Thursday, December 28, 2017

Quelle Année - 2017

My brother, among many others of our generation, used to write an annual letter for family and friends, summarizing his year's travels and achievements. The tradition has faded in the onslaught of electronic communications, replaced for some by a photo montage compiled from Facebook posts.

As I sifted through 2017 receipts so the accountants can prepare our French, Swiss and American tax returns, I was reminded of the wonderful people and places we were fortunate to see in the past year.

There were numerous highlights, and I won't attempt to rank them, as they all represent special memories.

Certainly a once in a lifetime event, one we could not have even imagined beforehand, was Donna-Lane's testimony in April before Congress on behalf of the millions of Americans overseas who suffer because of the despicable FATCA law. Here's a link to her video testimony - and, by the way, the lawsuit in which she is a plaintiff against the US government is now going to the Supreme Court:
L to R: D-L, Doug, Honey, Alicia, Georgia
In March, we were thrilled to introduce my grandson Sawyer and granddaughter Georgia to their great-grandmother (my mother), who is still going strong at 94 years, and my brothers. My daughter Alicia brought the kiddos from Texas to New York, and afterwards we spent a couple days in the Big Apple where the very talented young thespians enjoyed a couple of Broadway shows. Later in the year, I visited Dallas, where Sawyer and Miss G were starring in a production of Elf Jr. Then to Johnson City for Thanksgiving with Honey et al.
For her birthday, Donna-Lane got to "meet" one of her historical heroines, Eleanor of Aquitaine, at Abbey Fontvraude. We stayed on the abbey grounds in what was once the leper's building, and went on a late night exploration of a cave with haunting blacklight sculptures.
For the third part of our ongoing honeymoon - visiting the independent principalities of Europe - we stayed at the nicest hotel in Liechtenstein ... after spending the previous night in the kitschy "Bubble" - something like a plastic igloo that provided us spectacular views of the Austrian Alps and the clouds drifting by. And when the WiFi didn't work and we were out of touch with the world for more than a day, we decided that from then on, once a week (Saturdays), we'd go "off grid" - no news, no email, no social media (telephone for emergencies only). It's been pleasantly liberating.
Our newest animal, Scowt (Scottish cow), checks out Edinburgh Castle with Shamrock and Scooby2
We spent a wonderful 30 days in Edinburgh, Scotland, on a house swap, and soaked in the history and culture. The writer's museum (from Sir Walter Scott and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Ian Rankin), a literary walking tour, Stirling Castle (where D-L kneeled on the site where Mary Queen of Scots received her crown), Holyrood where the royals hang out, the classic Dominion Theatre, museums, the botanical gardens, a couple of superb restaurants, haggis, the Oxford Bar, an unexpected dinner with a Facebook friend who we met in person for the first time, a visit from Donna-Lane's daughter, plus her friend from Sweden .... to sum up, we want to go back to see the many things we missed ... for that matter, we would be very happy to live there.
I fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams, playing the Old Course at Saint Andrews, the home of golf. As memorable as the round was, being first in the queue for a starting time - arriving in the cold rain at 10 minutes before Midnight to await the doors opening some seven hours later. I also played with ancient hickory-shafted clubs and a gutta percha ball at the Old Musselburgh links. Earlier in the year, I got the first hole-in-one in my 56-year golfing career - in Saint Cyprien, France.

We took in the Paris Airshow, where I was a judge for the Aerospace Media Awards. Also attended conferences in Berlin, Geneva, and Orlando. Helped a small company launch an exciting new product in a big way at the Dubai Airshow.  Marched in Montpellier for women's rights. Took an intensive three-week course in French. Hosted several friends in Argèles sur Mer. Did a pilgrimage to Rennes le Chateau, featured in D-L's Murder in Argeles novel (
Just before Christmas, somewhat to our surprise, though we had talked about it for years now, we added a new member to our family - Sherlock. In less than three weeks, this three-kilo bundle of energy and cuddles has completely changed our lives. Yorkie mother, Griffon / Terrier and who knows what else father, he was too cute not to rescue the moment he licked D-L's face. So a future of middle of the night potty walks and less long-distance travel (though not completely curtailed, as he's small enough to carry on the train or plane).

Some of the best times of the year, of course, have been spent with friends, family, and family of choice ... just sitting at the cafe in the square behind L'Hostalet or other gathering spots, sharing personal news, debating and solving the world's problems, and just ... living.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Another Good Use for Duct Tape

Having our car window smashed by vandals this week has led to some interesting social - economic - linguistic - government discoveries.

Social insomuch as it revealed that, even in our little paradise, relatively isolated from the more serious concerns of the world such as terrorism and consumerism, life is not always perfect. Day to day, we live our lives peacefully (apart from the frustrations of politicians and bureaucrats), but every once in a great while someone - likely high, drunk, or simply disgruntled - takes out their angst on our exposed property, whether the car or shredding / burning the flags we've hung over our door.

The economic is somewhat obvious - the 200 euros to replace the glass - plus the productive time lost for vacuuming the car, filling out police reports, driving to the glass replacement in the next town and killing time waiting.

Dealing with new contacts, such as the village maintenance guy sweeping up the glass in the parking lot, the gendarmerie, the CarGlass guys ... reinforces how I've regressed in my francais skills from lack of practice, not to mention my ongoing hearing issues. Need to double down on the language study in the new year.

And then there's the shift from local government services, such as vehicle registration, to a system of online and third-party contractors. Instead of walking down the hill to the mairie for a replacement carte gris, we now must go online for a duplicate registration and then pick up the hard copy at a local supermarket or other vendor. Guess that means some bureaucrats are losing their jobs to technology and outsourcing.

There have been some pluses in this episode:
1. Beautiful sunrise and morning sky on the way back from the 1st trip to the glass replacement shop
2. Spectacular view of snow-capped Mount Canigou in the sunlight on the way to the shop this morning
3. My legs are getting in better shape from having to walk from a parking spot that is further away from the apartment
4. I did a great job, if I may say so, on using a plastic shipping back and duct tape to cover the window temporarily - held up to high winds and 90 kph driving for two days (wish I'd taken a photo of my masterpiece)
5. While waiting for the glass replacement, I found a sweater for Sherlock on the marche

Looking for things to get back to normal. Just never leaving anything in the car of value, or even things of little value within visibility.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Wrong Place, Right Mutt

D-L's dueling blog is at
Sometimes things fall in place, and the fit seems just right.

We headed out this morning to check out a rescue dog that I had seen on an internet site. The location was right by the aeroport in Perpignan, a road we had been on (or so I thought) more than once. The place was supposed to be open until Noon.

The dog we were going to look at, Mila, a female, tricolor, part Griffon, about 8 months old, was listed on one site - - as being at the Perpignan SPA. But she was not listed on the SPA's own site - I thought that might mean she was gone and secondechance had not yet updated their listings.

We drove past Col Gaddafi's former, bullet-riddle airplane, toward the aeroport control tower. After a few kilometres and no signs of the SPA, we turned around and tried the village of Peyrestortes, a name I thought I recognized from web searches. No luck. Crossed the roadway into Rivesaltes and stopped in an InterMarche to ask for directions, which took us back to Peyrestortes. Where we parked and walked into a restaurant, which seemed full of local men at the bar, but the proprietors kindly took the time to look up the location on their phone GPS (we don't have a data plan on my mobile). BTW, we promised to come back there and eat another time - looked like a great patio for summer dining.

It was getting perilously close to 12. Their directions took us back past the Colonel's bird, over the autoroute, and hang a left toward Narbonne, then exit into Espace Polygone near LeClerc and a bricolage. Finally, an animal rescue directional sign. Then back over the autoroute again into an area that looked like Martian wasteland. Three turns later we saw the SPA to our left and pulled into the parking area. There were at least 20 cars there. My hopes of Mila being available were severely diminished.

Turns out the SPA was having a weekend special, and this was the second day. There were people in Santa hats cooking food.

We walked in and established that we were looking to adopt a dog, and Mila in particular. The staff seemed perplexed, so we showed them a printout with the dog's photo and description.

Turns out we were at the wrong SPA. There was another a little further up the road. But would we like to see the small dogs they had there? Hmmm. A Jack Russell? No, thanks (too much energy for our lifestyle). Well, we have another little dog over here.

Donna-Lane walked around the corner of the counter, and by the time I got there she had the pup in her arms, and he was licking all over her face. Coup de foudre.

Younger than we wanted. Not housebroken. Still needs some vaccinations and spaying (which they will do). Part terrier/griffon, part yorkie, so smaller than we had in mind. And we would have preferred a female. But pure adorable. Born 1 September, they said, and eight weeks old, which doesn't match, but we'll sort that out.

This was the first day the pup was available for adoption.  We thought briefly about going to the other SPA to check out Mila, but they suggested the pup would surely be adopted today, and possible before we returned. No doubt about that.

We agreed to adopt him.

First, they needed some documentation, such as an electric bill to prove where we lived and something to show our income. They said they would hold him until 3 pm (about 2 1/2 hours) so we could return home and retrieve our papers. We were back before 2.

When we got home, he trotted around the apartment as if he owns it, exploring every room. No problem with the steps up to the kitchen. Tentative, but managed to jump off the couch. Marked his territory once already. (Not looking forward to middle-of-the-night outdoor potty runs, but ...)

Our lives just changed. Welcome, Sherlock.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Best Friends

Looks like Taffy, my cocker spaniel when I was growing up
There's a homeless chap in our village in the south of France who has a small, ragged poodle as his companion. Awhile ago, we started putting dog biscuits in our pocket, and when we gave the chap a euro or two we also gave him a biscuit for the pooch.

This morning, the man was not in his usual spot on the main street during the marche, as the street is all dug up with construction. Instead, he was near a jewelery store, not far from the row of fruit and veggie vendor stands, on a side street.

As we approached to give him a coin and a biscuit, we noticed there was no dog. Donna-Lane asked him about the "chien," and his answer seemed to suggest that the dog had died.

I know many of us have suffered the pain of losing an animal. A friend in Dallas lost her companion this week, and she was clearly in shock. When we had to put down our teacup poodle, Kissie, who was with us for 17 years in New York and Texas, I cried for three days. But I can't imagine for a man who has so little how devastating the loss of one of the few things he held dear.

Donna-Lane and I discussed getting the man another dog at one of the local rescue shelters. Of course, we would ask him first if he would like a new dog. And, if we got him one and he refused it, we would keep it for ourselves. We've been looking to get a rescue mutt as it is, now that we're scaling back on travel.

When we went to the grocery store later in the day, the man had changed begging positions. Except ... he had a small bundle beside him, and there was fur sticking out from the bundle. Coming out of the grocery store, we gave him a biscuit. Apparently we had misinterpreted his comments in the morning and the dog was still alive.

Having searched the websites of the rescue shelters, of course, we came across a dog or three we might be interested in. We'll go check them out in the morning.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Save the World

I sometimes have a bit of a save-the-world mentality. I come across a problem, and if a possible solution involves my skill set, whether communication or physical effort or even funding, I'm inclined to want to raise my hand and say, "I'll help."

Donna-Lane is the same way. If she could, she would right injustices with the sheer force of her will. And sometimes her effort and presence as necessary. This is a woman who has the gumption to sue the US Government on behalf of 9 million expats. (She's started calling herself "Donna Quixote.")

In researching an article recently, I learned of a need for an awareness / marketing campaign to recruit young people into a good career path. It needs marketing research and some creativity. My thought was: I can do that.

Of course, we cannot take on every cause. There's simply not enough of us to go around (especially the funding part).

So we selectively determine where to best focus the time and energy we do have into things where we think we can make a difference.

We're not saints. We just want to make the world a better place than we found it when we woke up in the morning.

What if more people did so?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Taste of Loneliness

Just for today, I'm alone. Can't say as I care for the feeling.

Tomorrow and for the next few days, I will be amongst hundreds, even thousands of people. For the previous week, I've been around family. Something going on every day. In fact, at times it was nice to escape for a few minutes or a couple hours to be alone.

Most days when I travel, I talk with Donna-Lane by phone, but we didn't connect today. Only a brief email.

I went out for awhile - picked up my conference badge, had an ice cream sundae, rode the trolley, bought some essentials for the week.

It's when I'm in the room with nothing but the TV or Facebook for company that the sense of lonely creeps in. Or when dining alone: "Will that be a table for one and a book?"

Sometimes being alone is a choice. I love to play golf alone, especially with no one in front to hold me up and no one behind to push me. I can also be alone, mentally, in a crowd - hence my favorite tee-shirt: "I live in my own little world, but it's okay, they know me here."

There may come a day when D-L is not there to return to, to look forward with great anticipation to her greeting and embrace.

There may come a day when she's not at her desk in the other room, 10 feet away, as we work our separate projects, chat, eat together, watch a DVD.

I'll still write, eat, watch. But I won't like it anywhere near as much as I love life with her.

We've talked about getting a dog. And that may help some in such circumstances. But I watched a bit of a Keanu Reeves movie today in which he had lost his lover and still had a dog. The pain of the loss did not seem to be assuaged in the least by the presence of the pup.

I know there are lots of single people, and they survive. But survive is not the same as thrive.

I told D-L she cannot get sick while I am away from her. If she does, next trip I threatened take her with me. And that means Florida, a place she would hate to go to. So far as I know, not even a hint of a sniffle this week.

Well, time to interrupt this reverie and get some work done. I'll pretend it's the middle of the night, when I often write, and Donna-Lane is sleeping, which she often is. She may not be in the next room, and I can't go in and take the book from her hands and the glasses from her face. But her presence is with me all the same.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Fading Memories

The house I grew up in - my parents bought it in 1949 for $8,500
Except in my memory, the infrastructure of my childhood has largely disappeared.

All three schools I attended in Johnson City NY - Theodore Roosevelt elementary, C Fred Johnson junior high, and JCHS on Main Street - long ago ceased to function as educational institutions. In fact, the new high school opened the year after I graduated. TR has been replaced by an apartment building, CFJ is converted to Campus Square (housing for students), and the high school building houses a mishmash of marginal businesses.
The Johnson City High School I attended in the late 60s
The ballfield where I first tried out for Little League has been replaced by a rehab center. Philadelphia Sales, a precursor to WalMart and Dollar Stores, which I used to walk through enroute to junior high and high school, has been torn down and is a parking lot. The hole-in-the-wall cafe which served as the de facto HS cafeteria, where I waited tables for a short time (fired for eating too much one day) and became a prolific pinball player ... now a coin shop.
Training ground for a pinball wizard
High Score bowling lanes, our team's home, houses boutique shops with no apparent customers. The huge community pool, also named for C Fred, is now the site for the local newspaper (which I wrote for in my HS and college days). The Pavilion which staged many dances - now the location of a Visions credit union office (where I was marketing director in the late 70s). My grandfather's neighborhood grocery store - razed. Mr. Yoggi's basement barber shop next door - closed. Johnson Field, home of the minor league baseball Triplets, a Yankee franchise, and our Wildcat football games, was obliterated by a highway.
Loved to sit in the 3rd base bleachers at Johnson Field, glove ready to catch foul balls.
Perhaps the saddest site / sight - the IBM Country Club, where I spent most of my non-school time for several years (swimming, baseball, bowling, basketball, golfing, eating) is a decaying shell.
The sad, sad demise of my beloved IBM Country Club
When Thomas Wolfe wrote, "You can't go home again," he may have meant that the home you knew growing up has changed while you were gone ... and you've changed too.
The original traffic circle was so large we tried to establish a neighborhood baseball field - but were chased out by the cops
Nonetheless, a few of my personal touchstones are still intact. The house I grew up in. A reduced and re-routed version of the traffic circle nearby. The Floral Avenue grocery store where I perfected my baseball playing cards skills (and trashed an extensive collection before we knew they could be valuable collectors items).  
The Floral Avenue park softball field, where a 300-pound guy once barreled into me at home plate in an attempt to knock the ball loose. He knocked me head over heels into the backstop ... but I held onto the ball.
What we knew as Greenfield, path to Little League glory
The Little League baseball field where I made all-stars, and we nearly made it to the LL World Series in Williamsport. 
Wonderful chocolate cream pies
The Red Robin Diner, our high school hangout. 
Spiedie heaven
Lupo's Char Pit, where I cooked and got hooked on spiedies. The Polar Shot golf driving range, which was Tony Macek's when I was becoming a player.
At least the golf course is still there - this was the original 18th hole
The 18-hole IBM championship golf course is intact, now part of the Traditions resort, but the 9-hole Homestead course where I traipsed the hills for as many as 54 holes in a day was ruined by a flood-control project and is reduced to a "foot golf" novelty.

Driving around to these once-familiar sites while visiting for Thanksgiving, I was struck by how much smaller the village of Johnson City seems compared with when I was a lad. It took only an hour or so to drive to all of these, and some of that was shopper traffic around the mall (which was not there during my childhood). There are also a lot fewer trees; most streets used to be tunnels of foliage. Downtown is a wasteland - with the exception of the UHS hospital complex that continues to expand (but pays no taxes).
Without the UHS hospital complex, nearly a ghost town
Across the river, Vestal is somewhat more prosperous, thanks to Binghamton University. Endicott, down the road, is as well, though the once 10,000-strong IBM workforce has disappeared. The larger city of Binghamton on the east side has struggled as well. 

Johnson City is no longer the idyllic place to raise a family as created by the Johnsons of benevolent Endicott-Johnson shoes (since shifted overseas). The innocence of my youth has been supplanted by a depressing hard edge. 

I'm glad I grew up in the Johnson City of the 50s and 60s. But that Johnson City is long gone.