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!”

Plate Boundaries

Like many others (whom I’m grateful for) one of our friends out east texted to ask if we’re ok

Help!, I replied, “We fell into a hole in the earth and can’t get out!”

I should have known not to be cavalier about it. Sometimes humor is all you got.

Lately, even the sky appears uncommitted to the season. Opaque, gray, foreboding, rendering rain and sleet instead of its usual cheer of fluffy white snow. On top of that everywhere you go it seems people are a little off. Like the ground, the collective mood in the community has shifted, from its normal festive optimism to a guarded wariness. Only the folks jingling bells by the red kettle appear unmoved, unshaken as it were. Yet you know they must be. We all are. Every time there’s an aftershock people freeze. Nevermind the statistical unlikeliness of another Whopper occuring, this is the reality we’re all living with lately

Anymore, all it takes is the washing machine upstairs to go out of balance to move me to the edge of my chair. The whole floor shakes until it rights itself. I’ve felt it a hundred times or more the past nine years. It’s big sheets or rugs in the spin cycle. I know what it is. But lately? Or I come back to bed after a pee in the middle of the night and HW wakes, her hand darts out to touch me, “Was that you?!” Even the phantoms are more scary at night. And there are plenty of those, the false positives, they’re almost as bad as the real ones. It’s like we’ve all been reduced to human seismometers now, and fidgety ones at that.

Wait… what’s that. Just now, another one? I think so.

Or was it?

Hour+

Just returned from the biannual visit to my Pain Provider. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. How about, Deliverer of Discomfort. And she wants to change bi-annual to quad-annual – “I think I need to see you every three months.” Followed by (as always), “You need to floss more often.”

Okay, that’s it, if I hear her say this one more time…

Slowly, I remove my sunglasses. A courtesy protection to prevent being blinded by the obnoxious lamp she needs to illuminate my buccal cavity throughout the entire hour+ (!) cleaning procedure. I’m still flat on my back, my fingers and toes tingling from blood loss because I’m tilted so far back in the damn chair while my teeth are terrorized. I turn my head and look up at her, straight in the eye. Her nose and mouth are still covered by a mask, now splattered with peppermint tooth polish. My terry cloth bib is soaked with my own spittle and the over-spray from her little squirt gun rinser. I feel like the Gerber Baby. “So,” I say, “how often do you suggest I floss? Five times a day? Six?” Surely, I think, she’ll find the hyperbole amusing, touch my arm consolingly, chuckle a bit and say, Oh no, Mr. Nibbe, that would be ridiculous of me. Instead, she pauses, looks toward the ceiling, as if to ponder if five to six times a day just might in fact be the right frequency for me. Woman, I’m thinking, I was kidding!

Alright, maybe pain is an exaggeration. Some people say they rather enjoy getting their teeth cleaned. Some people are masochists. I don’t know. And I don’t care. Holding my mouth agape for one hour+ while my dentition is poked, picked, chiseled and ground ain’t my idea of enjoyment. And then to be told it’s my fault because I don’t floss enough, or I’m not doing it right, or not using the right floss, or the correct circular motion, etc etc.

I can’t fault her for not being thorough though. Even so, an hour+, seriously? Used to be I was in and out of the chair in half that time, then patted on the back with an attaboy and sent home with a new brush and paste of my favorite flavor (Cherry). Copy/paste, every six months.

I dunno, maybe this is just another lament on the list of It’s-Hell-Getting-Old. More likely it’s a sad reminder that plaque removal hasn’t progressed since medieval times; it’s the equivalent of bloodletting to cure bad humors.