Tag Archives: En Plein Air

PAIRING

POSTED: June 1, 2021

Everyone knows how sound travels over water. And proximity is also a pretty significant factor as well. So, the opportunity to really sleep-in when on a boat in a marina, located not very far from others  is often a rarity. While sleeping-in may not be in the cards it is not de rigueur for someone to move up the wake-up time with any extra noise. This rule is pretty universal in marinas where any liveaboards are moored.

A few weeks back that unwritten rule was broken.  An older lad, Andrew, who lives on an exceedingly beat up old keel boat a few docks over decided to dust off his bagpipes. He also got it in his head that it might be nice to practice first thing in the morning. YIKES.

I make a point of not putting pictures of myself out there on the internet, but trust me – I am a guy who needs his beauty sleep.

Now anyone who reads my  pieces regularly will know that I am more of an independent spirit than a leader but somehow, Ciara, Malcolm, Martha, Gabrielle  Gerhardt and a few others got it in their heads that I should speak to him. This was on the line of thought that because he had taken a course with me (Cooking For Leftovers) that I knew him. Well, he is a nice enough lad, but I didn’t really get to know him much as he was not very vocal in the course, but I took up the challenge.

Andrew is a very big guy but a quiet sort and well over there on the shy spectrum. He is a borderline recluse and does not have a cellphone, a computer or most other modern devices but seems to have books in abundance. His boat floats, but its not clear to me that the sails have been out in a long time, and the hull is covered and really looks like a high school science project. None of the wood details have any colour left as they are all grey, decayed or missing. I have never seen him hanging with other people and he seems to keep to himself a lot so I really did not know how it would go.

My buddy Jim, who made his living negotiating transactions, tells me that there are a lot of different techniques for negotiation. I went with the tried-and-true technique of taking a gift to open the door to a dialogue. Before dinner I made up a bunch of canapes, and Malcolm armed me with  a nice bottle of Spanish Rioja Gran Reserva, that could keep up with some of the more  spicy canapes and a French Sancerre to pair with the more delicate ones,  and I strolled over to his slip.

He was very pleased to see me, and we spent some good time chatting, eating and drinking. We have both had our first shots for Covid and stayed about a metre and a half to two meters apart.

I had the opportunity to talk to him about food and wine pairing and how well the two very different wines matched with the different canapes. It was a shameless introduction to talking about other pairings that work really well and some that are not as good.  This got us to the notion of pairing bag pipes with my morning sleeping schedule.

The meandering chat covered a lot of ground and as I had  consumed a warmup glass of wine before leaving En Plein Air to fortify my negotiation skills, and I think he had consumed a few beers before I arrived, a transcript of our dialogue would not be helpful here.

But some good ground was covered. The key thing that we established was that there are two pairing issues with his bagpipes. The first is that they are a piercing bit of auditory chaos at the best of times and best appreciated when fully awake. The second (and I take full credit for this bit of brilliance) is that it was not Andrews fault that the traditional bagpipe repertoire is more suited to a royal wedding, or the bestowing of a military honour, and is not up to his true musical capabilities. I had brought with me some sheet music of a song from a fellow Canadian, hoping that Andrew knew how to read music and as it turned out he did, having studied the piano as a kid.

He was really pleased with the ideas I presented and agreed that in these difficult Covid times playing something like that tune at about five pm would be a signal to everyone that we had collectively made it through another Covid day, and it was time to relax.

I went back to En Plein Air quite pleased with my outing and to prepare dinner for the little group that we eat with. Over dinner I did not share with any of them any details of our discussion, only that I was hopeful that the next morning would be quiet.

I awoke at the crack of nine the next day, feeling refreshed with no bagpipes to be heard. All day I lived with the anticipation of what might happen at five. And yes, at about 5:10, a little scratchy at first, but then really getting its momentum, Leonard Cohens Hallelujah came wafting across the water. It was like a call to arms and much of the marina was clapping and cheering when it ended.

It is now almost two weeks later, and Andrew has become the popular kid in the schoolyard. On a regular basis people are bringing him sheet music and bottles wine, and many now are seen sitting out with a drink, for the 5 pm ish piping out  of the day.

Its all about the pairing.

 

Django

P.S. While Hallelujah has become a regular, the range of sheet music he is getting is quite formidable and last night While My Guitar  Bagpipes Gently Weeps   was a crowd pleaser.

Earlier today, Martha just took him some Coltrane music, so we all live in anticipation of that.

BETTER WITH TIME: A REVISIT

POSTED:  FEBRUARY 1

As you know from previous posts, I am quite taken with the things to be learned from others and I am always astonished with the nuggets of knowledge or insights that seem to fall out of some people.

Lately I have been observing the ages of the people I admire.  Some of the athletes, musicians, artists, writers and advocates that as kids we would call our heroes were usually older than us by at least ten years, but in recent years I have replaced many of those heroes with many who are much younger than I am. A few anomalies exist of course as at times I am impressed with the ideas from people much older than me. People like Malcolm. He is old enough to be my dad, and I can soak up a lot just being around a person like that.

It is also true that sometimes when around these people others are not as noticed yet may also have amazing thoughts and ideas. So when Malcolm’s partner Martha was strolling by En Plein Air one day I was pleased to get to spend some time with her over a coffee. It is always a bit stressed and weird these days maintaining a couple of meters, especially on a boat, but the interaction, in whatever form we can get it, is even more cherished in these times.  I think she was out for a bit of change of scenery. Malcolm is quite a thinker but a bit intense and living with him and his various ponderings, prognostications, and pontification’s I would think would  could be a bit of a challenge.

She had dropped by when I was writing the post Better With Time and she asked me what I was up to and I let her read it. Most people I have day to day contact with don’t read my posts, or don’t admit to it, as its kind of close to home – like having a personal relationship with your doctor, therapist or parole officer. Other than those I am close to I don’t even reference this website as my writing is not for everyone.

She read it, told me she enjoyed it and we went on to have a good conversation about lots of other things. That was about two months ago.

Today she strolled by for a coffee and with some specific thoughts in mind. She had been reflecting on that Better With Time piece and wanted to share some observations on the notion of “Better with Time”, but not with the same ideas but very different ones. She was thinking specifically about her relationship with Malcolm in all its various phases and all the changes they have been through and how their relationship has grown and become better over their time together. They had met in academia and she had been a graduate student and he was her prof. so the phases of that relationship with this older man have taken a variety of forms.

It was a rambling chat and one that totally engrossed me as she was very candid in her thoughts.

She described her time with Malcolm to me in its various phases of the relationship: Life as a student, life as a muse, life as a partner, and most recently, life as a parent.  The challenge of being the younger, less experienced one, and often in the shadow, to being an equal and then with the aging process being the one to make the key decisions and hard choices. I expect this is a common evolution in relationships of people of significantly different ages. That crazy imbalance on some fronts that with the passage of the years and the experiences shifts the balance beam.

Her description of the evolution of their intimacy was quite detailed as well, not in a graphic way but as a poignant description of two younger people satiating the needs as a physical pairing,  who age together and the relationship both physically and emotionally evolving in a similar way. [ I am hoping that descriptor was cryptic enough for underage readers to not understand]

When she left, I scribbled down a short poem (almost a haiku, but without enough attention to the syllable count) on the topic of that intimacy intertwined with their relationship and got her thumbs up  before posting hit here.

 

Better With Time

Began as boxing

And the relationship too

Became Ballet.

 

 

Django

SHEARWATER

POSTED: OCT. 1, 2020

I am not really a bird guy. But for the last few weeks a crazy big sea bird has been coming by and visiting En Plein Air. After pulling out one of my bird books I went over to where he likes to sit on the fore-boom and got up close to examine him with my book in hand. He twisted his head as if to see what I was looking at.

“Yup, you are a Shearwater” I exclaimed aloud. He just sat there.

Shearwater

Most days he comes by in the morning when I am out watering the little potted vegetable garden and herb garden I have. The first day he took away part of my toast, but left my coffee alone. Another day he ate part of Ciaras hard boiled egg. That just seems weird to me.

Now he appears to be hooked on the coffee. He sits not very far away and watches me. He seems to know when I have stopped drinking the coffee and there is just a little left and I have gone off to do something else its ok to get his beak in there. Both Ciera and I have started using wider mugs and not finishing our coffee and leaving the mugs on the table on the deck. I have also taken to getting out my camera and my bird friend has taken to picking up on that and flying off.

 

A buddy of mines parents moved to their cottage on a lake when they retired. Part of their routine was to go for long walks at dusk. A young fox got the idea this was a good thing and would come within sight of the cottage door and watch for them and they would watch for him before starting off. The route they took was always the same through some trails in the bush and back to the cottage and the fox would come and go and appear at various points on the walk as if checking on them. At times the distance from the fox to the couple was big and at other times smaller but never very close. By the end of the walk the fox would make his final appearance and then disappear into the forest again until the following evening in time for the “walk”.   In the spring, summer, and fall it happened during their walks and in the winter during their cross-country skiing of the same trails.

There is no big epiphany here, but just to say that these animals sometimes hang out for food and sometimes just because they don’t see people as a threat, and they find us interesting and its part of their routine.  I think they are a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

The two bird books I have, with a few cookbooks and letters are some of the only written luxuries I keep on the boat. On a regular basis I do go to local libraries wherever we are moored at the time however.

My bird books came out of a funeral I was at not many years after high school. I was back in town from working on the cruise ships and a friend’s dad had passed. I went to pay my respects and because I knew a lot of my old classmates would be there. Sort of a morbid class reunion.

His dad I did not know well – just a regular dad.  But at the funeral I learned of his interest as a teenager and then young man in racing pigeons. These “homing” pigeons were all the rage at one time. The owners would release them long distances from their home and they would make it back to their little pen with their own built in GPS programmed by Mother Nature.  At one time this was so popular that various “pigeon fanciers” as they were called would always have a spare safe spot or two for pigeons who were making it home from where they were released – a sort of pigeon hotel chain.

Because it was an Irish wake it was a bit of a scene. Two days before, the family had all assembled and the guys went out to the back garden and garage to build the rough box for the casket. With each saw cut or hammering in some nails they would tell stories of the fellow who had passed and have another swig of Irish whiskey, Canadian Rye whiskey,  or beer. My buddy told me there had been a lot of laughing, crying and drinking and while all this was going on the women were in the house cooking and baking for the wake and funeral day, and also laughing and crying and drinking.

At the time of the funeral there was a crazy amount of food, a lot of booze and a good number of people who had spent a couple of days reflecting on who the deceased was, what he meant to them and what life would be like going forward without him. So they were all well into the process of grieving and recovery, and quite reflective, while some of us, like me, came into it a bit unawares.

So when I asked a woman about the mans interest in pigeons she spent a bit of time telling me about Rollers and Tumblers, Dragoons, Black Grizzle’s and Kings and the ins and outs of the hobby. She was elderly and had known him when he was a young man and had shared the pigeon interest with him, but had largely lost track of him later in life. She knew of him so well and spoke of him in a such a way I think she might have been a girlfriend in high school.  And then she stopped and looked me in the eye and said of this dead old fellow who had raised homing pigeons as a young man: “His father was an alcoholic, and nasty to his mum and when be was old enough he left home in his mid teens to make his own life. The pigeons were a hobby but their desire to find their home is a sense that he shared with them.”

I was a young guy, and her sincerity and insight was a bit overwhelming for me and it has stayed with me for all these years. She was probably about the age I am now or maybe a bit younger.

A few days later I went over to see my school friend in a context that was more upbeat than the funeral, as I was heading off to the cruise ships again and the family was having a garage sale.

I bought two of the bird books and even though I have never really had much personal storage space, and even today don’t have much space on the boat they have traveled around with me.

The Pigeon, Wendell Mitchell Levi, 1945

They are quite old and tattered now, but unlike novels or other things that come and go with the fashion of the times, nature isn’t making new versions of these birds, so I can still look them up and find out a bit more about them, but every time I crack open one of these old puppies or even look at them on my little shelf, I think about that woman’s comments about the original owners of these books looking for home and think that in a little way I am helping these books find their own home.

Brocks Book On Birds, 1929

 

The book with the descriptor of this family of birds called Shearwaters had some pretty interesting details. These birds who share a general category with Albatrosses, are called Shearwaters (at least in English) as they like to fly so close to the surface of the water they appear to shear the tops of the waves.

 

They fly thousands of kilometers a year in migration and some dive into the water over seventy meters (over 225 feet) deep to feed on various fish. The book said nothing about them enjoying coffee so I will keep that to a minimum.

 

 

But its almost 9:00 and I had better get a bit of dry toast and some coffee and go and see if our new friend is on the railing of the deck waiting for me.

Django

p.s. The image at the top of the page is not my own. I have been trying to get a picture of my feathered friend but he has eluded me pretty well so this is an image from the Malta Tourist Office.

CLEANING OFF THE GUCK

POSTED: Sept 19, 2020

En Plein Air is an old wooden boat and the two key words here are old and wooden. There are lots of jokes out there about a boats just being a way to dump money into the water, and while that is somewhat true with new fiberglass and other composite boats, it is very true of old wooden boats. Now for those of you who come to this website often you will know that on the electrical and mechanical she is absolutely state of the art using a hydrogen generator to drive a super quiet electric engine but the rest of her, what everyone sees, is pure vintage boat. Vintage here I will translate: high maintenance. But keeping her up is part of the relationship, so we carry on.

When we were at work with various bookings most of them involved a sail, so she would get out to clean off part of the hull on a regular basis. But not this year. Other than our crazy dash to north Africa, and Cape Verde and back to Malta we have been at rest in Malta. The above water line stuff, largely on the deck, I keep up fairly well, on a rotation of small sections of wood that is tidied up and gets new protective coats, but the hull is a different matter. While it is a bit less of a problem when in use, regardless of getting for a nice good run in the ocean the buildup on the hull is relentless. It is easy to take her out under power on a calm sea for a little outing but a real sail is something we have not done in months.

Part of the problem is that this is not a nice boat to sail alone or even with two people. Modern boats are amazing in their ability to be handled by two people easily, but one like this I have seen Captain Sven, and Captain Ciara handle alone but its not pretty and at one point I had to do a run alone and that was just foolishness.

So the guck on the hull was starting to get to both of us. Partially because both Ciara and I love this old boat, and partially because in these stressful times we start to project out to the future with nightmares of eventually two inches thick of dense guck killing this creature we have been entrusted to look out for. This is not the only thing that troubles me when I think about the future but it is one that I am reminded of every morning when I get up and look over the side. When Jim and I discovered our same medical problem many years ago we challenged ourselves to be more like the other – him more laid back and me with a bit more focus on the future. Well, thanks a lot Jim. Now I think about the future, which I never did before, and Covid has put that into hyper-drive.

So when two talented lads with hull cleaning gear came by to ask if we would like to get the hull cleaned for fifty euros for each of six guys I jumped at the chance.

Where we sit is in a marina that is adjacent to a real shipyard. There are power hookups and pump outs, and showers and picnic tables and grilling units and some fire pits and laundry facilities. Everything is well kept and clean but not luxurious. In the office there are some basic services and for a fee we can do scanning and faxing and they have a pretty good wifi that covers most of the marina. And what’s nice is that adjacent to it is a real shipyard so in the event we needed a haul out that’s there, if needed. So it’s a nice set up but this is a marina, not a yacht club

So these two enterprising lads had spent their summer off university doing hull cleaning. One of them has an uncle with a big live-aboard trawler that in exchange for cleaning his hull once every six weeks gave them a snuba system. If you have not seen one of these it’s a pretty cool rig that has an air compressor that sits on a small zodiac with long air hoses to feed multiple regulators so “divers” can go down to about 30 feet with an unlimited amount of air. You are still tethered to the zodiac so for experienced divers I think it would feel freakishly restrictive but for applications like this it is fantastic. So they bring as many other guys as the size of the boat warrants. For En Plein air they brought an extra four.  These two guys do the underwater cleaning with big waterproof oscillating brushes (think electric toothbrush’s for dinosaurs) while one fellow mans the zodiac, and gets them whatever they need. Two other guys sit on semiboyant “chairs” in the water cleaning the waterline that gets the worst of it, and one fellow is running around on the deck and at times at the water getting the other guys gear and repositioning things

It was pretty impressive to watch, but I was spending my morning prepping for lunch. The deal I had with them was the pay of course but they had said they could probably have it done by 1:30 or 2:00 if they started at 7:30 and I had said I would serve them lunch and then we could all go for a sail and really give En Plein Air a chance to run.  All six of the guys are sailors.

So what do you feed six hungry guys after working for a “stretched” morning? Fresh homemade pizza. With one oven with three racks in I could do three pizzas at a time and at 450f the oven time is less than twelve  minutes so in doing seven large pizzas it was all about the prep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I sometimes make my own dough but not often. Most good ports will have places to buy a prepared fresh dough and I just put my time into the toppings. These days I don’t use peperoni but have opted for turkey kielbasa. The veggie ones are sundried tomato, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and capers but in each case lots of herbs and a nice drizzle of olive oil and a brushed oil edge and sitting on a scattering of corn meal.

I have had a long relationship with Pizza. When I was a teenager, just a bit younger than the guys working on the boat, a number of us worked at a pizzeria called Cicero’s in Ottawa, Canada. The term worked is one that involved one or two of us with shifts and the rest of us hanging out in the place much like those leeches at Starbucks who arrive early with their laptop and buy one tiny coffee and stay all day at “the office”.

Eventually all but one of us were not only fired but were also banned from entering the place. I think the guy who ran it was partially upset with the decline in business as the general market conditions for “real “pizza as in the early 1970’s frozen pizza at the supermarket was a simple way for busy parents to cook dinner and a lot of people stopped being prepared to fork out the extra cost for something edible.

The following summer three of us worked for one of the guy’s dads who had a signage shop. We came up with the brilliant idea to make decals to put on frozen pizza boxes as a bit of a prank. I can’t remember how many we printed but we were able to sneak most of them onto the frozen pizza boxes for sale at our local grocery store.

There was a little trouble with the grocery store owner, and with my friends dad for misusing the decal machine, but it was sufficiently funny at the trashing of the quality of frozen pizza at the time that the fellow who had Cicero’s eventually forgot the ban on us and we could go back to buying pizza there and even hang out a bit.

 

Ah, but back to the pizza at hand.

With the range working at such capacity I did not have a way to heat the plates which is unfortunate, but Ciara had enough chilled beer on hand that the guys were happy.

The six lads did a great job but both with us, and working together they had to be reminded about the two meter rule and none of them had masks. Over lunch we had a bit of a glimpse of their perspective on this pandemic. At least two of the guys saw it almost as a joke, and only one took it at all seriously. Everyone saw its potential to harm but at ages like 19 to 22 they all found it hard to really respect the power of this virus.

Only two of them said they had any real conversations with their parents about the future which seemed strange to me until I remembered the inane conversations about movies or sports I would have with my parents instead of anything meaningful. Every day is a new one for them, and the vision of the future is more focused on what they are doing right then, or that night, not the years to come.

Both Ciara and I are painfully aware of how this virus could strip away a year or more of what are not a lot of really active years left. That idea that when shared, came as a major epiphany for these lads.

En Plein Air

Because we follow these covid protocols pretty literally Ciara had planned for our afternoon sail to be based on a “station” style where each person doesn’t move much from where they are “stationed” but with this bunch that all broke down but at least they gave her and me some space.

This post might not be as interesting as some, but for both Ciara and me it was a significant day. We watched some hard working lads do a great job, cleaning away the guck on the hull and cleaning away some of our anxiety with it.

 

En Plein Air had a good run that afternoon and we came away with an understanding of how this current pandemic is (not) affecting some people, while most people over a certain age are totally anxiety ridden, almost incapable of performing basic functions and waiting for the end of the event to come.

It reminded me of two similar situations at two very different times. Janice had a military dad who was seconded to the U.S. military (from the Canadian Forces) and they were living in Key West during the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis. All the school kids were told that if they heard the sirens to get under their desks and to stay there until someone told them to come out. They did drills for this regularly.

The other situation was related to me by a woman I have gotten to know in recent times. She is about ten years older than me and shared that when she was a little girl during the war her father was a scientist and they lived in “The Secret City” of Oak Ridge Tennessee, and her father was one of those scientists working frantically on “The Project” -what we now know was The Manhattan Project.  At the schools in Oak Ridge they told the kids (even really young kids) that if they heard the sirens they should immediately run out of whatever building they were in and up into the wooded hills surrounding the town, find a large tree and to hide behind it facing away from the town. They were told that when it became safe again someone would come to get them.

So like everyone else right now, most of us over a certain age once again are under the desk, or behind the tree, holding our breath figuratively and literally. I don’t know who that someone is – a smart millennial at Oxford or Harvard or in Mumbai or Beijing who finds the path out of this, or maybe the someone is us individually in our behaviors, or our collective selves in respecting others?

But getting the task of cleaning up the hull completed, watching these young guys truly love the pizza and beer, and reminding us that perhaps one day at time is ok at times, was in itself a way to dial back the anxiety.

Django

WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM PETANQUE

Posted: August 1, 2020

Now it would be easy to think that I never leave En Plein Air, and that is largely true. But sometimes I do leave to get some exercise, and do some chores. During Covid 19 I am largely on the boat, on the marina slip or in the nearby park. I keep two really nifty and horrendously expensive fold up bikes on the boat, courtesy of a British couple who thought they could run out without paying their bill after a four-day weekend last year and forgot to take their bikes. I still smile at that bit of justice. So I get out on one of those sometimes.

Yesterday I was at the park beside the marina and playing Petanque with Ciera and it got me to reflecting how much that game is a metaphor for our current times. If you don’t know Petanque it is game played like the much better known ball game of Bocce. The scoring and many of the rules are the same but the key difference is that the Frenchman who came up with this fairly new (1910 ish) game thought of, in contrast to Bocce is that you don’t need a court. Bocce is played on a nice level court with little walls you can grace the ball off, and the predictable surface, and consistent width and length or court, makes playing it a skill. Watching talented Bocce players coax that ball around other balls on the way to its destination close to the little Cochonnet or Jack ball  is a thing of beauty.

And just to stay with Bocce for a minute the image below is a bit whimsical. When I was in Key West visiting Janice and Jim last time we went out to their local Bocce court and played a game. In Key West, play is regularly interrupted for either the feral chickens running through or one of the huge iguanas sauntering across. Crazy place.

Iguanas at Southernmost Bocce Club, Key West

So Bocce, and British Lawn Bowling for that matter is this refined pastime played politely on tidy courts. Petanque in contrast was invented to be played wherever you have the space – on gravel, on grass, with a slope or even on sand. Steel balls about the size of tennis balls are used instead of the larger resin Bocce balls.  Petanque is not as much a rolling game as an underhand throwing game to get close to that little Coche or Jack ball.  There is significant skill involved of course in getting your ball to fly through the air to get close to the target, ideally with a little backspin to keep it from rolling too far, but because it is played on an irregular surface that irregularity is a great equalizer.  Just a little bump in the ground from a root or stone can humble a good player. So in that regard if Bocce is chess, Petanque is backgammon with that roll of the die to add an element of chance.

Parenthetically I should add that I think to play Petanque according to true French tradition you must have a baguette, some cheese and wine also on hand. This also equalizes the quality of play!

The use of a beret and French sailors stripped shirt however will just get you laughed at.

So why do I think this is a metaphor for our current times? Well, Bocce is predictable. You do certain things in a disciplined way and the outcome is pretty easy to forecast, even if the chickens and iguanas have messed up the court a bit, because once they pass, things are largely back to a normal surface. So in life, you study or learn your trade, you work hard and employ good discipline and behavior and pretty regularly your career or life works out.

Petanque has that crazy bumpy surface with roots and stones that makes every throw a new adventure. I think that is where we are right now.  Some have hit a nasty bump and lost their incomes, their jobs and in the extreme cases, their lives. Some have had their business fail that not only takes away their livelihood but their nest-egg and crippled their plans to sell the business and retire one day. Some have hardly noticed the effect of this pandemic financially and are just enjoying so much take out food. In general it has been very bad for the poor but randomly unpredictable for everyone. I see it here with some losing their boats, while others are excited by the buying opportunities,  and for some a certain thinking that with the world at an end – anything goes.

OTTIMISTA

The only stocks I buy are stalks of celery, but when I hear people in the financial worlds talking I know that the conventional wisdom is that in a down market you buy to get your average cost per share down and your dividend yield up, and in an up market you sell to harvest the yield from your earlier good buying discipline. But this may well be a different time. Some will benefit I am sure from that old strategy and some of the “smart” money will do well but just as some people made money in the early days of tech and the early days of legalized cannabis, some lost everything in both of those sectors.

Certainly it is a time when lots of people are experiencing some changes in their lives that while not positive, have some positive elements and ones they never would have experienced voluntarily.  Slowing down, spending more time together, evaluating what is important in life are all things we see happening all around us, and those are positive trends.  The most common response I get when asked what someone will do when this is over? Hug a friend.

PESSIMISTA

I think any of us who chose to continue on the planet are at some level optimists. But I also  think that most complex things are not as binary as that.  We may be optimists on personal growth and pessimists on financial security. Or pessimists for the short term prospects and optimists for the longer term. And those of us who are on the wrong side of a certain age have seen enough to be cautiously optimistic, or pragmatically pessimistic. Experience counts, and some of us have the knowledge that we don’t have the time left to get some of this wrong so we may be quite positive in attitude but make decisions to protect ourselves if we are wrong.

This post has truly been a bit of ramble, but I think we can learn a lot from the game of Petanque.

Django

FLAG

POSTED: July 25, 2020

I am always amazed at some things can be abbreviated in some way and we instantly know what the person is talking about or what the image represents. Sometimes it’s a logo or an acronym but very few things have as many layers of symbolism as a flag. History, culture, pride, or shame all get jammed into a piece of fabric.

 

The current wave of anger over the Confederate Flag in the (formerly) United States is about half a century overdue of course, but it is somewhat wrapped up in one of the elements of what the Stars and Stripes are – freedom, independence and liberty. Those three words have a different meaning for many in the United States. They once meant, and I believe still do mean for many Americans,  the positive and aspirational elements that we all associate with those words. But for some, and for a few generations in some cases, those meanings have been turned around and re- expressed as the freedom to act personally, regardless of how it affects others, the independence from the public interest and public health and safety, and the liberty to express various forms of hate and intolerance.

 

English, like most languages is a living thing and it grows and evolves with us, but this set of reinterpretations of these positive notions are very damaging. And it is those interpretations that allow the idea of the right to fly a Confederate Flag to persist as long as they have. We all understand why it is illegal in Germany (and most other places in the world) to fly a Nazi flag, or to display a swastika. It is because they recognize the horror of what those symbols represent and the associated stress for many who were directly affected. For some Americans today the Confederate flag carries no shame, only oppression by the “liberal” majority who have imposed these values on them. So removing the flag has not ended the racist nature of what it represents but is a step in the direction of delivering the message that those racist views and actions will not be tolerated. Better late than never I guess.

 

But, that is not the flag that this piece is about! No, the flag I am talking about is one that I designed many years ago and one that symbolizes something the opposite of the Confederate Flag. To understand its purpose you need to go back to my earlier posts explaining my life with Justin, Amy and Sven. If you have not done so, this would be a good time to make yourself a coffee and then sit down to the archives from my posts in 2017  regarding the activities the three of us were up to for about a decade starting in the mid 1990’s.

 

Those activities were illegal in some jurisdictions, and certainly needed to be below the radar everywhere as we were transporting dissidents, journalists, and some people who only were guilty of being gay in places where that could get you killed. We were taking them to safer long term locations. It seems simple enough but at times the stakes were quite high and to do this well we often used safe houses. Our most common ones were housing that could be large enough to conceal people for a day or two and  that could move on the water – live-aboard barges mainly. These were often just moored in one location and just used as safe-houses but other times were actually moved from place to place where we would take our cargo out when under a bridge, and have them get on another boat going the other direction to hide their whereabouts.

 

Our little team was tiny. Justin, Amy Sven and me. And my role was not an active one. I just kept some aspects of the boat functioning and did the food and the laundry, while they did the operative stuff. So with only three of them operating in the shadows their visibility after a bit of time was tough to keep under wraps. The solution was to use them as decoys and to use other means of identifying ourselves or safe-houses. Cell phones were popular at that point but the amount of cyber tracking by various countries was rampant, so cells were used as a decoy or distraction, not as very useful communications tools.

 

So that’s where the flags came in. They would identify the safehouse and would only be up for  short time when the person needed to find us. I had a couple of small ones made up that Amy or Justin would pin to their satchels or packs as well that just looked like flags from trips, when our cargo would need to find them in a crowd. We used five flags over the years, not including the first one I made. That first one, Amy asked me to make up and I thought it looked great but learned pretty quickly it could be confused with a flag from one of the Soviet Block countries. So it got pitched.

 

The next one I made is the one I am going to talk about today. Amy wanted something that looked familiar enough to not arouse suspicions but different enough to not be confused with a flag of a particular state like my first one did. So I got some old really dark jeans from Sven and an old canvas trench coat from Amy in yellow and used a green canvas bag and came up with the flag below.

Safehouse Flag 1

I don’t have the actual flag anymore as it is on the bottom of the Baltic Sea (to learn more about this check out the archives from my posts in 2017) so what you see here is from my memory.  Over the years, as each of the flags secret became compromised we retired it, but used it as a decoy at times. I think because of this one being the first one we used, it was my favourite one but at some point I will show you one that I designed and we used for a while that is reminiscent of my BeBe’s native Brittany.

 

 

So why have I been off on this chatter about Flags? Well part of it is the whole Confederate flag thing, and the other is that this flag is one of the first products we are going to offer for sale!  If you read my posts here often you will know that the decisions I made earlier in my life regarding financial planning, and the future in general were not been particularly good ones. Sometimes I would get a little money ahead and get En Plein Air painted or other repairs or  improvements to her, or go to see a dentist. The reason is that this old boat I have is pretty tired and has serious needs, so while I make some money from taking out tourists most of that money goes back into just keeping En Plein Air  above water, figuratively and literally, and not for improvements and not for much of a luxurious life myself.

When Jim and I discovered each other again in the neurologists office it was clear to him that I needed to start doing some charter work with En Plein Air, maybe offer some cooking classes and that I could also sell merchandise to people who are turned on by my life story. So on the production of merchandise originally I had the idea of getting Janice to show me how to stitch up some T shirts and then to silk screen some images on them but the whole process is rather involved, time consuming, costly and hard to do when you don’t have much space, or a sewing machine or any skills. So I have instead found a place who will produce to our design a variety of products and instead of having to stock a bunch of different sizes I have gone with things that are one size fits most!

So the starting point is this Safe-House flag!   Janice and Jim (well Janice mainly) became so enthralled by it they painted their house in Key West the same colours. they had to go through lots of approvals to do it but in 2018 they changed to a yellow, aqua and navy blue theme. Check out the image below.

J & J KW House

 

And there is another crazy bit I should tell you about the flag.

Safehouse Flag Red Square

Jim decided when in Russia recently to proudly display the first one of the flags  in Red Square. Janice snapped the photo here just before they were whisked away by the travel coordinators they were traveling with before the security forces came down on them. A little “good friction” is good in these matters. Russia is back to openly taking away gay rights, pushing on its neighbors borders, and now seemingly embracing going back to having a Tsar!

 

 

 

 

 

And on the theme of getting the flag “out there”, The image below is of Janice in Nyhavn, Copenhagen.

Flag in Nyhavn

 

Beyond the flag  in two formats, I am also offering two sizes of aprons, so you will be sylin in the k’tchin

At this point you need to envision me  in the Long Apron, moonwalking across the deck swinging  my arms outstretched in the air and a large ladle in one hand and spatula in the other!

So that’s it for my intro to THE DJANGO STORE. Go over to the Categories section on the right and check it out.

Django

WE ARE PUTTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER

POSTED: MARCH 15, 2020

Holy crap things are changing fast. Shortly after I got back from Ireland to Malta, Ciara, and En Plein Air everything was locking down with COVID 19.  Borders were closing, airports shutting down and her friend from MSF had been contacted by that organization with a job for us.

The simple plan is that we are to become the “contingency plan” for getting some American MSF doctors home to the U.S. if the commercial flights all get canceled and if any of them miss the emergency flights they expect will be sent by some countries to pick up their nationals from Africa. So the idea is that we sail to Casablanca, which has the largest international airport in the region, to learn if we are getting any of the doctors there, and evaluate what has happened on the flight situation and then potentially sail down to the Western Sahara to pick up three American doctors who are working in and around Senegal for the sailing to North America  – probably the Bahamas or another friendly (non- U.S. port.). We can’t be in U.S. waters. That’s a long story from En Plein Airs’ past.  From there they can make it back to the U.S. with other help.

We are hoping the Americans can make it north to Casablanca or at least to a point along the Western Sahara to meet us as if we are going as far south as Dakar, Senegal it will add another week to what is already a three week trans Atlantic trip, and that’s once we make it to Casablanca. The trick in all of this is that one of the Americans is a recreational sailor and one has done some sailing so Captain Ciara will get some relief. When doing the transatlantic there is no port you’re in each night (duh!) so to make the trip work you are under sail the whole time and that means the bodies on board are all in a cycle for taking their turn.

We are moored in Valletta Malta and over the last two days we sourced our provisions for this leg, loaded up, and tomorrow morning with the sunrise will set sail to Gibraltar / Tangier. The big challenge is always finding a good grade of methanol for the hydrogen generator. A lot of the other provisions are pretty straightforward. Ciara and Aline also sourced some medical supplies as they expect there will not be many available when we make it to Casablanca and if we have one or more on the boat who are sick this is going to be one messy trip. It’s been a while since we have done “real” sailing and even the trip to Casablanca will take five days if we are lucky and more realistically seven days.

It’s a bit of a crazy plan and one that is going to take more than a month of sailing from this point to get to The Bahamas.  The part that is as nuts is that all of this is tentative – if they can get commercial flights for the doctors they will, so we may have almost a week of hard sailing only to find that they have been able to get flights out of Dakar or Casablanca. We are dropping Aline, Ciara’s friend in Gibraltar and she will make it north to Lyon France where she is from.

At least we are being well compensated. A donor put a substantial sum in our account just for the leg for us to get to the western coast of Africa to pick them up so even if it is aborted we will have made what we made for all of last year. If we do end up doing the trip across the Atlantic they proposed a very generous fee, so the financial aspect is all working.

The exciting part for me is that the days with Justin, Amy, and Sven were the best of times for me, and this feels like we are back doing something meaningful. So it’s not really like putting the band back together but it has some of those elements. Its also nice in this crazy new world, where we won’t have bookings as its hard to “social distance” on a boat of this size, to be getting paid as I don’t know how we will survive otherwise.

It will also give me a chance to process my experience in Ireland with Ciara’s ex-husband and to try to find a way to explain to her how badly it went. Until then I will just try to hide some of the bruises.

So stay tuned. My posts may be scattered, not well-edited, and short for a while.

Stay safe.

Django

A TRIP TO IRELAND

POSTED MARCH 9

Europe, even southern Europe, is not very hot in winter. The south over the winter is at best, temperate,  and if you are from a northern climate while it is nothing like the extreme cold in Scandinavia or The Baltics, it’s not the season anyone is looking to pay to go out on a rickety old boat in the ocean. So sometimes I use the time to get some things upgraded or repaired on En Plein Air as we did last year in Greece, but other years it’s the time for me to catch up on some things, like going back to Canada, seeing some people, seeing my neurologist and doctor and dentist.  I look for an inexpensive place to moor for the winter season, and now that Captain Ciara is on the scene she is part of the decision making as well.

So my plan for this year is to do that Canada trip in April but right now, as I write this, I am sitting on a train, and using the train’s wifi, on my way to Ireland. Ciara is staying on the boat, which is currently moored in Malta, and she has one of her female doctor friends visiting from Medicins Sans Frontieres.  That’s the organization Ciara worked with for many years when she had to get away from her ex-husband. I don’t know if her friend is more than a friend but they certainly seem close so I hope they have a good time while I am away. Malta is not hot in March, but relative to Europe it’s pretty nice. The temperature when I left was about 17C but sunny so if you are doing anything where you are moving around its short sleeve and shorts weather but not first thing in the morning or later in the evening when the sun goes down.

My trip is to satisfy one of those wishes that “Django the Gennie” agreed to grant Ciara when she agreed to join me as captain. I have referenced before that her ex is a bit of a piece of work. Well, I am not going to detail all of it but from the stories she tells, he was always abusive, and when she “came out” first to herself, then to him, it really got bad. That’s when she left him which was not long after they had married. She has gone her whole adult life since that time trying to function with him ignoring court orders, being physically and verbally abusive to her, and threatening to her friends and family. She left the practice of medicine in Dublin when her mother passed and joined MSF, but still, he would on occasion find her and she would move on. What a way to live.

We all have choices in these matters – fight or flight and Ciara has made a lifetime of flight. Now you might think in this sad story this is the point where there is a turn – a point where our hero/heroine decides to fight – well that’s where you would be wrong. My task in going to Ireland is to lie to the guy and give him back the wedding ring and tell him that she has died just to get him off her trail. It’s not really the underdog winning story we all want but it’s a choice she has made in response to the reality she lives in. So I am off to a little place in southern Ireland where he lives a rural life, does odd jobs as a carpenter, and generally hangs out with others like him.

I am traveling with just a small backpack with some overnight stuff, Ciara’s wedding ring to give back to him, and a bottle of Bourbon – yeah he likes Kentucky Bourbon more than Irish whiskey so you know he is a bit messed up by that alone.

If you surveyed most people who know me, on where I fit on the Macho/ Normal / Wimp measure of fearlessness, most would put me somewhere in the Wimp category unless it is for a cause I believe in, which would push me up into the Normal category. For the task at hand, I have quite a bi-polar perspective – I am mad as hell at this guy and scared as hell as to how my dialogue with him is going to go.

I am going to have lots of free time when I get back to Malta so you should see several posts this winter. I really have a few good ideas for some food-related ones.

Django

CAPTAIN CIARA

Posted January 5, 2019

Usually, my posts are thought out and a bit more reflective, but I am pretty bogged down with lots going on so this one is going to be tight and without as many of my usual diversions.

I got my new captain! From my post last summer about Captain Kyle post you know that I had my eye on her for some time but she had other commitments, so I muddled through waiting to get her on En Plein Air. The wait was worth it.

Her name is Ciera and for those of us who are not Irish its pronounced Kee-ra. She is about ten years younger than I am -ok I will help you with the math – she is in her mid 50’s. To be brief, she is a medical doctor, a bit on the run from a nasty husband, and lives in the moment. She is a great captain, much more like Captain Sven, so I can just not sweat how the boat is handled.

She is from County Cork and her dad was a sailor. He didn’t do much fishing but used his boat in season to take tourists out and tell them stories about the region. In the off season, he would write but was never published. Her mom worked a bit with her dad on the boat but was a textile artist who at times just made really kitschy pieces for tourists but in her later life was recognized for her landscape quilts and had some pretty big art shows.

Ciera was not artistic and unlike her parents, she was focused on science, which eventually led her to a degree in medicine. Much of her adult life was not very nice and I will have to leave that to another day to tell you about.

So all through her life, she sailed with her parents, and that skillset and a healthy respect for the moods of the sea, made her the captain she is.

The deal I cut with her is pretty straight up. Everything we earn goes first to the boat – repairs, dockage, fuel, any hookup charges, and also includes our personal food and wine. The rest gets split between us. So what this amounts to is that in slow months there is nothing left to split and once we get to some good months there will be a bit, and of course, this is getting her and me our room and board covered in the boat costs. But she has a pension and some money that she can access when she needs to and I have my little Canadian allowance so life is pretty good and when things are slow she will be able to go traveling a bit and with someone to look after the boat in slow times I will be able to make plans to get back to Canada to see my neurologist, my dentist and a few friends like Jim and Janice.

Everything I just described in terms of our arrangement is what I proposed and she agreed to but she had one other stipulation that I agreed to. Whenever she wants and for three times, she can ask me for a big favour. And she made it clear they are big – like donating a kidney big.  I have a good sense of one of them and even though this is a really open-ended commitment on my part I agreed. Life is a gamble and from the exposure I have had to her over several months I trust her.

She is almost as tall as me, attractive with long grey hair and is not overweight but solid and probably stronger than I am. I understand through her whole life she has worked out which makes her quite a contrast to me.

So before you all start getting excited about this as a new romantic relationship in my life (that was the first thing Janice said when I sent them an email about her) you should also know she is a lesbian. So this is my business partner, captain, and buddy I am introducing.

I will fill in more details later but for now I am in a bit of a scramble as we are off to the southern coast of Greece having some mechanical work on the boat done in the off season.

Django

YEAR END 2017 RESPONSES TO EMAILS

Posted:     Dec 20, 2017

Well, this is a bit peculiar – the classic “opening the mailbag” skit.  As you know I don’t have a conventional social media “open discussion” focus. I write stuff down, people read it,  and if anyone wants to get in touch with me they send me an email at www.djangobisous@bell.net

I respond to every email and quite frankly there is not a flood of them. The ones that fall into groups, however (everyone asking the same question or making the same comment) I think deserve a response so here goes. In each case, I have summarized or restated the question or concern and then my response follows.

  1. Django, love the site but you need to get a bit of an intro to how this came together.

Well, your right of course. So you can now see a section called ABOUT where I spend a bit of time explaining the whole thing and the home page directs people to read that before moving on.

  1. Measurements – why so many variations?

That’s an easy one. You may be sitting in Kalamazoo, Michigan where you use inches, miles per hour and drink beer by the gallon, but you might also be in Gstaad Switzerland, measuring your cheese in grams, measuring your speed in kilometers per hour, etc. So I am just trying to please everyone. When I was a kid in Canada we used imperial but then Canada changed to metric, and because I have spent so much of my time traveling around you kind of get used to just converting a lot. But the reality is that virtually the entire world is Metric. The only three exceptions are Burma, Liberia and the United States. So everything appears in metric first and with the conversion for the American readers in brackets. By the way – I would love to hear from a reader or two in Burma or Liberia!

  1. You have traveled a lot – where do you see as “home”?

Ah, a tough one. As I spent my growing up years in Canada that will always be part of my identity and I think I self identify as Canadian most of the time. But increasingly I see myself in the more generic European category, which I realize makes most people from a country in the EU cringe. A Frenchman is no more European than a German is. Most people from a European country really see that as a bit of a watered-down term and a diminishment of their own identity but for me, I certainly feel “at home” in most countries in Europe.

As I get older I am also thinking of it more broadly in terms of what surrounds me. If I am with friends in a nice place doing something I enjoy – I am home.

  1. Djangos kitchen rules – where did that come from?

I am not a kid and have spent a lot of my life cooking stuff. Not as a master chef, and much of it has been functional cooking, not artistic cooking, and some of it in private kitchens and some of it in cruise ships “food factories”. You cant kick around food as long as I have without some universal truths or axioms showing up. My kitchen rules are just those things that for people who have spent a lot of time in the kitchen just say – “dah – that’s self-evident” but for readers who are younger or older ones who just haven’t spent a lot of time cooking, I think the rules are a useful tool.

  1. I have come to like your quirky website but man you don’t update it much!

Yes, you are absolutely right. When Jim got me onto this idea of the website I was pretty skeptical but have come to like doing it. It also came about at the same time I was in a bad state of mind, the boat was in a bad state of disrepair and I was just starting to experience the joy of my neurological problems. So we (Jim) scrambled to get the site going, and I worked on some content but Jim had me pretty aggressively moving from the boat being my home and liability to my job and an asset. From that first meeting to today everything has turned around for me but it has been a lot of work to get the boat in reasonable shape, and then to make repairs, and improvements while taking guests. So I am not offering this as an excuse but more as an explanation. In the next year (2018) I will be back to at least four entries a year but hope to do more and by 2019 I hope to be up to about an entry every six weeks. Stay tuned!

  1. Lots of writing – not a lot of pictures – we need to see what you are talking about!

Yes, I am guilty of that one too. In trying to get this website going I have been pretty focused on “putting it down” and not on fleshing it out with images. That is in part because some of the older stuff I don’t have a lot of great images but for the semi-recent past and current times, yes, in today’s world it is inexcusable to not have more images.

So over the next year, I am going to track some images down and put them into some of the older posts and as I do new posts make sure there are images in. There will be some that I will have to crop extensively or otherwise modify as the identity of Walter, Sven, Alison, Justin I really cant display. En Plein Air is also a bit problematic to show the whole boat as we still function largely below the radar, but I can certainly show some images that don’t capture her in her entirety. I have shown one image of her that is a bit doctored up (changed a few little elements) in the post En Plein Air: Life with Amy and Justin.

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So what’s in store for next year? I don’t really have a good fix on it, but I have been learning to set some goals and work toward the future I want.  Most of my life as just sort of evolved and I am getting better at taking control of it, and I think Jim is learning to let go of it.  Stay tuned…. and see you on the other side.

Django

Using The Past To Manage The Future