Saturday, February 13, 2010

RV Trip Highlights

Last summer my friend and I took a month-long trip in a rented RV starting in Calgary, Canada, then driving south to the northern tip of Arizona and back up again. We visited all the National Parks and many more sights along the way. I have recorded our travels on a daily basis earlier in this blog. But, two places that we visited stand out in my mind that I would like to give special recognition to. You can view the pictures associated with these two places by going to the blog entries for days 11, 12, and 29 of our Rocky Mountain trip.

Salt Lake City: Worth a Visit

As part of the RV trip through and along the Rocky Mountains my friend and I made a stop at Salt Lake City. Of course, we had heard and read about how Salt Lake City came about and that it is the world headquarters of the Church of Latter Day Saints, also known as Mormons, but had no idea what would await us there.

Right off the bat let me say that I am impressed with what the Mormons offer tourists, regardless of where they come from or what their heritage is, in Salt Lake City. First of all, there is a free shuttle bus from the airport to Temple Square and back (this bus happens to pass by the KOA campground where we stayed and it picks up and delivers anyone from there who wants to go downtown). The shuttle buses are driven by volunteer members of the Church. The aim of the free shuttle service is to enable people who have a few hours layover at the airport to spend them seeing Temple Square, the Mormon version of Rome's Saint Peter's Square.

On Temple Square there are many ushers, guides for most languages, and generally nice people willing to point things out and to assist in any way. How the Church manages to mobilize these numbers of people is beyond me: Men dressed in business suits, women in long (almost formal) dresses befitting the rules of the Mormon Church, and young people also dressed in consonance with the surroundings. I surmise that the overall aim is to put the Mormon religion in as positive a light as possible. Everything is clean, neat, and well organized. Although the references to the Church, it's leaders past and present, and the all-present thesis of the Book of Mormon are evident, no one directly proselytized or even mentioned other religions.

We were given a tour of Temple Square and some buildings by two young women, one from South Korea, the other from Mexico. They spoke in glowing terms of the achievements by the pioneers who braved many hardships in reaching this valley after being persecuted out of two different locations farther east. The Temple itself is sacred and can only be entered by members of the Church in good standing. Don't ask me exactly what 'in good standing' means, the best I could gather was that once a year every Mormon has to have an interview with a bishop who ascertains and certifies the worthiness of the member to enter the Temple.

We also visited the Museum of Family History, also known as the Genealogical Library. Again, the people were all very friendly and accommodating. The Genealogical Library is huge and like any large library has several floors, reams of books, masses of computer terminals, and a large vault with thousands of microfilms. All of it is accessible to the general public with the aid of the library staff. I really didn't make this trip to Salt Lake City to do genealogical research, but since we were there it interested me how and why they maintain such a library. The 'how' is that people (presumably Church members) go out and obtain family histories from archives around the world. This information is put into a database and shared with the world. Then if someone finds his or her ancestors and adds his or her own records, this information in turn can be added to the database to augment it. The 'why' is that the Mormon Church emphasizes the unity of families. By tracing one's roots and completing the family tree the whole world could eventually in a way be united as one big family. Mind you, I'm no expert on the Mormon religion, this is only my take on the situation.

We then wandered around a bit and had a little lunch at a cafe in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. As we finished our lunch we strolled out into the main part of the building which looked like the lobby of a grand hotel, but without reception desk or bellmen. My friend wanted to take a picture of the richly ornamented lobby, but didn't dare because a greater-than-life statue of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints, kept watch over us, and many people in wedding attire moved about the lobby and the corridors. I spotted a dapper gentleman in a light gray suit and a name tag who was standing at the entrance to the hall as if ready to direct anyone who needed directing. I approached him intending to ask if it was OK to take a picture, but first I asked him what the function of this building is. That started a relationship that lasted for over an hour, got us a private guided tour of the building, and tons of information about the customs of the Mormons.

In the early 1900s the building which is now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building used to be the Utah Hotel, a grand gathering place for the rich and famous in Salt Lake City and surroundings. It is now a place where Mormon Church members can have their wedding receptions (there were nine going on at the time we were there), and where Church banquets and meetings are held. The president of the Church used to live in a private suit upstairs. There are two restaurants in addition to the cafe where we ate and viewing areas on the 10th floor where one has a wonderful view of Salt Lake City and the surrounding valley.

The gentleman opened doors for us that are usually closed to the public. Everything is of the finest quality. The drinking fountains are golden, spotless, and work well! When the ceiling in one of the main dining rooms was refurbished, only a lady from Germany knew how to do it. No expense seems too great to demonstrate the power of the Church and to extol its virtues.

After visiting another edifice or two we hopped aboard the free shuttle for a ride back to the campground in a torrential downpour. The nice man driving the bus told us that they have had twice the amount of rain that usually falls in the entire month of June in just two weeks, but that they needed it because the summers are hot and dry. He not only took us to the campground, he drove us right up to our RV so that we wouldn't get wet.

The next day being a Sunday, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed and we had gotten reservations to see the performance through our campground. The Tabernacle is a large theater which holds several thousand people. Because in the summertime many tourists want to see and hear the choir, the performances are moved to the Congress Center which holds more than 20,000 people. We were lucky because this was the last performance in the Tabernacle before the choir went on a 13 day tour and after that would perform in the Congress Center for the rest of the summer.

It was an impressive experience. The choir has its dress rehearsal during which time the audience is let in, then follows the performance which is taped and then broadcast by radio and television stations around the world. Everything has to be very precise, the timing, the camera shots, and the silence by the audience. The sounds produced by the orchestra and the choir are fantastic and to experience them live makes it even more enjoyable. Needless to say, there were herds of ushers and guides who helped prevent chaos when people entered and left the Tabernacle.

Again the free shuttle service transported us both ways. This concluded our most enjoyable and informative visit to Salt Lake City. "Hats off" to the nice people in Salt Lake City.

The Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Our first stop on our recent RV trip was only a few hours south of Calgary near the town of Fort Macleod in an RV Park and campground called "Buffalo Plains," a name which seemed appropriate for these wide open spaces at the foothills of the Rockies.

While reading the guidebook to see what attractions awaited us in the area we came across a curious reference to a place called "Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump." We first thought of a replica of a Wild West saloon where frequent brawls led to the strange name. When reading further, however, we found out that this place with the strange name had actually been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 and is one of the world's oldest, largest, and best preserved buffalo jumps in existence. It had been used continuously by native peoples of the plains for almost 6,000 years.

But what is a "buffalo jump" and where does that curious name "Head-Smashed-In"come from?

We soon found out when we went to the site's Interpretive Centre. A “buffalo jump” is a cliff over which the native inhabitants of the North American plains used to drive a herd of bison by stampeding them and luring them in the direction of the cliff. The bison would fall over the cliff, the first over would be killed outright while the following animals would only be injured because they fell on the dead ones below. The injured would then be killed by the natives with arrows and lances.

The way the natives got the herd to stampede was to have a young man called a “runner” drape the skin from a buffalo calf over himself as a disguise and ease up to the lead cow. She would then think this was a calf, or even that this was her own calf. Then other braves would drape wolf skins over themselves and approach the herd as if they were wolves. This caused the herd to squeeze together for protection. The crowding together would excite the animals and they would start to run. When the buffalo started to run, the brave disguised as a calf would start to run toward the cliff and the lead cow would follow, trying to protect what she thought was a calf. This was very dangerous for the runner. A man can run about 15 mph, a buffalo can make 30 mph. The stampeding herd thundered ever closer to the runner. Meanwhile, other braves would jump up from hiding places on both sides of the path to the cliffs, waving and shouting, thus directing the herd toward the cliff. If the runner survived long enough to reach the cliff, he would jump down unto a ledge and let the thundering herd fly to their death over him. To the shortsighted buffalo the edge of the cliff appeared as a dip in the prairie. Even if the buffalo at the front recognized the danger and stopped, the rest of the frenzied herd would push them to their deaths.

This all sounds cruel, but before guns and horses, this was the most efficient way for the natives to obtain food to feed their tribe and to obtain buffalo hides for their lodges and clothing. If the kill was great enough, they used the extra meat and hides as bartering materials with other tribes and later on with white traders.

As to the name, when one envisions a stampeding herd of bison plunging head-first over a cliff, it isn't hard to imagine where the name "Head-Smashed-In" came from.

The Interpretive Centre is an education in itself! The numerous exhibits, archeological artifacts, and the audio-visual presentations are of the finest. On certain days of the week native dancers and drummers put on shows. The day we were lucky enough to be there, it happened to be the 1st of July, Canada's equivalent of our 4th of July, the show was not only spectacular but also very informative. During a break in the performance of the Blackfoot dancers and drummers I had the opportunity to talk to one of the performing drummers at length. He readily discussed the heritage of their dances and chants and remarked that I was the first foreigner who had ever asked him these questions. He explained the meaning of the chants and the accompanying drum rhythms, assuring me that even though to my untrained ear it all sounded the same, there was a different message conveyed by each piece. I also learned that none of these songs and dances are written down, but are passed from one generation to another by word of mouth.

In addition to the exhibits and other activities at the Interpretive Centre, there are hiking trails to the actual buffalo jump cliff and the surrounding area where a wonderful view of the plains and the Rockies looming in the distance can be had. Food and refreshments are available at the center and my recommendation is to go there and allow at least a half day if not more to fully enjoy it.

Who would ever suspect such a spectacular place behind a name like "Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump?"

I get no Respect

Rodney Dangerfield used to say that he got no respect. Well, I get no respect, either. All my life I have been trying to do the right things. People don't know that I have an overpowering sense of responsibility, that is, I feel compelled to warn other people of a danger that I, and maybe just I, perceive. But instead of respecting me for it, people laugh at my actions. Well, sometimes I have to laugh too. What the heck, to keep your sanity you have to laugh at yourself sometimes, especially when, in retrospect, what you did really is funny. The two accounts here are examples of what I mean.

No Moo, Bull

One day in late summer my friend, her sister, our Boxer, and I went for a hike in the Swiss Alps. We wanted to show my friend's sister the wonderful hike we had taken once before with friends. Everything was green, mountain flowers were blooming in the lower portions of the mountains, and above the treeline at the very tops of some of the mountains there were some snowfields, which probably never totally melt away. We drove up a valley and parked our car. Our goal was to go to the top station of one of the ski lifts that serve that valley, then to walk along a ridge to a point above a man-made reservoir, descend to the dam that holds the water back, cross the dam, and then hike down the valley back to our car along the stream that originates at the dam. The ski lift in question was operating, not for skiers, but taking hikers up, and some back down, the mountain. Using the lift would have been the preferred method of completing the first leg of our journey, however, Kyra, our dog, was deathly afraid of contraptions that swayed freely in the air and no amount of persuasion could get her to sit still in the open chair lift - so we hiked up.

We started to walk up the side of the mountain on a gravel service road that leads to the upper station of the ski lift. This gravel road snakes its way up the steep mountain. After several curves I decided that during my previous ascent we had taken a shortcut diagonally up the mountain across some cow pastures rather than laboriously following the switching back and forth of the winding gravel road. We entered the cow pasture at what promised to be a path and followed it for quite some time before it became clear that the cows that had trodden the path weren't going to the ridge where we wanted to go but were just meandering across the sloping terrain. So we reversed course and tried another path. Again, it did not lead to where we wanted to go, in fact it ended at a water trough. Somewhere along the way my friend's sister tipped over (the mountain was fairly steep so when you fell toward the slope you more or less tipped over, rather than falling) and bruised the pinky on her left hand, which caused her and us enormous grief, because it hurt her, and her lamenting about it annoyed us. As the searching for the path continued, I wasn't worried that we were lost. Although we had been hiking for about an hour and a half by then due to all the zigzagging and reversing of direction, we were still within sight of our car, which was below us in the valley.

We finally managed to stumble upon the real path and reached the top of the ridge where we could not get lost - you could not stray from the path because on either side it dropped off pretty steeply. The view was gorgeous, valleys on both sides with higher mountains rising beyond the valleys and as far as the eye could see. The air was considerably cooler up there and we had to traverse several of the snowfields we had seen earlier from below. Kyra performed admirably, as long as her feet were firmly on the ground the height or the sheer drop-off on either side didn't seem to bother her. In my imagination I issued her the title of "Honorary Mountain Goat."

Somewhere along the line we passed a middle-aged couple having a little lunch at the side of the path. They were obviously French-speakers because in response to the obligatory greeting which I uttered in German, they responded with, "Bon Jour." Other than these two souls, we were all alone during the whole hike.

Well, almost alone. As we came to the point where we were to start our descent to the dam, we noticed that a herd of big, black, ferocious-looking beasts with horns occupied the meadow through which the path down to the dam led. One beast was lying plum across the path, another was standing with two legs on it, and the others were scattered around strategically, effectively blocking all avenues down to the dam. Upon examining the beasts from the distance it appeared to me that due to the lack of any visible milk-filled utters, these were not mere milk cows (as are often found on mountain meadows in the summer in the Alps), therefore they must be bulls. Ferocious-looking, probably angry bulls. Angry perhaps because of the absence of any females of their species.

I bade the ladies to stay where they were, took Kyra on a short leash, and decided to reconnoiter the scene. My heart was pounding and Kyra was shaking from excitement (the smell of the beasts rather than the sense of any danger excited her). The meadow had been cleared of most of the rocks, which were piled neatly in several piles scattered throughout the meadow. I hoped at first that the piles of stones would serve as a measure of protection, but I soon discovered that the piles were only about two feet high, hardly serving as an obstacle for a ferocious, charging bull. Furthermore, there was no way to skirt the meadow - some more rock had been piled at the sides and the natural mountain environment made it impossible to go around the meadow that way without engaging in the sport (or art) of mountain climbing. So, the only alternative was to follow the path right through the herd of beasts.

As Kyra and I approached to within about ten yards, the beast standing on the path turned its head toward us, stared at the dog and me (we having stopped dead in our tracks), and uttered a low sound that sounded like, "Humm!" Immediately all the other beasts turned their heads toward us and uttered, "Humm!" That was enough of a warning for me to gingerly retreat backwards up the mountain to where the two women were waiting. I had to practically drag Kyra with me, because she definitely wanted to make closer acquaintance with the beasts. As I got further up the mountain and away from the beasts, I dared to turn around to look at the two women who were sitting in the grass enjoying the spectacle of me and the dog inching our way toward the beasts and then retreating at first cautiously, then "post haste." Much to my irritation, I thought I perceived a touch of amusement in their faces, which was rapidly dispelled when I ordered my friend to immediately remove her red hat, because everyone knows that bulls become infuriated when they see red.

As we deliberated what to do, down from the ridge came the French-speaking couple we had passed on the trail. It was without question, I had to warn them of the danger that lay ahead. Since I knew that they spoke French, I invoked my best "Pidgin-French" and said to them, "Attention, no moo, bull," with the emphasis on the "bull," while pointing downhill at the great beasts that were still staring uphill at us. The French-speaking couple looked at me as if I had dropped in from another planet, so I tried to explain with pointing and another French word that came to mind, the word for dog, "chien," to indicate that the dog and I had tried to go past the beasts. The French-speaking man said, "Oh, chien," and then in French-accented German said, "Kommen Sie" and started down the hill toward the beasts. I took a firm grip on Kyra's leash, determined to let her go and fend for herself at the slightest sign of danger, nodded to the ladies, and followed the man. My two companions and the French-speaking lady followed. When we reached the most threatening of the beasts that was straddling the path and which seemed to be somewhat of a leader because whenever it turned its head all the others seemed to do the same, the courageous stranger leading us to what I thought was our certain doom, reached out, grabbed the bull by one of its horns, and pushed its head aside, upon which the beast uttered, "Humm," and ambled a few steps away from the path, totally ignoring the parade of humans, but keeping an eye on the dog. As the man reached for the horn with his large, weathered hand it occurred to me that he may have had some experience in handling great beasts such as these - a farmer on vacation, perhaps. It suddenly also became clear to me what he meant by, "Oh, chien." The great beasts were reacting to the dog rather than to my lowly presence when we had first approached them.

I felt a little chagrined all the way down to the dam, yet still a little apprehensive until we reached the bottom of the meadow where there was a flimsy fence that would not have stopped a charging bull, but kept the obviously docile animals in the meadow from ambling down to the reservoir and possibly falling in. Having reached the dam, we parted with the French-speaking couple without much ado. When they were out of earshot and I had regained some of my composure, I called after them: "If you ever come to Boston, I'll be glad to help you across the street, which is a heck of a lot more dangerous than the crossing we have just made!"

By the way, the big, black beasts are called "Eringer Rinder" in German and according to Wikipedia are called "Herens" in English and are a breed of cattle named after the Val d' Hérens region of Switzerland. Wikipedia also describes them as small, an opinion I cannot share - from my vantage point they looked huge!

Fire at the Dance Recital

When our oldest daughter was a teenager, she took part in a modern dance class at a dance school which taught all ages from kindergarteners to adults. As is customary, the students wanted to periodically show off what they had learned and the teachers wanted the parents to see how effectively they had spent their money and to advertise their school, therefore, a recital was scheduled.

The recital took place in a fairly large "multipurpose" hall with folding chairs and a stage with a curtain. The hall was filled to capacity with parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends of the performing students. Proud fathers had set up their cameras in the center aisle, preferably close to the stage. Other spectators were standing in the center aisle and in the two aisles at the walls. Our family was represented by mother, father, two sisters, and grandmother. The performance went as expected, small girls in costumes hopped across the stage to fairytale music, somewhat older girls in Tutus did arabesques and other ballet moves to classical music, and yet older boys and girls contorted their bodies to jazz music. Our daughter belonged to the latter group.

My interest lay mainly in seeing my daughter complete her stage appearance without any major mishaps, such as a strap or a leg breaking. The little kids weren't able to capture my full attention, therefore, my eyes wandered about the hall, observing all the people enraptured with the performance and that the exits were blocked by the audience either filming or trying to get a glimpse of their darling flitting across the stage. My eyes occasionally returned to the stage, there in the corner of the stage, half hidden by the drawn-back curtain, was what appeared to be a spotlight that was lying on the ground, presumably to provide illumination from an obtuse angle, which was emanating a small rivulet of smoke. Those spotlights get hot! That curtain was awfully close to the spotlight! My attention was aroused. I had heard stories about the Cocoanut Grove Nightclub fire in Boston where 492 people died and the circus fire in Hartford where 168 people died, in both cases partly due to the ensuing panic. My attention was aroused to the point that I had to do something, but not to cause a panic, which, as experience had shown would result in many more victims. Therefore, I decided to make darn sure that my perception was correct and then to take the appropriate steps.

I worked my way to the front, near the stage - no easy task with all the people in the aisles. As I came near the stage, I could see more smoke billowing from underneath the curtain. It was time to act! I could have stood up waving my arms and screaming, "fire," but that would have caused an immediate stampede for the exits, not allowing me to round up my family, including my daughter backstage, and ushering them outside safely. I had to notify someone in authority. I looked around, saw no figure of authority in the hall, but spied a door next to the stage, unfortunately, on the other side of the stage. I bent over so as not to block the view of the stage (after all, the performance was in full swing) and made my way to the door. The door was unlocked and led into a hallway that led unto the stage. There in the hallway, awaiting their stage entrance, was my daughter's dance troupe. I did not see my daughter, but sitting on the extension of the stage (not visible to the audience) was an adult with in tights who looked like an instructor. Since he seemed to be in charge, I revealed to him the fact that I thought that the spotlight on the stage was setting the curtain on fire. He leaned over, looked across the stage, and said, "Oh, that," and turned back to whatever he was doing before. I was stunned! Not a sign of any intention of doing anything about this imminent threat. But, I had done my duty. I tried to warn them. It wasn't my fault if the place burned down and hundreds of people were harmed. I decided to return to my seat, wait to see what would happen, and then rescue my family, including the daughter backstage, when disaster struck. And disaster would strike, I was certain - well, almost certain.

When I made it back to my seat, my daughter's modern dance started. When the curtain opened the stage was covered by fog about a foot deep. This swirling mass of vapor gave the dance a mysterious touch as the dancers seemingly floated across the stage. Could this be the smoke I saw rising from the spotlight? Was that really a hot spotlight as I imagined it, or was it a fog generator that was leaking slightly before it was called into action?

Although my family saw me making my way across the auditorium and across the front of the stage, they were too wrapped up in the performance to notice anything peculiar and I didn't mention anything at the time. All would have been well and no one would have known about my well meant quest, except that my daughter, who was in the performance, said afterward that her instructor, when critiquing the performance, mentioned that some guy (I think he used a different term which I refuse to remember) had come backstage and had pointed out to him that one of the fog machines was setting the curtain on fire, ha, ha. My daughter had an idea who that might have been and hid her face in her towel lest a family resemblance be discovered.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Waiting for Death

I'm not depressed. But, it occurred to me that I spend most of my time waiting for something: something to happen, something to begin, something to end, something to change, etc.

As a child I waited for First Grade to start. Then, as I was going to school, each day I waited for the bell that ended the school day. I waited for school to end in the summer. I waited for test results and report cards. I waited for graduation to come around. Life in the military has been described as "hurry up and wait." I spent over 20 years "hurrying up and waiting." I have waited for promotions, paydays, results of medical examinations, the day on which I would return home from an assignment, a shift to end, happy hour to start, and TGIF to roll around. I have waited for children and grandchildren to be born, for the dog to be housebroken, or the garbage collector's strike to end. I waited for the car to be serviced, the telephone or the cable man to arrive.

I waited for retirement. Now, every day I wait for the coffee to finish brewing, the mailman to come, the newspaper to be delivered, lunch and supper to be served, happy hour to start, and TGIF to roll around. Although, if you don't have to go to work, both happy hour and TGIF lose much of their meaning - during retirement it is never quitting time nor do you ever get a day off.

I'm not depressed, I'm just thinking about what all this waiting for something to happen means. If you look at it from a different level, am I not just waiting for death?

My Friend

To preclude any misunderstandings, when I refer to "my friend" I am referring to my wife of 45 years. I use the term "my friend" in a loving, tongue-in-cheek sense. I learned to refer to her that way from a former boss and friend who always referred to his wife that way. It seemed to me a more interesting way to refer to a person who is truly a friend not "just" a wife.

My friend makes friends easily. In the 45 years that we have been married we have lived in a number of places due to my military career. Everywhere we went she made friends. Some were neighbors, some were mine or her office mates and their spouses, some she met through various social activities, and some she met through sports. With some we were associated only for a relatively short period of time - a couple of years. Of course, there also were some school friends, neighbors, sports friends, and friends from work from before my friend and I ever met.

With some of the friends we have closer contact than with others. But to fit into the category of "friend" as used in this writing, at least a Christmas greeting (not just a card, but a letter - hand written, of course) is required. Some also get birthday greetings if the date has been revealed. And that for as long as an address of a friend is known and the contact has not ended because the friend hasn't responded in a long time and it is presumed that interest in the friendship, on the friend's part, has waned. With some there is more frequent contact by telephone and lately using e-mail.

There are several friends - some near, some far - who receive what I call "long distance therapy," which usually consists of lengthy telephone calls during which the friend on the other end (exclusively female) unburdens herself of all her woes - marital, medical, or otherwise - and my friend mainly just listens and occasionally interjects thoughtful questions or makes sympathetic comments of encouragement. One would think that one would become saturated with other people's problems - not my friend.

A few years ago we started spending our summers on Cape Cod. Because my friend is an avid sportswoman who loves to play tennis, among other things, she started to play tennis at the local public park where a group of tennis players our age, approximately, gathers to play every morning. Before I knew it we were invited to another tennis player's birthday party at the local yacht club, to a number of backyard parties, and were asked to join a select group of players to spend two weeks in Portugal for tennis, sight seeing, and dining.

Due to her charming personality my friend is like a magnet when it comes to making friends. Luckily I happened to get in the way of that magnet 45 years ago, that's why I call her "my friend."

Skinny Dipping

Two years ago I bought a plastic above-ground pool for the backyard of our summer cottage. It has been the best investment I ever made! Not only the grandchildren use it, but my friend and I cool off in it.

When we are alone we sometimes go "skinny dipping." One weekend some of our grandchildren visited and cooled off in the pool. When my friend told five year old Lily that we sometimes go "skinny dipping," she exclaimed: "Oh my god, I'm in skinny dipping water!"

The Captain's Car

While I was in the US Air Force I was stationed at an Army Post in Germany. One day as I was coming out of the Post Exchange, I heard a loud bang and then I saw smoke billowing out of the wheel wells of a car parked nearby. People were starting to gather around the car and a man I recognized as a captain in our unit was running toward the car. It was his car, which he had recently picked up at the seaport where it had been unloaded after being shipped from the United States. The car was not on fire, as everyone suspected at first, but it had to be towed away.

Because the captain was in our unit I was able to find out exactly what had happened. When the car was unloaded with a crane at the dock it was dropped several feet, but landed on its wheels, causing no visible damage. The unsuspecting captain picked up his car and drove it for several days until that fateful day in the Post Exchange parking lot. When the car was dropped, the suspension system received a severe strain which created cracks in the springs and broke the shock absorbers. It took a few miles of driving before everything let go at once. What looked like smoke at first, was dust and rust being knocked loose and becoming airborne when the body of the car dropped unto the axles.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Longest Mile

As I was digging around in some old essays I wrote I came across this one that I wrote in October 1983. I never shared it with anyone until today. Here it is, for whatever it is worth...

As the crow flies, it is roughly one mile from Detachment 3, 7th Weather Squadron on the Heidelberg Army Airfield to Headquarters, 7th Weather Squadron at Campbell Barracks, Heidelberg, Germany. In the early 1960s the squadron headquarters seemed far way from Detachment 3. As it turned out in my case, it was a considerable distance. When I arrived at Headquarters 7th Weather Squadron in 1980, it had been almost 16 years since I had left the detachment at the Heidelberg Army Airfield. In that sense it was the "longest" mile I ever traveled.

Because I will be leaving Air Weather Service soon, I am tempted to do some reminiscing about what has happened to the US Air Force, Air Weather Service, and me during the last 20-odd years.

It is hard to believe that 22 years, 7 months, and 16 days will have gone by since that dreary late winter morning in 1961 on which I took the train from New London to New Haven, Connecticut, to take the oath of enlistment in the US Air Force. At the time it only seemed to be the start of another adventure, I didn't dream that that enlistment ceremony would be the start of a rewarding career in blue for me.

Visions of becoming a fighter pilot, Steve Canyon-style, danced in my head as I began my first four years in the Air Force. Those visions were quickly and rudely dispelled by the realities of basic training. The Aviation Cadet training area (although also on Lackland Air Force Base and still operating) was not "...just a hop, skip, and jump from basic training..." as the recruiter had indicated to me! There were only two ways to leave basic training: Wash out or graduate. "Hopping, skipping or jumping" over to become an aviation cadet was not one of the choices. But, as it turned out later, not getting into flying was not such a bad deal after all.

By pure coincidence I was assigned to go to weather observer technical school after basic training. My first permanent station was overseas in Heidelberg, Germany at Detachment 3, 7th Weather Squadron, at the Heidelberg Army Airfield.

A lot has happened since that day in 1961, not only to me, but to the Air Force, and Air Weather Service as well. Most of the changes were good, some of them not so good. Some changes were reversed again as time went by and when new requirements became known.

It has often been said that the world moves in cycles, and in a sense, so does the Air Force and Air Weather Service. In some respects I am reminded of a non-stop movie that plays over and over and the viewer leaves when the part that he or she has already seen comes up again

Here are some examples. In the early 1960s Air Weather Service had a lot of Representative Observation Sites (ROS). But, because of money and manpower constraints, many, if not most, of the ROSs were eliminated. Lately we have been seeing more and more ROSs being reestablished. Also, in the early 1960s the Air Force made a big splash with the 5BX physical fitness program that was modified and largely abandoned. Lately, another physical fit­ness program that strikes me as being destined to go the same way as the 5BX has been publicized.

Then we eliminated a lot of units here and there and some squadrons and wings. Some of my last actions at 7th Weather Squadron involved preparations for reactivating some of the units closed earlier. I understand that times, requirements, and the availability of resources change - nevertheless, this is where I came in.

Not all the innovations we have seen in the last 20 years have been transient. Some very good and lasting programs were initiated. One was the Airman Education and Commissioning Program, of which a lot of us availed ourselves. Also, there were the many improvements made in the living conditions and benefits for junior airmen and families. No one wants to see those changes reversed. Then there were the many improvements in the quality, style, and ease of main­tenance of the uniforms. How many remember the old 1505s? Or even the bush jacket, the pith helmet, and shorts?

But all the good programs in the world don't make a system work, people make it work. That is where Air Weather Service always seemed to have been very fortunate - with its people. Sometimes I wonder where they are now and what they're doing, those comrades from earlier assignments, especially from that first permanent assign­ment to Detachment 3, 7th Weather Squadron. Where are you Bob Holland, Brian "Abe" Severin, Harry "Honeybear" Podhora, Willy Stoddard, Doug Atkinson. Some have left Air Weather Service and some have left the Air Force. Others such as Roger Seyfert and John Taylor, whom I knew briefly then, are still around.

So, as my Air Weather Service career comes to a close, I look back with only fond memories. I started my career at the Heidelberg Army Airfield and I'm ending it at Headquarters, 7th Weather Squadron, barely a mile from where I started. But while traveling that mile, Air Weather Service and the US Air Force have been good to me. They have made me what I am, given me all that I have. They took a college dropout and gave him the opportunity to earn a bachelors degree, a commission, two masters degrees, and best of all, some lasting friendships and fond memories.

Now it is time to move on and to say "so long" to Air Weather Service and the US Air Force. It is a dreary October day in 1983, almost like the day in March 1961. It is a good time to remember...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Journey with Obstacles - A somewhat different travel log

Things are seldom what they seem
skim milk masquerades as cream.
                                                     H.M.S. Pinafore, Duet, Buttercup and Captain

“... built in 1957 alongside Mallorcan palaces,
including the summer home of the King of Spain,
this grand hotel boast spectacular bay and beach views ...”

My friend decided it was time for us to visit the island of Mallorca (Majorca to global neophytes). It seemed to her that we were the only people in the (our) world who had not been to Mallorca. In deference to my reluctance, she decided that we would only stay four nights. Our main purpose in taking the trip was to see the island, its people, the city of Palma, and the almond trees in bloom (and anything else that got in the way, as far as I was concerned). I had heard of the Spanish custom of Tapas 'hopping' which I looked forward to most of all. Much to my consternation, the eating habits of the Mallorqinas - as they are called - and for that matter the Spanish as well, leave something to be desired - as far as I'm concerned - but more about that later.

The journey began on a negative note: we had to get up at 3:40 AM to catch a 6:35 flight! Getting to the airport and boarding the plane took longer than the actual flight (1 hour and 30 minutes) from the fair city of Frankfurt, Germany, to Palma de Mallorca, the capital and largest city on Mallorca. After an uneventful flight (clouds covered the Alps - nothing to see) with barely enough time to down a still-partially-frozen sandwich with turkey meat and a lukewarm cup of instant coffee, followed the uneventful picking-up of baggage, the uneventful picking-up of rental car, and the uneventful drive to the hotel (we only got lost a little once - I'm pretty good at sensing which direction I should be going in).

We stayed in a very nice Five-Star hotel (who gave them the stars I do not know) where they speak English, German, and who knows what other languages - I think I even saw some Russians there. There apparently was a golf vacation offered by the hotel and several people with golf bags could be seen in the lobby. The nice young lady at the desk, when I asked if they had a garage or parking area, suggested that we save ourselves the 15 Euro per day fee for their garage because this time of year (winter) there would be plenty of parking spaces on the streets near the hotel. So there were, and we saved ourselves at least 60 Euro. (I am deliberately explaining this 'real good' because it will have a bearing on something that happens later in this story.) The nice young lady also told us to take Bus Number 3 to go downtown - the buses are cheap (compared to Germany, 1.10 Euro per person) and run every seven minutes. You can't beat that with a stick, especially since I was apprehensive of the drivers in and around the Mediterranean, not to speak of the anticipated parking fiasco in a town originally designed by the Romans almost 2000 years ago!

So, we chucked our bags into the room, used the facilities, and were on our way to downtown Palma de Mallorca, the European city with the highest quality of life, so the tour guide stated - all before 10 AM. The bus ride was easy (the hotel is about 2.5 miles from the center of town) after the bus driver gave me my change with a frown since I had given him a 20 Euro note which made him dig into his shirt pocket for some folding money. We managed to get off the bus near the center of town - not an easy task if you don't know where you are and where you want to go.

After gawking at some highly ornate old buildings and a church or two, we decided that it was time to get something to eat. The weather was pleasantly balmy so we decided on a little café, up some stairs, where we could sit on the balcony in the sun. Much to our delight, they served Tapas (up to that point I had thought Tapas was something you ate in the dark of night in a dingy bar), and even better, they advertised that one could get a mixed plate of Tapas, which eliminates the decision-making as to which of the myriad of Tapas dishes to order.

The first doubt about the local eating habits arose when the mixed Tapas were served: they were truly mixed! I had read up on Tapas earlier and had found that Tapas were little tidbits of food served on little plates, but these Tapas were all in one soup bowl. The different foods - such as small meatballs in a sauce, mushrooms in a sauce, slices of squid or octopus tentacles in a sauce, topped with a healthy spoon-full of potato salad - were running together so that one could not tell where one ended and the other began. All of it was delicious, but raised the question: how do you eat this? We were given two small plates with two small forks and two small knives, but no serving spoon with which we could have separated the various Tapas, put a spoonful on our plates, and enjoyed their individual tastes. The knives and forks were about the size of those that our granddaughter Lily uses when she has one of her make-believe tea parties, that is, unsuitable for scooping out quantities of the various Tapas. So, the only thing left was to jointly attack the soup bowl and to pick at the contents with the little forks. And don't say: why didn't you ask how to eat this? We had enough trouble ordering the Tapas without getting into a philosophical discussion about eating habits. As I said, the food itself - although quite run-together - was good, and the beer and mineral water were great and all that for 14.40 Euro (less than $20).

Thus fortified we attacked the Cathedral, a monstrous building that took about 300 years to complete. The Mediterranean sun gets hot and shines a lot; so, how much work can you get done when the sun isn't too hot to work there? It turns out that the Cathedral was probably erected in record time, under these conditions. In addition, an earthquake which destroyed part of the work in progress threw the time schedule off considerably. It is very - I'd say - 'cathedral-looking' on the inside and - in my humble opinion - not very good looking (at least from close up) on the outside. From far away and especially at night when it is lit up by floodlights it is quite impressive. The actual 'church-part' is fairly narrow and the high, Gothic ceiling is supported by slender columns, making this part understandably unstable. Therefore, as with many church structures from the middle ages, supporting pillars connected to the main building had to be built on the outside of the Cathedral to keep it from falling over from its own weight. These supporting structures I found not very attractive, even though they were adorned with statues and other figures often found at such places.

Next to the Cathedral is the almost 2000 year old King's Palace: the Romans built a settlement here, the Arabs made a fortification out of it, and the Spanish renovated the place and made a palace for their kings and governors out of it after they drove the Arabs off Mallorca in 1229 AD. The palace is still used as a place where the King of Spain greets official guests when he is on Mallorca, but he doesn't live there. I don't blame him, the place is solid and clean, but not what I would call cozy.

I won't bore you with all the details of our afternoon, except to say that we found the restaurant that was highly recommended in the travel guide, which my friend in her infinite wisdom had bought in Germany, and we made a 'pact' to return there later for some more Tapas or whatever, and that after a quick cup of café con leche (basically a Latte) we managed to find a stop for the Number 3 bus which came in less than seven minutes and we were on our way back to the hotel.

The bus ride wouldn't merit mention if it wasn't for the nice elderly, somewhat shriveled-up 'local' (I use this term repeatedly for someone I presume to have been born and raised on Mallorca, not in a derogatory sense) with a stubble beard and a breath that smelled of tobacco, alcohol, and garlic. The bus was pretty full and we had to stand, so the little man got up from his seat and offered it to my friend. Of course, she refused to take it - which I almost considered an insult to the kind man - but in the bustle of the swaying bus and the frequent stops there wasn't time for extended courtesies on our part. The kind man never sat down again, but sort of leaned against the seat and soon got off the bus (there was someone else sitting next to him). I found his gesture very reassuring in view of the fact that in most countries, foreigners - and especially tourists who obviously have so much money to spend that they have to go to foreign countries to help get rid of it - are often afforded the most common courtesies only when absolutely necessary. What made this experience even more unforgettable was that in the seat next to where I was standing, there sat a seven or eight year old German girl all by herself (granted, the seats were rather small, two people had to really become intimate). How do I know that she was German? Because somewhere along the way she called back into the bus: “Mom, where do we have to get off?” in German. I never heard the answer, but obviously there was an adult with this child who could have required her to free up that seat when she saw that the bus was filling up with people much older than the girl. I don't blame the little girl, she didn't know any better. I blame the mother who never taught her some common courtesies. I didn't particularly want her seat (although I got it when she got off), there were other older (some more older) people than me on the bus - some carrying groceries - that might have appreciated the seat. As Forrest Gump would say: “That's all I'm going to say about that!”

A quick word about the hotel room and why I felt like I had gotten several 'attaboys' because of it. My friend and I had taken a trip to Las Vegas some years ago and had taken her sister along. I booked adjoining rooms for us (one for my friend and me and one for her sister) at the Mirage Hotel. We went to our room first and - lo and behold - had a gorgeous view of the hotel's swimming pool with a golden waterfall, little cabanas for lounging among the palm trees, etc., as far as I can remember. Then came the bad news: the sister's room next to ours was still occupied (a honeymoon couple got so wrapped up in whatever honeymooners do that they lost track of time and just stayed and stayed and ...). Of course, the hotel was more than willing to give us two other adjoining rooms, but when my friend - first thing - checked the view, her world came crashing down: the view was of the employee (not the affluent guest's) parking lot, with adjoining delivery entrance! I was quick to point out that you could see the mountains in the background and if you leaned over a bit you could catch a glimpse of the airport. Nice try, but 'no cigar.' Her opinion of Las Vegas will never improve, even though it was dark soon, the curtains closed, and there aren't any windows in the casino. So this time I made sure that whatever room we got, it had to have a view - spectacular, if possible. Therefore I opted for one of the 'Deluxe Rooms' which were guaranteed to have a view of the bay rather than one of the 'Standard Rooms' where you took your chances with the view.

When my friend and I had first seen the balcony of our hotel room, which overlooked part of the bay of Palma and a beach just below with surfers trying to get up on their boards in the not-too-scary waves, we decided that we needed to get something to sip while sitting on the balcony, and on the way back to the hotel we stopped and got a bottle of Campari and some orange juice (after all, one has to do something for one's health). After a short rest on the bed (we had been up and going for over 12 hours) we enjoyed the balcony and the Campari while watching the six or seven young surfers trying to stay on their boards for more than a second or two. It wasn't their fault that they didn't get to ride longer, it was the diminutive size of the waves that did come in regularly and swiftly, but didn't break until they were almost on the shore. But day after day the surfers were out there, mainly standing in the water waiting for 'the big one.'

While my friend tried to find the 'Wellness Spa' of the hotel, my mind wandered to the bar downstairs where I saw myself sitting down next to a tall, distinguished looking gentleman. I ordered a beer and asked the tall man if he was from around here and he said, in decent English although with that funny Spanish 'lisp' which even grown men have, “Actually not,” but he had a nice place a couple of houses up the street where he stayed from time to time. Well, I thought, he's pulling my leg. I had noticed that up the street there were some nice houses, but most of the best part was taken up by some kind of government or military facility with a high wall around it. On the gate there was a crest with a crown on it. Behind the wall I could just see the tops of palm trees, sort of park-like, and from our balcony I could just see the roof of a huge building. No way that any mortal lived there! What annoyed me at this point were the four guys in dark suits who insisted on sitting real close to us and who were obviously trying to listen in on the conversation. They must have been the musicians of the combo that was going to play later because they had bulges under their jackets, probably made by their instruments which they carried under their armpits. Anyway, the tall guy was given a glass of red wine and after taking a sip said his name was Juan Carlos. When I told him that I was Fred and that I was retired and just enjoying life and asked him what line of business he was in, I realized that he didn't drink much, because the little sip of alcohol seemed to have gone straight to his head because in answer to my question he claimed he was the king of Spain! “Ha, ha,” I shouted and said, “I'm the Emperor of China!” In times past I would have said that I'm the President of the United States, but after the last election only the must dimwitted dude without a TV would buy that. The four musicians looked like they were getting more nervous by the minute, probably because of their upcoming gig. Juan smiled a little and said he had an important meeting to go to, shook my hand and left without paying. The four musicians suddenly were in a real hurry to leave also, maybe their gig was at another hotel after all, and left without paying, which was OK because they didn't have anything.

When my friend returned from her unsuccessful search for the 'Wellness Spa' (she found it the next day, it turned out that you couldn't get there from where we were without a native guide) I awoke out of my daydreams and found that I was hungry. This is when the Mallorcan eating culture reared its ugly head again, which seems to dictate: thou shalt eat only between the hours of 1:30 PM and 4 PM and between 8:30 PM and 12:30 AM. I had read in the tour guide - and we had seen on the door of the highly recommended restaurant which we had made a pact to go to - that the 'real' restaurants (I use the term 'real' deliberately because one can get all kinds of fast food and even Tapas all day long in the many small cafés/bars/bistros, but here we are talking sit-down, napkin-on-the-lap, a-glass-for-every-beverage type of place) abide by this 'commandment.' What to do? It wasn't even 6 PM yet! I guess I could have gone to the hotel bar and had Martinis until 8:30, but then I wouldn't have needed any more dinner. So we decided to forget the fancy restaurant for that day and to try to find something in the neighborhood of the hotel. Although we were not particularly choosy, we did want to find a place that served some version of local food. But, walking up and down for about a half a mile we could only find one place that looked like it would do, but it was an Argentinian steak house. “Well, close enough,” my stomach said, “they speak Spanish in Argentina, don't they?” Besides, that place opened its doors at the unheard-of hour of 7 PM! That clinched it, but it was only 6:15 by then. So, back to the hotel for a beer and a glass of wine and at the stroke of 7 PM back to the Argentinians. To make a long story short, this place was 'nothing to write home about.' My friend's Pizza(!) was OK, but my assortment of Argentinian 'specialties' made me regret that I didn't simply stay in the hotel and chew on my shower clogs, that's how tough some parts were; whereas, some parts of it were so fatty that, if I ate them, I would have taken in enough cholesterol to last me a lifetime. Anyway, the beer was good and all in all it was reasonably priced. Surprisingly, there were even two other diners in the place. We were done around 8 PM and in bed shortly thereafter, it had been a long and arduous day. Thus ended day number one - four more to go.

The next morning we decided to partake of the hotel's breakfast buffet since we had had an early, late supper and we didn't know what the general breakfast habits of the 'locals' were. Much to my surprise, the breakfast buffet was not included in the price of the room, but since we didn't want to venture out yet, decided to go for it. When we found out that it cost 23 Euro (about $30) per person we decided to eat as much as we could and to get at least one glass of the Spanish version of Champagne each that was offered with the buffet. This buffet cost about as much as we had paid all day, the day before! But what the heck, its a vacation. The buffet was OK, but we've seen better, especially at this price. We ate until we couldn't 'gag' down anymore food - we would have wrapped some up for later if they had had paper napkins. That's the trouble with your high class (price) hotels, they use real linen napkins and if we had wrapped some of the buffet in one of them they could have accused us of stealing napkins in addition to stealing the food. So we carried as much food out in our bellies as we could, because we didn't know when we would get our next meal.

The Island of Mallorca is fairly small, you can drive around all of it in one day. But why would you want to do that? You'd have nothing to do the rest of the time you were there. So we decided to do it a little at a time. We decided to explore the southern coast to the west of Palma first. This reportedly is the area that was opened to tourism first and has a somewhat dubious reputation because of all the 'All Inclusive' (package tour) tourists that sun-worship there. They appear to come mainly from Germany nowadays, although British and Americans have reportedly been seen also. Luckily we were there in the winter, therefore, the sun worshipers were not there and the stream of tourists was limited to people our age (yuck) with a few exceptions (see the discussion about Bus Number 3). You can tell who predominantly frequents the area a good deal of the time by the signs over the restaurants, or their advertisements. If I wanted to go to a place called 'Scharzwaldhaus' which advertised 'Hausgemachte Kuchen und Kaffee,' I'd save myself some time and money and stay in Germany. We drove through some of these tourist spots with their high-rise hotels and stopped and viewed the harbors at others, but all in all didn't spend much time out of the car. It was a little chilly, the wind made it so, and my friend had an asthma attack waiting in the wings which slowed her down quite a bit, which was OK with me (the slowing down) because my feet still hurt from the day before. Not only 'All Inclusive' tourists populate that area of Mallorca, but it is said that many prominent people have part-time residences there. Other than the King of Spain who has a park-like villa close to the hotel where we stayed, race car driver Michael Schumacher who made a mint winning races for Ferrari and later down-sized to motorcycles, super model Claudia Schiffer (rowrrr) and others can be seen there, and some have fabulous yachts in one of the many small harbors along the coast. We 'ogled' some of the yachts with envy. Some were not what I would call yachts, but big ships. Most of them were flagged with British or Spanish flags, but I'm sure that some of the big ones - the one's that were further out and we could not get close to - had Middle Eastern flags such as Saudi Arabian or Dubaian, or whatever.

We found one fairly quaint little town on the coast and strolled around a bit. I was getting drowsy from all the sightseeing and my friend saw a gift store she wanted to explore, so I sat down on a bench. As I looked over the little courtyard where I sat, what did I see, but a bakery with the name 'Schumacher' over the front. I sat there contemplating the coincidence that we had just talked about Michael Schumacher, his fabulous villa in the hills somewhere, his fabulous yacht somewhere, and his fabulous bank account somewhere, when I closed my eyes and suddenly got up almost mechanically as if sleep walking and went into the bakery and there stood Michael Schumacher with a white apron on. I said: “Herr Schumacher (I addressed him this way because he is German and Germans are initially very formal), what are you doing in this bakery?” This conversation, of course, was in German, the agony of which I will spare you. Schumacher answered that his parents had insisted that he learn a decent trade in case his 'tingle-tangle' career came to an abrupt end. Oh, and how right they were! He had lost millions in bad investments, was getting too old for playing with cars and motorcycles, and the German government was after him for past taxes. But now, said, he was on the up-and-up again since he opened the bakery and there were almost as many Germans here than in Germany and the longer they stayed the more longing they had for German baked goods, which made his wife happy because now she could afford to shop again in the sinfully expensive boutiques in Palma. Just as I was about to buy a 'Pretzel' from Michael to help him out, I heard my friend's voice, faintly as if from a distance, and suddenly she was shaking me and saying something about me being sound asleep. Impossible, I was just in the bakery and talked to...

After that I needed a café con leche, but the only place within easy reach was one where Spanish seemed to be a foreign language. Oh well, the coffee was always good, no matter which language accompanied it.

Since we now wanted to strike out into the interior, we decided to stop at a supermarket to get some 'fixings' for a picnic lunch. The supermarket was fascinating! In addition to your run-of-the-mill shopping carts they had baskets (notice I didn't say little) that you could carry, or you could drag along behind you, because the handle unfolded to make it longer, and the basket had four small wheels, like on a suitcase. At first I carried the basket because I don't consider myself that decrepit, but soon the practicality of the whole thing convinced me to drag it. My friend likes to go to cemeteries in foreign countries, because there, she claims, you can get a good picture of a peoples' culture. I like to go to supermarkets in foreign countries, because there I can see weird things. Some of the less sensational items can be found at the fish counters, but at the meat counter you can sometimes find some thoroughly revolting items. Case in point: at the supermarket in question there were sausages, hams (cured and uncured), strange looking cuts of meat, but what was totally fascinating was a complete suckling pig, shrink-wrapped in plastic. It was about a foot-and-a-half long and looked like it belonged under a Christmas tree; a cuddly, pink child's toy waiting to be released from the plastic (I was looking for the Toys-R-Us sign). We discussed whether we should buy one for our friend Detlev who is known for his gourmet parties, or for kicks for my friend's sister so that we could watch her faint.

We resisted our evil impulses and stuck with bread (baguette), cheese, sliced and cured ham, some mineral water, and a six-pack of San Miguel beer. The San Miguel spoke to me from the shelf and said: “Buy me!” This is the beer I drank most of the time (I don't mean that most of the time I drank beer, but whenever I drank beer it was mostly this one, OK?) when I was stationed in Korea. The beer I drank in Korea was imported from the Philippines. It comes from Spain originally and since the Philippines were a Spanish colony once ... OK, you get the idea, its good beer.

We drove through the countryside, getting out here or there and then decided to have our picnic lunch on the side of a small side road. Of course, we forgot to bring a knife, so we had to pluck at the bread and the cheese. The ham was less of a problem because it came in thinly sliced strips, which you could stuff into the soft part of your piece of baguette. A little messier was eating the little cubes of goat's cheese which came in a plastic container along with olives, swimming in olive oil. Don't tell our grandchildren, but we each had a can of San Miguel - right there at the side of the road!

Thusly the afternoon flew by and it was getting close to 'happy hour' (euphemism for 'evening') and I got tired of driving, so we headed back to the hotel. My friend found the hotel's 'Wellness Spa' and I the Campari, the orange juice, the balcony, and some leftovers of baguette, ham, and cheese. We were planning on going to the highly recommended restaurant which, by the way, is called La Bóveda, and is reputed (in our tour guide) to be the best Tapas restaurant in Palma, but with all the leftover baguette, ham, cheese, Campari, and San Miguel, we had our own little Tapas party right there on the balcony without waiting 'til 8 PM, getting in the car or bus, etc. After watching a little television (you could choose from some German, Italian, English and - of course - local channels), the second day ended - three more to go.

When I got up the next day I decided that this was definitely going to be the day we go to the highly recommended La Bóveda. But first we had to make it through the day by exploring more of the island. The weather had turned semi-ugly, it was cool, windy and it rained a little off and on. So we decided to spend some time in the car and drive up north to a town called Sóller, a monastery called Lluc (yes, two ll's), and parts beyond. The further north we drove, the more the weather improved so that when we got to Sóller - and particularly the port of Sóller a few miles beyond Sóller - the sun was shining. However, as you can surmise, the port is on the ocean and there a stiff breeze took all the fun out of walking around. In cases like that, a café con leche does wonders, not only because of the warmth of the coffee but also because you can get out of the wind for a while.

We decided to leave the windy coast and try our luck with Lluc, which is further inland. We wound our way through the narrow streets of Sóller, many of which are two-way streets where cars have to wait their turn to proceed, and headed up a mountain. As it turned out, we didn't actually leave Sóller, but rather rose higher and higher above it because the road switched back and forth constantly, so that we could still see Sóller below but were rising vertically above it. The little rental car was perfect for the task of maneuvering the tight curves, a bigger car would have had to back up halfway through the turn to complete it. By the way, the whole island is held in place with stone walls. I've never seen so many stone walls. There are stone walls in the flat areas to form borders on properties and fields, there are stone walls on the hills to make terraces where wine and olives are grown, and there are stone walls that support the roads that switch back and forth on their way over the mountains. Little wonder, because they have plenty of stones. In fact, the whole island seems to be one giant stone quarry. We saw workmen digging a hole in the ground for a house and all that came out were stones suitable for subsequently building the house. Another by the way, the roads we traveled were mostly good, a little treacherous at times because of a lack of barriers on the downhill side and because of deep drainage ditches on the uphill side where you could get hung up if a wheel or two happened to drop in.

We merrily chugged up and over the mountains, through some tunnels, finally leaving Sóller behind, on the way to the monastery at Lluc. I was particularly looking forward to the monastery because my friend had read to me (while I was driving) that in the restaurant which belongs to the monastery the monks 'take good care of you,' whatever that means, presumably with food. There was very little traffic, in fact none, except for your occasional sheep on the road, so we made good time. I asked my friend several times if she thought that we were still going the right way and she asked if there had been any turn-offs since we left Sóller. I said that there had been one while she had had her head in the guide book, but that turn-off was to a town called Fornalutx. She read me all the nice things about Fornalutx: it's small streets were worth seeing, it had been declared a place of cultural heritage, etc. “A little late,” I said, since the turn-off was about 15 minutes back; besides, “I have my mouth all set for the food of the monks at Lluc,” I said. We decided to press on, when, just after rounding a bend we came to a (controlled) halt in front of a barrier across the road with what definitely looked like a 'Road Closed' sign. I said: “Hey, I saw a sign like that in Sóller when we first started up the hill and another one at the turn-off to Fornalutx, both times when you had your head in the guide book.” We had seen some small rock slides and land slides along the way, all of which had been cleared from the road, and guessed that a major rock or land slide was blocking the road to Lluc, and that is why we didn't see any traffic on the road. After enduring a stream of accusations such as, “ of us has to read up on things, since you won't do should have told me about the signs...,” I surmised that the small road leading off to the left must be a detour to Lluc. So we took it. But soon after starting down this narrow, winding road it occurred to my friend that the map didn't show any connection to Lluc from the little town on the coast where we were heading. A quick look at the map convinced me that we were heading for a dead end, that is why I never saw anything like a 'Detour' sign, let alone a sign that might be construed to point toward Lluc. I made the quickest turn-around ever and we were on our way back down the road to Sóller. I feared that my mouth-watering experience at the monastery was not to be. However, now we had the chance to remedy the previous mistake and to go back about a half hour in our lives and go to Fornalutx after all.

Fornalutx is all that it was described to be. Just as we entered town there were three restaurants in a row that looked good. Since it was 'feeding time' - about 2 PM - we decided to get something to eat, but drove through the town first to see what else there was. You never know, there might be something better coming up; but found nothing, parked the car, and walked back to the three restaurants. Which one to choose, that was the question. Luckily, we fell in behind three local women (I know they were 'locals' because they smoked while walking in the street and carried shopping bags) who were walking in our direction. My friend suggested that if these women turned into one of the three restaurants, that's where we would also go in. One peeled off into the first restaurant we came to and I said: “Let's go on, it looks too empty (meaning: not popular, not good, too expensive).” So we went on behind the other two women. When the next one (it could have been both, I don't remember) turned into the next restaurant we came to, my friend said: “That's it, we are going in there too!” When we entered we were greeted pleasantly and ushered into the non-smoking room which was fairly empty, whereas the smoking room was pretty full, suggesting a strong 'locals' presence. A word about my smoking observations: the remarks are not meant to be derogatory, but explanatory. The tourists we encountered were mostly retired people, our age. Most of them did not smoke (any more), ergo, those that smoked and/or were younger must be 'locals.'

Anyway, we had good meals at reasonable prices and my beers and my friend's wine were good and we were on our way, again retracing our steps to Sóller. Since we didn't have any luck with Lluc and it was a long way to 'happy hour,' my friend decided that we should go to another quaint town, one called Deiá. At the appropriate rotary in Sóller we took the exit to Deiá, but not more than a few hundred yards toward this town, a police car coming from the other direction suddenly parked itself square across our lane, blocking traffic. There was a small van - presumably 'local' - ahead of us, whose driver stuck his head out the window, exchanged a few words with the policeman who had gotten out of his cruiser in the meantime, made a u-turn and headed back to where we had come from. Now it was our turn. I told my friend to quickly give me one of her breath mints in case the policeman would stick his head in my window and possibly smell those two wonderful beers I had with lunch about half an hour earlier. I briefly considered meeting him outside in the fresh air, but didn't need to worry. He didn't want to talk, he just wanted us to turn around and leave toward where we had come from. We got the idea that we would not have any luck with Deiá either and resigned ourselves to going back to Sóller. I was starting to get the feeling that we would spend the rest of our lives in Sóller since all the roads out of it seemed to be closed. But we did find the road on which we had originally come in from Palma and even a tunnel, which meant a considerable savings in time and wheel-turning up and over the mountain, if not in money, since the tunnel was not free. As we were making our way back to Palma via some more quaint villages we realized that what we had seen all day long on the roads - and had thought were health-conscious 'locals' - turned out to be some kind of bicycle rally which was taking place all over the island, therefore, the closed road to Deiá, but not the one to Lluc.

This time we decided that we would not succumb to the balcony and the 'Wellness Spa,' but would 'tough' it out in Palma until the next 'feeding time' at 8:30 PM. We found a convenient parking place near the fish market (the smell reminded me of Cape Cod) and walked into the old part of town. Because it was just a little after 6 PM and the La Bóveda didn't open 'til 8:30, we went into a little bar close by where we found a couple of empty seats in the smoking section (I discovered later that there was a nonsmoking section upstairs, but all the action was downstairs). The place was full of young people with the exception of us and another table with four or five English-speakers our age. The young people were mainly women which made me wonder what kind of place this was, but was reassured when one or the other young man came in. Since we wanted to bridge the time until the La Bóveda opened not just with beer or wine, we proceeded to order some Tapas. I asked the waiter if he spoke English. A word about speaking English: I admire people of any country who can speak someone else's language. I also admired the modesty displayed by the Mallorcquina whom we asked if they spoke English, because most replied: “A little.” Some spoke more than a little - other's were telling the truth. This waiter claimed to speak 'a little' English, which he did, very little. Oh, he spoke quite a bit, he just didn't listen or understand so good because when I asked him if they also had mixed plates of Tapas, which takes the guesswork out of Tapas eating, he said “yes.” Then, looking at the menu, I saw no mixed plates; what he probably had meant was that we could order as many different Tapas as we wanted and mix them ourselves by eating one from here, another from there, etc. When it came time to order, I wanted to order two different Tapas and I chose two, then I changed my mind about one of them and wanted to order another instead. Well, what I got was - three. OK, my fault. My friend got one Tapas (is Tapas singular or plural?), but it turned out to be something different than what she had wanted. OK, we don't like to make a scene, so we ate what was put before us. With the Tapas we got some bread and olives and after two beers and a glass of wine for my friend we were so well taken care of, food-wise, that we decided (that morning's vow notwithstanding) to skip the La Bóveda again. Besides, it was not even 8 PM yet and the waiters from the La Bóveda were standing outside their closed and darkened restaurant smoking. They were probably laying in a supply of nicotine into their bodies to tide them over until closing time, because they would be too busy to take a smoke break.

We found our car at the fish market, drove to the hotel, turned on the TV and watched Germany loose a soccer match against Norway. This was the first time Norway had won against Germany since 1936! Thus ended day three - two more to go.

Dear reader, take heart for this is the day we finally got to go to the highly recommended La Bóveda! But first we have to get through this day. Since it was another dreary day with intermittent drizzle, we decided to make a museum day out of it. My friend had decided some time ago that she wanted to go to the Fundacío Pilar i Joan Miró, which was actually real close to our hotel, except that it was all up hill, that's why we drove. Joan Miró for those of you (and me) who never heard of him, he painted kind of like Picasso did, except worse. I looked at his paintings and wondered what he was smoking at the time. Blotches and streaks of paint with no apparent rhyme or reason, at least to my eye, which likes to look at paintings by Andrew Wyeth or Edward Hopper or the likes. This Foundation isn't like your ordinary museum, it is more like our refrigerator door where we display our grandchildren's art, only that their art is more pleasing to me than Joan Miró's. I immediately told my friend to save every scrap of paper our grandchildren produce, we can then open a Foundation and display them and save ourselves the trip to the dump to dispose of them. You wouldn't believe what they displayed of Miró's 'work:' every notebook scribbling, every piece of scratch paper that he made any kind of mark on, an unfolded paper bag with holes cut in it with a few random, colorful lines drawn on it, etc. Our youngest grandson, Xavier, can do better than that! My friend who always tries to be positive and doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings said that she likes the colors he uses. OK, very rarely he used a red and a blue that were nice. So there, I said something nice.

What was amazing, while we were there, a school class came in with two nice looking young teachers (female, of course). The children could not have been older than first grade-age or even preschool-age. I have seldom, if ever, seen such well behaved, smartly dressed children. They sat in a circle in the lobby of the exhibit and the teachers discussed things with the children who responded eagerly in such a way as to make you think that they actually enjoyed being there. Of course, they could have been discussing how dumb tourists come from far away to pay good money to look at that stuff, because they spoke Mallorcan Spanish, which is even harder for me to understand than real Spanish. The children then toured the studio of the great man, all the while enthusiastically conversing with their teachers or amongst themselves. My hat's off to the Mallorcans for their well-behaved children and their drive to bring them close to the art produced in their homeland; shame on them if that tour the kids took was to confront them with the evils of drugs and alcohol, which, I'm sure, the great master must have consumed in great quantities before producing his 'art.' As we were leaving it occurred to me that such a Foundation was not such a bad idea. If one produced enough 'what-ever' that didn't sell, one can then create a Foundation and display the 'what-ever,' charge admission, and make a mint.

Well, that was enough 'museum' for me for a while, therefore, we decided to try our luck with Lluc once more. This time we sneaked up on Lluc from the other direction, avoiding the closed road from Sóller (I don't seem to get away from writing that name!). We made it. The monastery is a complex of stone buildings joined together. The dreary weather made the monastery seem even drearier than it already was. I didn't really expect much and was confirmed in my expectations. However, aha, I looked forward to the monks who 'take good care of you.' Lluc(kily) it was nearly 'feeding time' when we got there. We wasted spent some time looking around until the crack of 1 PM when the doors to the restaurant officially opened - they were unlocked before, but no one seemed to dare to enter.

Needless to say, we were one of the first couples to sit down. The restaurant is in a big hall, only about half of which was open for service, with a cozy fire burning in the fireplace - rustic, but nice. The only waiter in the place was dressed in a black shirt and black trousers and was very nice. He too spoke 'a little' English. I am still to this day wondering if he was a monk. He certainly 'took good care' of us. His English was a little more than 'a little,' but not a whole lot because at one point a German word sneaked in. We asked about the Mallorcan Soup that was advertised on the menu and he explained that it was not your usual soup, which is mostly liquid, but rather a soup without any liquid at all and that you could eat all of it with a fork (that's the German word that sneaked in: 'Gabel').

A word about why we (or maybe just I) wanted to have only a bowl of soup: we were bound and determined to go to the highly recommended La Bóveda after 8:30 PM. However, to make it to 8:30, nourishment-wise, we planned to have something else to eat around 4 or 5 PM to tide us over until the La Bóveda opened. So as not to make pigs of ourselves, we just wanted to get something relatively small at lunch time - although at that point I could have eaten the south end of a north-bound mule!

Back to the soup. We wanted to get something Mallorcan to eat and were curious about the 'non-liquid soup,' therefore, we both ordered it. It came, and we ate it just with a fork - in fact, they didn't even give us a spoon. It turned out that the soup was a meal in itself. At the bottom of the bowl was a piece of bread, this was topped with a mixture of potatoes, meat, a cabbage-like vegetable, and crowned with unusual (not bad) tasting green sprigs. It was sort of a casserole, or a stew with the moisture extracted. The two beers I had provided the moisture for me. It wasn't bad, but probably one of those everyday meals Mallorcan moms make for their families (I guessed that La Bóveda didn't have this on their menu, but forgot to check). I ate the green sprigs without thinking too much about them, but women - including my friend - are more curious than men, therefore, she asked the nice man what that was, this is where his English reached it's limits, because he could only tell us that it came from the ocean - some kind of seaweed, we guessed. By the way, do monks wear wedding rings?

The meal done, the gift shop perused, we pressed on to the area we had missed when the bicyclists foiled our plan at Sóller (there it is again!) to go to Deía, which is reputed to be the other area besides the southwest coast where prominent people from around the world have vacation homes. We made a great circle over Pollenca, where the Romans left some ruins, and Valldemossa, which is known for I forget what, and along the coast to Deía. The area is very scenic, the mountains drop off into the sea, parts of it reminded me of Big Sur in California, except more wooded and with different kinds of trees than in California. Deía is a clean little town, you can tell that rich people live there, not only by the appearance of the town, but also by the numerous wrought iron gates in front of driveways that lead into the hills above the road or down to the ocean below the road. Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of a villa - or Finca - as they are called there.

Although there was very little traffic, I was getting a little weary of driving so I did what I usually do in this situation, I sent my friend into a souvenir shop and settled on a bench to rest my weary eyes and body. I was thinking about what rich and famous might be living nearby when I thought I saw a man coming toward my bench. He asked if he could sit down next to me, in perfect American English. I said yes, introduced myself and asked what he was doing there in that neck of the woods. He said that his name was Mike and he had a little place up the road, and that he is concerned about the environment of this part of Mallorca, and that he is in the process of doing something it, but that most of the time he lives in the Los Angeles area. We chatted about this and that and I told him my life story, which usually breaks the ice, and he told me that he had something to do with the movie industry. I wanted to ask him some questions about this when we were interrupted by a big black limousine that pulled up and this 'dish' of a woman got out of the back seat (she wasn't driving the limo from back there, she had a chauffeur) and said: “Michael, we'll be late for the party!” Mike muttered something about cocktail parties being a nuisance and quickly introduced me to his wife (the 'dish' with the limo). I didn't quite catch all of his wife's name, something like Zebra with something else at the end like Jones. Her first name is Catherine, that I caught head on.

Just as I was about to clarify the name business I heard a distant: “Scha-atz, wake u-up!” That could only be my friend, only she calls me “Schatz” (sometimes “Schatzi” but never in public). When I opened my eyes, there she was, but Mike and the 'dish' were gone and my friend looked at me and said: “Have you been asleep or just daydreaming again?” I know she thinks there's something peculiar about me because I do a lot of thinking and sometimes I concoct (to me) funny little stories in my head, therefore, I didn't say anything and just got in the car and started driving - again.

The soup at the monk's was so filling that we didn't even need an afternoon 'pick-me-up' other than a café con leche. So, we went about filling in some - not all - of the gaps left on our list of things to do or see. The first stop was the fortification atop a hill in Palma called Bellver, which means - nice view. And that you get from up there. Mostly, this fortification was used as a military prison. There isn't much in there except a small museum with some assorted artifacts and an elaborate display and description of a famous (to the Mallorcans or the Spanish) prisoner, a high ranking official who had incurred the wrath of the church or the king or both and had been locked away there for a total of seven years in the early 1800s, without a trial or without even being told why he was being punished.

After enjoying the view, it still wasn't 'feeding time' so we opted to 'do' another museum. I don't know how many times I cursed that darned guide book for alerting my friend to yet another attraction somewhere! All along she had been reading about this new museum, the Museu de Baluard (no, I didn't leave the trailing 'm' off Museu, it isn't there in the original) and it was a foregone conclusion that sooner or later (I had hoped it would be later, much later) we would end up there. And we did, right after the Bellver. The museum is a modern structure built into a corner of the old city wall. The guide book said that the architecture alone is worth going to the museum for, if you're into that sort of thing. The sky had cleared and the sun was going down behind the hill on top of which sits Bellver, which was by now illuminated, and the view of all of that from the top terrace of the museum was very romantic, as my friend said. The price to get in was reasonable, but my friend got upset when I told her proudly that we had gotten senior citizen discounts without asking for it. “What,” she said, “they didn't even ask me if I qualify? They automatically assumed I was over 65?” I reminded her that you had to be quiet in a museum and she soon forgot about the age bit because she became engrossed in looking at what in some people's eyes passes as art. Again, this was not my kind of art. I had an inkling that that might be so when I saw that this museum billed itself as having 'modern and contemporary' art. The main exhibit, by a German 'artist' whose name I've forgotten (as soon as we left the museum), consisted mainly of what you'd call 'installations.' They were big 'things' (not paintings, yet hanging on the wall) each covering an entire wall. They contained metal, fabric, paint, wood, and god knows what else. For example, one had a background of the materials I just described and on top of all that was a not-too-small model of an F-4 fighter jet! You go figure! In addition, they had some posters made by my old friend Joan Miró (remember, the guy in the Foundation), but since these posters announced or advertised something, they were not as 'out-of-this-world' as some of his other paintings.

Finally having been thoroughly saturated with all sorts of impressions, from art to architecture to history, I cried 'uncle,' sent my friend to the museum's gift shop, and retreated to the little café of the museum. As I sat in one of the comfortable club chairs looking forward to being home in front of my fireplace and not having to go to another museum, old building, or waterfall, I counted the hours to our departure.

However, one more task lay ahead and that was eating at the highly recommended La Bóveda. But it was just a little after 7 PM! My friend spent some time in the gift shop - she has a gift for that - allowing me to have one beer by myself and another with her while she had a glass of red wine. That finally brought us close to 8 PM. We expected the La Bóveda to open at 8:30, so we walked ever so slowly, but still got there just a few minutes after 8 PM, and - lo and behold - the restaurant was open and people were in there already. We just barely got a barrel - let me explain, in addition to tables they also have old wine barrels that are used as tables, mainly for eating Tapas and not your elaborate meals. We got the last barrel, if we had waited until 8:30 (what we thought was the opening time) we would not have gotten a seat at all, they were turning people away and we ended up sharing our barrel with three other people. The barrels are fun, but not very comfortable to sit at, especially for a woman with a tight skirt, because in order to get close to your food you have to sort of straddle the barrel (these are not pony kegs) with your knees. Because of this and the other crowded conditions, we decided against a big meal and went for Tapas. The waiter spoke a little more than 'a little' English and 'a little' German and was a little bit of a wise guy. My friend spoke to him in German, and I in English, and when he asked in which language we would like the menu I said that we speak both, he promptly brought us both - one German, one English. My friend had what you could call open face sandwiches with different toppings such as salami, ham, and cheese. I had clams in a deliciously spicy tomato sauce. But without the help of some of my friend's bread (the slices were pretty hefty and she had a hard time putting it all away) my clams would have been a little lonely in my stomach. But that's what Tapas are, not a complete meal. The beer and wine were good too.

As we were sitting there my friend started to lament the fact that the batteries on our camera were dead, because she thought we should be taking a picture for my friend Dieter. A word about photography in restaurants: I hate having my picture taken in a restaurant. Having my picture taken in a restaurant singles me out as in 'look here, I'm from out of town and we don't have anything like this, ' or as in 'I can't really afford this place, so to prove that I am here, take my picture.' I inquired why I should take a picture in this restaurant for Dieter and she replied because he had highly recommended it. I said that Dieter didn't highly recommend the La Bóveda, rather, the high recommendation came from the guide book and that Dieter had highly recommended a bar called Abaco. “Oh, shoot!” I exclaimed. I had totally forgotten about the Abaco. Dieter had e-mailed me the name and I had 'googled' the street address and written it down on a piece of paper that was still in my wallet! Dieter had said that we must go there, even if we just walked through without ordering one of their high priced drinks. Even the tour guide highly recommended it for its atmosphere, its antiques, its beautiful flower arrangements, its candles, and its high priced drinks.

No problem, I said, Dieter said it was near the Cathedral, we are near the Cathedral and nearly done with our part of the barrel, we can still fill that square on our list of things to see or do. We managed to pay quite rapidly, which made some of the people at the door happy because some of them immediately 'swooped' down on the barrel and we went on the quest for the Abaco the way Don Quixote and Sancho Panza went after windmills - aimlessly. We went all around the Cathedral through various narrow streets - but no Abaco. My friend threatened several times to ask passers-by for direction, but my insistence that it must be right here somewhere, after all, Dieter had said so, and my general reluctance to ask for help with directions (the reasoning behind my reluctance runs along similar lines as the picture-taking-in-a-restaurant argument). Finally, as it became obvious that we couldn't find the Abaco by ourselves, I agreed to ask someone. A nice young man came by, my friend stopped him (I usually let her do the stopping, because when I do it, the stopped sometimes look frightened), we negotiated for a common language and agreed on 'a little' English. Very little, as it turned out, because he needed help almost every step of the way. I got enough information, however, just from the way he pointed in a certain direction - away from the Cathedral. Then we managed to agree that we had to cross a big street and go down a small street with a long name which I was sure I was not going to remember except that it began with an 'A' and then turn left at the second street we came to. The directions were perfect, even though my friend didn't think so and wanted to turn left at every intervening street. But I called her back each time and suddenly we were standing in front of the Abaco - and it was closed! You couldn't even look inside because the entrance is a big wooden door like a barn door. On this door there hung an inconspicuous piece of paper on which it unceremoniously said: “Closed for vacation until February 28,” in Spanish.

My friend was disappointed; I feigned disappointment, I was actually glad that I didn't have to fight another crowd or wander aimlessly, gawking at the people there. My friend understood and we decided to call it a night. As we turned away from the closed door of the Abaco in the direction of the fish market where our car was parked, we saw the little bar on the corner where we had had some Tapas a few days ago and - lo and behold - just around the corner was La Bóveda! If we had turned right instead of left when we came out of La Bóveda and then turned one corner, we would have been right in front of the Abaco, but then we wouldn't have seen all the quaint little streets around the Cathedral, nor had we met the nice young man who gave us the directions.

We found our car, drove to the hotel and called it a day. Thus ended the fourth day - one more to go (aren't you glad we didn't stay longer than five days?)

Up at the crack of mid-morning, we went to the little bakery and café down the street from the hotel where we had had breakfast for the past couple of days for a fraction of the price we had payed for the buffet at the hotel the first day. There were always only 'locals' in there, which suited us just fine, and the waitress already greeted us like old friends. To help bridge the gap between 'a little' and 'a lot' of English being spoken, the menus in restaurants and cafés sometimes include pictures of the various foods offered. This was the case in the little bakery-café. The first day we went there the waitress (presumably the daughter of the baker - without explicitly being told we assumed that she spoke 'a little' English) immediately handed us a picture book of breakfast items. The first day I had pointed to a French omelet, the next day to a ham and cheese sandwich and the third day to something else, I forget. This day, my friend (who had never picked anything from the picture book but who had gone to the baked goods counter and picked something sweet) saw a picture of a giant croissant with ham in it on the wall of the bakery. Unfortunately, that day the baker (presumably the father of the waitress - without explicitly being told we assumed that he didn't even speak 'a little' English) waited on us. Can you sense disaster looming? When my friend asked him if he had croissants, he eagerly nodded - for yes. And when she asked him if the croissants had ham in them (here comes the crucial mistake) and simultaneously pointed in the picture book of foods - which I had been studying - at a baguette with ham on it, meaning to clarify the concept of ham, he eagerly nodded - for yes - and our fate was sealed! To make matters worse, a croissant with ham sounded good to me too, so I said: “Dos, por favor.” We were just enjoying our first sip of café con leche when the plot thickened and my friend received her croissant. When I saw that the nice man had brought only one croissant I politely said: “Dos, por favor,” to which he eagerly nodded - for yes. When my friend with her eagle eye saw that there was no ham on the croissant, the nice man was already gone. Oh well, she said and started to eat it. Then I got my croissant, also without ham. Oh well, I said and started eating it. Just then, to our surprise (don't worry, we kept our cool and acted as if everything were just as we had expected) the nice man brought us two baguettes with ham! Of course, we nodded politely - for gracias - and looked at each other. My first impulse was to yell at her: “You, you, you, dumb-dumb,” - a phrase our daughter Heidi had used on her when Heidi was small and wanted to let out her frustration over something - but I controlled myself. We decided, so that all participants could save face, that we would eat half of everything and have the other half wrapped up to take along as a snack before boarding the airplane. And that, in fact, is what we did.

We went back to the hotel with our lunch bundle, used the facilities, retrieved our bags, and checked out of the Nixe Palace Hotel, a five star hotel (who gave them the stars I never found out). Remember me telling at great length about parking the car on the street near the hotel? As we were approaching our car, we noticed things strewn on the sidewalk, which was unusual because the streets in general were clean. My friend went to the passenger side of our car, which was one of - I believe - three cars and gasped: “Oh my god, look at this!” The sidewalk was covered with little pieces of glass. She pointed at the car behind ours and I saw that both the front and back windows on the passenger side had been broken completely out (thus the little pieces of glass). Also on the sidewalk was something that looked like it belonged to a set of golf clubs, a cover of sorts, and a pair of shoe trees with golf balls at the ends. Remember me telling about golfers in the lobby? Well, it appears that one of the golfers got careless, left his golf bag, shoes, and who knows what else visibly in the car that was obviously a rental car because it had a Hertz sticker in plain view on the windshield, and promptly got ripped off. We were always careful not to leave anything of value in the car, let alone visibly, and our rental car was more modest than the one that was broken into; nevertheless, we thanked our stars that this was not our car. We had to catch a plane, no time to hassle with police reports, etc. If this had happened to me, I would have kicked myself for not spending the 60 Euros it would have cost to park the car in the hotel garage.

We sneaked away before we could be cornered as possible witnesses (we didn't witness anything but the aftermath) and went back to the Joan Miró Foundation. Don't worry, I didn't go in. My friend went into their gift shop and bought four glasses which are decorated with streaks of paint in the Miró style. She intends to impress her lady friends with them when she serves them wine.

We then proceeded downtown to a big department store where my friend bought some items for our grandchildren and I had a café con leche. We bought some last minute post cards which we haven't sent yet and eventually made our way out to the airport. One more shock at the airport, I usually fill any rental car up with gas before I return it, its cheaper that way. I intended to do the same, but the sly Mallorqinas (or is it Avis) hide all the gas stations away from the route to the airport, so that when you get there and you realize that you haven't seen any gas stations, its too late, and you are forced to pay the 'fueling option.' That cost me almost as much as the rental for five days!

We ate our baguette and croissant and jammed ourselves into a full airplane (I swear the seats were closer together than on the flight down). This time we saw the Mediterranean, southern France, the snow covered Alps, snow covered Switzerland, snow covered Germany, and when we landed dreary Frankfurt.

Bear with me, we haven't got much longer, but the theme of this narrative is obstacles (or small inconveniences). I called the nice young lady at the desk of the hotel where we had parked our car at the beginning of the week and was told that the shuttle bus would be there soon. My friend Dieter, who had done a similar parking and shuttle bus routine some time earlier, had told me that it was amazing, but the shuttle bus was there as soon as they got out of the terminal. And - lo and behold - very shortly after exiting the terminal there approached a small bus, with the name of the hotel where our car was parked, on it. We hailed, he stopped, I put our two suitcases in the back with the help of the driver and was about to board when my friend broke into my happy reverie about soon sitting in front of my fireplace by asking the silly question: “Is this the right bus?” “Of course its the right bus, it says NH Hotel on it and our car is at the NH Hotel!” I bellowed. “But this bus says NH Hotel Mörfelden, is that where our car is?” “Is there an NH Hotel in Mörfelden,” I asked the bus driver, getting more irritated all the time. “Yes there is,” he answered, “but if you want to go to the NH Hotel in Kelsterbach then you are on the wrong bus.” How was I to know that the NH Hotel chain had two hotels close to the airport? Off came the bags, fortunately, the bus hadn't moved yet. A few minutes later the NH Hotel Kelsterbach bus came and all was cool. At the hotel I was so glad to be very close to my car, my fireplace, and hopefully a double Martini, that I flew into the lobby to have my parking ticket stamped by the nice young lady at the reception desk. Other passengers were crowding unto the shuttle bus which was about to make another run to the airport when my friend said: “What about our bags?” “What about our bags, oh shoot, they're still on the bus!” Luckily my friend was able to grab our bags, which the bus driver in his infinite wisdom had parked on the sidewalk, and we were off to the parking garage.

Our troubles weren't over yet. We took the elevator down one flight, got out and then I saw a sign that said “Garage” and pointed down another set of stairs. “Funny,” I thought, I didn't see anymore buttons to go down some more in the elevator, oh well, lets just walk down this one flight. Having arrived at the lower floor we were confronted by a locked door. We could see cars on the other side, but no amount of begging, cajoling, or pulling on the handle made the door budge. I didn't want to be going up and down stairs with the suitcases so I sent my friend to the nice young lady at the reception desk to ask her to help us out. After some time they came back together. The nice young lady pointed out that this was a private garage and that our car was one flight up, where we had landed originally, but had been diverted by the sign that said “Garage,” which was obviously meant for the occupants of the private garage and to be ignored by all others. We thanked the nice young lady and proceeded to walk completely around the park deck, making that rolling sound with our wheeled suitcases, until we finally found our car just around the corner (it reminded me of the search for the Abaco). This problem solved, we started to drive toward the exit, but when we got to where the exit should have been there was a steel door. So, around one more time - must have missed the real exit - nope, back at the same place. Then there in the dim light of the garage and not illuminated by the headlights of the car, a small sign could be seen. It said, upon closer examination: “Pull up close, door will open automatically,” in German, of course. I need reading glasses, but my eyesight for distant objects is pretty good, but really, that sign needs to be at least twice as big, even bigger wouldn't hurt. The door opened, we went up the ramp to be confronted with the final obstacle: the barrier where you have to put your validated parking ticket. We had 'mucked' around trying to find the right garage and then our car and then the exit, that the time on our ticket had expired! If the nice young lady from the reception desk hadn't told me that if we had any trouble getting past this last barrier, to push the little black button on the ticket machine, I might have screamed. But, she opened the barrier for us and we were finally on our way. I wonder if the nice young lady wondered what took us so long after she left us at the door to the correct park deck?

We got home uneventfully, but too late to make a fire in the fireplace, but not too late for a Martini and a sigh of relief.

Looking back on it now, Mallorca wasn't all that bad. Without the obstacles we encountered it would surely have been a bland affair, this way I added to the store of experiences I have tucked away for future recall. If you want to know what Mallorca is really like and to check out what parts of this travel log are factual, buy yourself a guide book (or borrow ours) and go there.