Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Cornwall, Ho!

   (Part two of two parts)

After a week touring the Cotswolds area west of London, we headed south for the city of Penzance at the southwestern tip of England, almost 250 miles away. Britain adopted the metric system when it joined the EU, but it kept its land measurements in miles and miles per hour, which I appreciated.
 Back home we drive 350 miles to the Twin Cities at the drop of a hat, but 250 miles in Britain is daunting. I planned to break up our drive with a night in Wells, 80 miles to the south, and another in the village of Chagford in the Dartmoor National Park. We had no firm itinerary other than seeing Port Isaac, home of the famous Doc Martin.
  Some friends had taken a bus tour around England and told us Bath was their favorite place. It was also the site of ancient Roman baths. Bath was along our route so we decided to check it out and get some lunch there. With a population of 80,000, Bath was the largest city we had driven in so far. The city had nice wide streets, but was far more hectic than the one-lane villages of the Cotswolds. OK, we'll just park in the big  lot downtown, view the baths, have some lunch, and continue on to Wells.
  We followed the big blue P signs downtown, but, as so often happened, there was no lot to be seen beyond the last sign. There's never a place to pull over and take a look around. The press of traffic quickly ushers you out of downtown and up the hill and into the bewildering network of narrow streets. At least most of these streets were one way. That was a blessing.
  How about we just park up here and walk downtown? I knew we had travelled two or three miles from downtown. That's too far to walk.  Let's try to get downtown again. It really is an ingenious maze the people have built over the past 2,000 years.  Any invader would just give up and move on to a simpler town.
  After driving around on the hillsides for half an hour we found a parking spot across from an elementary school. As we left the car I just chanced to see a sign on the school stating that all cars must be off this street by 3:00 p.m. This was probably to protect the children from confused tourists. That gave us three hours to get downtown and back. We asked a young couple for directions. "Just follow the canal to Sydney Gardens, then turn right to downtown. It'll take you an hour to get downtown from here."
Down the lazy canal
  A canal! Yes here was the canal travelled by the longboats we had seen way up in Stratford.  As we started along the canalside path, we saw a longboat putting along toward Sydney Gardens. I estimated he was going two mph, because we soon overtook him. The captain was steering from the stern, his wife and dog beside him, a cup of tea in one hand, his pipe clenched between his teeth. How idyllic! To cruise along this bucolic canal with no parking problems. A sign said you could tie up along the canal for two days for free. Maybe next time.
  The canal walk was beautiful and the stress of the morning drive melted away. At Sydney Gardens there was a big painted map. As we studied our route downtown, a young woman asked us if we knew where the university was. She said she had decided to walk to school today rather than drive for the first time. "No, we don't live around here." She asked where in the States we were from. "My mother was from Minnesota too," she said. I asked her to tell her mother "Uff da" from Minnesota.
  Even with the route fixed in our heads,  we were soon disoriented. We asked a woman for directions. "Go up there to the big church and take a left, and that street will take you downtown." She had an eastern European accent like so many of the people we asked for directions or who waited on us in cafes.
  Speaking of cafes, we needed something to eat. If a café didn't have Wi-Fi, we moved on. We eventually found a place not far from the Roman baths. As we sipped our tea, I downloaded the route to Wells onto Teresa's iPad. It would involve around eight different roads and several small towns. Also, we'd have to pass through downtown Bath at the beginning of rush hour, which appeared to go on all day. By the time I got our route written onto a sheet of paper for Teresa's benefit, it was two o'clock. So much for the Roman baths.
  As we walked back I realized the woman who gave us directions earlier had sent us on the simplest route, but not the shortest. "Let's cut over this way," I said to Teresa. A short-cut in England is not a wise idea for a first time visitor. As confusion set in, I asked a man walking his dog if we were on the right track. "Not exactly," he said. "You cut across the park (Sydney Gardens) and you'll come out by the such-and-such museum. I highly recommend a visit to that museum. It's free." Sure. Next time,... when we take the longboat down from Stratford.
  It was getting late now. I didn't want our car towed by the school police. If we didn't find that canal soon...By golly! There it is! Saved! We knew now we'd make it. We even took time to chat with a couple on a longboat tied up along the way. They had been on the canal a week. It was slow going because there were lots of locks which you operated yourself. They said their 44' boat slept two comfortably, though you could squeeze another couple in. It didn't sound any more expensive than a B&B, and a car would be redundant.
  We returned to our car and girded ourselves for the downtown gauntlet. Though we had our map and written directions, the signs are highly ambiguous and we got to see a couple of back alleys where Roman legionnaires used to take their evening bath. Once out of the city, we only got lost once more on the way to Wells. There was construction on the street where our B&B was located. That was good because it gave us time to spot our lodging as we inched along. Liz, our proprietor, reminded us of Judi Dench, both in looks and manner. Could this be how Judi relaxes between movies? We dared each other to ask, but didn't want to break the spell.

Still waiting to hear back from the Vatican on our application

  Every place we stayed had a dandy tea-in-the-room setup, usually with packets of cookies and chocolate. We always brewed an afternoon 'cuppa' to relax after the road. About five p.m. we headed uptown to see Wells Cathedral and find a place for supper. Along the way we were delighted to find the Church of Saints Joseph and Teresa. This had to be the only so named church in the world. I wanted to have the priest renew our vows, but Teresa said it was getting late. Wells Cathedral, a bit further on, must have the widest façade of any church in the country. All these big churches request a £6-10 donation to keep the place from falling down. It was too late in the day to be worthwhile. We'd catch another cathedral down the line. We found a cozy Greek tavern for supper. The man at the next table said his wife was curious about my accent. "Minnesotan, with Bostonian undertones," I said. "Really! My brother drives bus in Boston. He says there's lots of murders there."
  We ordered appetizers and saved part of them to eat with our main course. But our main course never arrived. Here we learned another British custom. They don't bring out the entrée until you finish your starter, as they call appetizers. They don't want to rush you. Another six months here and we'd be finding invisible downtown parking lots with the best of them.
  There was a Scottish couple at breakfast the next morning. They have narrow roads in Scotland too, but the Scots complained of the hectic pace of the driving here in the south. I felt somewhat vindicated. We read the numerous postcards on the shelf. They all were either from Lands End in Cornwall or  John o' Groats in Scotland. Liz's place is a stop for cyclists traversing the entire length of Britain, an 874 mile trip that takes up to two weeks. There's no way either Teresa or I wanted to cycle along these crazy  roads. Walking on footpaths is longer, about 1,200 miles, and takes two to three months.
  After breakfast we headed for the village of Chagford. Our route passed through Glastonbury and we pulled in to check out the town. There's a ruined monastery there and a mighty natural sandstone tower called the Tor, neither of which we visited. I just wanted a postcard for a friend back home who is fascinated by monasteries. Of course we checked out the local charity store and I found an Afghani hat. It'll go well with my AK. I know the best Afghani hats are made in Pakistan. I checked the label. Sure enough, "Made in Pakistan".
 Glastonbury is rife with myths and New Age seekers. King Arthur and Guinevere were buried here the old monks said. Camelot was just up the road say others. There's also proof that Joseph of Arimathea brought the chalice from the last supper here after Jesus' death. He buried the chalice near  the Tor.  The proof is that the nearby Chalice Well still runs red from the remains of Jesus' blood in the chalice. Many cures are associated with the well. There's a bit of logic in these yarns. Joseph was a dealer in metals and may well have visited the mines of ancient Britain. There's even speculation that Jesus himself traveled with Joseph on an earlier trip. They were related after all, and the Bible says that between the ages of 12 and 30, Jesus was "in the wilderness." You never know.
  We continued on to the village of Chagford.  A couple we met in a pub back in the Cotswolds had recommended the place and Chagford turned out to be as picturesque as they said it was. I may be romanticizing England in the haze of memory, but this town of 1,500 had no false notes.
  I had booked a room in the Globe Inn. This was the first place we stayed that did not have its own parking lot. Their website  said there was free parking after five in the city lot two blocks away. Chagford was on the  north edge of the Dartmoor National Park. Dartmoor is famous for its moors and free ranging ponies. The Hound of the Baskervilles used to roam these hills. But the area around Chagford itself is wooded and hilly with narrow twisting roads. We missed the main road into Chagford and came in the back way. "Man that was hairy," I said superfluously to Teresa as we eased into the city lot. It was only one o'clock so we'd have to pay to park till five, but parking was much cheaper than in tourist traps like Stratford.
  We hauled our bags down to the Globe Inn. Our room was commodious and overlooked ancient St. Michael's Church. There were drawings of nude women on the walls. Teresa thought this odd, but I didn't see a problem. We had lunch at the bar downstairs and asked for tips for a hike. Yes, we could walk down Mill Street, hike along the River Teign for a mile then return to town the back way. I noted how steep and narrow Mill street was. As we hiked along the river we seemed to be headed into a hotel parking lot. We asked a hotel guest we met on the path if this was the right way. "Yes, the path continues just beyond the hotel," he said. We passed the hotel, walked along the top of a wall like in Peter Rabbit, till we ran into a tributary of the Teign. Never trust anyone in pajama bottoms. We retraced our steps, crossed the bridge, and found the true footpath.
Tempus fugit at St. Michael's Church. Seems like only yesterday it was 1200 A.D.

  We were to have five or six perfect weather days out of three weeks and this was one of them. As we re-entered the village, we passed a row of new senior housing apartments and gave each other an enquiring look.  The people here were exceptionally friendly. A farmer invited us back to the pony trading fair next week  We told him we'd put it on the calendar. I believe there's magic everywhere, but Chagford has a double dose. After supper that evening, we went over to the bar side to watch a darts tournament. Darts can be scored any way the contestants agree upon. I couldn't figure how they were doing it. The young man with perfect form seemed to be winning by a mile. But when it was over, the portly older woman was the winner. I congratulated her. "Yes," she said. "That was a miracle."
  Google maps was starting to irritate me. Google didn't care if it sent you down some medieval cow path. It told us that the steep and narrow Mill Street was the main route out of Chagford. Well, maybe we could dash down the hill before we met anyone. What a joke! It was rush hour in the village, with everyone, young and old, nipping up Mill Street for a spot of tea or a new pair of Wellies. We met half a dozen cars and our collision beeper was going off as though we'd discovered uranium. I even forced one old couple to back up 100 feet to a pull off. They're used to this, I figured. Finally we reached the bridge at the bottom. I had forgotten how narrow it was when we walked over it yesterday. "Caution, six foot bridge," the sign warned. That's six feet wide. We folded in the mirrors and Teresa walked ahead to guide me through. Whew! But around the next corner was another six foot bridge. The other drivers waited patiently as I inched across. The English are so polite.

The wide part of Mill Street

  On this day we would check something off Teresa's list: Port Isaac, the setting for the British series, Doc Martin. Port Isaac was once just one of a series of pretty fishing villages in Cornwall, but after the popularity of Doc Martin, the town had to build an enormous paved parking lot a ten minute walk above the village itself. Of course there was a meter where you could make donations to help pay for the lot.
  This was another perfect autumn day. We followed a tunnelly footpath downhill to the maze of crooked village streets. There were Doc Martin fans flowing in and out of all the shops and cafes; buying, eating, taking pictures in front of Mrs. Tishell's pharmacy.
Doc Martin's kipper catcher
  The tide was out so we walked across the sand and rocks to the jetty that protected the harbor. Then we hiked up the hill overlooking the town. I'm not a true fan of the Doc, but this was fantastic. I could see King Arthur's Castle at Tintagel a few miles up the coast.
  Since it was a Friday, Port Isaac was fully booked, so I had reserved a room at King Arthur's Arms in Tintagel. King Arthur's Castle, just outside the town is truly a mythmaker's dream. There are ruins of  a castle from the fifth century that would have belonged to a ruler possibly named Arthur. The story of Arthur has been used over the years to rally the English against invaders.  We checked into King Arthur's Arms around three. There was a pub/restaurant downstairs. Friday night...could be noisy. We got to the castle at four. Admission: ten dollars, closing time: in one hour. We decided to come back the next day. We were able to climb up to the courtyard overlooking the spit of land leading to the actual castle. The views to the rocks and sea below were spectacular. On our way back to the inn, we passed Merlin's Cave. At low tide you could walk inside, but now the waves were washing in and out. A couple of guys in wet suits were getting ready to swim over to the cave. We stopped to watch. Why do sportsmen take forever to get ready? Finally one of them set off, but the other was having trouble. He kept looking down into the waist deep water. His friend came back. The guy had lost one of his flippers. As we started to leave I looked back at the cave and saw a wizard at the entrance chewing on something rubbery, until the next wave washed the vision away.
  We had supper at the pub. It was indeed raucous. Fortunately the country rock band would not be playing until tomorrow night. We got one more lesson in pub dining. The tables were all numbered. You looked over the menu then got up and told the bartender what you wanted and what your table number was. Otherwise you could sit there a long time. While we waited for our meal, we noticed a young woman flitting from the bar to the different tables to chat. Her shirt said "I drink, I smoke, I ____ the boys." Her shirt was rolled up over her midriff so I couldn't tell what she did with or to the boys. When I went to the bar to refresh our drinks, she even chatted with me. She asked if I'd be back tomorrow to see the band who were all sitting right here. I had noticed earlier that one of them had a jacket that said "Proud To Be An American," though he was as British as King Arthur. I should have asked the friendly girl what her shirt said, but I liked not knowing better.
  I fell asleep when they pulled the jukebox plug at midnight. No more pub hotels for us.  When I looked out the window in the morning, a wild storm was lashing the coast. The castle had disappeared from view. Nevertheless, I saw tourists, British presumably, heading for the castle in their rain gear. Not us though. We settled for a charity shop.
   In retrospect, it was fitting to have had one day of really horrible weather on our trip. This was to be a travel day down to Penzance sixty miles away on the tip of Cornwall. Getting from Tintagel back to the A30 on narrow roads with 50' of visibility was not nice, but once on the main road, all was well. There are lots of classic sports cars running around the English countryside and I saw one guy that morning tooling along with the roof down, water streaming off his rain hat. I just shook my head in admiration.
  We arrived in Penzance around noon and shoved a bunch of pound coins into the meter in the big downtown lot. The population of Penzance is 16,000. That's nothing for a U.S. town, but because everything is so concentrated, the town feels much bigger than it really is.
  We checked out a few charity shops then stopped into the Front Room Café for lunch. I liked this place. There was a fenced in area under the stairs where you could let your kid play while you ate. The men's room had an upside down sink and toilet on the ceiling (in addition to normal ones). I told the owner I liked his sense of humor. He recommended we visit the Admiral Benbow for supper. "Be sure to try the Steak and Ale pie," he said.
  We checked into the Rosalie House on a street lined with by B&Bs. We had our afternoon tea, took a nap then headed for the Admiral Benbow. Our route went through a lush park and along a series of footpaths and alleyways, past noisy takeaways and musical pubs, emerging at last at our restaurant. Without our Google maps we might have wandered for hours. The Admiral Benbow is famous for its collection of nautical nick-knacks and curios. The dining room was meant to look like a captain's stateroom on an old sailing ship and it did, but it also included everything from the main deck and crew's quarters. "Over the top," was how the guidebook described it. The close quarters inspired chat with our fellow diners, a pair from Australia and another from Norfolk.  The steak and ale pie was delicious. As we left the place, Teresa heard a young man ask his friend if he had read Treasure Island. "It starts at The Admiral Benbow," he said. I looked it up later and he was right. Someone later asked if we had seen the pirate on the roof. We had to walk back the next day to see the pirate shooting at another invisible pirate in the distance. It must be great to live in a country chock full of historical references.

Waiting on time and tide
  England is also a country full of tourist traps. But they're wonderful tourist traps. Penzance's finest was a few miles up the road near the little town of Marazion. Just off the coast sits the island of St. Michael's Mount. It's a smaller version of Mont St. Michel off the coast of Normandy. Both islands have or had Benedictine monasteries. The French monks are still there. Henry VIII kicked his monks out and sold the place for cash. You can hike out to either place at low tide. The tide was still in when we arrived. A boat was shuttling tourists to the island, but we took a walk around Marazion until the waters uncovered the cobblestone causeway. We, along with a few hundred fellow pilgrims, made  the ten minute walk to the island. The walk was free but there was a fee to visit the castle on the mount. "Would you like to also buy the official guidebook to enhance your visit? Only five pounds." Of course I would, not that I was going to have time to read the thing before or during my visit. This island and the castle built atop it, with cannons pointing toward the bay and a flag flying over it all was worth all the trouble and cost it took us to get here.
  The same family has lived on the island for hundreds of years and we tourists are happy to help them preserve it. After touring the castle we hiked back to town along the causeways. We found a triangle shaped café for lunch, with a view back to the Mount.
Like ants, oblivious to the rising tide
  Teresa was now ready for a real hike, so the next morning we took the Number 6 bus over to the village of Mousehole, three miles up the coast. Teresa was willing to hike both ways, but it's my job to keep her from overdoing it, so it would be the bus over and hike back,  Mousehole is a cute village of narrow crooked streets. How our driver managed to whip his gigantic bus to the town center while cleaning his nails at the same time was a mystery to me.
  We wandered around town and took pictures of the boats and narrow jetty opening to the sea that give Mousehole it's name. We checked out the curio shops, chuckled at the 'Hole' Foods grocery, and headed back to Penzance. Walking is good. You see so much more of an area when you're not behind the wheel trying to avoid the angel of death. There used to be a lot of smuggling in this area, hence the 'pirates' of Penzance. The king used to get a large part of his income on import duties and wherever there's a tax, people will try to avoid it.

How Mousehole got its name
  Cornwall is famous for tin mining and for the pasties the miners took underground for lunch. On our last afternoon in Cornwall we decided to check out both icons.  There used to be many dozens of tin mines in Cornwall, some dating back to prehistoric times. They're all closed now due to cheap Asian tin. The Geevor Mine on the other side of the peninsula closed in 1990 and has been preserved as a museum. Our guidebook said the best pasties in Cornwall (and therefore, the world) could be found in the town of St. Just on the route to the tin museum. Great! A pasty, by the way, is a large pastry turnover filled with meat and vegetables, mostly potatoes. A simple dish really, which was why so many shops in the area could claim to make "The Best Pasties in Cornwall." Anyway, the place in St. Just made pasties to be eaten at home. There was no seating in the shop. Son of a biscuit! It was well after lunchtime and we were ravenous. I spotted a pub across the way with picnic tables out front. I asked the gent at one of the tables if we could consume our pasties there and he said, "Certainly." I bought glasses of wine inside the pub for Teresa and me, and Terry (the gent) invited us to join him. Chatting with the locals in their native tongue was one of the delights of our trip. Terry had once worked as a set decorator in the film industry. He is the only person I know who has both met Jimmy Stewart and lived through the London blitz. He was just a lad of seven at the beginning of the war. One morning he and his mates were delighted to find their school had been demolished by a Nazi bomb during the night. "Not to worry, boys," their teacher said. "We'll be holding classes over in the church for the time being." Jimmy Stewart came to England several years later  and Terry claimed "he was a real gentleman." But we already knew that from his films.
  The pasty was just as good as those I'd had in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where many Cornwall miners emigrated. We bid Terry farewell and headed over to Geevor. It was a gloomy afternoon and we were one of the few cars in the (free!) lot. Even on a sunny day, the old mine buildings would have had a derelict, forlorn look. If it wasn't for the special lottery that has poured millions into the place, it would look like all the other old mines, marked only by their smokestacks.
  We paid our entry fee, donned our hard hats and headed into the museum. The exhibits described how the mine worked and noted that tin was the cornerstone of the Industrial Revolution. Over and over it was stressed just how vital tin was to the IR, because looking at these ramshackle buildings, you'd never guess it. This particular mine opened in the early 1900s and was updating its technology as recently as the late 1950s. The level of activity at the mine was tied directly to the price of tin. At times the mine would shut down, especially during the Great Depression.
 You had to use your imagination in the actual tin processing buildings because earlier pieces of machinery had been replaced by newer works. Of course, most of the work took place underground. One display showed the 85 miles of tunnels extending out under the sea, like colored strands on an electrical circuit board.
  The most interesting part of the tour was the miners' changing room. I'm sure everyone took his stuff home when the place shut down, but the museum has put things back so it looks like the day the mine closed for good. The boots, the hardhats, the stickers on the lockers...quite touching. There was even a naked mannequin in the shower. Teresa found this first, then set me up. Yes, she got me good. I should have been warned by the sign, "Naked miners only."
Nice tan
  "Why can't we go down in the mines?" I asked an employee. "Because they're full of water." Oh, yeah, they used to have to pump out thousands of gallons of water every day. But they did have a mine tour for us. When the archaeologists came in after the decision to preserve the mine, they discovered a long lost mine from the 1700s. This mine had been dug into the side of an adjacent hill so it stayed dry. Teresa and I were the only ones there for the four p.m. tour, which was good because it was very tight inside. "Yes, we sometimes get people with panic attacks," Ian, our guide, told us. "We get them out as quickly as we can." Ian said a mine like this would have been started by some one with enough capital to hire a crew of twenty or so miners and others to haul the ore up a shaft using donkeys. The ore would have been broken down by hand then crushed some more to float off the tin. The workers would have been well paid for the time, with all the pasties they cared to eat. The owner stood to get rich or go bust depending on how much tin was found and what price it would fetch. After the tour I asked Ian why the café adjacent to the gift shop wasn't named "Hard Rock Café, Geevor" He laughed as though he hadn't heard that one a million times. Nice guy.
Tinman and Wife
  Well, we'd walked the narrow footpaths of the Cotswolds and taken selfies in front of Doc Martin's surgery. Now it was time to tick off some of Joe's 'must sees'. That would be Lord Nelson's ship in Portsmouth and after that, Jane's House on the road to London. But that's a subject for another post.
Where all the world gets along

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Cotswolds, United Kingdom

   (Part One of Two Parts)
Quintessential Cotswolds Cottages
  When you grow up speaking English, with all the benefits of life in a democracy, misunderstanding Shakespeare, watching Doc Martin, you will naturally want to visit the mother country. I was actually an English major way back, and a proud member of P.O.E.M.  But I had to go back for a marketable  degree to finance my foreign trips.
  Teresa and I have been talking about this trip for years. We took a trip to Scotland in the meantime, and spent a few hours in Heathrow airport once on the way home from another trip, but England is an expensive place. It was Brexit that provided the spark to get a move on. When we went to Scotland in 2007, a British pound cost $1.60 so you multiplied everything by $2. After the Brexit vote to leave the EU, the pound dropped to $1.29, so now we multiplied by one. That made a big difference.
  Twenty years ago Teresa read the James Herriot animal books and said she wanted to visit their setting in Yorkshire. I started doing research on Yorkshire. Durham  a bit further north looked interesting, and Hadrian's Wall was also within reach. After a few days there, we could head over to the Lake District where Wordsworth hung out. When I told Teresa about this, she asked if that was where all the little villages connected by footpaths are. Hmmm, no, that would be the Cotswolds further south. She had read an article about the Cotswolds in the travel section of the paper and was intrigued by the image of hiking from village to village. "And don't forget Portwenn," she said. Portwenn is the fictional setting for the British show Doc Martin. The real name is Port Isaac, way down in Cornwall.
  I'm a firm believer in getting to a place and staying there for a few days. I scrubbed Yorkshire and the Lake District and filled our three week itinerary with the Cotswolds and Cornwall. The next business was to reserve airline tickets, a car, and a B&B for the first few days in England.
  We arrived in London at noon on September 27. By the time we got through customs and rode the bus to Hertz, it was close to two. We loaded our suitcases in our sporty Honda Civic. The man at the counter had drawn us a map for getting on the road to the Cotswolds. It looked complicated, plus we had to stay on the left side of the road, plus I hadn't slept in over 24 hours. The Civic had a key fob like our car at home. You just stepped on the brake pedal and pushed a button on the dash to start the engine. I couldn't find the button though. Teresa suggested asking someone, but I felt that if I couldn't figure out how to start the car, I shouldn't be driving in traffic. The minutes passed. I looked at the fob again. It had a little button which caused a key to pop out. After a few more minutes I found the keyhole. Brmmm, brmmm. The map led us through several roundabouts. I was concentrating on staying to the left, Teresa was trying to decipher the map. There was no time to read road signs which I was soon to discover don't really point to the place you want to go. The signs are an example of British humor. We ended up on a four lane highway. Was it the right road? Who knows? At last we spotted a sign for Oxford which was on our route to the Cotswolds.
  We were heading for the town of Bourton-on-the-Water, 75 miles west of Heathrow Airport. Google maps said it would take an hour and 38 minutes. This was an example of Google humor. The car rental place urged me to get their GPS, but at $12 per day I figured we could find our way. I would come to regret this decision. Before we left home, I had downloaded maps of England onto Teresa's iPad for use offline. I had also skipped AT&T's offer of $10 a day iPhone service. This also was a regrettable economy.
  As we approached our destination, the roads got narrower and the oncoming trucks loomed larger. Teresa warned me of the stone wall zipping by her head. I said for the first of many times that I'd rather scrape a wall than run into a semi. We eventually turned off onto the road to downtown Bourton. Every English town under 5,000 has a narrow main street, or High Street as they call it, with no room for parking. But cars were allowed to park for thirty minutes to pop into the shops. So High Street was really a one lane street and you negotiated your passage with oncoming drivers by flashing your lights.  Now that I was driving slowly, the beepers that warned me I was too close to objects started going off.
England is best viewed close up and on foot
  We both thought we were on High Street, but as we passed through the town things did not compute. The Google map listed street names, but streets signs in English towns are optional, and where they do exist, they take on an infinite variety of forms. Give me a bloody post with nice green street signs please, with white lettering, if it's not too much trouble! Jet lag was beginning to take it's toll. We drove back and forth three times through the narrow High Street before we realized it wasn't High Street at all. In fact it was the street our B&B was on. We had driven by our B&B five times before picking out the sign for the Red Roof East B&B. Halleluiah! We left the car to cool its tires for 36 hours and settled into our room. We were too energized to nap so walked downtown for supper then home again for bed.
  Of course we're wide awake at midnight. At home it's six p.m. You've had a nice afternoon nap and are ready for an evening of sightseeing. Unfortunately everything's closed now here in England. I pop a sleeping pill and read till I get drowsy at two a.m. Teresa just reads.
  The next morning, Kate, the proprietor, cooked us a full English breakfast. Why do they put all the toast in wire racks so it goes cold before you can slather on the butter? We chat with an Australian couple who are hiking through the Cotswolds, stopping each night at a different B&B. A van hauls their luggage on to the next stop ten or twelve miles down the road.
  We too are going hiking today. We're taking the public footpath over to Lower Slaughter which is one mile away. That's nothing compared to what the Aussies were doing, but we were going to continue another mile and a half to Upper Slaughter. It had rained last night and Kate said the footpath would be muddy, but it wasn't as bad as we expected, just a bit slick. There was a sign on Kate's front door and on many other shops as well asking patrons to remove muddy boots.
  We set off on our first public footpath on a sunny Thursday morning, headed for Lower Slaughter. No one knows why the towns are called "Slaughter," but they do know it has nothing to do with blood and guts. The system of footpaths in England and Wales is amazing, covering over 140,000 miles. There's an association called The Ramblers that organizes hikes and keeps an eye out for landowners who try to close the paths, some of which have been in use for hundreds of years.
One mile down, 139,999 to go
  Lower Slaughter was a perfect little English town. The mill no longer ground flour, but was now a museum, a gift shop and a café. We stopped for a break. The path to Upper Slaughter was mostly across a sheep pasture. The pasture sloped upward as you'd expect. There was an ancient church in Upper Slaughter and some stone houses, but nothing else for the tourist. We checked out the church, chatted with the woman vacuuming the pews and threw a pound in the collection box.
Lest we forget
  We got back to our B&B a little after one. Five minutes later we were downtown via a newly discovered footpath shortcut. These paths cut across towns and cities as well as the countryside. Last evening the town had been deserted. Now it was filled with hundreds of Japanese tourists armed with selfie sticks. Tourist coaches run out from London every morning, sending their passengers out shopping in Bourton, then head back around four p.m. for supper in the big city. Bourton is undeniably cute. The narrow Windrush River is contained in a stone channel and is spanned by several foot bridges. If you're going to travel all the way from Japan, you must shoot some iconic selfies from England and Bourton is just the place.
  Despite all the tourists, the town did not seem overcrowded. The place maintained its Old England look to cater to swarms of visitors. It was fun watching the variety of poses struck by these interlopers. And as I say, the place cleared out by tea time.
Hanging around Bourton
  On Day Two we got back on the road. Instead of taking the straightforward highway up to Stow-on-the-Wold, our map suggested we take the very narrow roads through the Slaughters and Swell. We did get to Stow, but the trip was harrowing. My trusty Rick Steves guide said there was free parking at the Tesco supermarket, a ten minute walk out of town. Free parking is almost unheard of in England. I carefully scrutinized the signs in the big parking lot. It looked like we could leave the car for up to 24 hours. Free! Amazing! Also, the supermarket had free restrooms. Remarkable. There was no sign on the front door saying  "Restrooms for Customers Only."
 Stow-on-the-Wold was a cool place. The library in the center of town had a strong Wi-Fi signal, also free, so I could peruse my phone while Teresa checked out the charity shops. Every town has at least one charity shop, often more, raising money for cures for all the diseases of body and soul. Teresa loves thrift stores and these filled the bill. She's always on the watch for some perfect piece of clothing selling for a sliver of its original price, so she doesn't buy much. I too checked the stores, for  mid-century English novels to help me fall asleep at night. We hiked over to the church, the back door of which was said to have inspired an episode in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I struck a Gandalf pose in front of the door, posted it to Facebook, and got a ton of likes.
  Teresa was in the mood for a footpath. Mr. Steves mentioned a mile and half path to the village of Broadwell.  "We can have lunch there," we agreed. It was a fine walk under the overarching trees, but once at the pub we discovered the practice of village pubs only serving meals at specific hours. We were in between serving times, but did have a drink and a rest before our walk back to Stow.
Flowery kingdom
  We had to move the next day. I had only booked three nights in Bourton, not knowing if we'd like the place, and now it was Saturday and Kate was booked up. So I found a B&B 15 miles up the road in the town of Broadway. Fifteen miles! That's nothing in Roseau County. But for me, here in England, slipping behind the wheel was like entering one of those Halloween houses where they try to scare the bejeebers out of you. Looking at the map, it was impossible to tell whether the A424 would be relatively wide like the A429, or the white knuckler it turned out to be. Rick Steves claimed these Cotswolds backroads were delightful, and they would be if I could have  driven at 30 mph, but the speed limit was 50 and most people wanted to rip along at 60 or more. Rick said pull over and let the train of cars pass you. But I had noted the little pull offs were mostly wicked looking mud holes.
  Anyway, we made it to Broadway, named not for its theater district, but for its wide High Street. It was too early to check in so we found a pay and display parking lot and set off to check out the town. These parking lots have a central meter where you feed in coins and get a slip which you put in your front window, and you better be back before the printed time or it's a £100 fine. This town was also cute, filled with British rather than Japanese day trippers.
  We checked into Brook House B&B on the edge of town and looked for a hike.  We found we could hike up to Broadway Tower, two miles away.  The tower is a five story folly sitting all alone on top of a high hill. A folly in England is a useless structure built a long time ago by someone with too much money on their hands. The first half of the hike was across an immense horse pasture. Then it turned up a steep path through the woods. We asked a group coming down how far to the top. "About a half hour." I hoped they were exaggerating, but they weren't. There was a parking lot by the tower full of cars of the people who had missed the advantages of a vigorous hike. It cost £4 to climb the tower so we settled for some postcards plus a visit to the adjacent café. One of the best things about Britain is how a café always pops up when you're in need of a cup of tea and a scone.
The Folly on the Hilly
   On our way up, we had passed an ancient church at the base of the hill and decided to check it out on the way home. St. Eadburgha's was built in the 12th century. There's nothing like these ancient buildings to locate yourself in the grand scheme of things.
On the way back to the B&B we made a reservation at an Indian restaurant and went home to recuperate. British cuisine is as Indian inflected as ours is Mexican. The food that evening was tasty and all five waiters made sure we were happy.
  On Sunday we made our obligatory visit to a "Great House." I wanted to see at least one mansion à la Downton Abbey, and Sudeley Castle would be it. It was only nine miles down the B4632. I was worried because, in my short experience, B roads were usually one lane passages with frequent pull offs so oncoming cars could pass each other. But the B4632 proved to be a fairly pleasant drive.
  Before our visit to England, I had tried to read the history of the country but had only gotten as far as Henry VIII. I was intrigued to see that Henry's sixth wife, Katherine Parr, was buried at Sudeley. The castle at Sudeley had been built and wrecked a couple of times over the centuries. It's mostly in good shape now and the owners have opened it to visitors to help pay the bills. The family is related to Camilla Parker-Bowles and there was a picture of her and Charles prominently displayed in the living area we were allowed into.
  But back to Katherine Parr. There's a rhyme to help keep Henry's wives straight, "Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived." Katherine was the one who survived, but not for long. A few months after Henry's death, she married an old boyfriend. She was only 36. The following year she died at Sudeley as a result of childbirth and was buried there. The place was wrecked during the Civil War of the next century and in the following century became a place for romantic rambles. During one of those rambles, a group of women discovered a white stone in the floor of the church and had a local farmer remove it. They found a casket below with Katherine's name on it. A wealthy merchant bought the whole place and restored Sudeley to its present splendor. Katherine got an above  ground tomb with a fine statue of herself, recumbent.
Curst be he that moves my bones
  The next day was earmarked to visit the boyhood home of a famous English writer. And they don't come any more famous than Shakespeare. Mr. Steves warned that Stratford was touristy, but since it was only sixteen miles away, it would be a sin to miss it. Marianne, the owner of our B&B, used to work in Stratford and gave us directions for the back route into Stratford. It involved passage through several small towns, but we arrived safely at the gigantic car park just outside Stratford, got our display ticket for the dash, and hiked across the Avon River. There were swans swimming around the longboats people rent to cruise the canal down to Bath. We could see the gigantic Royal Shakespeare Theatre to the left. It was ugly but supposedly nice inside.  Judging by all the statues along our walk, the birth of Shakespeare mania was in the mid to late 1800s. But our century had kept everything spiffed up and added several new touches. There were three main sites to see in town plus two more on the outskirts. I appreciated that the man selling tickets advised that attempting all five in one day would be a little much. First we headed to Shakespeare's birthplace. By some miracle this building has survived five centuries of fire and demolition. Shakespeare inherited the place, but turned it into an inn after building a nicer place down the road. After his death in 1616 the house remained in the family until it was purchased by the Shakespeare Trust in the mid-nineteenth century and restored to its original look.
Shakespeare slept here

  There's a multimedia exhibit on Shakespeare's life in a large building before you enter the birthplace. Touring the house was fun and it was illuminating talking to the docents about life in Tudor days.  In the garden out back, three actors performed snippets from the plays. There were two other related houses in town that were less interesting, but we checked them out because they were included in our ticket. About then I realized our three hour parking ticket was almost up, so I left Teresa and speed walked across the river to feed more money into the meter. After checking out the other buildings we walked to Holy Trinity Church to see Shakespeare's grave. He's buried under the floor in front of the altar. They knew back then that he might be a big deal in the future. Also he had the money for a front row seat.
Falstaff and me
  We had lots more to see in the Cotswolds, but only one more day to do it. Everyplace seemed  beautiful; how to decide where to go?  One thing I definitely wanted to see in England was some trace of the Roman occupation of Britain during the first four centuries A.D. As we navigated the narrow roads I saw that Cirencester was only ten miles down the good old A429, one of the area's wider roads. I knew that Cirencester was built atop the Roman town of Cirinium, so we headed the chariot south. Finding Cirencester was easy. Finding the museum took some doing, but we found a parking spot near the museum. The museum was very well done. The Romans had had a full fledged city here with forum, amphitheater, and flush toilets. Everyone got to go to the amphitheater. Only the rich got to flush their toilets. It all collapsed around 410 when the army returned to protect Rome from the barbarians. The Saxons and the Angles took over, then the Normans and Vikings and it's been wars and rumors of wars ever since.
  The next morning after breakfast, we bid Marianne farewell and headed south for Cornwall, but that's the subject for another post.
It's the little touches

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Day on the Lake

Let's Go Fishin'

 Our friend Linda emailed recently to invite us on an eight hour boat ride on Lake of the Woods. She had won this trip for six at a charity raffle and thought we'd enjoy coming along. I imagined the boat would leave Warroad in the late afternoon and we'd enjoy the sunset as we cruised up to one of the island resorts for dinner. For the trip to last eight hours we'd have to go to the posh resort with the eight course meal. I said yes, of course. Linda's mother Helen, her husband Larry, and their son Mike would be joining us.
  But it was not a sunset cruise at all. Rather, it was eight hours of fishing starting at eight a.m. Our boat would be leaving from Arneson's Resort at Rocky Point, which would mean getting out of bed at five a.m.  We had taken Linda and Larry for a day of lobster fishing when they visited us in Boston last year. That had involved a four a.m. rising, so maybe this was payback. When I asked Linda about this she just smiled and said "You two seemed like the perfect couple for this. Larry said so too."
  It was quite cool when we arrived at Rocky Point, about 57 degrees. It was only blowing about 10 mph so the lake should have been calm, but the waves were out of proportion with the lightness of the wind, a notorious trait of this big shallow lake, The resort has several boats that it sends out with guides all through the summer. Our guide, Captain Tim, said he had clients almost every day between fishing opener and Labor Day. We looked to be the only boat headed out on this mid-September Monday. Tim said we'd head to the northeast for about twenty minutes then troll to the east with the wind behind us.
  The boat was a thirty-five foot cabin cruiser with a pair of powerful inboard engines. We took off at high speed, pounding into the waves. Most but not all the spray missed us. Right away Helen and Teresa wanted life jackets, more for warmth than from fear of sinking. Tim cut the engine so we could dig out the lifejackets. The resort radioed Tim to ask if he had broken down.
  We pounded off again till we reached the fishing grounds and Tim mercifully shut off one engine and throttled the other down to a stuttering 2.5 mph. The boat rocked gently in the swells and the temperature rose a couple of degrees. This might be okay. One thing I had learned from the lobstering trip was that the best way to ease the hours along is to eat steadily throughout the day. We had brought along a good supply of sandwiches, fruit and junk food.
  The boat had five downriggers pointing off the stern. These looked like miniature cannons with an eight pound lead ball hanging from the end. Tim set a regular fishing rod and reel into a socket attached to the downrigger. With a practiced motion he let out 30 feet of line looping the near end into a clip attached to the lead ball. He then lowered the ball till it was four feet off the bottom. Now the lure and hook would be thirty feet astern and just off the bottom where the walleye feed. The weight of the ball bent the rod as though there was a huge fish on it. Once a fish was actually hooked, the line pulled free of the lead ball. We knew we had a fish because the rod went straight for a second or two until the fish started to fight. We took turns taking the rod out of the socket and reeling the fish in. Once you had a fish reeled in you stood a good chance of losing it in the netting process. At first Tim did the netting and even he lost one. Our crew soon took over that job and the number of lost fish went up. We were catching a fish every 15 minutes or so. We had to throw back several big ones because they were over 19 1/2 inches. The big ones were the breeding stock and Tim admitted that since the throwback rule went into effect, fish numbers have gone up. However, if you catch a fish over 28 inches, you are allowed to keep one "trophy fish." Otherwise we were each allowed four walleyes and two saugers, the walleye's taste-alike cousin.
  Tim said when fishermen come from Iowa or North Dakota they expect to catch fish, especially after paying $720 per day. With the downriggers, they are guaranteed to catch fish. "But downriggers take all the skill out of fishing," he said.
  Mike does more fishing then any of us, and after a few hours asked if we could try spinning, or using the rod and reel with live bait. Tim motored over to a spot a little east of the resort and put worms on our hooks. I'm not afraid to put a worm on a hook, but Tim has baited several hundred thousand hooks in his 16 years as a guide and his worms tend to stay on the hook while mine fall off. Fishing was much slower now that skill was involved. With the engine shut off we wallowed in the waves. My potato chip consumption went way up. After an hour someone suggested we go back to downrigging, which we did for the rest of the day. We wanted our limits.
  Tim told us that over the years most of his clients have been easy to get along with. He said they used to take mixed parties to make up a boatload of six. This didn't always work out so well. He once took out a husband and wife and their young son along with "two older four-fingered gentlemen: four fingers of whiskey, no ice." Once oiled up, the gentlemen began using inappropriate language. After two or three such incidents, the resort banned mixed parties. A group of fewer than six gets a discount.
  More boats joined us on the lake as the day turned warm. Tim gave us an extra 45 minutes of fishing to fill the cooler. Once ashore, we went up to the resort restaurant for cocktails while Tim fileted our fish. If you're going fishing, this is the way to do it. Keep those charity raffles coming, please.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

One Man's Screen is Another Man's Brain

Be glad you're somewhere else

  A friend of mine, when writing of his overseas travels, writes only of his journey to the airport and of the flight itself. I just returned from a three week trip to England and am overwhelmed by my impressions, so I'll adopt my friend's method.
  We left Minneapolis at ten p.m. bound for Heathrow. I had paid extra for a non-stop flight and once we reached cruising altitude, I settled in for a long night of insomnia. Our jet had seven seats across and Teresa and I were in the middle section.  We were in the second to last row giving us a panoramic view of our fellow 200 passengers. An hour after takeoff, the stewardesses began the meal service pushing their bulky carts down the two aisles.
  That's when the turbulence began. We always expect a little turbulence, but this increased in violence, like when a rough gravel road turns into a plowed field. The captain ordered us to keep our belts fastened, but the meal service continued. Then the bottom dropped out and the plane fell for I don't know how long. Two seconds is a long time when you're falling. When we hit solid air again the plane lurched sideways and many people screamed. Teresa didn't scream. She was busy boring three inch holes into my two inch biceps. "Cabin crew return to your seats," the captain ordered. One stewardess got her cart back to the galley. The other abandoned hers. The stewardesses plopped into the seats behind us as the turbulence continued. It was not reassuring to hear the stewardess behind me muttering "Jesus Christ" as we bumped along.  Gradually things smoothed out. Meal service was resumed. Cheese tortellini, extra dente. The crew issued generous pours of wine.
  The sun was well up when we landed. Teresa asked one of the stewardesses if that turbulence had been unusual. She said that in forty years, this was her first flight with screaming passengers. Maybe she says that after every rough flight, but it made us feel heroic. She said she felt most sorry for the man whose glass of red wine had been splattered over his shirt. Note to self: white wine only on aircraft.
   After driving around England for three weeks (more about that later), we returned to Heathrow. Hurricane Ophelia was battering Ireland that day and Ireland was along the route to Minnesota. "We'll fly over it," the ticket agent assured me. She also told me I was exactly thirty years and one day older than her. Nice. We got up and over Ophelia without a hitch. People were dying down in Ireland. I don't understand how people manage to die in  hurricanes these days. I felt safe in my metal cocoon as I turned on the little screen in the seat back in front of me. These screens are a wonder. You plug in your earbuds and can watch TV show and up to a dozen recently released movies. But the movies were dumb and the TV shows dumber. I switched to the flight tracker screen to follow our path across the Atlantic and opened my book. About then, the woman in front of me turned and said, "Stop hitting the seat." She had a thick accent I could barely decipher. "What, I'm not kicking her seat," I said to myself. A minute later she turned again. "Stop hitting seat." I wanted to oblige her. She had an ogre-ish, man-eating look about her. Finally it hit me, my tapping on the screen was being transmitted into her skull, irritating the heck out of her. From then on I gently touched the screen as needed, and there were no more complaints. Later Teresa found a funny TV show. She started her screen from the beginning and we watched it together. It was very funny, but I worried my chuckles would awaken my adversary. I wondered if she would have screamed on the flight over. I doubt it, but I'll never know for sure.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Just Looking Around

Destination, anywhere

I thought I knew all about the Roseau City Center. The center, a crazy mish-mash of design ideas which we've gotten used to, was built after the great flood of 2002, so it's been around ten years or more. I'm familiar with the building's museum and library, it's capacious public areas, home to galas, receptions and mega rummage sales. I've passed its smaller meeting area where nervous high schoolers await their driving tests. "Hope I don't get the guy with the mustache, he's the grouchy one." I've been upstairs to the city offices and looked through the remote learning classrooms. But today, as I walked to the mens room tucked behind the library, an elevator door popped open and a rider strolled out.
  I had known since I moved here 40 years ago that Roseau had grain elevators. And I'd heard of the elevator at the bank which is  used by employees only, to take the bank's bullion up to the observation deck for its daily sunning. But finding this new elevator gave me a mild shock. I chastised myself for being so unobservant. Now, as I walk the streets, I scrutinize every nook and cranny, half expecting, half hoping, to find perhaps an escalator running down to a subway platform, with fine tile mosaics...and rats.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Fair

New this year! World's largest portable Ferris wheel.

We just returned home from our annual visit to the Minnesota State Fair. We love the fair. It's amazing! Fantastic! But then, I had very low expectations to begin with. My earliest impressions  of fairs were unfavorable. As a child, I identified with the little pig who built his house of brick. The wolf is frustrated by his inability to blow our house down so he invites us to go to the fair with him. "Sure," says the little pig. "What! Are you crazy?" I say after the wolf is gone. "Don't worry," says the pig. "The wolf is coming at two to pick us up. We'll go at noon, check the place out, and be back home before the wolf gets here."  Just as I feared, when we get to the fair the pig screws around, going on rides, eating taffy, etc. To top it off he buys a butter churn which he makes me carry on my back. We're almost home when we spot the wolf coming up the road.  "Quick!" say the pig. He crawls into the churn, pulls me in behind, and claps on the cover. He's laughing so much we start rolling down the hill until we bang into our front door. No wolf. Turns out he thought we were some kind of monster out to get him. I swore off fairs after that.
  Later in my childhood when I was in college, I went up to New Hampshire with some friends to do God knows what. We heard about a backwoods country fair just across the border in Maine. It was quite a hike through the woods from where we left the car so the locals could say we had come out of the woodwork rather than vice-versa. The entertainment of the day was two tractors pulling against each other. We watched for half an hour then gave it up.
  So when Teresa and I got married, she had to force me to go the State Fair in St Paul where we were living at the time. She had exhibited her 4-H cows at the fair in her youth, so the place had happy memories for her. I was shocked that you had to pay an entrance fee just so you could spend more money. They also charged for parking, but if you parked far enough away and walked half a mile, parking was free. Did I mention I'm a notorious cheapskate and tightwad? Teresa must have been reconsidering her choice of mate at this point, but fortunately she's thrifty too. One thing that did impress me was the tiger run. People don't believe me when I tell them about the tiger, but this was back in the early seventies when you could still do crazy stuff with animals. You paid a few dollars to the tiger's keeper and he gave you a heavy hooded coat and a head start before releasing the tiger who always caught up to the customer and brought him or her down in the dust.
  After we moved north, we forgot about the State Fair and Teresa made do with the Roseau County Fair. After the kids were grown and we were rattling around the home place, Teresa suggested we check out the State Fair on a weekend. So we did. I was now a mature adult and could appreciate the pleasures of watching the ever changing parade of my fellow citizens. The full panoply of human types was on display, from youthful models for Greek statuary to the stars of My 600 lb. Life. There were  tee shirts to be read: "Grandpa's my name, spoiling's my game," or "You are the product of a billion years of evolution. Act like it!"
  We've been going to the fair for the past several years, sometimes with family or friends, but mostly just the two of us. It's difficult to move through the crush of people with more than one companion. Every year there are a few new things. There was a small black "Black Lives Matter" tent that seemed to silently say "Shame." I only saw one openly Trump supporter, a young man wearing a big Trump-Pence button and smoking a cigarette in a prohibited area.
  One place we always visit is the Arts Building, filled with two or three hundred paintings and sculptures. Most of the works are straightforward, some are weird, some are wonderful. We try to get there early in the day before the crowd grows massive. There's a gentle slope across the fair and as you descend it, you can see the heads of thousands and thousands of happy people bobbing up and down in the afternoon sun, while fragrant clouds of grease from the Blooming Onion stand waft across the scene.
  If the earth is purgatory, the fair has more of the paradisiacal than the hellish. But I still give butter churns a wide berth.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Theory of Brewing

 A man will not believe how easy it is to break a French press until he breaks one himself - Voltaire

I'm becoming a scientist in my later years. I've been inspired by a book a friend gave me about the North Woods written by a scientist who's spent his life trying to figure out why things happen the way they do. Why does a moose eat one kind of moss instead of another? When the voles go up, do the beaver go down? Who cares, right. I'm ok as I am, but no, I need to move beyond my primitive thought processes, satisfying as they may have been. Nature is very interesting, very intelligent, after all it came up with us. Now it's our turn to figure out how we got to this state.
  All the answers are right in front of us, but it's hard work figuring them out. You make a guess, then do an experiment, and if your guess is wrong, that's valuable data too. Then other people have to repeat your experiment and get the same results. Then you have a theory, which can always be disproved.  Absolute truth remains out there as a goal. Once we reach absolute truth, the game is up.
  My contribution to science should get us a bit closer to the perfect cup of coffee. Coffee drinking has done much to advance science. I will be using the French press in my experiments. There are numerous ways to make good coffee,  but the French press is cheap and simple. You can make rough French press coffee which is perfectly drinkable, but absolute perfection requires measurement. The thing I like best about doing science is watching other people's experiments on YouTube. Apparently the water temperature is important. Some people say wait 30 seconds after the boil. Others say 200 degrees F is the perfect temperature so I stick a little thermometer in the whistle hole of the kettle as it cooks. Another key factor is the amount of beans. I bought a little scale to weigh out the beans. The videos were putting in way too much coffee. I'm a cheapskate so I cut back on the beans. Tasted good to me. Gave me the boost I need to write up my notes, plus I have money left over for a muffin. The last factor is the grind. Medium coarse is needed. Some videos insist on an expensive burr grinder for an even grind, but another site said just pulse the beans in a blade grinder to get an even grind.
  The one thing I didn't like at first about the French press was cleaning the thing. There's always a thick clump of grounds in the bottom. After some experimentation, I learned to run water over the plunger while lifting it out of the carafe. I fill the carafe half way with water, give it a good stir, then pour it around the plants by the front porch. Please check the publication Science in a couple of years for my final results.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Old Nellie

What's wrong with this picture?
  There have been new cars in my friend and publisher Steve's family, but he let his wife drive them, then his daughter, while he always made do with junkers and hand-me-downs. His latest vehicle, a 1997 Ford Escort wagon, had 150,000 miles on it when his daughter gave it back several years ago. The car was just under a quarter million miles when he retired from the Polaris Snowmobile factory last month. Steve had nursed this vehicle along, replacing parts and changing oil as needed. It took him to work through summer heat and winter blizzards and also on jaunts to the recycling center down in Thief River Falls. He even went camping in the Badlands with it once.
  The very first time he drove it as a retiree, the engine blew up. Rather, the timing belt broke which allowed the pistons to bend the valves. He could get the engine fixed or install a rebuilt, but the car is not worth it. The local junkyard offered him $100. I counseled Steve to grab the cash and be done with it, but Steve said not so fast. He reasoned that the headlight assemblies he had just installed were worth something. And the alternator and the heater blower motor were both fairly new. Plus the exhaust system only had a few thousand miles on it. The fancy Alpine CD player must have value. Steve proposed to haul the Escort home and part it out, as the pros say. He could advertise for free on the local sell and swap site on Facebook. I warned him that his parts would get lost amidst the baby clothes and suggested craigslist, but he said craigslist is for predators. I fear the Escort will join his stable of ancient wrecks under the oaks along the creek, which is entirely his business.
  I am always happy to help Steve in his endeavors. He said he'd be able to get the Escort home on his own, but would appreciate my moral support. Last Thursday we drove to Jerry Solom's machine shop to borrow a trailer. The trailer was behind a tractor that we did not expect to start (it didn't). We removed the sides from the trailer, then Jerry used his loader and a chain to swing the trailer  away from the tractor. Steve had driven his '94 Toyota 4WD pickup to get the trailer, because the pickup contains every tool, chain or jack you would ever need to get a car onto a trailer.  But the truck was missing its right side mirror which Steve thought he'd need to back up the trailer to his car at the shop in Roseau. We pulled the trailer to Steve's place and transferred it to his '95 GMC conversion van. This van's not much to look at, but inside it's as plush as a Vegas bordello.
  We loaded all the tools we thought we'd need from the truck onto the trailer bed along with a set of ramps and tied them all down. Twenty minutes later Steve was backing up the trailer to his formerly faithful steed. The next time we load a car onto a trailer we'll do a couple of things differently. Number One: load the the front end of the vehicle first, so that most of the weight is over the hitch. The Escort had been parked front end first but we could have pulled it away from the fence to load it. Number Two: be sure the car is lined up straight with the trailer. It's really hard to make adjustments as you winch the car up the ramps, especially in reverse. We learned these valuable common sense lessons during the hour it took to get the car onto the trailer. Steve's puny lawnmower ramps impressed me by not collapsing under the weight of his car.
  Now it was time to chain the car to the trailer. It's embarrassing to have things fall off your trailer.  A jacket or a bucket of oil is one thing. But a red station wagon? Not good. Steve has this unusual chain for tough jobs. It's about 40 feet long, with two different sizes of links. There are hooks at each end and an extra hook welded on in the middle, plus a large steel ring welded on in the other middle. Steve has worked magic with this chain many times in the past, but I always stand aside when he gets down to it. Once the load is chained, you use a chain binder to take up the slack and prevent any movement. Steve had borrowed a binder from Jerry, plus he had bought another at Lee's Store on the way to town. You hook each end of the binder to the chain then throw the lever over and presto! your chain is tight as a tick. That's the theory. Steve struggled with this thing, but like Rubik's cube, it got the better of him. He tossed it to me and I scurried off to YouTube which only had videos of improved versions of our binder. Using more primitive technology, Steve finally got his car attached to the trailer and we drove home at 45 mph, hoping the State Patrol was elsewhere.
  Once home, we recruited Jackie to steer the Escort as Steve, his grandson, and I pushed it off the trailer. So if you need a headlight assembly for a '97 Escort (wagon or sedan) or your muffler is getting noisy, please check out the Roseau Area Sell and Swap on Facebook. Thank you.

Monday, July 10, 2017


A toast to the Captain Morgan, wherever she may be.

  Our oldest son Matt, his wife Heather and their sons, Sam and Luke are moving back to the South Shore of Boston.  After four years in Lindström near the Twin Cities, they are returning to the town of Hull. One thing Matt liked about Minnesota is that he had a big shop with room to display his Captain Morgan sign.  Back in Massachusetts, he will still have a shop, but it will lack room for the display of large tugboat name plates. Last month, I asked Matt what he was going to do with Captain Morgan and he said he was going to leave it behind, either sell it at the yard sale or just leave it in the shop. Wait, I could not let this happen. Matt was planning a trip to Wannaska and I said I would take it.  I wasn't real enthusiastic about the sign. I love all things nautical, but I still harbor an irrational prejudice against South Carolina for starting the Civil War. I've been to South Carolina. It's beautiful and the people there are most hospitable, but history is a burr I can't get out from under my saddle.
  Ennaways, the sign arrived this weekend and I was asking Matt about its provenance. Matt currently works for Reinaurer Transportation Company, a towboat operation based in New York City. He works for two weeks and has two weeks off. He's been flying to New York from the Cities. After the move, he'll drive from Hull to his tug.
  Before he started  on the tugs, he worked for Bay State Cruise Co. This outfit runs cruise boats from Boston to the Cape and does whale watches. It's mostly a seasonal operation, but the company does take advantage of opportunities in the off season. In 2003, a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier was planning to anchor off Key West to give its crew a week of R&R. Bay State sent Matt and a small crew aboard one of its vessels down to Key West where they would  shuttle sailors from the carrier to shore. About half way to Florida, Matt's captain received news that a storm was headed for the Keys and that the aircraft carrier was going to wait out the storm at sea. Matt's boat pulled into Charleston S.C. to await developments. They tied up in a disused Navy yard. During the day they explored the city and enjoyed the restaurants. Their boat had been stocked with several thousand cans of beer for the pleasure of the carrier sailors so Matt and his crew enjoyed some of that before it went bad. One evening they explored a derelict tug tied up near their boat. One thing led to another and soon Matt's Captain Morgan sign was under his bunk for safekeeping. The aircraft carrier never did visit Key West and Matt's boat went back to Boston.
  Matt and Heather had bought a house south of Boston too small to display signs in.  It wasn't till they moved to Minnesota in 2013, that the sign saw the light of day again. After Matt told his story we decided to do a Google search of the Captain Morgan. People badmouth the Internet. Yes it's a time waster and a purse devastator. It steals your identity and the trolls are wicked, but when you need some obscure facts, the good old Internet is right there. Matt and I were stunned as we read those facts. The Captain Morgan was built in 1906 in Newburgh, NY for the New York Central Railroad. She was unromantically named the New York Central No. 2. I imagine she shuttled rail cars around New York Harbor for the next fifty years until she was sold to the Bronx Towing Line and renamed the Colco. Here's where the story gets weird. In 1977, the tug was sold to Reinauer Transportation, Matt's employer! And what's more, she was put into service in Boston Harbor as the Arnold Lyons. A couple of sales and name changes later she received her final name. In 1999, she was "laid up" in Charleston. In 2004, the year after Matt visited her, she was scuttled as an artificial reef. The Internet does not say where. Perhaps that's best. We would like to know who Captain Morgan was. And Arnold Lyons too.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Dr. and Mrs. Spock Go East

  Obituaries in rural areas, especially those of old men, mention how the deceased loved spending time with his grandchildren more than anything. Is this just a pious eulogy point or did grandpa really love nothing better than dandling little Jackie and Clarissa on his knee for hours on end. There's a type of play among young children called parallel play and I think this may be what's going on with grandpa. The old codger sits on the porch watching the kids weed the garden. They get a sip of his beer for every row of beans weeded.
  I'm a bit cynical after spending, Teresa and I, 13 days with two of our grandchildren. For nine of those days we were on our own. Our son Joe and his wife Ashley needed child care for perfectly good reasons which I won't go into here. Two days after arriving in Marshfield, Ashley needed a ride to Logan at 3:00 a.m. As we loaded her car, the screen door locked behind us. Son of a biscuit! Luckily we were able to get Teresa to wake up and let us back in. This little mishap was symbolic of the coming week: a series of near disasters that in retrospect are morbidly funny.
  There's lots of clichés among grandparents: "I love them, but I'm glad I can give them back to their parents," or "It's a good thing we had our kids when we were young." But I know people who are raising their grandkids full time. The only way to make it work is to develop a rigid routine. It took us a few days to figure out a schedule that would work for our two charges. Isla is three and a half. She's beautiful, imaginative, and strong-willed. I tend to let this strong will exhaust itself. Teresa is more like, "We need to get out of the path of the semi that's bearing down on us RIGHT NOW! Both methods are appropriate in their place. Little Nash, 11 months, is an affable, smiley chap. He'll play nicely by himself for five minutes, then he wants to be held for five minutes. Up down up down, interspersed with periods of Isla sitting on him.
  It's always interesting trying to live in someone else's house, especially when they're not around. Ashley is a good cook. She likes natural and organic foods. Her pantry is full of exotic spices and flavorings. I'm a simple lug. Just give me my salt, pepper and maybe some oregano. On Day One I found one of those little picnic salt shakers, but it was almost empty. High up in the pantry was a jar of Himalayan salt chunks, good for your wildlife salt lick. Lower down I found French sea salt in the form of small pebbles. I could pulverize these with a hammer but it was messy and Nash needed to be picked up. On Day Five, while rooting around in the back of the pantry I discovered a one pound container of good old Diamond salt. I felt like a Roman legionnaire on payday.
  Understanding the sleep patterns of the kids was vital to our survival. If you kept Isla up late she would sleep till nine the next morning. Nash was trickier. He required a delicate balance between bottle and pacifier to get him to doze in his crib. We discovered that a sticky mix of rice and yogurt in the evening acted as a soporific. Teresa, bless her soul, volunteered to sleep in Ashley's bed adjacent to the crib. Two to three times during the night Nash awoke and Teresa would warm up one of the little bags of breast milk Ashley had left in the freezer. At some point Isla would crawl into bed with Teresa. At dawn Teresa found she could extend Nash's sleep by taking him into bed too.
  I rewarded Teresa's benevolence by coming up with fun outings every afternoon. On a couple of days we walked to the beach a mile away pushing Nash in his stroller and pulling Isla in her wagon. We had to climb an immense hill which left us shot for the time on the beach. Kids love beaches. I find them overly sunny and sandy. My brother and his wife, a saintly couple, watch their three year old granddaughter three days a week. We visited them several times. This is where I saw parallel play in action. Teresa's birthday occurred during our visit. We all went out to McDonald's to celebrate. It seemed most natural to eat in the car.
  I haven't mentioned the dogs: Raven and Aurora. Both are large animals, Raven black and loud, Aurora white and silent. Dogs make fine companions but are superfluous when you already have two little kids to care for and salt containers to ferret out. The dogs could be fed only when Nash was not crawling around. They needed to be let out to relieve themselves. Raven stuck close to home but Aurora likes to roam so she had to be tied. Raven barked at every passing squirrel so he had to be exiled to his basement dungeon. In an ideal world we'd take the dogs for long walks on the beach. They'd chase the balls we bounced on the hard sand and would refresh themselves in the waves. Spoiler alert: this did not occur.
  On our last full day of babysitting, My sister-in-law came over and watched the kids so we could go out for breakfast and visit Teresa's favorite thrift store. Very early the next morning Ashley arrived home. I didn't hear her come in, but my soul flooded with relief when I saw her shoes by the door in the morning. Not because we were no longer responsible for the kids but because we had kept them safe. No falling out of windows, no choking on wine corks, I don't even like to think of the possibilities. People ask if we'd like to have the kids over for an extended visit. Of course! The corn needs weeding, but don't put that in my obituary.