Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

My Candidate of Choice January 2016

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

Early last summer, when Mr. Trump was still an entertaining oddity and Senator Sanders was the crazy guy who didn’t own a comb; the conversation in the dining room centered around “Who would you pick?” followed by snickers and giggles.
With humor, I responded, “I’m for Bernie Trump and Donald Sanders.” I even designed a t-shirt (in my mind) for my fusion candidate of choice.
As both candidates have matured – and yes, they have matured, albeit one more subtlety than the other – I stand even more firmly in my belief that these two men have done this country an invaluable service.
For over thirty years, our political parties have kept pretty much to their magic playbooks; pulling out the well-worn phrases; the promises; the vilification of ‘other’; with no real intention of fulfilling their rhetoric. I don’t believe there was or is any malicious intent; only that the way one campaigns is not how one governs. Campaigning goes for the heart and gut, governing requires the head – boundless passion versus controlled pragmatism.
With the Bern and the Donald, party interlopers both; the playbooks have had their covers torn off and exposed for what they are…empty rhetoric.
For all of their supposed sins and for the feckless labels we have hung around their necks – Socialist, Fascist, Republican, Democrat, curmudgeon and bigot; in my eyes the real sin of both men is the failure to frame their message simply.
So what might a simplified Sanders narrative frame look like to me?
“I’m asking you to be a little less rich so someone can have the opportunity to be a little less poor.”
And Trump’s?
“Let’s get our house in order before someone forecloses on it.”
Different words, same message. Maybe the ‘far right’ and the ‘far left’ aren’t so far apart after all.

RIP Scalia Washington DC January 2016

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

A champagne bucket clothed in white linen holds a dozen or more almost-blown, blood red Peruvian roses; their shadows like wine stains on the gray marble back bar. The bucket nestles against an old wooden box tipped on its side to house an exotic selection of southern continent liqueurs – Yzaguirre Blanco Reserva, Ocueaje Pisco, Santiago Querdo, DeMonde dela Andes Tacama.
To the right, three large glass canisters looking like aquaria, hold fermenting cherries and citrus and peppers for unfamiliar future cocktails. My eyes move down the tableau of even more boxes holding more piscos with near unpronounceable names, and more glass carafes filled with what appear to be infusing pineapple, grapes and jicama.
Atop the boxes, an odd assortment of silver shakers and variously shaped glassware, artfully filled with cinnamon sticks, reflect the soft light of electric bulbs designed to feel like gas lamp. With the muted melodies of Spanish cancion drifting down from hidden speakers in the ceiling, I can almost pretend to be sitting in a neighborhood boite in Iquitos. Almost.
Almost, because if I were to turn around, I would find myself in the ultra-chic dining room of Chef Jose Andres’ China Chilcano (pronounced chE nah chill kahn o) in Washington DC; and if I were to listen beyond the gentle guitar music of Joabim, I would hear murmured conversations that have nothing to do with the exquisite fusion of Peruvian and Asian foods laid before us by the young and the beautiful. The conversations this night center on the latest Gordian twist in our body politic – the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Two days ago I would not have thought this election cycle could a get any more divisive, but Voila!
With an unexpected February snow piling higher on the near empty streets of a federal city celebrating the last few hours of a federal holiday; and with sodden flags flying forlornly at half-mast in the bone-numbing grey chill; I have to wonder who among our Presidential candidates can broker détente in the Cold War being waged on the Hill. No longer do we have protagonists on the stage of debate, only antagonists who seem to find satisfaction in perpetuating this ever deepening, deep freeze…oh, how I long for Spring.

New Hampshire Primary 2016

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

And with CNN’s John King pointing to the last precinct on the map to report votes, Tuesday’s First In The Nation Primary was officially over and the circus of media and campaigners began exiting New Hampshire, with me, The Political Tourist, along with them.
Heading south on Interstate 93, just hours ahead of a new Artic cold front, I find myself revisiting the past weeks and trying to distill a myriad of thoughts and impressions into a cohesive story; one that will answer the five Ws: what, who, where, when and, most importantly, why? The first four are easy, as Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts, ma’am.” It’s the Why, that is a bit of a challenge, so let’s start with the facts.
Where? New Hampshire
When? January 23 – February 9, 2016
What? A visit with candidates before The First In The Nation Primary for the President of the United States
Who? Nine candidates– Secretary Clinton, Senators Sanders, Cruz and Rubio, Governors Bush, Christie and Kasich, CEOs Fiorina and Trump.
That leaves Why? “In one coherent sentence, if you please, Kathleen…ok?” Whew! Here goes…
Because, like that stoic Sergeant Detective Friday on Dragnet, I just wanted the facts…clear, unspun, checkable facts about the people applying for, what I believe is and should be, the most important job in the world.
And did I get my ‘facts’?
Well, of course not. I’m not really so naïve to think that by the mere virtue of shaking Chris Christie’s hand that I would somehow be granted singular insight into Bridgegate; or that looking into the steely gaze of John Kasich would miraculously lay bare (to me alone) his plans for Supreme Court nominees.
What I did get however, was a sense of these nine individuals…a first impression as it were, without the filter and spin of media. With each event I attended, I tried to leave my baggage at the door. I imagined myself an alien (illegal of course) dropped into the scene without the benefit of previous knowledge. A near impossible task, but I feel I did pretty well overall, and in doing so, I feel I have a few more tools to help me make a more informed decision in November.

Super Bowl 2016 – New Hampshire Primary

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

It’s 1:42am and the Nor’Easter, threatened earlier today, is knocking on my door. A couple of grizzly bears have been teleported to New Hampshire and are vigorously rocking the Sprinter; a vehicle not really designed for winter travel as the frigid winds find easy access through the heating and air vents.
I wrestle an arm out of my warm Golden cocoon, and lift a blind. Peering out into the Living Dead emptiness of the WalMart parking lot, small ice crystal tornadoes flash across pools of halogen light and then disappear into the blackness…no snow, yet. But I am awake, so I might as well drive to Manchester before the morning commute and snowfall converge to make the easy 53 minute drive into something more fraught.
In moments, I am on Hwy 95, just me and four lanes of dark, empty freeway. Did the world end and no one told me? I could turn on the radio and confirm one way or the other, but decide to take a chance…what difference will it make anyway? Plus, if I do turn it on, I’ll find that the Panthers lost the Super Bowl, confirming that last night, the world did end for some folks.
The Super Bowl. The one time a year that I seek out the comradery of that alien life form – the football fan. So, after a day spent spoiling the pups with hours of sunshine imbued play at the Pierce Island Dog Park in Portsmouth, I decided to find a sports bar and, well, mingle amongst them.
After a quick Google, I settled upon The British Beer Company. Spacious, with multiple screens and a good menu of traditional pub fare, the BBC, offered up a warm welcome and a single remaining stool at the bar. Sliding in between Larry and Curly (I kid you not, and I think the bartendress was Mo), I was at once assailed with the question: who’s your team? Though my football knowledge pretty much ended when Howard Cosell stopped battling Dandy Don on MNF, I was prepared…”Carolina, of course…by 4”. “By 4?” Las Vegas is giving 6, are you just nuts?” “Hey, my bookie said…”.
Once these pleasantries were completed, Curly and I started a real conversation on a broad range of subjects, including his time spent in eastern Montana and the Dakotas working on dam and bridge infrastructure projects on the Missouri. Politics came up (imagine that!) and Curly’s last weeks have mirrored mine, as he has been traveling the state on his days off seeing and talking with the candidates.
As the pre-game show began and the MVPs of past Super Bowls appeared on the field, one caught me off guard. I laughed as a memory came blasting out of the back of my head. Curly looked at me questioningly. “I still have the 1979 Play Girl magazine where Broadway Joe was the centerfold,” I said. Cosell, Meridith, Namath….maybe I’m one of Them after all.

A Racist in Recovery

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

“He scares me.”
The ‘he’ in this bald and deeply emotional statement is Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and/or Marco Rubio.
I hear this on the radio call in shows, and from people all over the Granite State and into southern Maine; from Republicans, non-declared, and Democrats, and I have to shake my head and smile, albeit a bit sadly.
Why? Because eight years ago, the ‘He’ that was scaring a lot of people was Barack Obama. And why was he so scary? Did he campaign on a promise to carpet bomb the Middle East? Or deport 11 million illegals (by the way, if this comes about, I want the transportation contract)? or label abortion-seeking women as fetal tissue sellers?
No, the then Senator Obama, was the scariest of all things – an educated black man, playing by the rules and winning.
Now before I head further down this path, I have to stand up in front of the meeting and share with you that I am a racist.
“I am a racist.” However, I’m a racist who has been in recovery for the past 49 years, and although occasionally challenged, I think I’m doing pretty well.
I’m 57 years old and for the first eight years of my life I was in a white cocoon of, if not privilege, at least comfort and ignorance. Private Lutheran education, family car trips to national parks in the west, a clean and safe rural neighborhood – white, white and white. My only exposure to anyone different from me came when my family moved to Bangkok for a few years in the early 60s; when my father and grandfather would take the family fishing off the Michigan City pier; and during the ‘Volkswagen Incident’.
I have some memories of Bangkok, mostly traumatic, but I cannot be sure if they are just not memories of memories. And the trauma? Being taken by my very dark amah to the open air market every day to shop and having very dark and strange people pinching me to see if my freckles (something they’d never seen) would come off, and Soomchai laughing like a mad woman at my tears…or so I remember.
The second exposure to ‘other’, was my family’s weekly fishing treks to the Michigan City pier on the south shore of Lake Michigan. Somewhat egalitarian in that both ‘coloreds’ and whites shared the pier, I cannot recall any shared conversation. (This too, holds traumatic memories as being the youngest, I got the job of scaling buckets and buckets of perch – to this day, I can’t look at that little fish without the smell invading my nostrils and the feel of sticky scales covering me head to toe. Yuck!)
In those, my first years, the Civil Rights Movement was being played out across the country on our 15” black and white TV. Although I can’t cite any specific conversations or overt language, my feeling is the adults around the dinner table weren’t exactly rallying for Dr. King and his dream.
It was the Volkswagen Incident, I recall with crystalline clarity, when the subtext of my family narrative on ‘coloreds’ came into contact with tangible reality.
My father’s brother Jack had picked up my brother and me to go to an event in the city. I can’t recall what the event was, but it had to be special as we were in our Sunday best. I remember a sleeveless flowered cotton shift, white sandals and my long, bright red hair teased into a truly massive shellacked bee hive perched precariously atop my nine year old head. (My mom had recently started allowing me to take control of my appearance and there remain some very embarrassing photos to attest to the distinct, sartorial style that I was embracing in my new found freedom.)
During the drive, Uncle Jack had need to stop at a convenience store – for ice cream, I think – and since it was warm, he left the windows of his shiny white Volkswagen bug down while he went inside. As my brother and I waited in the car, I in the front seat, a little girl approached. She was about my age; coal black skin; her hair a wild mass of shining coils, each wrapped in a rainbow cloud of ribbons. She was fantastic in the truest meaning of the word. She came straight up to my open window, pointed at my gigantic red beehive and in a voice loaded with curiosity and serious judgement, asked, “What’s that on your head?”
And then, a second later, with a smile, “I like it.”
My recovery began at that moment.

Leveling in Montana

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

Views from the River September 2012

I found myself catering a political fundraiser on Swan River a few weeks ago where the host and many of the invited guests were long-time customers of the Horse, resulting in a rather blurred line between being a hired service and just another attendee.
For some guests – those not my customers – the line was not blurred at all. They would not address me nor make eye contact; I was to them, the hired help – invisible unless needed. To be gracious, most of these folks were fairly new to the community, coming from metropolitan areas where class lines are more apparent and I suspect, being held onto with renewed vigor as the ongoing recession brings those ‘with’ a little closer to those getting by ‘without’.
As the event matured and the provided banquet was rendered down to a few remaining crudités, my catering attire was removed, the hair came down, and I became just one more professionally dressed guest interested in the politics of the day. Moving from one conversation cluster to another around the deck, I was now being introduced by friends to those very people who an hour before moved about me as if I were a cipher.
The handshakes; the eye contact; the pleased to meet you, were all genuine; as were the brief but unmistakable contractions of the pupils and the slight furrowing of the brows that occur when one’s perspective of reality shifts.
This shift of perspective looms large among the reasons why I stay in such a small community when I obviously enjoy the activities and opportunities of big city life and exploring the lesser known areas of the world through my winter travels.
Although it wasn’t always so.
When I came here 13 years ago , dragged here ‘kicking and screaming’ by my then partner who ‘just had to be in Montana’, I justified the move with trite , and albeit true, plaudits of clean air, clean water, and open space. It has taken years and much growth to realize that although these might have been the reasons for coming here, the reasons for staying are much more complicated because they revolve around the people more so than the place.
Thirteen years isn’t a very long time…a blink really, but for me it is a quarter of my life spent in one place. An unthinkable reality 14 years ago when a three year stint in an apartment or a job was considered long –term. But as the years have moved inexorably onward I find myself caught up in the warp and weave of the tapestry that is the community of Bigfork extending defacto to Swan Lake.
The event on the river last summer offered up in a definitive moment what keeps me here – and in a word it is leveling. This place has a strange power to level out society’s ‘haves’ and ‘have littles’ -or more accurately the have “differents”.
Like water seeking its own level, these same folks who would not share anything in the big city, find themselves perhaps at first in some kind of commerce; whether it be firewood, water, grounds-keeping, boat maintenance, etc. But then both parties find themselves invited guests at a fete on the river, or dining next to each other at the Horse; or sharing elbow space and a beer at the Garden Bar.
I love introducing the retired multi-millionaire Republican building a 10,000 sq ft home on the lake to the Don’t Tread On Me man cutting firewood and living in a 600 sq ft cabin off the grid. Watching the interaction – first the commerce and then the curiosity – of both parties. It is in this display of curiosity that the leveling begins as each begins to learn something of the other and to find respect for choices made, if not full agreement in the choices themselves. By making introductions and watching similar interactions over the years, I’ve learned that those who show no curiosity in others generally don’t make it here, regardless of what side of the economic scale they occupy.
Watching the transition of both sides – the leveling as it were – I can’t but marvel at how quickly we humans can adapt to shifting environments. And much like Darwin’s conclusions, those that won’t adapt simply disappear, or in the case of Bigfork, either put their property on the market and go back into the striated life from whence they came or truly disappear into the wilderness as self-sufficient as their explorer forbearers.
For those of us who stay within the community, however, the rewards are incalculable.

Rwanda January 2017

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

I’ve been in Kigali for several days now, wandering and visiting and learning this very unique, and seemingly un-African city. I write “un-African” because there is a very real organization and structure that feels Western and familiar. Things work here. The city is beautiful, and clean and safe. Yes, much of this framework is mandated by government, but it is the populace that makes it work. Rwandans of every class are proud of their city, proud of the strides they have made, and it is on display for all to see and appreciate.
The town is a physical manifistation of the old saying “You can’t get there from here.” Even as I sit atop the Kigali Library enjoying the view from the Shokola Story Teller Cafe, I can gaze across two hills to my guest house. If I were a pied crow, I could cross the 2.5 kilometers in minutes; in a taxi it will be 20 at least plus another five explaining to the driver how to actually get to the house which is down a dirt lane in a newly constructed neighborhood in the community of Gikondo.
New and modern architecture crown the numerous hills, older buildings flow down the sides to the valleys where football fields and small farm plots are cut by roads crammed with motos and taxis. These paved arteries snake through the low lands before climbing the hillsides again to connect the various distinct districts and neighborhoods.
The layout of the city is a contradiction to what I have witnessed in South America. Think back to Black Orpheus, the seminal film that introduced Jobim and Rio carnival to American audiences. The slums of Rio were as much a character as Orfeo and Eurydice and I remember being confused as the cameras showed extreme poverty on the hill tops, and wealth in the valleys. The opposite here, with Chinese-financed skyscrapers and affluent residences crowning the hills; becoming tiaras of twinkling lights as the day fades.
With all of its functioning infrastructure, Kigali still offers up that frenetic continental energy I have witnessed in film. During the day, roadways and sidewalks are indistinguishable as thousands of people on foot, either mingling or hurrying to their next destination, move in chaotic waves, all seemingly involved in some sort of commerce; and all bustling between moving and parked lorries, cars and motos without incident.
The choreography combines women in tribal dress and flip flops, trays of mango and avocado balanced on their heads and cell phones to their ears, flowing gracefully around suited businessmen conducting a measured meeting in the street. Young men with converted bicycles balanced high with jerry cans of water pushing through throngs of starchly uniformed, squealing school children. A well- dressed matron with the evening meal – a live chicken under her arm – pushing Rommel-like through a group of truck drivers, their idling vehicles belching diesel, and spotting the truck she wants beginning a negotiating for what looks like corrugated siding loaded in the back.
This colorful crush of humanity is common across the continent in city and village alike, but here in Kigali with its clean streets and green spaces, it feels almost theatrical. There is a sense that as I turn a corner, someone has, moments before, yelled “Action!” and I find myself part of a Zanuck epic complete with a symphony of impatient horns; shouting vendors, blaring radios, bleating goats and laughing children.
It is a chaotic, beautiful film and I’m happy to have been cast even in this tiny role of observer.

Lives and livelihoods are being lost today in Rwanda…a massive, unseasonable rain arrived early this morning with flash flooding, mud slides, and washed out or blocked roads in the country side.
Kigali is being scoured with up to two inches of fast flowing runoff and the neighborhoods, normally bustling with commerce, are relatively quiet as folks hunker down.
Any other country in the horn of Africa, subjected to this, would most likely find itself in dire straights; however, Rwandan infrastructure is solid and “this too shall pass”.
I wonder how the ladies of Azizi handle this: wanting fresh water and receiving it, but too much too fast. Knowing the hillside where they have their plots, I’m certain some major damage is being incurred. But also having an awareness of their sense of community, when the rain stops, everyone will be helping those in need repair and recover, and all without drama.
Living with the land truly builds character.
Hmmmm…perhaps we need a cultural exchange program at home…red folks from rural areas can be hosted by Blue city folk, and vice versa. I don’t believe we are as far apart as the politicians and media would like us to believe…we just need a massive rain.

Its been a rainy day, and such days are good for museums and contemplations of uncomfortable things; and so, it was with some trepidation that I began the drive to Kigali’s main Genocide Memorial.
If you were born after 1990 or have been in a coma these past decades, or just didn’t give a rat’s behind about events outside of our borders, you may have missed this little gem of human on human evilness. Of course the butchering of 1million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the span of 100 days in Rwanda wasn’t the first action of its kind…homo sapien has gotten quite good at mass anihilations-Armenia, Nambia, the Balkans, Cambodia, and, the one that ‘didn’t happen’- Europe. Hundreds of books have been written on genocides – on the whys and hows and what could have been done differentlys – and I’ve read many of them.
And perhaps because I did not come innocently to the Memorial, it did not have the same affect upon me as those with whom I traveled through the chronologically curated rooms. Tears, both quiet and not so, sniffles, horrified intacts of breath, and resigned sighs surrounded me.
I read the stories, many familiar; I looked at photographs that never appeared on US television because they were deemed too troubling for the American viewer, and I remembered the attempts of individuals from NGOs and the UN trying to get somebody’s attention…anybody’s…to no avail. I clearly recall one newscaster in April of 1994 saying ‘we have unconfirmed reports…’ and those reports remained unconfirmed because to do so would have required action on an international scale.
So what did I feel? Disappointment. Some anger. Mostly resignation that the three genocides that have occurred in my lifetime won’t be the last because someone always has to be right which makes the rest of us wrong.
I left the Memorial and drove over to Heaven…a lovely open-air restaurant owned by some expats that is an ‘easy’ dining experience. I didn’t want to have to work at finding sustenance, and the patio is just as it is named, heavenly. As I waited for my ginger tea, I noticed a lamp post on the street side of the deck. It was lovely; white with sweeping curves and a silver orb perched on top. Someone, some industrial designer sitting in an office perhaps 6000 miles away determined that something as utilitarian as a lamp post should offer beauty for anyone willing to look up from their busy day. How can the same species wield a drafting pen and a machete with equal passion?

Laughing Horse Lodge is going Global

Friday, November 13th, 2015

I am pleased to announce that Laughing Horse Lodge is going Global!

In our 16th year here at the Horse, the practices we have tried to implement – as much as possible providing organic, natural, hormone-free, known-sourced food– will take a much-needed step forward with the assistance of GlobalAnimalPartnership.org and their nationally recognized 5+ Step Program of responsible and ethical animal husbandry.

The structure of the 5-Step program encourages higher welfare practices and systems to the benefit of farmers, consumers and animals. Each set of tiered standards has its own requirements and producers have the freedom to aim for any Step level they choose.

In essence, Step 1 prohibits cages and crates. Step 2 requires environmental enrichment for indoor production systems; Step 3, outdoor access; Step 4, pasture-based production; Step 5, an animal-centered approach with all physical alterations prohibited; and, finally, Step 5+, that the entire life of the animal be spent on an integrated farm. We are attempting to embrace Level 4 here at the Horse.

What will this mean for you and that beautiful double-Frenched Pork Chop topped with Gloria’s Peach Chutney or that grilled Chicken breast atop your Rancher Salad? Well, if you are over 40, your taste buds are going to have a trip down memory lane…back to the days when meats and eggs weren’t stuffed full of antibiotics and actually tasted like, well, meat and eggs. And, if it matters to you, you will have the satisfaction of knowing where and how your meal was raised.

Using GAP guidelines, and working with our food provider, FSA, and local ranchers and farmers, we are taking responsibility for our little slice of Montana heaven by ensuring to the best of our ability that every ‘creature’ we serve – whether sitting at our table or sitting on the plate, is having (or did have) a good experience. But don’t worry, we’re not going to serve your char-grilled 14 ounce, house-aged, Angus rib-eye and introduce her as Rosey!

We look forward to welcoming you back to the Horse for our 17th season which is filled with great music and events.

Observations On Capitol Hill – Winter 2015

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

Sample entries from DC 2015

 

A mystery wrapped in an enigma. ..a Google trail of bread crumbs. The USS Thresher, a permit class nuclear sub was lost with all hands during deep diving exercises April 10, 1963 – the greatest submarine disaster in history. In researching her commander and crew, I discovered her loss and the subsequent Congressional hearings led to the creation of SUBSAFE , a quality assurance program that resulted in all but one sub loss since the programs inception in the late 60s, and that loss was the USS Scorpion in May 1968. Following the trail of Scorpion, whose loss is still veiled…torpedo malfunction (the official report) or Soviet revenge for the sinking of Russian sub K129 (and the CIAs covert recovery under guise of manganese nodule mining of the seafloor)earlier that year in the Pacific? Information is still coming out under the Freedom of information Act 40 years later…shades of Gray Lady Down and The Hunt For Red October.
But I digress … back to Lt.Cmm. Krag and his crew of 129 (whose photos and bios can be found at USSTHRESHERBASE.ORG). Their loss led to SUBSAFE; and the Navy gave the program’s protocols to NASA after the Columbia space shuttle disaster which led to major improvements in space launch and travel safety. Who knows how far reaching this program will go and how many lives have been, and will be saved…Thank You, Lt. Cmm. Krag.

 

A delicious, big city-affordable eating experience that is organic, free trade and sustainable…Pret A Manger (ready to eat) was created by two London college friends in 1986- before those concepts of free trade and sustainable were on our cultural radar.Still privately held, the chain of 350 (£450 million annual) stores in Europe and now DC, is unique in another way…they have been quietly supporting charities, as part of their business model, since the first doors
opened.
The fresh soups, salads and wraps are beautifully packaged for fast pick up NY busy professionals but nothing is held over…at the end of the day, Thrive DC picks up the ‘leftovers’ for their homeless shelters.
Before Sinclair and Julian even consider opening a new outlet, they work with service organizations to insure the infrastructure is in place so that not one meal is wasted… Kudos to the boys from London…and thanks for the great flavors.

 

 

My visit to Quantico and the National Museum of The Marine Corps…hmmm, what to say? Beautiful grounds, arresting architecture and a great story made almost dull by way of outdated curating; rabbit warren rooms with so many competing sound tracks a headache is fairly guaranteed.
And the location…Why oh why was it not built on the National Mall where access would be easy? A $65 RT train ticket… $26 RT cab ride and an entire day…and the majority of the visitors were military…so missing out on PR and recruitment possibilities.
And we won’t even discuss the restaurant…
But the Semper Fidelis Memorial Trail was exceptional, both in beauty and history.
And if you miss the 3:30 train. ..well the village of Quantico visitor’s guide is about a paragraph.
Thanks to the gracious crew at Sam’s Grill for letting me camp out for 4 hours.

 

 

Early evening and the Salvation Army pulls up outside Union Station handing out cups of hot soup and sandwichs. All over the district, ‘sweepers’ come out every night from a wide assortment of charities to offer aid…some to pick up folks and take them to shelters when temperatures get dangerous; some to deliver sustenance; some deliver blankets; and one specifically looks for homeless kids with the goal of getting them inside and away from risky behavior and predators.
It’s difficult to see – and actually be part of- the disparity, but to deal with it, I have set myself a budget of $2 a day in coins and pass out hand warmers when approached….hand warmers AND conversation…
The conversation, including getting their name – and using it- seems to be more important even than the change…hard to keep one’s dignity with a hand out.

 

The afternoon was dedicated to the National Holocaust Museum with a walk back across the National Mall to have an overpriced hot toddy at the Willard, and on to China Town for the best pho (so far) at DC Pho.
The museum is disturbing – as it should be – and made more so from my current reading of Samantha Power’s book on genocide. But the strangest occurrence had nothing to do with plan or purpose…
To enter the main exhibit, about twenty people crowd tightly into an elevator that bares an eerie likeness to a large industrial metal box…a box with rust – like smears that could be hand prints. The door shuts and for a moment the chatter continues but quickly everyone goes silent…the temperature rises and there is a subtle but acrid taste in the mouth like aluminum, and then the car begins to move.
A small preview of what is to come?
I spoke with docent Deborah afterward and asked how they achieved the smell of dried blood in the elevators. She shook her head and said there was no such effect, that it was the power of suggestion…and powerful it was.

 

 

Topping the list of things I would not wish to live without are books…and DC offers up some of the most eclectic independent book stores I’ve ever found. I wasn’t planning on getting a job this winter, but my book habit…so long in remission…has come back (happily) with a vengeance. Now I have to feed the beast…

 

After a day and a half off my sore feet, I hit the DC streets once more. After a quick visit to a chiropractor to adjust a 12 hour reading binge neck, I headed over to the historic Warner Theater to see if I could get a last minute ticket to the Nutcracker with the Washington DC National Ballet. The theater, built in 1924, was originally a vaudeville venue and then, in the thirties, Harry Warner of Warner Brothers bought the building and turned it into a state of the art movie house. It is now a premier theater and performance venue, its earlier Belle epoch luster in fine form.
Standing in line for a ticket, I saw a couple with a small sign “ticket for sale”. Meet Matilda and
Tim…a quick transaction and I had a lovely orchestra seat at half price…plus a 6 degrees of separation moment. Just out of college with a biology degree, Tim went to work for the US Parks service at Swiftwater; and tagged grizzlies up the North Fork. During our pre-show conversation, a lady in front of us turned and, excusing herself for eavesdropping, said she was a UofM grad, knew the Swan and asked for my card. After the performance, I went to City Brew for their meatloaf…yeah, it’s that good…and the bartender was from Idaho but knew the Swan from fishing. All of this and I wasn’t even wearing my Grizz shirt…. interesting folks all around.

 

A serious day of reading…
“The United States has too long blithely ignored the issues of genocide,” Proxmire said. “Evidence that genocide is going on in the 1970s should shake our complacency.”

And what should it ‘shake’ on Christmas Eve 2014?

 

Spent the day exploring Old Town Alexandria. ..so much history …when a sign says ‘George Washington slept here’, he really did. King Street trivia regarding the photo of the building with the red lingerie. ..La Tache. The owner originally wanted to put in a bar and the city fathers said no it had to be retail…so in the center of snobby, blue nose Old Town is an adult entertainment store.

 

Meet Kate, bartender at Murphys Irish Pub in Old Town Alexandria and Montana transplant. From Missoula, Kate is getting her Master’s in International law at Georgetown as well as double major in intl development. She is an average example of the young people I’ve met…excited, driven and really, really in debt…

The National Gallery of Art and Portraits was one of the earliest builds in DC…a beautiful Greek Revival structure whose central open air courtyard was replaced recently with a floating cloud of glass and steel making it usable year round. The acoustics are exquisite and it has two horizontal water features (the dark floor is actually flowing water of less than a centimeter thickness. A wonderful space to read…

Meet Mr. Valentine, 24 years on the street – drugs and alcohol – and now 9 years clean with a home and family because of local ministries and a weekly paper called Street Sense. Paper content is written by the homeless and those who have successfully transitioned back in to mainstream society and the stories are wonderful and informative. Street folk buy the papers for 50 cents and sell them for a donation of $2. The proceeds stay with the seller to help them with the basics -food, shelter, and to overcome poverty.
Mr. Valentine is able to bring in enough from his efforts to keep his home and family safe.We talked about rebranding…he thought that still “looking ” homeless would sell more papers, and I suggested that showing (his mostly affluent white buyers) that he was a success story might move more folks to pay attention and reach for that $2. He’s going to give it a try this week…social experimentation for real. Love this city!

 

My winter home is in the historic NE H Street corridor of DC. From the turn of the last century until 1968, H Street was the center of black culture much like Harlem; the assassination of MLK in 68 led however to riots and the neighborhood was destroyed. Only since 2005, has reconstruction begun seeping back in with a multinational multicultural sensibility, and for good or bad…gentrification.

 

 

Delightful and very creative evening with the Bard and his last work -The Tempest at DC’S elegant Shakespeare Theater. Prospero was none other than Forever Knight – Garaint Davies…still looking good and sounding wonderful…”We are such stuff as dreams are made of…”

 

Tomorrow a trip out to Glover Park to a Vietnamese hole in the wall that has the best goat pho…. Ok…so I am a bit obsessed with goats right now…go figure!

 

A somber visit to the National Mall and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial where volunteer docent Mr. McMahon told me the story of Wallace O Travis (Whitey) who lost his life along with six others in his platoon while under the command of a Lt. Peter Pace. Years later when the head of the Joint Chiefs, now General Pace, was retiring, he slipped away from the Pentagon and in early morning dark with no witnesses, placed his 4 stars pinned to a note at the base of the wall…”These are yours Whitey, they were never really mine. ”

 

After sitting in on a panel discussion on Central Asia security with Ambassador Taylor (Ukraine 2009) at the US Institute on Peace, I stepped into the Willard Hotel (managed the Willard in Saba a few years ago ) for a glass of Christmas cheer poured by Mr. Sanchez (29 years at the Willard) and the music if the 18th St Choir….  (video)

An evening at the RI Ra Irish Pub and Whiskey Bar in Georgetown where Rachel, the whiskey sommelier introduced me to Ardbeg from  Islay..
My new favorite.

 

Heading out to Arlington Cemetery and met Hula Hoop Paul. Recently out of the Army, Paul is a young man on a mission…to master the hoop and see America. Check out some of hoop vids on YouTube. ..it’s not just for little girls anymore. ..

 

A walk in search of my grandparents (surrogate) Steve and Marg. Both were seminal influences on me during my twenties. I took Marg on several of my adventures and she was in her late sixties when I taught her to dive. For several years after, she was my go to girl when I needed to get out of town.
Marg got me involved in volunteer work; taught me how to find the great deals at flea markets; and how to apologize. Steve, through his stories of WW II, reinforced my curiosity for history; honed my political discourse; introduced me to single malt…and he played a mean game of bocci.
(Ahh…I hear Barbara breaking into Memories…) (video)

 

 

“They also serve who only bark and neigh…” A walk through the Semper Fidelis Memorial Park at Quantico and the discovery that our 4 legged friends earned numerous Valor awards in WWII and Korea, as well as more recent conflicts…bomb sniffers, message runners, carriers of the injured, enemy routers.
“OooAhh Fido!”

 

 

Since arriving in DC, I have attended panel discussions at several think tanks on issues of immigration, demographics and food safety. I urge everyone to watch the podcast from the Brookings Institute from this morning – Diversity Explosion. Business owners consider the book of the same name as the info will directly effect your marketing. ..and very soon. As for those who want a plausible and substantiated understanding of the devisive nature of our political reality…this delivers without partisan rhetoric. Heavy, I know…I’ll follow up with some inanity like a cute kitten picture….

 

JOY of Christmas concert at the Washington National Cathedral with the Washington Symphonic Brass and Cathedral Choral…didn’t have a ticket so figured would be stuffed in the bell tower, but while waiting to see if any spots remained, Margaret stepped up to donate her ticket..voila…to me! Ten rows from the front in the center of the nave. Beautiful music in a glorious space…

 

Could GW imagine any of what we have achieved? Or what we have yet in front us? We cannot legislate race acceptance…but we can address more seriously – and with honest intentionality – color-blind education of a depth and quality that gives us all the ability to imagine our lives more fully.

 

Bus X8 from Union Station heading home after dinner in Georgetown at Miss Saigon…exceptional Pho…actually, quite ‘pho-bulous’! And no, I don’t take photos in restaurants. Heads up…don’t depend on Ms Google in Georgetown. ..had to ask several dentally-spectacular persons (no camouflage here) for guidance…I’m taking bread crumbs next time.

 

Selecting breakfast and dinner for the day at the H Street Fresh Farm Market…a program that brings affordable organics to the inner city. Folks on survival subsidies can use their WIC and stamps at these markets around the city instead of paying exorbitant prices (even too high for me! Ex: $2.36 for an apple – 1 apple) in the gentrifying neighborhoods.
The program also teaches nutrition and how to shop wisely…check them out…www.freshmarkets.org

 

A bit of editing…exchange 1994 with 2014, Newt with Mitch and voila! Einstein and Reimann were correct…time is not linear!

 

Life is ALL about how you handle Plan B…and on this trip crossing America from coast to coast, we even had to delve into Plan C on occasion thanks to Ms. G (the lovely voice of Google Maps) who refused to let me travel by state highways, but continually put me on County roads. One such byway in northern Mississippi, #121
ended up in a single lane dirt road at around 10pm where my attempts to turn the RV ended with it being high-centered across the lane… Within twenty minutes, a well-used Chevy pulled up, the window rolled down and a dentally-challenged, camo-clad country boy said, “Ma’am, you gotta a problem thar, I gotta chayen (chain).” Whereby he and his passenger jumped out, hooked up the chain and pulled me free, pointing down the lane to a large area to turn around. They were unable to tell me how to get back to the Hwy 78 – they had never heard of it – but when I told them I was headed to Tupelo, they said, “Oh, you mayyen (mean) the four lane…, don’t know how to get choo on that.” Thanks to my impromptu Mississippi AAA crew Kelly and Hank… I’m now in St.Pete for a few days of sun and sand and fishinbg, before heading back into winter … DC here we come!

 

The Little Island that Could

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

 

Winter 2008

The big-bellied moon hangs just above the eastern horizon turning the world to tones of   lead and pewter. The Caribbean – 2000’ below my aerie here on the cliffs of Saba- is unpolished silver plate tarnished by cloud shadow and misty rain veils off to the south. Stars – as well as Venus and Jupiter- are playing hide and seek as the moon- lit clouds scud to the west.  The breeze for once is just that – a breeze, not the gale force blows that have been rocking my home for the past few weeks. The locals call these not so gentle trade winds ‘Christmas Winds’ and look forward to their arrival as a sure sign that the ‘season’ is about to begin.

I’ve been here for a month now, winter chef-in-residence for a resort not much bigger than the Horse, and I’m still sane. My first attempt at Caribbean island life in 1978 ended after only two weeks with what was diagnosed as ‘rock fever’ – a mental aberration arising from the need to take a long drive while stuck in the middle of an ocean on a piece of dirt that takes about 25 minutes to circumnavigate – on foot. The only cure for rock fever which manifests at its worst in uncontrollable shaking, sweating and inability to breathe (picture severe claustrophobia) is to get your butt on the first outgoing plane, preferably landing in Kansas.

But such is not the case on this adventure to Saba. Admittedly, there have been a few hours here and there where the heart beat increased and the breathing shallowed, but it was quickly overcome by picking up a hiking stick and heading for a mountain, and what a mountains we have  here on this unknown little island gem.

Until now I considered the hike up to Rumble Lake to be my benchmark for difficulty by which all other hikes were rated. For all of Saba’s demure size – she’s only 5 square miles – she offers up some of the most challenging vertical I’ve encountered including a few that put Rumble Lake in the ‘Sunday afternoon stroll’ category. And what views! Elfin woodland complete with banana palms and blooming epiphytes, savanna gardens of euphorbia and night blooming cacti, cloud forests of mahogany, and of course, the brilliant blue Caribbean in every direction.

There are three reasons to come to Saba, the little sister of her more popular siblings – St. Maarten and St. Barths – which lie just a few miles off towards the northeastern horizon. The first, and most popular reason, is world class scuba diving in the marine sanctuary that encircles the island. The second reason is the hiking, and the third is (excuse me while I slip into something a little Buddhist) nothing.  Overly simplified, the goal of Buddhism is to reach nirvana or the state of nothingness – but to the Eastern mind, as well as here on Saba, nothing is everything.

Unlike her glam’ sisters, Saba boasts no resorts, no casinos, no giant piers for cruise ships, no discos, and as result of all this lack, very little crime and no animus. There are only three ways to get here – flying WinAir, or by ferry on the Dawn II or the Edge, from St. Maarten. Even on a busy day with all three transports at capacity, less than 100 visitors will arrive on island and the majority of those will be day trippers from St. Maarten.

Where many of the islands in the Caribbean Basin are becoming Tommy Ba-homogenized with influxes of up to 16,000 tourists a day coming off a dozen or more cruise ships, it becomes clear how Saba has retained her non-McDonald’s culture –  she is a fortress island welcoming only those strong enough and patient enough to uncover the charms hidden beyond her ship-devouring cliffs.

And her charms are many.

Imagine a five square mile patch of Montana’s Mission Mountains floating in an 82 degree cobalt blue sea, cooled by 78 degree trade winds, populated with 1400 or so people who all know one another and many of whom are related to each other claiming continued family land ownership back 400 years or more. Toss in the endless smiles and warm welcomes, and add a large dose of pride in one’s homeland and as a visitor you get something unheard of on other islands – reality.

It’s coming on 5am and the moon has coursed her way to the west. This has become my favorite time of day. With a steaming cup of Santo Domingo coffee cut with heavy French cream (one has to keep up one’s strength to hike you understand!), I head for the pool deck, positioning my chaise to face due east. Orion has followed the moon and fades as the sky begins to lighten. The sun won’t make an appearance for another hour but the coming sky show is always spectacular.

At this altitude, I am at eye-level with the Spanish galleon clouds that rise another thousand feet into the paling sky. They fly by me like a time-shortened OmniMax film turning from pearl grey, to mauve to rosy pink, and then suddenly to flaming orange and gold as the sun hurls itself out of the ocean just north of St. Eustacia. On this particular morning, my neighboring islands are sharply etched, their volcanic outlines arcing gracefully to the south east – St. Eustacia, St. Kitts, St. Nevis, and volatile Montserrat.

As if on cue from an unseen conductor, the night symphony – a Phillip Glass-esque atonal celebration of nature – of tree frogs, crickets, night birds and bats goes silent.  Swan Lake, even in high summer, cannot compete with night sounds of Saba. My first nights were fitful.  Between the cacophonies of little creatures looking for mates, the high electric chatter of several species of bats, night birds on the hunt and the constant soughing of the wind coming up over the cliffs and curling around the buildings, deep sleep was not to be found.  But on the fifth night, it was as if the Bose Acoustic Wave was switched off…my brain had finally processed a new set of parameters for ambient noise and silence ruled.

With the morning coffee ritual complete, guests fed and on their way to some island adventure, it is now time for me to seek out some adventure of my own. Putting on my hiking boots and sunscreen, I flip on my Ipod and to the strains of Emmy Lou I head down my side of the mountain called Booby Hill to the village of Windwardside and the Trail Shop.

All of Saba not privately owned is part of the Saba Conservation Foundation, a non-profit group that maintains both terra and aquatic trails on and around the island. The Trail Shop, once the home of Saba’s first environmentalist, Edward S. Arnold, is the first place to stop before heading off to explore. As small as she is, Saba can put up a tough front and helicopter rescues of hikers finding themselves clinging to a cliff face they had no intention of climbing occur often enough to warrant checking in with Ranger ‘Crocodile’ Jim Johnson to get the scoop on trail conditions and to pick up a map, whistle and walking stick.

After chatting with Jim and the Trail Shop manager, Evelyn, I’m off to Spring Bay. Emmy Lou gets replaced with Ceza, a Romanian rap artist compliments of the young men who worked for me last summer at the lodge. More melodic than American rap, it offers a great beat to really stretch out the legs and get warmed up as I push through the hobbit streets of Windwardside and on to English Quarter and the trail head.

The trail is well signed and within minutes I’m heading downhill through a dense ravine of elfin rainforest populated by dwarf palms, mahogany and many flowering vines. The trail is in good condition, but steep, rocky and criss-crossed with roots so attention must be paid to foot placement – and paying attention is a real challenge when all I want to do is gape at the view teasing me from each switch back as I descend.

After 15 minutes or so, the trees fall away to an open ridge of low barrel cactus and tropical shrubs. If you look closely into the boulder-strewn trail side, you’ll see miniature orchids and other flowers clinging to the undersides out of the constant breeze funneling up from Spring Bay, which is now laid out below me – a perfect horseshoe of deep azure blending to a vibrant green and finally to a luminescent foam of white where the sea meets the rocky shoreline.

I’m only a third of the way down, working my way along the ridgeline with a deep gut to my right that during torrential hurricane rains must look like the Swan’s Wild Mile at spring flood. It is dry now – there are no natural streams on the island, in fact, no water table to speak of and residents must rely on rain-catch cisterns.

As I get closer to sea level, the temperature rises. Before the final descent down to the beach, I stop and turn to face the interior. Mt. Scenery looms above me, its cloud forest peak shrouded in mist, while the cottages of English Quarter appear as squares of Saba lace, flung bright white against the lush green mountain backdrop.

The last hundred yards or so of the trail is in the bottom of the ravine and it is a testament to the power of rushing water when I pass loose boulders the size of Volkswagens and carcasses of large palms and mahoganies ripped from the forest high behind me.

At last I am on the beach, and I use the term loosely as there is little sand. Spring Bay faces northeast and takes the brunt of the Atlantic Ocean weather. The surf line which looked like a delicate ribbon from the ridge is actually an 8’ break, the sound deafening as the water moves large rocks and broken corals back and forth. Sitting on a Hummer-sized rock, drinking the last of my water, I contemplate how one might breach the surf and access the calm clear water which beckons 20 yards out. The diving out there must be incredible, but after several minutes of observation, I admit to myself that my days of immortality are long gone and the girl that would have willingly defied commonsense has been replaced with a woman who can afford to rent a boat.

I spend an hour poking about through the flotsam and jetsam (gotta love those two words!) and imagining the stories behind the skeleton of a fishing boat, a piece of a kayak and other oddities. The breeze begins to abate and the temperature begins to rise as noon approaches. It’s time to head up to Kelby Ridge on the northern side of the bay and out to Hellsgate – the early settlers to Saba were quite practical when they made their place names: The Bottom is at the bottom, Windwardside is on the windward side and quite windy, English Quarter was for the ex-pats, and Hellsgate which feels hotter than Hades today.

As I begin the steep ascent the sweat moves beyond a trickle and I wish I had another liter of water. The only shade on this part of the trail comes in two scrawny, wind-whipped trees at one of the switch backs. I make myself small as possible to get out of the now serious sun and take a few minutes to catch my breath; my only company some island goats that eye me warily until I remove myself from their territory.

It’s only a few hundred yards to the ridge line and I push it out, cresting from the semi-arid desert behind me back into lush tropical green dripping with humidity. The trail comes out by the home of the local chicken farmer – his charges clucking out an alarm as I pass. Following a serpentine driveway I am delivered to The Road which connects the world’s smallest commercial airport to the rest of Saba and civilization.

I’ve been out four hours, descended and ascended over 2200’, moved through four different microclimates and covered less than three miles and every step was if not breathtaking, darn near close.  I sit in the shade on the side of The Road waiting “for the kindness of strangers” and a lift home, the breeze cooling as the sun slips behind Mt Scenery. It’s been a most excellent day, and even though I suspect I won’t be able to walk tomorrow, it doesn’t matter because instead of walking over Saba I’ll be diving below her…another exceptional day awaits with another exceptional adventure.

Saba, Dutch West Indies