Monday, April 16, 2018

#FlightFromHell, Part 1

Yes, I do my own stunts
I am not sure what possessed me to throw my suitcase over the rail, then jump after it - from a moving escalator. Maybe I've been reading too many spy and mystery thriller novels. (The phrase, "It seemed like a good idea at the time" comes to mind.)

I was desperately trying to catch a connecting flight at Orly Airport -  Paris' "other" airport - a place I've never been before (and never will again ... they no doubt have me on at least three different videocams). After exiting my arriving flight from Toulouse - which was more than an hour late - I had come to a stairs/escalator choice - going up. Too many people on the escalator, so I hoofed it up the stairs, huffing and puffing from carrying my bag, which was mostly electronics and papers, When I got into Hall 1, another stairs/escalator combination, this time going down. At this point I was not seeing any more "Flight Connections" signs, but I spotted one that read "Transfers." The escalator was relatively empty, so I figured I could both ride and walk down, getting there faster.

To my horror, the escalator was going down 2 levels! I only wanted to go down 1 level to the main concourse area. Realizing the escalator was the wrong choice and would take way too much time to go all the way down then find a way back up, I looked for escape. I had ridden down too far to try to walk back up - against the flow of people coming down the escalator.

That's when I noticed I was nearing the bottom of the adjacent stairs, the concourse level I wanted. Hasty decision time. Hoisted the suitcase over the rail, and it clattered to the floor, startling several people nearby. Then over the rail I followed - in rather ungainly fashion (hey, I'll be 67 this week - not exactly James Bond, or even Jackie Chan). I landed, got up, grabbed the suitcase, and searched for someone who could direct me to Gate 31E.

Getting directions, I raced down the shopping corridor, OJ style, only to be delayed slightly at customs and a security scan checkpoint. Had a heck of a time trying to get my boots back on - they're new and not broken in yet.

I had been led to believe that Air France would "hold" the JFK flight for me (and perhaps others on the flight from Toulouse). I was misled. When I arrived at 31E, out of breath and parched, the gate attendant matter of factly told me the boarding was closed. Couldn't get on. Her sympathy was underwhelming. When I told her they indicated, on my incoming flight, that they would hold the JFK connection, she acted like I must be nuts to even think such a thing.

Resisting the urge to swear at the top of my lungs and throw a tantrum that would get me arrested, I went in search of someone who could get me re-booked quickly on another flight to the States.

Long story short, Air France has only one flight a day to JFK (or anywhere in the States, for that matter) and flights from the alternative, Charles de Gaulle, were all overbooked, in part because of the rolling strikes this spring by disgruntled AF employees. My only option was to stay overnight in Paris and take the next flight from Orly to JFK - the same one I missed, only a day later.

Oh, they lost my bag too.

 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

How old was he?

Why is it that when you mention the news that a famous person, or even a not-so-famous person, has died, the most common response is, "How old was he?" Or she?

Maybe that's just the response of seniors like me and many of my friends. Are we silently comparing the longevity of the just-deceased with our own? Oh, he was only 62; I've already outlived him. Hmm, he died at 67; I'm going to be 67 later this month. Or, he was 77; I've got a good 10 years before then.

We also compare our current age with the age at which our parents died. My dad was 90. My mother is nearly 95 and still going strong. Those are encouraging numbers.

When we hear of someone who has lived to be 100 or more, it inspires hope. We think that maybe, maybe we'll live that long. Of course, it's also a question of quality of life in those later years. One of my favorite lines is from French Smith's character in the alien sitcom "Third Rock from the Sun"; told that smoking would take 10 years off his life, he responded, "Yeah, but those are lousy years anyway."

A huge factor in quality of life is the people in your life. Without certain of them, the quality severely diminishes.

Health and mentally stimulating interests are factors too. People who become couch potatoes when they retire tend to die sooner than those who remain active.

I admire people who live full lives right up to the day they die. I admire people like our friend who went to India just for the experience, even though doctors told her not to fly so soon after a major operation. I also think about our friend Barbara, whom I was privileged to know for a little while, who told a joke to her doctor then died instantly where she sat - we'd all like to go that quickly and painlessly, I think.

I don't know how many years, or days, I have left. Or which of our loved ones and friends will precede us. No one does. 

The chart suggests, as a non-smoker, I should live another 17 years. D-L another 14. But actuaries are averages, not forecasts. They don't take into account genetics or lifestyle (such as my plans to do a parachute jump) or even the will to keep living. Will alone won't keep you alive, but if it did I plan to be around for a long time.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Balls

Dueling blog: D-L's view can be found at: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2018/04/castration.html
Nutz. Bollocks. Testicules.

Whatever they're called, Sherlock's are gone.

Our male puppy is now a eunuch.

Part of the contract with the rescue centre where we got him in December is that we would have him neutered. Donna-Lane didn't want to do it to him. When the rescue vet told her it was obligatoire, her instinct was to grab the dog and run. Would they come after us? After all, they know where we live.

Certainly there was no point in breeding him. He's a melange, a mix, a mutt. One of a kind. And they certainly don't need more dogs at the rescue centre; there are far too many who cannot find a home and just end up being put to sleep.

He was pretty groggy when we picked him up after the operation. His expression said, "What the hell did you do to me?"

He's been paying us back by peeing in the house ... rather frequently.

Going into the operation, I had two concerns. One is that he will chew his stitches. So we bought one of those plastic cones to go around his head. Except it's too big and he pulls it off rather easily. My other worry was that something would go wrong with the operation and he'd never wake up from the anesthetic. That's not something you voice in advance, but it is a possibility whenever a living thing goes under the surgeon's knife.

After being home for a day, he has been steadily gaining energy and appetite. I'm hoping the castration will dampen his aggression/enthusiasm a bit, especially when he encounters other dogs or children.

Next week we expect to start sessions with a trainer who goes by the name "Psychodog." Despite the name, I don't expect Sherlock to go nuts.  Those are gone for good.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Pajamas Diplomacy

One of our favorite times of the day is early morning, after the dog has been walked, when we crawl back into the heated bed and solve the world's problems by expressing likes, laughs, and anger on Facebook and posting our opinions on social media.

It's the modern version of reading the morning newspaper. Except we get to read stories from around the world, some well written and documented, others disjointed and pure hyperbole. NYT, WSJ, WaPo, smaller town papers from around the US, the British press, French and Swiss journals, German, RT, Al Jazeera, the Intercept, Common Dreams, China Post, India Times, Australia, economic publications, aviation magazines, tekkie journals, and of course the oftentimes breathless commentary of friends who range from the almost far right to the almost far left of the political spectrum.

We love it when friends from one era of our lives connect with friends from another era, even if one is conservative, the other liberal, and it's a textual joust.

We're amused when someone leaps to the erroneous conclusion that we support some politician or other because we dared to question the veracity of an online story about them ... when our only purpose was to question the veracity. Even more amused when one person thinks we support one candidate and someone else thinks we support their opponent - when, in fact, we support neither. (That veracity thing again.)

I particularly like to play devil's advocate, stir the pot, as they say, and chuckle at the vitriol that follows. (Did those of you who attack me or my views personally realize you are merely providing entertainment?)

Unfortunately, our words and images on social media probably won't change the world. They may, however, drive Zuck's Facebook algorithms crazy, which is some solace.

Then, when we get out of bed each day, we try to take some concrete action to make the world a bit better in ways that we can.

Oh, I almost forgot. Love animal videos. Snippets of sanity in the media maelstrom.

See you online.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Devil(s) Made Me Do It

Hillary Clinton believes she lost the 2016 presidential election because white men told their wives to vote for Donald Trump. Those devils. Really, Hill? It was a vast white whinge conspiracy? If I tried to tell my wife to vote for anyone, much less Trump, she'd probably stuff me in a ballot box.

Others believe Putin did it. Name a problem in America or Western Europe - election meddling, hacks of DNC emails, poisoned double agents, dirty water in Flint, murders in Baltimore, dogs dying on airplanes (oh, wait, that was United), snow in Scotland ... well, pretty much everything is Putin's fault.

Now there's a story that the election was manipulated by Steve Bannon and his Cambridge Analytics associates, who borrowed data from Facebook to - gasp - target messages to American demographic groups and individuals based on their social media personality profiles.

This is shocking? That the American people are being manipulated?

Advertisers have been manipulating the minds of consumers for years. Now, thanks to Mark Zuckerberger and friends, who freely sell the information you provide to them for nothing, the manipulation is more sophisticated, perhaps a little more subtle. But manipulation nonetheless.

Your vote - ie, your "purchase" of a candidate for office - is just another target of consumer marketing. The candidates' manipulators use every means possible - TV, print, social media, and disinformation spread by the media ... and through your own word of mouth in the office or among friends.

What I find more insidious is the manipulation of events, groups, and people. Infiltration of otherwise peaceful groups by thugs paid to incite violence and bring disrepute on the group. It might be a conservative group or liberal. From BlackLivesMatter to the current students against guns movement. The thugs may be hired by George Soros, Charles Koch or the government. The ultimate aim is to create a news narrative that promotes one agenda or discredits another, and the underlying objective of that narrative is to get you to vote for or against a candidate or party. (I would not be surprised if the spy poisoning was not done by the British government as a means of shifting attention from their Brexit dilemma to their convenient Russian bogeyman.)

I doubt the manipulation tsunami has truly changed many minds. That really only comes from analyzing all the knowable facts of a situation ... not just jumping to an hysterical conclusion based on the first fact-thin manipulative story in the media.

What the pervasive social media era manipulation has done, I think, is ramp up the polarization. Amped up the anger. Solidified people in whatever belief they previously held.

Yes, Putin did it. And Trump's people. And Hillary's people. And the Koch Bros. and Soros and Adelson and ... it's no longer may the best man (or woman) win; it's may the best manipulator win. And when we believe their twisted messages, we all lose.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Easy Pleasy

DUELING BLOG - Read D-L's at http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2018/03/poubelle.html/
My wife has mellowed a bit in the five years we've been together. She's keen on neatness and order, but she has come to tolerate my penchant for, shall we say, controlled chaos. I prefer order, too, but with me it's more irregular.

Such as yesterday. At the end of the day, all was in order in the apartment. But during the day, wanting to sort through my clothes - so I could take some of them to the donation bin - I brought down four suitcases of stuff from The Nest (D-L's studio apartment around the corner) and emptied all the clothes onto the bed. Plus the clothes from my closet. Plus summer clothes that had been stored under the bed.

Donna-Lane went into her office and closed the door for much of the day. She was allegedly working on her German pronunciation.  (Either that, or cursing me out in three languages.)

Not really. She knows by now that I (almost never) leave the place in a mess overnight. And that my disorder is (usually) a pathway to order.

So now my closet is ready for spring and summer (with a couple winter things, just in case). Most of the winter stuff is under the bed. There's a suitcase packed for Geneva. And there's a bag ready for donation. I even got rid of a couple of clunky radiators and some old satellite boxes in The Nest.

But the real message of this brief blog is that two days ago, I bought something for my wife which made her ecstatically happy. Not a diamond necklace. Not a gold bracelet. Not the $45-million business jet she's been hinting she'd like.

I bought a $10 waste basket for the car. Yeah, she likes order there too. No food wrappers and soda bottles on the floor when we travel. For awhile we had a plastic bag for trash, but I guess I trashed that at some point. So she wanted a more permanent solution. Thus, the gray bucket - complete with flip top - you see pictured on the hood (or bonnet, if you prefer).

This is not the first discussion we've had about trash bins. We used to have one under the sink, which our landlady had rigged to open when the door was opened. But it was tough to empty and clean, and it took up valuable space. I acquiesed on that one, but managed to save it elsewhere for glass recycle bottles.

And my open-top bin by my desk - for paper recycle - has been replaced with a flip top ... because Sherlock kept stealing the paper and shredding it all over the place.

Now that the trash problem's solved, there's only one point of disagreement between us. (Wouldn't you like to know.)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Shoveling S***

DUELING BLOGS with D-L and J - http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2018/03/snow-day.html and http://viewsfromeverywhere.blogspot.ch/2018/03/snow-day-in-switzerland.html

To me, snow is a four-letter word.

1. You can't play golf in the snow. 2. You can't drive in the snow. 3. The only way to get rid of it is to shovel or wait until Spring. (Oh, wait, yesterday was the first day of meteorological spring - https://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/whats-the-difference-between-meteorological-and-astronomical-spring/70000979.)

Arriving late by train from Paris the night before, and with sparse wifi connections, I was not aware that a storm was expected. D-L was too sleepy groggy to warn me that the white stuff was coming. I hadn't even bothered to put the tarp over the car because I figured any windshield frost would melt before we needed to leave for our lunch appointment.

Quelle surprise! I woke to a blanket of white about 4-6 inches deep and rising.

Of course the dog needed to go out.

Sherlock loved it. I think he thought he was at the beach and the snow was the sand he loves to dig in and burrow his nose under. At times he hopped around like a rabbit, nipping at the chunks of snow he kicked up.

He stayed out much longer than I would have preferred. Every ... time  ... during ... the ... entire ... day. (By the way, kids, don't eat yellow snow.)

Our lunch was cancelled, and we weren't going anywhere, so we decided to chill and make it a real "snow day."

Of course, I can't be idle for long, so I bundled up and went looking for a shovel. The landlord's car was gone, and the gate was open, so I thought perhaps they used a plowing service to come and clear the driveway. Nonetheless, I found an old small pushbroom in a shed and used that to brush the snow off our Peugot. The broom didn't work as well on the ground, so back to the shed where I found a rake. That worked better, but not entirely as the snow was too deep.

I wandered out to another shed off the front yard, found an old broom lying next to it ... then the motherlode inside - an actual shovel, and a sturdy one at that.

D-L expressed the opinion that, at my age, I shouldn't be shoveling snow at all. She had read something that said men over 50 should refrain from the strain - http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/shovelling-snow-heart-attacks-cardiac-arrest-research-bmj-deaths-winter-a8103166.html

It took me about four sessions to almost completely clear the driveway and the steps leading to our garden apartment. Judicious rest in between.

I'm glad I did, though. After a mild thaw through the day and the cold air returning overnight, the snow would have been impenetrable ice today. And we do have to go out on some errands.

I must admit, the crystal stillness of the day was beautiful. The airport was closed, so no aircraft engine noise reverberating across the lake. Almost no traffic on the roads. You could distinctly head individual birds trilling. The conversations of people walking by. And when Sherlock and I stepped out for his Noon romp, the church bells rang and rang as clearly as if we were standing next to the bell tower.

I'll still be glad when it melts.