To see my tribute to Flo, go here

See about helping Flo's Haitian artist friends at Jakmel Ekspresyon

Monday, July 19, 2010

End of Italy time, and return home

On Wednesday night a big group of people had dinner at Il Pomarancio, a new place just across the Tiber from the historic center of Umbertide. It goes along with a nice park, having outdoor tables, where we ate. We understood it to be mainly a pizzeria, and they do have a full selection of pizzas, and I had one, but they also have ambitious dishes. Peeking into the inside part of the restaurant, it looked posh.

We had tentatively planned to take the 6 a.m. SULGA bus from Umbertide to Rome airport, but my parents said they were ready to have a taxi do the trip; it was fine for this to happen, given their age and the weight of their luggage. On Thursday morning, we had the ride for €250. That went well, taking us to the airport Hilton, where I had a stay on points.

On my previous stay there, I had asked to be assured that we could get a room that could accommodate three adults, since the Web site information was ambiguous, and was assured this could be done. I checked in and was told to call if the third bed wasn't there. We went to the room, with twin beds, and didn't find any hidden third bed, so we called, and eventually housekeeping set up the third bed.

There we were in comfort and with the benefit of air conditioning, and with the hotel's free bus service to Rome. My mother preferred to sleep through the day; my father and I decided to get lunch at the Ciao cafeteria in Terminal 3 (I had gnocchi al pesto) and take the hotel shuttle, leaving on even-numbered hours, into Rome at 2 p.m. There was a full-sized bus with just a few people going in at that hour. With the lighter siesta-hour traffic, it still took about 45 minutes to get to the bus's destination on via del Teatro Marcello, near the Campidoglio.

When I looked up shows in Rome, my father showed an interest in a show of followers of Caravaggio, at Palazzo Ruspoli. I described the distance from our stop as over a kilometer, although you don't really notice it in those terms when you walk in a city. We thought we would take a city bus, which generally requires buying tickets first; one would think ticket-buying places would be easy to spot right in the center of Rome, but there were no staffed spots at the big end-of-line area by Piazza Venezia, and a newsstand didn't sell them. We started up via del Corso, past one bus stop, before we found a tabaccaio that sold tickets. I said that by this point we would only be riding the bus for one stop, so we'd just buy tickets for the return trip, and walk on to the show, which we did on this very hot day, and I don't know how much of an exertion it was for my father.

We got to the show, which was a disappointment, showing how the followers of Caravaggio didn't live up to the master. For something else to see in the area, I suggested the Ara Pacis Augustae, the ancient altar in Richard Meier's controversial new building. It was interesting to see. We were hardly Slow Traveling; we aimed then to get back to catch the 5 p.m. bus to the hotel. There was a wait for the right bus; we finally got bus 81, the validating machine in front wasn't working, and a lady directed us to a machine in back. That bus also had a ticket selling machine, but I'm not sure if it's known which buses have that.

My father was interested in stopping at a bar if possible; there was a bar across from the bus stop to the Hilton; when we sat outside, each glass of (mediocre) wine cost €7. When the bus turned up, there was the danger of crossing the street in that area, but we made it. In the ride back, I looked with pleasure at the many aspects of Rome on the route, from historic to peripheral, trying to take in the essence of Rome.

When we got back, I explored the airport complex some more, seeing what there was to add to my Web page on it, and we decided to order dinner from room service. I had an ordinary pasta dish, but overall we were satisfied. I went to the hotel bar, and thinking of Shannon's suggestion I had a kir royal, and saw a singer although she was on break for most of the time I was there.

Back to the family hotel room: not sharing a room often, I got a reasonable amount of sleep. with some interruptions. We got up before 6, and were checked out a little later. From reading of others' experience, I knew that we should approach the bell staff, not the check-out staff, about getting a ride to Terminal 5. After a few minutes wait, a van got us to that terminal before 7.

My parents and I were all on Delta flights, but mine was an hour later than theirs. From what I'd found out about the check-in system there, I was expecting the check-in counters to be flight-specific, and they might just open three hours before departure. We were at that mark for my parents' flight, and I was looking at a scenario of trying to get a break to check in with my parents, or having to wait an hour. We entered the terminal as about the first passengers there; at the first checkpoint, where they ask if you packed your own bags, there was a staffed checkpoint designated for my flight four hours ahead. We went by the rules through that and the check-in counter. At my counter there was a delay printing the boarding passes, I think due to a problem with the printer and card stock. We stopped for breakfast at the bar near check-in. Then, still with very few passengers having appeared, it was quick through a pretty normal security check, and exit passport control. Then we boarded the bus across the tarmac to the G satellite, and up the escalators to the gate level.

We followed the arrows to go clockwise around that satellite, although with their gate being 11 when there are 14, it was also possible to turn right and take the shorter route. It was well before 8 a.m. when we got there; some of the shops in the area just opened at 8. With my past memory of 2.5 hours not being early enough, I wanted to check in three hours early; with it being such an early hour we were earlier than we needed to be, but it was nice to go through things with no crowds at all. We could individually stop at shops while the others waited at the gate until my parents' flight to JFK boarded around 9, and I saw them off.

I went to the gate for my flight to Detroit. I lent my pen (actually one that I'd taken from the Hilton) to a passenger, who turned out to be taking a later flight, to fill out his U.S. customs declaration, which is usually filled out in flight. He was slowly filling it out as my flight was boarding; I started to get tense about whether I should say I need to board and take the pen, or just leave it to him. Anyway, he was done just in time for me join the last of those who were boarding when called. I had my assigned seat, and overhead space to put my bulky laptop/shoulder bag. They announced that, by air traffic control request, our 10.55 departure would be delayed past 11.30, and I was just as glad that I didn't board earlier.

The flight itself can be covered briefly: an A330 with seatback screens, for the meal I took tortelloni, my third hot meal in a row that was all pasta, aside from some wilted salad here. At midflight they (some flight attendants in bright red dresses, new to me) came by with snacks for sale, and they didn't offer that or drinks at my row; did that take the place of the late-flight snack? No, it was given: a small pizza snack and ice cream. Even with the late departure, arrival at Detroit was on time, at 3.25.

I had a separate bag for things I wanted to use in flight that I tried to stuff into my laptop bag as I stood in an empty row and let people off the plane ahead of me; it was a struggle, putting me farther back than I needed to be in the passport control line, which moved slowly. I got through without trouble and my bag was on the belt, and I was waved through customs. I was directed to one lane for the through baggage check; there was a spot where I thought I could just put the bag on a belt, but it was unattended, so in doubt I waited at a counter. At the counter they said no, leave it at the belt, which was now attended. Then I was quickly ready for the security check. I thought I was doing my routine of putting anything that might beep the machine into the bag, but in my state after the long flight I forgot the iPod on my waistband. I was sent back to remove that, and beeped the metal detector again.

Here I was sent to the enclosed "penalty box" until someone could deal with me. They took me out and I saw that they were taking me to a Whole Body Imager. I declined to go through that, meaning that I needed to get a heavy-duty patdown, emptying my pockets. They reminded me that it included my shirt pocket; in my state I'd forgotten about it and that it included a small tin of Altoids that I'd gotten in my recent first-class trip on United, and that may have been what set off the alarm. The TSA aims to make the patdown so unpleasant that people will prefer to have the machine view them under their clothes; I'm opting out of the viewing out of principle rather than particularly about my own privacy, but for myself I also don't like having my pockets empty and the contents out of sight. They also made me put up with that and put the tub with my several wallets through the x-ray. I should have insisted on counting all the money and cards in the wallets before they did the check, but it looks like I got everything back.

I had a 4.5-hour layover, meaning I didn't need to add any worries about making the connection. I had a pass to the SkyClub, and took advantage of it to have a few libations after these experiences. My connecting flight was showing a delay, and I called the young man who was caring for my cat and meeting me to update the situation. The connecting flight's gate was at the low-numbered end of the concourse, and the tram from the middle by the club was out of service, so I took the walk with moving sidewalks through the overall nice McNamara terminal at Detroit airport. Both in the terminal and on the plane, people started announcements with "Northwest" and corrected it to "Delta." My flight was delayed from 7.55 to 8.45, with the arrival similarly delayed although it made up some time.

The trip came to an end; I've reported on things without much reflection. It's difficult to come to conclusions now. It was overall a great trip, although I'd have preferred slightly lower temperatures. With the family, there were many bittersweet thoughts and difficult decisions to face in the future.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Italy 2010

This may be my complete album for this trip, or I may take more pictures in Rome, which would be added to this album later.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Weekend: grandi feste

We had an active weekend, hard to piece everything together. Saturday night Barnaby, who was with Flo almost to the end and had been part of the memorials, organized a huge dinner at his family house outside Perugia. Many artist friends went to eat in the yard with a great view of the area at dusk and beyond. It was mainly his sister, who lives there year-round, who prepared a great pasta dish. It was a terrific effort, and we got back at 1 a.m.

On Sunday we did an excursion to Spello. I wasn't sure what the current traffic rules were; there seemed to be restrictions at the entrance at the bottom the town that we usually used; we went around the outside, there were some lots below, but we went up and found a lot outside the walls at the top of the town. We walked around, seeing some nice-looking quiet streets that we didn't remember from previous visits. Our main place of interest in Spello is the church of S. Maria Maggiore. There was a sign in front saying absolutely not to enter while Mass was in progress, and that it closed at noon, which was getting close. We waited outside to see if it would be possible to get in; some people started going in anyway, but Mass was letting out and we had a few minutes to look at the chapel with Pinturicchio frescoes, frequently needing to feed the lights with €1 coins.

We sat down at the outdoor tables at Il Molino, the restaurant that we've long favored. They've gotten exotic, having pasta with fruit and ginger fillings and sauce. I had a mozzarella-fruit combination to start, and the pasta dish called polvere, meaning powder, or breadcrumbs in this context: a nest of taglierini with breadcrumbs and prosciutto.

My mother is not very good with climbing the streets of hill towns, and we decided we would meet at the bottom of the town, after Ken and Lesley went up to get the car. That worked out well, and we decided to take a scenic drive along the backside (considering Assisi to to be on the front) of Monte Subasio. It was a nice, somewhat harrowing drive, although we missed the turn for the super-scenic drive. There was some driving through the small streets of Assisi, which we didn't really want, but we got out o.k.

Sunday night, we were invited to join Graziano's extended family at his sister Franca's house. It was a nice thing to take in: chaotic scenes, a huge amount of food, and a very hot house. We were set up so those who were interested could watch the World Cup final as much as possible past the people facing us. For the second half, we could move to the sofa and see it better, while others sat on the roof terrace. After it was finally over in overtime, we could leave, satisfied with a wonderful meal.

On Sunday my father had noticed that one of his credit cards was missing. He figured that he last used it was on Friday at a rosticceria. On Monday he had me call them; although they were closed, someone answered and said they had the card; they called Visa and, being unable to reach us through those few days, they cut the card. That was fine with my father, who has other cards, and we're generally satisfied that merchants here are responsible.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

More rest, some getting around

Some days are spent with people, mostly my mother, waiting for the plumber and electrician. We also lost wi-fi in the house because of missed communication of how long we were covered. It turned out to be expired, we renewed it, and there was some wait to be set up for it again. I took brief time to connect at a new café, La Torre. Going by the rules, taking brief time to connect to the Internet on our computers while having a drink meant showing ID, getting registered, and getting a cash register receipt with login information. That technician came to the house and we were reconnected, but the frustrating wait for the plumber and electrician continues.

On Friday, my mother stayed home and the rest of us went to Todi. I directed Lesley to park at Porta Orvietana, where there's what they call an elevator, but is more like a funicular, to the town center. Most of my previous visits there have involved looking around the main Piazza del Popolo and eating at the Ristorante Umbria with the great view. After looking around the Piazza and finding the Duomo closed, we did a little more wandering in the medieval streets; going uphill up via L. Leoni, it got much quieter, and we found a street taking us to S. Fortunato church, which otherwise is at the top of a high stairway. We had an interesting visit there; then we found a place on a side street where we could take pizza slices or other small dishes, and eat at a table outside.

Back home, still no resolution to the service calls; we have some nice invitations for the weekend.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Umbertide rest time

We've had a few days of relaxation, not much to report. The people in the house have put good meals together. On Tuesday night, we joined some longtime friends to eat out. The first plan was to go to a new pizza place with tables over large grounds across the Tiber. We found that it was its closing day.

The next choice was to go to Poggiomanente,out of town by the turnoff to Gubbio, which is a mix of full-service restaurant and pizzeria. We found that this was a day that they were not serving pizza, so we went for the full meal; I started with big ravioli with truffles. We had some interest in seeing the Netherlands-Uruguay World Cup semifinal, and were told it was only in the smoking room. For a restaurant to have an indoor smoking section requires a closed door and separate ventilation system; these are so rare that some people on SlowTrav who live in Italy have said that they don't exist, but here was one near Umbertide. The place is a mix of upscale restaurant and truck stop. In fact, as I occasionally looked in on the progress of the match, I found that the door was open and there was a No Smoking sign, because the ventilation system was broken.

Wednesday morning, I've been around the big outdoor market and taken pictures. There's also a project to pretty up the Reggia stream beneath the house, which has been more like a drainage ditch. Wi-fi isn't working in the house, and I'll need to see if it starts working or I spend a lot of time at a café getting connected.

Wednesday update: wi-fi had expired, I renewed it and they need to come in Thursday; we (mostly my mother) are doing a lot of waiting for workers. I'm in a cafe now.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bevagna day

Once we're in Umbertide, there's typically a lot of rest time, but here, after my Saturday arrival, we hit the ground running as the group asked me to suggest a Sunday day trip. I suggested Bevagna, a SlowTrav favorite where I'd been once and the others hadn't. Often when we go on trips in the morning, there's a delay in getting our act together, and we arrive just about at lunchtime. Maybe I should have pushed for an earlier departure; we left at 11 for the hour drive to Bevagna. I knew the main place of interest to them would be the Roman mosaics, which call for going to the town museum to have a guide let us in. I rushed ahead, and the lady said we'd better start now to get done before the lunch closing.

I beckoned the others to come along, then the lady said she was calling a colleague to lead us, and she wasn't getting an answer. Finally, she took us to the mosaic (needing to unlock the building and clear the alarm), and it indeed impressed everyone. We also looked in the 19th-century theater, included in the tickets.

We had brought a picnic lunch of small sandwiches with a gelatin covering, from Pasticceria Migliorati in Umbertide. Across from where we had parked, just outside the walls, there was a hill with picnic tables that worked fine, and were surprisingly deserted this Sunday.

We went back, I rested for the rest of the day, and we ate at home. As we were finishing, Moira and Mauro turned up; they took me to surprise my longtime friend, her uncle Graziano. (I was waiting to call when my phone was activated, which appears to have happened Monday morning.) Graziano showed me some local newspaper clippings about Flo.

It took the weekend for the cell phone to get activated; still, it's impressive to think of how easy it is to have a phone working in Italy, compared to when we first lived here and it took two years to get a land line activated even if the wiring was already in place, and close to forever if the wiring wasn't there.

So I should mention how much Flo is in our thoughts and influences us. We all booked this trip before Flo died, with much booking done in the first part of January. Flo hadn't been booked, but had been interested in going. Looking ahead, it was Flo who was most interested in keeping the house and potentially taking charge in the time ahead. Now there's the possibility of hiring someone to manage the house, so my mother doesn't need to handle so many difficulties, but for the long term I'm facing a decision about keeping the house or not, and it's hard to know what to do.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Rome to Umbria

I got to Rome Fiumicino airport arrivals hall at about the time the Uruguay-Ghana match was scheduled to end; I heard a radio voice talk about "if this goes to overtime"; I found my way upstairs and with construction going on, through the passageway, and down an elevator at the end, to the airport Hilton. I was checked in, on an award, to a nice room, with air conditioning after dealing with the heat in Paris.

Not sure about the Uruguay-Ghana match, I flipped through and saw it wasn't on the RAI channels, and figured I wouldn't get the satellite channel that was showing it exclusively in Italy. I saw a crawl on CNN saying it was still in overtime; I clicked past the movie channels and found a German channel carrying the match. There I saw the injustice of the flagrant hand ball, Ghana missing the penalty kicks, and losing the shootout.

I slept comfortably, getting up at 7.30 to have breakfast in the terminal rather than pay inflated Hilton prices. Back to the room to check out, and up the elevator to the start of the passageway. Now, around the airport complex, one can usually find luggage carts that can be taken for free. At the start of the passageway by the Hilton, there were carts lined up with a machine, appearing to be official, charging 1 euro for them. When I went to breakfast, there was a man standing around talking to me in English and Italian about the carts; I wasn't sure if he was offering one or asking about them, but I didn't care, since I wasn't carrying anything. Now as I was making the trip with my bags, I claimed a cart, he pulled it out and asked for a euro to him rather than into the slot. I'll take it that it was legitimate; at another point in the passageway, there were carts lined up without an attendant, and there appeared to be a release that was activated from the coin slot.

So I took the passageways to the top level of Terminal 3 (the former C side) and took the elevator down (with a mistaken stop at level 1) from level 2 to level 0, where I could cross to the intercity buses. I found the SULGA bus to Perugia at 10 minutes before its 9 a.m. departure. The bus waited until 9.15, when the driver came around and sold tickets: €21 to Perugia. The bus got to Tiburtina: I called my mother on my cell phone, with a patchy connection, to report on my progress. The bus started on its way; I noted a new lane being built on the A1 near Rome. Only one stop in Deruta, and we arrived at Piazza dei Partigiani at the scheduled 12.45 time. My parents and their friends weren't there; I gave them until 1 before making a phone call. I needed to leave a voice mail message, very patchy. Now this SIM card, which I got for emergencies before getting an Italian card, had next to no time on it, and I went through the process of calling to give credit card information to add $10 to it.

Finally my parents turned up, and got me to the pulled-over car where their friends Ken and Lesley were waiting. They'd missed a turn or two on the e-mailed directions I'd sent for the garage beneath the bus stop. They'd gone up to central Perugia, and I fear they'll incur a big ZTL fine.

From where we were, we found a way to the garage, and took the escalators up through the Rocca Paolina to central Perugia, where we had lunch at the Rosetta. Umbricelli with truffles and porcini were a nice welcoming meal. I'd been puzzled about my parents' flight, since I saw that their flight from Boston to JFK was first long delayed, then cancelled. They were rebooked on a flight to LaGuardia, had a surprise when that flight was delayed less than they were led to believe, and bused from LaGuardia to JFK.

We drove on to Umbertide without too much trouble, and settled in. I got an Italian SIM card, but so far they say they need my personal data, which I already gave, so no use from the phone during the weekend. Oh yes, Italy looks great, it's nice to settle in, and I'll have more on that in future posts.

Paris 2010 photo album

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Chartres and out of France

My hotel in Paris was the Royal Phare. Overall it was a nice value in a good area; small rooms, with an elevator where it was a challenge to fit one person with luggage. It was disappointing that wi-fi wasn't working in my room, but there was free table in the lobby to use it when I wanted to get to the Internet.

Their final help was that they were able to print my Air France boarding pass; my carry-ons weren't going to make the weight limit, so I wanted to have minimum contact with their staff.

I checked out and took the five-minute bus ride, on either line 82 or 92 from across from the hotel, to Gare Montparnasse. I succeeded in using one carnet during my stay, with one ticket having gone to waste where I could have made good use of it. At the station I took the escalator that turned out to go up two levels, when I wanted to get to the left luggage office on the level in between. There was a security check to enter the consigne, then the medium-sized lockers required €7 in coins, which fortunately I had. It was a little before 9, and the track number for my 9.33 train to Chartres wasn't showing. People stood below the big board waiting for their tracks to show; my track finally did.

I followed other people in learning the method of stamping the train ticket, and took the train, getting into the countryside, and it was a little late.

It was clear finding the way to the Cathedral. There was scaffolding in front, including the front interior, which I understand was a new state of things. It being Friday, chairs were cleared to expose the labyrinth on the floor, where many people were taking spiritual walks.

I joined the tour offered at noon by Malcolm Miller. He has written on the cathedral and conducted these tours for 53 years. It called for getting individual headsets so he could speak to the group at a normal voice. He conducts tours differently every time and is known for eccentricities; this tour covered some basics about the stained-glass windows as Bible commentary, in particular on putting the stories of Adam and Eve and the Good Samaritan together.

The tour was done at 1.15; there was a quick decision needed on whether to try to have a sit-down lunch before my train departure at 2.30. I found Tomate et Piment, a chain place I think, which looked like it could handle it. I wound up with a duck dish with teriyaki sauce, not quite the best good-bye to France, and also had time to stop for an ice cream cone.

The return train was full but I got a seat, getting some sleep too. The tickets were not checked in either direction. I picked up my bags from the locker, and found my way to the Air France bus to CDG airport, spotting it before I took the wrong impulse to cross the street. I boarded, paying the €16.50 fare, expecting it to leave on the hour but it left at 3.55. I had doubts about taking it in Friday afternoon traffic, but was told it wasn't such a big deal. Still, it took about 30 minutes to get the short distance to Denfert-Rocherau, then another stop at Gare de Lyon, and overall slow going. I was hoping I'd get to the airport in time to see the second half of the World Cup match; with a radio on my cell phone I could hear reports on it. The bus reached the first airport stop at 5.40, with some rain falling. I took a quick look at the last five minutes of the match at the bar nearest the stop, then went to the Sheraton, where I had planned to see more of it. When the postgame show ended and they hadn't taken my order, I left. If I'd taken the bus and RER, I would have gotten to the airport sooner, at a lower fare, but I could have been standing and uncomfortable, so there were benefits to taking the bus.

I went on to find the pier of Terminal 2F where my flight was departing. I try to understand that airport to be better prepared for it, but it was still chaotic. There was security (at least keeping my shoes on) and a full inspection of one bag. Then there was a crowded pier for that Friday's intra-Europe flights. I took a tall beer can from the bar, for €5.80.

The flight scheduled for 19.35 was delayed to 19.55, then 20.05. They blamed storms in the Paris area in its previous segments. Small sandwiches offered on board, arrival in Rome at 22.00, much darker there than Paris at that time. I thought "Why are we using a B gate, Air France moved to A?" then remembered what I've researched and posted about the airport; B is the concourse, and the terminal now goes by the number 1.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Paris, July 1

As I've talked about having a routine, I'm moving away from it. I'm getting into less of a penny-pinching mood, and feel that I might as well have the French breakfast at the café around the corner on rue Cler, including orange juice for a total of €6.

I'm missing some important museums, and visiting some less-known ones. I've had in mind for a long time to see the Musée Nissim de Camondo. I went there, and it's an interesting mansion set up by a man in the early 20th century with an 18th-century style, and a life marked by family tragedy.

Afterwards, after a bit of a walk around the Parc Monceau, I got to the Gare St-Lazare and took metro line 14, the newest line, for most of its length, to the Bibliothèque Mitterrand. This is in a newly developed area, with university buildings. I found a fast-food set-up place to have a meal of crepes in the main and dessert dishes. I wanted to find wi-fi in a park to get checked in for my flight 36 hours in advance, when it opened. As I understand, people who book directly on Air France (AF) generally are checked in automatically, but since I was booked through Delta (originally Northwest), I should check in early to avoid being stuck in a middle seat. On the iPod Touch, I entered the AF confirmation code that showed on the original NW booking (not on Delta), which had shown when I'd asked to see the itineraries previously, but now it wasn't working. I called AF from the cell phone I wasn't expecting to use (and used about half the SIM card value), and they got it straightened out, e-mailing me the boarding pass. In turns out that in fact they were using my Delta confirmation code.

My plan next was to visit this main national library. It consists of four buildings, perhaps representing open books, on a barren raised plaza. I only looked at a lobby area and didn't take a tour.

On this hot day, I crossed the river to the Parc de Bercy, and got to the museum of cinema. It had a regular and special exhibition with pictures, posters, and film scene screenings. I went through quickly, with thoughts of seeing an obscure old Italian film that they were showing, but it turned out to need a separate ticket. I opted not to go, and took the long ride back on metro line 6, in large part elevated. I had some café time, and got back to my room.

For dinner, I went to Le P'tit Troquet, a small place that gets many tourists, and I had a good fish meal.

For Friday, I'll be going to Chartres, then to the airport to catch my evening flight to Rome. I don't think I'll pay the high price for Internet access, so I don't know when I'll be back online. Thinking generally about Paris, it's been very nice but hot.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Paris, June 30

I slept well, and happened to turn on the TV news at 8 a.m., where they talked about fees and fares going up July 1, including for the TER train that I was planning to take to Chartres Friday. Since it's an unreserved train, I was thinking I'd buy tickets just before taking the train; now, even though the price difference would probably be small, I looked up and found an SNCF ticket office in my area, on rue St-Dominique. There was a self-service ticket machine, which I expected not to work with my credit card; otherwise it was a matter of taking a number and I had fast service, buying tickets in person with my credit card.

My first stop, by walking, was to the Musée Guimet, of Asian art. It has an impressive collection, and not much of a crowd; I think best of the Cambodian and Indian art. Back across the river, I was next going to the Musée d'Orsay. I wanted to see about the right café lunch first; I found a small cafeteria-style setup where I had a croque-monsieur with salad.

I like the Musée d'Orsay; the building drew my attention since it was an abandoned train station, and it's been impressively made as a museum of 19th-century art, including impressionists. Some areas are being restored and have been moved; one gallery has been put together about relations between Gauguin and van Gogh. Overall, it's very nice to visit, and the crowd was of a manageable size.

I hadn't made it a definite plan, but I went ahead towards the Centre Pompidou. In my Internet research before my trip, I had seen mention of a show of photographs of Les Halles, but I couldn't remember where it was. As I walked by the Palais Royal, I saw a poster: it was there, at the Louvre des Antiquaires, an upscale mall of antique dealers. I went there, and saw the photos in one room. The market of Les Halles in central Paris was there in my childhood, but I had no memory of it; as I made repeated visits in the 1970s, it was a hole in the ground, eventually to be replaced with a park and shopping mall.

At that point I was more interested in stopping at a café rather than going to the Centre Pompidou; I overindulged in a kir royal, and thought maybe the modern arts center can fit in tomorrow. To take the metro back, I took a ticket that had gotten folded; the turnstile took it with a green light, but wouldn't open; other attempts failed, and I needed to use another ticket.

For dinner I went to a fish restaurant, one of a chain, Vin et Marée. I had good crustaceans. Seated outside, they had me move so they could put other tables together, and offered me a glass of champagne for it, nice until the table tipped and most of it spilled. Anyway, a full day, feeling good.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Paris, June 29

It rained during the night, and I didn't get much sleep. It was clear when I got up, but I still did my first Internet stuff in the hotel lobby rather than the park. Since breakfast isn't included at the hotel, I've developed a routine of getting a croissant from the bakery across the street, and having it in my room with apple juice that I got from the supermarket right downstairs. Somewhat exhausted, I looked at the calendar on my iPod to see what I'd planned for the day: the Musée Rodin and the Musée du Quai Branly, in the same general area where I'm staying. I rested a little more and took off, making a stop for a café au lait where I was encouraged to sit at a table inside, and it cost €3.80.

I don't think I'd been to the Musée Rodin since the 1960s, but my mother has done some research there. The main building is a nice manageable size, with important sculpture collections, and there are many sculptures around the gardens. At the end I answered a survey about the visit that a young woman conducted in French, although we could have switched to English.

It was a long walk along the river to the Musée du Quai Branly. I had lunch at their café, the formule (set offering) of chicken prepared an African way with rice, and a glass of South African wine. The museum is new and devoted First Nations/non-Western art. It's an interesting set-up with ramps and low lighting, an important place.

I had dinner at the place I was looking for last night but didn't have the full address, Les Cocottes. Most customers sit at the counter. I took the special, said verbally, which I didn't quite catch; it was another chicken dish, and fine.

Many people are out, the mood is good, and there's still some daylight close to 11 p.m. I'm posting this the next morning, after a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Paris, June 28

I went to the Champ de Mars for my morning Internet connection. For Shannon and others who are wondering about this free wi-fi in parks, there's a Google map with all the locations, also information from the Paris Mairie (city government); the wi-fi is also in libraries and some other places. For large parks like the Champ de Mars, they show what part of the park has wi-fi; there are also some signs in the park. My e-mail had an invitation from another Slow Traveler designated as a Hero, Americana in Parigi, inviting me to get together for coffee "tomorrow morning." I thought o.k., Tuesday, fine. A bit later I realized that the e-mail was dated Sunday, and she meant this morning. In the moment's thought I agreed to it, and on the iPod Touch I took a snapshot of the part of her message with her phone numbers. I also programmed walking directions into Google Maps, my experience saying that they would show even when I was out of wi-fi.

I made my first use of my new international cell phone to try to call her and confirm that I was doing this, but I had trouble getting through. I started walking, as it was my first decision to do, but as I got away from my starting point, the map showed the shape of my walking route, but not the streets. I saw that I didn't have the address of our meeting point. When I turned the phone off and back on, my attempts to call got a little further, but still didn't get through. I saw that time was passing; the part of the message that I saved at least had one metro stop. I'd gotten to Champs-Elysees-Clemenceau, and decided to take the metro to one stop she suggested, and see if I could remember the meeting place from the Plan de Quartier (neighborhood map) in the station.

Yes, it took some looking, but the Passage des Panoramas, an arcade off the street, was right, and I got there 20 minutes late. It was great to meet her, but I was so harried that I may have been especially not interesting.

From there I went to the Sainte Chapelle by walking. It is in the middle of the Palais de Justice or Court House, and requires a security check. AinP had mentioned that could take the entrance for court visitors and get through security faster; in fact there was a special line for museum pass holders, and people with court business could cut in front of the tourists. It was a case where all wallets and belts needed to be removed; mine went together and it took some time. I don't think I'd been to the Sainte Chapelle since I was seven; it was there that I first learned church visiting etiquette. The chapel is important for its stained-glass windows.

I had thoughts of getting a crepe from a stand, but I was enticed to have one sitting down at a cafe. I ordered a flaming one, and it all took time from sitting down, getting the waiter's attention, to getting the bill and paying it; one should generally allow time for a leisurely lunch.

Next I went to the Louvre. One might generally think that many people devote their day to it and enter in the morning, and it may not be so crowded in the afternoon. Entering at 3 p.m., it was still very crowded. I did a basic look at the Italian and French galleries. With the Museum Pass, I can go back without it being such a big deal. I thought I'd heard of an alternate entrance for pass holders. There were none in evidence on the south wing, so I entered through the main pyramid entrance. At the end, I exited through the Porte des Lions, at the very far end of the south, past the Pont du Carrousel. That entrance also sells tickts.

I walked back to my hotel. I made an ATM withdrawal, learning that the card is entered with the start of the number in, the Visa logo out. For dinner, as sometimes happens, I started towards one place and wound up in another, the Bistrot Saint-Dominique. I had fried mozzarella and a steak. I saw the Palais de Chaillot viewing of Brazil-Chile.

Rain during the night; I think it's cleared but I'm posting this in the morning from the hotel lobby.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Arrival in Paris

I'm in Paris; I'll go over the details of my flight and arrival.
My Delta flight from Kansas City to Minneapolis, scheduled for 12.17, posted a delay until 12.40, which was revised to 12.25 when the inbound made up much of the delay. Still, the door finally closed at 12.35 and it took off at 12.40. My seatmate was a man also going to Paris. Only water was served. The flight made up much of its delay, arriving at 1.53, scheduled time 1.45.

At MSP, I needed to get from the C to G concourse, and I had a pass to the SkyClub to use. I went there, took a glass of wine, and watched what I could of the U.S.-Ghana World Cup match. At 3 p.m., with a 1-1 tie, they called boarding for my flight. I'd had word that I really shouldn't try to push the time; with a 3.45 departure, even with regulation time expected to end around 3.20, by that time the door would be closed and no-shows bumped.

So I took my seat; the pilot made one announcement that the last he heard, the U.S. was leading 2-1, which turned out to be incorrect; it was Ghana that got that score in overtime and won. I took chicken rather than pasta for the dinner choice; wine is free on Delta transatlantic flights. I settled in with eyeshades on, but didn't really get to sleep much if at all. There was breakfast of a hot egg muffin and banana.

There were favorable winds, and the scheduled landing of 7.25 happened at 6.45. The plane stopped at a remote stand; we needed to go down the stairway and onto buses. That's a possibility that needs to be considered in the tight connections sometimes offered at Roissy-CDG airport. The bus circled to our terminal entrance, and we went through passageways to passport control and baggage claim. I was in the arrivals hall at the flight arrival time of 7.25.

Next were a couple of stops in the Galerie from Terminal 2E to 2F. I had wondered about buying a Paris Museum Pass with the least wait, and found that, at this early hour, I could do so right away at the airport tourist office. Next was the RoissyBus into Paris. I had learned to go to Galerie 5; the ticket machine was one of those that only takes coins and credit cards with chips (not most U.S. cards). I went out to what appeared to be the main bay for buses to stop, facing north as I could tell from the sun, but only a bus to Disneyland stopped there; the RoissyBus that I wanted stopped around the corner to the east. When that bus arrived I ran and tried to wave it down, but it didn't wait. Another 15 minutes to wait, but it was early and I wasn't in a hurry. At the next bus, I had my choreographed move to pay the driver with €20.10 and get €11 in change. The signs said to expect an hour drive, but with light Sunday morning traffic, it took 40 minutes to Opera. Most of the trip was a drab highway approach; in Paris it got interesting to see what types of storefronts remain the same, and what was new.

At Opera it was time to take the metro, and I'd been having trouble finding an answer to whether I could buy a carnet if I didn't have €11.60 in coins. There was a machine that took bills, but there was nothing on the screen, so I didn't want to chance it. There was, fortunately, a staffed booth, where the man took time to explain the route to Disneyland to a family ahead of me, but I could buy a carnet with a banknote. My fascination with the metro dates back to my year living in Paris when I was seven; here I saw new signage and a focus on line numbers rather than directions.

I got to the hotel, which I'd rather not name until I check out of it. It was before 9, and as I expected the room wasn't ready. They said it would be ready in half an hour; I took my netbook to the nearby Champ de Mars to try out the free wi-fi in parks. I took no part of someone trying to draw me into a scam of finding a gold ring on the ground. I got the wi-fi, knowing not to select the provider FreeWiFi, but Orange. I strolled some streets, with most shops closed on Sunday but some food markets active. The airline breakfast not having satisfied me, I had a croissant and coffee at a café. I got to my room, a small one, and found wi-fi not working there.
I had lunch at a café at a major intersection near the hotel; although I worried about overpricing, it was fine, a carpaccio. I’m planning to start the four days of the museum pass tomorrow; today I went to the Musée Carnavalet, which was free. I don’t remember being there before; it’s a museum of the history of Paris, and it gets more interesting as it goes along. The first displays were of period furniture; then there were paintings showing how Paris occupied much less area before the 19th century. Then there were displays on the French Revolution.

I walked around the Marais area; it was a hot day, and it was interesting to see how people dressed for it, and to guess at the Parisians doing it with more style. Since I first went around Paris as a small child, I had the habit of thinking a distance over two metro stops was too far to walk. For this trip I have a mind to walk more, and use one carnet this week. Now I decided to take the metro to FDR station (line 1 has interesting developments), and walk to the Palais de Chaillot, where World Cup matches were being shown on a big screen. It was a long walk in the heat, and I decided I didn’t want to stay in the viewing in the sun; I went through the Champ de Mars back to the hotel to see the second half.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Travel around Flo memorials

This needs to be separate from the story about the Flo memorials in my previous post, but I find there are stories to tell about the details of travel around the events.

To start, I was able to change my award to arrive in Boston shortly after noon instead of 9 p.m. In the time before Barnaby’s arrival, I had been planning to wait at the airport, but I saw that Mindy and Terry from SlowTrav were planning to have lunch in the North End, and made a general appeal for any members who could be interested to join them. The appeal for that specific Thursday lunch, which coincided with my time, looked like something that was meant to be.

On my Southwest flight, connecting through Baltimore, there’s not much to report. They started service to Boston Logan rather recently, and they use an odd section of Terminal E. In the main lobby, the signage was a bit confusing as to where to catch the bus to the T subway. I got that bus and purchased the $2 ticket from the machine, and took the Blue Line to State St. and the Orange to Haymarket. I’ve learned to take a snapshot of a map found on Google Maps on the iPod, and open it when I don’t have wi-fi.

I got to the restaurant L’Osteria, called Mindy to find out they were close, and we all got to lunch there. The meal was good, and the ladies were good company as I knew from seeing them at the big gatherings. After the meal, even though it was a bit awkward with my bags, we walked around the North End a little. I was expecting Barnaby to call when he got his rental car so I’d be ready to hop on in the street, but in fact he went ahead and (having a background in Boston) miraculously found a parking space in the North End. He charmed the ladies as we got together briefly for coffee; I must thank them all for accommodating me in having interest in this North End stop.

We had my GPS to drive out, but were foiled by making a left turn into the recessed lanes rather than staying above ground, and we unnecessarily crossed the harbor, winding up by Logan Airport again, and we had to pay the toll to cross back. Then we left Boston during rush hour, so it was slow going. We got to my parents’ Vermont home a little before 9.

At the end of my stay, my mother's friend Tricia from St. Louis, who had gone to Haiti with us, couldn't make it to the memorial events but turned up just when it was time for me to leave. It worked out that that I could ride with Sue and her parents to Manchester airport. We got there and said good-bye as they boarded their Southwest flight to Chicago; I was scheduled to fly United, connecting in Chicago, an hour later. The departure gate still wasn’t posted, but I deduced that it would be the same gate as their flight coming in from Chicago. Eventually I took the flight, on a CRJ-700 regional jet.

As I’d looked at the gate assignments of my flights on previous dates, it looked like I’d be arriving at the F gates of Terminal 2 at O’Hare, and would depart from Terminal 1, with an airside shuttle bus connecting the terminals. Now it turned out that both flights used the F concourse, avoiding that transfer, but it’s a cramped and unpleasant concourse. I found a place to get a hamburger to eat in the gate area. As I got to my departure gate area, they said they were oversold by about six passengers and were looking for volunteers to be bumped overnight. I didn’t hear the amount of the compensation, and I thought I wouldn’t go for that. The next time they said it, the offer was for $600 in travel vouchers and a free hotel stay with a food voucher. I finally thought I could manage that. I agreed to the flight at 8.45 rather than 6.30, which got me a First Class boarding pass. So here this one-way award trip that I'd essentially earned from piggy-banked miles--it's been years since I've earned United miles from flying--was getting me another $600 worth of future travel.

I had a voucher to stay at the Crowne Plaza Hotel at O’Hare. I re-learned how massive that airport is; I needed to get to the Shuttle Center for all the terminals, requiring a route through escalators, tunnels, and an elevator. Eventually the shuttle bus for that hotel showed up, I got my bag loaded, and the driver asked me to follow him since my bag was loaded and the bus was limited to 21 passengers. On arrival at the hotel, I was the last to get my bag and was at the back of the line to check in, but it worked pretty quickly: I handed in my voucher and they assigned me a upscale King room. With all the complimentary things United gave me, I was willing to put up with paying $12.95 for Internet access.

I got to the hotel restaurant for breakfast when it opened at 6; they only offered the buffet, I didn't take much, and my $15 voucher didn't quite cover the full price with tax. The way the inbound shuttle was full and they said it ran every 30 minutes, I was worried about whether there would be a problem boarding it at 7, but it worked out. I also worried about going through security at a big airport on Monday morning; while there were odd paths to take to get to the checkpoint at the airy 1980s Terminal 1, it went smoothly enough, and I was at the gate in the midfield councourse in plenty of time.

The inbound flight was a little late, but it took time for United to acknowledge that boarding wouldn't start when they said. On Southwest, there have been complaints about "cattle call" boarding, which was more the case before they gave people assigned spots in line. On United, with my assigned First Class seat, I figured I could stay seated in the gate area until they actually called boarding. This had not happened with the regional jet out of Manchester, but with this mainline jet (an A320), there was the phenomenon known as "gate lice," with people blocking the boarding area. I couldn't get through to the Red Carpet separate channel that I was entitled to take in First, and the agent closed off the front of it before I got there, and let the first Coach passengers board. She gave me an exasperated look and let me through (sorry, not much experience with this system and I didn't know the extent of the gate lice).

A reason why people push to board first on an assigned-seating airline is to get some overhead bin space for their bags, especially given the charges to check bags. I found a spot in the First Class bin where I could squeeze my bag; they had a problem closing the bin, but eventually got it to work. The plane was in a long line to take off; with storm clouds around, air traffic control asked for planes to be 10 miles apart. The 8.45 a.m. flight took off at 9.50. I had a nice Screw Driver to drink. The 10.15 scheduled arrival happened at 10.45.

So that's my account of the travel done around the sad occasion. Shortly after this, there's travel to Europe for my parents and me; going on this previously planned trip will be: moving on, part of the healing? It will be a mix, I think: we'll hope to make the best of it with Flo always in our hearts.

Flo's element was air: Flo memorials, June 2010

Since they call for such different perspectives, I will post here about the memorial events themselves, and separately about the travel there and back.

I rode with Barnaby to my parents' Vermont home, joining the many people who were arriving, including my cousin Mike who lives in Taiwan. Friends were being put up on various couches in the house and with neighbors.

On Friday was the opening of Flo’s memorial show. There were works by other artists and by Flo, reconstructed by Brian and Sue; there was an excellent turnout of people including some I knew from long ago. In addition to some of the art being beautiful tributes, there were moving tributes in poetry; reminding me of how I had about five minutes notice to give my high school graduation speech, I was asked to read a poem I’d never seen before. I don’t know how it went, but I did that.

Saturday was the day to bury Flo’s ashes. We hope it was an improvised graveside ceremony done as best was possible. A big group gathered, there were more moving readings, and the task fell to me to put the cremation box, a sailors’ box, into the ground, on my parents’ land, surrounded by the baby trees of the orchard that Flo wanted. Earth was put back over the box, and we took the ashes that hadn’t fit into the box, from the vase where they were held, and spread them at the base of the trees. I was choked up, but a question I hold within myself is whether I've cried in a proper way.

There were catered sandwiches and other food, and people stayed through the day and into the night. The people who collaborated with Flo put together a shrine in the wooded lower part of my parents' land; I went there and had my first look at Flo's studio space, only developed in the last few years.

So people showed their love and sorrow; it's so difficult for me to take. I offer a link to my photo album. I also offer Sue's album. It's best to conclude with this beautiful tribute, composed by my mother and read by my father at the show opening:

Flo’s element was air. He literally sculpted it, capturing it in bold inflatables that evoked the spaces in our dreams, the secret realms of cats and children. In a statement composed for his San Francisco show six years ago, he said:

“I sculpt spacious negatives, in addition to forming the exteriority of the architectural object. I animate the forms with air pressure to enhance their spiritual effect. If something breathes, responds to external forces, yet has a will of its own, in some sense it is alive. Or is it possessed?...” He added in a footnote, “I must stress the anima part of the word ‘animate’, from the Latin word meaning soul….”

The other three elements inform Flo’s work and life as well: water that persists both as a recurrent theme and in his persona of the sailor who submits himself to the power and mercy of the sea; fire that almost claimed his life and Brian’s in Baltimore ten years ago. Back then, once we knew they were safe, we came almost to think of it as a trial, like those the lovers Pamina and Tamino confront in The Magic Flute. Today I know it as the purifying element that reduced Flo’s vivid body to a little box of ash.

And Earth. Flo passionately believed that humans could save the planet, that he personally could enrich and coax the soil into yielding food for his family and his Haitian community. But just below the earth’s surface, last January 12, Damballah, the great serpent, the ancient force underlying the earth’s flawed and brooding structure, uncoiled, twisted, thrust up his head, killed a quarter of a million Haitians. Ended Flo’s life in an instant. Shattered all of us. And so in death Flo teaches us that there is a fifth element, one that we did not recognize at once. That element is love.

For love of Flo we have somehow gone beyond ourselves, beyond our human limits and expectations. I think of Zaka and Susan’s desperate and heroic vigil in Jacmel; of Brian’s commitment to Haiti’s future; of the extraordinary art that has already been made in Flo’s memory. Of artists who will emerge from ruined Caribbean towns and from Vermont, or New Mexico, or rural Italy. All the places, all the lives Flo touched, and touching, changed.

We have become Flo’s heirs. And tomorrow we bequeath his mortality to the earth he nourished, to the young apple orchard friends planted to honor him. The poet James Merrill who knew Flo as a child once wrote, “The soul is memory.” Remember that. Remember Flo.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Summer Europe trip: Back to thinking about it

It's been some time since I've discussed my summer trip to Europe. There will be healing aspects to it as my parents and I are in Italy together.

So what's developed: the other couple is confirmed as joining us; they will be the main car renters. The Italy part, staying in our house, will work itself out.

As Northwest has become fully merged into Delta, I've gotten occasional e-mails with flight time changes. For a time the outbound gave me 1 hr. 45 at Minneapolis airport before the transatlantic flight; that changed to give me a full two hours. I'd rather have more time, especially as I'm using up a SkyClub pass before the early boarding call for the flight, but it will work out.

Paris, where I'll be alone, needs the most planning: I have my plan charted to take the RoissyBus from the airport, then the metro. I'm hoping I can buy a metro carnet without €11.60 in coins. I have enough museum visits planned that the Paris Museum Pass will be worthwhile. That leaves me planning a trip to Chartres on the day of my evening flight to Rome. I'm thinking of using and acquiring tech tools to make the best use of them.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Travel planning for memorial

I am looking ahead to being in New England for a memorial show for Flo and to bury his ashes. There are emotions around that, but I'd like to report about the travel planning.

Airfares for the trip on Southwest were getting borderline high; I got two Southwest awards for getting their credit card, and I was thinking of booking an award, which I could cancel if good fare sales turned up. In a matter that I mishandled, I thought I'd wait for the right time to ask my parents about the right dates to travel. I did this when they visited me; then I found that paid fares were getting much higher, and it was very difficult to find any award availability. Although Manchester, N.H., is the closer airport to my parents' home, the only award I could find on the outbound arrived in Boston, and too late to catch the last bus to my parents' area. I booked that, hoping something better could turn up, but there were no awards to find for the return.

So there were the options of making tentative bookings with Southwest, who allows for flexibility, booking an expensive return but hoping for a lower fare or award to turn up, and I could keep the extra funds for future travel. Or I could book a paid trip with another airline, and I'd be committed to whatever I booked (those would entail big change fees). Or, while I kept checking for Southwest Standard Awards, consider my Plan B to convert two awards to a Freedom Award, which I could use on any flight that wasn't completely sold out. I committed to nothing, and kept that as my ultimate back-up, until...

In one forum, someone brought to my attention that American and United now had one-way awards. I don't have much activity with flights on those airlines, but let myself get bonuses and thought they might eventually get to some useful level. It happens that because of a bonus, I'd recently switched my dining miles earning from Delta (which was a merge from Northwest) to United. I was getting very close to the 12,500 miles needed for a one-way award. While Delta had posted dining miles once a month, I figured out that United posted them weekly, on Tuesday. To be sure of reaching the needed miles, I bought a gift card from a local restaurant. A one-way award was showing; I wasn't that confident that it would still be there this week, but I aimed for it in case it was available. Lo and behold, it was, for a flight out of Manchester at a decent time. I also looked at United one-way awards from Burlington, Vt.: they had one with a routing Burlington-Washington Dulles-Detroit-Chicago-Kansas City, all on regional jets, not too appealing if one isn't earning miles and getting status by flying many segments. So I have that United return out of Manchester and, unless something better opens up, a Southwest outbound to Boston at an inconvenient time, but something can be worked out around it.

On Southwest, it used to be that a Standard Award could be used on any flight that had seats available. My experience using the current capacity-controlled awards around the year-end holidays has been that there was good availability; now it's disappointing that awards are unavailable for a big block of time, and Southwest's fares are higher than on other airlines. It would have given me pause to have to use two awards for the type of unrestricted travel that until recently was available with one; it looks like Southwest is very popular with its "Bags Fly Free" and generally good performance.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chicago trip

I took a weekend trip to Chicago. At Kansas City airport, I knew that the virtual strip search machines were installed at the Southwest Airlines checkpoint, and I could be facing my first confrontation over opting out of that inspection. The machine was on the left side after you entered, and I was able to turn right; anyway the machine was roped off, not in operation.

With my A34 boarding pass, I found the high-legroom exit row all open, and took the window seat. I have enough drink coupons that I had a cocktail even on this morning flight. On arrival at Midway Airport, I went to the transit station to take the el into town. I planned for my only use of the transit system to be the round trip at $4.50; I knew that the cash machines didn't give change; I saw a machine that sold passes for credit card payment, but the attendant said it didn't sell regular tickets. Anyway, I had $4.50 in cash to buy a fare card, but when I returned I saw that on the back side of the bank of machines, there was one that appeared to sell regular fare cards for credit cards. I took the Orange Line to Roosevelt, and took the rather long transfer route from the elevated platform to the underground Red Line, which I took to Grand. That was close to the hotel where I was booked, the Comfort Inn on Ohio St.

The room wasn't ready yet, and I checked my bags. I'd talked to Sue earlier, and it was established that we'd meet in the late afternoon. It was getting to be 11 a.m., and I decided to have lunch at the Billy Goat, the "Chizborger" place of early Saturday Night Live fame. Then I went across Millennium Park to the Art Insitute, a main interest of this trip being to see the new Modern Wing.

Entering there, there was the main entrance hall; in the galleries to the side, there was a show of photography of the U.S. South by William Eggleston. I went into the main building for the show of Matisse from 1913 to 1917, important in his movement towards Cubism and less objective work; he cited "methods of modern construction." I had a quick look at some American work in the main building. Back to the Modern Wing, designed by Renzo Piano: I didn’t like that there was no clear direction to the galleries. The main way to go was by stairs, on the side rather than a grand staircase, and I suppose that is part of encouraging energy saving. The signs going by gallery numbers were a little unclear about how one should visit the galleries. These galleries had modern art of varying interest to me; some of my favorites were by Balthus and Magritte. The third floor gallery was on the north side, and there was no connection to the Bridgeway from Millennium Park to the third floor on the south side. I went down and up by elevator to exit that way; if I’d entered by the Bridgeway, coming in by a restaurant, it would have been a confusing way to enter. I understand that the concept is that the Griffin Court, the main entrance hall, divides the two pavilions of the Modern Wing.

I went back to the hotel and found my small room ready. I went briefly around shopping streets, got back, and got the call that Sue and Barnaby would be picking me up. Flo had seen Barnaby off for his departure from Port-au-Prince the day before the earthquake; I’d picked this weekend at random for a Chicago trip, and then learned that Barnaby would be there for a conference. They came to meet me, and I learned there that we were going to dinner at Sue’s parents in the distant suburb of Batavia. The expressway out of town was jammed with construction, but it was eventually clear going. Barnaby had taken the small jump seat in the back of the pickup cab, and I learned that he was dealing with tremendous nerve pain.

Sue's parents gave us a nice steak dinner, and I admired how much support they give to Sue for her unorthodox choices. The conversation went differently than I planned, where I wanted to piece together details about the events around the earthquake and Flo's death, but I learned a lot during the drive back. Sue and Barnaby were planning to be at parties well into the night, but I declined to go, ready to be at the hotel at midnight and make a little use of my room.

I got up in time to have breakfast when it opened at 7, checked out, and walked to the State/Lake el station rather than go with a transfer. I got through the turnstile just as the right train was pulling in at 7.50; I got to Midway a little over 30 minutes later. I'd printed my boarding pass at the airport kiosk because the 24-hour mark came shortly after my inbound arrival. The system didn't go right to the boarding pass from my credit card, or my Rapid Rewards number after that; they then asked for my confirmation code, delaying getting in from the opening second, and I got pass B9. This meant that I could go straight from the walkway from the el station to security without going to check-in at the upper level. The TSA directed my line to a checkpoint they'd just opened in an area off to the side.

It was a full flight, not too eventful I'd prepared part of this document offline at Midway and on the plane. At KCI, with free wi-fi, I paused on arrival to copy what I'd written from my netbook to Google Docs. When that was done, the doors out of the sterile area were closed; I was able to get out where there was an agent to ask for assistance; I wasn't about to cause an incident by opening a door with an "Alarm will sound" warning.

Monday, March 15, 2010

San Diego, March 14-15 and return

The gathering ended Sunday with a brunch at the Island Palms. Afterwards I joined leader Shannon and others of the group with wine around the pool. OK, this was a nice friendly gathering, less of a production in terms of speeches, videos, etc. than the one in Savannah two years ago. It's nice to see so many people of the group, even though I don't fit in in the best way in social situations. It was an important step to get many expressions of sympathy for Flo without it being overwhelming.

For the practical travel matters that I discuss most easily: we had the Daylight Saving Time change on Sunday (and during planning, I think I was the first to bring it to the organizers' attention on the board) and I had the time right to check in online at the 24-hour mark. Maybe fumbling with the netbook's touchpad delayed me by a few seconds, but I was surprised to see boarding number B14. With San Diego being in the corner of Southwest's network, one wouldn't expect it to be much of a connecting place, but it is. People connecting to this flight (including, oddly, from Tucson), had a head start on me at 24 hours before their first flight.

On Monday morning, I returned the rental car and got to Southwest's terminal. I know from previous experience that their main gate area is cramped, not much fun. Today I found that my flight is from gate 2: gates 1-2 are in a separate area, to the right of check-in at ground area (the jetway slopes up), facing the roadway. Security had no wait, compared to the long line for the main gates. There's a good amount of seating and some concessions. That's where I'm composing this, and I'll go ahead and publish this, reserving the option to add to it if much of interest happens in the flight.

Adding: Pictures

Sunday, March 14, 2010

San Diego, March 13

Saturday morning: I researched a creperie, went there for breakfast and looked around the nearby North Park area. For lunch, I drove Doru and Josette to the project that Shannon had planned: In 'n Out Burger with wine. We all had big and tasty Double Double Burgers with several wines to go around, and see how the wines and burgers affected each other every few bites.

Then my cousin Maria and her husband Steve met me at the Island Palms, and we spent some time in Old Town. They are fun people and it was nice. Then we got to the Gathering activity of the Mexican fiesta, a very authentic meal. Closing out for now.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

San Diego, March 12

I have arrived in San Diego and I will start posting about travel again. This site is on record for my tribute to Flo, who will remain very much in my thoughts, and I hope it works to have the link to that tribute prominent under the title of this blog.

I'll see how it works to report on activities day-by-day, and report on big trips this way rather than spend a lot of time afterwards on trip reports. I'll start with my flight: leaving midday from Kansas City, my practice is to stop at Subway on the way, rather than pay high airport concession prices, and have a sandwich onboard with a coupon-bought beer if flying Southwest. We didn't have the snow that was possible, just chill and drizzle. As it's the start of Spring Break for many, there were crowds at the airport; this flight also had several people getting a cruise. It's been showing as sold out for a while; they were looking for one volunteer to bump, and it hasn't been too clear to me how that works on Southwest, and I couldn't arrive much later.

When I checked in right at the 24-hour mark, I got boarding pass A41. I took an aisle seat at the front of the rear flight attendant's section, the seatmates were fine, I had my sandwich with a beer, and dozed a bit on this, one of the longest possible flights from Kansas City. Although we were a few minutes late taking off, we arrived 30 minutes early. Although I won't be driving much, there was such a good deal for a rental car from Alamo that I took that, and got to the hotel, the Island Palms on Shelter Island.

Here things were nice in that they upgraded me to a Junior Suite, with a living area and two TVs, but the remote was completely haywire. Also wi-fi wasn't connecting, so I'm writing this first part offline. The key cards needed to be replaced a couple of times.

Then I got help from SlowTrav leader Kim in getting wi-fi to work. I’m back now from the evening event: went to Jane’s house, riding with Roz, and Nico visiting from Italy. So many people showed their support, and it’s an important step in things at this stage. There was a great assortment of small things (antipasti) to eat. Although the temperature was nice from what I came from, it was chilly for an outdoor event, but people were well prepared and bundled. At this late hour, I’ll stop there on this report.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

In memoriam: my brother Flo

Flo was lost to the world in the Haiti earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010. I will post here some thoughts that come to mind, it being impossible to write a true life story.

A new baby came into my family as a major surprise when I was 17, and we were living in Italy. This baby Flora of course took our life in a whole new direction, and meant my parents effectively raised two only children. She learned the ability to speak in English and Italian at the same time, and it took her time to learn correct gender pronouns.  When we were together, she gave me an opportunity to extend some of my childishness as I liked; I remember some apparent absurdities like my asking if she'd have a beard sometime and she said "Yes, because I want to be a man."

The family ended its full-time residence in Italy and moved to St. Louis when Flo was in elementary school. Flo's fearlessness came into evidence: my mother remembers picking her up at school with darkened, ominous skies; while other students were huddled inside, Flo was out dancing in the rain.

Flo went to college at the Maryland Institute College of Art, with an official major in fibers, but with a lot of interest in inflatable sculpture and performance art. She developed a free-spirit style. She remained in Baltimore for a few years, and organized artistic activities in some impoverished neighborhoods. In January 2000, the loft where she was living caught fire in the middle of the night; she and her boyfriend Brian barely made it out in time before it burned completely, and they lost their pets and belongings. The third resident, Sue, was away on vacation in Puerto Vallarta; Flo and friends did detective work to find out what flight she was taking and meet her at the airport and alert her, rather than have her take a taxi to the loft and find it gone.

Flo was on the edge of disaster at other times: some kind of burn on her at a performance, and having to evacuate her neighborhood because of toxic gas from a train.

Flo entered the M.F.A. program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and continued the variety of work, graduating and doing summer teaching. Having bisexual preferences was fine and wasn't something that routinely needed to be mentioned, but Flo came to want to be known as male and took testosterone treatments. I needed to support any choices, but it was a difficult subject to broach with people and start using male pronouns. As I edit this post, I finally say "brother" rather than "sibling."

He went to San Francisco and was involved in the film Maggots and Men, with a mostly female-born cast playing male roles in the story of the Kronstadt Rebellion in Russia. An interest in his art for display was agrisculpture, promoting sustainable living.

Flo had a long-time fascination with Haiti, making some visits and conducting workshops at the FOSAJ arts center in Jacmel. He decided to commit fully to that, and learned the Kreyol language. Because the FOSAJ founder had made some bad decisions and had to leave Haiti, Flo arrived in fall 2008 as FOSAJ director. My parents and I visited in early 2009, and felt a wide range of sensations about Haiti: admiring people's coping in poverty, but also feeling risk. Not so much in terms of crime or harassment of white people, although Flo often had money go missing; more in terms of the infrastructure, with electricity off half the time, and the safety of vehicles and roads:  My Haiti trip report

Flo spent the summer in the U.S., doing a lot of FOSAJ management by long distance, and returned to Haiti in fall 2009. He was involved in another film production and the Ghetto Biennale. In December, the bad news piled up: Francesco Fantoli, the Italian owner of a B&B/restaurant where we stayed outside Jacmel, was killed in a mugging in Port-au-Prince. Then Chal, the security guy who really gave Flo all the administrative knowledge he needed, died of a heart attack at 43. The funeral delayed Flo's return to our family's Vermont home for the year-end holidays. Also looming was that the founder's family seemed to be close to selling the FOSAJ building. With Flo's brief visit, I had a foreboding feeling.

I realize that I've given a "mostly the facts" account, and I should give an idea of what others have said about him: boundless energy, remarkably creative, and devoted to Haiti, as well as to cats. It's hard to put down my own thoughts:  I looked with wonderment at so much that he accomplished.  He said that our skills complemented one another, but he had a good talent in my supposed forte of finding good travel deals. The links at the end can give a better impression.

When news of the earthquake broke, Tuesday at 5 p.m., the focus was on Port-au-Prince; Flo had taken a longtime family friend to catch his flight out of Port-au-Prince on Monday, and was returning straight to Jacmel. my mother talked to people close to the FOSAJ founder who said they thought Jacmel had very little damage. The phone didn't connect, and I made use of Twitter, which I'd just joined a couple of days earlier. The news from Jacmel was increasingly worrisome, and some pictures were coming out.

Sue, who had luckily been away at the tragedy almost exactly ten years earlier, was visiting Flo and conducting workshops at FOSAJ. It seemed like an eternity, but it was late Wednesday evening that word first got out that Sue was o.k., but Flo was trapped in a building and people were working to get him out. On Thursday morning, Sue reached my mother on the phone to give the news that Flo was gone, killed instantly in the quake. They were having drinks at the Peace of Mind hotel when the quake hit; Sue got out in time but Flo didn't. At this writing, Friday, Jan. 15, Sue vows not to leave Jacmel without Flo's cremains, and getting out will be difficult with the road to Port-au-Prince blocked.  I will soon be joining my parents for a memorial service in Baltimore; that's how I'm using the Southwest award that I mentioned being issued too early in an earlier blog post.

So, it will be difficult to go on with this huge gap for me and my family; I'll think of Flo with great love, and his loss reflects his risk taking and devotion to Haiti.

Update:  How great to learn of a collective blog devoted to Flo:

Update Feb. 6, 2010: I'm back from memorials in Vermont and New Hampshire. A travel angle: Air Force One with President Obama arrived at Manchester, N.H., airport as I was getting ready to board my return flight from there.

Excerpts from a family statement about donations:

Many of you will, and have already, donated in Flo's name to worthy causes, especially those devoted to Haitian relief which is desperately needed, both immediately and in the longer term. This is primary and we thank you profoundly on his behalf and on our own for that.

Some of you have asked if there might also be a cause that would be personal to Flo as an artist. In that regard we are establishing with the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he so happily received his undergraduate education and later taught briefly, a FLO MCGARRELL COLLABORATIVE PROJECTS FUND which would be for "Awards of up to $200 to be made upon the recommendation of the fiber department chair, to two or more undergraduate students engaged in a special creative project for the purchase of equipment, materials or services which they could otherwise not
afford." It was precisely ventures of this kind in which Flo thrived as a student, teacher and artist.

Gifts to this fund can be made online at by
selecting "restrict my gift to" and typing in "Flo McGarrell
The Vermont Studio Center, on its own initiative, is generously offering a residency for a Haitian artist in Flo's name. For more information on that you can go here.

Sue has posted links to causes that were helpful to her in the aftermath of the earthquake: Rebuild Peace of Mind

Report from the student paper at the university where I work

Important links:
Flo's site
Wide-ranging interview
Tribute with last pictures. Person with him, Barnaby, is the visiting friend who flew out on Monday.
Barnaby's video footage from Flo's last weekend

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Alert about enhanced airport security

I'll step away for a moment from this ordinary account of my travel planning to talk about something travel-related, but possibly in the realm of politics. In the aftermath of the attempted Christmas bombing of a plane, there are many calls to expand use of the Whole Body Imager, a machine that sees through clothes. The device is currently in a pilot program where it's the primary screening method at a few checkpoints, and secondary (for people raising alarms in the metal detector and "random selectees") in others. The Transportation Security Administration says there should be no privacy worries about it, and posts sample views of the image that don't seem like much of a problem. A video at shows a different picture, so to speak, with the screener having higher resolution and zoom-in capability. In the U.K. it's been deemed that images of minors in these devices would violate child pornography laws:

It's questionable whether this would have caught the Christmas bomber. This device is part of security theater, making it look like major steps are being taken while there are still big loopholes. The image stops at the first contact with skin, so forbidden objects could be kept under fat folds or other ways I'll leave to the imagination. Also it's simply an image rather than any explosives detection. So there are concerns about privacy and the practical worry that people are asked to empty their pockets and leave their belongings out of site in a crowded area. I'm posting this so people can make their judgment, keeping it to "mostly the facts."

Monday, January 4, 2010

New year, new developments

I'm back from my year-end holiday trip to my parents' home in Vermont; the Southwest flights went smoothly on the fringes of weather problems. My sibling Flo joined us from Haiti for too short a time, coming from some tragic developments there. News around airline security: well, I don't want to get into my opinions about that here.

Anyway, focusing on my summer trip plans, I transferred some miles to my father's Delta account, so there would be miles for both parents to go to Italy if they could find the trip at a low miles price in one direction and medium in the other. We couldn't find the low miles at the start, but as of Jan. 1 there was low-mile availability to Milan going a little before I get to Paris, and we could use the medium miles to return from Rome at the same time. My father had some hesitation about going for that long, but finally went ahead and booked it. So I'm glad about that, feeling that it's nice that we could work it out while I was with them. Another couple, friends of theirs, may join us, so some details will depend on that.

With the new year, I went ahead and booked my Paris stay. In March I have the Slow Travel gathering in San Diego, with some details to work out there; most of the details about Europe planning can wait until after that.