Tag Archives: Musings

Fear of Fall


No, I didn’t forget to type the -ing.  I have a fear of fall; some would call this an unreasonable fear but to me it makes total sense.  Consider the following facts:

1.  Fall is the time of waning light.  Common sense tells me that the light has been steadily waning since the summer solstice but one really starts to notice in the fall.  I need light in order to thrive; this is the season where I know I’m in for a looooong, cold, period of darkness.  Where I live, the sun doesn’t bother shining much in winter anyway, so why hang around after 5 pm?

2. Leaves fall off the trees.  I know they are pretty but half the time the wind blows so hard they get torn from the trees before they change colour.  Dry, crumbly leaves don’t make me sad; supple green ones gone before their time do.

3. Colder weather.  As with light, I need warmth to thrive.  Canada laughs in my face, starting around the middle of October.  I must have been a plant in a former life – a delicate, tropical plant needing much heat and humidity.  And, long days.

4. Ho…ho…holidays.  I can’t even type the word without stuttering in fear.  Even now, at the end of October, I can feel my shoulders tighten and my jaws begin to clench.

5. With back to school equals a disastrous mess in my house.  I know that the position of the Earth and Mother Nature have nothing to do with this one but the minute the kids go back, the amount of clutter increases in my house a thousand fold.  In addition to piles of backpacks, papers, and assorted other things a mountain of winter boots and coats grows as the weather chills and before long, you’ve got the aforementioned disastrous mess.

If I were to seek professional assistance for my fear of Fall, perhaps the professional might say something helpful like, “Get one of those nifty light boxes!”  or  “tell the children to organize their stuff”  or “Try to embrace the cold like Canadians do – take up skiing! Skating! Tobogganing!  Ice fi-”  At this point I would find something heavy to throw at the therapist and walk out…

And,  there’s more!  With all of the above come our children’s birthdays (mind you, I love them but why oh why didn’t we plan their conception a bit better?) PLUS a full two months of holiday shopping, parties, entertaining, frantic cleaning of above mentioned disastrous mess before entertaining, did I mention shopping?  And, the parties?

I’m a hermit.  I don’t like parties and I don’t like entertaining. I’m one of the few women on earth who really hates shopping of any sort.  My idea of a good time is one or two people over for a nice, quiet dinner with good food and good wine.  I practically break out in a rash at the thought of holiday parties, especially if I’m the hostess.  My husband loves entertaining and views shopping last minute at Christmas as a thrilling challenge.

It is the end of October.  The November and December calendars loom large on my desk.  I keep trying to hide from the inevitable reality that Fall leads to Winter and all of its attendant scariness.  As usual, there is no escape.  With the ever-encroaching darkness, my mood matches.

Solution? Since I’ve not won the lottery (yet), I can’t flee for warmer climes.  I must find a way to make the best of it as opposed to making the lives of my loved ones miserable for the next few months.  This weekend, I will try to hatch a plan.  Will it involve organization?  Probably.  Will it involve everyone’s cooperation?  Most certainly.  Will it involve prescription medication?  Undoubtedly.

Reality calls.  I must go.  There’s a pumpkin to be bought, costumes to assemble, and a dish to prepare for the first of the season’s parties…before I go downstairs in my fuzzy slippers, I will put my head back and dream of summer – a time of long warm days when night isn’t in such a hurry to overtake the light.

Reality Weighs In


A while back I wrote a piece of flash fiction entitled, “The Rock of Truth.”  Although it hasn’t met with wide public approval (read: it hasn’t been published), it is still one of my favourites.  It outlines the a very brief trajectory of a love affair gone awry.  The turning point of the piece is when the narrator talks about being bashed on the head by the rock of truth.  “The rock of truth weighs about a 1,000 pounds.”

Turns out the rock of truth weighs a good deal more than a 1,000 pounds regardless of why it hits.

Having the rock of truth score a direct hit tends to hurt; it positions itself directly on the heart. The term “heavy heart” keeps floating around and around in my head. My heart is a lump in my chest that drags me down and makes it hard to breathe – quite the opposite of the life-giving organ it usually is.  The opposite of “light-hearted” is what I am.

Circumstances dictate that I carry on; pretend that I’ve not been felled by a 1,000 pound behemoth.  Although the heaviness remains, life goes on.  One of the hardest parts about getting hit by the rock of truth is the painful process of crawling out from underneath it.   I have to look forward and not flinch every time a cloud passes overhead.

The bruises remain on my heart; they will fade, eventually.  The shadow of the rock will shrink as time works its slow magic. Until the next time.  There’s always a next time with the rock of truth.

Living Up To The Hair


In a move calculated to get some of my mojo back, I’ve just returned from the hairdresser as a maximum blonde!  Rumplestilskin would go nuts for this stuff!  Spun gold indeed!  It is shimmering, glistening, dare I say, Dazzling with a capital D – true Hollywood blonde!  I’m not kidding when I say this hair colour has taken 10 years off my face…ok, maybe 5 1/2 but still, when one’s next birthday is the Big 5-0, that’s saying something!


Ain’t there always a “but”?

What about the rest of me?  Oh, sure, it’s fine if one keeps one’s eyes firmly above the shoulders – given the dazzling display of blonde awesomeness going on up there, it’s fairly easy – but  should one’s eyes drift lower, the jig would be up, as they say.

So now, I have to live up to my hair.  I think it’s a good thing.  Having this glowing halo of bedazzlement on my head will force me to give some much needed care and attention to points further south, and let’s be honest, the inside as well.  (STOP:  get glass of water; drink further 7 glasses throughout the rest of the day, sleep close to bathroom…)

Ok, I’m back…

As I was saying, living up to the hair will require taking care of the rest of me and folks, this blonde revolution comes not a moment too soon.  As I lay in bed last night, groaning in pain and feeling more than ten times my age, I thought it’s time:  either die or do something about yourself.  Ok, I know that sounds melodramatic but that’s how banshees are.  Given my age (see above), weird shit is happening to my body; most of it makes me feel bloody awful most of the time.  To a large degree this is because I lie in bed eating Oreos and doing nothing good for myself.

Those days are OVER.  Now that I’ve published this directive, I have to follow through.  Or so the experts tell me.

Step 1:  Eat better.  Just because there are cookies in the house doesn’t mean I have to eat…all of them.  If fats must be ingested, make them good, worthwhile fats as opposed to waste of time, worthless fats.  Avocados instead of Twinkies.  Drink water; ease up on the vodka.  Green tea, good.  Starbucks, bad.

Step 2: Get moving!  My husband, felled by kitty-induced asthma, can still play a squash match (albeit with more heavy breathing than his partners are used to) and live to tell the tale whereas I can barely run a mile.  In fact, I’m quite sure I cannot.  Break up with the couch, banshee.  He’s no good for you.

Step 3: Fake it til you make it.  While my lovely hairdresser Kris can take me from mousy brown to Hollywood bombshell in about an hour and a half, the rest of the renovation will take some time.  If I’m diligent, it probably won’t take as long as I think it will but deceptive measures will still have to be employed.  As in, the use of the lovely tunic length sweaters in gorgeous fall colours that complement my new hair colour and also cover a multitude of sins.  Makeup.  Making an effort can make a difference even if the only creature who lays eyes on me most of the day is a kitten.

Three simple steps to renovating a banshee.  Not too bad.  Now, I will eat a healthy lunch, basking in the glow of my luminous hair…

Ever Since


Of all the headlines and quotes I read in yesterday’s paper regarding the attacks on September 11, 2001, there was one that caused my heart to skip half a beat.  “Every day since then has been September 12” – Condoleeza Rice.

And so, on this September 12, I try to remember that September 12 because that day would’ve been the day we had to get up and carry on as best we could.  While  every horrible detail of September 11 is burned in my mind, September 12 is a blur except for one thing.  I remember standing on my front lawn and looking up at the sky. Another spectacular fall day where we lived, just north of Chicago.  The sky was impossibly peacefull.  And empty.  How could something so serene have, just the day before, played host to four airplanes used as missiles that would change our lives forever.

I remember as a cranky teenager when my parents would speak of days like that (they had the misfortune to live through more than one), I would yawn and roll my eyes.  “Really?” I’d ask, with the cynicism of a 16 year old.  “There’s no way one day can change an entire country’s collective life forever.”  Parents could be so dramatic sometimes.  My father, who worked at the Pentagon during WWII, would lean forward in his chair, his blue eyes blazing.  “Your generation has no idea.  And, yes, little miss smarty-pants, one day can change everything.” And then he’d launch into The Lecture about Pearl Harbor.  And still, I remained unconvinced.

I get it now, Daddy.  I wish you were around to put your hands on my shoulders, fix me with that blue eyed stare and say, “I told you so.”  Because, for his generation, perhaps every day since was December 8. How many Americans of his generation stood outside their houses the next day, staring at the sky with dread, not knowing what would come next?

The sky on September 11 was a clear deep blue we get when summer’s haze has finally flown away.  That depth of blue can occur outside of autumn; in April of this year, I looked out at a September 11 sky and fell apart.  The air had something in it – a clarity, like autumn.  A short essay was born – the first time I’d tried to write about it – and although it was the wrong time of year, it tore me to bits.  I sat at the computer and sobbed.  I hit “save” and was done with it – I never submitted it anywhere.  I wasn’t sure anyone would understand how an April sky had brought me to my knees.

I opened the file today and realized the essay wasn’t very good but it did have a certain raw energy to it.   I might give it to my kids to read.  This year was the first they asked questions about 9/11.  Tears running down my face, I tried to explain the gut-wrenching emotions, the glimmers of hope, the stories of rescue and survival. They asked very technical questions, some I couldn’t answer.  My tears confused them.  “It’s 10 years later, mommy.”  They might’ve rolled their eyes, a bit.

The day, regardless of how many anniversaries pass, will always be an open wound on my heart and on the hearts of Americans everywhere.  I hope my children never experience a day when a crystalline sky becomes a reminder of pain.

Every day since has been September 12.

Dear Boomer,


Dear Boomer,

I know you are looking down on us from your comfy, down-filled bed in heaven in disbelief.  And shock.  And horror.  You might even be baring your teeth, causing the angels to look around in dismay.

Let me ‘splain…

You see, Boomer, since you left us, we’ve been lonely.  Now don’t get me wrong.  This cute little bundle of furry adorable-ness is NOT a replacement as you, O sainted pup, are irreplaceable.  Everybody acknowledges that so smooth down your hackles and listen to me.  Good boy.  And, for the record, I wanted no new pet.  But, the children…they could not be persuaded.  They took your death very hard  – your little girl had a good cry over you just the other night, filling her waste basket with tissues.  We needed something to distract us from the pain.  Call it an ice cream cone to make a boo-boo feel better.  The ice cream’s name is Alyss.

Because we didn’t have to foresight to clone you (and besides, that’s still just a little bit icky to my way of thinking), we did think about getting a puppy.  In fact, because we are collectively mentally unbalanced, we are still considering getting a puppy in addition to the ball of fluff we just acquired.  However, puppies (you were the exception) are hard work.  They require full-on, hands on, 24/7 attention at least at the outset.  Kittens, whatever else you may think about them, are slightly more self-sufficient.  As in, I haven’t had to walk her once.  Yes, I know I could use the exercise.  Don’t judge.

Alyss has been with us for almost 48 hours.  She has already found a sanctuary under our bed (trust me, she won’t be allowed on it just as you weren’t) and she is quite happy to hang out there all day.  She is very, very shy because, like you, she was living on the streets from the time she was born and she has little or no experience with people.  If you recall, dear one, I used to call you “Cat-Dog” because sometimes you could be quite aloof.

I am as shocked as anyone that we are now cat owners.  I never would’ve thought it…your “Dad” has absolutely no idea how to treat a cat.  He pats her on the head as if she were a dog; I’m sure she has a headache.  Last night, he thoroughly pissed her off by carefully rubbing her fur the wrong way.  He was rewarded with a look of pure disdain.

She will test us.  She will make us sneeze.  She will trip us gleefully on the stairs.  But, she will also ease our pain.  We saved her life and surely you can forgive us for that reason alone.  So, try not to be angry with us Boomer.  There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t remember you and miss you.  Call us crazy if you must.  It’s ok – I do.



Banshees screech.  It’s what we’re known for.  It’s been too long since I’ve really aired out my lungs.  Today, I’m finding it hard to be the lone banshee with a sunny disposition who goes blathering on about her recent lovely vacation in Europe when, as I write, Europe is slowly sliding into the shitter along with…well, everybody except China (I think).

I can contain myself no more.  Let me caution you that I might insult, offend, and piss off in this rant.  I’m beyond caring because frankly, my cardiac health is more important than being politically correct.  Today.  I will apologize tomorrow.  Maybe.

Buckle up.

Speaking of apologizing, I’m so gratified to hear that Gerard Depardieu apologized for peeing in the cabin of a CityJet airline.  I’m sure that makes it all better for the hardworking cabin cleaners (not to mention the other passengers) who had to clean up after him after his temper tantrum.  Somebody should’ve made that oversized infant clean up his own mess.  What kind of self-respecting adult does such a thing?  Everybody over the age of 3 1/2 knows to go before you get on the plane (because these days, God knows how long you might be delayed on the runway before take off, ascent, location of cruising altitude and so forth).  Mon Dieu, Gerard.  Send this guy some Depends and ban him from all public transport…

Speaking of tantrum-throwing infants in the public domain, get over yourself Christine O’Donnell.  Is this how the next generation of politicians is going to lead?  Is she a politician?  I seem to remember a failed debate in Delaware awhile back…Either they’re exposing themselves on social media or having tantrums when asked a question they don’t want to answer.  What a great example you are setting for America’s young people, Christine.  Sure, Piers Morgan is an over-blown, egocentric, sometimes rude man but if I’m not mistaken you were on his show.  The purpose of his show, in case you were not familiar with the format is:  he asks you questions, you answer them.   Surely, you are not so naive as to think that the question wouldn’t come up (or a similar one).  If you want to be a public figure, you’d better grow some thicker skin and perhaps even have lucid answers to the tough questions.

Kim Kardashian, go away.  Take your ostentatious, tacky engagement ring down to the nearest pawn shop and sell it.  Then please donate the proceeds to say, UNICEF or Doctors Without Borders.  Save the Children is nice too.  Or any charity of your choice (but not, I repeat not the Kardashian How To Get Famous Without Ever Doing Anything Useful- Fund).  Then, take the money your family is spending on your “lavish” (sickening, nauseating, insulting to most of mankind) wedding and donate it similarly.  Then, feel free to get married to whomever you please, as many times as you please with one condition:  you must go somewhere hidden away – may I suggest somewhere underground with dim lighting with no audio? – to do it so that the rest of us might be spared the spectacle and the endless “reporting” of it.

In a British newspaper I came across a flurry of reports regarding A-levels.  One such report maintains that A-levels don’t mean much anymore.  I confess I do not understand the British school system at all but I do know that when one student is awarded two points on his exam for answering a question with the words, “F**K OFF” (which presumably was not the correct answer), the world really is coming to an end.  I believe the exam board said more points might’ve been awarded if the student had used an exclamation point.  Really?  Please, please, please be a joke, I beg of you.

Rioting and destruction of communities across Britain, flash-mob robberies in convenience stores across the U.S. (which, frankly, amazes me given the gun laws there – are these kids crazy or crazy and stupid?), political and economic paralysis in the U.S., the slow, agonizing death of the European economy, the imbecilic thoughts, ideas, policies, and intentions of Toronto’s mayor who will, if he gets his way, will turn back  progress in this city by about 20 years….maybe 30, and has anyone seen Stephen Harper lately?  It’s worrying when he hasn’t been seen in awhile, it usually means he’s off doing something sneaky or maybe I’ve just been too caught up in Kim K’s wedding plans to notice…

You know why I’m screeching, don’t you?  NO, I assure you I’m not jealous of Kim’s fame.  I’m scared.  There is little good news anywhere (oh, wait I’m wrong – David Beckham is now able to feed his new baby now that Posh is pumping…yay, Becks!)  Even Nicholas Sarkozy is looking grim.  Last week he had still had the glib smirk on his face but it was gone as of this morning.  Maybe Angela Merkel had just stamped on his foot, I don’t know.  I feel (for the first time) that the world is in the direst of straits.  Usually, I just go about my life, hang onto my money as best I can, and hope our elected officials know what they’re doing.  The faint light I used to think I saw at the end of the tunnel has gone out.  The darkest days haven’t even come yet…on top of that, winter is coming, dammit.  I hate winter.

How will we cope?  No one, not our elected officials, not pundits – no one seems to have the answers.  Perhaps, Kim K has the right idea after all, burying herself in Marie Antoinette-like delusion that all is well as long as she has cake to eat…perhaps this winter, I should just get me some Valium, hibernate like a bear and when Spring 2012 arrives, all will be well.  No more Somali children will have starved to death, no more mindless rioters will have burned down the livelihoods of their fellow neighbours, and some way, some how, the U.S. and the rest of the world will be solvent.  And, Kim Kardashian will have gone away.

Something in the Air


August.  The bittersweet month.  Month of flat water, humidity, spectacular thunderstorms, and days so hot every step taken is something of an effort.  Month of back-to-school shopping.  Summer’s swan song is upon us.

In our part of Canada, autumn shows us a card or two in August.  Today, for example, there is a hint of something in the air, not exactly a chill but more like an edge to the air.  Summer is still here – the humidity level is somewhere around 80% and it’s sunny and hot but autumn is sprinkled through the ether, like the hint of an unnamed spice sprinkled in a savoury sauce.  It’s not right in your face, it’s subtle but there all the same.  A reminder.

Now that I’ve been reminded, thank you very much, I have no choice but to look forward.  Don’t get me wrong: I adore autumn.  Here in the more eastern provinces, we enjoy spectacular fall colours – the colour red no, scarlet, actually exists here where it is absent out West.  Days will still be warm with cool nights, perfect for sleeping.  We enjoy this reprieve from both summer’s swelter and winter’s freeze until about the  end of October.  Then, Canada reminds us where we live.  Party’s over, get out the woollys.

I had a tree off my back deck in Calgary that dropped every leaf in August.  The minute summer’s light began to wane, the tree went into a full-blown depression and dropped its leaves.  Here, the maples hold on to every glorious blazing leaf until a very rude wind blows, ripping them away.

I’m not ready.  I never am.  I only just dragged the box of winter jackets down to the basement  a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve only just begun to hear the cicadas and the crickets.  The mosquitoes have only recently given up, making my front porch tolerable again.  I’m not ready for darker evenings and frigid mornings.  My tomatoes are not ripe yet!

The cold weather comes no matter how much I complain.  In the years I’ve lived here, I’ve tried a variety of tactics to fool myself or deal with the inevitable (hard to fool yourself in Calgary where winter can kick you in the teeth in August, no gentle reminders there).  Maybe this year I’ll invest in some beautiful sweaters in bright colours to keep my mood up.  Something that makes me feel good when I put it on over the 37 other layers.  I will waddle forth in my 38 layers, trying to put a brave face on.

Oh, who am I fooling?  Exactly no one.  I will whine and complain from the end of October until the end of…let’s see…April.  I will grit my teeth and consider a life of crime to afford me winters in the Caribbean, as I always do.  I will be the only one toasting the Winter Solstice in my family, longing for longer days and the heat of summer.

Until then, I will try to make the most of what’s left.  I need to go talk to the tomato plants and tell them to hurry up – there’s something in the air.

Glimmer Dancing


I woke up this morning and just like every other morning, I started the coffee. Opened my email.  Sitting in second position under “new mail” was an email from a literary magazine I had submitted a short story to in June.  Usually, I go through all kinds of ridiculous avoidance manoeuvres when these emails come; they are usually rejections.   Maybe I was just too sleepy, too under-caffeinated to think of some clever avoidance move so I opened the sucker up with no nail-biting, no yoga posing, and no theatrical deep-breathing.

And read:  “Dear Wee Banshee, thank you for not going through all kinds of avoidance manoeuvres that might throw your back out or give you an unnecessary stitch in your side.  We would be pleased to accept your story for publication but we would also be pleased if you would make sure you have clothes on before you do your happy dance in the street…”

Or, something to that effect.

Checking my attire to ensure that my children would be able to attend school this Fall without having to wear disguises, I did indeed run outside and do what can only be described as a primitive, free-form happy dance.  That was about an hour and a half ago and so far, no police or family service personnel have come a-calling.  I continued said happy dance back inside and up the stairs (no small feat for someone who is woefully out of shape and who has a bad back) and into my children’s rooms.

As I said, that was about an hour and a half ago.  My son just came downstairs and asked me if I knew anything about some weird crazy person dancing and shouting upstairs earlier.  I looked up and said, “It was your mother.”  He started to look a bit panicked so I reassured him with the good news.

Now that I’ve calmed down just a tad, I can sit here and say, without hesitation, the Universe provides.  I don’t mean money (but if the Universe would also like to make my recently purchased Lotto ticket a winner, that would be fine and yes I will dance in the street naked and not give a rat’s ass who sees me).  I mean…the Universe provides what it needs to when it needs to.

Let me ‘splain:  just 24 hours ago, I lay in bed with one or two tears coursing down my cheeks.  I stared at the ceiling and pondered my future as a writer as in did I have one?  It has seemed, at times, a fruitless endeavour.  Don’t get me wrong, I love writing beyond all reason and do it happily, day in and day out.  Writing, as I’ve only recently realized after 49 years of living, is as necessary a part of me as breathing is.

As much as I adore scattering words down on a page, I need that elusive external reassurance that I’m doing it well; I need what can only be called validation.  Validation, for a writer, is publication.  Believe me, I do not harbour illusions that I’m the next J.K. Rowling or Margaret Atwood.  The letter I received this morning mentioned nothing about monetary compensation.  It offered up seven magic words:  “pleased to accept your story for publication.”

There it was:  the glimmering, faint streaks of light in a previously ink black sky.  In the pale golden dawn, a wee banshee danced.

Mad in Monte Carlo

 Change of plans: the seas were too rough to use a tender in Villefranche so the El Capitan  has   announced we will dock in Monte Carlo.  Damn – I’d planned to find a nice day in Villefranche, have a relaxed snooze on the beach, splash in the sea, do some shopping, etc.  Now, we’d have to find something to do in Monte Carlo that wouldn’t bankrupt us.

But first, breakfast.  Breakfast was a family affair on the cruise ship.  Not with family but “family style” which I’m not altogether fond of.  I’m shy with new people at the best of times and downright snarky at 7:30 in the morning with strangers and no coffee.

After a hastily gulped croissant and coffee, I ran back to take a shower.  Hmmm…Monte Carlo, I thought.  I really didn’t want to trek through this place looking like a tacky tourist.  No shorts or running shoes today, I thought.  I dressed in what I thought was a rather chic outfit: Flowing, gauzey white shirt, crisp white trousers and cute leather sandals.  Big sunglasses completed the ensemble.  I even put on eye makeup – eyeliner & mascara.  I could make an effort for Monte Carlo.

Mother Nature had other plans.

As we disembarked the heavens opened up.  My gauzy white shirt was soon plastered to my body.  My husband gently suggested I wear something over it.  He handed me a pink and black plaid sweatshirt that belonged to my daughter.  There was nothing chic about that. I put my sunglasses away and pulled up the hood but it was too little too late.  In less than 5 minutes, we were all soaked.

We walked through the town which was immaculate, beautiful, groomed – everything you’d expect.  Maseratis, Ferraris, and the odd Rolls Royce sent towering waves of dirty water over us as they drove by.  We saw the Casino just above us and headed for it.  “I just want to see it,” my daughter said.  Parked in the U-shaped drive in front of the Casino de Monte Carlo were at least a dozen cars that would make James Bond’s knees go weak:  Aston Martins, Ferraris of all shapes and sizes, a Lamborghini or two, multiple large BMW sedans and more Mercedes than I’ve ever seen outside of a dealership.  I dripped, my husband and kids drooled.

We happened upon a shopping centre where we could take refuge. Other tourists stood shivering in the doorway.  The smell of fresh bread and hot coffee drew us in; we headed for a cafe.   We ordered in our very bad French (the puckered look on the cafe server’s face assured us our French was very, very bad indeed).  We gratefully sat down at an empty table.  Soon a disagreeable woman came over to us, flapping her arms and hissing like a barnyard goose.  I shook my head.  “You cannot eat here,” she said.  “You must go.  You must go now.”  I think she repeated the word “now” a couple of times.

People stared. I was embarrassed and just pissed off.  I could feel tears welling up so I dashed off to find a bathroom.  Note:  don’t “dash off”  in Monaco shopping malls looking like a half-drowned stowaway.  It attracts the attention of security who think you are stealing something.  Giving the security guards the goat eye, I found a washroom.  Passing a mirror, I gasped.  My carefully applied makeup had not withstood the Monte Carlo downpour very well.  I looked like a half-drowned raccoon.  Nope, wait.  Because I’d been crying and my eyes were red, I think it’s safe to say I either looked like a stoned half-drowned raccoon or a raccoon with a severe case of pink eye.   The ladies’ room attendant held out her hand for Euros.

I couldn’t even afford to pee in Monte Carlo.

I stormed out of the washroom, stormed past my family uttering some very mean things about the mall, the bathroom attendant, and Monte Carlo and said I wanted to go back to the ship.  I may have said the word “now” several times.  I may have stomped my foot.

Back onboard, I collapsed in a heap in our stateroom feeling frumpy, soggy, and decidedly unworthy.  I lay there wishing I was thin, tanned, rich, and most of all, dry.  I fell asleep.  When I awoke Monte Carlo was gone.  Thank God.

I *Heart* You, Barcelona


First stop, Barcelona.  Spain – Never really desired to go but nonetheless looked forward to seeing it.  After a 7 1/2 hr. flight on Air Transat which will forever be known as the flight with the Worst Service EVER, we landed at 12:30 p.m. local time.  The journey had begun.

I’ve read that Barcelona is the heart of Catalonia, a fiercely proud culture that is not strictly Spanish.  It is described as a nation within a nation.  Even the language is different; however, the people will speak Spanish if that’s all you’ve got.  Barcelona is a city of contrasts – wide boulevards and winding medieval side streets; bold modern architecture beside ancient 14th Century gothic structures.

After our restless flight from Toronto, we were not showing our best faces to Barcelona.  We greeted her with bad hair, hollow eyes, and no energy.  Thankfully, everyone we met from step one was friendly and helpful.  We were staying at Gruphotel Gravina, in Barcelona’s Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) which is one of the most extensive medieval city centres in the world.  Our room wasn’t ready but the hotel staff stowed our 500 bags with good cheer, impeccable English, and glasses of champagne.  I do know the word gracias.

Dazed and exhausted, we wandered around the corner and found ourselves on Barcelona’s street for wandering tourists, Las Ramblas, a pretty, tree-lined but touristy thoroughfare.  Like stupid touristas (well, I guess that’s fitting), we fell into the first restaurant we saw and ordered whatever was safe – omelets and chicken.  Both arrived courtesy of the only surly person we encountered in Barcelona (our waiter), unrecognizable.  Our fault for eating on Las Ramblas but we were too tired to care.  We stumbled back to the hotel and collapsed.  Three of us did.  Dave, always impervious to jet lag, hit the streets camera in hand.

A couple of hours later he returned and roused us. Blinking in the late afternoon sunlight like three little moles, we began to explore. The first thing we were struck with was how old the city felt.  Not dilapidated old but…wonderfully old.  Coming from North America and Canada in particular, a city like Barcelona makes our “old” cities look like temporary shanty towns thrown up in a big hurry.  The other thing that struck us was we felt instantly at home even though our command of Spanish in its entirety was maybe three words.  No one made us feel stupid or foolish; everyone took our linguistic stumbles with grace and good humour.

Dave had been out for all of three hours and had a successful reconaissance mission.  He’d been to the Barcelona Cathedral and he’d taken a zillion photos.  He’d found me a Starbucks at Placa Catalunya.  It was packed – and not with tourists.  Everywhere we walked from the Placa until we cut down narrow side streets, we saw (unpleasant) reminders of home (Burger King, McDonalds, Starbucks).  I vowed to ignore those signs and focus on the shops with no signs or only the ones in Spanish.  I peered down little alleys and saw shops, cafes and restaurants tucked away, off the beaten path. It struck me then how little time I had in this lovely place…

We tried to enter the massive Cathedral de Barcelona which sits off a small square that was perfect for people watching (rivaled later by another – the Placa de Sant Jaume .  Alas, my daughter’s Daisy Dukes were too short (I warned you, missy) and we were denied entry.  We walked all the way around it, finding little nooks and crannies to explore.  We ended up back on Las Ramblas in search of something I’m almost too embarrassed to mention:  a sports bar.

Let me explain…the U.S. women’s soccer team was in the final of the Women’s World Cup against Japan – we really wanted to see.  However, in place after place we asked…we pointed at the televisions (which were in nearly every restaurant), we imitated soccer kicks, we said “futbol!” to no avail.  Every waiter shrugged and said (we think), “we don’t get that channel.”  Oh well.  We had a nice dinner anyway and were comforted by our first (of many) cones heaped with gelato.

Heading back to the hotel, we scoped out several pastry shops from which to fuel ourselves the next morning…and saw a building (hotel?) with a facade covered completely in delicate mosaic tiles.  It glowed in the evening light.  Gorgeous! I developed a strange obsession:  carved wooden doors – there were so many  – some large and imposing, others small and crooked – all incredibly intricate and lovely.  We will have a section of photos entitled simply, “Doors.”

While lovely and picturesque, the Gothic Quarter was hard on my feet and knees – uneven steps and cobblestones.  Getting old sucks.

The next day dawned warm and sunny – yay!  Some of us (me & my son) had been awake since 3 a.m.We checked out of the hotel (see you in 13 days!), re-stowed our 500 bags, and marched off in search of whatever we could see before we had to head to the Big Boat.  Everywhere we looked there were gothic buildings, Art Moderne buildings, posh hotels, twisty medieval side streets with apartment buildings on either side wearing their wrought iron balconies like lace mantillas.  Each one was packed with feathery palms and other potted plants.  We found the mother of all gift shops with lovely items (touristy but not tacky).  The first souvenir t-shirt was purchased somewhere along the way.

We gained entry to the Cathedral and it was full-on, gold-laden, heavy Gothic – and beautiful.  Our daughter snapped more pictures and said “Wow!” more often than anyone.  A rickety lift took us to the roof and gave a splendid view of the city.  Dave spied his real goal in the distance:  Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia.  Like Don Quixote heading for a windmill, Dave hailed a taxi and we sped toward’s Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece.  I gasped as we approached the incredible facade – not only because it looked like a giant melting candle but also because of the absolutely ridiculous line of people that snaked its way around.  We literally could not find the end of it; sadly, Dave had to content himself with pictures of the exterior – so massive and intricate it defies description.  I think I heard him smother a sob- not sure.  I reminded him we had another day after the cruise to see it…his jaw set in steely resolve.  I’ll be back, said he.  So will we, and gladly.  We love you, Barcelona!!