Monthly Archives: September 2011

Où vas-tu?

You know, when you point Google Maps at where the gendarme put out his arm to hit me in the chest and stop me cold in my tracks while running on Tuesday, it looks pretty obvious that I should have known it was coming. But—in my defense—it didn’t look exactly like this a few days ago; I don’t remember any of those concrete barriers being there, and the fence was not across the sidewalk.


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At any rate, there was no need for the officer to tutoyer me: “Où vas-tu?” I mean, asking me where I’m going like that is rather rude. We’re both adults here.

Crazy city running encounters with les flics notwithstanding, I had a great trip. Now I’m home and hoping to steer clear of the man. More photos and bons mots about the trip to follow this weekend.

Posted in City of Light, Running, Travel | 2 Comments

Homeward Bound

Mom and I are at Charles de Gaulle airport, waiting for our flight back to Boston. It’s been a good trip, full of excitement and adventure and good food and things that you can’t get at home. In my mind that’s the ideal reason to travel.

We accidentally got in the wrong line at immigration—the one reserved for EU residents. Oops! Somehow we managed to get in the same queue as a group going to Montreal, and it wasn’t until we were all the way near the front that I realized that the travelers I was talking to were going there to visit and not to return home. So we had to cut in line when we got to the head of the queue. Ironically, it was right in front of the Chinese tour group that had cut in line in front of us at check-in. What goes around comes around, I guess.

We had a good time in Paris. Saw lots of highlights. Ate plenty of food. And, of course, wandered into some delightful situations that you so frequently find in Paris.

I went running a couple of times. Paris is not the easiest city to run in. Although if you stay close to the Seine it all works out. Today I went more inland on the right bank, and I got stopped by the gendarmerie twice as I ran past the Palais d’Élysées—once rather forcefully. I guess Szarko must have been at home.

But now I’m almost home. I’m so happy to see Lisa, the love of my life, again. It’s been the longest we’ve been apart in fourteen years.

We’ll see how much of my book I can read.

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Posted in City of Light, Running, Travel | Leave a comment

Pictures from the Ride

Here are just a few pictures to prove that I really did more than just eat food in Provence. I hope I rode enough there (and walked enough in Paris) to make up for all of the deliciousness.

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Posted in 101 in 1001, City of Light, Cycling, I am Rembrandt, Photography | Leave a comment

Bread and Circus

Okay, we’re back online. It’s Sunday night here in Paris for another five minutes or so. Mom and I have done a lot today, and there’s a lot more to do tomorrow. (Shopping!!) But for now, let’s go back in time to the day that was the trip in a microcosm. Wednesday was market day in St.-Remy-de-Provence, so our group headed across the street to the old city to buy food for our bike ride, as well as Provençal delights and souvenirs and other things. (There’s a market day for everything somewhere in France . . . including antiques of all kinds outside Avignon on Saturdays and birds in Paris near La Palais de Justice on Sundays.)

After shopping for lunch, we rode to Éygalières, walked up a steep hill, and ate some of the food that we got at the market, while looking out on the ruins of a 13th century church and down on the countryside. After lunch, a few of us headed out for a twenty mile loop through the Alpilles mountains. It was a lot more laid-back than the group ride the day before after we climbed the mountain road to Les Baux, despite the fact that we put up a faster pace. That’s probably because there were just three of us who opted for the long ride, and we were able to keep the ride moving along with less of the waiting around that always occurs when you get a larger group ride going. Adele, one of the two group leaders, and I talked on the mostly car-free roads; it was great to have someone along who knew the routes by heart, so that we didn’t have to keep attending to the cue sheets. It was also nice seeing Pascal at the bottom of the long, winding descent to point out the “tricky turn” and to give me some really good French chocolate as a reward for the big climb.

Anyway, here are a bunch of pictures from the 21st:

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Posted in City of Light, Cycling, Photography | 1 Comment

The One Where I give You Pictures from Provence instead of Details

I don’t have much time to write these days. It’s the downside of being here. After not finishing dinner until 9:00PM (or later) and someone needing to get up at 6:00AM, there’s not a lot of time left over. (But that’s not really any downside at all.)

Just know that I’m having a great time riding through olive groves and fields of Provence, seeing Roman ruins at Arles, touring “perched” towns like Les Baux, wandering the quiet rues of St.-Rémy, eating delicious food, and chugging up a mountain pass that the professionals rode in this year’s Tour de France.

Here are a few pictures to hopefully keep you satisfied.

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Posted in City of Light, Crusty Old Paint, Cycling, I am Rembrandt, Travel | 4 Comments

I Might Be “That Guy”

Weird things happen when you’re the youngest person on a group tour by almost twenty years. One, you realize that everybody wants you to have babies. Sorry, folks; that ship has sailed. Two, you realize that if you save enough for retirement, you too can go on months-long European holidays. And three, you’re likely going to be the fastest on the bike… by a lot.

I saw this coming, and I wondered what I would do. After today’s warmup ride, I really wonder what will happen tomorrow when I feel the need to open it up on the roads of France. I might just need to sprint ahead so that I can “take a picture” or some other convenient excuse. Do I circle back our just wait? Thoughts?

It’s likely that I’m going to get some kind of reputation. Well, it will be something to joke about at dinner. I’ll wait to tell them about my triathlons, though. Maybe after someone sees me coming back from a run.

Posted in 101 in 1001, Travel | 4 Comments

Marseille

Tomorrow the bicycling portion of our trip begins after we decamp to Avignon St.-Remy-en-Provence, and I’m really excited for that to happen. I love France, and being here would be enough except that bicycling is the whole reason that we’re here. Our itinerary is light on distance and heavy on experience, which will be a new thing for me . . . not that I mind.

After a couple of days of wandering all over Aix-en-Provence, making our way down every picturesque rue and past every sidewalk café, we thought it would be a good idea to see more of Provence than we would otherwise get on our tour. So we decided that Marseille—just an easy, inexpensive bus ride away—would be a good day trip.

But not a great “after dark” trip according to the friendly guy behind our hotel desk. “Marseille at night is not very safe.” And it feels quite a bit different than Aix. Actually walking from the Gare Saint-Charles train/bus station to the heart of the touristy section can feel downright ghetto. I half expected to run into the ghost of the reputed mobster-turned-bank-robber Jacques Mesrine or to see a “French Connection”-like drug bust go down. If Aix is trendy college students and farmers’ markets selling local produce and lavender, then Marseille is pensioners and grafitti and streets that frequently smell of urine.

If you can hold your nose and look past its faults (during the daytime, of course) then Marseille is actually quite enjoyable. We walked all around the vieux port, which has been in continuous use for 2,600 years—though I suspect in Roman times it had far fewer (if any) pleasure yachts and ferries to take day-trippers to secluded beaches along the rocky coast. Our trip took us to the commanding heights of the Fort Saint-Nicolas, whose guns are turned inward on the city for some reason or another; up to the top of the Panier district, which is now heavily Arab, to see a 17th century poorhouse; to the fantastic Cathédrale de la Major; and to the older, but still sumptuous, Église des Réformés.

At the last church we stumbled into a small wedding. Fortunately it was a big church, and no one really noticed us at the back. (Which is good, because I took some video, which I will post when I can remember my YouTube password.) We actually happened upon at least six weddings today. Brides are pretty conspicuous wherever you go, so it was certainly easy to find them, but I hadn’t expected to see so many. Let’s see, there was the one group walking away from the fish market. And then another on the ramparts of the old fort. And yet one more at the town hall as we walked into the cathedral and a different one as we left. And the one at the Église and one outside another church on our way to the bus. Most—all?—were Middle Eastern or North African. I’ve never heard so much ululating and car horn-honking before in my life.

After we got back to Aix, everything just seemed so . . . I dunno . . . sedate compared to Marseille.

Oh! and I bought Lisa the first of what will undoubtedly be several presents. But I’m not telling what it is now.

Anyway, here are some photos:

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Posted in City of Light, Photography, Travel | 4 Comments

Aix-en-Provence – Day #2

Today we spent some more time walking around Aix, eating delicious food, and seeing the sights. Here is a small sample:

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Posted in City of Light, Photography, Travel | 1 Comment

The Trip in One Picture

This is why Mom and I are here, to see excellent Provençal scenery and to bicycle:

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If only the anonymous commuter had a baguette or chocolate croissant, then it would completely capture my priorities. . . .

We made it! A French transportation strike (of some sort or another) could not keep us away. If we had left on Tuesday afternoon instead of Wednesday, though, it would have been a different story. The strike did delay our departure enough that Mom and I had to change our connecting flight from Paris to Marseille. We ultimately would have been able to make the departure with two minutes to spare, but having a couple extra hours in Charles de Gaulle airport let us do things like eat breakfast, find our gate, not completely freak out, and have our luggage travel on the same plane with us.

We are currently in Aix-en-Provence, a Roman town that just exudes fabulousness. It’s old, yet modern. It’s at least as French as Paris but with fewer tourists and buskers on every street. We found a sidewalk café to stop for lunch, get acclimated to the French way of doing things, and eat delicious salads. Then we wandered around the old city, taking arty snapshots, people-watching, and window-shopping. I think I spent €20,000 on just the things that I would get for Lisa if I could, and I probably gained 20 pounds thinking about the things that I would eat. There’s seriously delicious stuff on every block: chocolates, pastries, breads, cheeses, meats, restaurants, ice cream shops, etc.

I will post more pictures when I figure out how to do that easily, but right now I’m a bit tired from being up more-or-less 33 straight hours. À bientôt, muffins!

Posted in City of Light, Travel | 3 Comments

Provence Preview

I picked up Mom at the airport this afternoon. She lives in Wyoming, which is not the easiest place to get to—though, you can get there from here—and I miss her a lot. It’s so good to see her again. We spent the rest of the afternoon getting caught up, and she did her best to photograph and love on her grand-kitty.

Two days from now we leave on a late afternoon/overnight flight to Paris and from there to Marseille and Aix-en-Provence. I’ve kept this trip low-key here on the site, but inside I’ve been very excited. It’s what I thought about while riding all last autumn, over the winter, and into this spring and summer (when I wasn’t stressing about how I was going to do on my next triathlon).

Because we committed to the trip almost a full year ago, it’s taken quite a while to feel like it’s actually going to happen. Once Labor Day came around, though, it seemed imminent, and now I feel like I’m behind in my packing and planning. Fortunately, this bicycle expedition has been planned by other people. I just have to show up, eat chocolate croissants and crêpes, look at the beautiful landscapes and ruins, eat delicious Provençal food, and get on my bike and ride. Here are some details of the trip:

  • We’re starting a few days early in Aix-en-Provence, a city with a crap-load of fountains.
  • Then we’re going to bicycle around Provence and the Alpilles for six days, going to the towns of St.-Remy, Arles, Les Baux, and Avignon.
  • One of our excursions takes us to the Pont du Gard, a first century CE Roman aqueduct that seems wicked awesome.
  • And before returning to Boston (on the 28th) we’ll spend a few days in Paris.

Consider me excited!

(Oh, and by the way, go see “The Guard.” It’s fantastic. I want to come back in another life as Sgt. Gerry Boyle.)

Posted in 101 in 1001, City of Light, Cycling, Travel | 1 Comment

Two Races

If triathlon and racing have done anything this summer, it has been to get me out of bed at an early hour. On many weekdays, I left the house at 5:30 to get to the lake by 5:45. And on too many weekend mornings, I was up before 7:00 to go for a long bike ride, compete in a triathlon, or run a race. The consensus around the reservoir on Labor Day, when we all met at our normal 6:00 time, was that we needed to get our heads examined. I’m not complaining; life is choices after all. I’m happy with mine, though I am a bit tired.

Yesterday morning I got up just a little early—7:30—to run a 5K . . . in my own town! I’ve never been able to walk to the start of a race before. It was great! I hadn’t been running much over the last 5-6 weeks, so I wasn’t expecting to be anywhere near my PR of 21:47. My goal was simply to find out what my paces should be as I develop a new training plan. In the end, I finished 18th of 118 in 22:26, which made me quite happy. (If I’d run my old PR yesterday, I would have finished—get this!— 17th. Of course, I would have also won a prize for being third in my age group.)

I'm #108, the guy in the blue singlet.

Today, I got up a bit earlier to drive one town over and watch my coworker compete in her first triathlon: the women’s only Title 9 Tri. It was a beautiful morning, and she did really, really well. (Second in her age group and well within the top 25%.) Way to go, Loren!

Here are some photos I took this morning.

Posted in I am Rembrandt, Reluctant Triathlete, Running | Leave a comment

Two Poems for Today

Five years ago, I published pages from my journal to make sense of 9/11. [1] On this day, ten years after the attacks, the only thing I can offer is poetry. I had been working on the first in my head over the last few years until it came spilling out of me last week along with all of the tears. The other is from Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno’s award-winning book of poems, Slamming Open the Door.


She showed up with her shovel and started digging,
The woman from across the street whom I had never met.
We dug for a quiet hour that was really only a minute
Or two beneath the severe blue of a Wyoming April morning.
“My father died when I was about your age.”
There was too much snow to use the blower so we dug
With the shovels reserved for light October dustings
Which swirled around on my birthday,
The first snowfall after he brought us here.
“We suspected when you didn’t clear your driveway yesterday.”

Yesterday was still there. Waking to a too early phone call.
The shriek and commotion and “We have to go in a few minutes.”
Waiting in a hospital conference room with two other families,
Coworkers coming and going all day with news and snacks and hope.
Hours later, the sun already setting on a snowy scene
Beyond the window across the hospital bed in the unneeded room
Where I had come to escape the condolences,
The hand on my shoulder and a voice I almost knew:
“C’mon back. Your mom needs you.”

The smoke from her chimney rose into the clear sky.
“Thank you.” It was all I knew how to say in that moment.
That evening in my basement, Maggie the skier sat across the void from me,
In silence, knowing what she had to say, what I vaguely knew.
“My father died the year before you moved here.”
I apologized in sympathy knowing how hard this visit was for her
And retreated into silence, so different than my awkward mania
When friends brought by a potted plant and a disco LP.

Snow melts fast during a Wyoming spring and was gone
Before the funerals of the four people aboard the flight.
I had tried to read a few words for the occasion,
But they got lost somewhere over the casket.
After the service, one of his fellow paramedics
Put his hand on my shoulder and confided.
“We all had our difficulties. He was hard, but he was trying.
He talked about you all the time, more than his own kids.”
After hard years we were learning how to live together.

Grief keeps its own timetable, making regular stops at first.
The effects collected at the scene. The ashes in a cardboard box.
The coroner’s report I accidentally saw with details I never wanted to know.
The telemarketer calls trickling in over the rest of the spring:
“No. I’m sorry. My stepfather died in a plane crash.”
Now the ghost train stops just a few times each year
As I shovel clean the driveway after a Nor’easter.
Instead of leaving reminders, it transports me
Back to the snow of those Wyoming mornings
And all of the people who helped me through it.


Poem About Light

You can try to strangle light:
use your hands and think
you’ve found the throat of it,
but you haven’t.
You could use a rope or garrote
or a telephone cord,
but the light, amorphous, implacable,
will make a fool of you in the end.

You could make it your mission
to shut it out forever,
to crouch in the dark,
the blinds pulled tight—

still, in the morning,
a gleaming little ray will betray you, poking
its optimistic finger
through a corner of the blind,
and then more light,
clever, nervy, impossible,
spilling out from the crevices
warming the shade.

This is the stubborn sun,
choosing to rise,
like it did yesterday,
like it will tomorrow.
You have nothing to do with it.
The sun makes its own history;
light has its way.

— Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno


1 — The curious can find all of those posts here: June 30; September 1, 2, 11, 12, 13, 16, 24; and October 5, 2001. [Back . . .]

Posted in General, Historical Record, This is who we are | 5 Comments

About Last Thursday’s Post

The fact that I feel the need to explain last Thursday’s post probably says more about me than I want it to, but—even knowing that’s the case—here I am anyway.

Last Thursday, the first day of September, kinda got to me in a way that nothing else has recently. Earlier in the week Lisa and I had the “It’s probably best not to listen to Emmylou Harris or The Rising until after D Day and 9/11 pass to prevent as much melancholy as possible in the coming days” conversation. I was totally on board. The anniversary of my diagnosis (which is this coming Thursday) often makes me moody, and my memories of September 11 (even though I was fortunately at a far remove from the actual events) still make me quite sad. The combination of a lackluster diabetes year and a round-number anniversary of the attacks were boding ill.

Strange as it sounds, listening to sad music usually cheers me up. I have my hour-or-so when I listen to Emmylou or Tracy Chapman or Gillian Welch, and I emote, and it’s done. I see that I’m not alone in sadness, that it’s possible to find a kind of beauty in transcending it, and that there’s a limit. I feel the flame of sorrow, remember that I’m alive and have no real reason to be unhappy now, and get on with living my life. I’m not much for having a cleansing cry; coming up to the brink, getting misty while knowing I could go over if I wanted to, and pulling myself back, that’s usually a good enough stand-in for the real thing on those rare times when it strikes me that I could cry.

But I’m wise enough to know this about the blues: Sometimes when you got ‘em, there ain’t no bottom, there ain’t no end. Hence my Emmylou moratorium until (at least) the 12th. Real pain—the knowledge that my sorrow from the sudden loss of my stepfather was mirrored and magnified for tens of thousands of people in one day on 9/11—is not something to toy with. It’s why I never watched any of the news footage on the day of the attacks and why I am trying to avoid all of the memorial shows that are planned for TV in the coming days. Grieving—for me, at least—is never truly over. It’s never the same or as intense as at the outset, but it’s still a powerful, occasionally overwhelming force.

What I should have known was that Patty Griffin would touch the same nerve in me as my other favorite singers. There it was, that one particular song, starting to play just before I drove into the office complex at 7:00AM, the one that usually stands my hair on end because of its beauty and power and unfolding tragedy. Any other day would probably have been fine, but something about Thursday the First was different. I listened about fifteen seconds longer than I should have, and in the space between when I turned off the car and when I arrived at the first landing in the stairs, I wondered whether I was going to make it to my office before tears started.

I just barely did, but I don’t think I would have fooled anyone walking by who saw me staring out my open blinds that I was (or had been) doing anything other than wiping away fat teardrops and trying to hold in the heaves of sorrow that were ready to burst out. It was like nothing I had felt in more than a decade, as if I had been transported back to an earlier part of my life. As if a package of grief had gotten lost and shown up years late without losing any of its power.

It was the damnedest thing.

Posted in General, Life Lessons, MetaBlogging | 4 Comments

Things You Should Be Reading – August Edition

Hey everybody, I’m about a week late with the August edition of “Things You Should Be Reading.” There’s a little bit of something for everybody here.

Posted in Diabetes, General, Health Care, Software Engineering, Worthy Feeds | Leave a comment

Grief Keeps Its Own Timetable

Although nothing related has happened in over eighteen years, this pretty much sums up my day so far:

Death Barged In

In his Russian greatcoat
slamming open the door
with an unpardonable bang,
and he has been here ever since.

He changes everything,
rearranges the furniture,
his hand hovers
by the phone;
he will answer now, he says;
he will be the answer.

Tonight he sits down to dinner
at the head of the table
as we eat, mute;
later, he climbs into bed between us.

Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck,
From now on,
you write about me.

—Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno (from Slamming Open the Door)

Posted in General, This is who we are | 1 Comment