A Parisian Alphabet

Alphabet

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Serendipity exists for a reason, I always say. When I published my post There is no W in Paris a few days ago, I was unaware of the Alphabet photo challenge. But since I have a photographic alphabet, why not enter the challenge?

The astute reader will notice that the alphabet grid is 5 by 5, containing 25 letters. A clue to the missing letter is contained in the name of the referenced post. And I am beginning to wonder about K.

Hint: turn the M upside down.

Not (again) in my lifetime: my OTL list

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Kick the Bucket

Some people have a Bucket List. Some people have an anti-Bucket List. This has never been so cut-and-dried for me. Certainly there have always been those (obvious) things I never intend to do: murder anyone, jump off a tall building, and so forth, but most people wouldn’t even consider such things for either list.

Instead, there are activities that once seemed attractive to me, but, through actual experience (mine or observed), repel rather than fascinate me. Let me describe some of these items that are OTL (“off the list”).

1. Own a gun, or even learn to shoot a gun. When I was young, in middle school, my older brother was given a single-shot rifle. There were poisonous snakes on our large property, which we saw not infrequently, and it seemed like a good idea. Also, it was common for teenaged boys to own guns for hunting turkey and deer (which he never did). Besides occasional target practice, he did use it to kill a large copperhead snake and a small bat. There were quite a few rabbits on our property that considered our gardens as their personal salad plates. One day I decided that I could do something about that and took that rifle up the hill to get a rabbit. I managed to shoot a fine rabbit right through an ear, but didn’t kill it immediately. Of course, it ran off. Days later, I found it lying in the weeds, dead. Apparently I managed to wound it enough that it died slowly and painfully. I buried the small corpse and never touched a gun again. I won’t have one in our house.

2. Re-visit Mexico. If you have read my post L’estomac de PLOMB, you already understand how I feel about Mexico. I will give almost any other country a first chance before I give Mexico a second chance.

3. Parasail. I have watched parasailers as I walk along the beach, and they are beautiful, soaring high in the sky above the blue waves. For many years, I thought that sometime I would get the courage to try this sport. Then, in a summer in the early 20-teens, we were on a cruise ship that stopped one day in St. Thomas. We went off the ship on a snorkeling excursion. On the way back to the ship, we were caught in a freak storm and took refuge in Senor Frog’s across the pier from our ship. (There are definitely worse places to be caught than Senor Frog’s.) Finally getting back on board, still soaked, just before the final boarding call, we dried off and went to dinner. And waited for the ship to cast off. After several announcements paging cruisers that were apparently late returning, the ship departed two hours late. The next day we learned that the missing cruisers (a mother celebrating her 60th birthday and her daughter) had been parasailing when the freak storm came up and fell 400 feet to the surface, the mother dying instantly and the daughter (the last we heard) still in a coma. I do not intend ever to parasail.

4. Scuba dive. I grew up outside a small town. Our town did not have a swimming pool. The first time I entered a swimming pool was as a freshman in college, when swimming was a mandatory class. After almost drowning in this class, I audited the class again and was finally able to float and turn over without sinking. Eventually I graduated to the doggy paddle and then to actual strokes. Years later, I took scuba classes and acquired the requisite wet suit (even boots, gloves, and hood), fins, weights, mask, and snorkel. I passed the dive test in a frigid, silt-filled rock quarry in Lancaster, PA. I never bothered to pick up the C-card that I earned that day. Once in a while, on vacation, I will venture out to snorkel, but never happily and never for long. Yes, I have seen beautiful things underwater. But I know my limits and when to stop pushing them.

5. Pilot an airplane. I grew up in the country directly under a jet route. Lying on my back looking up, or just glancing up, I saw these wonderful airplanes only as contrails or tiny silver specks high above me. Where were they going? Who was inside? How did they stay up there without falling from the sky? And would I ever be inside one? When I was in high school, we would sometimes drive to the small airport 40 miles away and watch one of the few airplanes take off or land. Once we even bought a roasted chicken and fresh loaf of bread at a grocery store neaby and had a picnic while watching. Fast-forward about 20 years. I had a job in research and development that required a knowledge of flying. Our company provided ground school classes as a prerequisite to flight lessons that could lead to a pilot’s license. I completed ground school and gained a greater appreciation for airplanes and their pilots. But I had no desire to be responsible for the lives of passengers and a realistic self-assessment of my (in)ability to do so. The closest I ever got to piloting was as a simpilot (simulation pilot) responding to air traffic controllers in an experimental setting. And that is just fine by me.

Probably there will be additions to this list in the future, but it will do for now.

There is no W in Paris

In October of last year, we traveled to our favorite city in all the world, Paris. As we usually do when we plan a trip, we chose a theme for our visit (well, two themes, actually): food and photography. Suffice it to say, we learned a wonderful chicken recipe from an excellent cooking school and it has become a staple of our evening meal planning. And, yes, you can buy pig’s caul locally, in our case, at The Meat House. But enough of food for now …

As amateur photographers, we always see room for improvement. We signed up for two classes in Paris with an excellent photography school, for night-time shooting and for street photography in the Marais. Perhaps the results will be the subject of a future blog post.

In any event, we thought that we could use our photography to create unique Christmas presents for our family. A recent fad that I have seen is to create personalized framed names or quotes using photographs of letters from signs or photographs of objects that look like letters. How hard could it be to “collect” photos of letters from Parisian signs? We decided to create a Parisian alphabet from which we could create any personalized gift we needed. The rules were simple:

  1. The letter must be contained in a French word that is publicly displayed in a large font
  2. The letter might be visualized within some physical object that is in public view

We would be the final arbiters of whether the actual letter or the physical substitute would be used in producing the actual gift.

Eiffel_TowerExcept that how can anybody use anything but the Eiffel tower for “A”?

Since we carried a camera with us everywhere, it was easy enough to snap any sign that could result in just the letters we needed. One Rmorning, leaving our apartment, we came across the letter “R” on Rue Cler, being towed behind a bicycle. We never discovered why R was there or what it meant. Wouldn’t that be a great solution to finding all the letters? Most of the letters we found the hard way; but really, it was great fun looking!

We kept a list of letters as we found them, to be sure we had the complete alphabet. What we discovered was that some letters were harder than others to find.  The letter that was impossible to find in a French word was “W.” We did find it, but it was in the name of an English company. That didn’t meet the rules. So our eventual solution, in creating Christmas gifts, was to use an upside-down M as a W.  (The gift recipient with the faux W didn’t even realize the trick until we pointed it out.)

So, the next time you are in Paris, see if you can find the elusive W!

Being a Jimmy

In his recent blog  “Beyond Me, Myself, and I: Four Ideas for Escaping the First-Person Bubble,” Ben Huberman talks about using other voices in prose.  One idea is to communicate as the fictional “Jimmy,” recalling that character from the TV series Seinfeld.  This is a technique I particularly like to use, and I commented:

I especially like the use of a Jimmy. For several years now, we have been blogging using alter egos (our version of Jimmys) in our travel blogs. “They” are so much more open in their writing, so innocent, so easily impressed. We would never be able to say what they say. It’s nice to have our approach “validated.” Thank you.

For example, our alter egos  wrote about a visit to Angkor Wat in 2013:

(Indelible memory: sitting on a ledge of a library at Angkor Wat, waiting for the sun to rise, listening to a serious discussion by a former Buddhist priest about farting as a symptom of the body being out-of-balance)

I would never be able to write about such an indelicate subject.

L’Estomac de PLOMB

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L’Estomac de PLOMB

This story really begins many years ago when we vacationed in a popular all-inclusive resort in a popular Mexican town. You would recognize the resort and town if I named them, so I won’t. In addition to the spartan, yet not unattractive, rooms and very attractive beaches, pictures of the resort featured their water purification plant. Yet when we arrived, the staff failed (1) to mention that their water purification plant had failed and (2) to offer any potable water.  Predictable, this fairly quickly led to a realization that the one toilet in the room (and the one roll of toilet paper) was not sufficient for someone who was “sick at both ends,” as they say. Since only one of us was sick, the other went to the resort’s infirmary for advise and medicine. He was met by a huge line of other vacationers outside the office. Finally at the front of the line, as he remarked on the length of the line, he was told that no one at the resort was sick. He took the one pill he was given back to the room. Within minutes, this pill was vomited up, and so back he went for another pill… This was probably the exact moment that we decided never to be in that situation again. We would be prepared for any third world country.

Fast forward to February 2013. That year we traveled around the world, embarking from Miami on a trans-Atlantic cruise ship as far as Rome. After 10 days at sea, we stopped at Malaga, Spain, and enjoyed our first wonderful meal off the ship. Knowing that we were headed to countries where we could not trust the water or many foods, we were relieved to be in a food-safe country. Two days later, the ship stopped at Barcelona, a city we had visited several years before.  We decided to eat on Las Ramblas at a restaurant we remembered fondly from that earlier visit. What could go wrong? Food poisoning is what could go wrong. By the next morning, back on the ship, I was delirious. The ship’s infirmary was efficient, and, after a day in bed, I was recovered enough to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa the following day.  We did not get sick in any of the countries that we had worried about: Egypt, India, Thailand, or Cambodia. I got sick in Spain!

Now we are headed back to to try our luck and test our preparation for more tummy-unfriendly countries: Thailand (again), Laos, and Vietnam. In addition to the antimalarial medicine Malerone, which kills bad stomach bacteria, we have packed a PLOMB kit of over-the-counter medicines:

  • Probiotics, to improve digestion
  • Loperamide, an anti-diarrheal (“Imodium”)
  • Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS), to replace fluids lost by diarrhea
  • Melatonin, a sleep aid
  • Bismuth subsalicylate, for relief from diarrhea and upset stomach (“Pepto Bismol”)

We do not wish to revisit l’estomac de PLOMB or le PLOMB fondu!

(With apologies to Francophiles around the world for phrases that translate literally as “the stomach of lead” and “molten lead”)