More Budapest, Day 5 — Museum and Heroes Square

Museum of Fine Arts, showing a tiny bit of the breadth of plaza, which I keep talking about, that is Heroes Square

Continuing from yesterday, I ramble on about our rambles around the Museum of Fine Arts some more (and I edited the previous post to include some links that hadnʼt been there before) and our return into rain to look at Vőrös tere

In the end we spent almost four hours at the museum. I completely lost track of time (yes, I wore my watch, but I seldom think to look at that sucker), progressing forward in art history time from the lengthy medieval stuff I wrote about vaguely already through some Renaissance artists (Italian, German, British, Spanish [I remember an El Greco] — things started to get sorted by nationality, so the time sequence got a bit confused for me except by styles and subjects), Baroque, Nineteenth Century, and very little modern.

The Dutch galleries, listed by all guides as a highlight, was exactly that — more focused on big canvases of landscapes and still lives than the tiny interiors familiar from Vermeer or characterful faces of Rembrandt.

The Museum of Fine Arts has some very fine works, but what really drew My Belovedʼs attention was, obviously, the Impressionists — and there were quite  few interesting canvases to study  toward the end of our second- and third-floor wanderings. I even got to play my game of finding out how far away the painting leaped into real-life clarity and focus (amazingly far away, even in different rooms for several). I also enjoyed the earlier French artists — Delacroix, Corot and Courbet (all of whom found spacious discussion previously here on the blog). On this visit, although a few of the guards (mostly stout, middle-aged and older women) watched me getting my intrusive nose perhaps too close to some canvases, I didnʼt come near to actually touching anything.

the (admittedly uninteresting-to-foreigners) historical nobility (southern) half of the Heroes Square monument

Legendary and historical kings on Heroes Square

The mounted Magyars on the central spire, Heroes Square

Eventually, art-weariness began to make things seem less and less intriguing for this day (a false, subjective impression bred from too-muchness at any museum), and we found our way back to the steps we had come up several hours earlier. However, in the lobby (where we had paid our admission, now filled with various groups of people, plentiful schoolchildren) I noticed that a pair of large doors led off to the Greek and Roman antiquities, and we went in there (me a bit trepidatious that perhaps this wing required an extra fee — it didnʼt).

Now The Lovely One has had more than enough of Greek vases — red-figure, black-figure and polychrome — from our visits to the British Museum, where she may also have gotten more than she wanted of examining the Lindow Man, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but she does like the sculpture and enjoys mosaics (after our visit to Volubilis in Morocco back in 1984). And we ended up spending another hour-plus amidst (yes) vases (all three kinds, but a limited number) of many varieties (of use), among which I pointed out amphorae to her, and lots of Roman statues or assorted fragments thereof (also true of the vases).

Pleasantly, almost no other visitors bothered to take in these genuine antiquities, and the gentle quiet made these final rooms a real highlight of our visit… for both of us (even with vases examined, sometimes minutely, by one of us).

The heroic couple atop the central spire, Heroes Square

Unlike yesterday, my own shot of Mucsarnok, the Music Hall

But then we descended again to retrieve our belongings and depart, in order to check out the monument(s) of Heroes Square, erected like so much else in Budapest for the millennial celebrations of 1896 (which is also why so many things in the city are 896 feet and/or meters high). We toured around the two sets of historical “heroes,” the first, older group on our side (toward the Museum of Fine Arts) being legendary and historical kings and the other group comprising lesser-known Hungarian nobles. I was reading from Rick Steves and either Frommer or DK, trying to be more informed and informative than had been our experience on Saturday over on Castle Hill. It was, however, actually raining, and our studies began to feel uncomfortably wet, even after we drew out the umbrellas (difficult to hold one and read from a guidebook), so after perhaps only a half hour or so, we headed off the large plaza to find again the Vőrös tere Metro stop and descend into the bowels beneath the streets.

We were headed back under Andrassy út toward the river…

Again, more to come… someday…

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Ha. Further Budapest. Day 5 — “At the Museum, part one”

Although I had planned to provide information on how we celebrated My Belovedʼs birthday in the post immediately next after her birthday, I discovered in uploading and editing my smartpenned stuff today that I really had a full post on about half of our fifth day in Budapest already done. It may leave us all in a less-than-suspenseful drone of tedium (and I donʼt really have much for pictures on this visit, me preferring not to expose antique art to excruciating flashes of unnecessary light) with more museum stuff to reveal (hopefully with decent quickness), but it keeps me going on this series I hope to complete. Eventually.

It is October 25, 2011…

Our little kitchenette in the room, ready for our breakfast — amazingly, on the day in question

Mucsarnok, the Music Hall on the far side of Heroes Square from the Museum of Fine Arts

So Tuesday was our museum day. We got up in good time (well, good time for us on vacation — 8:00 AM) to breakfast lightly (weʼd run out of the grapefruit we had purchased in the Great Market Hall on Friday afternoon, but we had replenished supplies with some bread and yogurt; we intended to see about more croissants later today, maybe more fruit, too). We were on our way just after 9:00, walking across Deák to take the Metro out to Hősök tere, on the closest side of Városliget (City Park). We wanted to visit Heroesʼ Square but the Museum of Fine Arts (Szepmüveszeti Múzeum) was right there, too.

This was another gloomy day. The wet continued, having trouble deciding between mist, drizzle and rain. So far, mist and drizzle apparently prevailed. At Deák, we descended beneath, passing by the ticket vendor to go further below (brief shades of Underground stops in London) for the red line out Andrassy út. Not much for crowds, the business day having begun, we waited (very) briefly for an outbound train, stepped aboard and shuddered away. Eight stops I had counted, the sixth being Oktagon. And eight stops it was. My usual problem upon resurfacing is a loss of orientation (which would almost become a little problem later that day).

However, Heroes Square was a huge expanse of paved plaza, larger by maybe a magnitude than I had imagined, and a map showed us which side was the museum and which the music hall (the redbrick Mucsarnok being cuter, embellished with attractive illustrated architectural lozenges of muses and, I seem to recall, at least one lyre). We crossed streets to the square to figure out our destination and across a wide boulevard to the museum, mounting the steps to the door as one of the very first visitors of the day (the museum opens at 10:00).

Szepmüveszeti Múzeum — The Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest — the skies were thoroughly and wetly not blue on October 25, 2011

Another of my travel shortcomings is a less than complete preparation for each dayʼs sights and activities. I buy the travel guides — sometimes, as with Prague, too many of them — but never seem to study them closely or attentively enough to really be prepared (and I used to reprimand students for their ill-finished homework or retention of material). Just now, writing, I checked the Frommer guide to verify the opening time, but I donʼt remember doing that back in October in the heat of the moment, and I recall some trepidation, hoping the museum truly was open as we arrived. Foolish mortal, me.

The Dutch room (which we will get to later), but typical in appearance to most of the rooms

We negotiated entrance purchases all right (although English seemed less fluent here than in more touristy venues) and passed from the lobby to basement level to stow our bags and my vest (security concerns). Then we wandered up and up a big, wide flight of marble steps on the outside of a vast interior courtyard.

Museum maps in hand, partially understood, we took a stab on the first entrance to our left on the long corridor onto which the stairs debouched and found ourselves in medieval art — lots of altar pieces and agonized but fairly bloodless crucifixions (they got less spiritually exalted and more bloodily realistic as we passed further forward in historical time). Religious art holds only limited appeal for The Lovely One, while my own tastes pedantically run a wider gambit… Or else I lack the imagination to realize that an overplus of less interesting art, however garish with gilt, may weary my powers of observation for more fascinating (and complex) works later in the museum visit (and in this case, later in art history). Whatever the distinctions, she drifted on ahead of me, eventually by more than one room, as I tried to appreciate (uninformed except by observation) techniques, media and (comparatively and by contrast) subjects.

So for an hour or so we ground minutely forward in historical time, and my attention and appreciation somewhat evaporated… altarpiece by altarpiece, spreadeagled Christ after Christ, agonized saint after martyred saint, gilt after gilt after paint. Italy, Germany, Holland and other Euro-locations.

tbc… ASAP

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Going It Alone

Work continues, obviously. This week I put in almost 50 hours…

I went out on my own, working, for the first full day on Thursday. I spent the day restoring or replacing traps which had blown down from their locations in trees. My partner was finishing a few things in Dubuque County (and replacing one or two downed traps herself) before heading back home (for her) to do nine placements for Linn County.

So I got to go out by myself. I had done a few hours on Monday mornings and Thursday afternoons (her travel time to and from our region where I actually live) but never a full solo day. I did all right, but not everything went smoothy or well.

First, I discovered that the “trap sheets” we create for each trap need to be in some order other than the one my partner had established (personally, I think it was merely the order in which we had placed the traps). Numerical order, as each two-mile by two-mile square has a unique number, seems most logical to me, if only because that system would make it possible to quickly locate a specific grid without unnecessary and extensive  searching through a whole countyʼs set of sheets (over a hundred, or even fifty more, for each our of three counties). I wasted nearly twenty minutes in two cases right off, heading north from home for several resettings, trying to discover the right trap sheets (for the detailed map we/she had drawn of the exact site) when numbered order would have sped me to the right sheet in almost no time. So at the end of the day I spent a half hour reorganizing the Clinton County sheets (and I will do the same for Jackson to start my Monday).

…could actually be my (current) GOV…

Second, my GOV continues to act up. Not the vehicle itself, but the dashboard display* (that which went beserk, sending the speedometer into nonsense mode, as the tachometer has always been — “always” since I met the GOV, at least). This whole week the “Service Engine Soon” indicator (the almost most worthless warning light a car designer could under-imagine) has been on, so I finally asked for permission to take the GOV in for service (well, for a price estimate for possible service) on Friday, and I stopped by the local Chevy dealer to set up an appointment midmorning on my solo Thursday.

Third, not long after I left town again, heading south this time, having finished replacing a downed trap on Clinton Countyʼs 280th Avenue, I somehow, accidentally, locked myself out of the running vehicle. Even my cell was not in my pants but tucked next to the emergency brake. I was utterly stranded, on my own, out in the country on a gravel road.

I couldnʼt believe it. Nor understand how it had happened. I had thought that one reason we left our vehicles running as we placed and replaced traps was to avoid just this ridiculous issue (I know that my pickup wonʼt allow me to lock myself out while the key is in the ignition). Naturally, panic set in. And the darkening skies bespoke the rain that was on its way (fortunately, although I didnʼt know that in advance, not to actually arrive until Friday and today — what a dreary pre-springlike, unsummerly weekend this has become).

However, I did think I could see some outbuildings around a big bend to the south, perhaps a half mile or so distant. So, the GOV being ironically as secure as possible, even though the engine was running, I set out down the road afoot. The place didnʼt look too promising as I arrived, only sheds, a car and stuff visible until I realized I was overlooking the earth-sheltered house beside the drive. I had to wander rudely out “back” beyond the house to find a door, but fortunately, an older man (than I) answered and actually let me use his phone to call 911.** The surly operator did dispatch a deputy sheriff. I hung up and returned the guyʼs cell, thanking him profusely for actually responding to my knock and helping me. Then I went back up the road to my GOV.

Although my savior had to leave to work on a house for his daughter, he did return in his truck when the Sheriffʼs office called him back to let me know that a big accident had taken all the deputies. And he left me a tarp under which to huddle if/when the rain came. (Now thereʼs a Good Samaritan, one of my favorite people of all time!) I paced up and down the roadside, adding perhaps six or eight thousand steps to my daily count, my mind wandering into sick realms of possibilities and dire fantasies (I had just watched Criminal Minds the previous night, on which the serial killer of the week made use of people being out of their usual patterns and comfort zones to kidnap, torture and eventually kill them — for instance).

Time does seem to expand under stress, and I couldnʼt read the dashboard clock through the tinted windows of the GOV, but I guessed that about an hour later a deputy showed up and very quickly, very professionally (even somewhat sympathetically) solved my problem for me. (I donʼt think he spent more than a minute performing the entry to the vehicle, while I was distracted, probably appropriately, with some paperwork to complete on his visit.)

I was on my way about a hundred minutes from the time I had last paid attention to the time. And I completed all my other trap replacements before conducting the GOV to the auto dealerʼs service entrance for its visit.

And that “service” situation is a whole ʼnother story, brethren and sistren.

* (its speedometer went awry as I drove it home originally from Des Moines a month ago, although it settled back into normal operation again within a day or two, and I just use my personal GPS device to provide my actual speed)

** The 911 operator scolded us, me in person, for using that number for my predicament — evidently not an emergency (a situation I had hesitantly anticipated). But neither of us, my rural savior nor me, had any idea what other number to call!

And, yes, the best I can guess, I actually tripped the lock myself, accidentally, when inserting my extendable pole from the rear hatch along the passenger side to the front. Now I make sure the pole tips downward as it passes along the side of the vehicle, and I also turn off the GOV and keep the keys on my person.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

The “Long Weekend”

The Holiday Inn Express in St. Charles

Happy birthday, to my brother, Stephen.

And now, back to our story from yesterday

Having booked a place to stay (with no thanks to the bid-your-own-price-for-a-room sites), The Lovely One and I packed our bag(s) — always two, one for clothing and one for, ah, toiletries and such (when I travel alone, as I will someday soon for training for the new job, the chimerical deity and the teabrained of Congress willing, I only need one). We got those bags and some supplies in the car and headed out of town, stopping for a convenience-store ʼcino (as we call those sugary, caffeinated beverages dispensed from nozzles — mine is invariably a combo: nine seconds of fat free vanilla, two or three seconds of English Toffee and a second or two of hot chocolate) and mailing a missive or two at the post office first. Slightly less than three hours brought us into St. Charles, Janet driving the whole way, the last forty minutes through increasing rain that wound up as sleety snow somewhere west of Wasco.

Townhouse Books, St. Charles. Support those small, independent booksellers — with or without attached restaurants!

She had hoped we would arrive in time for lunch at Townhouse Books, and we did, easily, dining on big sandwiches, vegetable chips and hearty clam chowder — all very good. We also enjoyed a white wine (much to my belovedʼs surprise, as I really do prefer reds). And the rain-with-snowfall had stopped by the time we went back outdoors to the car, intending to head off for the Holiday Inn Express and check in before doing some serious shopping (yeah, her plan). Even though we were more than an hour ahead of (what we would discover later was) the specified check-in time, the pleasant girl at the desk got us all squared away and keyed for room 222 (a smirking joke to ex-educators as old as I), and then we headed further east to the mall that contained Steinmart, World Express and (for me) Borders.

The Lovely One headed into Steinmart, and I strolled down to Borders, only to discover sadly (but opportunely) that this was one of the stores the corporation was closing under bankruptcy. Sad because I had found lots of exciting (and different) books here over the decades. Even though I do like both of the Borders nearest to home, north and south (Davenportʼs in particular), this St. Charles store had stocked items I never saw anywhere else. Opportune? Well, what was left in the nearly bare building was 60 to 80% reduced. And I found plenty at those prices, including Wolf Hall and Rushdieʼs newest, both in hardback first editions. Plentiful DVDs and other books as well. And I spent considerably more than I had imagined I might over this weekend. (Fortunately, except for food, that big book splurge was it for expended cashless.)

Janetʼs clothes examination (but not buying) extended, and I ended up making three visits into the Borders, each time acquiring more items (my first checkout lady had pointed out that I overlooked a whole section of books, uncategorized, brought in from an already closed store nearby), the third time with Janet along to check over the remaining DVDs.

Fioraʼs, but by night

We ate at Pi Pizza downtown (east side of the river) for dinner and remembered why we liked their pizza so much. The place was jammed on a Friday night (our usual visit had been on Sunday evening over a four-day weekend).

On Saturday we arose late to head over to Geneva where Janet is losing interest in the “Third Street Shops,” particularly now that Le Berry Bistro has closed, although a new crêperie has opened in its place. We met Diane and Steve for lunch (at Fioraʼs, which is quite nice). They headed off to their flea market, and Janet directed us to The Commons mall, followed eventually by a stop for Guinness at a pub downtown St. Charles. We all met to talk late afternoon and then headed out for dinner together at Odyssey Authentic Greek Restaurant (the in-laws had never had saganaki — Opaa!). We all selected different combinations (my invariable choice going Greek or Indian, I am afraid, so as to enjoy as many items as possible). The Naoussa went nicely with the meals.

Sunday took us to Charlestowne Mall — now almost completely empty and desolate, but Janet wanted to check Carson Pirie and Kohlʼs, which still hang on there. Then we drove to Geneva to give the new crêpe place in the Berry Building a try. Our verdict was positive, even if the owner only serves soft drinks. And then back home in time to do Sunday evening work to be ready for a week of breakfasts and lunches at our leisure.

A boring report on a quiet little long weekend. But at least I didnʼt complain about Qwest, eh?

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Blizzardʼs End

The birds had consumed nearly the whole tube of seed in just over twenty-four hours.* Can you tell I am knee-deep in snow and still at least a foot off the ground? The feeder nearly touches the drifted snow!

Tuesday afternoon, February 1, the storm blew in like wind-driven fog, the flakes were falling that thick and fast. Janet got home from work about an hour early (although a little later than I would have preferred myself). However, she made it with only a few white-out moments. We hunkered down for Tuesday evening as the storm howled loudly and whipped incredible amounts of snow into our windows. We went to bed, lulled into unconsciousness by wind wailing and screaming outdoors.

Assuming she might call in, unable to make it to work on Wednesday morning, I had delayed my Wednesday morning alarm for an hour or two. The blizzard, after all, dumped fifteen inches of new snow on us that night. Janet got up a little later than normal to check the road conditions via phone and then leave her message at work. “Travel was not advised.” She returned to coziness, and we didnʼt arise until just after 8:00.

The city snowplow had come through perhaps an hour earlier, evidently moving fast as it had scattered snow and chunks fully halfway up our drive. I also discovered we had a vast, deep drift from our little porch all the way across the door of the garage (in fact, the drift actually covered the whole front of the house, but I was only interested in the part of it I would have to clear). I determined to start my day by shoveling us out. So I dressed myself in many layers, capped with my new white windbreaker, that Janet had given me for Christmas, on top and my thin snowmobile pants over my running tights below. I had found recently that both garments insulated me almost perfectly from wind and cold. I pulled my rubber boots on over my shoes before facing the blizzardʼs deposits.

The remains of the big snow dune… See what I am talking about? It was truly disheartening.

Just opening the garage door disheartened me. The drift was fully chest high (about four feet, swaying up about a half foot partway along) and nearly eight feet across.** But I valiantly got out my shovel and began trying to dig an opening in front of the entry door. I didnʼt do very well, merely hollowing out a tiny space that immediately filled with snow. I did attempt to shovel out a narrow lane across the front of the big garage door, but I couldnʼt keep any of this cleared space from gathering collapsed snow, so I determined to try the snowblower. When I opened the big garage door before starting it up, I found myself facing a wall of white. “Disheartened” may have been too jovial, too upbeat a word…

However, I did start the machine and push it out into the wall of snow, which immediately collapsed all around me and it. But I turned the blower sideways and, having closed the door, cleared that little alley between the garage and the drift, an alley that kept filling with snow that fell off the drift without apparently diminishing the drift itself whatsoever. I pushed the sucker through that snow again and again, without apparent success, merely maintaining my little passage before the door.

The Lovely One on the steps she cleared beside the big drift.

And then Janet appeared, decked out in her winter gear, ready to help! I had turned the corner at the far end of the drift, where it was only about a meter tall, and opened a collapsing lane out to the middle of the driveway along the eastern edge. I told her to take over the machine while I went back for my shovel to try and attack the big drift.

Every effort I made just saddened me because the snow was so thick and deep. But as she cleared the wind-scoured center of the driveway, and I kept pushing snow along my little curved alley between the garage door and the drift and around and out into the open area, and she moved on to reducing the considerable mess at the end of the drive, her success gave me some heart to keep at the immense snow dune. And by walking through the middle of the mass repeatedly (thank goodness for those new rubber galoshes!) and eventually pushing through with my shovel in that same spot and then repeating that process at other points in the drift, I slowly began to make progress, even as I frustrated her by pushing snow out where she had already cleared it. Meanwhile she challenged the blower, at the street-end of our drive, by attacking city-plowed mounds of snow that rose to six feet in height (not that she actually tried to snow-blow that deep a mound; the plowʼs tailings just built that high on the eastern side).

After more than two hours, having blown away much of the mess at the end of the driveway and then my reductions of the huge drift and then trading me the snowblower as she decided to clear our front steps, The Lovely One realized she had begun to freeze her toes in her thin socks and tight boots. So she went inside while I remained outdoors, first blowing away what she hadnʼt dealt with at the end of the driveway and across the entire street in front of our drive and a big drift off the six-foot pile on the eastern end, and then switching back to my shovel to try to clear the edges of the drive all the way to the actual edges of the drive (or at least nearer the verge of concrete). All in all, the effort took us not quite four hours, but the drive was absolutely clear and so was a good space of the street in front of our house.

Yep, me again, this time in the street beyond the big six-foot pile of snow. See how nicely I shoveled clear the actual street?

I also got a little disheartened when I realized that the guy who plows the old folks home across the street had merely shoved all the snow from at least one of the drives straight across into our yard! Now our house really is secluded behind a privacy wall of snow that extends the whole front yard. (I should have taken a picture of that.) Janet theorized that he hadnʼt done so before because I was usually outdoors shoveling by the time he arrived in his truck to plow across the way.

Once I got inside, I found out about her toe issue, which after more than an hour after sheʼd gone inside had been resolved positively. We spent the rest of the day being quietly domestic indoors, taking seriously the advice broadcast on every station not to go out unless it was “absolutely necessary.” And we had a great pot of leftover chili from Sunday night to consume for supper!

The workout against the snow had been so exhausting that we both retired to bed by 9:00 PM. Although I read for a while, finishing The Swords of Lankhmar, sleep came deep and fast. We slept solidly and well as temperatures plunged to double digits below zero.

Janet got out for work successfully on Thursday morning, and I stayed home in the subzero day and eventually wrote this.

Thus endeth The Great Blizzard of 2011.

* Yes. Thatʼs me at the feeder. Janet got into having possession of the camera. What you see is my usual shoveling gear (minus the white windbreaker mentioned in todayʼs post). The colorfully reflective vest was purchased as running gear but seldom worn. I determined to wear it this year while shoveling to avoid being run down by jerks speeding toward the dead western end of our street.

** Or, looking at my picture, even wider across (although I am sure it narrowed somewhat on the far side of the drive, the eastern edge).

Click on any of the photos for greater detail and size.

Over 1350 words. So much for keeping these short this year.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

More of the Tourist

I started a story about the Tourist last Sunday. Here is some more for a quiet Sunday after Christmas…

Eventually we began our descent. I began to feel as if I almost couldn’t breathe.

The landing felt rough. But I was ready for that. I used the opportunity to shake his seat as violently as I could.

Typically for O’Hare, we taxied around forever before reaching our arrival gate. And then we sat in the plane interminably, waiting for all those ahead of us in the cabin to get to their feet, get their stuff and get out of there. Finally I could see people in front of the bulkhead beginning to move.

But my tormentor didn’t wait for anything. Contrary to instructions, he was on his feet and pulling his massive carry-on from the overhead bin while we were still rolling. He continued to stand in the aisle while the plane eased lengthily to its final position, while everyone waited for the exit-tube to get attached at the door, and while all those in front took their turns deplaning.

Of course, the thorn in my side didn’t wait for most of that. Once he, from his privileged position, could see motion further front in the tourist section, he began trying to shove his way out, and I lost track of him as I began to worry about making my own exit.

Actually, I didn’t need to worry about my own exit. O’Hare was not my final destination, and I was taking this plane on west. On the other hand, security regulations required that I checked through customs here in Chicago, so I was going to have to get off; I would just be getting right back on.

After my endless, awful ordeal, I wanted some room for myself. I wanted to stretch my legs. However, unlike the jerk ahead of me, I sat patiently and waited for the plane to pretty well clear before heading off myself.

When I reached the big echoing, overcrowded baggage claim area, there he was standing tall and slim, leaning against a pillar, waiting for whatever bag he had checked. I humped my way into the crowd around the conveyor belt carousel. He was already yapping on a cell phone. They weren’t supposed to come out until after customs.

Did this moron care about anything — except himself?

I tried to focus on the carousel. Bags were appearing and tumbling down to start the long rotation — red bags, blue bags, black bags; bags of all colors and all descriptions, and none of them mine. I pushed my way, as gently as I could, into the crowd, trying to keep my back to the annoying source of torment from the flight. And then, just as I saw my bag start to teeter out and down, there he was right beside me, pushing me aside as he reached for his executive case and garment bag which had arrived so conveniently together. As he swung away in his self-obsessed oblivion, I took the case in the gut. And so, gasping for agonized breaths, I got to wait one whole turn of the conveyor to grab my own modest and small bag.

By the time it arrived, I had my wind back.

Iʼll keep it short for today, as I assume everyone is still holidaying with family and/or friends. Interestingly, I just rediscovered a book I bought as a cut-out years ago, a mystery anthology entitled Murder for Christmas. Although this Tourist tale doesnʼt have a Yuletide glitter or setting, I did, accidentally, select it for the season.

Merry Boxing Day and enjoy this week sagging between Christmas and New Yearʼs!

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

Return of the Tourist

I think I am annoyed that Hollywood has ripped off another idea I never got published. My character from “Underground,” as all you longtime readers of the blog should realize, is known as the Tourist. Now, so is Johnny Deppe. Or Angelina Jolie. Iʼve only seen ads, so I don’t know which actor portrays the title character. Maybe now I know why ClusterMaps indicates a pretty solid fan base in southern California for the blog…

Have I told the story about my first fantasy series character, Arkon, a direct rip-off of Conan, whose name was merely “Akron” (as in Ohio) with the letters reordered? I penned a story or two about this brawny barbarian in my adolescent years, one of which got rejected by a New York-based fantasy mag back about 1969 or 1970. Then in 1970 a comic book appeared with a mighty thewed barbarian named Arkon. Coincidence? We donʼt think so. (Actually, I do, but I suffer from vague, deluded and imaginary paranoia when coincidence plays out against me.)

However, in honor of my own invention, for your fictional enjoyment today, I have the start of the third (out of four currently) Tourist story, this one insopired by our return from Prague to Chicago just over a year ago. Itʼs also the first story Ihave tried entirely dictating (which may explain why itʼs as yet incomplete).

Incident at OʼHare

Admittedly, at O’Hare I left my bag unattended for more than five minutes. But I had just cause.

The flight home from Europe had been hell. It all started far too early, and everything went downhill from that 3:50 AM alarm. They took my carry-on away from me at check-in, I had to wait two hours in the lounge, and by the time they let me board, the plane was already chock-full with more to come.

Furthermore I was stuck in the middle section of the giant plane — buried toward the back and not even in an aisle seat. A tall, lanky guy took my attention as I made my way back. Just as I went by he leaped up from a bulkhead seat by the windows, grabbed an immense carry-on/suit bag in the aisle seat beside him and commenced his efforts to cram it into the overhead bins. Not only was it far too large (unlike my own, now so distant from me in checked baggage) but he had the gall to begin moving other people’s bags from where they had already placed them into other bins, just to make room for his own where he wanted it — a few seats back from where he had been resting.

Once I found my seat, a piece of good luck occurred. As I approached the woman in the aisle seat to to beg her to rise and step to the side so I could get in next to her, she volunteered to take that seat and let me have the aisle. How could I resist? Once I had settled in, however, I realized what she was after — more foot room. In order to equip the seatbacks with entertainment system processing units, power centers or some kind of garbage from which the wiring led had to be located on floor. The box for that unit was underneath the seat ahead of me. Looking around as we waited and waited for the flight to take off, I noticed that such boxes were under the outside seats of each middle row on each end. Without my carry-on it really wasn’t a problem for me though. There was room enough for my feet.

The other bright spot was the seat in front of me. Even after we’d all been belted in for about a half an hour and still hadn’t taken off, that seat remained empty.

The tall guy I’d noticed just wouldn’t sit still. Up by the bulkhead he was first in the window seat, then in the aisle seat, then on his feet, head bent under the overheads standing in front of the bulkhead. I had a pretty good view of him over the unoccupied seat in front.

Then the two girls, whose seats he’d been presuming, arrived. He looked annoyed. And then he came back and sat right in the seat in front of me. I knew that now he would be my annoyance. And he was.

Even moments before the seat belt light shut off, he had already reclined his seat back directly into my face, where it remained for the next nine and a half hours, leaving barely ten inches for my face.

And so started the longest nine and a half hours of my life. I couldn’t sleep; there was no way to get comfortable. I tried watching the TV on his seat back, but the way his seat went back, there was no way that I could really see the screen. Reading was thoroughly out of the question: there was no way I could get a book in anywhere I could see it except by sticking my hand out into the aisle, and there was no light there.

I felt the worst the two times food was served. I could only barely slipped the lock on my tray table and squeezed it down between my neck and chest to rest against my belly. Operating the utensils to get at the food was pretty much impossible. I spilled food and slopped drink repeatedly during both sessions. I’m afraid I may have actually spilled on the girl next to me. I wanted to slap right up over the top under the guy in front, but there was no way I could do it.

My only release came when I had to go to the bathroom. The space he left me was so narrow that I had to shove against his seat just to get out. I admit I shoved quite a bit more than was necessary each of the three times I got up and went. I shoved at it both getting up and sitting back down. He might as well been a department-store mannequin for all the reaction I got from him.

My suffering only increased the longer the flight went on. Once we are over American territory, the minutes stretched into hours. I writhed in my seat. My butt cheeks and upper thighs ached. I actually reached out and shook his seat. Twice.

Eventually we began our descent. I began to feel as if I almost couldn’t breathe.

This guy actually was on our flight back from Zurich and behaved exactly as described, worse. There is more already dictated (nearly a year ago). Maybe thatʼll be the post for Boxing Day

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

Winter Wonders, 2

Although Qwest has been grinding my goat of late with their continual and repetitious lack of service (even as I type right now, the little indicators for the Internet connection and the Server are red as a baboonʼs heinie and donʼt seem to be changing, no matter how many times I go downstairs and turn off our router and modem, wait five minutes or so, and turn them back on). Quite simply put — if you are going to get a new internet service provider, donʼt even give Qwest a first thought — worthless, really really worthless. And they donʼt even try to do better than worthless.

On a brighter note, having stalled for a couple of days, itʼs time I gave you a look at more of The Lovely Oneʼs winter/Christmas decorations. Today weʼll peek into our living room. You might want to check these images against the autumn decorations here.

The prairie-style long table on the south side of the living room.

Itʼs a really large photograph above, so if you click it, you can take a good close look at everything (assuming anyone wants to, that is). That clear glass tube of Christmas tree balls takes some effort each year, as the spherical ornaments donʼt like to fit into the cylinder with simple ease.

Hereʼs a closer look at her sleigh full of greenery (the stuff that didnʼt end up in the back of my truck awaiting disposal yet today).

Decorative sleigh filled with branches of green.

She really goes to a lot of trouble getting that string of beads and the ribbon strewn correctly among the evergreen branches. Now, if we continue turning to our left, we come to the little table beside “my” chair…

This particular area is pretty plain, and The Lovely One would not approve of that one coaster out for use — spoiling the display.

A snowman! As noted in the caption, she didnʼt do much with this section for 2010 (probably assuming I would just disturb the beauty with my magazines and books, which is fairly accurate). However, if we turn further to the left, one of her favorite areas to decorate is the display cabinet we invested (probably too much) in about a decade ago (at the same time we bought the furniture in here).

The display cabinet. Every shelf is wintertime-appropriate…

The caption above says it all, really, except that the very top remains the same all through the year. That jug and goblets are from the Minnesota Renaissance Fair, autumn of 1974, when sister Margaret took me to Shakopee for the first time. I was student teaching at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids and took the bus up to somewhere near her (Waterloo?), leaving the Allison Hotel behind for a weekend. I loved the Fair, especially in those innocent and halcyon days when it was not as successful and there werenʼt 10,000 Harley fans — all pushing sixty, overly well paid for whatever they do not on weekends, and fatuously imagining themselves fulfilling the American Dream in a Brando-esque style — pushing around self-centeredly everywhere (no, I havenʼt been annoyed by a certain cultural phenomenon). I found a nice shop featuring pottery, an art form I had not appreciated much previously, and the proprietor, in order to demonstrate the utility of his wares, took me and the wine set into the back room where he filled the decanter with white wine that we sampled from each of the cups. Simply cannot conceive of anything remotely like that happening in the last twenty-five years there.

Back to my topic, if we continue to the left around the living room, skipping past the davenport, we reach the little prairie end table…

More snowmen, if you attend, frolic on this end table.

Perhaps you have noticed all the Isabel Bloom items. Most of them are around the area (usually in other spots) throughout the seasons of each year, but a few are special to winter. There are a few (that would be two) new little statues she would like to acquire for Christmas 2010. Iʼm not sure if theyʼre going to make it into Santaʼs pack this year or not…

I havenʼt been particularly imaginative (or snarky) with this post. But I am feeling preoccupied trying to come to grips with finalizing Christmas plans (particularly presents for The Lovely One). The Yule holiday is only ten days off, after all. I had better get shopping!

And to conclude again on a sour note… Qwest went down for the sixth time while I was finishing this. I had no connection outside our house for an hour and a half around noon today/Tuesday. I guess we can only hope this posts tomorrow/Wednesday/today. Qwest takes so much money from us each month, just so they can frustrate whatever feeble attempts I might make to access and use the internet. Really poor company. Really poor service. Avoid them.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

A Little More… Sepharad

Just because it was such a pain to dictate, hereʼs a little more of what went vocally into Scrivener on Wednesday, December 1. Remember… Judah and Søren are trying to break into the Green Tower, lair of the infamous (but tantalizing) Red Witch, Larissa. Judahʼs working for the minor crime lord Reynaldo, who is in turn trying to impress a patronizing lord who is himself currying favor from the (even more nefarious, and deservedly so) Necromancer!

We pick up where we left off last Sunday.


Judah unbound the strange device he had tried to explain to the Northman from heavy loops of rope. It looked an awkward thing, though Søren’s experience distinguished the climber’s hook protruding on an iron bar from one end of it. Casually his partner began turning a screw on one side.

“This little machine will send the hook all that distance?”

“And more. You’ve never before seen one of these?”

“No. A Moorish invention?”

“Aye. Based, some say, on old Greek and Roman rowing machines, but I’ve seen drawings of these old catapults and read about them in Vitruvius. They worked on entirely different principles,” Judah grunted out between turns on the screw, effort which grew visibly more difficult even for his lean strength. “Get’s called a crossbow. And I think I’ve wound it tight enough.”

Judah raised the wooden device and held it shoulder high, aiming the hook end at the rooftop some twenty yards distant. Now it was evident that at least some of the rope was attached to the climber’s hook. Citing steadily, the Kabul West fingered a catch on the wooden structure. With a clear thrum the bar and hook sailed at the rooftop of the Green Tower, trailing rope behind.In an instant the hook clattered on the other roof. Judah pulled carefully on the rope tugging the hook toward one particular angle on a cornice where he hoped it securely lodged.

Several stout pulls the rope indicated his aim and effort had been true.

“So now one can swing across?”

“It should work.”

“So which of us goes?”

“The trick was designed for just one, but as I suggested, I think we’ll try it together, Søren. Aiming for that window there. See? Can you gauge the right length of rope?”

“It’s a long swing to a tiny target, Judah.”

“That window’s six feet high and three across. All we have to do is hit it and not the wall to either side. Or swing too high or too low. This was the hitch in the plan for me: I’m not sure I could get myself across accurately. But you, can you do it?”

Søren, who had met you experience with ropes and swinging on such, both in the fjords and mountains of his distant homeland, but also at sea, a-Viking, examined the tower, the hook’s evident location and the rope — certainly stout enough to hold two, considered, and finally nodded. “Aye.” They were still speaking German, partly from convenience, partly yet from a sense of secrecy.

Søren squared himself to that distant tower — tugged strongly on the rope, observing both the pivot of the hook and the window. Judah had aligned where the bolt landed and struck well, whether from luck or skill. And with a brush of luck and application of skill, Søren should be able to swing to the window — the challenge being the double load, taking the smaller man along.

Hesitating would not resolve or improve the situation. “Climb on,” he ordered, nearly kneeling on their parapet. Judah clambered piggyback onto the huge man’s shoulders, which Søren flexed in a couple of shrugs, adjusting to the burden, then grasping the rope firmly in both hands, dangling some out into space ahead, twirled the last few feet around his chest and Nathan’s rear. He stepped back a few feet and then sprinted to the parapet, saving one last long step to the top of that low wall, and leaped.

The rope snapped taught around both their bodies after a few seconds of free fall, rushing they are descending for word momentum. Nathan felt his heart thundering in his arms, wrapped around the big Northman’s shoulders. Three heartbeats, four: Søren swung his boots foremost, and they smashed into the glazing of the window, true on center, as Søren released the rope and let it snake away raspingly from his body.

As last time, if you see something that seems wrong, (thank MacSpeech Dictate and) let me know…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

Winter Wonders, 1b

Yesterday I promised you pictures of, at least, the basement family room decorated for Christmas. As you already got to see the tree, here are some…

The “black-and-white” bookshelf transformed for winter, with surrounding object dʼart

You got to see this bookshelf (above, not below) in its autumnal glory before. Click that link and compare the two!

Now we turn somewhat to our right…

Wintry wonders as we are looking toward our TV

This shot above is kind of an overview, as we have other views of some of these items in photos below, including…

I gave her this snowman with his Christmas tree. The tree lights up if either of us remembers to plug it in ever.

The caption says it all above, but if we turn our attention past the television on its black stand, we can see…

“Let it snow” my… uh, left nostril! (It was snowing plentifully as I got this finished.)

But wait. I have more!

Now the centerpiece on the newish coffee table is all winterized and wonderful. (See the snowman in the background for orientation purposes? The right edge of the coffee table hides the “Let it Snow” bench from the photo above this one.)

And now for a bookshelf in detail. It stands to the right of the photo above, as you can tell because the same centerpiece on its table is right there in this next shot, along with that bench and its pointless and currently annoying exhortation.

A decorated bookshelf along the west wall of the basement family room.

The two socks are personal antiques from my childhood. The one on the left, nowadays for Janet, was my motherʼs, while the right-hand one was my own (although none of us kids had our names on our socks, I think; I know I didnʼt/donʼt). When we were kids, Santa would fill the socks we had each laid out on Christmas Eve with candies, tangerines, tiny toys and (strangely) items of the same sort from my motherʼs British pen pals (yet none of us grasped the clue that the inclusion of such foreign treats indicated about dear old St. Nickʼs non-subjective authenticity).

This particular shelf is the memories display, as the picture frames contain photos from each of our childhoods. The picture above is extra-large when you click on it so that you can appreciate some of the stuff The Lovely One places to hide all the books.

I only chose one of the bookshelves because I already had so many pix today. (However, if the demand is sufficient, I could show you others later!)

Now one last image, as you head out the door, on the east, toward the upstairs…

The title of this picture says it all — “Snowman in ammo box.” Really pretty ironic for us, or not. This is another snowman I bought for my beloved.

As I hope you have figured out for yourselves without my unnecessary intrusion, The Lovely One enjoys snowmen for winter as much as she appreciates pumpkins during the fall. (Did you try counting how many snow creatures you have glimpsed already? More than twenty in just these photographs.)

How did I ever top 600 words on a post that was meant to be simply, solely pictures?

And more or less, thatʼs the winter/Christmas decorations in the family room. Naturally, as I have completely run out of worthwhile topics for posts, thereʼs more to come!

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A