Monday, February 14, 2011

A Mighty River

A Mighty River
I hear the impatient idling of the powerful diesel engine of the large articulated bus at the busstop half a block away. The light of a new day is barely seeping into my room. I roll over and look at the clock. Seven-thirty a.m, as usual. The large apartment block between my small townhouse and the busstop is emptying its occupants: young and middle-aged, singles and married into that bus and the others that have already come and gone.
They are the workers and the employers, the students and the professionals, the movers and the shakers, all joining in a fast-moving, turbulent, dynamic river of life that churns downtown with the energy of ideas and commerce, services and production, aspirations and dreams.

My wife and I used to be part of that mighty Amazon fed by all those commuters crowding quickly into the impatient buses, trains, ferries, planes, cars on this and every other morning.
But these days, in earned retirement, I can pull the covers up to my neck again, and roll over snug in the realization that I won't have to face a whole day of work on not enough sleep, again.
Retirement is a quieter tributary as life meanders through visits from grown sons and daughters, grandkids, photos, phone calls, the odd trip or cruise, e-mails, books, reflections and memories into that contented fulfilment into which my life partner has peacefully tiptoed before me.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Elena has come home. 
Marc, Lise and I brought her back to this center of her world, her life: her favorite spot next to the fireside, me, her son and daughter and their families.
Elena taught me not to dwell on the end of events but on the events themselves. To her, it wasn't the end of the weekend that counted, but the rest of the weekend. It wasn't the last day of a vacation that mattered but what we experienced in that wonderful new city or place. It wasn't the sadness of the day our children packed up their belongings and left home to establish their own careers and families that lasted but our memories of while they were with us and our confidence that they had learned to be fine and responsible adults. 
To Elena and me life is not a series of events with ends but an evolution through phases that flow seamlessly into each other, a flow that began before us with our ancestors and which, with the modifications we made, will continue to flow through Marc and Lise and their families. Everlasting life is not a mystery, an abstract concept but this very tangible stream of characteristics, behaviors and traits evident in our family, a stream that Elena has influenced so lovingly, so greatly and so well.

This is Elena's favorite baby picture. Deliberately tongue-in-cheek, she labeled it "Sweet  Baby". She knew that she was being anything but "sweet", trying hard to pull off the cap that she was being made to wear especially for the photograph on that hot day, just for the occasion. That gesture would be symbolic of the person she always has been, a person who rejected any sort of pretense in herself. 
Fortunately for me she could tolerate pretense in others because, she later revealed, she had taken an instant dislike to me when our paths first crossed accidentally. She thought I was putting on an air of intellectual superiority.
Elena's self-image as a woman, wife, mother, professional, friend, was never diminished in spite of the consequences of the numerous serious disappointments, obstacles,  accidents, illnesses and surgeries she endured, any one of which could have devastated a person who was not focussed on the essential qualities of those roles. 
Material things and ceremony didn't mean much to her. What she valued most were her family and friends and the enjoyment, knowledge and experiences she gained from travel, books and more recently, from her unique talent in using information technology.
She could look back on her life and justifiably be satisfied with the way she chose to live it and with the decisions she made. She was especially happy and contented with how she and I have grown together, with the way our son Marc and daughter Lise turned out and with the way they are maturing and raising their families.
As I hold your urn I wish you were pretending now, Ellen, Elena, Honey, Mom. 
We love each other now, Elena, as we have for forty-six great years.
And we always will.
Louis, Marc and Lise
(Elena and I always signed our notes and cards with this coded message.
Te Quiero Mucho Elena
I love you so much Elena)

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Seamless Life

Some months ago my iPad joined the rest of the paraphernalia on the table beside my chair that I use from time to time all through a normal day: current magazines, a book, a cup of tea, a plate with snacks, the odd bill that came in the know the stuff I am talking about. But as I have added more and more apps and discovered more and more of its capabilities, my iPad has been taking over more and more of the functions of those items while enabling new ones such as e-mailing, puzzles, games, voice mail, Netflix movies, photo albums and armchair travel.

This morning as I sat there with the iPad opened like a book on my lap, reading, a little message flashed in the middle of the page. It announced a Skype video call from a sister 3,000 miles away. A touch of a finger tip on the Accept button: no mouse or even trackpad to locate, and her live picture opened up right there in the middle of the page. Didn't have to reach for the phone, no Bluetooth headset in my ear...absolutely seamlessly I chatted with her. When we hung up, also just a tap of a fingertip, I was right back where I had been on my page.

The other day as I read a newspaper on the iPad a reminder from the iPad's calendar to call my bank popped up. I was grumpily about to get up from my chair, hunt my bank statement, look up the bank's phone number and find a phone, and a pencil and piece of paper to make any necessary notes. Then I remembered I could do all of that right there on the iPad. In fact I didn't even have to use a phone at all. In less time than it would have taken just to listen to the bank's phone system's voice menu, I had done my business, no lingering frustration of having had to wait interminably for a representative to take my call, as always happens, no annoying paper note to lose. And I continued right where I had left on my newspaper, a happier man, with more time for my tea and more time to exercise. Well, at least to keep checking Google for the research that one day will assure me that all that concern about exercise wasn't necessary after all, just as I thought.

No wires to trip over, no attachments, not even the necessity to find a table to rest a hot laptop. No tv remote.

Ahhh! The Seamless Life has arrived!

Friday, December 31, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


No, this is not a photo of ants taken with a macro lens.

It's a picture of people skating in an outdoor skating rink in Narbonne, France, set up for the Christmas holidays.

At night the rink has been illuminated with colored floodlights.

Normally this area is an archaeological dig framed by a town square, with steps leading down to the remains of an old Roman Road. One evening recently, I watched on my iPad as some trucks and construction equipment pulled up to the site and in a few days this temporary skating rink was built over the pit. The outdoor caf├ęs here, no longer appealing in the cold weather, gave way to a new round of fun activities for the public.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Cake from Dave and Sandra

When I signed the receipt on his digital device and the Fedex deliveryman handed me the package, the last link of my last remaining bond with the family Christmas traditions of my youth was completed. The package from my youngest sibling, Dave, would contain the Christmas cake he sends me every year without fail. It had traveled the past twenty hours from the Tropical heat and rain of Trinidad, been prodded, probed and sniffed by US Customs, transferred in the dead of night at some snowbound airport somewhere in mid-USA. Now it was in my hands, no longer a package but a bond with long past Christmases and parents and siblings gone or scattered.

Dave has found a way to get this Christmas cake to me every year for decades. It has not always been convenient for him. One of the most memorable episodes was the Christmas when he used his valuable pass he earned by working for an airline to fly most of a day and all night to bring it to my home in California, just about collapse on the sofa in the livingroom for a few hours of sleep and fly all those hours again back to Trinidad to be with his family.

I refuse to call this cake a fruitcake. A traditional Trinidad Christmas cake bears as much resemblance to that often derided concoction we know as a fruitcake here as a Rolls Royce to a battered Yellow taxicab.

It is black or almost black in color from the liquid "burnt sugar" used in the batter. I suppose the culinary term would be caramelized sugar, but it was always called burnt sugar when I was a kid and vied to lick the remnants of batter from the mixing bowl. It was always pure coarse brown cane sugar, burnt in a blackened cast iron pot. The raisins, currants, prunes, cherries, citron and other fruits the cake is made of blend into a heavenly aromatic dark mush after soaking for days in cherry brandy and rum. After baking the cake, more like a pudding in consistency is kept moist until eaten by more infusions of those spirits.

The thorough house cleaning, painting and varnishing, the presents Santa used to leave under the bed and the family under the Christmas tree, the Midnight Mass in the old parish church across the street, the merry crowds of family and friends, the lustily sung Christmas Carols, the toasting and the Christmas cake that signified Christmas, I have been separated from, except for this cake.

This afternoon as I enjoy a generous slice with my tea out here in the Pacific Northwest it will be a reunion of sorts with a joyful Christmas Past.

Thanks Dave and Sandra and a Very Merry Christmas to All.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Somewhere down on that beach my granddaughters were surfing on their boogie boards and no doubt planning to return as teenagers to join those people out there on real surfboards waiting to catch a big wave.

My surfing was taking place just a block away on the landward side of this same beach, at the WiFi hotspot outside the Apple store in Waikiki. At the end of the day the girls could show off their new tans. I had my e-mails saved on my iPad. Hey, both activities are "surfing", right?

It's a tourist ritual to hang out at Waikiki Beach to watch the Tropical sunset, all five minutes or so of it. The sun just plummets into the sea on the horizon usually in a spectacular display of color. Visitors from higher northern latitudes, accustomed to the long twilight there cannot help but marvel how there is no long transition from daylight to
nighttime here. Sunset is like throwing a switch, with just that magnificent spark as day and night break contact.

Then the hotels illuminate their palm trees:

And a fire dancer energizes the crowds.

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