Blog

International Adventure

We visited the UK in May 2016. To put this in perspective, that was before the Brexit vote, before the 2016 US Presidential election, before facts had become alternative. Our British friends knew that they would not leave the E.U. and we knew that, no matter what, America would elect one of the candidates with political experience. Whoo-whee! Wrong on both sides of the Atlantic.

In May of this year, we traveled to Quebec, Canada. There seems little likelihood that any political or societal upheaval will ensue between our two nations after this trip, but hold onto your hats because we are 0 for 1 so far.

Quebec, as you know, is both a Province and a city within that Province.

We traveled by rail for the most part: Amtrak to Montreal, ViaRail Canada to Quebec City, and then we got our hire car just up the street and one of a hell-of-a-climb from the rail station at Gare-de-Palais.

Quebec, Montreal, and all of Quebec Province is French. Most Quebecoise are bi-lingual, thankfully, as we are not. Sharon is attempting to learn conversational French while I’m still struggling with English. (It’s only been 72 years, I’ll get it.) Streets, hotels, and restaurants all have French names. The standard greeting is “Bonjour.” Everyone is very forgiving of us Americans and our poor-to-non-existent French.

Our return was the reverse of the trip out. ViaRail to Montreal, Amtrak to New York, and then home. Each direction we stayed a night in Montreal.

Coming home, our Montreal hotel had a nice restaurant next door but it seemed to be of the seriously white tablecloth, real silver, linen napkin variety and we travel in jeans, boots, and utilitarian jackets. Not a good fit for an upscale dining experience.

Only a block and a half away was exactly what we were looking for and we knew it as soon as we spotted the Guinness sign out front. We happily found ourselves at Le Vieux Dublin, a loud, busy Irish pub in the relatively classy part of a very French city. While the music (60s rock to late 70s metal) was loud for my old ears, it fitted the clientele and quickly seemed only another part of the atmosphere.

Of the food offerings, there were several different curries and we each ordered one; Sharon’s was extra spicy vegetable curry and mine, fish curry, was also extra spicy. We thought they were great. Curry as good as I’ve ever had.

The publican stopped at our booth and took time to sit and have a conversation with us. This fellow was exactly what a publican should be: outgoing, friendly, conversational, interesting, and interested. He’s half French, half Persian, and shared a few stories about himself and his family.

So, when you’re in Montreal, find your way to Le Vieux Dublin, have a Guinness, and introduce yourself to Mr. Kamran Farahi. You’ll like the curry, enjoy the stories, and, maybe, like me, wish that every city you visit had a pub that would provide so much international atmosphere without any election surprises.

http://dublinpub.ca/home/

 

 

 

Luck and the Yorkshireman

You’ve been warned to not hire a car when visiting the UK. However, in 1996, when we went to England for the first time, we hadn’t gotten that advice. But we were younger, dumber, and luckier so we managed to travel in a rented car without any major mishap. It was certainly more luck than skill.

We landed at Heathrow and took the airport shuttle to the appropriate car hire location. We were renting from the company with the green sign that seems to be at every airport in the western hemisphere. Said shuttle dropped us and several others at the green sign place. Everyone who got off had way-the-hell-too-much luggage, especially us.

We’re Americans and speak rudimentary English. The rental agent spoke a very proper English and we managed to communicate. Next, there was a young man who helped us find the car, trundled the luggage trolley, and helped us load the (not trunk, you moron. You’re in England) car boot. He was Asian and spoke proper English so again we had no problem understanding him and he managed to get the gist of our American language.

Twice, we were told, “See Albert before you leave and he’ll give you a map and directions to wherever you’re stopping next.” The rental agent had said it, the young fellow who had trundled the trolley said it, so leaving the kids in the hired Alfa-Romeo, we went in to get our map and directions from Albert.

He had a queue so it was several minutes before we became Albert’s next clients or victims, we aren’t sure which. Albert was a West Yorkshireman and had proudly maintained his regional accent. He was also very impatient with questions, repeats, tourists in general.

“We’re going to Stratford-Upon-Avon. They said you’d give us a map and directions.”

The reply was to our ears a mixture of a large dog’s growl and a Gloucesterman’s advice on what kind of bait to buy before going fishing.

“Huh? Sorry, could you say that again?”

This time it was a mastiff and the Gloucesterman; however, M-25 and M-40 both got mentioned. We were on to something. Albert punctuated this by pointing at several different places on the map while growling.

We asked, “That’s the M-25 to the M-40?”

An impatient New Foundland now joined the Gloucesterman, who thumped the map with a finger. This was followed with a withering glare and several definite growls.

“OK. M-25, then M-40. Where do we pick up the 25?”

The growl, this time, contained “Right out of here. Right, mind? Cross traffic.” Another thump.

Less than an hour later, while well within a mile of the green sign car hire, our son pointed and said, “There’s the M-40.”

We stumbled onto the high-speed highway in the correct direction. It was all down to Albert, a Gloucesterman, several dogs, and blind luck.

Not a People Person

The first weekend in May, I had the opportunity to attend the 36th Annual Christopher Newport University Writers’ Conference. As CNU is local and I am a writer, it seemed a useful chance to make connections and get my feet wet in the writerly world.

First, the good stuff: It was a very well done event. The workshops were presented by knowledgeable folk, the schedule, while tight, was manageable, the staff helpful and welcoming, and the venue was very nice. Additional kudos to the participants, who were enthusiastic. Here’s a link: http://cnu.edu/writers/

Notice that this was the 36th Annual CNU Writers’ Conference. They’ve done this for all these years and unless this was some aberration, have done it well. I salute the University and can highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in writing.

Thanks, CNU for a really fine writers’ conference.

I learned some important things by attending for my first time. But now, the not-so-good stuff: I did not enjoy it. My impression was that I attended someone else’s class reunion, a stranger’s birthday party, the Williamsburg Farmers’ Market (more about that in last week’s post), or another event where I was allowed, tolerated, and not particularly well-suited. This is not because CNU did anything wrong. I’m just not a people person.

If I was more social, enjoyed the company of my species more, joined organizations of ostensibly like-minded people, and tried harder to fit in, I would be comfortable at this kind of event.

I should have joined a local writers’ group. Matter of fact, instead of my carping on about my shortcomings, I’m handing out advice; if you have an interest in (put your interest here), find a group and join. If you can’t find the appropriate organization, start one. Stamp collecting, quilting, memorabilia from WWI, writing, belly-dancing, the list could be endless. Get active. Participate.

We all have too much on our plates: jobs, spouses, kids, lawns, home improvements, but being a part of a group that promotes or improves something you are passionate about must be good for your mental health.

So, while I won’t be at your quilting club or your belly-dance class, that’s my loss, not yours.

 

Note from the editor: If you have recommendations for local groups that might benefit from being introduced to Chuck’s work, please leave them in comments!

Not One of the Regulars

 

You’ve been there. We’ve all been there. Some public event that really isn’t for the public. It’s for the regulars.

During the growing season, many communities have farmers’ markets. We see them around here and find them when we travel. The Upper Lowdown County Saturday Farmers’ Market.

They have local produce, homemade baked goods, preserves, jellies, cheeses, and tchotchkes. Nothing is cheap but most things are no more than the market will bear. Most farmers’ markets are worth a stop and a look-see.

Our nearest one is held each Saturday during the not-too-cold months. It is held at what serves as our market square, which is paved, has benches for the weary, nearby parking lots and garages, and lots of room for the myriad vendors. There are folk who visit each Saturday, meeting not only the producers and merchants but their friends and acquaintances as well. These are the regulars.

We are not the regulars, much more the irregulars.

If we’re traveling and we stop at a not-local farmers’ market, it is a one-time event for us and interestingly we are welcomed, offered the same samples as everyone else, given answers to our questions, treated as if our patronage is appreciated.

Locally, because we are definitely not the regulars, we are treated as the interlopers that we obviously are. If the vendor will acknowledge our presence, they may deign to tell us a price but we can’t expect to elicit any real information about source, ingredients, or uses because the vendor needs to talk with their regulars. Our money is grudgingly accepted and possibly we’re told “thanks” but short shrift and an icy shoulder is what we usually receive for handing over the dosh. The message is “just go away.” I think, far as our local farmers’ market is concerned, we will.

Family Legend

Legends don’t need to be true but they do need to be believable. Probably most of us grew up with one or more family tales that had been passed down. These stories would have had some degree of veracity but with enough time and distance that truth had to be accepted rather than proven.

Years ago, I happened to meet a very old man with a keen recall of long ago events. And, best of all, he knew and was very close to my family. We spent some time, though in retrospect not nearly enough, talking about some of my ancestors and their stories. It was great fun for me and my new friend seemed to enjoy having an audience.

This gentleman was catching a bus, traveling hours up the road to visit a niece and her family. His wait for the bus was long and his travel would be longer.

We had soft-drinks and overly sweet pastries while we talked. Most of our conversation was of the “do you remember,” “did you know,” and “whatever happened to” variety. Then, as I was leaving and only minutes before his bus should arrive he told me something about one of the family legends that blew holes in what I had known since childhood.

No empires crumbled. There was no resulting regime change. Barbarians remained in Washington D.C. and did not storm the gates. The old fellow’s information was important to me and nothing more. Until now.

Family Lore, one of our coming soon stories, is about that legend: involving horses, presidents, railroads, and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Straight up, with a twist.