosen tense! If he made a mistake he had to down a shot. Needless, to say there is a lot of that evening that he does not remember. Before the end Wise Parents decided that they would confiscate and/or hide several!

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Gordon's Gaffe

For me the problem with Gordon Brown as a politician began early on because he reminds me so very much of Richard Nixon: he physically looks like him, his body language is spookily reminiscent of the former American president and he seems to share many of the psychological hangups too.

Gordon's Gaffe of a few days ago is a good example of why I would never vote for him. It's not what he said -- I imagine that there is no politician out there who would like to be caught with his mike on when thinking himself/herself free from public scrutiny. What is most disconcerting to me is how much he misjudged the situation. Ironically, he handled the exchange with Mrs. Duffy with aplomb. He was polite and seemed to be paying attention to what she said. He didn't fluff his lines or his position. There was nothing to be upset about. He should have been pleased with his performance. Gillian Duffy felt good about the exchange and said she planned to vote for him.

The second failing on his part was that his first reaction was to blame someone for having set him up. Poor Sue, whoever she is -- because chances are that he is continuing to blame her for the ensuing fiasco. A fiasco that was entirely his own doing.

It also showed that he is deeply uncomfortable with the public, not a good place to be when running for high office in this ever-media-present society we have now. I don't know where he is at his best because from what we learn of him behind closed doors is that he is a bully prone to rages and bad-temper.

This is a man who with every breath in his being wants to be Prime Minister in his own right. Unfortunately, he is not right for the job. He just has too much baggage. And one final piece of advice: please stop trying to smile; the smile is just too 'trying'.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I am so miserable. My sinuses are blocked. I can't sleep at night as that's when the problem is at its worst. It all started in Connecticut a few days after arriving and got progressively worse -- culminating on the flight back when not only could I not breathe but there was a constant drip, drip, drip from the nasal passages. Nice. I've been back almost a week and nothing has improved ... moan, moan, moan.

Considering the fact that I could not breathe, I really had a great two weeks visiting my mother. My sister came from the mid-west half-way through the two weeks of my visit. We paid a visit to my sister and brother-in-law in Vermont (I love Vermont, it's the best of all states) and even though it was only over-night it was quality time. Upon returning to my mother's we had a wonderful visit from my niece and her gorgeous adorable children.

All this happened during the volcano eruption in Iceland that grounded all the planes in northern Europe for a week. I was pretty convinced that I would not be able to fly and would be delayed returning to England. But at least I would have a place to stay and not be marooned as so many others were in an airport lounge for days and days. However, luck was with me and the ban was lifted the day before my flight was scheduled and I was among the first planes to fly.

So now I'm back and pretty miserable most of the time. It seems to be worse at night. Now and then inexplicably my passages clear and I breathe normally -- but it's always short-lived. While in the States I went to a doctor at the urging of my friend Karin and he prescribed a 3-day course of antibiotics and a 15 day supply of decongestant. The antibiotic got rid of the infection, but the congestion has not abated. Today I went to a doctor on this side of the pond and was given a prescription for a nasal steroid spray. It helpfully explains in the leaflet that it will take several days to be effective! In addition I am to take an anti-hystamine. The problem is I'm allergic to Spring -- but not every Spring. I think it depends on how many bushes and trees are in bloom at once. I don't know ... I'm miserable. It's 4.3 0 am and I've not been able to sleep.

The election has been a bit of a diversion from my misery. The 3rd debate is tomorrow night. The Liberal-Democrat leader, Nick Clegg has put a spanner in the works by capturing the public imagination during the first televised debate in British history. I've always liked the Lib-Dems, but the electorate has not really taken them seriously since 1910, when they were the Liberals. In fact the whole history of the party is quite interesting to me. The Liberals merged with a break-away Labour groupthe Social Democrats in the 1980's shortly after I came to England. The Two Davids (Steele and Owen). It's a interesting political story from a political science point of view.

Any way the cat is now among the pigeons and I may not be able to breathe, but at least it's a diversion. Until May 6 anyway!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Volcanoes and stuff

It is looking increasingly that I will become another victim of the Icelandic volcano. I hope to know tomorrow if my flight on Wednesday will go ahead. Since I am visiting my mother and am retired I don't have to be back at a particular time for a particular reason -- other than my own home with my own husband ... The ramifications of delay for me are not dire... I will eventually get back to the UK.


Nevertheless the implications of the event could be life-changing should the worse case scenario being offered should come to pass. What if this event should last for as long as two years? How would our world look? Could northern Europe become a vast wasteland covered by volcanic ash?


My sister observed that unlike most other major disasters of our lifetime this is one that it totally out of our control and one of interderminable length -- there is, in other words, nothing anybody can do!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Hairdryer's behind the Chainsaw: Novara on and on ... and on

When last I wrote about this we had just found a hotel in Novara -- a not particularly pretty non-descript town not far from Milan. It took us a while to find one and we had to drive across the town/city toward the motorway before we spied a reasonable looking structure with the word "Hotel" emblazoned upon it. The building was yellow and curved and had its own parking. I was instructed by the driver to use what little Italian I had remastered to see if there was a room and if the price was right. So I unbound myself from the confines of the front seat and headed out across the parking lot to see if I could find the front door.
Suddenly I heard a man addressing me in French -- imagine my surprise! I was all ready with my 'una camera per due, per favore' rigamarole and didn't need it because the man addressing me turned out to be the proprietor of the hotel and was having a fag break out in the parking lot! Not only that but the price of the room included dinner and breakfast and was under 100 Euros! The Hotel Cupola worked out just fine. The room was comfortable enough and Neil was pleased to climb out the window onto the roof for a cigar and I caught him in the act.

video
drive was driving past the southern end of Lake Guarda -- but that was so fleeting, it hardly made up for my back ache and grumpiness from inhaling toxic fumes and endless traffic slowdowns for 10 hours. It all proved once again that old men should have to live alone ... Dinner was very good, though I don't remember what I had. The wife was the cook and the food was well prepared and there was plenty of wine to go along with it! Neil was happy; I was happy. The next morning breakfast was a processed croissant and was terrible! Though the tea was fine!
And so we were off on the final leg and I did not enjoy the drive one little bit. This made me a very grumpy wife and him a determined idiot determined to trudge on through the traffic and the pollution for 10 hours instead of 3 hours 45 minutes. To this day he insists he enjoyed seeing the towns and countryside along the way and would do the same again. Not with me. Son Andrew called several times and offered to pay the autostrada charges -- to no avail, of course. The only sort of enjoyable part of the endless journey was the drive across the southern end of Lake Guarda -- but that was so fleeting it didn't make up for the aching back and disgusting taste in my mouth from the endless truck and car fumes that penetrated through the car. I do not remember one town or village that was charming or memorable in any way along this stretch of Italian landscape.
The experience convinced me once again that old men should have to live alone!
What a shame -- we could have spent the afternoon in the sunshine of the Veneto with my Andy and Carla. Enjoyed an early evening splash of prosecco laughing and talking. Do I sound bitter. Don't get me started! By the time we got to San Vendemiano it was just about dark and Carla met us to guide us to their new apartment -- beautiful -- Unfortunately, Andy, was working that evening and got home around 9. We lugged lots of perishable food up to their place to take advantage of a freezer and refrigerator and this led to unfortunate consequences the next day.
In the meantime, Andy got home -- kisses and hugs all around -- we ate some yummy pasta Carla prepared and headed for our hotel, which was just around the corner and a lovely surprise. The hotel e turned out to be the Azienda Vinicola FURLAN and is a winery. San Vendemiano is in the heart of the prosecco wine region of Italy and FURLAN is a family run winery. Things were looking up. The cantina (Italian for winery) was a lovely refurbished building with hotel rooms above.
Next: Poor Carla's car, but still a happy ending; touring with Andy; and the birthday boy has the tables turned by his students!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bored

Same old, same old
politics, washing
working, planning
tv, spending,
waring
same old same old
battered shoe.

New years, birthdays,
cheering, swearing,
same old angry arguing,
vengeful thinking,
serial fucking
newspaper mucking
same old same old same old poo.

Listen to me
I don't listen to you
How do you do,
I know more than you.
blameless sameness
famous, shameless
God bless me
but he won't bless you
same old same old
hullabaloo.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Dysfunctional Government

Is the Constitution of the United States beyond its sell by date? Americans are educated to believe that ours is the best document of its kind ever written. It has been adaptable to change and at the same time sustained our stability so that the United States of America was able to become the most powerful country in the world.

The document was written within a great context of compromise. A belief that there needed to be a foundation upon which 13 very different and sometimes disparate states could agree to be 'one among many': E pluribus unum. The document is a testament to the complexity of simplicity. It is also an example of the over-riding desire of the Founding Fathers to correct the inequities of English parliamentary government. It's success at this is the Constitution's strength and its weakness. So intent were its authors to limit the power of government that it has encouraged the ability of opposition parties to overcome the wishes of the majority as a policy for regaining power.

Within the framework of the Constitution there are mechanisms present to correct its inadequacies. I believe it is time to seriously consider extending the period members of the House of Representatives are elected to serve. I believe it is also time to consider extending the length of a Presidential term to at least 5 years. Another consideration should be whether it is advisable to relect the entire House in one election. I don't have an opinion on that, but think it should be questioned and debated. And fillibustering is not democratic no matter which party is doing it. It enables the will of the majority to be circumvented and stymied; it can make and has made a government by the people and for the people impossible to achieve.

It is not healthy for the country to be thrust into political maneuvering and posturing so soon and so often that the business of governning becomes impossible. In the 21st Century it is a fact that constant media speculation about future elections does not encourage positive government. It is a great inhibitor, a negative influence that harms the nation and discourages its people.

There have always been charlatans in the halls of power. Whatever amendments may made to our Constitution these charlatans will still be found trying to bend the powers that be to their will. But I believe that by giving our legislators more room to breath we will enable government to be more reflective as well as effective.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Hairdryer's behind the Chainsaw: Apt to Get to Italy

Gosh this travel log is taking me forever. I'm just leaving Apt -- why didn't I take any pictures -- I am definitely losing marbles -- I could swear I remember taking some from the parking lot -- but, nope, I didn't ... I should mention that before leaving the hotel, I decided to part with 8 euros and have some breakfast -- and I'm glad I did, it was yummy and tres continental -- good pot of tea, gorgeous warm freshly baked bread with apricot jam and perfect croissant. I managed to clumsily turn over the orange juice, and the lady in charge very kindly took it away and brought be a fresh tray -- she'd struck me as being on the grumpy side of 'ok', but in fact was very sweet and not at all admonishing and I happily continued to yum away. In the meantime Neil cleared the room, packed the car and went off for the nearby bakery.

So, fresh loaf of Sunday bread in hand for lunch, we headed toward the motorway for a brief ride -- we were heading for Gap. Somehow at the end of the motorway we turned off too soon and were soon heading off in the wrong direction. I had seen a lake on the map and our planned route would have taken us east from Gap and onto a road that bordered the lake -- it had promised to be a pretty drive. Now having seen some pictures of Gap, I'm sorry we didn't have a look around, but we did come upon a very pleasant and interesting surprise.
We could see on our map a road connecting to the road we wanted to be on after leaving Gap, and thinking we were upon that turning turned off and headed for it! The way was winding and desolate and the views began to be rather spectacular and we could see off in the distance that we were approaching what appeared to be a dam. And indeed it was the Barrage de Serre Poncon. What a spectacular surprise! As usualy, the French had done a fantastic job with their visitor center and there were informative glass panels in many languages explaining the how, whens and wheres and history of the scene we were observing. It is a very impressive hydro-electric dam which supplies 10% of France's hydro-electric output!
Having waited several extra minutes for a school of motorcyclists to pass through -- there must have been at least a hundred of them -- we set off down the other side of the dam a towards a hopeful rendez-vous with lunch alongside the lake and once more on our planned route. We found a lovely little spot to pull over and enjoyed our repast while watching the sailing school in the distance, just outside Savines-le-Lac, one of the villages re-sited when the valley was flooded and the lake was made. In the middle of the lake is an island withh a small chapel that is all that remains of this village -- the chapel once stood atop a hill.

Lunch over, we were now heading for Italy and our next benchmark the highest town in France: Briancon. Briancon is truly spectacular and yet again another place we were only able to pass through because of our restrictive time-table. Life is too short for all the wonderful places in France! We found the signs for Torino and headed up and up towards the border. First we came to a statue of a climber, who stood at the bottom of the final climb -- was he welcoming or warning? What a climb! What a harrowing road. The higher we climbed the narrower it seemed to become. I had to keep closing my eyes, but I was afraid to keep them closed for fear I wouldn't be ready to keep the car on the road from the passenger side. Both of us were grateful that we were there at the end of the tourist season when there was little traffic -- actually we were there between tourist seasons -- though I can't imagine that road often being open once snow begins to fall. The road was in terrible shape -- sheer drops and crumbling verges and cars, buses and trucks coming the other way as we or rather he negotiated one hairpin turn after another. In the distance were brief glimpses of Briancon and I longed for a place to stop so that Neil could get out and take a picture. It was some time, but finally there was a small place at the side of the road. We were steeling ourselves for what the road would be like once we were over the border into Italy. We assumed the worst and we were wrong!
The Italians had built a wonderful road -- even I would not have been afraid to drive on it! A magnificent descent down the other Alpine side! We also noted that the French side of the Alps is much more rugged looking -- stonier and more barren and rough. Neil was determined not to be caught out by Italian high motorway fees and we were only on the Italian motorway system until we could determine the appropriate alternative route that would get us to Novara, where we had decided to head for for the night.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Grumpy Old American Living in England and It's Freezing!

Several hours a week of my life are spent lying awake in the middle of the night trying to go back to sleep. Some of my best ideas descend upon me during these hours. Ideas that are almost alway forgotten by morning. However, a few nights ago I began coming up with acronyms that might be applied to me! At the top of my list is GOALIE: Grumpy Old American Living in England. This morning it occured to me that perhaps I should amend the 'England' part to 'the Empire' -- in keeping with other prominent New Year's lists. This morning I thought of Old Broad of the Empire, but some of my adopted countrymen and women might take offense.

Living in England at the moment is a frigid affair. Our old Victorian house with its high ceilings is a refrigerator -- a few minutes I will be relieved to close the heavy curtains in my study --it's tempting to keep them closed all day -- it's tempting to stay in bed all day -- as it is I get up after 11 am -- so far rising before noon is sacrosanct to me -- it may not last much longer. I keep up with the ironing to get warm -- imagine that! I've even started taking a hot water bottle to bed. I never knew people did that before I came to England in 1980. You should see the fancy ones they have here in England. Functional hot water bottles that come with nifty fashionable covers -- I don't have one with a cover so I have to cover mine with a towel -- so as not to burn myself. Thinking about it now, I am tempted to go upstairs and grab it.
At the moment my Internet weather programs says it is one degree celsius above freezing outside -- not that cold if you are a New Englander well used to sub zero temperatures and snow measured in feet not centimeters. The trouble is this weather is rare in these parts -- I would say Florida has cold weather more often than we do in this part of England. The snow came a week ago and the side streets of this town of 88,000 people are not gritted and none of the pavements/sidewalks have been cleared.

I may have to get out my mink coat from the wardrobe where I've hidden it -- I'll say it's a fake -- even though my plan is to wear it to church on Sunday. For those who don't know, that is the coldest place in the Kingdom!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Hairdryer's behind the Chainsaw: Part 3





The Pont du Gard has been on my 'must see' list for a very long time and it totally lived up to my expectations. In some ways it is unfortunate that it has now become a major tourist attraction in the region -- however, on the other hand without this interest it would probably deteriorate and be lost to us forever. It was wonderful to be able to be able to walk across and back again. I was not feeling up to the hike up to the top of the aqueduct, though I probably should have made the effort (in hindsight!!).

As we arrived toward the end of the season we were not overwhelmed with an onslaught of tourists, though there were still many around -- including a bridal party posing for posterity.

It was a perfect day for this excursion -- neither too hot nor too warm. The tourist site is attractively situated and the walk from the entrance to the bridge is pleasant and not too long. Because it was the end of a hot and dry summer the water level of the Gard was extremely low, and it is hard to imagine the wild torrents of water that are said to flow from the mountains in the early Spring. The river bed is white limestone and tends to look more like snow that rock. The engineering logistics of the aquaduct are as impressive as any in our world of engineering feats and a testament to the time when Rome ruled the known world. I hope I get to go back there again one day.

If it were up to me and if time were not closing in on us I would have lingered there for longer. I had already had to give up all hope of seeing Avignon though we did drive along the edge of the ancient city and around and about to get onto the route to Apt, where we had decided to spend the night. Once thing is certain, there is no town in Provence that is easy to drive through! We chose a rather modern looking hotel, which proved to be very comfortable and provided a very nice breakfast -- it was convenient to the entrance of the old town and parking was not a problem. Unfortunately, we did not have the best luck with our choice of restaurant -- that was very disappointing and quite expensive for what we got. We had seen another restaurant/creperie which we found so quickly that we rejected it -- silly mistake. The restaurant we chose was open to the outside and had nasty little tiny bugs that were impossible to escape.

The next day, Sunday, we found some fresh bread and headed for Italy ...