Sepia

Holding Back The Years

I have been feeling pathetically old lately. I’m actually only 51, but the gray-haired stranger that stares out of the mirror at me is someone who (to me) looks far closer to joining Marley (who was dead, make no mistake about that) than I’d like.


I need to arrest my slow decline by becoming much more active, one freaking way or another. There are folks my age who are out running sub-three-hour marathons. No, I don’t expect to do that. But when I was running regularly I had gotten my 5k time down to 28:00 or so. Then my doctor added metoprolol to my high blood pressure medicine regimen, and anyone who’s ever been on a beta blocker knows what those do to your metabolism. But I’m not on metaprolol right now and the beta blocker I am on (carvedilol) doesn’t seem to leave me as tired as metaprolol did. Perhaps I can regain lost ground. (Perhaps I can dig a hole through the Earth to Madagascar using a soup spoon and go off to live among the lemurs, too!) But I’ve got to try something in that regard.


Piddle, twiddle and resolve. Sigh.


When I’m home, I need to stop letting Carole dictate whether we go out and do things. Carole is God’s gift to “I don’t wanna” regarding any plan she didn’t’ come up with.  As a result of my trying really, really, really hard to avoid fights and arguments with her, I’ve spent a ton of time just lolling around the house when I could have been out doing things I enjoy. (This is not character assassination, by the way. Carole knows she has problems with oppositionality. Big honking hairy problems. With googly eyes and fangs. That doesn’t make it any easier for her to overcome her passive-aggressive resistance to any plan I come up with. The point is, I’ve got to take responsibility for my own fitness, whether Carole wants to come along or not.)


I can’t do a damn thing about one particularly depressing aspect of aging — the realization that Carole and I are officially too old to have kids. I had been holding out hope, year after year, that we might still decide to have a kid or two, but as I’ve said before, even if Carole could conceive at age 48, I don’t want to be the guy getting mistaken for a grandfather at my child’s high school graduation. And besides, Carole says the question is now officially moot, time-of-the-month-wise. It depresses the hell out of me that I have no one to pass things on to. We achieve immortality through each successive generation of our families; when I die, the world ends.


Short-term — well, that’s where Garnier Nutrisse Medium Natural Brown comes in. (I hate dyeing my hair. I used to do it fairly frequently, but got out of the habit. But as a short-term mood improver, perhaps it’ll help to see something other than steel-gray hair in the mirror each morning.)


Sepia

3-Day Camp Mail


Hey, all.


An unusual feature of the Susan G Komen 3-Day breast cancer walks is that families, friends, co-workers, supporters, and so on are encouraged to send notes, cards, and the occasional canned ham to the walkers and crew at camp.


Don’t.

I can tell you from past experience (28 walks and counting) that it is a boost when you’ve just walked sixty miles and you stop by the “3-Day Post Office” in camp and find notes and cards from your donors and supporters, sharing their stories of what the fight against breast cancer means to them.


If you want to send me mail at the San Diego 3-Day camp, you’ve got until November 6 to have it postmarked and sent. The address to mail to is:


Susan G. Komen 3-Day Camp Mail

ATTN: [INSERT NAME OF PARTICIPANT HERE]

P.O. Box 721043

San Diego, CA 92172 


Thanks!

Sepia

San Diego

HELLO WORLD


I will be taking part in the 2018 San Diego Susan G Komen 3-Day in a few weeks (November 16-18), walking sixty miles in three days to raise funds for the fight against breast cancer. This will be my eighteenth walk as a walker in the eleven years I’ve been taking part, and my 29th event overall (I was support crew in the others). I’ll be walking with friends from the Kindred Spirits 3-Day team, an awesome group of women and men who, as it happens, have collectively raised over $3,000,000 in the years they’ve been taking part in the walk. (That makes them the #1 3-Day fundraising team all-time, by the way.)



I wish cancer wasn’t a thing. I wish people never had to worry about cancer at all, let alone fighting it and having it recur and fighting it again and having it recur and all that miserable stuff that survivors go through year after year. I wish no little girls and boys had to show up at their mother’s funeral wondering when Mama’s coming back. I wish there weren’t women and men out there wondering where the money to pay for their cancer treatment was going to come from. I wish there weren’t men out there cluelessly ignoring the lumps in their chests because “men don’t get breast cancer.”



 


I believe in the Susan G Komen organization and the work they do. I respect their commitment to reduce the deaths from breast cancer by 50% by 2026. That will take a lot of funding, a lot of action, a lot of research, and a lot of education. Did I mention a lot of funding? Money for all that effort doesn’t grow on trees. And that’s why I take part year after year. I know my supporters really aren’t donating with the goal of seeing me walk the sixty miles, but it’s the commitment to walk sixty miles that gets their respect and attention. And it’s both encouraging and sobering to interact with the many survivors and families of victims that you meet every year on the event.



I’ve made my minimum fundraising goal for the 2018 San Diego walk, but it’d be insanity to sit back and go “I raised my minimum that gets me into the walk, tra la.” I’d really like to raise as much as possible. Thanks to caring angels out there, I’ve raised $3,264.61 to date. My goal is $5,000. If you’d like to sponsor me, I’d be forever in your debt. You can click the huge pink thing below if you’d like to help out.


Help me reach my goal for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day

By the way, if you’re wondering about that “More Than Pink” slogan, it’s like this. I’m not some dumb-ass who wears pink one month a year and buys products with pink ribbons on them as an exercise in virtue signaling. I actually do care and have been involved in Komen events for 11 years now. I know a lot of you care as well and I thank you for all you do.
Sepia

Greetings from Abilene

Behold, common, everyday hotel laundry room equipment.



 


On the left, the humble dryer. On the right, the serviceable but modest washer.


Guess which one I happily loaded clothes into, added detergent to, dumped coins in, and then sat and watched for a good fifteen minutes before finally thinking “… wait a minute”.


Bingo.


(In my defense, I was very tired. Honest to God, this is not the sort of thing I do every day.)

Sepia

I Hate My Brain


My brain lies to me all the time.


Right now there is nothing wrong with my life. Everything’s okay. Work is fine. I’m not over my head in debt. The weather’s fine. I need to lose about 40 pounds (okay, that’s one major dissatisfier), but otherwise I’m not in desperately poor health or anything. To the best of my knowledge my wife isn’t planning on leaving me any time soon. Things are actually pretty good.


But I feel mentally awful.


Imagine that you can’t stop worrying about your overdrawn bank account and about all the credit cards you owe money on. But then imagine that you’re NOT overdrawn and your credit cards have zero balances. But you can’t stop worrying. Even if you log in and look at your balances in the bank and on the Chase and AmEx websites and see that everything is just fine, moments later you go back to fretting about how you’re going to make ends meet.


That’s kind of what my brain has been doing to me lately.



know I’m depressed. I know that my brain is lying to me. But that doesn’t help me deal with the malaise and the angst. I can remind myself every five seconds that everything’s okay. I can soldier on rather than crawling into bed and pulling the covers over my head. Yes, I can get by.


You ask: are you taking antidepressants? Yes, I’m taking antidepressants. Perhaps it’s time, in theory, to revisit which ones I’m taking. But right now my MD and I are playing a balancing game with my high blood pressure meds and we really don’t want to screw around with multiple things at the same time.


You ask: am I seeing a therapist or counselor? No, I am not seeing a counselor routinely. There are people that talk therapy simply doesn’t help. I’m one of them. (If you have the urge to hit the ‘reply’ button and tell me I’m wrong, spare me. Five minutes’ Googling on “talk therapy clinical trials’ or ‘talk therapy doesn’t always help’ will show you that I’m not talking out of my hat. If you want to seriously cheese me off, tell me that my depression is due to my not seeing a therapist regularly.) I am acutely aware that the feelings I’m experiencing are not based on actual life experience. I am aware that my brain is like a computer pre-programmed to see every glass as half empty. Knowing that your bathroom mirror has been replaced by one out of a funhouse arcade doesn’t automatically help you see yourself clearly.


And for what it’s worth, I’m a former board member of the Vermont affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I’m not an uninformed goober who prefers to curse the darkness rather than light a candle.


I think the one thing that would probably help is “getting a lot more exercise”. Sweat the crazy out, as it were. But there’s the rub: my brain is very very very good at saying “Tomorrow.”


I hate my brain.

Sepia

Marching Into Oblivion, Part 2

A few days ago I wrote about how depressed I am about:



  • not having had kids

  • realizing that when I die I have no one to stick with getting rid of all my junk, and

  • realizing that my life is pretty much just “blah” at this point and will likely stay so for the next few decades until I shuffle off this mortal coil


I hedged a bit at the end, acknowledging that there is one thing I’d really like to do before I die but that it’d be hard to explain and that I’d sound like a loon if I tried.


But then I thought about it and realized that that ship has pretty much sailed anyway. Anyone who knows me halfway well knows I’m eccentric (a polite way of putting “annoying as hell and needy for attention”)… and probably is tired of hearing me talk about my “daddy issues” (“my dad beat me and never had a kind word to say about me, oh no!”) So, yeah, I probably can’t surprise anyone at this point.


So here goes:


When I was in my second year of graduate school, I had no girlfriend and no real expectation of getting one. Newsflash: A guy with ultra-low self esteem doesn’t attract women. Inexplicably, somehow, when I least expected it I did meet someone. Someone smart, pretty, fun to be with and as far as I was concerned, way out of my league. I developed a severe crush on her. Unbelievably, the same seems to have been true in reverse. We wound up talking daily on the telephone, for hours, and I used any excuse I could to spend time with her in person. But, because I’m me and because I was just as much of an idiot then as I am now, I didn’t realize how she felt about me.


Until one night when I found out in extremely convincing fashion.


That was probably the happiest time of my life. I kept thinking that at any moment I was going to wake up and find out it was all a dream. People who knew us could tell just by glancing at us how utterly head over heels we both were and thought it was kind of cute, kind of funny.


(Parenthetically, this all happened during the fall of 1989. Between the San Francisco World Series earthquake and the fall of the Berlin Wall, some would say it was a pretty momentous time. Well, from my point of view, it was more “who cares about the end of the Cold War? I’m in love.”)


There was only one problem. She was married. Very unhappily. She’d asked for a divorce once already and her husband had begged and pleaded with her to stay and had promised to change. But he hadn’t. He was emotionally cold, was not physically interested in her at all, and I hated his guts without ever having met him. The problem was compounded by the fact that she’d grown up in a pretty conservative family in the upper Midwest. She alternated between being deliriously happy and being utterly miserable with guilt. She just knew that seeing someone (me) on the side was WRONG WRONG WRONG no matter how awful her marriage was and no matter how happy I made her. But rather than leaving her husband for once and for all, she developed a complex where she had an imaginary scarlet letter on her forehead and she “knew” that if she DID leave him for me, everyone would know what we’d been up to and she couldn’t bear that shame.


Heeeeeey, guess what? I’m not the only insane person around!


We wound up in this crazy cycle of “c’mere, c’mere, c’mere, get away, get away, get away.” Drove me bonkers. I got a little crazy too. Eventually my wistful puppy-dog eyes got to be too much — she couldn’t stand knowing how desperately I wanted her and knowing how much she wanted me back — and she cut off all contact. Then she and her husband moved away. I got on with my life.


End of story?


Well, yes and no. I spent two and a half years sunk in depression, before I met Carole and decided to get my act together. And I’ve been very happy with Carole. (We’ve been married 21 years and we’ve been together for almost 23. I’d better be happy with her.) But there’s this part of me that still thinks about … Her. And wants desperately to talk to her one more time before I die.


I know it’s just totally batshit that I think this way, that I want to somehow be friends with her again. As it happens, I know where she lives, I know that she’s still married (and never had kids), where she works, and so on. Google is your friend. (Yes, I’m pathetic.) I’ve even sent her a letter or two or three over the decades, apologizing for anything and everything I can think of. No response. Probably for the best.


It really really really sucks to have a subroutine in your head that just won’t let go of memories of one’s first love. Carole has something of the same thing going — she had a boyfriend in college that she would happily have spent the rest of her life with. Problem was, she was young and stupid and took the relationship for granted and … then she didn’t have that boyfriend any more. And she still thinks about him from time to time. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that a lot of people have the same problem we do — living in the past, dwelling forever on the mistakes that cost them someone they cared for a lot.


But that’s the one thing I wish I could have, that I wish I could accomplish, and that I know that I’ll almost certainly go to my grave without achieving: I’d like somehow, someway, to repair that long-ago damage that we did to each other and somehow be friends again. Just friends. We used to have these long wonderful talks on the phone about this and that and the other and, well, I miss them.


I’ve been able to make amends to some of the people I’ve fallen out with over the years. I’ve tried to right wrongs where I can, and I’ve tried to be a better person. I’ve tried to let the people I care about know that I care about and value them. I don’t want to wind up on my deathbed with a long ledger of things I never got around to resolving.


I guess, though, that I’d better get used to the idea that I’m going to die with the biggest loose end out there left dangling.

Sepia

Credit Where It's Due


I’ve spent more time than I really should’ve bitching about how much I hate birthdays. (Correction: how much I hate my birthday. Others’ are fine.)



Well, it’s time to give credit where it’s due. This year, for my 51st birthday, Carole really stepped up, and I want to thank her for that. (Thanks, honey!) I was out of town for my 51st birthday — onsite at a customer in northwest Arkansas. But when I got home, Carole had a celebration ready. Cake, presents that I wouldn’t have thought of myself and that she didn’t just find on a sale table at Big Lots, and even a fun excursion on Lake Champlain on a sailboat, with a picnic she prepared and packed and brought along.



 


 

Sepia

Marching Toward Oblivion, Part 1


In a few short years I won’t exist anymore.


That’s true of everyone, obviously. To the best of my knowledge, everyone dies in the end. Some of us are fortunate enough to die happy, surrounded by family, secure in the knowledge that those they love are provided for and that all will be well. Lots of people die alone, sad little pathetic deaths, and are remembered by nobody.


When it became obvious to me a few years ago that there was no way I would ever have children — when it was absolutely clear that that ship had sailed — I started to see the world differently. I know that Carole and I might live for quite a few years more, or we might die in an accident tomorrow. Either way, there’s no one to remember us. No “next generation” to pass the baton to. When we die, the world ends.


When my father died (Mom had died years earlier), my siblings and I had to empty out his house down in Florida, take what we wanted, donate the rest to charity, and get the house sold and out of our hair. It took years. Thank heavens for a cousin who lived across the street from Dad, and an unusually helpful local realtor. Without them on the scene to take care of immediate nuisances as they arose, we’d probably still be tearing our hair out.


Well, when Carole and I die, there’ll be no one to do that for us. There’ll be no one to sort through our stuff and go “I want this, but I guess you can have that” and so forth.


That’s why I kept telling my siblings, each time the question arose of “who gets the silver, who gets the jewelry, who gets this, who gets that” that I didn’t want any of it. If I inherited Mom’s silver, it’d just pass out of the family for good when I die. If my sister, the only one of us with children, got it, one of her kids could inherit it. I know that when I’m dead I really won’t be in a position to care where some old shiny eating utensils wound up, but right now, it’s vaguely comforting to know that in a strange sense, there’s still going to be some continuity from generation to generation. Mom’s stuff to my sister. From my sister to her kids.


But as far as my stuff goes, there’s no one to leave any of it to. I’ve sort of figured that at some point I’ll write up a will. It’ll be the usual thing — Carole gets everything, of course, if I predecease her, but if I’m the second to go, I’ll probably just leave everything to my sister or her surviving heirs. Let them empty out the house. It’ll be good for them.


In the meanwhile, though, I’ve started looking around the house and going “that brings me no joy, it’s just clutter and in the way” and getting rid of things. We have a local community mailing list network here in Vermont that comes in handy for saying “hey, anyone want X?” (I will never hold my own yard sale. As far as I’m concerned, when really bad people die, they’re sentenced to roam the Earth attending yard sales.)


I no longer have a lot of unrealized ambitions. I’m really, really good at my job and have about as much job security as one can have in this day and age, but … famous last words, right? I’m very happy with my house and don’t feel a need to pore over real estate listings in Hilton Head. I have no urge whatsoever to spend a chunk of money on a fast car. I know that nothing I can do at this point is going to get me into the history books.


I have a few simple desires: provide for Carole and make sure that she doesn’t want for anything, take a vacation every year or so to someplace fun that I’ve only ever read about in books, and if I can, not make the world a worse-off place before I go. Anything else is gravy.



Well, okay, that’s not 100% true. There is one thing I’d really like to accomplish before I die, but it’s hard to explain without sounding like a complete wack-job and it’s extremely unlikely to come to fruition. Forget I mentioned it.

Sepia

Pickles and Wines, and That

For the first time in my entire life, I’m running for public office.


Namely, for the not-terribly-impressive position of “Justice of the Peace” in my little 4,000-person town of Richmond, Vermont.


“Justice of the Peace” (the Vermont version, anyway) isn’t exactly what you may recall from old Westerns. Richmond and other towns our size get to elect twelve. The JotPs are tasked with administering local elections, ruling on property tax appeals and abatements, officiating at weddings, serving as notaries public, and if so commissioned by the Supreme Court of Vermont, serving as magistrates. But, for all practical purposes they’re the town election commission. (If you want to know more, the Vermont Secretary of State has a guide to the office that you can view.)



We’ve been happily electing them every two years since 1850.. and other than greeting me as I sign in at the polls to vote each Election Day, they’ve had essentially zero impact on my life.


So why the hell do I want to serve as one?


I already am a town officer, of course — I was appointed “Weigher of Coal” for the town of Richmond a few years ago and have been reappointed each year since. That job has no actual duties whatsoever (and no pay either), so it’s hardly been a major demand on my time. (I wrote about this, incidentally, in the May 11, 2018 edition of the Washington Post.) But I guess my craving for power hasn’t yet been satisfied, right?


George MacDonald Fraser shared his own answer to a similar question in his comic story of life in the British army immediately after World War II, “Monsoon Selection Board”. When interviewed by an examining psychiatrist about why he wanted to become an officer in His Majesty’s Army, Fraser wrote:


“The honest answer of course is to say, like Israel Hands1in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island’, ‘Because I want their pickles and wines and that’, and add that you are sick of being shoved around like low-life and want to lord it over your fellow-man for a change.”


But honest answer never won fair psychiatrist yet.”


The actual, absolutely truthful answer to why I’m running is, frankly, for the novelty of it2“for shits and giggles”, if you prefer.


You see, it hasn’t escaped me that there’s usually not a lot of competition for the job. Most years we have just about enough people running to fill all the slots, with a few surplus candidates left over. (In 2016, we had exactly twelve candidates for twelve JotP slots.) Thus, by running, one has a better than average chance of actually getting elected, assuming that the average voter has little if any idea who most of the people running actually are.


Okay, I may be wrong about that. Certainly people who’ve lived their entire life in Richmond are fairly well informed as to who’s who in the power elite, but otherwise, I sort of suspect that most voters tick off all the candidates for their preferred political party, if any, and then finish out their twelve by picking people with interesting names.


When I decided I wanted to throw my propeller beanie in the ring, I had a choice of running as an independent or as a Democrat. (Or as a Republican, but come on.) If I ran as an independent, I’d have to wander around gathering signatures for my petition (30 signatures or 1 percent of legal voters of town, whichever is less) and if I got the local Democrats to put my name on the ballot, I’d be spared that effort. The Democrats have dutifully been sharing power in this regard with the Republicans for a few years; a “gentleman’s agreement” between the two parties called for each to nominate six and thereby split the work. But, given that I was interested and that six others were already interested as well, the Dems made an attempt to reach out to the Republicans in a gesture of interparty amity — would it be okay if they ran seven? They weren’t able to track the town GOP committee down, so for better or for worse, I was added to the roster. In the end, the Republicans only put up four candidates — in addition to two independents — and so the question was more or less moot.


We wound up with thirteen candidates for twelve seats. Six Democratic incumbents are running again, as are four incumbent Republicans and one incumbent independent. On top of that, there’s one new Republican candidate, one new independent candidate, and one new Democratic candidate (me). Do the math. It’s a game of musical chairs and one person’s going to get left out.


If that winds up being me, no big loss. If I do get elected, I have every intention of actually doing the work — town elections don’t run themselves, and on the off chance that a taxpayer appeals their assessment or asks for an abatement, I’ll be happy to weigh in. I don’t know that there’s a lot of need for me to work as a notary or serve as a magistrate, but hey. I’m game if it comes up. And needless to say, I think I’d quite enjoy conducting weddings. The state of Vermont makes clear that there’s really no prescribed set of vows or other legal phrasing one has to use, so if a couple wants me to dress up as a priest of Cthulhu and conduct the entire wedding in Deep Old One, it’s legal so long as they have a valid wedding license and it’s all properly signed.


And at the end of the day, no matter the outcome, I can say I got to see my own name on an election ballot that actually mattered, win or lose. That’s something, I guess. But, obviously, I do hope I win. Bring on the pickles and wine. Arr!



Footnotes   [ + ]

1. in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island’
2. “for shits and giggles”, if you prefer
Sepia

Adventures on the Baltic Sea


Warning: the following blog entry will contain details and photos of someone else’s vacation, which in all honesty is like saying “we’re going to bore you stupid and make you envious at the same time.”


I don’t know for a fact that sharing photos of us spending a lot of money touring some far-off land will make you envious. It probably depends on whether you ever wanted to go to the place in question. I’m still envious as hell of my co-worker Danielle who has taken vacations to the north coast of Alaska and to Antarctica.


Anyway, I’ve always felt weird sharing vacation photos. Most people put them on the same level as “photos of grandchildren” and a little bit below “photos of a not especially cute family pet.” In other words, ehh.


It’s one thing if you did something especially wacky for a vacation, like going to an elephant reserve in Thailand (hi, Helen!) or you visited the largest ball of twine in the world. It’s another thing entirely if your vacation was just a series of photos of “And here we are at the Louvre with the Johnsons, we met them in Brussels and they tagged along with us the next two stops on the tour, Sally there is an accountant, Bob makes homemade soap.”


By the way, did you know that there are multiple competitors for the title of “largest ball of twine“? The one in Iowa is the all-time biggest, but there’s one in Minnesota that’s the largest one wound by a single person, there’s one in Wisconsin that’s the heaviest, and there’s even one in Texas laying claim to the title of Largest Ball of Nylon Twine. If you ever go on vacation and visit all four in one trip, definitely invite me over to look at photos. Bonus points if they’re on slides and we have to sit in a dark room to see ’em.


If you watched Mad Men, you know what slides are (See Episode 1:13, “The Wheel“). But you might not remember the days when it was considered an absolute necessity a few times a year to drag out the carousel slide projector, spend an hour putting slides in the carousels in a hypothetically pleasing order, and then make your kids, neighbors, and any damn other person you could shanghai in off the street sit in a darkened room with you while you clicked your way through ’em. These were slides:



Little transparent photos in little plastic frames. When you took your film in to the Fotomat to be developed you could ask for prints or slides. You fitted the slides into a round “carousel” tray that rotated through a projector and countless fun family evenings resulted.



Your kids could run a Bingo card full of squares like “slide in backwards”, “slide in upside down”, “slide of completely unrelated thing mixed in”, “out of focus slide”, “slide of a really cool thing that just happened to have a stranger picking his nose in the foreground” … it was non-stop excitement. You’d sit there in your family room in pitch darkness while Dad clicked his way through going “oh, um, hm, I think that’s the Grand Canyon” with your mom replying “No, no, that’s the Petrified Forest, remember, that’s where Billy threw up.”


I don’t know of anyone who actually liked sitting in the dark looking at slides, but dads everywhere had closets full of ’em. My father passed away in 2017 and I have absolutely no idea what became of all his slides. He had a closetful, some already in trays, some in boxes, some in big manila envelopes waiting forever to be sorted. Poor guy.


So anyway: I freely grant that the average person probably won’t care much about what Carole and I did the last two weeks of August when we flew to Denmark and took a Baltic Sea cruise. We had a good time, although it seemed that most days saw us absolutely frazzled and wiped out by nightfall. I was definitely in the “I need a vacation from the vacation” mode by the end. (Also, I’d come down with a bad cold two days before the end of the cruise and had very little interest in stirring out of bed, let alone doing anything exciting that I’d subsequently be able to tell you about.)


Long story short: we flew from Vermont to Chicago to Copenhagen via Scandinavian Airlines, arriving at 1 in the afternoon after an all-night flight. We checked into a hotel a block from the big downtown train station in Copenhagen. We poked around for a couple of days and saw things. Then we got on a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship, the Norwegian Breakaway, and spent nine days visiting Baltic Sea ports and their associated cities:



  • Berlin, Germany — which isn’t on the Baltic Sea at all, which meant that we had a close-to-three-hour train trip to get to Berlin in the morning and another one back to the port in the evening. In theory, anyway…

  • Tallinn, Estonia — nice little small city on the south shore of the Gulf of Finland. Former Soviet republic (but never happy about that fact), now asserting itself again as an independent country but always looking nervously east at Russia.

  • St. Petersburg, Russia — we spent two days docked there, but couldn’t roam around freely onshore. We had to be with a licensed tour guide at all times. That said, it was a lot less “Soviet Totalitarian” in style than the old days — there was a whole street of nothing but expensive auto dealerships. There were McDonaldses. There was lovely Russian Empire-era architecture too. But before you get the impression that it was all a mishmash of New York City with the odd Disney palace mixed in … there was also no shortage of God-awful Soviet-era architecture, mostly in the form of giant soulless apartment blocks, all built out of crumbly concrete and possessed of the charm of your average broom closet. That said, the people were friendly. Good dancers.

  • Helsinki, Finland — nice little small city on the north shore of the Gulf of Finland. Not much to see or do there besides buying textiles (according to our tour guide), so we went an hour outside the city to a little town called Porvoo where we got to pay money to use the bathroom and eat reindeer salami.

  • Stockholm, Sweden — big city on the west coast of the Baltic. The “Venice of the North” due to all the waterways in and among the islands making up the city. We got there during a major left-wing demonstration. Or maybe it was a right-wing demonstration. Streets were closed off and cops were everywhere. It was all very confusing. But we got to see some more nice architecture, to say nothing of a big-ass ship from the Swedish Empire days of the early 1700s which had sunk on its maiden voyage, never actually having gotten out of the harbor.

  • Aaaaand back to Copenhagen, where I had a bad cold, wanted to die at various times, and where it rained cats and dogs on us. But we got to see the Little Mermaid statue, which was every bit as small and unprepossessing as you’d have expected, and we also visited one of the Lego stores.


Then we flew home, Scandinavian Airlines through DC and back to Vermont.


Did we have fun? You bet. But as I said, we were tired all the time from having to get up early each day to meet a tour operator who would shuttle us all around whatever city we were in that day, fighting through crowds of other tourists from other countries having arrived on other cruise ships. It was, at times, kind of like going to the mall on Black Friday. Only with 1/3 of the shoppers speaking Japanese or Chinese and everyone desperately trying not to lose sight of their guide while taking photos of the backs of other tourists’ heads.


What was our favorite moment?


Probably the time we went to the Ice Bar on the Breakaway. It was a small bar made out of, you guessed it, ice. Built in a sizable (for a freezer, anyway) freezer. With ice furniture. And glasses made out of ice. We had to wear warm insulated capes and gloves because inside, it was 15 degrees. We took in our stuffed animal penguin, Adelie, who liked it a lot. She hadn’t known that cruise ships were adding penguin-friendly areas.



And then, there was the Commedia del’Arte show at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, featuring the ancient characters of Harlequino (the clown in motley, who in this version, was a very fine-lookin’ ballet dancer) and Pierrot, the clown in white (a.k.a. the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man). Tivoli itself is a fascinating place — the oldest amusement park in the world, with some rides (mostly on the state fair level, to be honest), lots of restaurants, and lots of nice green gardens to stroll through. But they also do a nightly Commedia show, with really high caliber performers, and we left going “wow, that was really something.”



 


In the end, though, we had lots of fun times and visited lots of places we’d like to go back to, if it weren’t for the whole “flying across the Atlantic in a crowded airliner and landing in a jet-lagged stupor” thing.


As we get around to it, we’ll be sharing photos and memories of our trip. Feel free to ignore us, or better yet, just go sit in a darkened room with a flashlight pointed at a bare spot of wall. It’ll work out the same either way.