[Photo is mine]
See the guy? Not the one standing center stage…but the one just beyond him with a microphone and black guitar case at his his feet. Yellow flowers are behind him.
To me, he’s the Busker of the Square. He has secured a spot in the plaza in front of the University of Porto. Prime location indeed!
He knows his music. He has a great voice (he can echo the nuances of Dylan’s:
“No, No, No. It ain’t me Babe.
He stands out there at least three of seven days. Always on weekends. He has mastered Simon & Garfunkel. I heard “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” at least three times a day. He does a wonderful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Three times a day?
His repertoire includes:
John Lennon’s “Imagine”, “Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and others we’ve forgotten. But, he’s always there and sometimes he sings me to sleep in the mid-afternoon.
I always drop a few Euros in his guitar box. I appreciate his love of music and his desire to share his talent.
I’m in Porto, Portugal. It’s not Florida and it’s not northern Dorset, and I’m not shoveling 4′ of snow in the Adirondacks.
But there is an interesting church across the square facing our apartment. Actually it’s two churches. On the right is the Igerja do Carmo, used by the monks of the Carmo. On the left is the das Carmelitas for nuns of that order. The interior walls are a mix of faux gold decoration and beeswax candles.
If you look closely, you will see a slender building with white window frames. That building is slightly over 1 meter wide. According my guidebook, it’s the narrowest building in Portugal.
So why is this tiny building there? At some point in history, a law was passed that stated that two churches could not share the same wall.
It may sound witty, but I find it heartbreaking. The narrow building was, perhaps built to separate nuns from the monks. This seems to be the prevailing theory.
Requited love? Unrequited love? Lust? Desire? A moral struggle? Legendary liaisons?
Only the interior walls, the statues of saints, and the God they believed in can judge those generations of souls.
I certainly won’t.
I’m snug beneath the blankets, in a cozy room of a six hundred year-old inn. The pub below us is crowded with men and women filled with ale, mulled wine and good cheer. I’m listening to laughter…I’m hearing Silver Bells On the sound system. I’m not disturbed by the sounds; they will lull me to sleep.
As I drift into slumber, I’m recalling some of the little kindnesses that we have been given during our first week in England:
No one has honked their horns at me when I stalled out in the middle of a roundabout…something that would never happen on the Cross Bronx Expressway.
The Sat-Nav (GPS) that came with the Ford Focus actually works!
Seeing the smile on my wife’s face as she enjoys her first Pantomime in Swindon. [“Look out, she’s behind you!”]
The opportunity to have lunch and enjoy part of Boxing Day with our longtime friends and hosts, the Ovenden’s. And we get to do our laundry at their house.
We are the only guests here at The White Lion. The co-owner graciously offered to open the kitchen on Christmas morning to cook breakfast just for the two of us. I don’t think a Motel 6 would have made the same offer.
Being greeted like family at a local pub called The Buffalo. Kate, the owner kindly invited us to Christmas Eve dinner with her family and friends. Every other pub was fully booked or closed.
The pleasure of being given a Christmas pudding by the staff of The Griffin Inn in Bath where we spent one night.
So, peace and joy to all our UK friends and those back home in America.
The woods are pleasant, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
[Our tiny forest. Our front yard. Photo is mine.]
I can think of nothing in nature more calming, soothing and tranquil than standing in a forest while snowflakes nearly the size of marbles drift slowly downward through the trees.
I’ve sat by gurgling brooks. I’ve felt the winds of the prairie whistle in my ears. With a mug of Oolong tea laced with local honey at my side, I’ve sat and listened to the rain fall, sometimes heavy and in waves…sometimes only a dribble. These are all transcendent. And you need only one good sense, hearing.
Snow, on the other hand is silent. You can’t hear a flake settle on a pine needle. A rainfall doesn’t lend itself to a visual experience, unless you count thunder and lightening. A snowstorm, in its aftermath, can leave you breathless…the absolute whiteness of it all. Well, not all. A mere three weeks can separate the dazzling colors of late autumn to a black and white world where only a hint of dull green marks the presence of coniferous trees and a cluster of brown Aspen leaves that have not yet fallen from the mother tree.
But snow is a superb example of what could be a blessing to one but can be a curse to another. Yes, I appreciate the quiet solitude that snowstorms bring, but I can also see darkness that lies beneath the ten inches of the white fluffy stuff.
It wasn’t always like this for me. I skated when I was young. Tobogganed every hill around Owego, NY and skied Whiteface Mountain. I spent five summers living on glaciers of the Juneau Icefield in Alaska. I knew ice. I knew snow.
Then I aged. Snowshoeing became difficult. X-Country skiing became problematic and downhill alpine skiing presented its own set of dangers to my body.
Blame it on my Lumbar region (L4 & L5) for my falling out of love for the winter season.
[Me shoveling. You can’t see my L4 & L5, but I can feel them. Photo credit: Mariam Voutsis.]
SIDEBAR A few facts about snow.
It is a myth, often repeated, that the Inuit (Eskimos) have dozens of words describing snow. There is no way to determine the real facts here because of the multitudes of Northern Native People. Different country…different way of viewing snow. There are however, researchers who study snow and keep track of these sort of things. The latest list contains 121 different types of snowflakes.
Is it true that no two snowflakes can be the same? This is mostly true, but recently scientists have found ways to practically duplicate a snowflake pattern.
Most snowflakes that we are familiar with are hexagons. There are thirty-five common types in all. Here is a short list:
- Stellaar Dendrites (pictured below)
- Columns & Needles
- Capped Columns
- Fern-like Stellar Dendrites
- Diamond Dust Crystals
- Triangular Crystals
- Twelve-branched Snowflakes.
[A Stellar Dendrite flake. Very common. Photo source: Google search.]
There is even a Field Guide to Snowflakes available. I tried to examine snowflakes one afternoon a few winters ago. I wore a dark jacket and held my geologic hand lens in my frozen fingers. A flake landed on my dark sleeve. But when I put the hand lens to my right eye and leaned forward to examine the flake, my warm breath melted it, leaving me to examine a small drop of water. This is something I could do in my kitchen. I learned nothing. I’ll learn the technique, someday, perhaps.
So, I believe it can be stated that there is a snowflake for every taste. It would be an understatement to say that snow is the engine that runs empires, so to speak. What would winter TV every four years be like if it weren’t for the Winter Olympics. Hallmark Movies? Who would know about Tanya Harding? (I’m including ice as a sub-set of snow). How could we live without the likes of Lindsey Vonn? If you’re old enough your heart stopped for a few moments when Franz Klammer won the men’s downhill in 1976. And of course, who can’t forget the aerial flights of Shawn White?
[Alpine skiing. Awesome. Photo credit: Google search]
I celebrate winter. I love snow. But, these days it’s a visual thing. I must leave you now to contemplate my winter landscape. I’ve sat long enough. I need another heat patch placed on my L4 & L5 region. I will make another mug of Oolong tea and add a tad of honey.
[Winter on our road. Photo is mine.]
[All of the factual information about snow came from several Google searches.]
[The Wanderer Over The Sea of Fog. Casper David Friedrich. One of my favorite paintings. Source : Google search.]
Open your oldest and best cognac and celebrate with me. This is my 500th blog post! Finding topics and putting them into (what I hope were) clever words was not an easy thing to do. And to do it 500 times is, for me, a true milestone.
I would like to use this opportunity to look back at some of the good times we’ve had together…places I’ve shared, people I’ve introduced to you and topics I have chosen to explore. I wrote some as fiction, some in the second-person and I experimented with different styles of writing.
I have a small pebble on my shelf in my office. It looks like a meteorite. Tiny craters and black as though it spent time in a furnace. This is a token I took from the floor of Death Valley. The little pebble had been baked in the 120 F of many Death Valley summers. I can’t let you feel this stone, but I can share with you how I sat on the salt flats of Bad Water, where I found it. I can share it through a blog post.
Some general statistics:
-My posts have been read in 60 countries. That’s 30.8% of the world’s recognized countries according to Google.
-My first blog was “A New Blogger on Board” [Not something written by me but a generic welcome to WordPress.] That was published on July 15, 2012. That’s roughly 7 1/2 years of blogs.
-I posted something every month since the above date. I’ve duplicated a few, i.e Coal for Christmas which I put out every year in December.
-The most number of clicks (likes) were under the category of Home Page/Archives. Apparently this is people just looking my stuff over. I racked up 10,111 ‘clicks’ on that.
-The most clicks, by far, were for A Short History of Chains and Chain Making. 1,551 people read it.
-The least number of clicks were for The Moth. Only 8 people seemed to like it.
My personal favorite is This Old House. In it I spoke of how heartbroken I was when I handed the keys to 420 Front Street, Owego, NY to the new owner. It was the only home I knew.
[420 Front Street. Photo is mine.]
I have taken you on two cross country road trips in our R-Pod. I’ve followed my grandson, Elias as he grew up. We shared numerous trips to Europe and I’ve shared two trans-Atlantic crossings on the Queen Mary 2. You’ve met our friends, Tim and Jo Ovenden who live in North Dorset, England. They have graciously accommodated us on several trips, providing us with a place to stay.
[Jo, Anna, Thomas and Tim Ovenden. Photo is mine.]
I have shamelessly used Fluffy in several posts in a feeble effort to peddle my books.
[Fluffy. Photo is mind.]
My sincere hope is that you have found my posts thought-provoking, funny, sad, introspective and at the very least, interesting.
I posted my 400th blog from a rented house in Joshua Tree, California almost two years ago.
I hope I get to a 600th with all of you.
Thanks for reading.
[Goya’s The Sleep of Reason. Photo credit: Goodle search.]
[NOTE: The following post is rated S for sad.]
When I was a young boy, about a hundred years ago, my mother would sit on the edge of my little bed and stroke my brown hair. It was well after my bedtime. I should have been sleeping the sleep of the innocent.
“What do you think you’re going to miss, honey?” she would ask, her voice soft and concerned. “Try to sleep, please.”
“I can’t,” was all I could say.
“Close your eyes so that the sandman can find you and help you go to dreamland.”
“I can’t,” I said again. I wasn’t been bratty or difficult. I just couldn’t stop staring at the ceiling. Nothing much has changed in all these years. I fear the setting of the sun and oncoming darkness. I plead to my wife to not turn out her reading light until I fall asleep.
Sometimes it works.
And then in the morning, I wake from the usual nightmares with my heart pounding and my breath coming in gasps. (At least I don’t wake her up screaming and flailing about the bed like I did twenty years ago.
My dreams are full of frustration and anxiety. Typically, I’m caught in the school where I used to teach, frantic because I can’t find my classroom or my list of students. Sometimes I’m lost in a horrific version of a Manhattan that doesn’t exist on any map. I’m walking endless streets and wandering through a warren of a broken landscape. I’m trying to find my way home. I’m lost. I’m terrified and lonely…and then the dawn comes and I’m back at Rainbow Lake.
[Photo credit: Google search]
Out of breath and fearing what the next night will be like.
Bob Dylan wrote: “My dreams are made of iron and steel.”
My dreams are exercises in frustration and…loneliness. I feel somehow blessed if I can remember nothing of my nighttime. That is a rare morning.
I read that dreams occur during REM sleep. That’s not a good thing because it robs you of the deep sleep you need for a true rest. I never greet the dawn like they do in TV commercials…stretching and ready to take on the day.
I think my condition is inherited from my father. He struggled with insomnia for as long as I can remember.
My legacy to my children? I hope they have a love of books and reading and traveling…looking forward to drifting off with a good novel on their chest.
I don’t want to meet my daughter or my son on the midnight lanes I frequent.
I’d rather they find time to let the sandman into the bedroom.
[Nightscape. Photo source: Google search.]