Baked Alaska, Etc.

It’s been Hot in Alaska. So Hot in Anchorage Happy Wife hasn’t slept with me in our bed in must be a couple weeks now, preferring the couch downstairs next to a small fan she placed in front of an open window to pull in the cooler evening air. The Dog seems to prefer sleeping down there as well. In Anchorage we broke an all time high temperature record last week – 90°! Remarkable, yes, but the really remarkable thing is how long this super high pressure block has hung around, easily two weeks, maybe a little longer. And not a drop of rain. Not even a slight chance of rain, just lots of smoke from all the wildfires burning to the north and south of us. As I write the high pressure front has moved north, blessedly, leaving us with more average summertime temperatures.

A few weeks ago while kayaking with her friends (aka The Merry Mermaids) I get a frantic call from Happy Wife, the diamond on her wedding ring was gone. The metal prongs holding the solitaire in place had sheared off right where it was attached to the ring. She first noticed it was gone while chilling with the Mermaids in the cabin,  after they’d schlepped kayaks and gear from the water taxi onto the beach. Unfortunately, by now the tide was high and the beach was under water. Desperate nonetheless, she and the Mermaids searched everywhere; they scoured the beach, thoroughly checked their gear and clothing, even searched inside the kayak hulls, nadda. I recalled what the diamond had cost. I did my best to console her over the phone, surely our homeowners policy would cover the loss, no? Another day passes. HW paddles her kayak somewhere out in the bay where there’s cell phone service. She calls me back. She’s still despondent. Again I try to reassure her, we’ll get you a new diamond dear. Important as it is it’s just a material thing, it’s what it means that matters. Nothing can take that away from us. We kiss over the phone and I hang up. Minutes later my phone rings again, it’s HW. Already I’m thinking, can it be? I pick up: “I FOUND IT!” She and the Mermaids had taken a break from paddling, on a beach or a shoal or something, waiting for the tide to swing. As she sponge-bailed water from the hull of her kayak she felt something hard and wondered how the heck a “stone” had gotten inside. And there it was, the whole time, rolling around back there even though it had escaped her notice the day before. Happy ending. Happy wife.

Disbelief Captured

in·cre·du·li·ty
/ˌinkrəˈd(y)o͞olədē/

noun
    1. the state of being unwilling or unable to believe something.

We were at the bar (Thorns) yesterday when I was moved to opine to HW that I thought she was positively glowing today. Neither one of us had showered, and to boot we’d just come from the dump.

Being White

My hard-won island tan has faded like a frightful childhood memory. Like the time when, on a dare, your friends goaded you into kissing your sister. Since we got back home I once went to the fake and bake intending to maintain my copper tone. Except for the UV radiation it’s not the same as the Maui sun. It’s more like being a hot dog under a heat lamp at the 7-11. I’m not going back any time soon, to the fake and bake I mean.

So it won’t be long before I return to looking like an old, white American male. A class of folks lately viewed with various levels of contempt by certain social scholars (ahem) because of our supposed over-privileged status. In my entire life I have never felt like an over-privileged white male, yet certain of these scholars insinuate that being oblivious of your class status confirms your membership (link)

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks.

Worse yet, even apparently selfless acts taken by members of this class will be regarded with suspicion by many such scholars

My schooling followed the pattern which Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work that will allow “them” to be more like “us.” I think many of us know how obnoxious this attitude can be in men.

Cynical much?

Take these two for instance, white as driven snow, dripping with unearned assets. 

What would Ms Minnich make of their true motivations, that their activism is really intended to raise Nigerian boys (and especially girls) out of rank 3rd world poverty? No, of course not. Their real motivation is to make Nigerians more like them, white Americans. Are Gates Foundation grant awards really directed at efforts to reduce the incidence of death and rate of infection from malaria in high burden populations? Don’t be deceived, said grants are nothing more than the cynical ambitions of an obnoxious white man.

I tell you, the things that pass for scholarship these days.

We spent a delightful Easter weekend at our friends’ cabin in the woods, a couple hours drive north of Anchorage. All seven of us were white. You could cut the unearned privilege in that cabin with a knife. I had promised to bring Twister for us to play, which I still say would have worked great rolled out on that large lower-level floor. Most everyone was glad I didn’t. Instead, we played a card game for horrible people, drank wine and nibbled artisan Macarons. The game begins with one player drawing a black card and reading aloud the question printed on it. The other players each have ten white cards in their hand, each one with an “answer” printed on it. After the black card holder reads the question, each of the other players selects one answer card from their hand he/she thinks the black card reader will select as the best answer. For example, suppose the black card phrase is – “In his famous farewell address, George Washington famously warned Americans to avoid excessive __________.” If one of your answer cards is “Masturbation,” or “Spontaneous human combustion” or “Gassy antelopes” – whatever, you pick one and slide it over to the black card reader. He/she collects them all, reads each one out loud – some of which cause wine to burst from nostrils – and then picks a winner. The first player to amass ten wins (or whatever) wins the game.

Afterwards, we all trundled outside into the Spring snow for an Easter egg hunt. Except instead of eggs, Bev, originally from Scotland, had hidden bottles of Killians Red and Irish Whiskey miniatures around the property. I’m not sure who won that competition, I think I was seated in the outhouse when it was announced, waiting for movement to begin, savoring my invisible knapsack of special, unearned provisions.

Good Day ol’ Sol, See You Tomorrow

I did not see the proverbial green flash. Then again, I did have two Mai Tais under my belt by this time, and was working on my first glass of Pinot Grigio while I tended to our corn and pita bread on the grill. That I was mindful enough to snap a photo at all felt like a win

Aloha

Breakfast lovingly prepared by HW. A three minute egg shelled and halved oozing orange yolk over bacon fried rice with a side of fresh papaya. Served right outside our digs on west Maui. Beyond, the sea turtle cleaning station. No tours or guides required. We just wade in and snorkel among the turtles. Fascinating creatures.

 

Another Year On

So, France.

Geographically, southern France. We stayed in the town of Limoux at a nice three story hotel that first served as a monastery maybe six or seven hundred years ago. It bears an interesting chain of custody since then, once serving as a stop-over for Napoleon’s soldiers during the French revolution. Now owned by Chris and his wife, our hosts for the bike tour, it’s been lightly remodeled over time into a modern hotel with six (?) guest rooms and a quiet community room on the third floor with comfortable chairs, a couch, a built-in bar area and two breezy doors that give way to an outdoor balcony

The place isn’t devoid of old world charms, though. The tall doors at the entrance were huge, thick wood monstrosities that swung open and closed like castle doors. You always knew when someone was coming or going with the way the thud echoed down the cavernous front hallway.

For breakfast in the morning we (the 12 of us) all assembled in the room off the kitchen around a long, well-used wooden table that felt like it had its own stories to tell. The kitchen appeared small but I can’t say for sure as the one rule ground into our heads more than once during the week was: Never, ever go into the kitchen! This became known among the group as the Isabelle’s Rule, one of Chris’ able assistants on the tour. Isabelle it seemed did everything, preparing breakfast, cleaning up, driving the sag van, answering all manner of questions we newbies to France had, and now and then delighting in mocking my feeble attempts to speak the french language. Prior to departure each day we would gather in an open air courtyard, the same place dinner was served if the weather was nice. A metal staircase led up to a roof terrace over the garage where you could enjoy a cup of coffee and a bird’s-eye view of the goings on outside the hotel. One morning I invited HW up to have a gander at the colorful peppers

Around 8 am each day, after breakfast and having gathered what you need for a day of cycling, all of us were swiftly out the door piling into one of two vans, bikes ‘n all, to shuttle to the start of the day’s ride, which was anywhere from forty-five to sixty miles with variable climbing involved, usually more than less. The routes Chris chose were truly world class. If you enjoy road cycling and going on tours is your thing, I can highly recommend southern France. Most of the roads we cycled had very light traffic, so much so they reminded me of wide bike trails rather than the kind of county roads designed for cars and trucks like we have in the states. Most days we rode in or near the Pyrenees mountains, which made it even more spectacular. Here we are cycling on a ribbon of a road pinched between a sheer rock wall and a steep gorge which had to be a thousand feet deep or more, with nothing between it and us save a short brick wall. Chris said there are just a few times a year he takes cyclists here because usually the wind is so fierce it poses a danger to them. Supposedly, one year someone on his tour nearly had her bike blown out from underneath her. Caveat cyclist

Here’s Chris reminding me to stop and enjoy, yes, at the same time not to get too close to the wall, more the height of a sidewalk curb here

In some places the road was so narrow there was only room for one car, or the rock wall overhung the road so much a driver had to be careful not to scrape the roof of the car (or a cyclist his helmet!). We did see some cars on this section. One driver, clearly impatient with the driver ahead of him, tried to pass. Crazy. After the gorge we stopped and walked down a steep path along the side of the mountain to visit a cave used by Hermitage monks over two hundred years ago. Difficulty of access was intentional, they prayed and chanted all day and generally wanted to be left alone, except when in need of supplies which certain people brought to them by slogging up a trail from the canyon below

I’ll post more france pics later, so many to choose from, it’ll take me a while to sort through them all. And time, who has the time?! Though HW did make sure we made time to celebrate the completion of my 59th orbit about our star. She insisted on taking me out to dinner. How I love this woman

Customer Service

As we languished in the Portland airport – it was nearly 1 am – awaiting word on if and when we were going to get to Frankfurt, I struck up a conversation with a woman who said that because of this hideous delay there was no way she’d make it on time to her friend’s wedding in Greece. She seemed remarkably calm about it, just shrugged her shoulders and said what are you going to do? To one degree or another everyone’s plans were upset by the delay. One couple, headed for a week of scuba diving somewhere in Europe, said that if they missed the first boat (and it seemed like they would) their entire trip would be a bust. Our personal plight would be no worse than arriving a day late in Toulouse. We’d only be out about $160 since the hotel there wouldn’t refund us anything owing to the late cancellation. Before we left the airport to Uber to our hotel I exchanged digits with the woman I was talking with, both of us promising to text the other if we heard something definitive from the airline before morning. Before we left, she mentioned it might be worth our time to contact Condor to appeal for a refund for the $160. Yeah, I thought, maybe. Fast forward three weeks. We’re back home in Alaska. I’m at my computer browsing through photos when I recall what she’d said. What the hell, $160 is not nothing, may as well give it a try, although I had low expectations. A week passes, nothing. Then a couple days later I get a confirmation, customer support had received my claim and will consider it. Sure, okay, whatever. Two more weeks pass, I grow ever more dubious we’ll get anything more than sympathy. Then another email arrives (emphasis mine)

Dear Mr. Nibbe,

Thank you for choosing Condor Airlines.

We know our customers expect their flights to operate as scheduled and we make every effort to do so. We consider any delay to be a serious matter and constantly work to improve our record, but we will not compromise on safety. Flight DE2033 on October, 2018 did not operate as scheduled. We fully understand the inconvenience this has caused and empathize with your situation.

In order to compensate you, we reimburse the amount of USD 1410,00. The legal basis is given by EC-VO 261/2004. Our check will be send separately to you within the following days.

We look forward to welcoming you onboard future Condor flights and to have the opportunity to provide you with the flight and service Condor prides itself on.

Wait, what? $1410.00! The check is in the mail. I was gobsmacked.

Sacs & Flaps

Happy Wife (HW) took The Black Dog to the vet this morning to have his anal glands expressed. The technician, a perky young blonde woman who he was unusually enamored with, performed the procedure

Anal sacs, or anal glands, carry some smelly fluid and occasionally need to be expressed, or emptied. Many dogs express them by themselves every time they poop — the sacs are around a dog’s anus — but occasionally the sacs fill with fluid and your dog needs some help to release the fluid

I am very glad such fluid releasers exist in this world. If it were left to me said glands surely would go unexpressed, causing the dog to suffer an uncertain term of discomfort before the problem resolved on its own. Cowardice, maybe, but unrepentantly so. As HW is wont to point out in mixed company, I am a doctor, yes, but not the kind that helps people, or, evidently, dogs either. As if more proof were required of who the real caregiver is in this family, after she returned from the vet, consumed her latte and was reassured to see The Dog comfortably at rest beneath the kitchen table – the place he knows where food will most likely fall – I made her another latte for the drive to Palmer where she is by now, checking in on a friend in hospice afflicted with late stage cancer. Meanwhile, I am here at my desk, getting you up to date. The Dog is downstairs. I can hear him dreaming. Probably about that blonde at the vet if I had to guess.

So long 2018! For all the reasons I noted in the 2018 Nibblet, our annual newsletter we mail out every year to family and friends (over 50 this year!), ’18 was a busy year for us in terms of travel. For example, HW’s professional conference in Utqiaġvik, AK (formerly Barrow) Phoenix, a family & friends visit to Wisconsin, cycling in France, touristy stuff in Spain, and of course numerous trips to and from our Nest in Seward, where we hosted a variety of guests this year, some of who experienced exceptionally fine weather. (Note that cruise liner headed south to a port who knows where)

Our trip to France wasn’t entirely uneventful. We went with two other couples, one from Colorado and one from Anchorage. We traveled with the latter on an Alaska airlines flight to Seattle. From there they flew British Airways to London, and then on to Toulouse, France. We boarded Condor airlines bound for Frankfurt, or so we thought, and from there to Toulouse. We weren’t in the air more than forty-five minutes, seated in premium class eagerly waiting for the free food and drink service to start, when the pilot comes on and in a grave voice says… well, I didn’t know because it was in German. But based on the reaction of the German-speaking passengers on board, it didn’t seem good. Then he repeats everything in English. There was a problem with the flap controller on the left wing. Bad enough to require attention so we need to land to have it checked out before proceeding to Frankfurt. Crap. It’s already like a nine and a half hour flight, and now this? Worse, the plane is too heavy to land at Seattle, so, he says, “We’re diverting to Portland to land. But before we can we need to dump a bunch of fuel, so don’t be alarmed when you see all that fuel pouring out the wings.” Great.

It must’ve been two hours or more before we finally landed in Portland, where we were met by fire trucks on the tarmac readied to spray cold foamy stuff on the landing gear to cool the brakes. That takes an hour or more before finally the plane is moving again, now being pulled by a tow truck to the gate because evidently the competency of the landing gear is still in question. Oy vey. More waiting on the plane at the gate before the pilot flatly announces – first in German then English – “The flap controller cannot be repaired tonight.” Scheiße. The crew ordered us to disembark to the terminal, where everything was closed being it was almost midnight, to fetch our bags and then await further instruction, which never came, at least not how they told us it would. Imagine three hundred exhausted, uninformed, angry passengers standing, leaning, sitting -whatever – in an otherwise empty terminal straining to hear an overwhelmed, officious-sounding woman shout instructions on how everyone will be provided a hotel room to stay in overnight. In the morning, she promised, we will call all the hotels with further instructions. Yeah, right.

Long story short – I said screw that. I called La Quinta on my own and got us a room, where we devoured a Domino’s pizza in bed (surprisingly, given neither of us thought we had an appetite), and then crashed. Next morning I call Condor to find out what the hell’s going on. Overnight they had flown another 767 to Portland. It’s scheduled to leave for Frankfurt at 6:30 PM – almost exactly 24 hours after our original flight departed Seattle the prior day. I get us checked in over the phone and then we shuttle back to the airport and wait for hours to board the plane. Which is mercifully on time. Nine hours later we land in Frankfurt, connect to a 1.5 hour flight to Toulouse, where we fetch our bags and find our driver, Patrice, waiting to drive our jet-lagged asses fifty-five miles to Limoux. Mostly in the dark. In a deluge of rain.

When finally we arrive at our digs in Limoux, damp and weary, we push through a huge front door schlepping our bags behind us, there to find our friends and others on the bike tour seated around a long table on an outdoor patio, just finishing up a nice dinner complete with red wine and a light dessert.

“Bonjour!” they all say, “Bonjour!”