Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Two years of Jacques

May 26, 2017: Adoption Day!
June 2017: Play time with Lincoln

July 2017: In the Mali heat and dirt
August 2017: Cruisin' home after camping in Siby

September 2017: Poor pup post-op. 

October 2017: Halloween

November 2017: Smiles

December 2017: Napping pose

January 2018: Hanging with Lincoln

February 2018: Snoozing

March 2018: Mali heat

April 2018: Durham yard running

May 2018: Good boy! Training in Durham
June 2018: Durham lake walk

July 2018: Beach time in Maryland

July 2018: Leavin' on a jet plane...
August 2018: Paris river hike

September 2018: Sunrise
October 2018: Nap time!

November 2018: Normandy

December 2018: Morning songs
January 2019: Stumped
February 2019: Lake walks
March 2019: Balcony chillin'
April 2019: Park time
May 2019: Post-play rest

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Dreams and Scribblings

Home sick today with a seasonal cold, bored of reading and tired of watching Netflix, but not quite ready to go to bed. I started looking through old e-mails and draft e-mails, absently clicking here and there. 

Sometimes when I get an idea for a story, or something happens that I want to set down somewhere, I write a draft e-mail and save it, let it hang out in the Drafts folder. It waits for me to delete it, or to come back and tweak it. Today was a 'tweak it' kinda day.

This story is from a few years age, based on a dream I'd had. When I wrote it out, it became more of a story and I wished I knew the rest of the tale. The main elements from the dream that remain clear in my memory are the clarity of being me, but also being a guy named Cal; bumping my head into the man and his exclamation in response; the three evil guys; and the end part about the mysterious second book and the emotions it evoked. I tried hard to communicate the silly yet intense nature of the dream in the style of writing.

Anyway, here's the story I fleshed out of the shreds of my dream. I have no title for it and am not sure if I'll ever figure out the rest of it, but here you go! 


I can never quite recall it clearly. The details get a bit murky, you see, and it’s hard to tell if was me, or someone else, who is the center of the story, or even the narrator. Was it a dream, or is it a memory? All I know is that there is me, and there is Cal. Am I Cal? I certainly don’t think so. No, love, it’s completely unclear.

Cal – a jaunty, smirky, mischievous and yet honest bloke, has red hair, short and spiky. Spiky? Maybe not. Messy, more like, and what with the cap and all – yes, a cap, that’s right – his hair more often than not seemed to stick out somewhat spike-ishly. He wore rustic clothing, rough-hewn and green and brown. He was stick thin. There, you see, not me at all. And yet, these things happened to me, sometimes, and at other times to Cal. It’s all quite confusing, more so for me even if I am the one telling the tale.

It had to do with maps, you see. I could point to a spot on a map, concentrate for a moment, and be in that place. Not any map, of course, but Cal kept the secret of his maps close, and I couldn’t tell you what was particularly special about them.

You’ll have to get used to this, sweetheart, this switching between me and him. I just can’t be more clear. It’s like the bathroom mirror, the one over the sink, you know, that’s really a small door into the medicine cabinet. If you open it, and watch the mirror, the world swings. Well, the room does, anyway. That’s what it’s like for me, thinking of Cal, thinking of his maps and me in the woods, in the snow, that one time when it was harder to get through. Wait, back up. 

Sometimes it’s me that the story is happening around, you see? Sometimes it’s Cal. And switching between us is as smooth and random has the mirror on the bathroom medicine cabinet door, opening or closing, making the room behind my reflection swing and shift to become Cal’s.

But to be honest, I really don’t think we’re the same person. Absolutely ridiculous. I look abysmal in a cap.

Regardless, I could point to a point on a map, and concentrate, and be there. I don’t know how. It’s not magic, I can tell you that, although people in those places that I could go seemed to think so. Simple folk, really, although they weren’t really simple at all. It’s just that they thought Cal was magic, you could see by how they looked at him, spiky hair and triangular cap and rustic garb. You could almost envision him with a knapsack, although he didn’t have one.

Head first – bumped my head, couldn’t get through. Someone – a  man, an impatient man – refused to move, and even said something, I don’t recall what, but to the effect of, “Stop that!” So Cal stopped, paced, dreamed, and eventually made the effort again to go to the same point. He pointed, his fingertip on the map, and then there he was: in a wood, a wood of birch trees with a ground blanketed with snow. It was that maddening silence, the beautiful peacefulness, with no trace of the impatient man in black. No footprints, no coals from a fire – more’s the pity, it’s cold – nothing to indicate who it might have been. It would have been interesting to meet him, since no one has ever been in my way before, and it seems odd that I should bump my head on someone. I walked through the snow, the slush and dead leaves sticking to my breeches.

Cartoonish, three wise men, glittering snake-like eyes that were blue, and black, greasy hair, and sharp noses. They stood close, even when walking, and turned to glare maliciously over their shoulders.

The people, richly dressed in velvets and silks, bodices of lace and satin, sequined shoes, were yet so provincial: they wanted my blessings, they put together a list of names, written in elegant script that made their names no easier for me to pronounce, so that I could read them out and bless them. Cal, give blessings? He in his leaf-blown, dirt-patched pants and long overcoat? Ridiculous. He struggled to pronounce the names correctly, but even so the people – there were hundreds! Or perhaps a hundred… but so many, anyway! – would reach out to him, not to touch him, or grab him, but as if to encourage him to say their name, yes theirs, now, please – hurry! I got through the list wondering at the strange mix of consonants and vowels written on that parchment.

That parchment is gone now – Cal must have lost it, or perhaps it was taken from him after he butchered the pronunciations so badly. At any rate, that was when he saw the three wise men, the evil-infused sharks of men, whose eyes glittered at him menacingly.

Later, I was with the king and queen, who were at that venerated stage of wisdom and kindness, and also of frailty. They seemed as provincial as their people, although they were infinitely quieter, wiser, and more intelligent. They showed me their books, kept in a lighted alcove on a book stand. The first was common. Cal sneered slightly – they thought this was a relic! – as they showed him the book of maps. It was much like his, which was interesting but hardly unusual. Everyone had maps. These weren’t special. I could tell that just by pointing, I could travel by it, but that applied to most maps in the worlds I visited. Sure, it was a dusty tome, and large, and well preserved, but their awe in showing it to him was unjustified. The king seemed to realize this, and lifted the huge thing, asking if the other was of more interest.

Imagine the alcove: curved back wall, a slightly elevated platform, just a step or two above the floor of the main room. It was perhaps five or six paces deep, just large enough for all three of us – king, queen, and me – to stand around the book stand that held the book of maps and the book that lay open beneath it. As the king lifted the book of maps – it was as wide, opened, as he was! – dust swirled in the light from above, and there is Cal, standing with arms crossed, smirk on his face, as if onstage, facing the audience, turned slightly away from the book stand. His breeches and tunic have dried now, but are still dirty. His height and his spiky red hair put him out of place against the clean, rough stones of the alcove.

He glances over to see the second book, fully expecting the mundane of another book of maps, and the smirk melts off his face. His eyes widen slightly, and although he fights to control the expression on his face, a tic under his right eye mars the effort.

The book underneath is, indeed, another book of maps. The pages are opened to a map of the Old United States, unusual in itself; disturbingly, though, this book shows truth in the awful charcoal strokes that obliterate the east and west coasts of the continent. It’s as though a child took a stick from the fire and used it to scribble carefully, but the effect is jolting: it shows what is left of OUSA. I have never seen this map before and hope to never see it again. It sends chills down my back, makes every inch of my skin crawl. I am suddenly aware of everywhere my dirty tunic is touching me and it itches terribly.

I’m frozen within that alcove and I can tell that the king and queen have seen. Cal tosses his head and coughs, begins to make a joke but lets it die away. They all three stare at it, a map in yet another dusty tome, and suddenly Cal wishes he’d never come through to this world. He doesn’t want to be here, doesn't know what to do. 

I don’t know what to do.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Ending the Year ... Already?!

Hello readers, o' faithful few!

Greetings from a gray and rainy day in Paris, halfway through a long weekend and the beginning of a (purportedly long) government shutdown!

It's been a couple of months since the last post and the only reason I can find to give is that it's been pretty up and down for me. It got dark, for one thing, so that on a Monday through Friday basis, I go to work in the dark and head home after work in the dark. That's kind of grueling. Otherwise, winter has been coming and going in Paris, alternating between quite chilly to cool and wet. There may have been sleet at one point but no real snow (yet). Work has been going well, an uphill climb 'til just recently, when I hit my groove. It feels good not being the slow adjudicator any more (meaning I do the fewest interviews in a morning, causing my co-workers to have to do more), though I'm by no means the fastest. My workplace is fun, friendly, and challenging.

The challenge has been at home, getting myself to do any of the things that I know would improve my life. Exercise, or eating healthy, or meditating, or even sleeping more/enough. It's odd how such seemingly simple things can seem so unattainable. In a place like Paris, it can be easy to feel like you have no right to complain or to feel hardship; but it's just as easy as in a place like Mali, just in different ways. Anyway, I have many new year's resolutions and plans to help overcome some of the difficulties... so we'll see!

Since my last post, I've gone to Spain and had a couple of visitors, most notably my parents. Visitors are such a boon here, because they get me out and about doing things on my list and that I've never heard of before. Below is a recap in photos...

September: Exploring the Marais with Amelia and Eric, who are posted in Cyprus. 

October: Road trip to Normandy with Jacques and Emma, who is posted in Mali. 

Contemplating the waves. 
Road Tripping

Beach hound

The Paris Opera: Palais Garnier ceiling

After seeing Decadance, a ballet show at the Opera, with friends from Washington DC

October: Sangria in Spain with Julia, posted in Estonia

Pretty doors in our AirBnB neighborhood of Little Barcelona

Arc de Triomphe in Barcelona with the cool kids

Windblown on the beach

November: The parents come visiting Paris and here we are with Panama hats?! At the Chocolate Expo.

Birthday mama at La Duree

Me and the 'rents with the Eiffel Tower in the background

Some fall colors at the metro

Rodin museum garden

St Chapelle church, looking straight up!

We did not spontaneously combust, but we did enjoy the view

Walking along a bridge at the Île de la Cité

Parisiennes in red berets

Sunday, September 9, 2018

A Trip to Malta, Paris Cooling Off

To begin, I'd like to give you some context: I am sitting on my balcony in Paris, which looks into some trees that thankfully block the view of the apartment building next door. Not that it's ugly, but it's nice to look at green instead of concrete.

I'm sitting on a brand new plastic wicker chair with a maroon cushion on it. Next to me is a little table with a mosaic-glass top, glinting in the morning sun. It's about 8am on a Sunday. To my left is a tall, leaning plant, a sort of little ferny palm kind of thing. One of the stalks leans dangerously, and I've turned it so that it rests on the balcony railing. To my right is a hammock hanging in its stand, with two large potted plants in front of it. It's a very pleasant balcony, with a pleasant view, and there's a pleasant chill in the air.

On the glinting mosaic table, there is a tall drinking glass filled with a chunky green liquid. It is the result of big ambition and little planning. Deciding that my diet was sadly lacking in fruits and vegetables, I researched juicing recipes yesterday and went shopping for seven days worth of juices. In Mali, a friend had sold me his juicer and the results were refreshing and healthy and fresh: three things that weren't necessarily staples there. Anyway, I brought the juicer with me to Paris.

Well, most of it. Turns out there is one small but critical piece missing. I didn't figure that out until this morning, of course, after having bought all the little ingredients, the greens and the fruits and the vegetables, and dreaming about the concoction that would fill me with good things. Reordering the part is possible, and I did so: but $24 and 3 weeks of waiting does not help me in the moment. I check the internet and it assures me: a blender will work fine. All one needs is cheesecloth to strain the blended muck into.

Not surprisingly, I lack cheesecloth.

So here I am, on my all-around pleasant balcony, chewing my breakfast juice. It's not bad: celery, parsley, spinach, pear, lemon, and water to thin it out a bit.

That's my morning context for you. As I chew thoughtfully, it seems like a great idea to think of my last weekend, which was spent in Malta with friends.


Malta is made of of one large island and a few smaller ones. Parts of it have been the backdrop for many movies and TV series. There's a medieval touch to some of the cities, like Mdina (pronounced um-dee-na). It reminded me a bit of Dubrovnik, with the smooth stone walls and alleys. On the other hand, in the more modern areas, progress has decreed that one must build, build, build. The friends I was visiting - we shall call them C and R - live on the third floor of an apartment building smashed between two other buildings. Their apartment contains a long hallway that connects the kitchen to each of the five or six rooms of the apartment: two bedrooms, one storage room, a bathroom, an alcove with a view to the wall of the building next door, and an office. It's a very long hallway.

The apartment is bright and sparkly: at one end of the hallway is the living room, which has glass doors leading to a balcony overlooking the bay and looking onto Valetta. The apartment floor is made completely of shiny tile. C and R have decorated nicely, so that it feels roomy and calm and comfortable.

My weekend in Malta was short, just Friday to Monday. In that time, though, I was able to go to a beach, visit an old city, ride an electric scooter down the street, eat dinner in town, catch up with friends and go sailing for a day in lovely blue waters. Here, take a look at a photographic recap of the weekend:

An interesting statue in Valetta.

Another interesting statue in Valetta. 

C and R and me

The marina

View from Valetta

Zipping right along in C and R's Cooper Mini convertible. 

View of our beach day from above. 

Mdina entrance. 

Pretty me by a pretty wall. 

Master chef C grills fish for dinner. 

Master chef C and me. 

After a day of sailing, we head home.

Happy sailors.