Traveling at home

In less than a month, Carol and I will be traveling to Borneo.  This post has nothing to do with that trip.
The pool in our condo building is undergoing some major repairs requiring a few months to complete.  I’ve joined a neighborhood health club so as to be able to swim in the interim. The club is about three quarters of a mile away, so I get a bit of exercise walking there and back. Also, the pool is a good length (25 meters) and is maintained at a cool temperature, perfect for swimming laps. In addition, the club has a hot tub and steam room. So, while it’s not the same as taking an elevator down to the pool in our building, it has some distinct advantages, and I’m quite pleased with it.
I have been going to the club during the week and the pool has been very uncrowded, allowing me to have a lane to myself each time I’ve gone. Today, Saturday, was quite different. There were three people in each of the narrow lanes as I entered the pool area and I thought that I might just take a pass on swimming today and use the hot tub and steam room.  While that was disappointing, it was far from the end of the world.
As I approached the hot tub, I heard operatic music being piped in to the area, which I had not noticed on prior visits. The closer I came, I realized that the operatic music was not being piped in, but rather was being produced by a man (who I would judge to be about my age), seated in a corner of the hot tub, singing loudly and with gusto, at full voice in a very pleasant bass/baritone. 

(You may not be able to make out the man, because this photo was taken half an hour after he left.) When I asked the man what he was singing, he said that it was some church music, in Latin. He inquired as to whether his singing was bothering me and I said that it was not, that I would have let him know if it had been, but that I found it quite pleasant. He continued, singing arias in Italian and French, as well as some more popular music, such as Red River Valley. I learned very little about the man, because I did not want to interrupt his singing, but I did learn that he typically goes to another branch of this health club, so it is highly unlikely that I will ever run into him again. So, to me, he was a bit like the “lost  chord divine” (though I was not weary or ill at ease, nor was I seated at the organ, and I had not produce the music myself, so I guess it was not that much like the lost chord divine, after all).
After 15 minutes or so of singing, the man said that the chlorine in the hot tub was starting to bother his eyes, so he got up to leave. I said goodbye and thanked him for the recital, telling him that I had enjoyed it very much.  He bowed slightly and thanked me (in Italian, of course) for saying so.
Not long after that, I got out of the hot tub.  By then, the pool had emptied quite a lot. I was able to share a lane with a young woman who left after I had completed about half the number of laps I normally swim, so I could complete my lap swimming with a lane to myself.
I tend to think of memorable experiences that I want to blog about as events that happened on an exotic trip. Today’s experience showed me that that was far too narrow a view, that wonderful experiences are available on a daily basis all around us, if we are open to noticing and enjoying them. I am hoping to notice more. But I promise not to blog each time I notice.
Thanks for your tolerance, and see you pre-Borneo.



It’s 10:30 AM on November 2. Carol and I throw the dog into the car and take off for the Seventh Game of the World Series in Cleveland. We have no place to put the dog in Cleveland. Nor do we have tickets to the game, but those are mere details. We know that we need to be there.
This is not our typical trip. Normally, we plan a year or more in advance. And Cleveland is not exactly our usual, exotic destination. Beyond that, driving to Cleveland violates another of our travel rules. We don’t go back to places we’ve already visited, especially recently. And we’d driven the 350 miles to Cleveland just a week earlier, for the second game of the World Series.


So, explaining this trip requires some personal history. No journey exists in a vacuum. Each depends on who we are and, often, on how we became that person. To be sure, there is the physical journey. But, often more important than the physical is the mental and emotional journey.


My earliest recollection as a Cubs fan is April 28, 1951. I was eight years old, and already had been an avid fan for several years. On that Saturday afternoon, walking in East End Park with my father, I stopped to ask a stranger who was listening to the Cubs on the radio what the score was. He told me that Cubs shortstop, Roy Smalley Jr., had just slid into third base, and broken his ankle. Without hesitation, I asked, “Was he safe?”
I remember this incident so clearly, because my father repeated the story to so many other people, for years, apparently finding it very amusing that I would ask whether Smalley was safe. This puzzled me greatly. What other question would a fan ask?


To say that Smalley was a journeyman shortstop would be to malign generations of journeymen. He led the league in errors for three consecutive years, 1947-49 and, in 1950, led the league in strike outs. He was razzed regularly by the fans, who chanted “Miksis to Smalley to Addison Street,” a take off on the famous Cubs double play combination of Tinkers to Evers to Chance. Mike Royko wrote that Smalley was a legend because “he could snatch up ground balls and fling them at the sun.”


Although few people in the stands at Wrigley Field wear Roy Smalley jerseys today, his successor at short is somewhat better and more fondly remembered. Ernie Banks.


So, driving to Cleveland, I wear my (autographed) Ernie Banks jersey and, of course, my Hebrew Cubs hat.

For thirty-three years I have been speaking of the relationship between God and the Cubs on Yom Kippur at my synagogue (actually at my church, since our synagogue is not large enough to host the crowd for the High Holidays). My talks have been collected in three editions of IS GOD A CUBS FAN?, published by the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Evanston. In 1984, I had predicted that the Cubs, up two games to none in a five game series against the San Diego Padres, would prove that God was a Cubs fan by getting to the World Series. Of course, they lost three straight to the Padres.

Not having learned my lesson from the 1984 Padres debacle, I predicted brashly that the Cubs would win the World Series this year. Many thought I was jinxing them. My friend Karen in San Francisco, a rabid Giants fan, was aghast that I would taunt the baseball gods in this way. But I was unmoved. This was the Cubs year, damnit. That was all there was to it.


Even when the Cubs fell behind three games to one against the Indians, I remained confident. I recalled the Cubs having been up three to one against the Marlins in 2003, dropping the fifth in Miami, and losing the last two games at Wrigley. I was at both those Chicago games, and still remember the stunned and numb feeling of walking down Clark Street after the seventh game. If the Cubs could blow a series like that, I reasoned, they could win one, too.


Now, admittedly, I did hedge my bets a bit, by calling on the help of my friend, Neytrul, the Ninth Reincarnation of one of the twenty-five disciples who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 6th century, and quite possibly the only openly reincarnated Cubs fan. You can read the full story of my appeal to Rinpoche, if you like, but it’s too much of a diversion to repeat in full here.

So, driving to Cleveland, I felt that it was my solemn responsibility to assure that although Mr. Cub would never himself make it into a World Series game, at least his jersey would. That seemed only right for one of just ten players in history to win consecutive MVP awards, in 1958 and 1959. Indeed, for many years, the only sensible reasons to go to a Cubs game were Ernie Banks and the beauty of Wrigley Field. And, besides, Ernie had assured me that God was a Cubs fan.

En route to Cleveland, Carol plunges into action to find housing for our labradoodle, Judson, who rests comfortably in the back seat. Judson watches Cubs games with us on TV and is president of the Cubs labradoodle fan club (well, he would be president, if there were such a club). Judson shared my 15 minutes of fame in a recent Wall Street Journal article, because he is in the picture that appears in that article.

What really galls me about that is, though I am the photographer in our family, Carol has taken the photo and gets a photo credit in the Wall Street Journal. Now, really, is that fair? On, Carol finds a woman in Hudson, OH who takes in dogs. We will be spending the night in Hudson, with our friend, Barbara, who is allergic to dogs. Carol arranges with Rover Lady for us to drop off Judson, before the game.


The weather is overcast as we drive, with patches of rain. Road construction ties up traffic periodically, sometimes rather severely, and there are momentary bouts of anxiety as to whether we will make it in time to drop Judson, and get to the game. The roadside service areas we stop at could pass for Cubs fan club meetings. Virtually everyone we encounter there is decked out in Cubs uniforms, sweatshirts and hats, and exchanging high fives with one another.  

At one of the service areas, I go online and purchase Cubs tickets on StubHub. Yes, they are expensive. And, no, you wouldn’t do this every week. But once every 108 years is quite fine. Buying these seats also has the virtue of making any other tickets we purchase (including those we got for Hamilton) seem dirt cheap.


We emerge from the rain and, as darkness falls, we feel our way (by GPS) to Rover Lady’s house, drop Judson in Hudson—my wife, after all, is a poet–and head immediately for Progressive Field. Somewhat surprisingly, the traffic is not terrible and we park in a garage near Quicken Arena (home of the champion Cleveland Cavs), which is located adjacent to the ballpark, for only fifty bucks.


We follow the hordes to the ballpark and, to my relief, the tickets on my iPhone in fact get us into the park. We take an escalator (yes!) to the very highest reaches of the stadium where we find our seats, which are between home and first. I’m sitting beside a big (in size and devotion) Indians fan, and, at first, I think that things may not go well between us. By the second inning, though, we make peace.  


Carol is seated next to a young, 17-year old Cubs fan, who has flown in from LA to see the game. His grandfather, when he was 17, had gone to a Cubs World Series game in Wrigley in 1945, and his father was covering this game for the NY Times.


From our seats high in the stadium, we appear to be viewing the game through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. The players, who in my youth seemed like mythical giants, appear to be Lilliputians. Still, we can see the game well enough, and the atmosphere is completely electric. Though we are in foreign territory, we have brought enough troops with us to hold our own, and to control the scene when the Cubs are doing well.


And, for a long time, we are doing very well, indeed. Our first batter of the game, Dexter Fowler, smashes a home run and, before long, we are out to a 5-1 lead. This could be a laugher. Even when we give up two runs (on a single wild pitch!), things seem in control as we add a run on Grandpa Rossy’s home run the next inning and appear to be coasting to a 6-3 win in the eighth, when disaster strikes, and, suddenly, we find ourselves tied, 6-6. The Cleveland crowd goes nuts, the momentum has swung completely and prospects of yet another huge disappointment for Cubs fans loom large.


This young Cubs team needs a time out. Badly. And, miraculously, they get one when rain delays the game for twenty minutes. The Cubs have an opportunity to unwind and, reportedly on the strength of an emotional speech by Jason Heyward, they regroup and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Think of the irony of Heyward playing that role. Paid a gazillion dollars by the Cubs and underperforming badly all season, Heyward proves his worth in the locker room prior to the last inning of the last game of the season. He becomes the MVP, Most Valuable Prayer.  You can’t make this shit up, because nobody would believe it.


After the final out, Carol gets a big hug from her 17-year-old neighbor and extracts a promise from him to take his own 17-year-old grandson to a Cubs World Series game, some day. We hang around for a joyous celebration with many thousands of Cubs fans in the stadium. The Indians fans are very gracious, shaking our hands and congratulating us. My favorite sign proclaims “Now I Can Die in Peace.”

As we reach our car, it begins to pour. Who knows what would have happened if this had occurred in the ninth inning. Traffic is very heavy around the stadium. We make it to our friend Barbara’s home at 2:30 AM. She has waited up, with special snacks for us, and we talk for almost an hour.


The next morning, we collect Judson from Rover Lady for the drive back. The weather is sunny, the fall colors beautiful and the Cubs fans are still celebrating in the roadside service areas.

As we pull into Chicago, the city gleams, proudly. Two days later, we’ll join five million of our best friends to watch the parade and celebration for our beloved, World Champion Chicago Cubs.

So, in sum, Cleveland is quite a splendid place to visit. Don’t miss the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with or without the “W” flag.

[My friend, Rick, who follows my travel blogs and who saw my Cubs posts on Facebook, suggested that I do a Cleveland travel piece for the blog to build a bridge between my blog followers and Facebook friends. So, if you follow the blog and would like to connect on FB, please “friend me”. And, if you are a FB friend who would like to follow future travel blogs (we have far more exotic trips than Cleveland planned in the coming months), please sign up at the top of this blog page. You can always unsubscribe later, it you want.]

Farewell to London

September 18
Though we do not leave until late afternoon, we have decided to laze around. It’s a Sunday, so things will not open early, and we need to leave quite a bit of time to get to and check in at Heathrow. Besides, we’ve run around a good deal, so resting does not sound bad.
Morning is consumed by breakfast at the Club, packing and reading. The thought of lugging everything to and through the tubes was more than I could bear, so I’ve booked an Uber (you can book one in advance here) which, God- and Uber-willing will get us to Heathrow. Cost, three times our combined tube fares, but less than half what a car booked by the Club would have been, seems well worth it (about $35).  Well, our Uber never showed and we wound up taking a (very) expensive taxi, but, what the hell, it’s vacation and money you spend on vacation is not real money, anyway.

Though I’ve mentioned The Sloane Club often, I’ve provided no look at the comfortable old English stodginess that we’ve enjoyed.  I love a bit of stodginess, particularly in England, which invented it.

We arrived at Heathrow very early, wandered through a few stores, but not looking seriously.  Have mixed feelings, mainly negative, about the “mallification” of all large airports.

So, a few reflections. As anticipated, the trip did not offer the kind of adventures our recent, exotic trips have held. But it was completely wonderful. Catching up with old friends is priceless, especially when the reconnections were seamless, as all of ours were, allowing us to pick up where we’d left off, hardly skipping a beat. These are the types of pleasures that it is difficult to capture in a blog. But seeing old friends, in its way, is as moving (or more so) than seeing the dunes of Namibia. Both have a certain grandeur, though the latter boasts considerably more sand.
Unlike my other blogs, I took no photographs, other than those taken with my iPad and iPhone. I took my camera and a couple lenses along, but never used it. Somewhat liberating, actually. And there was very little, if anything, that seemed to call for a traditional camera.
The trip was, in fact, somewhat exotic, though. After all, just think about the collection of human animals we encountered: a Hungarian/Australian/English solicitor, a Welsh painter, a U.K. Supreme Court Justice, my former US secretary, who grew up in New Zealand, a Misssissippi-born UK jeweler married to an Austalian solicitor/law professor, a London cabby, a former Tribunal Court Judge, a British children’s book editor, the daughter of Nigerian/American doctors and her husband whose wedding we had just attended in Santa Fe, the former Senior Partner of a prestigious London firm of solicitors, and a student of art history. Could one have encountered a more diverse or interesting group of species roaming the plains of Africa?

And, as if all of this personal contact were not enough, add several dashes of culture in the forms of a wonderful Hockney portraiture show at the Royal Academy, an amazing exhibit of newly-discovered Egyptian sunken cities at the British Museum and four plays (London plays having been an important part of our lives back in the 60s).

What a pleasure and privilege to be able to take a trip like this half a century after our first venture to England. London has worn well. And, everything considered, so have we.
Thanks for following, and stand by for a more traditionally exotic trip next May.

London from Above and Below

Sept 17
Our last full day in London starts with coffee in the Club, then we take the tube to meet Tom and Judith for a brunch at the posh Aqua Shard restaurant on the 32nd floor overlooking London. Tom has set this up long before our trip to treat us to a special experience on our last day. And it was quite lovely. From here you can see how London has changed, as seen by the old, St Paul’s on the left and the high rises that dot the horizon.  

These certainly were nowhere in evidence half a century ago. But, to me, they are aberrations that do not change the overall experience of London, much as the electronic scoreboard does not change the overall experience of Wrigley Field.  The real London is underground in the tubes and on the streets, and that experience remains much as we remember it.  (Cubs win division championship!)

After our excellent brunch, we parted ways and Carol and I went on a rather long, but successful, expedition to replace the seat she uses to avoid back pain, which she had left in Shelby’s car.  She now has a bright yellow one that, perhaps, will be less forgettable.

After returning to the Club for a nap, we met Tom and Judith for dinner at Colbert, a restaurant we’d booked in our neighborhood.  Quite good.  Saw an excellent, thought-provoking play by Suzan Lori Parks, called Fathers Come Home From the War, about the Civil War at the a Royal Court, then went out for coffee, said our good-byes to Tom and Judith and returned to the Club.

Canterbury Tales

September 16
After breakfast at the Club, we take the tube to meet Tom and Judith at St Pancreas Station to board a train Tom has booked to a town near Canterbury, where we will visit Peter and Shelby Fitzpatrick. It’s raining, not great for the day we’d hope to have, but nothing to be done about it. We need to change trains, and our connecting train is delayed, but we finally make it to Sturry, where we are met by Peter and Shelby and walk through a drizzle to their 17th century house.
We’ve been spending a lot of time on tubes. Here’s Carol, holding her blue Oyster train card, and not too pleased at being photographed.

Now, our relationship to Peter and Shelby is an interesting story. Peter was a colleague of Tom Handler’s, a solicitor at Baker and MacKenzie in London, and I met Peter when I first came to London, back in 1967. I’d had a connection to the firm with a client of the firm who was trying to convince me to join Baker and MacKenzie, when I returned to Chicago. Peter, a young associate, was assigned to take me out for a fancy lunch, and we hit it off. Through Peter, I met his colleague, Tom.  (Both Peter and Tom got their law degrees in Australia.)
Shelby is a different story. She is from Mississippi, and was dating our friend, Steve Sugarman, so we knew Shelby originally through Steve. Later, when she began dating Peter, who she met independently, we spent time with them.
We spent many Sunday mornings, buying fresh flowers for a pittance at Petticoat Lane, then often going to hear the speakers on boxes, holding forth at Hyde Park Corner. We’d also take drives in the country to see wooden churches, cathedrals or the flowers along the blossom route. My favorite photo of Shelby is the one below, picking blossoms up in a tree.

We have been in only the most sporadic touch with Peter and Shelby, but were enthusiastic about the opportunity to reconnect on this trip. Though we’d expected to spend a good part of the day outside, the steady rain all day required us to stay inside, which turned out to be a happy “calamity” since it afforded us almost eight hours to catch up on 48 years, which we did our best to do, covering old times, what had happened in the interim and all of our families. In a short time, we were back in the swing of a relationship that had blossomed almost half a century ago.
In 1970, Peter and Shelby moved to Belfast and spent two years in the heart of “The Troubles,” Peter working with local groups. Their daughter, Tesher, was born in Ireland.  They then headed to Papuo New Guinea for six years, where their son, Vagi, was born, and Peter worked with community development groups. After that, they moved back to England, where Peter has taught law at three law schools and Shelby has become a very well-known jeweler.

After a tasty lunch, prepared by Shelby, we got her to show us some of her highly-creative jewelry and then continued talking. We were all too stuffed to eat more than a snack for dinner, before heading back to the train station, after sneaking a quick look at Shelby and Peter’s lovely garden. Here are assorted photos from our time together.

Took the train back to London, blogged and retired.