Monday, June 28, 2010

39th Anniversary in Maine- LeRoux Gourmet Kitchen Store

Spent one whole day just bumming around Portland, ME and found a great upscale kitchen store to browse. It had everything ... including flavored balsamic vinegars that you could taste. They were incredible. Naturally, I tried numerous selections ... the dark chocolate balsamic was incredible ... and was checking out the raspberry balsamic. By the way, this stuff is expensive. A small bottle is about $16.

I was pouring a small cup of the raspberry when the empty water bottle in my hand hit one of the bottles on the shelf and off it flew. For an old dude, my reflexes are pretty good. I caught the bottle before it hit the ground. However, the cup of balsamic dumped all over my shirt and pants. Anne was very impressed with my new look.

I took off up the street and found a tourist shop with a rack of those too ugly to sell tourist t-shirts on a rack outside the store. They may also have been too ugly to be allowed in the store. I found one my size and bought it for $8 regardless of the faded shoulder from being on that rack in the sun so long. The clerk was gracious enough to let me change shirts in the back room when I explained the situation.

I don't think Anne and I were in complete agreement on how spiffy I looked for the rest of the day. Either way, I came out $8 ahead what with the bottle costing $16 and I only spent $8.

I made a mental note to spend the $8 I earned on hot dogs.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

No Stray Dogs in Vermont

I was driving to work today and had a revelation. Before I go further, I want to make something clear. There was no shaft of light from above. I was not knocked from a donkey and blinded by a brilliant light. Any burning bushes I might have seen were strictly of forest fire origin. The revelation was this … there are NO stray dogs in Vermont.

When I was a child, I relied on stray dogs. They comprised the available pet pool. Around home, dogs were just dogs. Unless, of course, they were hunting dogs. Even a poor man would pay $300-$400 for a good hunting dog. Paying good money for a pet was unheard of … at least in my circle. Fortunately for me, I lived just outside the town limits. Every year, when the dog tags were due, miraculously, dogs would appear in our neighborhood. Great dogs, of mysterious ancestry. They would ramble into our yard with delineated rib cages, begging for scraps. Yes, they did turn over the trash barrel on occasion. I loved them all. My dad, however, did not share my universal acceptance of them. His instructions were not to feed them (which we did) and rock them to chase them away (which we did not). They did not stay for long … a few days … but for that brief time, they were mine. Understand, in my world a stray dog was an endangered specie. Stray dogs that turned over the trash barrel in their search for food got 120 volts on their second trip (Dad and the neighbor were both electricians). There was a particular mutt once that I really got attached to and begged Dad to let me keep it. Dad was walking out of the woods with his rifle at the time. He just smiled and told me that if it came back to the house again, I could keep it. It didn’t and I did not figure it out until I was much older.

Here’s my revelation. There are no stray dogs in Vermont because of the animal rights people and the animal-lovers. No such thing as the wild and care free life on the road for a dog here. You will never see a dog hopping a freight and there no hobo dog encampments under the bridges. Were a dog to strike out here, minutes later, he would be pounced upon by hoards of animal rescuers. Before he could learn to spit tobacco, the dog would be warm, fed and lounging in front of someone’s fireplace. He might even be wearing a new jacket. It is the demise of the Huckleberry Finn’s of the dog world. Greyhounds probably have it worse. People can’t wait to snatch them from the clutches of the dog tracks. Ironically, I have never seen a rescued greyhound running. It must be a no-no in the rescued world. Locally, the people raised about $250,000 to build a new facility for the ASPCA. Even in winter, people sleep under the bridge in Brattleboro and the homeless shelters overflow. Whoever said that every dog has his day must have lived in Brattleboro at some point..

As far as I am concerned, Brattleboro has gone to the dogs

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Quebec City ... The Stanstead Stone Circle

The great thing about travel is that it gives you the opportunity to uncover the unusual … the unexpected … the unbelievable. Better yet, are the incredible people that you meet along the way. Should you find yourself in Stanstead, Quebec, you might get lucky like Anne and I did. Stop by La Vieille Douane for a delicious lunch and perhaps a conversation with Kim P.

Do you believe in coincidence? Sometimes I wonder if there is such a thing. It started with a simple comment, “Have you guys ever lived in Stanstead before? You look really familiar.” Umm! Later, when we asked about the border crossing in town, a conversation with Ms. P, the former town librarian … a library bisected by the US- Canadian border ... ensued and resulted in a discussion of some fascinating examples of the absurdities those living on the border have had to face in the name of border security. We live in a different world since 911 ... one in which it appears common sense has no apparent place it.

We were preparing to leave when someone told Kim to tell us about the circle. A tale unfolded about Kim’s involvement in the creation of a stone circle of Stonehenge caliber in a field directly across from the Derby Line border crossing. Her passion for the circle was clearly evident. I remember commenting that I too was drawn to circles and had made one (and several cairns) on my property. One of the locals standing behind Kim commented, “We knew you
would be”. Ummm! I told Kim how we had planned to go to Stonehenge in April and were foiled by the volcano. She indicated that she too had made her own pilgrimage to experience Stonehenge. Ummmm! I mentioned our plan to visit northern Wales. Kim had also spent some time in northern Wales. Ummmmm! Our plans had included a visit to the center of the ancient Druid culture in Wales. Kim indicated that she consulted with a Druid friend when working on the circle design. Ummmmmm! The straw that broke the camel’s back was when she tossed out a comment about Andy Goldsworthy, and how she admired his work so. I love Goldsworthy’s work. Ummmmmm!

When I got home, I checked out Ms. P on the web. I doubt that I have her passion for the spiritual aspects of the stone circle, the significance of the alignment with the solstice, or the drumming. One more thing. I noticed in her bio that she also teaches tai chi. I go to class three times a week. Ummmmmmm! Coincidence … I wonder?

Coincidence, or not, our visit to Stanstead and the Stanstead Stone Circle and our conversation with Kim P were the perfect end to our Canadian adventure. Check out for the skinny on its construction and the meaning. Drop in for a visit if you get a chance. I recommend sunrise for the full effect. And whenever you travel … get off the interstate and explore the back roads and small towns. There are people out there just itching to make your acquaintance.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Quebec City ... still more ... The Dolls

For the last few years there has been an archeological dig going on along the promenade in front of the Hotel Frontenac. Three years ago, they had just started the dig and were repairing the main wall in front of the hotel. The interest in the dig was so strong that they decided to leave part of it open as a tourist attraction. We toured the dig with a young Canadian park ranger working there for the summer. It was informative and delightful. At the end of the tour, he produced a large, black briefcase and informed us that we were in for a treat. Inside was a collection of artifacts from the dig. One caught my eye. It was a small, somewhat plain, ceramic doll (2 ½ inches). I was informed that it was a Frozen Charlotte. The story that followed was that on a particularly cold night in QC, a young girl on the way to a Xmas eve party was involved in a carriage wreck. She was trapped underneath and subsequently, she froze to death. The Frozen Charlotte dolls were on a small handle and were used to stir hot tea or coffee. The saying was that the user was “warming up frozen Charlotte”.

Yes, I took the bait … hook, line, and sinker!

Thank goodness for the Internet! It seems the real story is that most of what you hear about dear Charlotte is urban legend. The ceramic doll is real enough and was used to cool down the ladies’ hot tea. But, don’t throw it away if you find one. They are collectible and worth some money.

Before I proceed … a little background. Last year I bought a whole box of Barbie dolls at the flea market. I had it in my mind to do some kind of sculpture with them. By them, I mean the Barbie heads, the Barbie legs and the Barbie arms. So far, I have only made one piece, that being a Barbie bouquet and it is tastefully done with whole, rather than mutilated, Barbies.

Anne and I were strolling along St. Paul Street when we spotted them in the window of a shop. Someone had made a bizarre piece from Barbie dolls. Can this be mere coincidence that our paths have crossed? NOT! The was Barbie with an animal skull and a sign saying “I love you mama", Barbie with Ken’s head, a Barbie head in a sausage grinder being ground into fur, and a variety of canning jars with Barbie
heads, arms and legs. There were no Barbie bodies and I can only hope that they were treated with the respect they deserve.

I must admit … my creative juices were flowing and the bells at the Pavlovian Baptist Church were chiming.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Quebec City ... and then

The Saint Roch section of QC used to be a rundown , depressed area ... but not for much longer. It is gradually becoming the new hot spot. With trusty map in hand, we ventured out to find it. We opted for a few shortcuts through an area of a somewhat rougher hue. I highly recommend this approach as a technique guaranteed to produce interesting finds. This was no exception. Squarely between us and Saint Roch was Silvain Michaud.

Anne and I are trained observers. Our counseling backgrounds prepared us to pick up on the most obscure nuances in our environment. That is why we both noticed the 8 foot, zebra-faced garage door. Above the door was a 2 foot border constructed from the top of whirligigs. In front of the door ... talking to two tourists ... was Silvan Michaud. Wait, there is more. The artist was also working on a telephone pole piece beside the garage door. The pole was covered from the ground to a height of about seven feet with hand cut leather pieces in the shape of, and overlapped like, scales. Several wire lizards were also attached.

As we wandered over to his studio, Silvan approached us and pointed out additional pieces that he had done. Of note was a hand-carved wooden cane. It was scaled like a snake and had a carved native head for the handle. The face featured eyebrows made from fox fur, teeth made from the ivory handle of a small tool, and eyes fashioned using mica. On the shelf were wire and wood figures and several paintings. It is clear to me that you have to be willing to be lost if you ever hope to be found.

We journeyed on to Saint Roch ... and thank goodness we did. Just when you think you know the meaning of life, you are rocked back on your heels. We passed two young guys walking down the street, engrossed in conversation and oblivious to our presence. It was one of those rare moments. Clearly, the older of the two was instructing the younger in the ways of the world ... the street culture ... and we were lucky enough to be privy to the mentoring moment. His words need no explanation. As he said, "All you really need to know is this, drink and fuck!" And thus, the world, as I knew it, came crashing in.

Quebec City - Memorial Day

I will not make a habit of writing travelogues. My attempts in the past have been beyond boring. For the most part trips consist of a few salient events strung together by an inordinate number of mundane moments. Instead, I have squeezed my memories of our trip to Quebec City through the sieve of high interest happenings in order to relate to you only the 100% guaranteed concentrate that I shall call my story. Or your money back!

Typically, we stay on rue Saint Ursule when we go to Quebec City. There are numerous lodging options on the street. For example, there is a youth hostel on the street for a very good price. I must admit, Anne and I hobble a bit when we walk and there is some difficulty when we try to get in or out of a car, but for the most part, we appear somewhat young for our age. So much so, that I do believe that the clerk was convinced and would have rented us the room. I look back now and realize that I should not have asked for the AARP discount. Regardless of his short-sightedness, we were able to get a room at L’Hermitage, which was quite convenient and satisfactory.

Anne and I are driven. I don’t mean driven like in a car. We drive ourselves. Driven by the desire for food. Our travel is defined by our food to a large degree. This trip was no exception. You may have already guessed this to be the case with one look at my Herculean physique. Let me give you just a taste of this trip …

- Victoriaville, Quebec (on the way) – poutine smothered in artery-clogging cheese curd and topped with a dark brown gravy guaranteed to seal any additional leaks

- Le Conchon Dingue – the irony of dining on duck confit rillette in a restaurant called the dirty pig

- Brynd – the famous Canadian smoked meat sandwiches to rival Schultz’s in Montreal or Katz in NYC

- The not-so-typical farmers’ market where I had a pre-lunch snack of the lamb and sauerkraut hot dog to die for

- Le Lapin Saute – rabbit rillettes and leg of rabbit with mustard sauce to finish the night

- On the heels of our disappointment that the two crepe places were closed, was the lucky find of a nearby Italian restaurant and one of the best pizzas we have ever had

- La Vielle Douane - the culmination of our food adventure with our find of a wonderful Greek restaurant in the tiny town of Stanstead on the Canadian border

And today, June 1, 2010, I start my new diet.

New Chapters

I had an epiphany. I’m not sure what that is exactly though. I assume it to be some great moment of insight. I’m not so na├»ve as to believe that such instantaneous insight is an act of divine intervention into the lives of mere mortals. Frankly, my beliefs are more earthly. Blinding shafts of light viewed vertically, I generally assume to be meteors. Viewed horizontally, I take to be the headlights of a semi in the wrong lane. I try to hold the term “divine” in reserve for monumental situations like the taste of a HAP’s hot dog. Let’s say I had a thought and leave it at that.

A colleague of mine experienced a life-changing event – the loss of a spouse. We are not close friends in the usual sense. We don’t visit one another or even talk that much. But, I feel connected to her. I think I know her deep down inside. This may not be true, but it feels that way! It is like in Anne of Green Gables. When Anne looks at her reflection in the window pane at the orphanage, she knows the person she sees there … her kindred spirit. I feel this way with my colleague to some degree. Thus, her experience gave me pause. The situation reminded me of a book … and I thought, “Even old books have new chapters”. What if books had no end and were instead perpetually available for new chapters to be added. Who says the conclusion of a book is the purview of the author. Such audacity! To me, the classics are a perfect example of this idea. The classics have stood the test of time. They are read and reread … thought and rethought … imagined and re-imagined … over and over again. Can the story remain the same under these conditions or does the book become the cumulative experience of it all? In effect, new chapters are constantly being written. Are our libraries the accumulation of what has been or what will be?

Are our lives so different? When are the endings defined in our lives? Are they real or are we, like the reader, constantly reimagining what our lives have been or will be? Are we adding new chapters?

The End ( no strike this )

The Pause