Saturday, August 13, 2016

Tarry Awhile in Tara

It's been three months since The Change and I never thought being semi-retired would take so much out of me.
The summer has been filled with renovations at the house and a whirlwind pace of getting acclimated to our new environs.
The house: a 10' X 20' deck extension with a 40' wheelchair ramp that leads to the parking pad. Or as we like to call it: freedom.
It is not a small thing. Inside we had a stair-lift installed so Cece can make use of the whole house, including a 5'X5' walk-in shower that makes even the mundane things we have to do both easier and safer.

We've painted, installed blinds, had a metal roof put on, installed a new hardwood floor in the living room and, most importantly, turned our deck into an oasis.

On both sides.
For the most part it's been sunshine and drinks.

And driving back and forth into the city.

Even with all that Cece and I have had more time together this summer than in the last 5 years combined. Cruising the rural roads is life-affirming, pastoral and quiet.

Waking up in the morning to the fresh smell of 'cow' is a reminder that things have changed.

This guy's not so pungent, he's our county mascot, Big Bruce.

We take day trips to local beaches and waterfalls, this one being Inglis Falls, just around the corner.

Cece (here with our daughter, Emily) is getting more than her required dose of sunshine.
I'm getting the odd workout in too.

This is my home town, 60 seconds from our front porch.
Walk another minute and you are on the banks of the Sauble River.
We've had visits from friends at work.
My sister and brother-in-law found their way here as well.
And Emily, with Don's assistance, is making good use of our fire permit.
All in all the transition is going well.
Today Emily gets a 3 day visit from an old friend, who is bringing along her two young children.

We may be a long way from where we were but the world got bigger for all of us.

Monday, August 01, 2016

For Cecilia

A few years ago I marked November 1,2016 on my day calendar.
It was to be the date I decided WHEN I was going to retire.

You know what they say about the best laid plans.

It's May 20,2016, my last full-time day at work. After 36 1/2 years with the same company I am resigning my position as VP of Operations and taking on a new job of Account Manager - Part Time. This means I am in the office 3 days a month and watching my Blackberry on other days.

Cece and I have sold our Toronto house and purchased a property in Bruce County, 2 1/2 hours northwest of Toronto. We close on Tuesday May 24,2016.

To many around us this may seem like a rash decision.
It's anything but.
It took a long time to make this choice.

The first time Cece and I seriously thought about modifying our lifestyle to accommodate our reality was in December 2008. She was diagnosed with LABC, an advanced form of breast cancer that had spread into surrounding tissue and was not even measured on the Stage 1 to 4 sucked that much. A year and a half of chemo, surgery and radiation resulted in the cancer being eradicated.
Our good luck.

We had set on the path to this decision much earlier in our life. By the time I met Cece, at age 18, she had already endured most of the ravages of the Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis that has made her existence a little different from mine and yours. Over the next few years, before we got married, we discussed how this might shape our lives. I don't think we knew the half-of-it but we did know we weren't alone on the journey and we were good with that.

All the normal mileposts were and work, careers and travel, we did 'em all. Ups and downs abounded. Good fortune followed us along the way; support of family, support at work and some degree of financial security allowed us to make our way, doing better than the average bear.
Ain't nothing to bitch about there.

The 2008/2009 cancer scare wasn't the first hurdle we had vaulted. There were many speed bumps along the way and more to come. All along, while dealing with these issues, fortune smiled on us and we were able to maximize our happiness.

The late 80's and early 90's were rough, and I ain't talking about how popular music went in the tank. The kids were doing well but Cece's knees were shot, her world was shrinking, her independence was vanishing. A double-knee replacement turned things around. Kids were in school and Cece was back at work...for awhile.

At this point I'd like to take the time to thank the criminals who ran Texaco Inc during this time period. They were found guilty of fucking with Getty Oil in some manner and were ordered to pay $13 billion dollars in reparations. They sold Texaco Canada (where Cece worked) to Imperial Oil (Esso) to raise the cash.
This didn't work out so well for some, who found their jobs redundant. It did work out well for Cece though, as Imperial Oil had a 30 day grace period where all new (formerly Texaco) employees were able to sign on for full extended medical benefits without an physical exam or any bias to pre-existing conditions. She had been required to sign-off on any long-term disability benefits due to her JRA when she began full time work at Texaco. Now she was able to buy extended disability benefits. It meant less take home pay and we were living pay-check to pay-check then...but we made the right choice and signed on.

In 1995 Cece had a medical crisis related to her JRA and how the immune system works. A note on her medical chart stated her condition was "near death". Good doctoring, no praying and a what-will-be-will-be attitude resulted in recovery and Cece being placed on permanent disability.
On the surface that doesn't sound good.
Due to our prudent decision at the time of the Texaco/Imperial Oil deal she ended up with about 75 % of her full time income. 
In reality, in conjunction with the freedom I had at work to take leave when I wished, it resulted in our ability to travel the world. From Scotland to Venice to Paris (3x) and many other European destinations. We saw enough of America to allow us to wait out Trump's Presidency before we return. We spent our free time chasing live music and quirky facts about the places we went to to hear it. I wrote about most of this in Confessions of A Dylanomaniac. 

Cancer 1 was followed by a broken hip and hip-replacement surgery, cancer 2 and a rapid deterioration of Cece's ankles, resulting in her being wheelchair bound since 2010. I skipped over a lot of hardship there. No need to revisit. In between we did our best; we still travelled for music, we went to Mississippi and New Orleans twice, we slowed down but we didn't stop.

Still, Cece's world was getting smaller.

We continued to do our yearly State of Our Union evaluation. Each year the choices became a little narrower and sometimes we tried too hard to do what we could do before.

In September of 2015 we took a vacation in Paris and the Black Forest. It was great but we had a bigger vision of how we would spend our time than we were able to accomplish. For the effort it took, the money it cost, it wasn't making the best use of our resources.

I haven't posted anything since that trip because we have been busy re-evaluating.

While sitting in a Rose garden off some non-descript alley in the center of Paris, Cece was talking with her sister regarding my incessant muttering about my desire to retire. Theresa told her it would happen within the year if we were discussing it. Cece said, "No Fucking Way." (ed note. You had to be leaving a concert in Pittsburgh PA on November 8th, 2002 to know how funny that was.)

But she was right.

Nothing big ever happens for one reason. It takes a convergence of seemingly unrelated events to result in transformative change . We had a handful at play. What they were are too numerous to itemize here, suffice it to say that work, family and personal desires all came into play.

When this all started to unfold in early January, following 2016's State of Our Union address, I was all..HELP!

As always, Cece was there to lend a hand.

We talked through the issues: our general aversion to change, the thought that I might be abandoning work and my Dad, the economic risk, leaving Toronto...and so much more. We are good with all that.

In the end it is a selfish decision we make together because we can.

Our choice...and trust me, we are all about choice.

Quickly I became all it's my life and I'll do what I want.

Argghhhhh! I say. Fuck ya all.

Being Canadian I say that with all due respect and a silent "sorry".

That was just me processing the guilt, the fear and the excitement of new possibilities.

I was in a whirlwind, but now I'm in a much better place.

"You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead..."

It's always been the two of us. We need extra time to get there comfortably. We need to focus on moto-vatin' when it's time to go. We've spent a lot of time doing what we had to do in order to be able to do what we want to do. Now it's time to change our priorities.

We are leaving a lot on the table, financially. Leaving the comfort of the city; hospitals and pharmacies nearby, live music just 30 minutes away, family, my daughter's world...all new things to adapt to.

It's scary...but I got a rock who will never quit her faith in me.

 "Sometimes I go derailing when it's chaos in my mind/ But all in all my wheels are mainly on the track"

I haven't slept well for awhile. I am averse to change...but I'm going to adapt.

Cece and I are standing on the cusp of 60, looking back at 40+ years, smiling hard, really pleased.

We turn around, looking at the road ahead of us and we are ready to be starting over..."it's been so long since we took the time, no one's to blame, my how time flies so quickly..."

We will now measure our success in things we wouldn't be doing if we didn't make this choice.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

European Tour Pt. 5
Germany, The Black Forest and Luxembourg

So we leave the busy city streets of Paris

for the more tranquil roads of Alsace-Lorraine.

But before we get where we are going one quick stop to honour Napoleon.

In Paris we were in the heart of the city, in Germany, not so much. We are staying outside of Horben, which is 20 minutes south of Freiburg. I know, meant nothing to me either.

It's remote, at the end of a winding one-lane road where you can meet tractors or cows.

It's a working dairy farm. Don't try to milk this guy though.

This is the tractor I was told I could use.

It was in better shape when I got it.

The farm is named Steinmuhle and if we didn't know that we would have never found it. Street names don't matter much in this part of the country but 2 out of 3 people knew the name of the dairy farm.

We settle in for the night with wine and food and rest up after 7 hours on the road. The next morning we head straight north on the autobahn where we are doing a steady 150 kph and being passed by cars that are nothing but a blur. We find our start point in Baden-Baden, a quick lunch then south along the world famous Route 500...except it's closed.

We are not 10 kilometers into our Black Forest experience when we are forced to change our route. We end up on Route 462 and now we are just hitting random towns in the Black Forest. This lands us in Forbach and Freudenstadt...instead of two other places we didn't know.

Nice fountains to be found.

And stately old building in the town square.

And art installations disguised as fountains, or the other way around.
Here they play speed-chess with a sundial.
The day ends back at our idyllic rural retreat.
Which also has a cat.
Day 2 in the Black Forest has us enjoying the winding roads...because it's raining.
Our first stop was in Feldberg, the highest point in the region. No photo ops presented themselves but the road was an event all in itself.

Our main stop was in the town for Triberg. Here we found the largest falls in the Forest.
A bit of a hike in to get to these spots, in the drizzling rain, but worth the effort.
In the hilly town of Triberg itself you come across the largest cuckoo clock on earth. We just missed the big event.
Germany has scenic vistas too. I call this one A Town from a Mountain Road.

In Luxembourg, a country I know nothing about, we see them trying to keep up with the Jones' when it comes to castles...
And obelisk's in the Old Town.
This one is called Gelle Fra and it honours, well, what else, war. The Great War. The First War to End All Wars.

Believe it or not they have a church named Notre Dame here. Instead of taking a picture of it I tried to engage these people in a theological discussion. As they turned and ran the mature penguin reached out and asked the little ones to make a rope, starting with his umbrella.
Here's the spires of Notre Dame behind some statue in the square.
And finally, a guy on a horse.

And that's a wrap. Great trip. Paris cannot be consumed in a lifetime of visits.
Great driving...if you keep out of the city centers.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Paris Pt 4
The Louvre to the Arc and Miscellany
From The Saddest Spot in Paris to Arthur Rimbaud
When the Rains Came

Day 6  We have been extremely fortunate with the weather to date...but there's a little rain on the horizon and that will modify some plans.

Now they say Paris in the rain is so romantic.

Maybe, if you've got an overcoat, an umbrella and some jump in your step.
Not so much in a rain poncho with a roulant.

On or way to our first stop, we have a stop to make, because that's how it rolls.

We are at Le Tour Jean Sans Peur on Rue Etienne-Marcel. It was here that pesky Burgundian John the Fearless fled for safety after killing the Duke of Orleans in 1407. The Burgundians also turned over Joan of Arc to the British. Damn them all! Of course his death at the hands of the Dauphin in 1419 led to a brief British resurgency as the new boss was not better than the old boss.

Damn I M Pei

Down the street we come across the Louvre. This building has a storied history, progressing from a garrison to a palace to the premier museum in the world. It is a work of art in and of itself. It's too big to consume in one visit or in ten, perhaps in a hundred. And therein lies it's problem.
Most of us just head for the Venus, even though we don't know who made it.

There's a status of Athena that includes arms for no extra charge.

 And Winged Victory is cool...even if it does look a little worse for wear.
Can't imagine what Winged Defeat looked like.
Even the ceiling here is a work of art.

And oh ya, the reason to be here.

 It's now covered in glass, behind a barrier and a lot smaller than you'd think.

Just outside the museum we find the min-Arc, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel erected by Napoleon in the early 1800's to commemorate his military victories. All that depicted in greater detail than I can explain. Napy built this while he was waiting for the big Arc to be finished. I guess he knew it's unlikely he'd be around for that event.

We continue walking into the Jardin Tuileries built by Catherine De Medici as the gardens to the Tuileries Palace, which was burned to the ground during the Commune of 1871.

It's now just a glorious place to meander with green space and statues, like this one, Cain ruing the day he slew Abel.

The obelisk at Place de la Concorde, formerly Place de la Revolution, where over 2,600 Parisians lost their heads during the Terror.

And this shot, another one of those perspective things.

A few blocks away we come across the Chapelle Expiatoire ....saddest spot in Paris.

 The entrance from the courtyard.
 In honour of the King.
 In honour of the Queen.
 The sarcophagus that marks the spot where their bodies were unearthed.
 This chapel was built by Louis XVIII during a restoration period. No other way these two would have been so honoured.

 The Chapel is dedicated to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. It is here their headless bodies were unceremoniously dumped among the remains of 2,600 other victims of the guillotine. They lay here for 21 years before being exhumed and sent to St Denis Basilica with the rest of the dead kings.

Here's a video from inside the chapel.

It's the other 2,598 that make it sad. Oh, wait, there was Robespierre and Danton, that brings it to 2,596...

This was a great find. While it's only a little piece of history, more people who made history ended up in this place than anywhere else.

We continue our march up the Champs, stopping to eat at George V and buy some trinkets at the Peugot store. It's an impressively wide and lively shopping street.

Do the google.

At the top, the Arc De Triomphe, in full size.
Death or glory, it's the same old story.

Since we're on major monument day let's head to Notre Dame.

Quite the architectural marvel. Statues of Saints, gargoyles galore and flying buttresses.

Oh, there was  a hunchback once and probably a mass or two.

Day 7 starts with us taking a cab up to the top of Montmartre where the pasty white opulence of Sacre Coeur waits for us.

It's said that from up here, on a clear day, you can see Paris.

We will have to take their word on that.

Here's another glorious shot of that church.

 It occurs to me, seeing how the sky turned a deep shade of blue from this angle, whether you should photo shop paintings by the masters?

I've been inside more churches this week than I have in the past decade. That's saying a lot, even if the count is only 4.

This is a particularly hilly area of town, virtually all the outlying arrondissments include a good deal of vertical walking. Two of our party is spending some time at the Dali Museum, which is currently inaccessible.Cece and I are wandering the side streets in search of Marcel Ayme's grave.

Ya, I know, who's that?

Found the cemetery but not the entrance. To walk around the cemetery would have meant climbing and descending the hill we rested, took in the two available sites and waited to see Marcel Ayme's master work instead.

This bar has a storied history, used to be called the Cabaret Des Assassins until artist Andre Gill painted the rabbit thing and the name morphed from Le Lapin a Gill to it's current name, Lapin Agile. Visited by the dredges of the Parisian culture and guys like Picasso and Modigliani.

Just adjacent to this bar, a small inner-city winery.

Still on top of the hill we seek out Place Marcel Aymes, where we find this work of art, Passe Muraille.

Pretty close by we see a small park dedicated to the Patron Saint of Paris, St Denis. He was decapitated right about here and chased that head to the basilica named after him, where all the Kings of Paris are buried. Well, it ain't the bible but it's a decent story.

A quick stop along the way to pick up a baguette at this award winning shop.

 And a snap shot of where Vincent Van Went, 54 Rue Lepic.

 For a couple of years anyway, when he was living off his brother.

We make our way slowly down the steep hills and come out facing the Moulin Rouge. Once a place where obscene things occurred onstage it currently has an almost family-friendly show but obscene in 200 to 400 euro for dinner and a show.

On Day 8 the rains came and all plans went out the window.

Our first stop is Montparnasse Cemetery.

A famous writer. A true Parnassian before his time, inspiring Rimbaud, he was instrumental in opening up the Beats to a new language. A rather nondescript family plot. Well maintained though. Charles Baudelaire.

A famous couple of writers. Sartre and De Beauvoir.

A famous singer, Serge Gainsborough, with his birth name inscribed. Subway tickets all over the place.

 All their graves adorned with artifacts left behind by their fans.

Then a respite from the rain at a cafe where we decide there's not much sense in climbing the Montparnasse Tower as there is nothing but clouds to see.
On our way home we catch a glimpse of this stunning statue of Louis XIV, the Sun King.

We spend the rest of this day skipping the lines at L'Orangerie and D'Orsay.

On Day 9 the rain is still with us. I start with an early morning walk in our neighbourhood where we have two ancient homes, still standing.

The first, on Rue Montmorency, is a 15th Century home, built in 1407.

 Now I'm told the owner of this home, an alchemist named Nicolas Flamel, is of some interest to fans of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone.

 Here's a close up of the entrance.

The second, on Rue Volta, is a 12th century home, currently serving Pho cuisine.
That is some ancient timber and mortar.

Only a few doors away from our apartment we have the quiet environs of the Cat Cafe.

No flash, don't feed them and don't wake them.

I put a cushion down so this guy could get comfortable on Cece's chair.

This place had a lovely basement escape for the cats as well.

Day 9: Sunday Sept 13, 2015 Pere Lachaise cemetery and the community of Belleville have been canceled. Too much rain. And the cemetery is rated 'very difficult but not impossible' as far as accessibility goes. The one mistake I made in planning was not scheduling this for the first Sunday...before we did the hills of Montmartre.

So today we are in the Centre Pompidou. I've been denigrating it all week as an architectural monstrosity.

That's because I hadn't gone inside. Shows how little I know. Because the innards are on the outside you are afforded a wonderful perspective of the city.
There's Sacre Coeur on the hill. And over a little bit...

It was a rainy day. A great view of the Tour Saint Jacques, a gothic tower built in 1509, the last remains of a church.

The Centre Pompidou is a modern art museum. Way beyond my ability to comprehend.
It's got bright displays. The one below comes with a warning that it may cause epileptic seizures if you are prone to them.

 It doesn't really come across in a photo.

Here's a video of a video piece called So Much I Want To Say. Sound ON for this one.

 And another video about sand.

At the exit, the OPEN video. Of course.

The museum also has stuff made with paint and brushes.
Like Luxe by Matisse

And La Muse by Picasso.

And now time for a little self-indulgence.Arthur Rimbaud.

I is another.

Looking for Rimbaud's statue with the vowels got us lost early on our trip. That should have clued me in to something. The final leg of our European Tour includes a night in Luxembourg...a new country to visit. The real reason we added that is so we could be close to Rimbaud's hometown, Charleville-Mezieres, on a day other than a Monday. You see, Cece and I were in 2002 but the Rimbaud Museum is closed on Mondays. We got his boyhood home and his grave...but not the museum.

But I digress.

I came across Rimbaud through a few lines found in a Dylan song:
 "Situations have ended sad
Relationships have all been bad
Mine’ve been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud...."

Here's a close up of that painting we saw earlier. The older, married but questioning Verlaine on the left and the striking portrayal of a young, vibrant Rimbaud.

And off I was to do the research. Interesting stories.  The most amazing thing about Rimbaud, who was muse and more to his contemporary Verlaine, who was found-again by the Beat poets and the libertines that made up the counter-culture in the '60' that he stopped writing poetry at age 21. Only stuff we have from him is between the ages of 15 and 21. He quit the game and made his way through the rest of his short life trading in colonial Africa. Illuminations, Season En Fer (A Season in Hell), Voyelles and La Bateaux Ivre (The Drunken Boat)...pretty well sums it  up.

We did find the statue, not the best time of day for picture taking though.

 If you could see more detail on this photo you would see the vowels of the alphabet that are sculpted.

 In honour of Rimbaud's poem, Voyelles, where much like in his real life he tries to find another self in vowels.

A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels
Someday I’ll talk about your secret birth-cries,
A, black furry corset of brilliant flies
That buzz around cruel stenches,

Gulfs of shadow; E, whiteness of vapours and of tents,
Lances of proud glaciers, white kings, shivers of umbel;
I, purples, spat blood, smile of beautiful lips
In anger or in the raptures of penitence;

U, waves, divine shudders of viridian seas,
Peace of pastures dotted with animals, peace of furrows
Which alchemy prints on broad studious foreheads;

O, sublime Trumpet full of strange stridencies,
Silences crossed by Worlds and by Angels:
O the Omega, violet ray of Her Eyes!

In Luxembourg our hotel bar was named La Bateaux Ivre. I found this surreptitious.

The cemetery in Charleville-Mezieres was an easy find,

his family plot still the best kept of them all.

Didn't see this post office box last time I was here.

And now it's off to the Rimbaud Museum where I hope to see a pen he used once.

It's not Monday but it's closed for renovations. Will open...wait for it...tomorrow.

In the square at the train station, a last memorial to the young poet.

What better place to wrap this up than at a point where I'm making an argument to return.

Best times for me were when we found the most serene spots in a city that is in perpetual motion.

The locks on the Canal Saint Martin, the Rose Garden, the Chapelle Expiatoire, the courtyard at Musee Cluny, Anne Frank Garden, the early morning hunt for ancient houses, the Cat Cafe, the Duplex bar before the crowd showed up. There are likely a hundred of these places for every Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Arc De Triomphe and Louvre type attraction. I wish upon you all the opportunity to seek some out.

Next up; The Black Forest and Luxembourg.