Our Nordic Odyssey

I get it. Trip reports are of little interest. Travel is a large experience that is mostly internal and cumbersome to communicate. I find the process of review and reflection, of selection and summary adds personal value to my trips. For a short visual view/photos try this link. (YouTube Slideshow)

IMG_7673This was one of our longer trips. SAM had visited the Scandinavian countries, I had not. We were on a guided tour with 38 other seniors from Canada, Australia, and the USA.  Our tour director was a knowledgeable and resourceful Brit with over 30-years experience. We traveled through six countries covering over 2500 miles on bus, train, plane, and boat with miles of walking, staring and laughter in between.

IMG_7677Time of year was late July through early August. This was fortunate – shirt sleeve with occasional sweaters and two times with hooded heavy weather gear (provided.) I had a chance to experience the region’s long days and to see that at 2 AM it was just like early morning light outside . The hotels have very heavy window curtains. Back in the US, the Democratic national convention was a third-tier BBC story on the local TV. Everywhere people were laughing and shaking their heads about Trump.

IMG_7684Scandinavia is an easy and pleasant region to visit. In aggregate, the cities were very clean and friendly. English is widely spoken; good food, exciting landscapes with steep angles, vast forests, deep cold waters and plentiful wildlife.

We also visited Tallinn, Estonia – a day trip via a two hour ferry ride from Helsinki, Finland – a gem of a historic European city I’d never heard of in the Balkans.

IMG_7678The fiords of Norway are wide and the waters relatively calm. The surrounding mountains are steep and dark with frequent roaring white streams from melting snow above. Dramatic scenery.

Getting to North Cape, Norway (71°10′) the northernmost point in Europe was a long distance but well worth the views of the tundra. It was a unique opportunity to encounter Laplanders and their way of life above the Arctic Circle. The endless forests of pine and birch grow shorter and finally give way to moss-covered rock, scrub bushes and streams connecting icy lakes. Reindeer are plentiful and seem quite tame. The culture of the inhabitants in Lapland is nourished but being squeezed by development and technology. We visited sled-dog and reindeer farms and I had a taste of reindeer heart.

Thagarhe Vikings. Alas Hagar, some of what I pictured and understood is myth. The time of the Vikings (roughly 800-1050 CE) was one of naval exploration and exploitation. Then they learned written language and joined the European populations. Gradually they evolved into a more peaceful and commercially successful society.

IMG_7680The cleanliness and social structure in modern Scandinavia was quite attractive. Today Scandinavians are both wealthy and heavily taxed. Taxes are used mostly to enrich the lives and futures of their citizens (education, health care and social services) and to maintain their infrastructure. For me, a compelling model. Lemmings were not seen, but I have dealt with them and the big myth elsewhere. Trolls were everywhere, but mostly as refrigerator magnets.

Russia (the parts that were shown to us) seems to me to be very concerned with, and proud of, their royalist czarist era. There are lots of rules and numbers. Uniforms were a bit overdone and entrepreneurial energies (hands out) were frequently seen. The old capital of St. Petersburg and home of Catherine the Great is bursting with palaces and cathedrals so lavishly rich and ornate they could have spurred a revolution.

IMG_7681On our two-hour canal boat tour around Saint Petersburg, a young man ran alongside our boat. At each crossing bridge he stopped above us waving with great enthusiasm. He never stopped. Gradually word spread and he attracted a following among our group in spite of the tour’s distractions of a music show, food and vodka shots. At the end of our ride our runner collected quite a few tips as we disembarked. He turned out to be a 13-year-old boy. Wonderful spirit.

IMG_7682We met and enjoyed the company of folks from around the world. I especially enjoyed the humor of our Aussies. They tolerated my Crocodile Dundee knife jokes and taught me a few new words like “mozzies.”

When one of them good-naturedly dubbed me a “cheeky bugger” my heart was glad.

“So it goes…” (K. Vonnegut)

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Treasure Indeed

Since moving to Asheville 9 years ago, UNCA OLLI has been a happy feature of my life. The best part is the folks I’ve met, sharing their rich worlds of experience, knowledge and wisdom.  If you are fortunate enough to be still healthy and mindful at my age you may be aware there is great treasure in the lives of some of our elders.  OLLI offers a rich curriculum of courses, workshops and social events.  High among them have been classes led by pal Tom Sanders.

Tom was honored today as one of Asheville’s Living Treasures.  From the press release… Thomas Sanders, 83, was born and raised in West Asheville. He taught religious studies at Brown University. Through Brown, an American studies group led him to South America. An expert on South America, he speaks Spanish (and multiple other languages, including Turkish). His religious studies background has taken him to many parts of the world including the Middle East. Thomas has always been active in civil rights and freedom of speech causes. After retiring from academia, he returned to Asheville and helped build the foundation for the College for Seniors program at UNCA – then called the North Carolina Center for Creative retirement, now Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. He loves teaching; as a volunteer at OLLI his classes span periods of history including the Scottish enlightenment, Fascism, Nazism, the French Revolution, U.S. colonial history and the Civil War.

Tom, as many of you know, is also a great hiker and has trekked the El Camino in Spain and the Mountains-to-Sea trail closer to home.  Best of all he partners with fabulous friend Mary Lasher (featured here in this Journal.)  On the occasion of his award, I was inspired to create a small illustration of Tom naked.  That was fun.

TreasTom600

 

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Another Story

peanuts

My stories are not deep (as you probably know,)  sort of like a handful of raw unsalted peanuts – a bit novel, unsatisfying, and leaves you wanting less.  But, I keep trying.

So here’s a link to a very short (flash-size) story about lemmings.

But wait!  After my story was presented in my flash fiction class and received some positive comments, I posted it here.  Within 24 hours I was contacted by Netflix wanting to adapt it for a new Marvel series.  They wanted to me to change the location to Hell’s Kitchen and have Bjorn wear a mask,  I’m thinking about it.  Advice?

So, in the mean time, and in case Amazon is following this, here’s a link to another true story about critters in my hood.  Jeff Bezos has my number.

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Send out the clowns

I took a wonderful course in “Clowning” a few years ago.  Two things I remember: When you’re in costume you are more comfortable saying outrageous things or being just plain silly, and that about one-in-seven people are actually terrified by clowns.  

ALERT!  Political views ahead.  Author is a cynical progressive who sees greed and stupidity on all sides.

Since The Donald (T-Rump) joined the GOP Presidential race last June, I figured he’d just be an amusing side show and would quickly fade.  I underestimated the raw anger levels among many citizens and the incredibly weak field of candidates that the fractured GOP would put forward after Romney.  I’ve watched all of the debates and marveled at the lack of serious policy discussion and civil decorum.  I’ve been fascinated (and now alarmed) by The Donald’s apparent popularity. His statements and insults have been given wide free publicity by our media – heightening his credibility with the public.  Bad journalism.

Drawing a caricature/cartoon of The Donald is so easy anyone can do it.  In fact, any photo will do.  I just leave a piece of blank paper (these days a blank canvas layer in my drawing program) and the next morning, there’s The Donald, all drawn.

The pundits all swore he would fail.  So far the only real endorsement I’ve seen, besides his own, has been from Sarah Palin.  Hee hee.  OMG, now come the first primaries…The Donald wins.  Granted the rest of the GOP field is still large and fractured and financed.

I’m not a pundit or a pollster.  Still, I don’t see T-Rump attracting many Democrats or getting more than 1/3rd of GOP voters.

 So for now, it’s just a yucky circus.

Coulrophobia

 Still with me?  There’s much more fun at The Trump Movie,  just follow the link.

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Before the Plow Comes

Washington, DC.  We had a great blizzard for the last two days.  Many Facebook posts of pictures of snowy backyards and decks and yummy casseroles and hot toddies.  Nature has shown who’s in charge.  Easy to talk when you’re retired and not part of the work-a-day world.

Thanks to all the drivers and emergency services that are helping folks.  Boo on those 4WD SUV owners with something silly to prove (unless it’s helping grandma with something important.)

It gives us all a priorities pause.  Sorry about the timing.  Life will go on, if we’re lucky.

bigsnow

 

 

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Resolved

What do Socrates, Rosa Parks, Al Yankovic, Pamela Anderson and Wiley Miller Have in Common?

This is the time of year for making changes.  Since we are what we eat (among other things) that seems like a good place to start.  Influenced by the need to reduce arterial plaque, trim up physically, and two books: Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease (Esselstyn) and The China Study (Campbell.)  And, yet…

vegetablesWho cares?  Vegetarians can be so annoying.  They can’t stop talking about all the benefits of plant food and the evils of eating meat.  When they visit, I always forget and feel like doo doo for not accommodating their simple regimen.  Like converts to anything, ex-smokers, Prius owners, and Apple fan boys, vegetarians can be a pain in the ass.  Wait, I’ll love being that.

vegan

So here goes.  I join the other 2/3rds of the world’s population.  Little lambs and cows can breathe easier.

I’ll miss my olive oil and stinky cheese, but will they miss me?  Nope.

Now, back to  things that don’t change like Planck’s and Avogadro’s constants and making some folks uncomfortable.

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A Good Title Might Be…

Awesome!  

Just for the record. “awesome” c.1600, “profoundly reverential,” from awe + some.  Meaning “inspiring awe” is from 1670s; weakened colloquial sense of “impressive, very good” is recorded, by 1961 and was in vogue from after c.1980.  Post 2011, it became a tiresome,  profoundly irrelevant term used by Americans without vocabularies nurtured by reading books.  Jus’ sayin’.

True, we live in a world with ample geography, geology, chemistry, biology, history, culture, art, events and individuals that warrant such a descriptive adjective, but not your new shoes, your dentist bill or the outcome of a football game.  Enough.

Windows 10?

windows-10

Forget terrorism and climate change, here’s some good news. 

Microsoft’s newest version works and once you get it downloaded and installed/upgraded you can finally smile.  It’s not awesome, no OS is.  It’s quirky in a Windows way with a few rough edges, but after the whole version 8 and 8.1 experience, Windows is welcome in my house again.  The days of XP when platforms were boxes beside your desk with keyboards and mice are gone.  The cloud, touch, voice and mobile are our new reality.  Yawn?  Android and iOS millennial fan boys should remember I’m a boomer like most of the five regular readers here.   C prompt anyone?

Recent Adventures: France and Asheville Fall

We had a wonderful visit to France again this summer. IMG_5237

A few days in beautiful exciting Paris where folks take their time to enjoy a meal and have conversations without their “devices” on the table.  Revisited many of the tourist spots (see the 1st 3 minutes of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.)  Got around on the Metro, swooned at the D’Orsay and Louvre and enjoyed the bread at the sidewalk cafes.   Joined a Trafalgar gang of Canadians, Brits, Yanks and Aussies for IMG_5575two weeks and a ride around some of country’s the sweet spots: Rhone valley, Provence, Monoco, Riviera, Carcassonne, Bordeaux, Loire valley, Mont St. Michel and Giverny.  Then back to Paris where we hooked up with an old pal.  Jean François had lived with me as a graduate student at GWU in DC back in the 70s.

IMG_2857Fast-forward. His family’s historic estate (de Tocqueville wrote his book on Democracy in American there) is located in Baugy, a village near Compiègne.  Now his beautiful daughter was having her wedding there.  We stayed there for a few days as preparations were made for the big event – a grand affair lasting almost 12 hours.  An unforgettable memory and reunion with Jean’s family.

ReuterCtrBack in Asheville for the fall semester at UNCA/OLLI – interrupted for a week-long watercolor workshop with talented Ann Vasilik and another week romp with 200+ caricaturists in Sandusky, OH.  We took great courses: Famous Courtesans, Lighthouses, Lon Chaney, Fracking, and Profiles of Historic Women.  I taught two others:  Basic Drawing and “What to do with your Travel Photos” – the later with a pal, seasoned instructor Dennis.  When you teach/facilitate a course, you learn so much, one of the reasons I love to do this.  Our classes at OLLI are filled with enthusiastic (they bail if they’re bored,) knowledgeable, experienced participants.  We all teach each other.

Another old pal stopped by for a visit – cousin Sara from Israel.  When I visited there in 1971 she was our fabulous guide taking us all over from Banias to Jerusalem.  So good to see her again.

sanduskyThis year’s caricature convention in Sandusky was fun but absent many European and Japanese friends.  The art work keeps getting better and increasingly digital.  Met and spent a little time with life-long illustrator-hero C.F. Payne.  Pinch me.  Quick look video link.

 

Jimmy Carter

jimmy_carter

by Kerry Waghorn

“A Full Life,” his latest book may seem like an odd choice to discuss here.  He’s 91 now and just escaped a death sentence of cancer.  Happy for him and his family.  Although I’m not a christian, I was always an admirer.  Not a politician, he was/is a wise leader.  Since his presidency, he has accomplished more as trusted diplomat, adviser and election observer.  His participation and promotion of Habitat has done much good. He is an engineer, a farmer, a poet, a painter, an artisan, a good man, and a hero.

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Selfies

selfieStick(Listening to a 1950s music stream.) I may get pepper-sprayed by fellow seniors and assorted boomers, but here goes…  I was musing about the news that Disney theme parks have banished selfie sticks. Those millennials…   so self absorbed.

Now comes one of those “ah ha” epiphanies? Aren’t we boomers doing “selfies” ad nauseum?  At our UNCA senior center, courses on the history of the 60s and rock and roll fill up instantly. It’s all about us, hey!  We lived alongside Forest Gump, marched on Washington, sang with Dylan and Baez, championed civil rights, and liberated women (cough, cough.) Then we sold out and got comfortable. Now we drive Priuses, recycle, don’t smoke, eat sensibly and are reversing climate change (gag, cough.)  Our obsession with nostalgia is excessive and only interesting to us.

OK, whip out your iPhone and snap 50 million boomers patting ourselves on our backs as we deposit our Social Security checks.  Still use a flip phone?  You’re excused.

Millennials?  We shake our heads at their music – Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, texting while driving, not voting, and getting news from Facebook instead of newspapers, working part-time jobs, tattoos, spending all their time on Snapchat, Reddit and Twitter. Why can’t they be more like us?  Did I get this right?  My sons (just 2 clicks north of millennials) roll their eyes when I start up about our era, our music, our revolutions, our activism, our whatever.

Their selfies and ours – phony tales?  Let’s be more honest with ourselves.  Our generation made a lot of messes that theirs will have to try to clean up.  And, the millennials have a very different world to deal with.  Let’s wish them well and help out if we can.

Phony Tales

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My 16th Reuben Awards Weekend

Rube GoldbergstatueThe 69th cartooning arts top awards was named for NCS co-founder Reuben (Rube) Goldberg.  It’s an annual celebration…  3+ days of laughter, parties, singing, and an elegant formal dinner with entertainment and presentation of the awards.

This year at the historic Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington, DC the hallways, elevators,  lobby bars and meeting rooms were full of acting up and one-liners.  Since being admitted 16 years ago I’ve met and come to know many of my heroes of the art form. Before that I was just a cartoon artist and smart-ass with an eyeball in a knothole in the wall beyond center field. With help from Washington Post Editor Sara Fitzgerald and cartoonists Art Wood, Bud Grace and Mike Mikula, I was finally able to gain admittance to this wonderful organization.

roy

Each year we also mark the passing of our brother and sister cartoonists.  This year among those was pal Roy Dody (92) who was successfully self-employed for 73 busy years. At past Reuben weekends I had many opportunities to enjoy his grouchy wit over a few drinks.  His annual complaints at our business meetings became a legend. This year Mike Peters rose to make a motion – not for a moment of silence, but a moment of complaining in his memory. Tears of joy came to my eyes as 20 or so of our colleagues rose in unison, “It’s too cold in here!”  “The food stinks!”  “I’m losing my hair!”  “Digital cartooning is all wrong!” etc. It was the best moment of the weekend.

tomandAnna

Tom Richmond (Mad Magazine and NCS President) and the lovely Anna, his wife, have transformed our organization.  His positive attitude and hard work have paid off –  tackling tough issues like the nominating process, the duration of the dinner award ceremonies, and finding room for the Internet market and artists. He even has dealt with my personal disappointment – the no-shows by winners – by recording videos to show at the ceremony. Using the talented Tom Gammill and now Jason Chatfield as emcees has worked so well. Finally, the seminars provided some serious and happy mind-stretching for many of us.  Terrific speakers all.

R2

SAM was beautiful and vivacious in her special gown and best this year, my son Will was able to join us for the awards dinner. So proud and happy he could appreciate this wonderful part of my life.

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Men at my age.

Esse Quam Videre (Being Authentic)

RenoBillWhat am I doing in a men’s  group?  Answer:  growing up and finally becoming myself.  By now I was supposed to be an adult:  smart,  mature,  wise,  a sage elder.  I think many of us guys find the retirement thing a little surprising at first.  Some of us can be a little lost as our careers, that defined us, disappear.

There’s a lot of wisdom on the topic of how to spend  this beautiful season of life.  Time to give back. Volunteer for a good cause.  Do those things we always really wanted to do.  Enjoy life.  Spend some real time with our families.  Travel.  Take some courses.  Loose a few pounds.  Relax.  Such a formidable agenda!

For me, I was foaming at the mouth to draw silly pictures (full time) that would make folks smile or think.  This personal avidity since grammar school found outlets in school newspapers, on my drill sergeant’s wall, then newspaper editorial pages, magazines, newsletters, boring PowerPoints and lately book illustrations, an online journal and teaching.  But my drawing was done evenings and weekends because I had a more important  goal: to help my two sons thrive and achieve their dreams.  Lucky for me I found an interesting day job and lived in a city that had a booming real estate market.  When I needed advice I generally  turned to people more mature than I, women.  Well, not always.  My father and a few guy friends would listen and seemed to understand.  But, since being a pup, there had not been a lot of strong male relationships in my life.

Visiting an old pal in Key West, I was invited to his “men’s lunch.”  All retirees, from all over, and a very wide range of backgrounds.  They knew each other well and easily talked about their families,  projects,  feelings, and relationships.   Sports, lower-back-pain and hearing-loss were hardly mentioned.  I was impressed.  I wanted to join, but Key West was a long way from Asheville.

Answers are all around, close-by, but often we’re just not listening.  Fast-forward.  Back in Asheville, around the Reuter Center at UNCA, there was  a men’s group forming called Men’s Wisdom Works.  I was on it in a flash.  The organizer (Chuck) had an outline and format that made sense to me.   We began having bi-weekly meetings at Jubilee downtown,  then meetings for breakfast on alternate weeks.  We were/are all  very different men and similar at the same time.  The group chemistry is outstanding.

In the beginning we had very little in the way of ground rules and an alpha (small A) male emerged who has a very light touch (Buck.)  Most times topics emerge organically from our check-ins.  Most meetings go very well.  The discussions are fun, often deep, but no lectures, and the listening is profound.  Our male-egos are checked at the door.  Coming up on four years,  we have grown from colleagues to brothers.  We’ve shared our lives, literally.

As we’ve spent time together and become more relaxed with each other,  a something has started to happen to me.  I’m becoming more relaxed with and understanding of myself.  They’ve heard all my jokes, twice.   I’m encouraged to speak more in the first-person than in the third.  (Thanks, Lee.)  Other group members are way ahead of me on this new “self awareness and authenticity” and the positive growth shows.  Yup, I still have a long way to go, but my brothers are hiking on the same path.  Good for us all.

2013-04-21-MWW

 

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