Oeufs in a Van

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Ktown to Geneva

Day One: We began our  trip in K-town, and, because there was no other direct route,  felt  we had to take autobahn to the Swiss border, otherwise we’d never get out of Germany.

An autobahn is Germany’s answer to the Indy 500, a three lane highway on which there is no speed limit.  For a Volkswagen Beetle, whose top speed is 50 kph, it’s also a Death Trap.

This was my second time on the autobahn, the first inspired this section from The Graduation Present.

I shrunk as far as I could down into the backseat and closed my eyes, positive that my first day in Europe would be my last. What a waste! Dying before I’d seen anything other than the Frankfurt airport and the autobahn, my body parts indistinguishable from the metal of a dozen cars when the inevitable pileup occurred.  

To be on the safe side, Carolyn and I never left the slow lane, but it didn’t matter.  Those mighty monuments to German engineering – Audis, BMWs and Porsches –  rocketed past us at speeds of up to 200 kph, blowing the poor little car off the road and onto the shoulder like so much dandelion fluff, again and again.  Caroline said not a word as horns blared for no good reason, lights flashed and red-faced drivers shook their fists in disgust.   Apparently  the German government  encourages macho nincompoops to have ego-fueled temper tantrums with impunity on autobahns (“mine’s bigger and faster than yours, etc.”)  Never again, I vowed as we reached the Swiss border. Never again would I go on an autobahn.

The scenery was so spectacular in Switzerland  that Carolyn and I spoke in nothing but Wows. At every twist and turn, every serpentine lake or Disneyesque village – wow, wow, wow.

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This Swiss guy probably also thinks he’s better than all of us! Humph!

However, the men were another story. Oh, they were reasonably good looking, but not at all interested in talking to tourists which made us think that, because Switzerland did not have the same problems as the rest of Europe, they felt superior.

By the time we reached Geneva we decided the country deserved an A+ for scenery but only a D- for men.  I know that seems cruel but there’s no bigger turn off than condescension.

After checking into our one star hotel we decided to give Swiss men another chance to raise their grade.  I mean, a D- is kind of insulting.  It didn’t take long before we ran into these three gents.

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Michel, Paul et Roger avec Maman Deux (their van)

They were very friendly, particularly Michel who kindly put up with my massacre of the French language.  They were so friendly that we were about to upgrade Swiss men to an A when Michel told us they were from Brittany, thus they were French, not Swiss.  Too bad Switzerland.  They invited us to dine with them that night in the Maman Deux – an old delivery van that they’d repurposed to serve as a home away from home during their travels. Carolyn wasn’t too keen on the idea of dining with three men she couldn’t communicate with at all, especially after she ran into and chatted up a well-dressed middle-aged man in the lobby of our hotel who spoke English.  He was her “type,” she said (a man who acted as if he had money).  Then she tried to get me to cancel dinner in the Maman Deux to be part of a foursome which would include the middle-aged man’s much older traveling companion.  I dug my heels in, of course.  Then I pissed her off by asking why a man who invited us to dinner at one of Geneva’s supposedly better restaurants was staying at a flea-bag hotel.  She took my point.  We kept our date with the Maman Deux.

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Jan, Paul et Roger

Our dinner consisted of scrambled eggs cooked over a butane stove, a bottle of red wine and a baquette.  I can still remember watching Michel crack the eggs and then scramble them in a pan of sizzling butter. Gotta love a man who cooks – even if it’s just oeufs in a van.  But in the morning we were heading off to Nice and they, returning home to jobs, girlfriends, etc.  Geneva was the end of their adventure and it was the beginning of ours.  Au revoir, Michel!

That night the phone rang and Carolyn answered.  The hotel staff spoke little English and Carolyn, of course, no French.  I don’t know why she didn’t hand the phone over to me. Perhaps she was still peeved at missing a date with a man who might provide more than oeufs in a van.  I don’t know.

This is how the conversation went.

“Hello,” said Carolyn.  Then after a few minutes, “Hot cocoa.” Then a second later with irritation.”I said Hot cocoa.”

I asked who it was and she said it was the front desk wanting to know what we wanted in the morning for breakfast.  I pointed out that chocolat chaud was the French phrase for hot chocolate, not cocoa.

“Well, they understand what I said,” she huffed.

Yes, readers, she was still pissed.

cocacolaSure enough, the next morning there was a knock at the door.  We opened it and there stood a young man with two bottles of steaming hot Coca Cola, each wrapped in a towel.  He had a very funny look on his face.  Embarrassed we took a sip of the hot coca-cola in front of him as though it was a new fad in America: hot coca cola for breakfast.

PeterSellers2On Day Two we meet the inspiration for Inspector Clouseau in the rocking suspense thriller: Nice is not nice….

Europe on Five Dollars a Day

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Passport circa 1970: Good gravy! Could I look any dorkier

I first experienced Europe at the invitation of my Uncle Bob who I hadn’t seen for quite some time and didn’t know very well.  The invitation (a belated graduation present) had come out-of-the-blue and, being an out-of-the-blue kind of gal, I jumped at the chance. Indeed I left so suddenly that I arrived in Germany sans plans of any sort, much to the chagrin of my uncle. He soon remedied the situation by setting me up with a nurse from Santa Monica California.

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Carolyn

She was six years older than me, single and visiting her married sister on the base at Kaiserlautern (known to Americans as K-Town).  I had no money but access to my uncle’s car and an endless supply of Esso gas coupons.  I also spoke some French and German.  She spoke no language other than English but had money and a copy of Europe on Five Dollars a Day. Thus we were the perfect traveling companions, save for one thing: our taste in men (which, as you’ll see if you follow these posts, can be a problem).

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Hawaiian Night at the Officers’ Club.

Germany at that time was occupied by the Allies meaning that military bases were scattered throughout the country – British, French, Canadian, American and sometimes even Australians.  The Russians had already claimed the eastern edge as theirs, igniting the so-called Cold War.  The civilians who worked for the armed forces (like my uncle) generally lived in housing near a base or in one of the surrounding small towns.  They were given ration cards not only for gas but also to buy food and other items from the on-base commissary.  The Officers Club (which included my uncle’s favorite hangout – the bar) served as a gathering place for the families of both the officers and the civilians, offering cheap booze at Happy Hour, hamburgers and fries for the homesick, and activities for children such as Girl Scouts, Indian Princesses, etc. To enter the Officers Club was to return stateside except that the servers and bartenders were young Germans hoping to learn English more fluently.

VWThe VW  Caroline and I traveled in had seen much better days.  The seats had fossilized, the heater didn’t work, and, if we forget to add water to the engine (located underneath the backseat)  every now and then, the windshield wipers and lights would stop working.  This generally happened during a rainstorm at night.

For our first trip we decided to drive down to the Costa Brava in Spain, a route that would take us through Switzerland, along the French Alps, down the Riviera and over the Pyrenees mountains.   Unfortunately it was August.  Vacation time for half of Europe and guess where they all decided to go?

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Geneva Switzerland – August 1970

Next time:  Roger, Michel and Paul – the boys of Maman Deux.

Wicked Wanton Wug’s Wake

Writers face many challenges when their characters are based on real people. The first challenge is, what if the person recognizes themselves and takes umbrage? Then you’ve lost a friend, a brother, a father or maybe an uncle. The second challenge is, how to integrate those characters into a work of fiction, making it clear that the actual person never said the words you put into their mouths nor did the crazy things you made them do.

There are two characters in FLIPKA who are based on actual people. The first is the character of Fi Butters.  I gave her the voice, mannerisms and cocky attitude of a dear friend who actually had an MA in psychology and worked back stage at a Vegas show (she even spoke a little Russian).  She did not, however, travel to a girls’ reformatory to solve a mystery involving bat caves, a 100 year old journal, and government secrets.  I gave her that adventure after she passed away too young.

The second character is Captain Wug.  To him I gave the voice, mannerisms and love of vocabulary belonging to a man by the name of Worlin Urquhart Grey my father’s flying buddy.

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“I don’t think I have learned enough to advise you. Just observe the nuances of culture as you go through life. Everything changes. Things happen. Sometimes it seems like it is the end of the road, but it isn’t.”

This man really loved words. In fact he loved them so much that he spoke in long strings of obscure words often alliteratively.   I first got to know Wug when I attempted to babysit the Bellicose Barbarians…er… his four youngest sons, all of whom were under the age of eight (in fact, Dirty Dealing Dougie, was in diapers)  They lived in a two story house that wasn’t nearly big enough for the trampling mischief that four energetic boys can cause, thus Wug left me the first evening with this admonishment:

“Should these pugnacious jackanaps  lead you to perdition, unnerve the rabble-rousers with mention of the Black Snake.”

“The Black Snake?”  I asked.  He opened the door to the pantry and pointed to a long, thick, black leather belt hanging menacing on the back of the door.  I was horrified.  “I can’t do that!”

He chuckled.  He had a low voice and cackle that reminded me of a Welsh poet I was enamored of (Dylan Thomas.)  “You’ll not need to do the deed my dear, just issue a dire warning with injurious intent.”

He was right. The boys would all settle down (except for Dirty Dealing Dougie) if I even uttered the phrase:  “Black Snake.”  I can’t say that they became perfect gentlemen but they did cease and desist from clubbing each other to death.    As a practical joke I bought him a three foot long stuffed snake for Christmas one year. snake.jpgHe retaliated by bringing me back a ring in the shape of a cobra from Thailand (he was Pan Am pilot whose route was the far east).  It had sapphire eyes and a tiny ruby at the end of its tail.  I lost the ring or it was stolen and I’m sure the stuffed snake has not survived but I’ll always have the memory.

He recently passed away.  Below is his obit. Of course bagpipes were played.

Wug

WugandDad

Flying Buddies

Home from the Sea; Meet Colm Herron

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Click on Colm’s  image above to read his blog

Today meet an Irish writer who in his words “gave up writing and decided to live instead,” meet Colm Herron – he’s back!

His new book THE WAKE (and WHAT JEREMIAH DID NEXT)  was released last month.  Here’s the synopsis:

MAUD ABILENE HARRIGAN is the neighbour nobody wants to have. Day after day when Jeremiah Coffey and his mother sit down to eat dinner Maud stands at their kitchen door watching every bite that goes into their mouths. And then one fine day she drops dead right in front of them.

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Available now on Amazon!

Here is a review I wrote:

In this new rendition of The Wake (What Jeremiah did Next)  Colm Herron does not hold back and the results are stunning.  As he says on his website:  “…did you ever wonder how in hell Ireland turned out so many great writers?  Well, that’s it.  I’ve just said it: they turned them out.  On their ear.”  This book is so good, and Colm Herron such a treat to read on so many levels that, mark my words, he will end up on that list of banished Irish writers, banished for exposing too much.  The novel begins with “wake without bereavement” for Maud Harrigan, a woman no one liked but none-the-less the townsfolk drift in and out for show – to have a drink, to rage on about how drink is ruining Ireland, to gossip, debate politics and listen to slimy priests tell inappropriate jokes. The narrator is a young man named Jeremiah at whose house the wake is being held because, well, it had to be done, now didn’t it?  No one wants to risk going to hell.  However Jeremiah decides to take his chances, engaging in sex out of marriage and not in the Missionary position with a lady who sometimes prefers another ladies to him. Herron takes on the church, satirizes Irish politics and tells a basically sweet story of a young man in love.    

Here are some reviews of novels he previously published.  First, FOR I HAVE SINNED

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For I Have Sinned – available on Amazon

One of the funniest pieces of Irish writing since Flann O’Brien laid down the pen’
– Sunday Tribune

‘Colm Herron has written a novel which will storm the Irish literary scene’
– Irish World

‘Perhaps the greatest tribute I can pay to this quirky, funny and deeply affecting novel is to declare that the moment I finished reading it, I immediately turned back to the first page to begin again. And it’s even better second time around.” – Ferdia Mac Anna, Sunday Independent

Next: THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF JAMES JOYCE

Synopsis: A perfect recipe for laughter and relaxation. Colm Herron’s latest offering tells what happens on the day James Joyce returns from the dead and shacks up with book-loving nymphomaniac Melanie Muldoon. It’s a novel that will have ordinary readers laughing themselves silly while Joyce scholars sit and work out what the hell’s behind it all.

….Now here’s how two people saw the book in  very different ways:

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Available on Amazon

“Colm Herron’s powerful yet subtle portrayal of the palpable grief, violence and unrest that stalked Northern Ireland in the late 1980s …. I am excited to see what he writes next”Sheila Langan, Irish America, New York

 “A totally comic novel …. Further Adventures of James Joyce could just as easily be entitled The Further Writings of Flann O’Brien”— Morris Beja, James Joyce Quarterly, Tulsa, Oklahoma

TheFabricatorFinally then there’s THE FABRICATOR – recently released. The first review has just been published.

“A delightful novel, fascinating, funny, sad and romantic. From its opening lines right through to its final pages The Fabricator is not like anything you have read before”Kellie Chambers, Ulster Tatler

To learn more about the world of Colm Herron, check out his blog! You can find it at colmherron.com

 

Loving Power – Meet John Wood

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John’s buddy

Continuing with the theme of writers and their pets, I’m pleased to introduce John Thomas Wood, an essayist and novelist who doesn’t own a gorilla but for some reason identifies with gorillas.

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John Thomas Wood – check out his website at
http://www.lovingpower.com

John’s most recent book, BE STRONG: BE SMART, A Father Talks to His Daughter about Sex deals with the delicate subject of how fathers talk to their daughters about sex and how that talk affects their later life.   I  never spoke with my father about sex, in fact I never even caught him in his boxer shorts so I consider this a very important book and will buy it for my daughter and son-in-law.

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(they’re going to need it with  this little firecracker!)

Here are some reviews:

“The book is an amazingly straight forward frank discussion with his readers (and his daughter) bstrong13about sexual health.” 

“Not having had many frank discussions around sex growing up, I am afraid I stumbled a bit when talking to my children about sex. I wish I had had the opportunity to share this with my daughter at a young age.”

But instead of listening to me blab on about how great his writing is, here is a sample from one his essays.

Understand that everything is a work in progress.

That is just another way, maybe, of stating Darwin’s statement about evolution, but he was not thinking about relationships, work teams, organizations or politics. I am.

I think a lot about love and power. I write about them and I have recently – at this latter stage in my life – rediscovered the fact, the idea, that love is a work in progress.

Maybe you think it’s foolish to have believed anything else, to believe that love, once put in place, would stay there. If you worked hard to plan and build a house on a piece of land, you expected the house to stay there. Well, maybe not forever, but you get the idea.

But love is not like a house on a lot. If you think of all the metaphors that have been composed about love, not many of them are static. Love is not a rock. Love is not the sky. Love is not the Lincoln Memorial.

Like it or not, love is alive. Love is more like a river or a primrose. It is born, it changes and it dies. How could it be different? Everything is the universe has a cycle, even the universe itself. It has a big bang, it shrinks, it grows and, sooner or later, it implodes.

At this point you may think the subtext is discouraging: Don’t expect too much, don’t expect love to last. Maybe. Expectations are hard to manage and maybe your love will last all of your life and maybe not. My message, today, is best said by someone I have admired for a long time:

be of love(a little)

More careful

Than of everything…

Cummings wrote that and Sister Corita Kent plastered it on a poster and I have read it and re-read it for fifty years.

Love does need nurturing. It needs attention, tending to, fertilizing, honoring, repotted and guided to change. It certainly is admirable when you can do this to and with another person, but I am focused on doing these things to love itself – the way you love and the love that in that space between you and another person. That process needs care.

It’s very possible that love can die prematurely, for a hundred different reasons: neglect, strangulation, abuse, imbalance—you know the reasons, you know the feeling when that space between you is polluted, muddy and tense.

One of the saddest things about our education is we don’t have any training in love. We seem to learn by osmosis, by watching our parents, by meeting someone who knows a way of loving we don’t or — most of us – by trial and error.

From the chair I sit in today, love is still a little mysterious. There are still doors to be opened and things in the corners that need a light shined on them. Love is still a work in progress, a long trip that is often exciting and frequently boring. Sometimes there’s a rest stop, sometimes a dinosaur museum, a beautiful sunrise and an afternoon of singing along with the radio.

Love requires change. It needs a balance between growing on its own and being tended. What I wish for you and me is that we have the opportunity to practice this ongoing, sometimes elusive, often sacred space between ourselves and another person.

What else is there?

John Thomas Wood
Website:  http://www.lovingpower.com
BE STRONG; BE SMART,