Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Autumn Leaves...Drifted to the Ground Already

Lyrics to Sinatra song "Autumn Leaves" (for the benefit of those born in the last half century):
The falling leaves drift by my window, the falling leaves of red and gold.
I almost missed the chance to photograph the autumn leaves! They are no longer drifting past the windows; they have carpeted the ground and are awaiting the next frost. The trees shown above displayed their true colors at Holiday Hill Marina in Edgewater, MD, in late October.
I left you last, dear readers, at the St. Michaels Marina. Four of us--Captain Pope, First Mate Amber, Second Mate Henry (Pope's brother), and Third Mate John--sailed across Chesapeake Bay on Echo II to attend the annual Oysterfest. Pope entered the oyster slurping contest, where ... he got them all in his mouth but didn't win because he didn't get them all the way down his gullet. Too bad; he could have competed in the nationals.
Oysters were not the only attraction. The lanes of St. Michael's were bursting with oranges and golds, contrasted with whitewashed railings and fences of previous centuries.
After a chilly night onboard, we left the historic village behind. The day started blustery and cold and warmed to a pleasant Sunday. I bundled up and enjoyed the sail--the sun came out and the boat didn't heel too badly.

Pope thoroughly enjoyed the sail, because he got to unfurl the new jib sail for which he paid many hundreds of dollars... and it passed its maiden test with flying whites.
Crew members Henry and John, being veterans of the Echo II inexpensive package deals, knew they could get away with loafing around munching crackers and chatting about old times while the captain and first mate unhooked the dock lines, raised the mainsail, steered the boat, prepared lunch, cleaned the galley, manned the VHF, and ... well, you know, the usual boat chores.
We passed other boats, some with colorful spinnakers, also grasping one of the last beautiful sailing weekends. 
Back at our marina in Edgewater, we were treated to another colorful display of unmasked xanthophylls and carotenoids (the pigments in yellow and orange leaves).
Just as leaves transition from season to season, so, too, do our recreations and follies. The following week, Echo II was hauled out for the winter.
The Echo II crew reassembled on dry land, under the glorious yellow maples at the Barrow farm. Joined by the third Barrow brother Jake, who flew in from New Mexico, they shamelessly scarfed down another large batch of Chesapeake Bay oysters, claiming they can never get enough Stingrays and Olde Salts.
Not being much of an oyster connoisseur, I retired to a leafy meadow with some friends and neighbors to play music (one of my favorite retirement pastimes) while waiting for the oysters to run out and the embers to mellow to the ideal marshmallow-roasting stage.
It wasn't long before autumn transitioned into the chilly temperatures of early winter. The house is creaking and I sit next to the radiator, blogging away about nothing more exciting than autumn leaves and oysters. 
Some of you know that I had been planning to regale you with tales of my adventurous drive to Pensacola, Florida, stopping to hike in the Tennessee mountains and to visit a college friend in Asheville, NC. The trip was cancelled by my traveling companions due to that scourge of aging--medical issues. So I remain in DC, ensconced in a heavy sweater, consigned to strumming my guitar, lifting weights at the gym, and writing about the reds and yellows on the ground outside my window.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Landlubbers Are Wimps! Let's Go Sailing

Echo II is on the move again!
Admiral Runaground Pope. First Mate Amber. Returning crew members Henry and John.
Two years since we cast off in Edgewater, Maryland, bound for Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas. This time, a three-day sail across Chesapeake Bay, up Eastern Bay, and Miles River to St. Michaels. 
Clearly, we've come to a place where the dockside merchants understand a sailor's values.
So, first  things first: happy hour on Echo II upon arrival. Met by fellow sailor Mark A. (second from left), an old friend who has gone through a succession of boats and is now...in a car.

And then moving on to the other essentials for a coastal weekend: crab cakes and cole slaw at the Crab Claw. (Pope, Amber, Henry, Mark, John).
Ah, the rewards for enduring a sailing trip (my perspective, not Pope's): dark & stormies (the national drink of Bermuda); gentle breezes; sun on your forehead; autumn leaves on the coast.
And late October sunrise over St. Michaels.
Greeting the day through the front hatch at the tony, expensive St. Michaels Marina. We are splurging for our last autumn sail.

Pope's brother Henry and friend John crossed the Bahamas Bank with us from Nassau to Staniel Cay. yesterday, they crossed the Bay with us. If they behave, we will take them back across.
John, bundled up in his sleeping bag at 42 degrees, expressed a slight preference for 80 degrees in the Bahamas.
Then he shut up, because Pope clearly warned us about the hazards of challenging the skipper about the boat, weather,destination, or other conditions!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Merrie Olde England

After one last lingering view over the sunny olive groves of Umbria, I dug my down jacket and rain poncho out of the bottom of my suitcase, flew to London, and hopped a northbound train. Thus began the third phase of my European venture.

Surprise! It's a delicious green-and-golden autumn here. Crisp air and mist on the moors.

Having friends in Yorkshire induced me to head north instead of waiting in long lines at the usual Tate Modern and Tower of London. Liz Justin was one of my few friends in a tough, working-class high school. Together we graced the high school pool with synchronized swimming routines.   (Yes, just like Esther Williams. We were ahead of our times--now it's an Olympic sport!) We humiliated ourselves in the senior class talent show, wagging our asses to the tune of “How Much is That Doggy in the Window?”

Having briefly reconnected with Liz at the 25-year Hazel Park High School reunion, I longed to visit her new environs in northern England. She had married Ian, a Brit, and followed him to the land of America’s heritage.

A land of ancient furrowed fields; soot-streaked, centuries-old stonework; and walls without mortar. 
Transportation in Yorkshire was easy—Liz and Ian picked me up at the Brighouse station and drove me around. Or should I say, took me on a wild and crazy tour of hairpin turns on one-and-a-half-lane roads.
There was plenty to do, i.e., eating and drinking in pubs with loads of old-English atmosphere. With heavy wooden benches like church pews, brass beer pulls, and names like “The Woolly Sheep," "The Cock and Bottle,” “Old White Beare,” and “The Butcher's Arms.”
They took me to Hepden Bridge--a bohemian enclave of psychics, artists, and lesbians.

They took me to market. Stalls line the streets of Skipton every Saturday morning, offering wares from ceramic bottle stoppers to woolly scarves and Christmas sweaters. Each town boasts a number of “charity shops” selling second-hand goods. I picked up a leather purse for 3 pounds and a pair of “braces” (suspenders) for Pope.
They showed me the live-aboard boats on the English canals—built low and long in order to fit under the ancient arched bridges, outfitted with wood stoves and a chimney pipe for winter warmth.
They put up with my American vagaries, including limiting my consumption to two half-pints of beer a day and ordering sticky toffee pudding after every meal—my new favorite dessert. I exalted in finding sticky toffee pudding "to go" at the outdoor market. Pop in the microwave and swoon.
They didn’t even laugh at my more radical New-World ways, such as wanting to take photos of sheep and phone booths or to walk off some calories after a heavy meal. Or asking for a cookie instead of a "biscuit." (After all, Liz was a newcomer herself less than 10 years ago.)
In turn, I put up with some odd English quirks: puzzling signs, driving on the wrong side of the road, soap in the shape of cupcakes.

Not to mention that totally unsanitary and old-fashioned habit of allowing pets in pubs! Why, it's no better than being in France!





Saturday, October 10, 2015

Unwinding in the Heart of Italy

Who can stay stressed in a small town in Italy? There's nothing to do, nowhere to go. No clocks, no calendars.
In Panicale, you can walk anywhere in five minutes. The medieval fortified town is perched high on a hill. The lanes are steep. 
Our apartment is just beyond the main square, up the hill and under the archway.
The town is quiet in the off-season. Population 500. Everyone knows each other, and many are related. Finding our rental agent was easy--just ask the local bar man, who happens to be her uncle.

Mind your p's and q's or you'll set fingers wagging. Mouths pursed in vigorous protest. Italians love to berate you when youve broken the rules--such as accidentally getting stuck in a bus lane in your rental car, or exiting a museum through a group-tours-only gate.

Then they tell their neighbors--a man on the street, an old woman strolling by, or the driver in the next car. Much gesticulating in your direction. Then it's back to peace and calm and an outdoor table.

Weather is perfect. Days are leisurely, starting with espresso at Aldo's bar and morphing into prosecco at Lillo's.
Come for the pasta at Masolino's (here, tagliatelle with truffles and fresh porcini). Stay for the views from the town wall.
Side trip to Assissi to the massive, elaborately decorated basilica ironically erected in honor of the simple ascetic St. Francis.

He loved all creatures and left us a legacy of gentleness, simplicity and grace. And a series of frescoes by esteemed artists, depicting his life.

Raining and chilly on your Italian vacation? No problemo. Ponchos, umbrellas and delectable, hot, liquid chocolate. The sun will come out tomorrow.

Decorating the coffee shop: 6-year-old with a mohawk playing arcade games.
Ah, the simple pleasures of Umbria.