Bill on February 4th, 2019

Perhaps you’re familiar with the Desiderata, the poem widely, if anonymously and erroneously attributed to the basement of a church in Baltimore, Maryland in 1692.

Probably those of you who have American English as a first language have at least a passing familiarity with the first lines of the poem, which begins: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all men…”

This poem warrants an occasional re-reading so go ahead—click on the convenient link and have at it. It’s a short poem. I’ll wait quietly while you do so…

OK.

Normally, I’m not much one for poetry, nor prayer for that matter. However the Desiderata has been a meaningful exception in a number of ways and at several important junctures in my life. And so I recommend the Desiderata to you. One could certainly do worse than the Desiderata as a means of expressing a life-orienting philosophy whose goal is a life filled with happiness.

I’ll further draw your attention to two phrases in the poem which are increasingly freighted with meaning for me as I continue to progress forward from middle age:

“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”

Once I get by my first response (“humph!”), it seems like a piece of advice that might actually contribute to one’s contentment and well-being in this world, if the advice is actually taken. So I try, with mixed success. For example, I’m OK with going bald, less so by the passing of my contemporaries, and I am in outright denial of my own thinning skin. But enough of me. This missive is about “Barry,” a Canadian friend of mine. For the sake of his privacy we can continue to call him “Barry.” It’s a Canadian-enough sounding name.

While I don’t recall exactly how we met, I suppose that Barry has visited here in Las Galeras 5 or 6 times over the last 6 or 8 years, staying for a month or more each time. I do recall that it was over that first glass of water, after he showed up thirsty at my gate one day that I discovered that Barry can be thoughtful, often in a laconic sort of way.

And so he and I pretty much and quickly cut to the chase and over the years of our acquaintance we’ve become OK with discussing the big shit in life as well as the mundane. Apart from an acerbic streak that is reminiscent of someone from New York or maybe Boston, Barry is a good example of the genus “Canadian.” He’s largely a good guy.

Because he’s twelve or fifteen years my senior—and because many of the changes in this time of life appear to be predictable, I have taken a few cues from Barry (and from others) as I’ve begun to surrender my own youthful things and traits. (This is also a commendable strategy–winging this aging business solo would be no fun.)

While I’m still waiting to turn into a runner, or a long-distance swimmer–both of which are still functional Barry-traits into his 80’s, I DID decide that it was OK for me to buy a small motorcycle to tool around town after watching Barry (and others) navigate 2-wheel motoring with minimal difficulty and minimal negative consequence. Wheee! Look at me: Hell’s Cherub!!

Anyway, I’ve got this little motorcycle.

This year when Barry arrived in Las Galeras he rented a room for 5 or 6 weeks down the hill at La Rancheta, as is his custom. And then he agreed to rent my machine, which hasn’t been getting much use of late, as my new knee and I sort out our relationship. And so off he went astride my moto.

Time passed; but not too much time before Barry returned to my gate and announced that he just wasn’t very comfortable operating this little motorcycle on the somewhat ify roads and two-tracks of Las Galeras and–after due reconsideration, he’d decided that it would be better to walk rather than ride on two wheels around Las Galeras.

This from a guy who in his younger days raced motorcycles competitively and with considerable success. I mean, the guy was more than a passingly competent rider.

In my opinion, his decision to deliberately and pro-actively step off from motorcycling took courage and was something of a pretty big deal. Admittedly, casual Dominican motorcycling is practically much more competitive than one might suspect, and the governing rules of the road are both bendable and changeable. But still and all–the man is an athlete and was a successful motocross competitor and competent operator for most of his adult life.

But (probably because he’s Canadian) Barry presented this life-altering decision as if it were no big deal. But it is and it’s inspirational.

My hat’s off to you, Barry.

Bill on December 29th, 2018

Hi,

We’re home again—but you didn’t even realize that we were gone, did you? (And, really—what is “home,” after-all? A building? A physical mailing address? A place to keep your heart?) In any event, it would seem that you haven’t heard much from me since 2014. Oops. Shame on me.

Much has changed in the intervening years and at the same time nothing has changed much. Perhaps your life is following a similar trajectory and the words “everything and nothing has changed” sound familiar. I certainly hope so.

I fully appreciation the mutable permanence of life and it is with that firmly in mind that I’ll try and spare you a point-by-point summary of events here in Las Galeras and in the United States over the last four or five years. Phew, close call! Neither of us should be subjected to such a litany. For such a long list nothing will do but that we yuk it up face-to-face. So why not make your own list and prepare! Who knows when we’ll swing by.

But I’m happy to hit the highlights of our recent trip to the US. Whooeee!

As you may recall, Nuris is now a fully-vetted, if provisional permanent resident of the United States. She and I returned to Maryland shortly before the end of October to accomplish several missions, none more important than demonstrating again her intent to be a participating resident of the US.

We also wanted to take a look at my place in Takoma Park with an eye to selling it. Really, it’s not necessary that we live in or near to Washington DC any longer and it’s nearly pointless for me to continue to pay condo fees, taxes, and utilities for a domicile that we use lightly even when we are in the US.

Plus, I never really furnished the place after the fire, so it’s a splendid structure but not very homey. And it certainly isn’t the home that I remember. That’s probably just as well, eh? So: a shameless and self-serving aside:

If you happen to be searching for a brand-new 1700+ square foot, 3 bedroom 2 bath condo with a private deck and a super-low condo fee near bus and Metro lines, and in an excellent school district give me a call. Tell your friends.

It wasn’t too difficult for me to make that assessment or reach the decision that selling the place is the most reasonable option. Hell, that’s been the case for at least six or eight years. We’ll see if it actually comes to pass. Maybe I’ll follow through in the spring. Or in the autumn. Or when the next wave of Democrats or Amazonians slither into the “other” Washington in 2020. Vamos a ver, we shall see.

More clear-cut was the decision to attend my fiftieth anniversary high school reunion in Pittsburgh last November. Most of you have had the occasion to make similar reunion decisions at some point. Maybe you’ve attended; maybe not. For fifty years, I had not.

And so it is now with a bit of experience that I recommend that you attend such a reunion when the opportunity presents itself, at least once every fifty years or so.

Ours was a comparatively small graduating class (76 souls) and for fifty years a nucleus of 18 or 20 folks held it together in Pittsburgh, with sporadic support from the suburbs and beyond.

This recent gathering had a pretty good turnout. I think that the final tally was 46, plus spouses. By way of a full report, it appears that most of these people turned out to be pretty well-balanced and quite decent folk. I hope they might say something similar about me. Those few of us who are philosophically at one extreme or another kept it pretty much under wraps for the reunion evening and consequently a good, if somewhat vanilla, time was had by all. This even-keeled outcome was only to be expected, since we all came of age under the thrall of Sister Mary Knuckle-Rapper and the psychic influence of her Permanent Record Card.

Regrettably, the two or three classmates to whom I owe long-overdue apologies were no-shows. So I suppose I’ve got something to look forward to fifty years down the road—unless perhaps I get off the dime beforehand. (Experience has shown this is unlikely.)

With the help of Amazon and a bit of clothes-shopping in Maryland and in Pittsburgh Nuris was nearly kitted-out for the next phase of our expedition: the trek to Iowa to take delivery of a used camping-car and the subsequent dash through the snow and wind to Wyoming to stash it in a quonset hut for the winter. Really, a twelve year-old Winnebago with only 16,000 miles on it? How could I say “no?”

My fantasy is that Nuris and I will spend a few months each year for the next several years touring about the United States in a healthy-sized RV on small roads. Think “Big Sky, Big Mountains, Big Trees, Big Canyons, Rivers, Lakes, Forests and Plains,” and on like that. Big Fun? I imagine so. Perhaps we’ll swing by your driveway in the process.

I realize that this purchase could also be a Big Mistake but, if so, it’s a rectifiable one. Again, vamos a ver.

Click here for more photos of the RV than you could possibly find interesting.

After stashing the rig in southwest Wyoming, Nuris and I headed back to Maryland to keep a date with the knee guy, once again dodging snow the whole way.

For some years I’ve suspected that I would one day want to replace my left knee. “Snap!” “Pop!” “Grind!” and finally “Fail” sent me to the orthopedist. And so the time for a total knee replacement arrived on the 21st of November, the day before Thanksgiving. It was to be an outpatient procedure.

As it happened, I entered into the arrangement woefully ignorant of events to follow even though I’d viewed all of the informative videos and attended the “pre-knee” seminar and gotten directions from the Pre-Surgery Physical Therapist. What I hadn’t done was ask many of the better questions. This I of course realized only in hindsight.The smartest thing that I did was to follow the twice-daily pre-surgery course of exercise for several weeks before the replacement. Pre-surgery exercise was inconvenient but painless, unlike the post-surgery exercise which is both inconvenient and painful.

About the procedure, one of my high school classmates said that “…they will make you cry.” She was not wrong, although she neglected to mention that the tears might be ones of frustration as the pain rapidly morphed from the incision itself to the underlying muscles and the nerves in my skin and hair follicles, both of which have been a more or less a constant source of discomfort in my leg since November 22nd. Who knew?

Now, five weeks after the replacement, my incision is tidy and even verging on lovely. The pain seems to have reached a plateau, even though the appliance still feels like a size twelve cage in my size ten swollen knee-pocket. I’m told this uncomfortableness will disappear as the swelling goes down. I imagine this will occur sometime after I stop exercising the new knee, which ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.

Or maybe I’m just being a whiny baby about the whole thing at this moment and I’ll have forgotten about the discomfort as I dance a vibrant bachata into my 70’s and 80’s.

In any event, jury’s still out on this one. Pop! Bang! Ouch!”

Bill on March 24th, 2017

¿Back at it?

Bill on March 6th, 2015

Hi,

Most of you reading this did not know me in my younger days. More specifically, you did not know me during my houseplant years. Yes, I once grew houseplants. Lots and lots of houseplants. At one point I had nearly 300 houseplants. Perhaps that the number is excessive doesn’t surprise you, whenever it was that we met. I certainly hope that’s the case.

At one time, the 300 plants and I shared a two bedroom apartment with my long suffering first wife and daughter and/or an office with three other graduate students. In fairness, not all of the plants were original with me. A handful of plants came with the wife, and it seems as though a friend and office mate may have brought a pot to the office from home–probably in self defense. Among the plants that Claudia Ann brought to the marriage were a splendid Jade plant and a ficus benjamina that would approach seven or eight feet in height in an annual growth spurt after suffering through a another winter of dry heat indoors in the Pacific Northwest. Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s I spent a lot of time misting that ficus tree with a spray bottle.

It seems that with 300 plants one can establish all sorts of priorities in life, many of which have nothing to do with important things. Perhaps this point would be a valuable thing for someone who has 300 houseplants to realize, but of course I can’t say from experience. However, I CAN attest to the fact that in one’s declining years plants can take on a legitimately important role.

That’s the situation for me now here in Las Galeras, where some days it feels like I’m under floral assault. This is particularly true on the second sunny day after a several days of rain. Whooeee–how one’s tropical garden does grow!

It doesn’t seem possible, but I’ve now been working in this garden for 11 years. During this time I’ve packed or hired done more than 35 cubic yards of rock, 12 yards of sand, 130 yards of dirt and–during one especially memorable week, 12 yards of cow manure down into the garden in five gallon buckets. This has been the work of “making a garden,” in the most fulsome sense of the phrase. And caliché too…I’ve packed in 15 or 20 cubic yards of road base to fill the steps and paths that make it possible to traverse my New Garden, which was formerly just one Big Jagged Rock. So I’ve put a lot of material into the garden. I’ve also taken a lot out.

Things grew on this rock even before we packed all of this soil and terracing material down the hill. Oh yes, they did grow–and they grow they do yet! Trees and bushes, flowers and fruits, vines and sundry weeds beyond measure, all sending urgent signs of life skyward and sinking roots into this rock, fracturing it incrementally–maybe preparing a beach for the lapping waves once the deep sea eventually returns to this elevation. I dunno. But I do know that, with just a few years of arboreal neglect I could completely lose the magnificent view of the national park across the bay and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. So the garden bears maintenance, as well as development.

Over the years, I’ve worn out six or seven hardened steel Japanese pruning saws. I’ve sharpened my Swiss hand pruners and lopping shears to the point of replacing the blades. I’ve developed a healthy gardener’s equivalent of “Painter’s Thumbs,” the ones that we all have when working with the tools for any length of time. And I flirt again with carpal tunnel in the wrists. But–full disclosure: I don’t do it all.

I occasionally contract out a bit of pruning to a Haitian with a machete. Nice guy, hard worker. Beyond effective with the machete. Savage, actually.

But this note isn’t about Wale, my Haitian helper, nor is it about the making of this butterfly garden although both could easily be the subject of numerous reminisces, including several that are pretty funny. Neither is this missive about one’s declining years (except to the extent that it’s all about me–and I just may have commenced those years of declension.)

No, this missive is all about the Japanese pruning saw and the Swiss pruners and the big thumbs and the ficus benjamina near to the entrance to the guest bungalow. The twenty foot extension ladder also figures in the tale, and I suppose that the several gallons of Gatorade consumed deserve an honorable mention. This is the sum of a houseplant story of epic proportions.

In my time I’ve had a few far-fetched dreams–still do, I suppose. But I never once imagined that I would spend three days in a house plant, on an extension ladder, wielding assorted tools and dragging away enough brush to make a burn pile the size of a hi-cube van. Nevertheless, I did that. And it’s not the first time, nor is the ficus the only culprit. Whacking that tree is a boatload of work and not tremendously more fun than shoveling snow, but I suppose that it IS a more rewarding than the shoveling. In the end, I’ve got a nicely shaped giant houseplant to welcome guests, while snow eventually turns to slush and then melts, exposing a season’s worth of urban dog crap along the way.

Anyway, here’s a photo of the giant houseplant.

This photo doesn’t really do justice to the nicely shaped tree, now reduced to eighteen or twenty feet in height and just beginning to leaf out. To make up for that I’ve also posted several other photos of my garden here in Las Galeras on the El Otro WA blog. Please ignore those things that seem to need attention in the background of the garden photos; I do and mostly with impunity. Which is certainly not the case with soggy dog poop, is it?

As a bonus, and for those of you with a houseplant bent, I’ve also posted in this location on that blog a helpful ficus benjamina houseplant hint, gleaned a month or so ago when confirming that I knew how to spell ficus benjamina correctly. (Hot Tip: Wikipedia asserts that the Ficus apparently develops some sort of affinity for the familiar electro-magnetic arrangement of the universe and responds to having it’s pot rotated by dropping leaves. Who knew?)

It may seem difficult for my friends in the central and northern latitudes to credit, but no doubt your spring is just around the corner, and all the sweeter for it’s arrival after this hellacious winter past. While waiting for that turn, enjoy your anticipation.

admin on October 26th, 2014

Maybe you know more about duck than I do, since “Peking,” “Donald,” “crispy,” “Ugly,” “Odd,” or “Cold” is about the extent of “Duck” for me. Maybe I could stretch the definition to include the idea of bread crumbs on an idyllic pond but for me that’s as far as it’s gone. Until yesterday.

Those of you with better memory than sense–or those with nothing better to do than pore over the El Otro WA archives may recall my first real encounter with the French community here in Las Galeras. This occurred one evening a number of years ago when I accepted the invitation of Fan-Fan and Martine to join a group at their home for a pig roast (Seventeen Frenchmen and a Pig). Both Martine and Fan-Fan have figured in my life here and elsewhere since –I looked him up for a drink when in Toulouse s few years ago.

But now they’re leaving Las Galeras. They’ve sold their house and are pulling up stakes and so it is time to say “Happy Trails,” which is easier to translate than you might think.

Nuris threw a farewell dinner for the two of them and invited me to join her and her family for the meal. This I was happy to do. She’s a pretty good cook and–as you now know, she is swell company also. She had butchered and prepared a small goose, a chicken, and–as a special treat for Fan-Fan, a duck. All grilled over an open flame. Yum, right?

As the plates passed around the table and we helped ourselves to rice and eggplant, to coconut bread and homemade tamarind juice,I eyed the fowl. Fan-Fan snapped up a good portion of the duck as the plate passed by. I took note of a particularly juicy-looking and easy-to-manipulate chicken breast and a similarly-endowed drumstick. When the platter reached me I was suddenly and unexpectedly the object of much attention as the conversation focussed on the remaining duck. This sort of thing happens frequently enough in Las Galeras that I am no longer particularly taken aback when it does and am often rewarded in some wonderful and unanticipated way if I can but be open to whatever strangeness is to follow. It seemed that I would be honored to have duck for supper. And so, somewhat stupidly, I forked the remaining pieces of duck onto my plate and watched the chicken pass along around the table. OK; so duck it was.

I thought that the selection of a portion of duck might perhaps somehow be culturally important. Maybe to the French eating duck is symbolic of the end of an era, of departure. Or maybe eating duck is a harbinger of transition, a prelude to travel or of some other unfathomable French or Dominican tradition. I sure hope so because I can’t imagine any other reason we might have wanted to eat that bird.

I looked to Fan-Fan for guidance in approaching this part of the meal. Looking across the table I saw right away that his molars were at work, but they weren’t doing the usual grinding work of molars.

He had a chunk of that bird wedged into his cheek and firmly clamped in his back teeth while at the same time pulling energetically away from his face with both hands. Evidently he was trying to separate meat from bone. I soon realized that this was not an affectation. The knife and fork were all but useless. Addressing the bird required two hands and a powerful set of choppers.

The dinner festivities must have presented a pretty picture: a Dominican family and one French woman politely eating and chatting away with two full-faced and frenzied savages vigorously addressing the remains of a small bird with both hands. Our effort was prodigious and the results not so very impressive. Occasional involuntary grunts from our end of the table punctuated the hubbub of French and Spanish conversation. I surrendered any pretense of decorum and worked diligently, occasionally being rewarded with a fleck of flesh. “Yum” was a distant and fantastic idea, in no way part of this particular duck experience.

I learned that the duck in hand was an old duck. It once had a name. I don’t recall the name, but it was of the male gender. This duck apparently had a reputation also. I got the impression that the other animals might not miss him. I’ve no idea what he did to warrant the recent change in his circumstance but am pretty sure that the change was prompted by something he’d done, or failed to do. He had evidently enjoyed a lean but vigorous existence up to the point of his execution, beyond which he retained sufficient vital force to punish Fan-Fan and me from a new vantage beyond one veil or another. I’m thinking here that this was the duck from hell.

In further conversation I gleaned the useful information that duck is best consumed as “duckling.” After about six months a duck apparently becomes something else, something less edible. I share this information with you in the hope that you will never need to experience a tough old drake in just this way. Trust me. If the circumstance ever presents itself, you are very grateful.

You’re very welcome.

Come to think of it, “tough old drake” pretty much describes Fan-Fan. Intentional, or not, the symbolic parallel is beautiful and worthy of this last supper with my friends. I see now that the duck looks much better in hindsight. Farewell, Martine and Fan-Fan–and bon voyage!

And as for you, my mostly American readers, I hope that you are planning to share turkey with friends and family next month on Thanksgiving and that your bird–of whatever provence, is succulent such that your molars are used only for grinding.

Walk good.