Monthly Archives: September 2017

Newark to Paris

🛫 The Great France Art Tour of 2017


We departed Newark airport on a regular and frequently used Delta flight, leaving in the late afternoon. I was familiar with the routine. I had taken many similar flights to Frankfurt in 2015 to participate in the slow motion collapse of my career at the conquering and unappreciative German pharma and chemical giant, Merck.

Summer air travel has a reputation for delays, but passing through airport security with the “TSA Pre” checkmark on my electronic ticket was quick, even with the pat down I received when a sensor set off an alarm for no apparent reason. (After running his hands down the inside of my legs to my ankles, the TSA agent waved me through without comment. Despite my opinion to the contrary, my package is apparently not that notable!)

But that unbelievably long walk to the very last gate, then sitting, sitting, sitting through the noise and bustle, passengers gushing forth, crews leaving, arriving, checking in, and so on, until you can’t take it anymore, and instead of grumbling or screaming, you get up, walk around, find another seat– blah! Time spent in the terminal is tedious! Writing about it is nearly as tedious as the real thing–which is why we should skip it–and so we will. When I retype this, perhaps a heavy edit can reduce it to a line or two? Or maybe nothing?

Got on the plane.

Deb had upgraded our economy tickets to “Delta Comfort”, which guarantees ‘Overhead storage’ and an additional 6 inches (who wouldn’t want that?). If you have flown at all in the last 20 years, you know that besides the seat shrinkage issue, nobody wants to check their bags. Every passenger is in an ugly rush to get on board as quickly as possible to stow his bag overhead, preferably over his own seat, before anyone else usurps that valuable location. Failure means finding overhead space back—toward the tail of the plane—the worst place for your bag to be after the plane lands and everyone is surging and shoving ruthlessly to the front to get God-knows-where, but definitely off the plane, past you. In that unlucky situation, you’ll likely have to wait until the plane is empty–or if you’re lucky, if someone further back has the same situation and manages to stanch the flow of the herd long enough for you to make a run against the stream and grab your bag. If you have endured this ordeal in the past you will appreciate the “Delta Comfort” guarantee that your luggage, and only your luggage goes in that special place.

💺Hooray! We find our seats (with the six extra inches), stow our bags overhead and get settled in.

Moments later, directly across the aisle, a middle-aged, clean shaven, blond guy in a guayabera and shorts starts cramming and shoving and moving his bag, and another bag that is already there, grumbling, and trying to slam the hatch on the bag that is clearly and obviously too big. I think this is his bag. He sighs loudly and grumbles loudly to the person next to him (who is his wife, trying hard to pretend that he is a stranger to her). He rearranges the bag with much slamming and complaining and sighing and noise. Deb and I both glance his way with the same thought, at the same time, and yes, tied to his bag is the same yellow Arawjo Tours tag that identifies our bags. We turn face-to-face at the same instant, with the same horrified look of recognition. This is the man we shall call “Donald”, who will be spending the next ten days traveling around France with us. Need I say, we do not introduce ourselves.

On the plane they feed us. Better than no food, by my account anyway. Deb has standards for food, the main one being that it is actually food. As opposed to chemicals and sugar variants. She leaves the butter, bread, cookies, chocolate, and other suspect quasi-food items on her tray. I follow her lead sometimes, and other times over the next five hours, I eat the butter, bread, cookies, and chocolate. Although our special “Delta Comfort” seats entitle us to alcoholic beverages, neither of us drinks alcohol on the plane.

We watch movies. It’s a chance to watch something, not as a couple! Violent Jason Bourne movies, stupid super-hero movies, sexy vampires, for me these are the things that are best watched with your children, but not usually, with your life partner. I happily indulge in a movie I have been anticipating for awhile, the latest Wolverine movie: “Logan“. Although my reputation as the “non-exemplary English Major” plus my ability to recite the Green Lantern’s oath, is well-known, the truth is, I never read Marvel comics until I was an adult.

I was much more fond of DC’s Superman, Batman, and yes, the Green Lantern, than of Marvel’s “X-Men”. The X-Men were difficult to follow, with their multitude of mutational powers and Marvel’s penchant for endlessly serialized stories. Heck, when I spent 12 cents, then 15 cents, and eventually 25 cents for a comic, I wanted a story and an ending, not a soap opera of agonizing super-hero self-examination and drama that only moved the story along a smidge and compelled me to buy the next issue! Criminy.

Nevertheless, as an adult, watching with my pre-teen son, I came to enjoy the X-Men, mostly because of the movies with Patrick Stewart as “Doctor Xavier”. I especially liked “the Wolverine” (portrayed by Hugh Jackman) with his Dorian Grey/vampire-tormented-by-immortality issues as seen in several confusing time-shifting films. So I was primed and ready for the new film, “Logan”.

** Spoiler Alert!! ** This one is more than a little dark. Really. Everyone gets killed. All the friendly helpful non-mutant civilians, Logan, and even Dr. Xavier. Snuffed. Not very uplifting;  true to the Marvel tradition.

The normal healthy person might sleep through the rest of the flight. That would be Deb. Without my CPAP I can’t sleep,  and though I have a portable unit, it’s too much trouble to break it out, even with Delta Comfort’s extra six inches.

The giant 747, 767, or seven-something-or-other-seven variant growled its way over the Atlantic all night—a night shortened by our Eastward travel toward the rising sun. Pushed by the Gulf stream and the heavy hand of our pilot, the plane touched down at Charles De Gaulle airport an hour early!!


🇫🇷 It was Tuesday morning in Paris. In heels, sporty trousers and a matching jacket, of medium height, middle-aged, with mid-length black hair on a round head, and a pleasant face with just enough makeup on her lips and eyes, our truly French guide, Christine, met us in the luggage area. We had shuffled through the long winding passport control/immigration line, and piled up, thirty-five tourists with yellow Arawjo tags on their bags, ready to take the coach to the hotel.

I took this moment to observe the full group: Mostly couples. One or two singles, both male and female. We are not the youngest. We are not the oldest.

But wait!! Where were the two round, blond ladies who introduced themselves as we snaked through the long immigration line?? Steve, our friendly and easy-going tour manager, (Who we met at Newark airport—but I cut that part of the narrative out, didn’t I?) gathers us together closer and after roll call, confirms the absence of the two indistinguishable blondes, who we begin to refer to as “the Bobbsey Twins”. “Donald” uses this pause to jump to the front of the line, dragging his wife behind him, a scene repeated throughout the trip.  We take a few anxious moments pondering the fate of our comrades, lost so early in the journey, imagining them waiting somewhere near a baggage carousel far away, staring at the portal over an endless conveyor that spews out suitcases and bags of all sorts, but never theirs, never theirs!  Interrupting this reverie, a sharp-eyed scout points them out, standing outside on the curb, shiny heads barely visible through a huge swirling blue grey cloud of their own cigarette smoke.

Led by Christine on a short march through the airport, picking up our delinquent charges on the way, we hop in the large charter bus. At last.

— Christo


A Non-exemplary English Major Claims his Crown

Summer 2017 Book Reviews


Thinking about a house in LA, lying in bed this morning at about 4 AM half awake and the color yellow seemed somehow important, because it had something to do with that house—maybe I remember the house as being yellow. Was it? Or maybe it was that the kitchen or the wall in that little nook was yellow, with the small table where we used to sit and drink coffee and talk with Doctor “Dick” Kocher, our favorite English Professor? I don’t know.

It was a dream. But then, there was some very complex thought in the dream about aging, memory, and the difficulty of communication, which I understood as my brain was presenting it to me (and isn’t this the grand tease of dreams? That as they are happening they seem so brilliant, and we seem so brilliant to be dreaming them, but when we return to the mundane “real world” and wakefulness, we can barely recall the substance, much less the brilliant detail of our brilliance.) So of course, I can hardly remember any of it now. It was a dream.

I had hoped to finish writing about my trip to France (“The Great France Art Tour of 2017”), but that is becoming one of those long narratives that will take a great deal of effort and probably time to complete. Nevertheless I am working on it.

Meanwhile, somehow it occurred to me that it might be of interest to share with you some of the books that I’ve been reading lately. As you probably remember, I have never been a very good reader, and have struggled to finish as few as eight books a year outside of technology publications. I am no idiot, but I am not the exemplary English Major. I’m proud of my friends and colleagues from my college days, who can spout off stanzas of Wordsworth and remember lines of Blake. Me? I can remember Green Lantern’s oath. “In brightest day, in blackest night…” whatever. I probably judge myself more harshly on this than anyone else, but I have decided it is time to catch up!

I am writing this using “dictation”. The Macintosh usually understands what I am saying—although I am not convinced that speaking is any faster than typing—especially with all the corrections. So pardon some non-standard formatting and punctuation, because I, claiming the crown of the non-exemplary English Major, probably won’t correct it all.

For these books I’ve lifted a few descriptions and blurbs to save a little time. (I will enclose these in quotations without the source. You may assume it’s the book description on, for which I have included a minefield of potentially income-generating links!)

Hillerman_Fly_on_the_wall_coverThe fly on the wall Tony Hillerman If you enjoy Hillerman, you’ve probably read this one; it’s a pre-Navaho Police book, using most of his basic plot techniques, suspense, the ticking time bomb, etc., in this case using a journalist as a detective. Nothing great. “A good read.”

McBride_Good_Lord_Bird_coverThe good Lord bird – James McBride  A picaresque/historical novel, by this Award winning, African American author, it’s about a young freed slave who passes himself off as a girl, having many adventures, and ending up with John Brown at the raid on Harper’s Ferry. A book with an engaging first-person narrative reminiscent of Little Big Man or one of the Flashman adventures (of course, Flashy was at Harper’s Ferry too!). I confess I laughed aloud in a number of places. Deeply researched and historically accurate (for a novel), its humor is inconsistent—which is to be expected I guess, given the subject matter. autobiography of Mark Twain Samuel Clemens I imagine this is standard reading for all English majors, and I started it, but did not get too far. The Introduction to this older edition went on endlessly about Twain’s difficulty in writing it, finding his voice, all the variant releases, etc. In the end, I don’t care. It didn’t hold my attention. 


Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz Ever since my very good friend Anne gave me The Complete Annotated Sherlock Holmes I’ve been a Holmes fan. “The game is once again afoot in this thrilling mystery from the bestselling author of The House of Silk, sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate, which explores what really happened when Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty tumbled to their doom at the Reichenbach Falls.” The author’s ability to impersonate Doyle’s style is fun, but I will not recommend this book. In fact, I say DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. The plot itself contains an annoying gimmick. Really annoying. Don’t bother.

LIfe_of_Pi_Martel_CoverLife of pi – Yann Martel I was looking for an ebook from my local library and this caught my attention: escaped zoo animals, survival on a boat. I did not see the movie, so I had no idea what I was getting into. It had that odd part at the ending, reminiscent of the Tin Drum, where the whole narrative is called into question and you wonder if in fact he was on the boat with the tiger and other animals, or really humans, and all that suggests about cannibalism etc.. But I enjoyed the adventure, back-and-forth narrative style, and the explanations of zoos and zoo animals throughout.

A_Month_in_the_Country_Carr_CoverA month in the country – J.L.CarrTom Birkin, a veteran of the Great War and a broken marriage, arrives in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby where he is to restore a recently discovered medieval mural in the local church. Living in the bell tower, surrounded by the resplendent countryside of high summer, and laboring each day to uncover an anonymous painter’s depiction of the apocalypse, Birkin finds that he himself has been restored to a new, and hopeful, attachment to life. But summer ends, and with the work done, Birkin must leave. Now, long after, as he reflects on the passage of time and the power of art, he finds in his memories some consolation for all that has been lost.

The above sounds like the parody of some overdone, silly romance. Really this is a beautiful novel, with a little mystery, a little romance, and a bit of information about restoration of old paintings. It seems as if it could easily have been written shortly after World War I instead of it’s actual origin, published in 1980.

Genius_of_Birds_Ackerman_CoverThe genius of birds Jennifer Ackerman This non-fiction book supposedly reveals the recent discoveries about, and studies of, the intelligence of birds. Starts with the premise that most of us assume birds are just “dumb” animals. This assumption is a huge one, since at this point in history, most people have experienced—or at least are aware of—birds using tools, having complex communications, navigational abilities, and so on.

I have a prejudice against this book. Early on, the author labels quail “on the dumber side” of bird intelligence! Then she revels in the brilliance of a Chickadee chirping in different ways to communicate not just the presence of a predator, but of the proximity and type of predator. Those specific communications are exactly the kind that our quail Peep-sight used to share with the rest of the family to warn of a Red-Tailed hawk overhead, a snake in the bushes, or the dreaded basketball rolling in his direction.

If you like the sort of well researched tomes that explain scientific information for the masses, I suppose this book is okay. But I found myself going to “skim mode” for most of it because there’re just too many words about brains and brain development. Great insomnia cure.

H_is_for_Hawk_MacdonaldH is for Hawk – Helen MacDonald This  book was recommended by a few friends as another “bird adoption book” (since they are aware of my personal weakness for those – see Peep-sight ). I have started and stopped twice trying to read “H”. Written by a British woman who loves words. Lots of words. All kinds of words. Too many words. And it seems to be way more about her father and personal loss of family than about the bird…

History_of_Jazz_GioiaThe History of Jazz – Ted Gioia  An excellent, well written, and deeply thorough reference. It took me at least a hundred pages to get into this book. I love jazz and wanted to learn more about it. And if I were more patient, and it weren’t a library book, I might have finished it. But after 2 extensions, and trying to read fast, I stopped just when it was getting interesting – Be Bop and Cool Jazz. I could read more about that era, but I really don’t want to hear any more about Dixieland and Big Bands!!

Chasing_Cezanne_Mayle_CoverChasing Cezanne – Peter Mayle A lightweight novel about art forgery from the well-known author of the non-fiction “A Year in Provence”. Fun reading because of the descriptions of the South of France (where I was going to be traveling). Coming over the high road on the drive to Monte Carlo, it was really a treat to know something about Cap Ferrat sitting on the azure sea below.

Year_in_Provence_MayleA Year in Provence – Peter Mayle  I enjoyed reading a chapter or two of this non-fiction book, but it was an ebook from the library, and the system kept crashing and making me re-download it. So I will use inconvenience as my excuse for losing interest.

Rock_With_Wings_HillermanRock with Wings – Anne Hillerman  No matter how much we want this author to bring back Jim Chee and Lieutenant Leaphorn after her father’s death, it just isn’t happening. Now we have Chee’s wife, Manuelito, and her annoying sister, and aging mother who take up most of the book. Ms. Hillerman put a bullet in Leaphorn’s head in her first “comeback” novel and the poor Lieutenant may never completely recover – saving her the challenge of making him a decent and reliable character, or one that she ruined. Poor Chee is even more of a boob than he was in the past. I finished this, but I don’t think I’ll read another.

Master_and_Commander_O'BrienMaster and Commander  – Patrick O’Brien  My college Professor Dr. Kocher is probably thinking, “Why in God’s name haven’t you read any of these Royal Navy sailing books by now??” And I don’t know. My brother has read all twenty and been pestering me for years to try one. The only thing close I have ever read is Moby Dick. Master and Commander is wonderful storytelling with interesting and likeable characters, although the depth and vocabulary of sailing knowledge is a bit daunting. I looked up a lot of references and skipped or relied on context to understand the rest. There are twenty of these?? I may tackle another one some day.,204,203,200_.jpgThe Return of Little Big Man – Thomas Berger  Another “picaresque”. After absolutely loving Berger’s Arthur Rex, I was sorely disappointed by his muddled Teddy Villanova hard boiled detective spoof. But somehow I had missed that he wrote a sequel to Little Big Man! I found this in the used book sale at the library, and read a Kirkus review before starting it, just to lower my expectations. (It actually got good reviews.)

I haven’t read Little Big Man in thirty five years, but remember really liking it. This book picks up from the original, explaining how Jack Crabb could come up with more narrative (since he was over a hundred and presumably near death in the last one). What a pleasure to read! We spend a little time with Wild Bill Hickock, and more with Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, and near the end, as much as I want to keep reading, I want to slow down because you just know things are not going to end well for Jack’s friend Sitting Bull. I especially enjoy Berger’s ability to put us into the first person narration of Jack Crabb, who in turn, expresses so well the “different” way in which Indians see things. This book is a gem.

Murder_of_Sonny_Liston_AssaelThe Murder of Sonny Liston – Shaun Assael I’m slogging through this book, which has its moments, but is mostly pretty dull and poorly written. I am a captive audience though, because Assael is writing about the time when I lived in Las Vegas—the 60’s and 70’s—when in addition to the Mob, we had Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and the Beatles visit our city. It’s kind of a shock to me that I never realized that the casinos were SEGREGATED. But then again, I never went to the casinos. He writes a lot about “the race riots”, which I vaguely remember in my mainly white Las Vegas school as fights between ten or fifteen kids of different colors, completely overblown by the press and school administrators. He doesn’t mention what I always thought was the main cause, the abrupt de-segregation of schools by busing, with little preparation or sensitivity, and on all sides, our ignorance and inexperience with people who are “different” which created fear and tension. We’ll see what happens. But I’m pretty sure Sonny Liston is going to be murdered.

And for now, that’s all she wrote!!

— Christo