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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why I hate Paris and Gaudi Architecture

My travel agent has booked me on Air Transat to Paris. It’s not my favorite airline, but it’s not the worst. If the person in front of you reclines their seat, their head will literally land in your lap.

Since there is no direct flight from Vancouver to Spain, I’ve opted for an overnight in Paris, then on to Barcelona.  I’ve learned through hard experience that most European flights land late in the day or early evening and nine times out of ten there isn’t a connection until early the next morning – which means spending an uncomfortable night at the airport.  I prefer to spend a comfortable night in a nearby hotel and take a short late morning flight on to my destination.   I arrive fresh – with minimal jet lag – and ready to begin my adventures.

My travel agent felt that the overall savings in flights were worth flying to Paris rather than Frankfurt – which I preferred.  I should have insisted on Frankfurt.


I forgot how much I hate Paris.  Charles deGaulle  Airport is one of the largest and most disorganized airports I’ve had the misfortune to visit.  On top of that  Parisians are some of the rudest least helpful people on the planet. I experienced Parisian hospitality forty years ago when I last visited the city – and I’m sad to say their hospitality hasn’t improved a whit.

Monday, October 20, 2014

On My Way to Run With the Bulls in Spain!!!

It’s been several months since my last blog and I have to apologize for not writing sooner but it’s been a perfect storm of events and which have included a trip to Spain to run with the bulls, and a trip to the Maritimes to drive with my wife.

But the main excuse for not writing has been due to my injury with a toro of a different sort – a lawnmower.

I don’t like gardening – but I like a neat garden – particularly a well groomed lawn.  When I walk by a house with an unkempt lawn or garden I can’t help but feeling it reflects the type of person who lives inside. People rationalize these lawns are deliberate – they represent their desire to go back to save the planet.  Nine times out of ten these “environmentalists” have a Hummer parked in the driveway.

One the best days of my life was when I hired someone to cut my lawn.  My father-in-law then suggested since I had a gardening service that I bring my old lawnmower up to the summer cottage and cut the grass up there.  And the lawnmower has been there ever since. 

There really isn't a lawn up at the cabin – it’s more like a mine-field.  It’s about 500 square meters of weeds, stumps, hillocks and rocks that eat and mangle lawnmower blades within seconds of their installation.

Lawn cutting day is the sound of the loud “clanging” of the lawnmower hitting rocks and roots, punctuated by colorful swearing.

This year the lawnmower seemed to be suffering from a bad case of metallic leprosy - various parts rusting out and falling off with ever increasing frequency.  On my last cutting the front blade guard fell off.”

I asked my friend Dave if the piece was important and crucial to the task at hand – namely butchering what passes for grass; or maybe, after twenty-five years, I should invest in a new lawn-mower.

“Absolutely not,” stated Dave.  “Totally unnecessary.  I took my lawn mower to the lawnmower clinic and the guy simply twisted that piece off and threw out on the back lawn.”

What I did not take into account was that Dave’s quarter acre is essentially as flat as a pool table without so much as a twig growing out of it.  Dave probably still has the original blade on his machine.

So on one recent June day I found out exactly what some of those “extraneous” parts do – they keep the lawn-mower blade from digging into even the slightest uneven ground and coming to a grinding stop - which my lawnmower immediately did

Several strenuous pulls got it running again only to have it come to another abrupt stop as it encountered the next molehill.  Several more pulls got it going and we covered another ten feet and another lurching stop. Three enthusiastic pulls yielded nothing – put on the fourth the lawnmower rebelled.    I pulled the cord hard – it pulled it back even harder nearly pulling my arm out of the socket.

So for the last four months I've been nursing a sore shoulder.  It’s been hard to do anything at all with my right arm –hence no writing.  I have endured 8 sessions of grueling physiotherapy with my therapist, Calvin, the Asian sadist.   Calvin is big into acupuncture. 

The pain is such that I’m willing to endure anything that might make it better – or so I thought.  I have been led to believe that acupuncture is a sophisticated Asian medical practice where small thin needles are gently placed into your skin and manipulated to bring instant relief.  Not true.

I’m certain the ones Calvin uses are harpoon size, similar to the colorful ones they stick into the bull before they shove a sword into his heart. 

After inserting the banderillas into my shoulder Calvin then climbs onto my back shoves them two or three feet deeper  into my body and proceeds to pull them back and forth with the enthusiasm of a San Francisco brakemen trying to stop a runaway cable car.   But he was right  – the pain in my shoulder is not as bad after the session – but that’s only in comparison to the acupuncture pain I endured during the session.

I've had eight sessions with Calvin before I decided to give up on it and head back to traditional western medicine – heavy duty pain killers.  The eight sessions cost in the neighborhood of 600 dollars (and no, I don’t have a plan).  I hate to think what kind of a lawnmower I could have bought for $600.00.  I’m sure it would have an electric start – and a cup holder.

Even more unfortunate for me was that I was due to leave for Spain for my encounter of toros of the flesh and blood type less than one week after my lawnmower accident.

Running with the Bulls is something I have wanted to do since I read Hemingway “The Sun Also Rises” when I was an undergrad.  Unfortunately it’s only taken me 50 years to get there.

What finally pushes it to the top of my bucket list is discovering a GAdventures Tour titled “Running of the Bulls.”  It’s promoted as a one week tour beginning in Barcelona and ending in Bilbao - the highlight being two days in Pamplona watching the running of the bulls.  

Although the info is very succinct that this tour is only to watch the running not participate in it, one can read between the lines, if you are bound and determined to run, they aren't going to physically try and stop you.  I sign up with the thought that I’ll check it out the first day then “sneak away” and run the next day. I’d survived the mechanical toro – how dangerous can these flesh and blood ones be?
Nursing my sore shoulder I head for the airport three and a half hours early to give me lots of time to slowly drag my luggage through the departure process.

What I hadn't counted on was a head-on collision in the tunnel on my way to the airport.  I’m stranded in traffic for two-and-a-half hours until I can inch my way to a break in the divided highway, do a U-turn into the counter-flow lane, and take a long roundabout way to the airport.   I arrive thirty minutes before the flight was due to leave- just as they are closing the check in counter. Since I’d checked in the night before they decide to let me board the aircraft.

“Can you please lift your bag onto the scale sir?”
“No, not really.”
“You’re not making this easy for us, are you, sir?”

I’m rushed through security, and manage to make it to the gate just as they are closing the door. I throw myself into my seat, buckle up and push the button for the flight attendant as the aircraft is pushed back from the gate. 

“Can I help you sir?”

“Yes, a double scotch and two Oxycodones, please.”

NEXT:  Bring on the Bulls!

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