Friday, August 22, 2014

Venice, 08-12-14


A stern word of caution…please write this down: do not visit Venice in August. The crowds are impossible, the heat is stifling, and there is little shade in or around St. Mark’s Square or along the canal adjacent to it…they apparently do not want to block the views.

Having had little sleep and suffering jet-lag most of Monday, Monday night was, alas, miserable. I alternated between freezing and roasting, had an upset stomach, and got up 8-10 times during the night to go to the bathroom.

So Tuesday did not start off on the best of footings, my jet-lag now coupled with lack of even more sleep. And the day got off to an even better start when my camera died. Just died. It was only two years old, but it had had a lot of use. So Gary loaned me his until I could get a new one in St. Mark’s Square. (Later that day, my wireless mouse also died, forcing me to use the “finger pad” feature, which I hate, but am stuck with until I can find another wireless mouse.)

The tour from the ship was from 8:30 to 12, and we were transported by boat the 20 minutes or so to “four bridges from St. Mark’s Square.” We began with a walk through some of the quieter neighborhoods, the guide providing interesting guide-type information on the history of the city, how the buildings are constructed over what was historically a huge marsh (wooden pilings driven into the marsh which, because the water at the marsh bottom has no aeration, do not rot out. 

The closer we got to St. Mark’s Square, the more crowded the narrow streets became until we emerged onto the Square itself and the mobs of tourists. There was a huge line to get into the Basilica but, as part of a tour group, we got in via a separate entrance. We walked on raised platforms since the Square and the buildings surrounding it are given to flooding in the spring and fall. I guess they just leave the platforms up year-round. 

By this time, nearing noon, it was downright hot, and I felt like one of the characters in a zombie movie.

We had the choice of returning to the ship at 12:30, or taking the next return shuttle at 3:30, and to give Gary a chance to see more of the city, we opted for the latter. I’d hoped we might ascend to the top of St. Mark’s bell tower, as I’d done my last trip, but there was an endless line waiting, and we decided against it, instead setting off with no particular destination in mind, just roaming around the city. The heat was really getting to me, and we looked in vain for somewhere to sit down and have a cup of coffee. (Benches and places to just sit are extremely rare in Venice, I soon discovered. We finally found a small piazza with a tented restaurant where we could and did sit. I had a tonic water while Gary had a sizable lunch.

We then headed out to find the Ponte Rialto, the main bridge over the Grand Canal and took a vaporatto from there back to St. Mark’s Square. We were about an hour early, but decided to get closer to the boat landing, so we walked along the waterfront over the “four bridges” our guide had pointed out to us. 

Again, the heat was really getting to me, so we found a spot in an area shaded by a building and…with no seating available anywhere…I just sat down on the ground, leaning against the building. We then moved closer to the boat landing for our shuttle, crossing each of the four bridges and, arriving at the landing area with no seating and no shade, sought refuge in a the shade of a narrow alley, which was lined solidly on both sides by standing tourists also seeking shelter from the sun. Gradually moving to the alley’s entrance we found there was a Venturi effect creating a slight breeze.
Returning, finally, the ship, I walked into our cabin, laid down, and slept for two hours…the longest “nap” I can recall having taken.

A note: Internet service is only available while we are in port or near land, and even then it is spotty at best, and excruciatingly slow compared with the service at home. Trying to download the 50+ photos taken each day to post them to the net, plus the time then needed to go through and captioning each of them is a long, long process, and I’ve not yet determined how to handle it for now, or if I should even try, perhaps waiting to post them until I get home? We shall see.


Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Apologies and Catch-up

At the moment of this writing, I'm in Corfu, Greece, a full week behind in posting this blog of my . In my defense I must say the internet aboard ship is spotty at best and agonizingly slow when available. I will do my best to catch up a.s.a.p. and hope you'll accept my apologies

So, let's start off with the first entry of Sunday, August 10:

6:01 p.m. Chicago time, Left right on time. The usual endless wait at check in, though going through security was relatively easy. I’d brought along a couple of quart-sized ziploc bags to put everything in before hand to save the time of rummaging through my pocket while standing over the tray. Left the kleenex in my pockets. Passed through the “arms-over-your-head” scanner, guard stopped me, told me to empty my pockets. Apparently Kleenex shows up on the scanner. Who knew.

The plane is jammed…except for the seat next to me, which is empty. I will be able to lie down after awhile and told Gary we could switch seats if he wanted to lie down for a bit. We shall see.

Left from the International Terminal for, I think, the first time. It’s so far away from the main body of the airport I’m sure I would have remembered. Stopped for coffee ($3.79 for a small). I had two sips. When I sip coffee, it settles in the front of my mouth, and I’m unable to pull it to the back to swallow it. So I end up drooling it into a napkin. (All together, now: “Poooor Dorien or Roger whoever I am at the moment.

They finally brought earphones around. A couple of movies I wouldn’t mind watching, so will close this for the time being and go find a bathroom.

5:59 a.m. Monday Chicago time 11:59 Venice time. Waiting to board ship. All went relatively smoothly from the last entry to this. A 7 1/2 hour flight from Chicago to Paris’ Charles DeGaul airport, a 1 1/2 hour layover in Paris, then the plane to Venice. (I love Venice’s Marco Polo airport….the perfect size. Only two baggage carousels.) And whereas we had full body scans and “everything into the trays” scrutiny in Chicago, on arrival in Paris, and before getting on the connecting flight (where we might have acquired bombs or other disruptive items in the hour and a half, and without leaving the airport, I have no idea. And then, when we arrived in Venice, nothing! No customs, no passport stamping, just pick up our bags and go.

As I expected, I found it Impossible to sleep on the flight to Paris; I just can’t sleep sitting up…though I did manage to doze much of the 1 1/2 hours between Paris and Venice. Only 4 people from our flight…a woman from New Zealand and one from Australia…I’d thought there’d be more. Can’t board the ship until 2:00, which leaves some time to jot down these notes. A beautiful, sunny day…omen of the weather to come, I sincerely hope.

There’s one of those gigantic Costa Behemoths in port, about the same size as the capsized Costa Concordia. I have yet to figure out why anyone would want to sail on one of those things. They’re just moving cities on water, and if I want to be cheek-to-jowl with 6,000 other people, I’d just put a folding chair on Michigan Avenue.

Well, enough for the moment.

A word on the MV (“Motor Vessel”) Aegean Odyssey and its owners/managers. Voyages to Antiquity is a one-ship operation, unusual in itself and the staff and crew are exemplary in their courtesy and service. But as in all good service businesses, it’s the little extras that make the difference. This is my second trip with them, and they went out of their way to show their appreciation. When I got into the cabin, there was not only a thank you note, but a very nice carry-bag. No fewer than half a dozen crew members made a point to say “Welcome back” or “Nice to see you again,” which both surprised and pleased me (though the fact is that once having seen me, it’s not surprising that they mifff.,….natural to remember me physically if for no other reason. Cruises are expensive, granted, but they allow “common folk” like me to indulge themselves for a pleasant if very brief while. 


Got quite a few photos so far…most of good looking young men at the various airports. I don’t think I’ll be able to include any photos with this first post, but I might try to pick one just as an accompaniment. 

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Running

The “Flight or Fight” reflex is one of the basic human survival techniques. But “Fight or Flight” refers primarily to external threats, and there are many traumatic situations in life where the problem is internal and emotional, and “fight” is simply not an option. I’ve had several of these events in my life, and learned each time that while “flight” is indeed often an option, it is seldom a good one. 

I've done major-league running away twice in my life, the first shortly after I turned 30 and ran from Chicago to Los Angeles like a citizen of Pompeii fleeing the eruption—the ash fall in this case being shattered pieces of my psyche. You would think after that experience, I'd have learned my lesson and not repeated it. But there is no rationalizing with a devastated mind and heart.

I did not handle turning 30 well. I'd been in a relationship for several years by that time, but while I am a firm believer in monogamy, it didn't work out that way. Norm, my partner, traveled a great deal, sometimes gone two to three weeks out of a month. And, when I learned the hard way that he was not monogamous while away, I began to stray myself. It reached the point where I couldn't handle the duplicity, or live up to my own moral standards. I broke up with Norm, which hurt him deeply and emotionally devastated me, adding mountains of guilt to my other problems. Finally, I determined that the only way out of the labyrinth was to pick up the pieces of me and get as far away from the situation as I could.

Of course I soon learned, after having done so, the very simple fact that no matter where you go, there you are. And if the problems are within yourself, there's no way to get away from them.

So I spent several years with rolls of Scotch tape and Elmer's Glue putting the pieces of me back together, stumbling through various relationships, always hoping that the next one would be Mr. Right. He never was.

The death of my mother in September of 1970 (1970?? Was there ever such a year as 1970?) was, as I'm sure you can appreciate, one of the worst times of my life. It was as if I had mentally stepped on a land mine. I quit my job, bought a  21-foot Winnebago motor home, and took off in a futile attempt to run away from reality. I was coincidentally in a disastrous relationship at the same time as she was dying, but her illness prevented me from having the time to deal with it. So my buying the Winnebago and taking off was undoubtedly also partly to distance myself from the relationship as well. And, of course, it didn't work.

Thinking on the subject now I suppose there was a third running away, though of a different sort. With the Grim Reaper striding through the gay community in Los Angeles, cutting down friends and acquaintances with a terrifying relentlessness, I began to realize that I could well be next. I was still in a several-year on-again, off-again relationship with Ray—thanks to his alcoholism— but in the off-again periods I'd be out there in the bars. It occurred to me that to run from Los Angeles might be a good idea. If I could take Ray somewhere far, far away from the bar scene, perhaps he could stop drinking. And since I would have no need to look for...well, you know...elsewhere, we might actually find the kind of life I wanted so badly for the both of us.

I think you know me well enough by now to see this as yet another classic example of my refusal to acknowledge the existence of reality. But I sold my home in L.A., moved to Pence, Wisconsin—which could have a mileage marker just outside of town saying "Pence, 2 miles. End of the Earth, 1 mile”—and the rest you can fairly well guess. I brought Ray with me to Pence and we came, when he was sober, as close to the idyllic life as I had hoped for. But he could never stay sober for more than three months, and got in trouble with the law. A judge gave him the choice of returning to L.A. or going to jail. He reluctantly chose to return to L.A. where, within two years, he was dead of AIDS.

Life is not fair. Where we get the idea that it should be is a mystery. Life simply is, and we deal with it the best we can. One thing we cannot do is run from it.


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

Monday, August 04, 2014

"It was the best of times,..."

I’ve always taken little-boy delight in sharing things which give me great pleasure, in the hopeful if perhaps incorrect expectation that others will enjoy them, too.

But I note that as I grow older, it’s more and more difficult to directly share things and memories, simply because they are further and further removed from the world of the present, and more and more people are too young to be aware of them.

Yesterday, I was thinking of Jacques Brel and his music, and the delight I take from it. Brel was born in 1929 and died in 1978 of lung cancer from a lifetime of smoking. He was a strikingly handsome man, and his music ran from delightfully frivolous (“Madelaine”) to intense and disturbing (“Carousel”), but the messages in them were always powerful. For those who aren’t familiar with him, there are several clips on YouTube; but for perhaps one of the best overviews, I’d strongly recommend the recording Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. It’s worth the investment. (A clip from the stage version of one of my favorite of his songs, can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdSXpC8fbNA)

And from Jacques Brel, my mind moved on to thinking of how much of the world of my past—all the marvelously talented entertainers who were part of it—have all but gone from the public conscience: I started to make a list but had to stop because of the sheer number of them.

Let’s just take one small example: while I don’t think it’s quite true that a love of Broadway musicals is a requirement for being gay, I almost ache to remember the marvelous shows and performers I’ve been privileged to see, from Rosalind Russell in Wonderful Town, Ethel Merman in Gypsy, to Philip Anglim in The Elephant Man; Eartha Kitt, Paul Lynde, Carol Lawrence and so many others who went on to become stars on their own, in New Faces of 1952; the delightful Boy Meets Boy, the first gay musical I ever saw (and saw four or five times); again, far too many to enumerate.

The experiences of having lived through the greatest war in the history of the planet, WWII, are totally lost on those who were not yet born at the time. Kate Smith and the songs of the war; president Franklin D. Roosevelt; the day to day experiences of the war itself…war bonds and ration stamps and the pervasive and frightening uncertainty of how it would all end…all now just grainy film footage and words in a textbook.

Radio programs from before the war until the advent of television, required a vital element not needed when watching TV…imagination. So much a part of an entire nation’s common and shared experience while sitting at home listening to the radio—soap operas, Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly, Bob Hope, Fred Allen, Inner Sanctum, The Shadow, Jack Armstrong—are not only gone forever but almost impossible for those under 70 to fully comprehend.

Big band music—Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey; the war songs like “When the Lights Go On Again,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer” and on and on and on—has all but vanished from today’s national memory

The patriotic music which bound us all together, to which we could not listen without a sense of pride in being Americans—“This is My Country,” “America the Beautiful,” “This Land is My Land—have all but been stilled by our startling plunge into national dysfunction and political bickering and mean-spiritedness.

I am of course fully aware that the things I remember and wish I could share with you were from an imperfect time. We tend, when looking back, to focus on the good, the things that pleased us, the things in which we could take pride, and we shove many of the very real and deeply serious problems—racism and homophobia among them—to one side, like shoving things under the bed when company comes over.

But that should and does not detract from the happiness and pleasure of those things we choose to remember fondly.

I truly wish it were possible for you and I to go back to share (and for me, to relive) these moments and experiences which meant so very much to me and made me whoever it is that I am.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Conversation with My Muse

You rang?

Yes! I just realized I've got to do a blog for tomorrow.

Relax. No hurry. You've got all day.

Oh, yeah. We know how that goes. I get up at 6 a.m., have a cup of coffee, pet the cat, and the next thing I know the late-night local news is on. And I still haven't done a blog.

So, write one.

That's why I called. You're my muse. What should I write about?

Whatever you've been writing blogs about for the last…what?…six years, now?

Yeah, well that's sort of the problem. I’ve written about just about everything already. I'm getting mind-freeze. I need a new one, but I can't figure out a subject to write one on.

You mean you "can't figure out on what subject to write."

Oh, great! You who couldn't pick a transitive verb out of a pile of predicate nominatives are giving me English lessons?

Could YOU pick a transitive verb out of a pile of predicate nominatives?

No, but that's not the point. Read my lips: I need to write a blog for tomorrow.

Childhood memories?

Done that. Lots.

How about jobs you've held?

Ditto.

Pets? Family? Friends? Past loves? What you had for breakfast?

Been there. Done that.

How about a nice, projectile-vomiting rant against something that ticks you off? You never seem to run out of ideas for those.

True, but I do way too many of those as it is.

Kittens? Puppies? Bunny rabbits?

Uh, not today. I'm in a hurry.

How about a blog on why you never hear about male muses? It’s sexism, pure and simple!

Good point, but would probably require more research than I’ve time for right now.

Okay, how about this conversation?

Nah. The reader'd never buy it. I'll just have to keep on thinking.

Okay. While you're doing that, I'll go have a beer.

Gee, yeah, you do that. Sorry to have bothered you!

Hey, no problem. I do what I can.

*****

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

Monday, July 28, 2014

Mr. In-Between

You're probably much too young to remember one of the top songs from 1944, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's "Accentuate the Positive," but my mind's radio was playing it when I woke up this morning. (You've got to Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate-the Pos-i-tive, E-lim-I-nate the neg-a-tive; Latch on to the affirm-a-tive—don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.)

Like dreams, which are the mind's way of dealing with things that went on the previous day, I suspect my mental radio chose this particular song in response to a comment a friend made the other day. He said that a mutual friend had largely stopped reading my blogs because they tended to be pretty much negative, and I had to admit he had a point.

Why do I bitch and moan and complain and grumble so much here? I mean, I honestly consider myself to be a pretty positive guy. I like puppies and kittens and small children. (Aha! And the moment I wrote that sentence, I heard my mind add "until the bigots and hate mongers get to them." Maybe I am a little too negative.)

I know it's probably difficult for other people to understand—and obviously difficult for me to convey—how I can let negativity carry me away as often as it does. I wish it were easier for me to explain why: that it is simply because I believe so strongly in good and positive things that those things which are not good and positive...those things that are not as I so want them to be...bother me far more than they should. I simply cannot comprehend how easy it seems to be for so many people to totally ignore common courtesy, or respect for the rights and beliefs of others; how they can blithely deny others all the things which they expect or demand for themselves. And that frustrates and angers me.

It is  one of the wonders of our species that we are able to conceive, mentally, what we are incapable of executing physically. I'm not talking just about physical science here--we can conceive the idea of levitation without being able to achieve it, for example--but also about ideals. I have just talked about respecting the rights of others to believe what they choose to believe, and I firmly believe it. But that doesn't mean I don't hold people like Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Mitch McConnell, Michele Bachmann, and the legions of other garbage-spewers and hate mongers in utter and total contempt. Yeah, they've got a right to be unmitigated assholes, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. And I don't.

There is a great difference between saying, "Here's what I believe and why I believe it, and I hope you might consider it, too," and "Here's what I believe, and you'd damned well better believe it, too, or I'll do my best to make your life a living hell." One of the reasons I most vehemently object to people like Messrs. Cruz and McConnell, Ms. Palin, and their totally negative ilk is their total refusal to even consider the possibility of compromise, to acknowledge that views other than their own might conceivably have some merit.

I truly, deeply, and sincerely believe that if everyone saw things the way I see them, the world would be a much better place. But it amazes me...who chooses to largely ignore those aspects of reality I do not like...to realize that the negativists and naysayers are even more dismissive of reality than I. I'd love for you to think the way I do, and for you to seriously consider my suggestions, but I do not demand it as the “No to Everything!” crowd do, and I do not assume the right to tell you what to do or believe. They do. 

So I find myself painted into yet another corner between what I want to be and what is. While I so desperately would like to always "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate-the Pos-i-tive,”  and "E-lim-I-nate the neg-a-tive;”  and while I truly do try to  "Latch on to the affirmative," I'm afraid the reality is that we're pretty much stuck with Mr. In-Between.  

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).


Thursday, July 24, 2014

On Memories

The further one is from the source of a memory, the more likely time is to alter and rearrange things, rather like a well-meaning mental housekeeper who thinks the couch would look better over there. Most people never even realize that what they’re sure happened at a certain time in a certain place in fact did not. But because I have so much of my life laid out in the form of letters and other non-fiction writing over the years, I often running across incontrovertible evidence that what I was sure I remember clearly simply either didn’t happen that way, or didn’t happen at all. This is not pleasant, and it most certainly is not reassuring.

One of my strong memories from my Navy days was of being in Genoa, Italy, on the day that the Italian liner, Andrea Doria, set sail on her final voyage in July of 1956. I clearly remember looking up as our liberty boat passed under her stern, and wondering...rather precentially how anything so huge could possibly ever sink. (Surely, I thought, the bottom of the ship would hit the bottom of the ocean before the water ever reached the superstructure.)  It was a story I told many times and believed with all my heart and soul.

But on re-reading the letters I wrote my folks from our several times in Genoa, I find no mention of the fact and, on checking to see when the Andria Doria last left Genoa, found the ship I myself was on, the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga, had been nowhere near Genoa at the time.  On reflection, the liner may have been the American liner, Constitution, which I do mention in a letter. Odd how the mind works.

Memory’s malleability can also be seen in the fact that, depending on the emotional makeup of the individual, our recollections of past events are tend to either enhance the pleasant memories or intensify the bad. I now look back on my days in the Navy with far more fondness than my letters…and a closer  look at reality…warrant. But I suspect that is simply because we are too busy living in the present to see its true impact on our lives with the perspective time provides.

How many times have we heard the caveat to live (and appreciate) every day as if it were our last? And how often, on hearing it, do we realize the validity of the advice only to have in almost instantly buried by the minute-by-minute demands of our lives. And though we may fully agree on the value and importance of letting those people in our lives know how we feel about them, we do not do so out of fear of seeming “odd.” 

We seldom think, in the “now”, of how much we might some day want to remember how the events of our lives truly unfolded. Diaries and journals are the surest way of making sure that future memories will be accurate, but few of us keep them.  In lieu of those, I have a few suggestions: take more photographs, even of things which do not seem at all important to us now. And with every photograph be sure to write down as much information about it as you can: date, location, the people shown. Of course we know all about them as the photo is taken, but again, the years will blur the details.  

As with good wine, and anything at all collectible, memories age and mellow with the passage of time, and become more ever more precious as we reach the point in life where so many of the people who form the foundations of our lives are no longer there, and all we have of them are memories. Always remember that today is tomorrow’s memory, and do whatever you can to preserve as much of it as you can.


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).