Back to Camino 2021 – Pamplona to Logrono…

Encierro de San Fermín
One thing I’ve never done – and never plan on doing – is run with the bulls in Pamplona

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Welcome to the “Georgia Wasp…”

This blog is modeled on the Carolina Israelite. That was an old-time newspaper – more like a personal newsletter – written and published by Harry Golden. Back in the 1950s, people called Harry a  “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals.” (For his work on the Israelite.)

That’s now my goal as well. To be a “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals.”

For more on the blog-name connection, see the notes below.

In the meantime:

Last September I spent a month in France and Spain. Mostly to hike over the Pyrenees Mountain part of the Camino Frances. When I got back home I did posts on arriving in Paris, taking the train down to  Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and from there hiking some 177 miles in 17 days. I got the Faithful Reader as far as Pamplona, on September 4. (After arriving in Paris early on the morning of August 26.)

Incidentally, the image at right is from the BULLFIGHTING MUSEUM … Plaza de Toros in Pamplona. And speaking of which, in my last Camino-post I wrote that in the next post I’d discuss more about our day off in Pamplona, “including a touristy visit to the bullring that Hemingway made famous.”

Then I said I’d discuss the 14-day hike to Burgos – with a day off in Logrono – and eventually about making my way back home, via Madrid. (On September 24, 2021.) I added:

I’ll also talk more about the drudgery of hiking, mile after mile, hauling a 15-pound backpack. From my Facebook posts most people would think all I did was drink beer, have great meals and enjoy the sights. “Tra-la-tra-la-tra-la!” But there was real drudgery involved, which seems to be where the spiritual breakthroughs happen… In the meantime, Buen Camino!

But alas, I got side-tracked. By Donald Trump and Holden Caulfield.

And here’s another news flash. In this post I’m only able to get the Faithful Reader as far as Logrono. That’s still 75 miles worth of Camino-hiking to Burgos. And Burgos is where I left the party to head for home, via Madrid, while the other three kept on hiking to Santiago.*

But now I’m back home and “back on the Camino,” if only in spirit. And taking up where I left off, I’ll start back with our first day off, on September 5, after hiking over the Pyrenees. (Eventually I’ll get to the spiritual breakthrough part.) Not surprisingly, that Sunday in Pamplona we slept a bit late, after hiking ten-and-a-half, 13-and-a-half, and 13 miles the previous three days. (A mere five miles on the first day, but it was all uphill.)

Which meant we had a late lunch…

Which brings up how they make hamburgers in Spain. They call them hamburguesas, and they usually come with an egg on top. (A “huevo,” shown above left, along with lots of fatty bacon.) Back home I try to eat healthy, which normally means little or no beef. However, after four days on the Camino – hiking over steep mountains – I was ready for a change. As I wrote later:

I finally broke down and had an Hamburguesa. I told the waiter, “No huevo” – an egg, like they love in Spain on their burgers – but I got the (silly) huevo anyway. At the restaurant in the Plaza del Castillo, next door to the Cafe Iruna.

By the way, I also had two “grande cervezas,” Amstel draft beers. Aside from that we also checked out the route of the Running of the bulls. (Which happened in July. “Dang, we missed it!”) Starting with a pen on the outskirts where the bulls are first gathered and then let loose, to run up the sectioned-off streets to the Plaza del Toros. Two hiking companions and I – Tom’s wife Carol and her brother Ray – paid six euros each to do the tour of the famous bullring.

“Very comprehensive.” For one thing we learned that they pay great attention to the minutest detail, down to exactly the right kind, color and texture of the sand covering the inside of the bullring. (Along with having to have “good drainage.”) Like I said, very impressive.

But mostly we relaxed. In part because starting the next day – Monday, September 6 – we were set to hike six straight days. (59 miles.) But as long as we’re talking about Pamplona, I should say a word or two about the Café Iruña, of Hemingway fame. At least in September 2021, the place was “all crowded and touristy.” Partly because you weren’t allowed to sit inside, where all the “color” is. And our waiter was kind of rude. But the nap we all took later helped out a lot.

There was one other episode of note. We did laundry every night, since we carried only two sets of clothes in our “10 percent of body weight” backpacks. (One set for hiking in and one for relaxing in at night. With some variation, like my bathing suit that could serve as a second pair of shorts, or underwear if need be.) And on this Sunday in Pamplona we also did our wash, and hung our clothes on the lines just outside the windows looking out onto an “atrium” or central court. Then about 6:15 the doorbell rang, as we were relaxing. The guy from the apartment above explained that his wife dropped her bra while hanging it on the line outside their window. As it turned out, it landed on the line where our laundry was hanging.

Being ever the gentleman, I retrieved it. “Always glad to help out a lady in distress…

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Leaving Pamplona, we headed for the Hotel Jakue in Puente la Reina. (“Queen’s Bridge.”) On the way we hiked up to and over the Alto de Perdon (“Hill of Forgiveness”), some eight or nine miles out of Pamplona. (With its “remarkable steel sculpture of pilgrims on the road to Santiago” and panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.)

Google Maps says it’s a 14-mile hike from Pamplona to Puente la Reina, but Brierly* says it’s more like 16 miles. (On the Camino.) Either way, we only made it as far as Uterga, some 11 miles from Pamplona. We started late, about 9:00 a.m., a practice we changed as the hike went on. (From that point on we started getting up at 5:30 a.m., mostly because of that first and only time we took a taxi. And felt guilty about it.)

It turned out there were only two places to stop for a drink or whatever the whole 11 miles. One was in Zariquiegui, seven miles out of Pamplona. The other was in Uterga, and by the time we got there it was 6:30 p.m. Which meant five miles left for us to hike in the fading twilight. Thus the feeling guilty, and later getting up at 5:30 and starting the day’s hike in the dark.

But that didn’t happen until the following Thursday and Friday, September 9 and 10.

Tom’s original plan was to hike to Muruzabal, the next town after Uterga, that Monday. But he found out via Wi-Fi – always spotty on the Camino – that the place in Muruzabal cancelled on him. (That happened a lot this trip, which kept Tom constantly checking the reservations he’d made.) Then there was the taxi ride from Uterga to Pamplona. (Where Tom made an alternate reservation.) But as it turned out, that re-assignment to Pamplona cut out miles from Tuesday’s hike. (Back home I tried to figure out exactly how many, but for now I’ll let the Reader do the math, if “they” so choose. It’s enough to say it made a big difference on Tuesday’s hike.)

And now a word about those mileage calculations. The Brierly guidebook sets out distances in kilometers, with one page generally representing a hike of 15 miles per day. But being in a small, 4.5 x 7.5-inch format, the maps are far from being accurate in scale. Then there were side trips. As an alternative, Carol kept count of “steps walked,” on her fancy-schmancy wrist watch. (Which also had GPS, which quite often helped us better find the lodging on a given night, usually a rental apartment with no “outward and visible sign” of its location.)

For myself, I kept count of “minutes spent actually hiking.” (Via my own wrist watch, a ten-dollar much-less-fancy-schmancy Walmart special.) So for the 10.9 miles we spent hiking on Monday, I listed 230 minutes of actual hiking. That system worked well for the 2017 and 2019 Camino hikes, but for some reason this year we took a whole lot more “standing stops,” especially when we were hiking up to and over the Pyrenees. But for that system to accurately reflect a medium intensity aerobic workout, you have to go at it for at least ten minutes straight. So, to make up for the frequent standing stops this trip, I’d walk a certain number of paces – after each stop – before starting up the stop-watch again.

Which is relevant to me but boring to you, so let’s get back to “Camino 2021…”

Tuesday we left the Hotel Jakue* in Puente la Reina and hiked about 8.5 miles to the Casa Nahia in Lorca. (I had it as 130 minutes of actual hiking, with “lots of breaks.”) And for the first time on this trip we finally found a place in the morning for a place to stop and get a cafe con leche, in Maneru. Wednesday was a short day, a little over five miles hiking to Estella. We were able to check in a 3:00, so I took a nap and did some yoga. We had dinner at 6:30 in the Estella town plaza, packed and busy. “Lots of people promenading, kids playing soccer, cute girls roller skating.” Definitely a pleasant dinner, but “tomorrow, a long day, up at 5:30 a.m.”

And by the way, I realize this post is way longer than I like to do normally, but I’m trying to get at least to Logrono, on Saturday, September 11. Besides, I figure on using these posts for a new book I’ll start writing in 2022. On all three Camino hikes, 2017, 2019 and 2021, so bear with me…

Getting back to the Camino, on Thursday, September 9, we got up at 5:30 and left Estella while it was still dark. (And took some wrong turns getting out of the city.) We hiked from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. That nine hours on the trail I calculated as 220 minutes actual hiking. (Three hours and 40 minutes, which gives you an idea of the discrepancy.) That day there was a long stretch of nothing. After seven hours hiking, with no place to stop and get a drink, we ran across what seemed to be a mirage; too good to be true. Complete strangers handing out free water…

The Brierly guidebook shows a “Cafe movil” some seven hours out of Estella and about 3.8 miles short of Los Arcos, our goal for the day. The one place to stop came right at the start of the day’s hike, at the Irache Wine Fountain – the “Fuente de Irache” – a mere half-mile or so out of Estella. (The “owners of Bodegas Irache have kindly put a wine fountain, so that pilgrims can serve themselves a free glass of red wine to help them on their way.”) I added a smidge – or more precisely, a dram – of wine to my water bottle: 1) I didn’t want to get too tipsy on the long day’s hike ahead, and 2) in compliance with 1st Timothy 5:23.

Other than that there was no place to stop for seven long hours of hiking. (We went through some villages that had cafes open in 2017, but this year they were closed for the COVID.) Then too, when we got to where Brierly listed a “mobile cafe,” it wasn’t there. What was there was a group of three people, as noted, handing out free cold water. (See “The Camino provides.”) And one of them was “Sweet Katie from Alabama,” pictured at the bottom of the main text. Katie and her co-workers were from the “Pilgrim’s Oasis” in Viana, Spain. See Pilgrims’ Oasis – Home | Facebook. And Viana was a mere six miles shy of Logrono, where this post ends.

Katie and I had a nice long chat. (For one thing it was nice to talk to someone outside the group who also spoke English.) She was 33, had been married but no kids, and was now divorced. She was in Spain for three weeks or so, volunteering to help out at Pilgrim’s Oasis. I noticed a tiger on her ball cap so I said, “You’re an Auburn fan?” She answered, “Only somebody from the South would know that.” All things considered that free cold water and nice chat with a lady from Back Home definitely lifted my spirits – after that long seven hours of hiking, with “nary a place to stop for a cold drink.” I took a couple pictures of her – she could have been a model – with the one below showing her charming someone else. (One of the local Guardia Civil, stopping by to check out the situation. “Wait. You’re giving out free cold water?”)

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So anyway, that Thursday the 9th, we hiked from Los Arcos to Viana. 11.4 miles or 220 minutes of actual hiking time. The day was mostly overcast, with some sprinkles of rain. Once again we got up at 5:30, in the dark, and reached the apartment in Viana at 1:52 p.m. I won the draw and so got a room to myself. (The others shared a room or slept on the living room couch.) Then too there was a mini-bar, with four cold beers that cost only a euro apiece. “I’m in heaven!”

Which is almost a pretty good place to stop. Except to say that Saturday’s hike from Viana to Logrono was a mere six miles, which gave us time to stop by the Pilgrim’s Oasis in Viana and say hello to Katie one more time. (Before she left for Back Home in a week or so.) And we got to stay in Logrono for a well-deserved day off from hiking, after six days straight. In the next – and hopefully final – post on this year’s Camino adventure, I plan to get the Faithful Reader from Logrono to Burgos, and from there down to Madrid. At which point I’d have to take another COVID test within 72 hours of my flight home. And if I failed that test I would find out what it means to be quarantined in Spain for 14 days. In the meantime:

Buen Camino!

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Sweet Katie from Alabama,” handing out free water on the Camino..

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The upper image is courtesy of Pamplona – Wikipedia. The caption: “Encierro de San Fermín.” In Spanish “encierro” can mean confinement or prison, but as usually translated refers to a bull-run where “bulls are driven through streets to a bullring.” The running of the bulls in Pamplona happens during the San Fermín festival, “held annually from July 6 to July 14. This festival was brought to literary renown with the 1926 publication of Ernest Hemingway‘s novel The Sun Also Rises.”

For more on the four days in Paris, see A post-trip post mortem for “Paris – 2021.” About visiting the Picasso Museum, and the outer part of the being-rebuilt Notre Dame cathedral, and getting the Covid test – required to get on a train – at a sidewalk clinic just off the Pont Neuf on the Left Bank.

Re: “170 miles in 17 days for me,” and leaving for home in Burgos. I had already hiked the Camino from Pamplona to Santiago in 2017, as noted in previous posts. Thus I finished my portion of the hike, in Burgos, on Sunday, September 19, while the other three finished up in Santiago de Compostela on October 26.

Re: 10 percent of body weight. The link is to 10 Essential Tips for Hiking the Camino de Santiago, including “the weight of your backpack should not exceed 10 percent of your body weight. Keep in mind that the magic “10 percent” number includes your water for the day, so factor in a bit of wiggle room.” In my case, my backpack should not have weighed over 14.5 pounds, including water.

Re: “Brierly.” That’s the Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago: Camino Francés, by John Brierley. This “comprehensive guidebook to the Camino de Santiago and its offshoots contains all the information needed by modern-day pilgrims wishing to walk the sacred Way of St. James.” 

Re “Dram.” Defined in part as small amount of an alcoholic drink.

See also 8 Words for Small Amounts | Merriam-Webster.

Re: 1st Timothy 5:23. “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” And of course as a prophylactic precaution against snake bite…

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Re:  The Israelite.  Harry Golden grew up in the Jewish ghetto of New York City, but eventually moved to Charlotte, North Carolina.  Thus the “Carolina Israelite.”  I on the other hand am a “classic 69-year-old “WASP” – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant – and live in north Georgia.  Thus the “Georgia Wasp.”    

Anyway, in North Carolina Harry wrote and published the “israelite” from the 1940s through the 1960s.  He was a “cigar-smoking, bourbon-loving raconteur.”  (He told good stories.) That also means if he was around today, the “Israelite would be done as a blog.”  But what made Harry special was his positive outlook on life.  As he got older but didn’t turn sour, like many do today.  He still got a kick out of life.  For more on the blog-name connection, see “Wasp” and/or The blog.

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Here are some other notes from earlier posts I did on the trip:

I flew into Paris last August 25, 2021. I spent four days there, meeting up with three other family members on the 28th. After that the four of us took a train down to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, starting point for the Camino Frances. From there we started a long hike over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. (170 miles in 17 days for me.*) On the second day’s hike “we got up fairly early for the remaining 10.5-mile hike to Roncesvalles. (A ‘small village and municipality in Navarre, northern Spain.’) On the Route de Napoleón it’s about five miles past the border with France. From Roncesvalles we hiked 13.6 miles to Zubiri on Friday, September 3, and on Saturday the 13 miles to Pamplona.”

That pilgrimage-by-hiking usually ends at Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain. But I stopped in Burgos, thus finishing the unfinished business of not hiking over the daunting Pyrenees back in 2017. I detailed that accomplishment in Hiking over the Pyrenees … finally, but in that October 16 post only got as far as Pamplona.

Donald Trump – the newest “Undead Revenant?”

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Welcome to the “Georgia Wasp…”

This blog is modeled on the Carolina Israelite. That was an old-time newspaper – more like a personal newsletter – written and published by Harry Golden. Back in the 1950s, people called Harry a  “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals.” (For his work on the Israelite.)

That’s now my goal as well. To be a “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals.”

For more on the blog-name connection, see the notes below.

In the meantime:

In my last post I promised more posts on my September ’21 European adventure. (Including a 17-day hike over the Pyrenees section of the Camino de Santiago.) But I also noted that I’ve been working on another project, an E-book about turning 70 in 2021. (Adding that I have to finish soon, “because turning 70 is like losing your virginity: ‘You can only do it once!‘”)

On that point, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the book is almost ready to publish – in E-book and paperback formats. (Which I hope will happen this weekend; no later than November 21.*) The bad news is that I haven’t had a chance to do another post at all, since after last October 30. (Almost three weeks ago, and that was on Holden Caulfield.) So “What I’m gonna did” – as Justin Wilson would say – is review a relevant post from the past.

It didn’t take long to find one, and a troubling one at that. In a post from last January 10, 2021, I asked a rhetorical question, “You DO understand that Trump is temporary?” But after reviewing that post – and events of the last few months – I then had to add, Or maybe not?”

That’s “maybe not,” as in Trump seeming to rise from the political ashes, not unlike the proverbial Phoenix. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say rising again, like a &^%$ Zombie. (Which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as a frightening creature, a seemingly dead person “brought back to life, but without human qualities.*” And Zombies are said to be unable to think and are often shown “as attacking and eating human beings.”) But on to that last-January post…

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I posted “You DO understand” on January 10, 2021, just four days after the events of Wednesday, January 6, 2021. That day Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-WI) called them the “‘Banana Republic Crap’ Capitol Riots,” and asked Donald Trump to stop the chaos. “You are the only person who can call this off. Call it off. The election is over. Call it off.”

I wrote that the following days – Thursday and Friday – things started looking up. That former Trump allies were saying “enough is enough,” that 52 rioters had been arrested, and that even some staunch Republican Senators were “open to impeachment or use of the Twenty-fifth Amendment.” I also noted, “Right now I wouldn’t want to be in Donald Trump’s shoes.”

Why? Because the metaphoric “noose” is tightening around his neck ever so slowly, but surely, in an agonizing foretaste of what’s in store once he leaves the protection of his office. (See “The rope has to tighten SLOWlY,” vis-a-vis what “Deep Throat” told reporter Bob Woodward about the 1974 conspiracy investigation against then-president Richard Nixon.)

But alas, I may have been premature.

For example, I wrote almost a year ago that there might be a positive note: That the reaction to Trump’s presidency might “provide the foundation for an era of democratic renewal and vindicate our long experiment in self-rule.” Which hasn’t happened yet.

I also noted that the number-crunching on the 2016 election showed “how fragile Trump’s hold on the public is.” To which I added, “I’ve been saying the best weapon against Trump is his own big mouth.” Not to mention his hubris. (“What? You mean I can’t tell supporters to storm the Capitol, and not be held responsible?”) But so far, he’s dodged the bullet on that one too.

As far as our “long national nightmare” being over, there’s the fact that Trump’s star seems to be rising once again. See for example, Trump trounces Biden in new Iowa poll. (From November 16, 2021. But here’s a note. In the 2020 election Trump won Iowa by eight points, so in fact over the past year he’s only gained three point. I’d hardly call that a “trouncing,” given all that’s gone wrong over the past few months. And three years is a long time in politics.)

All of which raises the possibility that Trump just might get elected to a second term. Which might also have happened if the attempted January 6 coup had been successful. But once again I tried to look on the bright side. That “freed from a need to pander to his wacko base,” Trump might develop a conscience and start thinking seriously about his legacy.

[W]ho knows?  If:  1) Trump did get re-elected in 2020, and 2) no longer had to worry about throwing raw meat at his wacko base, and 3) started seriously thinking about his legacy (or developed a conscience, or started appreciating that he’s “closer to the end than to the beginning”), he might actually evolve – as [P.T.] Barnum did – into a “humane, effective and ethical politician.”

On that note, on last January 7 GOP Representative Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said Trump’s legacy was ‘wiped out’ by the Capitol riot. But again, that may not be true. “In light of the foregoing,” I had to go back and re-write the “You DO understand” post. I noted the sleepless nights I had before the election, which have since returned.

But all might not be lost. Like I said before, three years is a long time in politics. For example, in 2019 – just before the COVID hit – “Donald Trump was riding high, and looked a shoe-in for re-election.” Just like Joe Biden nearer the beginning of this year. In turn there is the specter of Conservatives taking control of both houses of Congress, and clogging things up even more. But that in turn could sour voters on the Republican party even more. (Here’s hoping.)

And here’s hoping the idea of Trump as “only temporary” doesn’t turn out to be a pipe dream...

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Pipe dream

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The upper image is courtesy of Undead Image – Image Results. See also The Undead (film) – Wikipedia, on the  1957 horror film directed by Roger Corman and starring Pamela DuncanAllison Hayes, and Richard Garland. The film was inspired “by an interest in reincarnation during the 1950s.”

Also a side note: There are some signs that Trump won’t run again, out of fear that he may become another “Adlai Stevenson.” See for example, The Complicated Truth About Trump 2024:

If Donald Trump tries to run for president again, one of his former campaign advisers has a plan to dissuade him. Anticipating that Trump may not know who Adlai Stevenson was or that he lost two straight presidential elections in the 1950s, this ex-adviser figures he or someone else might need to explain the man’s unhappy fate. They’ll remind Trump that if he were beaten in 2024, he would join Stevenson as one of history’s serial losers. “I think that would resonate,” said this person, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to talk more freely. “Trump hates losers.”

See also Stunning 58% of AZ Voters Say Trump Should Not Run in 2024, Majority of voters overall oppose Trump running for president (71% opposed), and – from the National Review – Trump 2024 Poll: 73 Percent Of Independents Don’t Want Trump To Run For President in 2024. (According to the same poll, that includes 40 % of Republican adults. And a reminder, the National Review is the semi-monthly conservative editorial magazine with many contributing writers “affiliated with think-tanks such as The Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute. Prominent guest authors have included Newt GingrichMitt RomneyPeter Thiel, and Ted Cruz.) Then there’s Trump says he may not run in 2024 for ‘health’ reasons. Then too there’s this from Adlai Stevenson – Slate:

Today we’re quick to banish presidential losers… Yet one White House loser—a serial loser, at that—still haunts the political landscape: Adlai Stevenson. Every political season the pundits find some reason to resurrect him, invariably in a flattering light… Stevenson not only lost nobly; he made losing seem noble in and of itself.

It’s hard to imagine Trump making a second presidential-run loss seem “noble in and of itself.”

Will I REALLY live to 120?: On Turning 70 in 2021 – and Still Thinking “The Best is Yet to Come” by [James B. Ford]

And a note about that book project. I published it on Saturday evening, November 21, 2021, and it became available the following day. Check it out by clicking on Will I REALLY live to 120?: On Turning 70 in 2021 – and Still Thinking “The Best is Yet to Come.” Under my Nom De Plume, “James B. Ford.”

Re: Zombies. Wikipedia: A “mythological undead corporeal revenant created through the reanimation of a corpse.” Which is where the title came from. Further, the undead “are beings in mythology, legend, or fiction that are deceased but behave as if they were alive.” In folklore, “a revenant is an animated corpse that is believed to have revived from death to haunt the living.” From the Old French, revenant, related to the French verb revenir, meaning ‘to come back.'”.

Re: My September 2021 adventure. In that last post, Holden Caulfield – Revisited Again, I wrote this about that: “Back on September 25, 2021, I flew back from Madrid and a month in France and Spain. As told in Hiking over the Pyrenees, in 2021 – finally, the trip centered around a 17-day hike on the Camino de Santiago. It covered the section from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and over the Pyrenees Mountains that I failed to do in 2017, when my brother Tom and I first hiked the Camino Frances. (He hiked over the Pyrenees but I met up with him in Pamplona. From there we hiked and biked the remaining 450 miles to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.)”

The lower image is courtesy of Pipe Dream – Image Results, which I borrowed from the “only temporary” post. The site Pipe dream – Idioms by The Free Dictionary defines the term as a “fantastic notion or vain hope.” The idiom is an allusion to the “fantasies induced by smoking an opium pipe …  used more loosely since the late 1800s.”

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Re:  The Israelite.  Harry Golden grew up in the Jewish ghetto of New York City, but eventually moved to Charlotte, North Carolina.  Thus the “Carolina Israelite.”  I on the other hand am a “classic 69-year-old “WASP” – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant – and live in north Georgia.  Thus the “Georgia Wasp.”    

Anyway, in North Carolina Harry wrote and published the “israelite” from the 1940s through the 1960s.  He was a “cigar-smoking, bourbon-loving raconteur.”  (He told good stories.) That also means if he was around today, the “Israelite would be done as a blog.”  But what made Harry special was his positive outlook on life.  As he got older but didn’t turn sour, like many do today.  He still got a kick out of life.  For more on the blog-name connection, see “Wasp” and/or The blog.

Holden Caulfield – Revisited Again!

Cover features a drawing of a carousel horse (pole visible entering the neck and exiting below on the chest) with a city skyline visible in the distance under the hindquarters. The cover is two-toned: everything below the horse is whitish while the horse and everything above it is a reddish orange. The title appears at the top in yellow letters against the reddish orange background. It is split into two lines after "Catcher". At the bottom in the whitish background are the words "a novel by J. D. Salinger".

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I’ll be talking about re-reading Catcher in the Rye a couple paragraphs down. But first…

Back on September 25, 2021, I flew back from Madrid and a month in France and Spain. As told in Hiking over the Pyrenees, in 2021 – finally, the trip centered around a 17-day hike on the Camino de Santiago. It covered the section from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and over the Pyrenees Mountains that I failed to do in 2017, when my brother Tom and I first hiked the Camino Frances. (He hiked over the Pyrenees but I met up with him in Pamplona. From there we hiked and biked the remaining 450 miles to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.)

I ended the “Pyrenees” post by promising more posts about the hiking adventure, but since then I’ve been working on another project. It’s an Ebook about turning 70 in 2021, and like I said in the book, I have to finish it soon. That’s because turning 70 is like losing your virginity: “You can only do it once!” Besides that I want to have the paperback version done in time for handing out as presents for each family member at our Christmas gathering.

One chapter compares how old people were seen 50 years ago, compared to how “we” see ourselves today. That chapter included how John Updike portrayed old people in his 1971 novel, Rabbit Redux, set in the summer of 1969.* But then I came across a paperback copy of Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger. I – like most adolescents my age – loved that book 40 or 50 years ago, but now that I’m up there in years I take issue with how he portrayed old people.

It’s been a while since I’ve read about Holden Caulfield’s adventures, but I got as far as the start of Chapter 2. That’s where Holden visits “old Mister Spencer,” his history teacher at Pencey Prep. (He’d just gotten kicked out of school and stopped to say goodbye.) Mrs. Spencer meets him at the door, and Holden has to repeat questions; “She was sort of deaf.” He said the couple got a bang out of things, “in a half-assed way,” then described a time he and some others visited the couple. Mr. Spencer brought out a Navajo blanket he’d bought years ago. “You take somebody old as hell, like old Spencer, and they can get a big bang out of buying a blanket.”

Holden said he wasn’t crazy about old people anyway, sitting around in “ratty old bathrobes… Their bumpy old chests are always showing. And their legs. Old guys’ legs, at beaches and places, always look so white and unhairy.” He added, “you wondered what the heck he was still living for. I mean, he was all stooped over, and he had very terrible posture.”

As when Mr. Spencer dropped some chalk in class, “some guy in the first row always had to get up and pick it up and hand it to him.” Then came the kicker: “They were both around seventy years old, or even more than that.” To which I said, “Excuse me? Old as hell at 70 years?”

Then added, “Hey Holden, yurass!” I had a feeling that old Mr. Spencer didn’t do stair-stepping, 30 minutes at a time, four days a week, with  a 30-pound weight vest and ten pounds of ankle weights. (Like I do now.) Which led to the main point of the chapter: That “old people” in this day and age see themselves as way different, compared to 40 or 50 years ago. (Now that “we” are getting up there ourselves.) And indeed, some people my age – like many “old” high school classmates – still yearn for a return for those “good old days.” (Bumpy old chests, white, unhairy legs and all.) But not me. I’m enjoying the heck out of turning 70, and plan to live a lot longer. (Thanks to a healthy diet and lots of aerobics, including high-intensity stair-stepping.*)

But getting back to Holden Caulfield, and how he ended up leading me down a Rabbit Trail.

The term is generally seen as negative and non-productive, but to me those “Rabbit Trails” are the best and most-fun part of doing research for my writing. (Even though I usually have to shunt them off to the notes, either at the end of a blog post like this, or in an Ebook.) This one centered around my hearing that Salinger saw extensive combat in World War Two:

In the spring of 1942 … Salinger was drafted into the army, where he saw combat with the 12th Infantry Regiment4th Infantry Division. He was present at Utah Beach on D-Day, in the Battle of the Bulge, and the Battle of Hürtgen Forest.

And during the Normandy campaign Salinger met Ernest Hemingway. He was “impressed with Hemingway’s friendliness and modesty, finding him more ‘soft’” than his gruff public persona. Hemingway in turn said of Salinger’s writing, “Jesus, he has a helluva talent.” Later in the war Salinger was assigned to a counter-intelligence unit, using his knowledge of French and German to interrogate prisoners of war. In April 1945 he entered a concentration “subcamp” of Dachau. He’d risen to the rank of Staff Sergeant and served in five campaigns. His war experiences affected him deeply, and he later told his daughter: “You never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose entirely, no matter how long you live.”

More to the point, just before the war Salinger submitted several short stories to “The New Yorker,” but most got rejected. Then in December 1941, the magazine accepted Slight Rebellion off Madison, a “Manhattan-set story about a disaffected teenager named Holden Caulfield with ‘pre-war jitters.’” So “old Holden” goes back as far as 1941, pre-World War Two

And that’s what I love about my research, for writing blog-posts and Ebooks; going down those “rabbit trails.” The joy of discovery, the joy of learning something new. (Even if I do have to end up putting most interesting stuff in Ebook notes, so as note to interrupt the flow of the main narrative.) But in the end, going down those rabbit trails can – along with vigorous exercise and a healthy diet* – keep you young, alive and kicking for a long, long time.

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Make that, “Pardon me, I’m off on a Rabbit Trail…”

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The upper image is courtesy of The Catcher in the Rye – Wikipedia.

Re: How I ended up with a copy of “Catcher,” just as I’m working to finish the Turning 70 book:

And as if John Updike’s picture of old people wasn’t bad enough, in the process of trying to finish up this book, I got hold of a copy of “Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger. And that all started when I picked up a second-hand paperback copy at the local “Yuppie Goodwill,” in early October 2021. (Can you say, “sign from God?”)

Also Re: “Catcher in the Rye.” I bought the paperback edition by Little, Brown and Company, 1951. (In October 2021, while working to wrap up the book for use at the family Christmas.) Salinger copyrighted the work in 1945, 1946, and 1951, and renewed the copyright in 1979. The quotes about the “old” Spencer couple are at pages 8 and 9, the end of Chapter 1 and the beginning of Chapter Two. Another note: I learned in “Crash Course American Literature” – the one I talk about in the chapter on “Great Lectures” [in the Ebook] – that Salinger saw extensive combat in World War Two.

The information about Holden and Salinger came from Wikipedia and links therein. I read them, but found discrepancies. For example, the article on Holden himself said that Salinger first used the name Holden Caulfield in an “unpublished short story written in 1941,” but that it first appeared in print in 1945. The article on Salinger indicated that the “New Yorker” published the article with Holden in it in December 1941. (But putting that in the main text would “interrupt the flow.”)

Re: Aerobics, high-intensity stair-stepping, and healthy diet. I currently do two hours of stair-stepping, 30 minutes at a time, with a 30-pound weight vest and ten pounds of ankle weights. I also do five hours of medium aerobics a week, kayaking, jog-walking or calisthenics ten minutes at a time. As for diet and supplements, see An Updated ‘Geezer Guide to Supplements,’ with links to A Geezer’s guide to supplements, and A Geezer’s guide to supplements – Part II.

The lower image is courtesy of Rabbit Trail Images – Image Results. It’s accompanied by an article, “Rabbit Trails are Good!” A blog about the joys and benefits of home-schooling, it includes these thoughts: “A quality education is not about sticking to the book. It is about expanding beyond it’s margins, exploring, discovering and teaching to the spark:”

“Getting sidetracked” will not only help you teach to your children’s interests and improve the quality of their education, but it will also help you to ignite a lifelong love of learning. In the process, you will have also taught them that they can learn anything! All they need do is go off on a rabbit trail!

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Hiking over the Pyrenees, in 2021 – finally!

Well, not quite 500 miles. This time I hiked – over the daunting Pyrenees – as far as Burgos

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In my last post, I got as far leaving Paris and taking a train down to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. (By way of Bayonne, last Monday, August 30.) Then, after a day off in St. Jean, “we four*” started our Camino hike from its beginning, then over the Pyrenees Mountains. (Shown at right, during our first day’s hike, to Orisson.)

For background see Post-trip post mortem for “Paris – 2021.” And per the last two posts, all this was part of a plan to cross “hiking over the Pyrenees” off my Bucket list.

To review, way back in 2016 my brother Tom and I hiked all 33 miles of the Chilkoot Trail, from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett, B.C.* They call it “the meanest 33 miles in history,” and I found out why. (Mostly it’s not a trail at all, but “one big pile of &^$# rocks after another!*”) What that meant for this trip is that by September 2017, I had my fill of mountain hiking.

That presented a problem, because in September 2017 Tom and I planned to hike the Camino Frances. (Which begins in St. Jean, then goes over the Pyrenees, to Pamplona and beyond.*) So I decided that instead of meeting Tom in Paris (and beginning the trip from down in St. Jean), I would fly into Madrid. From there I took a train up to Pamplona to meet him, after he had hiked over the Pyrenees. (And had a miserable time, mostly because of some near-constant rain, and also because some clown – in a dormitory-style auberge so popular with Camino pilgrims – kept getting up in the middle of the night to pee, and turning on all the lights,.)

The point is that although Madrid and the train up to Pamplona were extremely pleasant – the latter including an ice-cold Cruzcampo beer – it’s bothered me ever since that I wimped out of the hike over the Pyrenees. But this past September I finally rectified that shortcoming.

Incidentally, there are two ways to hike over the Pyrenees, from France into Spain. One is the Route de Napoleón – “more strenuous for obvious reasons” – or the Route Valcarlos, where “your ascent will be more gradual.” Another note: “The first walking day on the Camino de Santiago, from Saint Jean Pied de Port … is probably the most challenging of the whole route.” For us the choice was obvious, mainly because one-wimp-out per Pyrenees-project is enough.*

On the other hand, rather than hiking all 15.6 miles from St. Jean to Roncesvalles in a day – like so many try – we (or rather Tom, who made all lodging reservations) chose to break it up.

So the first day’s hike, starting in  Saint-Jean, was a mere five miles, but it was all uphill. It ended in Orisson, where we four stayed in a dormitory-style auberge. (The Refuge Orisson, with my picture at left.)

But first, about the rain…

Tuesday, August 31 – the day before the hike started – the weather forecast said heavy rain. (Just like Tom endured during his 2017 hike over the Pyrenees…)

And as usual, the night before starting such an epic adventure, I didn’t sleep well. (A mixture of anticipation and self-doubt I suppose.) Plus there was that heavy-rain forecast, and I had more than my usual two beers per night. (I’d gotten a six-pack of small beers, and Tom only had one, so I had to “dispose of” the other five, in St. Jean, since I didn’t want to carry any leftover beer in my pack.)

As it turned out, the rain started about 10:30 in the morning, 15 minutes after we left St. Jean. At first it was just a drizzle, then it got to be soaking, and it stayed raining until noon. (The rain that first morning “wasn’t really heavy, just constant and eventually soaking.”)

For protection I wore a cheap, 97-cent Walmart-special plastic rain poncho, but over that I had a bad-ass black windbreaker. (To keep the poncho from getting blown all over by the wind.) The jury-rigged combination worked pretty well, so much so that I was able to write later on that it was “kind of enchanting, walking in the rain like that.” (The rain and mist did seem kind of other-worldly.) And Tom made lots of stops, since the going was mostly uphill.

Still, we got to the Refuge Orisson by 2:00 – despite taking many short breaks, as shown at right – and the Refuge seemed very nice. “Located in the heart of the Basque Country,” this place is an “ideal stopover … the last accommodation before crossing the Pyrénées.” Of interest to us four, this auberge “allows walkers to undertake this mythical part of the trek in two stages.” It turned out to be one of those classic dormitory-style auberges, but it looked like heaven after our rain-soaked morning’s hike.

Unfortunately, when we got there we experienced a moment of pure panic. “No room at the inn!”

It turned out that Tom had reserved a room for October 1, not September 1, and the host said the place was booked full up. But after a few minutes – of pure panic – the guy had good news. He found four beds available in a 10-bed dorm-room. So not only did I get to experience soaking rain, like Tom in 2017, I also got to stay in one of those dormitory-style auberges. Another note: No Wi-Fi. “We want our guests to talk to each other.” So as I wrote later (on Facebook):

It’s a classic dorm style auberge, where everyone eats at 7:30 sharp, and at the end you stand up, give your name and why you’re hiking the Camino. (All that pointy-headed liberal touchy-feely crap.) But no WiFi… Which turned out to be a blessing. No getting pissed off at Facebook dumbasses, and so I got a good night’s sleep.

Incidentally, that “Facebook dumbasses” comment got me in trouble with a pissed-off Momma Bear back home, but that little dustup isn’t relevant to this narrative. And as for clowns getting up in the middle of the night, our “dorm room” did have ten beds (five bunk beds), but only two other pilgrims joined us in that room. (They seemed mostly quiet, but then again, I put in ear plugs.) All in all, I slept much better than I did the night before.

The next morning we got up fairly early for the remaining 10.5-mile hike to Roncesvalles. (A “small village and municipality in Navarre, northern Spain.”) On the Route de Napoleón it’s about five miles past the border with France. From Roncesvalles we hiked 13.6 miles to Zubiri on Friday, September 3, and on Saturday the 13 miles to Pamplona.

We started off the “Roncesvalles” hike with breakfast at the Refuge Orisson. The meal-room wasn’t quite as crowded as the night before; no set time for breakfast, and lots of pilgrims had hit the trail before us. But it was still pretty crowded – say 20 or 25 people – and the thing I remember most was drinking coffee out of a bowl. (“Something new under the sun.”)

Unlike the day before there was little rain, but “a lot of up in today’s hike.” Also, lots of merde. As I wrote later, “Rocks, sheep, clouds, fog, cows, horses and sheep.” Quite often your hike was serenaded by bells; cow bells, sheep bells and even horse bells, as the various herds followed their leaders. On a more positive note, “No blisters yet, though the ball of my right foot was rubbing a bit.” Which brings up duct tape. I brought a whole roll of it, “just in case,” and it comes in handy. I put some on the ball of that right foot, and aside from a blister on my right little toe, I had no problems the whole trip. (Compared to the 2017 hike, when my feet ached constantly.)

And now a word about places to stop for hot coffee, cold beer or food. There were fewer such places on the trail in 2021, compared with 2017, because of Covid. Our shorthand for them was “coffee cups;” the Brierly Guide to the Camino Francés shows their location with a little coffee cup on the map. (Pink for open, white with a pink outline if it’s closed for business.)

The Brierly map showed no such coffee cups between Orisson and Roncevalles, but fortunately we found this “cafe movil,” or “mobile cafe.” It was run by a traveling entrepreneur, still inside France, as I indicated in my notes: “The first ‘Cafe Movil’ we hit so far… A place to stop, take off your pack and enjoy a hot café con leche. Or the French equivalent, being still in France.*”

Another note: This place did have a restroom, of sorts. It was behind that big pile of rocks on the left, and from where you “did your business” you could see the operator doing his own business, serving up food and drink and getting his euros in return.

And the pile of rocks didn’t go all the way up, meaning that sometimes you had to duck and dodge. But to get back to the trail…

Those Friday and Saturday hikes – 13.6 and 13 miles, respectively – were a bit tougher than the first day. We ended up making it to the hotel in Roncesvalles by 5:00, and I had the first of many “ensalata mixtas,” or mixed salads. “Tuna, hardboiled eggs, asparagus, tomatoes, o!ives, et cetera. Very tasty, and filling, after a ten-mile hike over the Pyrenees. With the obligatory beer, Estrella.” Which made a big difference, along with the hot shower.

And there was a break in the action vis-a-vis Facebook posting and general note-taking. At one point I wrote, “I can’t believe I haven’t written here since Wednesday.” And once we got to Pamplona I posted: “Yesterday we dragged ass into Zubiri, Spain, after a long ten hour 13.6 mile hike, at 7:00 PM.” Thus the saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough stop writing.”

in other words, we left Roncesvalles at 9:15, for 10 hours hiking “real time.” I wrote later, “Pretty tough going, but my feet held out ok. I put duct tape on the balls of both feet this morning… Rocky going there at the last few miles before Zubiri.” But after a hot shower things started looking up. “Four course dinner, a bottle of wine and Tiramisu for dessert. I slept great!” Still, I looked forward to getting to Pamplona, “and a day off. And a chance to do laundry.” That’s what you look forward to when you have two sets of clothes: one to wear in the evening after a hot shower, and one to wash every night – hopefully – for the next day’s sweaty hike.

And on Saturday, September 4, we finally made it after “some rugged going.” I posted:

Buen Camino. We made it to Pamplona… More details tomorrow, a day off from hiking. And finally, a drink at the Cafe Iruna, of Hemingway fame. Except now it’s all filled up, crowded up and touristy. Especially on a Saturday night, in Pamplona… And tomorrow, a day off.

Note the double “tomorrow, a day off.” Which I really looked forward to…

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In the next post I’ll discuss further our day off in Pamplona, including a touristy visit to the bullring that Hemingway made famous. (And as memorialized by the statue of him just outside the bullring, shown below.) From there I’ll discuss the 14-day hike to Burgos – with a day off in Logrono – and eventually making my way back home, via Madrid.

I’ll also talk more about the drudgery of hiking, mile after mile, hauling a 15-pound backpack. From my Facebook posts most people would think all I did was drink beer, have great meals and enjoy the sights. “Tra-la-tra-la-tra-la!” But there was real drudgery involved, which seems to be where the spiritual breakthroughs happen… In the meantime, Buen Camino!

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The upper image is courtesy of Camino De Santiago Over The Pyrenees – Image Results, and/or courtesy of Mark Kelley. Accompanied by a short blurb, including: “Here, Jan [Mark’s wife] walks through a past[o]ral scene of sheep grazing along the trail in the Pyrenees. We started our trek in the foothills of the French Pyrenees and then walked over the mountains into and across Spain for about 500 miles until we reached Santiago.” But there were some rugged places as well.

“We four.” Me, my brother Tom, his wife Carol, and Carol’s brother Ray.

Re: “St. Jean.” For images thereof see St. Jean Pied De Port France – Image Results.

Re: “Tom and I” hiking the Chilkoot Trail. We were joined by his son Matthew, my nephew, fresh from an Army tour. And re: “One big pile of &^$# rocks after another! See 2019’s Remembering the “Chilkoot &^%$# Trail, and links therein.

Re: “To Pamplona and beyond.” Specifically, from Pamplona the rest of the 450 miles to Santiago de Compostela.

A note: The Route de Napoleón is the more popular of the two choices, despite being more strenuous for obvious reasons, “as pilgrims feel the stunning mountain views are certainly worth the effort.” 

The French equivalent of a café con leche is a café crème. Which I enjoyed back in Paris…

The lower image is courtesy of Hemingway Statue Pamplona – Image Results.

A post-trip post mortem for “Paris – 2021”

The Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris, as I saw it being rebuilt, back on August 28, 2021… 

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September 20, 2021 – I last posted seven weeks ago, on August 8, 2021. (Countdown to Paris – 2021.) I’ve been through a lot since then, preparing for a month-long trip to France and Spain.

I flew into Paris on August 25-26, and spent four days there. Then I – and the three others I was joining – took a train down to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, starting point for the Camino Frances. That pilgrimage-by-hiking usually ends at Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain. (Thus the “Camino de Santiago.”) But while the other three in my group went on toward Santiago, I cut my hike short, at Burgos. (For reasons explained in that long-ago, August 8th post.*)

That post – Countdown to Paris – talked about what I wanted to do when I got to Paris. This post will talk about what actually got done. For starters, I had three main objectives for the month-long overseas adventure: To see Paris again, for the first time since 1979; to see Pamplona again (and have another beer at Café Iruña, of Hemingway fame); and last but hardly least, to hike over the daunting Pyrenees mountains. But first, more about that Paris visit…

From De Gaulle airport, around 9:00 a.m. Thursday morning, August 26, I took the RER Train B to Gare du Nord. (Once I found the train to Gare du Nord, after getting off the plane and wandering around the airport.) Then once I got into Paris itself, I had a hell of a time getting out of the “Gare,” being both very tired and not seeing any discernible “signage.” Once outside I did manage to find the McDonald’s Stalingrad. (So-called because it’s adjacent to the “Place de la Bataille de Stalingrad.”) I was hoping to start off the day in a strange new place with an iced coffee, like back home. But I found out they don’t sell iced coffee at the McDonald’s in Europe. They sell beer at those McDonald’s, but not iced coffee.

Another thing I found: A lot of homeless people, camped out and sleeping in the square, under the Metro line, across from the McDonald’s. (Above left.)

And speaking of the Paris Metro, I never did get a chance to ride it. I’d planned to take the Metro – famous for any number of “les pickpockets” – down to Choisy-le-Roi. (Where in 1972 Henry Kissinger conducted secret negotiations to end the Vietnam war. And where in 1979 I enjoyed a romantic interlude with a young lady named Janine, camping in a little tent on the grounds of the youth hostel that used to be there.) But I never got the chance to do that.

Mostly because I was too busy trying to find my way down to the swanky apartment across the Seine from Notre-Dame de Paris. (Where I was to meet up on Saturday with the other three family members of the Camino-hiking adventure.) The apartment was at 15 Rue Maitre Albert, almost directly south of the Cathedral, on the Left Bank across the Seine. I’d memorized the route, and had a map that turned out to have not-so-readable type. So somehow I got confused about whether to take the Rue St. Martin down, as opposed to the Rue St. Denis.

I got my “Rues” mixed up…

As a result, I somehow ended up angling too far to my left, trying to head toward Ile de la Cite from my “Ibis Budget Paris La Villete,” on Avenue Jean Jaures. Checking Google Maps – as I was writing this post – I saw that I had angled way too far over and ended up in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, and possibly got as far off as the 20th arrondissement of Paris. Which brings up a word about Avenue Jean Jaures. Turning left out of Gare du Nord, you end up on Rue la Fayette. But once you cross Boulevard de la Villette, Rue la Fayette magically transforms into Avenue Jean Jaures. (Kind of like what they do in Georgia. Change the road names at pretty much every intersection, mostly to fool the Yankees during “the late War of Northern Aggression.”)

But we digress. It took me the rest of that Thursday afternoon – and much of the evening – to find my way back home. I remember wandering around, sometimes stopping at a cafe-bar, having a beer and asking directions to Rue la Fayette. I also remember knocking over one glass of draft beer, later in the day, which makes me think I may have had one beer too many. (I figured all that walking would burn off the alcohol.) Be that as it may, much later still I somehow ended up on Rue Crimee. I had the good sense to head northwest, and eventually Rue Crimee crossed Avenue Jean Jaures. I thought to myself, “Eureka!” Then found my way back home, even though I had to get there “from the other end.” That is, from the Jean Jaures end, not la Fayette.

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Eventually on Saturday I did meet up with the rest of the group at 15 Rue Maitre Albert. Which brought up one thing we had to do. We all had to get tested for Covid; we had to do that so we could take the train down to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

As it turned out, Paris featured all kind of places to get tested. We found ours along the Seine, a little tent set-up – shown at right – by the Pont Neuf. And the guy in Paris was a real pro.

I’d heard horror stories back home of nurses sticking the swab far enough up your nose to tickle your brain. (Enough to bring tears to their eyes, according to two ladies I talked to.) But this guy had the swab in for maybe two seconds; I barely knew it was there. And in a few minutes the test came back “Negatif,” in PDF, downloaded onto my tablet.

In the process, one or two of the others in my group were kind of a pain, asking all kinds of questions and taking too much time. So I ended up tipping the guy 20 euros, for all his help dealing with crazy Americans. It cost 30 euros apiece, cash, for the quicky test. (Plus tip.)

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So, Thursday the 26th I got lost trying to find the way down to 15 Rue Maitre Albert. On Friday the 27th I finally found the quickest way down there, and also did a little sightseeing. Among other things I found and photographed a statue of Michel de Montaigne.

You can see the photo in the notes below, but the statue caught my eye because Montaigne was a great essayist. And what is a blogger – like me – but someone who writes “analytic or interpretative” compositions, usually dealing with a subject “from a limited or personal point of view?” (On a regular basis and sometimes accompanied by photos and other images?”)

In a word, Montaigne is my mentor (as an essay writer), if not my hero…

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Which brings up the last day the four of us spent in Paris, Sunday, August 29.

We started off by visiting the Musée Picasso Paris, “5 rue de Thorigny,” within walking distance of the apartment. Later we went in search of a famed place to buy great baguettes – the place turned out to be closed – and in doing so walked through the grounds of the Louvre and by the Arc de Triomphe. (Also undergoing renovation.) We had a great dinner at La Placette, 13 rue de Montenotte, then did some practice hiking up and down the Champs-Élysées.

The following day – Monday, August 30 – we took the train down to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, by way of Bayonne. After a day off in St. Jean we started our Camino hike, but that’s a subject for future posts. In the meantime, here’s a hearty – if metaphoric – “Good night from Paris!”

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I took the photos in this post. I took the upper-image photo on August 28. I took the lower-image photo on August 29, our last evening in Paris. From the Pont Louis Philippe, at the north end of the Ile Saint-Louis. In daylight the Eiffel Tower would be visible just off the upper left, about two-thirds up.

Re: Reasons for me stopping at Burgos. I’d hiked to Santiago de Compostela twice already, via the Camino Frances in 2017 and the Portuguese Camino in 2019; I’d gotten two Compostela pilgrim certificates already. Also, the rest of the party planned on taking two months to get to Santiago, and I get nervous being away from home more than a month.

Re: Montaigne, my photo at left. He was primarily “known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre. His work is noted for its merging of casual anecdotes and autobiography with intellectual insight:

Montaigne had a direct influence on Western writers including Francis BaconRené Descartes,[9]Blaise PascalMontesquieuEdmund BurkeVoltaireJean-Jacques RousseauDavid HumeEdward GibbonVirginia WoolfAlbert HirschmanWilliam Hazlitt, Ralph Waldo EmersonJohn Henry NewmanKarl MarxSigmund FreudAlexander PushkinCharles DarwinFriedrich NietzscheStefan ZweigEric Hoffer, Isaac AsimovFulton Sheen, and possibly, on the later works of William Shakespeare.

See also Essay – Wikipedia: “Essays are commonly used as literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author… The concept of an ‘essay’ has been extended to other media beyond writing. A film essay is a movie that often incorporates documentary filmmaking styles and focuses more on the evolution of a theme or idea. A photographic essay covers a topic with a linked series of photographs that may have accompanying text or captions.” Then there are “blog-post essays.”

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Some other notes I took during the trip: For one: “I seem to be blending in here [Paris] too. Several people have stopped and asked me directions. Boy were they surprised!” A second, longer note:

A couple hours ago I went to get a beer and a salad. I was sitting alone, at the sidewalk cafe, when in the fullness of time a rowdy birthday group of five young ladies sat down to my right. Then two affectionate young ladies sat to my right, so I was “a thorn between seven roses,” so to speak. They interacted well with one another, and with those who came by to chat. Including one old guy with wild hair and beard, who in America would be called a bum.I had no idea what they were talking about, but the body language bespoke mutual respect and “joy of life.” It was so enlightening and pleasant that I had a second beer.

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Countdown to Paris – 2021!

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If all goes according to plan, I’ll be arriving in Paris – at De Gaulle airport – early on the morning of Thursday, next August 26. From there I’ll take the RER Train B to the Gare du Nord. (18 Rue de Dunkerque.) Then out the exit past the Starbucks, and take a left and onto Rue la Fayette. (Small world. I live in Fayetteville, in Fayette County, Georgia.)

From there I’ll hike a mile or so to my two-night’s lodging. (Before joining the trio I’m meeting on the 28th, at a swanky hotel near Notre Dame, before heading south to hike over the Pyrenees.) On that mile hike I hope to stop for my first iced coffee of the day, at “McDonald’s Stalingrad.” (So-called because it’s adjacent to the “Place de la Bataille de Stalingrad.”)

And by the way, all this is part of a plan to hike the Camino de Santiago yet again.

For the third time, actually. In 2017 my brother Tom and I hiked the Camino Francés, or French Way. Or Tom did, in the purest sense. That’s because the Camino Francés starts at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees. (To Roncesvalles, in Spain.) The problem for me was that I’d had enough mountain hiking the year before, when we hiked the Chilkoot Trail, as detailed in the notes. And that trail – from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett, British Columbia – is called “the meanest 33 miles in history.” And I found out why, the hard way.

And so in 2017 Tom flew into Paris, while I flew into Madrid, then took a train up to Pamplona to meet him. (After he had hiked over the Pyrenees.) And had a miserable time, partly because of some nasty weather but also because he opted – for the first and last time in his adult life – to stay in one of those dormitory-style lodgings the Camino is famous for…

But we digress. I was talking about flying into Paris, to join up with the trio I’m meeting on the 28th – “before heading south to hike to over the Pyrenees.” That trio includes Tom and his wife Carol. (With both of whom I hiked the Camino Portugués, or the Portuguese Way, in 2019, as also detailed in the notes.) But this time I’ll be part of a group of four, including Tom, Carol, and Carol’s brother Ray. (Who will be hiking the Camino for the first time.)

Which brings us back to the Pyrenees, as shown at the bottom of the page.

It’s bothered me, ever since 2017, that I didn’t have the nerve to hike up and over those daunting Pyrenees mountains. And so I now feel the need to finish that “unfinished business.” And that’s in spite of the 2010 film, The Way, starring Martin Sheen. The central premise of the film is that an old, out of shape Beverly Hills eye doctor “goes to France following the death of his adult son, Daniel, killed in the Pyrenees during a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James), a Christian pilgrimage route.”

And this old, out of shape Beverly Hills eye doctor didn’t just go to France. On the spur of the moment and without a minute’s training or preparation, this Old Geezer decides to hike the entire 500 miles to Santiago. (I think they call that artistic license.) Which is another way of saying that interesting fictional characters do things no one in “their” right mind would do. (Like Sheen’s character in the film sitting on a bridge and taking off his pack, only to see it fall into the river below and float away. Or leave his pack unattended, to be stolen by a young gypsy.)

But then again, some would say hiking over the Pyrenees is something no one in his right mind would ever do. Which brings up the recent story, Human remains found in Pyrenees confirmed as those of missing hiker Esther Dingley. “Ms Dingley, 37, had been walking solo in the mountains near the Spanish and French border and was last seen on Nov 22 last year.” The story added that there was “no sign of equipment or clothing in the immediate area … and the details of what happened and where still remain unknown.”

Which in turn brings up the old saying, “Never hike alone.” And I won’t be hiking alone…

Then again, I probably wouldn’t be flying over to Paris this year if not for Tom’s suggestion. Or Carol’s actually, since she hasn’t hiked the Camino Francés (French Way), but did get a kick out of hiking the Portuguese Way. (Starting in Porto, Portugal – home of Port wine – back up to Santiago from the south.) Which brings up another point.

Since I’ve hiked to Santiago twice now, and get nervous away from home more than a month, I won’t be going the whole way. I’ll hike over the Pyrenees, and get that off my List of Things to Finish. Then through Pamplona, over to Burgos, where I’ll part ways. As the rest of the group goes on for another 29 days of hiking – with days off at intervals – I’ll take the train back to Madrid. And spend some more quality time there, possibly visiting the Prado again.

But first comes Paris.

As I write this, I’m making a list of things to do in my four days in Paris. Two of those days I’ll be on my own; the other two I’ll join the group at a Swanky Hotel across the Seine from the Cathedral of Notre Dame. (Or what’s left of it.) But there is one place on the outskirts that I definitely want to visit. (Via Metro.) As I recently learned, Choisy-le-Roi is where Henry Kissinger conducted secret negotiations with Le Duc Tho to end the Vietnam war, in 1972.

But back in 1979 it was also home to a youth hostel, and on the grounds of that hostel I and a young lady named Janine camped in a little tent, between the Seine and Marne Rivers. With the moonlight shining through the tent flap… (Can you say, “romantic interlude?”)

Google Maps says that hostel isn’t there any more, and I’d like to find out what happened…

Some things ARE sacred, you know!

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Central pyrenees.jpg

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The upper image is courtesy of Paris City Of Love Image – Image Results. It came with an article, from “travelfeatured.com,” which for some reason I couldn’t latch onto. But you could search “paris city of love and lights.”

For more on the 2017 “French Way” hike, see Training for the Camino, “Hola! Buen Camino!” – Revisited, and “Buen Camino!” – The Good Parts.

For more on the 2016 mountain hike, see Remembering the “Chilkoot &^%$# Trail!” With links to two earlier posts.

For more on the 2019 Camino hike, see “Greetings from the Portuguese Camino,” Here’s that second post on the Portuguese Camino, and “They sell beer at the McDonald’s in Portugal!”

Re: “Never hike alone.” The link is to 11 Reasons Why Hiking Alone Is Actually A Bad Idea, as opposed to “Never Hike Alone,” the Friday The 13th film created by Womp Stomp Films. (Never Hike Alone | Friday the 13th Wiki | Fandom.)

For more on the secret negotiations in Choisy-le-Roi, see KISSINGER MEETS THO FOR 4 HOURS – The New York Times, December 5, 1972. Or search “choisy-le roi secret negotiations kissinger duc tho.”

Re: My visiting Choisy-le-Roi. Google Maps indicate that I have a choice of Metro stations. I could get off at the Ivry-sur-Seine station, then walk due east across the Pont-d’Ivry bridge, toward the Gendarmerie Nationale. Then from that area – where the youth hostel used to be – head back west over the Port à l’Anglais Bridge. Unfortunately the whole area now looks extremely built up, with what appears to be an interstate-like cloverleaf where highways A86 and D19 intersect.

The lower image is courtesy of Pyrenees Mountains Image – Image Results.

On the Louvin Brothers – “spelled S-I-N?”

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Earlier this week – a Tuesday morning heading into Fayetteville for some shopping – I heard a song, “Cash on the Barrelhead.” The song, courtesy of my Sirius bluegrass station,* was by the Louvin Brothers, and I knew them from previous experience. That “brotherly” association brought back some bad memories. As it turns out, I’m way more familiar with another song the Louvin Brothers did, “That word broad-minded is spelled s-i-n.”

Which means that – to the Louvin Brothers – any good Christian has to be narrow minded. But that to me is perversion of the Gospel… 

But anyway, the Brothers recorded their “s-i-n” song in 1952. The lyrics read in part: “I read in my Bible, they shall not enter in. For Jesus will answer, Depart, I never knew you.” Which is a “Christian sentiment” that I’ve always found incongruous, if not ironic. Like when the song’s refrain repeats, over and over, “That word broadminded is spelled s-i-n.”

But just to clear things up, that “depart, I never knew you” quote came from Matthew 7:23. And Matthew Chapter 7 starts off with Jesus saying: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” And Chapter 7 goes on to talk about the narrow and the wide gates, about true and false prophets, and about true and false disciples.

In turn, the sentiment in the “s-i-n” song could be one big reason why – for the first time since the 1930s – fewer than half of Americans belong to a church, mosque or synagogue. That is, because of false disciples either perverting the Gospel or creating God in their own image, not the the other way around. And as far as that “wide gate” goes, I’m thinking the people who enter that wide gate are the ones who turn way too conservative in their theology, especially as they get older. (Which is such an easy trap to fall into.) It’s much more difficult to enter the narrow gate by remaining – even in old age – independent and open-minded, like Moses and Jesus and Paul. (“Oh my!” To which I could add, “Me too!”)

Then there’s John 6:37, where Jesus said, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” And there’s Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” And finally, for your “secular” consideration, there’s 2d Timothy, Chapter 2, which tells of “dealing with false teachers.”

[T]he Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil…

That’s from 2d Timothy, Chapter 2, verses 24-26. And speaking of devil-snares, Ira Louvin certainly had demons of his own to deal with. (But then, who am I to “cast the first stone?”)

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To get back on track, Charlie and Ira – the “Louvins” – were born Loudermilk brothers. “After becoming regulars at the Grand Ole Opry and scoring a string of hit singles in the late 1950s,” those brothers broke up as a duo in 1963. Mainly because Charlie grew tired of “Ira’s addictions and reckless behavior.” Or see the Wikipedia article on Ira:

Ira was notorious for his drinking and short temper. He married four times, his third wife having shot him multiple times in the chest and hand after he allegedly beat her. He died on June 20, 1965 when a drunken driver struck his car in Williamsburg, Missouri. At the time, a warrant for Louvin’s arrest had been issued on a DUI charge.

I first wrote about these brothers in a companion blog, listed in the notes. The gist of that post – from 2014 – was that there was a vast difference between Ira Louvin’s “public and private persona.” (“Do as I say, not as I do.*”) I noted that that difference “could be spelled ‘h-y-p-o-c-r-i-t-e,’” rather than “s-i-n.” (Then added, “but that would be a bit too snippy for this Blog.”) 

I ended up concluding, “Suffice it to say, Ira was merely human, like the rest of us.”

But then – being broad-minded rather than narrow-minded – I recently changed my tune a bit. I ended up feeling kind of sorry for ol’ Ira, mainly because of the web article, The Bloody Ballad of Charlie and Ira Louvin | PopMatters. It’s a review of the book Satan Is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers, by Charlie Louvin, in association with Benjamin Whitmer.

As children … Charlie and Ira experienced their share of Hell on Earth. Their father, himself the son of a cruel drunk, turned his violence on his sons. Ira, being the oldest son, received the worst of beatings that used feet, fists, switches, pieces of furniture, logs — anything within reach if their father was angry enough — to put him within spitting distance of death’s door at least once.

Then there was the story of the “mutt puppies that resulted from the boys sneaking a bulldog in to breed with a prized bloodhound.” The cruel-drunk father told Charlie to “put them in a sack and brain them against a fence post to kill them.”

Which led to another dark note, of Louvin-Whitmer concluding that “the alcoholism and self-destructiveness that defines Ira seems inevitable, given his grandfather’s drunkenness, his father’s cruelty, and Ira’s mix of insecurity and rebellion.” Which led to another conclusion, that their music – their musical careers – ended up being the Louvin Brothers’ “only ticket out of a life of back-breaking work and abuse.”

Which may be why their music turned out to be so popular; why that music struck a chord with so many people. As the “Satan is real” book review noted, the story of the Louvin Brothers was one of “a mid-century Southern gothic Cain and Abel,” who turned out to be “one of the greatest country duos of all time.” One newspaper called them “the most influential harmony team in the history of country music.” On the other hand, Emmylou Harris said, more succinctly, “there was something scary and washed in the blood about the sound of the Louvin Brothers.”

In short, theirs is a “raw and powerful story of the [country-music] duo that everyone from Dolly Parton to Gram Parsons described as their favorites.” Which reminds me…

A couple Christmas seasons ago, before Covid, I went to a concert at Saint Mark’s UMC – Atlanta, featuring the Trey Clegg Singers. They had a guest singer, whose name I can’t remember. But his performance reminded me of William Warfield singing “Old Man River” at New York City’s Lincoln Center in 1966. (I was 15 at the time.) Each time I remember thinking, “There was a lot of pain that went into making that voice so beautiful.” And so it was with the Louvins.

In the meantime, we all have our own demons to deal with…

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The upper image is courtesy of Making God In Our Image – Image Results. And by the way, the quote is attributed to other people besides Mark Twain. Another note. The ggogle search “making God in our image” got me close to six million results. Also, much of this post was gleaned from a May 2014 post on a companion blog, On broadminded, spelled “s-i-n.” For more detail on the song itself, see Cash on the Barrelhead and The Louvin Brothers – Wikipedia.

Re: “Cash … barrelhead.” That was “on the way into Fayetteville,” Georgia. And it was the Sirius XM bluegrass station.

Re: “Broadminded.” See Louvin Brothers – Broadminded … SongMeanings.

The Van Gogh image is courtesy of Narrow Minded Image – Image Results. In case you can’t see it, the text reads, “It is better to be high-spirited even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent.” It came with an article from AZ Quotes, with other Narrow-Minded quotes.

Re: Decrease in church membership. See for example Gallup: Fewer than Half of Americans Belong to a Church.

Re: Whose image? See Genesis 1:27 So God created man in His own image. (Not the other way around.)

Re: Moses and Jesus and Paul. (“Oh my!”) See Lions and tigers and bears oh my – Idioms by The Free Dictionary.

Re: “Do as I say,” etc. See also Matthew 23:3 “So practice and observe everything they tell you,” on the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ time, with the note, “they don’t practice what they preach.”

The St. Mark’s in question is at 781 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta. (Around the corner from the “Sivas Hookah Lounge.”)

Re: 1966 revival of Showboat. See SHOWBOAT LINCOLN CENTER CAST – COOK,BARBARA – 090266118229 | HPB.

The lower image is courtesy of Louvin Brothers Broadminded S-i-n Images – Image Results.

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Recalling Week 8 of the COVID shut-down…

A lesson from the classic 1957 Bridge on the River Kwai: There’s “always the unexpected…”

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About that movie quote from 1957, “There’s always the unexpected…” Who could know? Who could know that such a thing as the COVID-19 pandemic was coming? Or for that matter, who could know that for a matter of weeks the Colonial Pipeline gas shortage of 2021 would take us back to the the Good Old Days of 1970s energy crises. (“The two worst crises of this period were the 1973 oil crisis and the 1979 energy crisis, when the Yom Kippur War and the Iranian Revolution triggered interruptions in Middle Eastern oil exports.”)

Maybe the Good Old Days weren’t all that great either

But seriously, I’ve been looking for a quick and easy new post. (Since I last posted on June 15.) I found On Week 8 of the Coronavirus shut-down, from May 11, 2020. I wondered how things looked “way back then” – in 2020 – and what may have changed since. As part of this update I googled “what have we learned from the pandemic.” I got 181 million results. (181,000,000.)

But first, here’s a review of that “Week 8” post. It started with my definition of the first full week of COVID. For me it started the weekend after Thursday, March 12. That’s the day the ACC Tournament got cancelled, followed shortly by cancelling March Madness and the college baseball season, along with the NBA, NHL “and other major professional sport seasons.”

The American West: History, Myth, and LegacyI noted that even back then – early on in the pandemic – I managed to keep busy. For one example, I did things like watch a lot of lectures from The Great Courses Plus,* especially while keeping busy exercising. And one such course featured a quote on how “we” used to cope with such disasters in those Olden Days.

Like the Olden Days when Americans “conquer[ed] the American West.” (Put another way, how the “conquest and settlement of the American West transformed the United States from a regional republic into a continental power.”) That included a quote from Frederick Jackson Turner, who noted that the process developed key elements of the American character:

Domesticating the frontier … forced Americans to live by their wits, to cooperate, to revert temporarily to earlier stages of civilization, and to embody a more wholehearted democracy than anything on offer in the Old World.

Jackson added that Americans working to tame the frontier learned “to adapt, to cooperate with one another, and to treat each other as equals.” (Emphasis added.) He said that by such means as mutual cooperation and treating each other as equals, they “subdued the wild lands around them, working out ideas and techniques unknown to their ancestors.”

I was struck by Jackson’s words – like “cooperate with one another” and “treat each other as equals.” To which I could only say, “What the hell happened?”

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So what did happen? And what has happened to us over the past year of COVID? Beyond that, have we learned anything from it? And maybe even come out stronger and better?

This is from the University of Pittsburgh, One Year Later: Lessons Learned from the Pandemic – UPMC. From it I gleaned two valuable lessons: Lesson Two: Constant, clear and adaptable communication is key. And Lesson Number One: Be prepared but expect additional surprises. And that’s a lesson that pretty much ties in with that great quote from the 1957 film, The Bridge on the River Kwai, “There’s always the unexpected, isn’t there?” (You can see a short clip from the movie itself, with that quote: YARN | Yes, there’s always the unexpected, isn’t there?”)

And BTW, adaptable means “able or willing to change in order to suit different conditions.”

In turn, from the American Association of Retired Persons, I checked out 15 Lessons the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Taught Us. Lesson 12: You Can Hope for Stability — but Best Be Prepared for the Opposite. (That is, “the opposite of stability.”) And that thought seems to mirror Job 5:7 “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.”

And finally, there’s Important Lessons We Can Take from This Pandemic . (From the “tiny buddha” website. “Simple wisdom for complex lives.”) One such lesson? The power of stillness. “Our lives were put on pause, many were forced to work from home… With this, we were given the power of stillness and the opportunity to unapologetically slow down.”

Other lessons? Family and friends are important, and often taken for granted. “Our health is gold,” something else we too often take for granted. And “nature still thrives,” and may indeed be getting a much-needed break from too much travel and too much people-pollution…

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Which brings us back to my post on COVID’s Week 8.

Looking for answers about what a person can do in times of UPHEAVAL – “with elements of panic and destruction let loose” – I turned to Kenneth Clark‘s 1969 book Civilisation. He talked about how Europeans coped with the violence during the Protestant Reformation in the mid-sixteenth century. (Europe was “full of bully boys who rampaged around the country and took any excuse to beat people up… All the elements of destruction were let loose.”)

One short-and-sweet answer, “Keep quiet, work in solitude, outwardly conform, inwardly remain free.” And that pretty much ties in with what Voltaire said in his 1759 novel Candide, by Voltaire. “We must all [just] cultivate our own garden.” Or “tiny buddha” put it this way:

“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.”

Good advice indeed. Thank you Voltaire! (And “Simple wisdom…”)

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 Voltaire … during a time of “destruction let loose…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Bridge On The River Kwai – Image Results. Also re: The Bridge on the River Kwai. See also the Wikipedia article.

Re: “Unexpected.” But see 12 People Who Seemingly Predicted the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Re: “Great Course Plus.” See The Great Courses Plus is Now Wondrium.

The “Job” image is courtesy of Bible Job – Image Results. See also Job (biblical figure) – Wikipedia.

Re: Nature getting a break. See Who benefits from COVID-19? Nature and wildlife – RCI | English. But see also Impact of COVID-19 on Nature – Conservation: “There is a misperception that nature is ‘getting a break’ from humans during the COVID-19 pandemic…”

Re: Upheaval. I first wrote “great upheaval,” but that terms seems redundant redundant.

The lower image is courtesy of Voltaire – Image Results. This particular image accompanies an article, “Rodama: a blog of the 18th century,” subtitled “Houdon: ‘Seated Voltaire’ at Les Délices.”

Here are some pictures of Houdon’s Seated Voltaire, the beautiful centrepiece of the Musée Voltaire at Les Délices in Geneva, which I was lucky enough to visit last Easter. This version is among the finest examples of Houdon’s famous statue, and is particularly unusual in that it is made of terracotta.

I added that I chose the image since “it seems most similar to what I might have looked like, had I gone through Voltaire’s particular trials and tribulations. (Instead of just my own.)” The full original caption: Voltaire, a new figure – the intellectual recluse – during a time of ‘destruction let loose…’”

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A reminder: Great politicians STILL sell hope…

PHOTO: Chris Matthews of MSNBC waits to go on the air inside the spin room at Bally's Las Vegas Hotel & Casino after the Democratic presidential primary debate, Feb. 19, 2020, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Chris Matthews didabruptly resign,” but his truth still remains: Great politicians sell hope…”

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I just got back from a lightning, one-week mini-vacation. First to Rockville Maryland for my grandson’s wedding, then to Pigeon Forge Tennessee for a family get-together. (Including a day-visit to Dollywood, illustrated at left.) I got back home late last Thursday (6/10/21), and over the course of a Recuperation Weekend, checked on my blogs. My last post on this blog – “(Some of) the music of my life” – happened back on May 20, 2021. So another blog-post is long overdue.

Looking for an easy past-post to review, I went back to June, 2015. There I found “Great politicians sell hope,” a post based on a 2007 Chris Matthews book, Life’s a Campaign: What Politics Has Taught Me About Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation, and Success.

Unfortunately, Chris himself has run into some hard times since then. Some of the gory details are in the notes, but suffice it to say that even though he had to resign under a cloud, what he said in his 2007 book still rings true. The truly great politicians still sell hope…

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Now, about that idea that “Great Politicians Sell Hope:” When I first heard Matthews make that claim – back in 2015 – I thought, “What rock have you been living under?“ But in his book Chris noted that our best presidents – including John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan – were able to “sell themselves” by giving Americans a sense of hope for the future.

So back In 2015 I asked, “What happened? What happened to those presidents who gave Americans a sense of hope for the future?” But since then one big thing happened. (And maybe two or three.) After four tumultuous years of Trump, Joe Biden’s election seemed to offer a glimmer of that hope. And despite ongoing conservative guilt by insinuation TV ads – that they were Socialists, creeping or otherwise – Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock painted Georgia blue.

But we digress. Back to the Chris Matthews book. The 2015 post told how I reviewed it, which led me to think this: “Maybe today’s politicians seem especially nasty because so many voters they’re trying to woo are turning nasty.” Maybe today’s politicians just reflect the “nastiness that seems to have taken hold of a large part of our population.” Then came this quote:

C. P. Snow believes that Western society has become an argument culture (The Two Cultures). In The Argument Culture (1998), Deborah Tannen suggests that the dialogue of Western culture is characterized by a warlike atmosphere in which the winning side has truth (like a trophy). Such a dialogue virtually ignores the middle alternatives.

That quote came from a link in the post, and seems as good an explanation as any, and especially the part about ignoring “middle alternatives.” Today’s politics do seem to trend to the extreme, and in the process avoid any middle or compromise alternatives. On that note, the Amazon blurb for Tannen’s book said “in the argument culture, war metaphors pervade our talk and influence our thinking. We approach anything we need to accomplish as a fight between two opposing sides.” Rather than the traditional American spirit of compromise

Former President Ronald Reagan (right) talks with House Speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) in the Oval Office of the White House in November 1985. | AP PhotoHowever, not that long ago even great political arch-enemies Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan – at right – could meet over a drink when the day’s battles were over. And Ted Kennedy could do the same. Even though the two were political arch-enemies, Kennedy admired the fact that Reagan “knew how to manipulate symbols for his causes yet could sup with his enemies:”

He’s absolutely professional. When the sun goes down, the battles of the day are really gone.  He gave the Robert Kennedy Medal, which President Carter refused to do… He’s very sure of himself, and I think that people sense that he’s comfortable with himself… He had a philosophy and he’s fought for it. There’s a consistency and continuity at a time when many others are flopping back and forth. And that’s an important and instructive lesson for politicians, that people admire that.

Which is another way of saying O’Neill, Reagan, and Kennedy all personified that traditional American spirit of compromise: “If politics is the art of the possible, compromise is the artistry of democracy… In a democracy, the spirit of the laws depends on the spirit of compromise.”

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Which brings us back to that 2015 “hope” post. It went way long – almost 2,000 words – and talked about things like George Wallace repenting his racism, and how Harry Golden handled the troubled years between 1942 and 1968. (Years which included McCarthyism Vietnam War protests, and the Civil Rights Movement.) And how through it all, Golden “kept a sense of hope and a sense of humor.” And how Carl Sandburg once wrote that it must have been someone like Golden who was “in the mind of the Yankee, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote:  “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.” (Words that I try to live by…)

And finally, that 2015 “hope” post started and ended with the wisdom noted in the cartoon below, that in “bad times or hopelessness, it is more worthwhile to do some good, however small, in response than to complain about the situation.” And to the article, Better to light a single candle. And that great bloggers – like great politicians – should also work harder on “selling hope.”

Which is just what I’ll keep trying to do…

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The upper image is courtesy of Chris Matthews abruptly resigns from MSNBC following controversial comments, with the subhed, “The anchor apologized for sexist remarks before unexpectedly signing off.” See also Chris Matthews resigns from ‘Hardball,’ apologies for inappropriate comments. (Both from March 2020.) The gist of story is summarized in the Wikipedia article, including:

In October 2016, political journalist Laura Bassett appeared on Matthew’s program to comment on sexual assault allegations against then candidate Donald Trump. In February 2020, Bassett alleged that prior to that program, Matthews made inappropriate remarks about her makeup, clothing, and dating life. As she was having her television studio makeup applied, Matthews purportedly asked her: “Why haven’t I fallen in love with you yet?” Bassett claims that when she laughed nervously and said nothing, Matthews followed up to the makeup artist with: “Keep putting makeup on her, I’ll fall in love with her.” 

All of which seems pretty tame these “A.T.” days (After Trump), compared to both comments and actions by recent politicians. (And tame as well to some comments I used to make when I was young and obnoxious.) The article added, “Following his resignation, Matthews garnered well-wishes from professional colleagues in the news media and others, including from Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who noted Matthews’s willingness to “criticize the neocon pro-war agenda.”

Another note: In researching this post I temporarily got Chris Wallace mixed up with the Chris Matthews, the actual author of “Great politicians sell hope.” In the process I discovered recent stories about Chris Wallace, including Fox News’ Chris Wallace Confronts Mike Pompeo on Trump Admin Not Being Tough on Russia, and Chris Wallace Challenges Pompeo: You ‘Had Almost a Year’ to Prove Lab Leak Theory. Which means I may be doing a new post on Wallace himself…

Re: “argument culture.” The full title of Deborah Tannen‘s book is The Argument Culture: Stopping America’s War of Words. Tannen wrote an earlier book, You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (1990). According to Amazon, in that earlier book “Tannen showed why talking to someone of the opposite sex can be like talking to someone from another world.”

The lower – “stupid darkness” – cartoon image is courtesy of You Stupid Darkness! | Kurtis Scaletta’s Site, with links to comics.com/peanuts, “one of the most amazing but little-known Internet resources.”  See also lightasinglecandle.wordpress.com, and The 5 Greatest (newspaper) Comic Strips Of All Time.

See also Better to Light a Candle Than to Curse the Darkness – Quote, and Better to Light a Candle Than Curse the Darkness | Psychology Today. The former noted the saying may be attributed to numerous sources, including – but not limited to – Eleanor Roosevelt, Confucius, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Adlai Stevenson, John F. Kennedy, and/or Charles Schulz. The latter offered three ways to overcome anxiety and find greater hope: “As we face the COVID pandemic, political unrest, economic challenges, and multiple crises, many of us are feeling anxious, uncertain, lost in darkness.”

On “(Some of) the music of my life…”

Short answer? “No, I can’t!” For that matter, “I wouldn’t want to try life without music!”

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As noted in my post from April 4, 2021,* I’m working on a new E-book:

The tentative title is “Turning 70 in 2021 – and still thinking the best is yet to come.” One chapter will be “On the music of my life,” and how important it’s been to me. (Like making those long Camino hikes – illustrated [below] left – more enjoyable, as well as those endless hours of canoe-paddling, [say] on the “Rideau Canal Adventure?”)

So here it is, one post on “(some of) the music of my life.” (And maybe “the importance thereof.”)

For starters, a lot of the music that I listen to – mostly on my iPod Shuffle* – brings back a bundle of memories of good times from long ago. (Very pleasant, like when I’m on one of those “long Camino hikes,” or enduring hours of butt-numbing canoe-paddling, like “on the ‘Rideau Canal Adventure?’”) But sometimes it works out the other way around.

Like the one memory I had from visiting London back in the summer of 1979.* That memory brought to mind a song few people know, “on this side of the pond.”

You can hear the song at George Formby – I’m a wanker – YouTube, with one note from the guy who uploaded it: “Not many people have herd [sic] this song by the old George Formby, so i thought i would upload it.” (To put it delicately, the song concerns a practice which had been described as “heinous,” “deplorable,” and “hideous.” However, “during the 20th century, these taboos generally declined.”)

Anyway, another group I like – and that few people seem to know – is (are?) The Blind Boys of Alabama. Per Wikipedia, it’s an American gospel group, made up of blind Alabama black men. “The group was founded in 1939 in Talladega, Alabama and has featured a changing roster of musicians over its history, the majority of whom are or were visually impaired.” Their song that I like best is Down By the Riverside. You can hear it on YouTube, and you’ll no doubt notice it’s the “real thing.” The soulful version, as opposed to the lily-white, pasty-ass Lawrence Welk version.

Although I will add that ol’ Lawrence and his band kicked ass with his 1960 – or ’61* – song Calcutta. You can hear that instrumental at LAWRENCE WELK – “Calcutta” (1960) – YouTube. (When I listen to it I can just imagine the Lennon Sisters cutely singing “la-la-la-la-la-la” in the background.)

Note too this was “a chart hit, the most successful of Welk’s career.”

So you could say my musical tastes are eclectic. (As in my liking music from a “variety of sources, systems, or styles.”) Which can lead to jarring moments, listening on my iPod Shuffle… Like when I hear Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus – by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra naturally – and that song is followed immediately by the cackling, maniacal opening to Wipe Out.

That’s the 1962 instrumental by The Surfaris. (Hear it on YouTube, and if you keep listening you can hear the “drum cover by Sina.”) Note too that this instrumental is not to be confused with Pipeline, also from 1962, to wit: the “instrumental surf rock song by The Chantays.*

Another instrumental I like is Java, recorded In 1963 by Al Hirt (1922-1999), famed trumpeter and bandleader. “He is best remembered for his million-selling recordings of ‘Java‘ and the accompanying album Honey in the Horn… Hirt’s recording won the Grammy Award for Best Performance by an Orchestra or Instrumentalist with Orchestra in 1964.” You can hear that song at Al Hirt – Java – YouTube; and if you have a pulse at all, it’ll get your toes tapping.

Then there are some songs I used to do on Karaoke, the “interactive entertainment usually offered in clubs and bars, where people sing along to recorded music using a microphone…”

One of my biggest signature songs was You Never Even Called Me By My Name, the 1975 song by David Allan Coe. Not only was it a favorite chorus-singalong at karaoke, it was also popular at “my” family events, like weddings, graduations, and some 50-year-anniversary-get-remarrieds. In the same vein there’s Farewell Party, the 1979 song by Gene Watson. For some reason I found that I could do a great job with the last note (“g-o-o-o-o-o-n-e!”) long and loud. (Loud enough for people to cover their ears.)

In a different vein, I used to do a kick-ass version of John Lennon‘s 1971 song Imagine. (The link is to the original demo version.) From late 2016 to early 2019 – just before the COVID hit – I used to sing that song every once in a while, just to tweak a large part of the audience; mostly old, mostly white and mostly conservative, most nights. (And – need I say it – way too many Trump supporters?) Along with Well Respected Man,* the 1965 song by The Kinks. (“Doing the best things so conservative-leeee…)

And in a way different vein, from time to time I also liked to do Bob Marley‘s tribute to the “black U.S. cavalry regiments, known as ‘Buffalo Soldiers.'” (You know, the ones that “fought in the Indian Wars after 1866?”) Needless to say, in the mostly old, mostly white and mostly conservative audience (most nights), that song usually went over like the proverbial “disagreeable nuisance or source of irritation.”

However – to borrow a phrase from Big Chill, the 1983 film – “The heck with them if they can’t take a joke.” Or, a phrase from Hunter Thompson, that noted iconoclast,*  “Something, anything, to give the Right-wing Whackos a jolt!”

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Photograph showing just the head of a man with a serious expression, aviator sunglasses, a full head of medium-short hair, and a visible collar of a leather jacket

Hunter S. Thompson, the prototypical gonzo Karaoke singer?

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The upper image is courtesy of The Importance Of Music In Our Life Image – Image Results. It comes with an article, The Importance of Music in Our Daily LivesSee also 8 reasons why music is important to us — Mitch de Klein, and Why is music so important? | SiOWfa15: Science in Our World.

Re: The post I did on April 4, 2021. See Revisiting March 2020

The Wikipedia caption to the “Camino hike” photo: “A pilgrim near San Juan de Ortega.”

Re: My iPod Shuffle. That’s the “discontinued digital audio player designed and formerly marketed by Apple Inc.” Unfortunately I had to move on to a variety of the SanDisk Sansa model music player, because – being now defunct – I couldn’t buy a replacement “Shuffle.” And personally I found the iPod Shuffle much easier and better to use. Sometimes, it seems, “progress isn’t really progress.”   

Re: “Visited London back in the summer of 1979.” My lady friend at the time – Janine, who is undoubtedly a grandmother by now – attended Eckerd College, while I worked at the old St. Petersburg Times. She did a semester abroad early 1979; I took three weeks vacation to visit her in London, after which we toured “the Continent” via Eurailpass.

Re: “Wanker” song. See The Winker’s Song (Misprint) – Wikipedia

Re: Welk’s “Calcutta.” From the Wikipedia article: “This article is about the 1960 song performed by Lawrence Welk… An instrumental version by American bandleader and TV host Lawrence Welk on the 1961 Dot Records album Calcutta! was a chart hit…”

Re: “Chart hit.” The link is to Hit song – Wikipedia, with a subsection on “Chart hits,” with two paragraphs on the various charts at issue, such as the Billboard Hot 100: “a single is usually considered a hit when it reaches the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 or the top 75 of the UK Singles Chart and stays there for at least one week.”

Re: The instrumentals “Wipeout” and “Pipeline.” See also Surf music – Wikipedia

Re: The Kinks song “about conservatives.” Hear one version at The Kinks – A Well Respected Man lyrics – YouTube, but that version is way faster than the one I used to sing. I liked to draw it about a bit, and especially the final, “Doing the best things so conservative-leeee…” And add an occasional word of explanation, like “He likes his fags the best (cigarettes)…” 

Re: “Buffalo Soldier.” I just learned the song “did not appear on record until the 1983 posthumous release of Confrontation, when it became one of Marley’s best-known songs.” Marley died in 1981.

Re: “Give the squares a jolt.” The allusion is to Hunter Thompson‘s book on the Hell’s Angels, infra. See How The Hells Angels Became America’s Notorious Black Sheep, at bottom:

By kissing one another the Angels proved that they were way more far out than the people watching them… In Hunter S. Thompson’s book, he explained that when Hells Angels were kissing each other full force on the lips they were doing it for shock value because the act “is a guaranteed square-jolter, and the Angels are gleefully aware of the reaction it gets. The sight of a photographer invariably whips the Angels into a kissing frenzy.”

See also Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga (1967). I first bought the book in the early 1970s. I thought it a superb example of what can best be called experiential journalism:

Mother Jones (magazine) recently had a piece about life as a prison guard, one of the very best examples of experiential journalism which I have ever read. The reporter became a prison guard without alerting his employer [the prison] that he was a reporter… They are a shining example of the reporter’s obligation as an experiential journalist to dig deep, to be acutely aware of his or her own psychology and thought processes, and to observe the internal impacts of an external reality which is far from the life ordinarily lived

Emphasis added. See also Experiential Journalism – MR. RESTAD. And just for the record, I thought – and continue to think – that Truman Capote did an equally good job of experiential journalism in his 1966 non-fiction novelIn Cold Blood. Which is pretty much what I try to do with my “ADVENTURES IN OLD AGE” BOOK, and my next book, on “Turning 70 in 2021 – and loving the sh– heck out of it!”

Re: “That noted iconoclast.” See also my March 2015 post, On Pink Floyd and “rigid schooling.” It quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Whoso would be a man, must be a noncomformist, and it’s worth both a re-visit – in a near-future review – and a bit of re-editing.  

The lower image is courtesy of Hunter Thompson – Wikipedia. The caption: “Self-portrait photo of Thompson c. 1960–1967.” Wikipedia said he founded the “gonzo journalism movement. He first rose to prominence with the publication of Hell’s Angels (1967), a book for which he spent a year living and riding with the Hells Angels motorcycle club to write a first-hand account of the lives and experiences of its members.” Gonzo journalism is said to be a “style of journalism that is written without claims of objectivity, often including the reporter as part of the story using a first-person narrative.

The word “gonzo” is believed to have been first used in 1970 to describe an article about the Kentucky Derby by Hunter S. Thompson, who popularized the style. It is an energetic first-person participatory writing style in which the author is a protagonist, and it draws its power from a combination of social critique and self-satire…

And finally, for future reference on later post I’ll do on other important music in my life, these early notes I wrote for this post: “1) Roxanne [The Police]. Lousy karaoke song. 2) Devo. Crack that whip. 3) Hanky Panky, reminded me of ‘Sgt. Sjoberg, CAP encampment,’ circa 1966-67.” To clarify, the actual title of the Devo song is Whip It. (See Wikipedia.) The “Hanky panky” song was by Tommy James and the Shondells. At the 1966 or 1967 Civil Air Patrol encampment in Orlando, Sgt. Sjoberg was in charge of my barracks and loved to sing the song, apparently because he had a young-lady friend who was also at the encampment. And “Roxanne” is a lousy karaoke song because of the chorus:

(Roxanne) Put on the red light
(Roxanne) Put on the red light
(Roxanne) Put on the red light
(Roxanne) Put on the red light
(Roxanne) Put on the red light, oh

If only one person is singing the song – as Brie the waitress tried on one karaoke night – all she can sing is “Roxanne” at the end, over and over again. She really needed a partner for the “put on the red light” counterpoint, as that term is defined by Merriam-Webster: the “use of contrast or interplay of elements in a work of art (such as a drama),” or a karaoke song.