Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mendocino Revisited





My birthday came, and with a friend I escaped to one of my favorite places. We headed to The Vichy Springs near Ukiah. I am not the only one who loves minerals baths. A century ago, Jack London and Mark Twain, used to spent time in the outdoor baths, in search of peace and relaxation. I wonder if they ever met.

“Let’s stay in-land,” my friend Jack had said while planning my birthday.

“Yes,” I had replied. “The coast will be too cold this time of year.”

“Since you like bubbles,” he had retorted jokingly. “We could go to the Vichy Springs again.”

“That sounds wonderful.”
 



After a few hours of driving north on highway 101, we arrived at our retreat. Nature was all around us, with yellow hills and old oak trees still standing tall. A great amount of deer inhabited the Vichy Springs. The wild creatures did not seem too afraid of humans. Green grass within the vintage resort must attract them. At nights, thousands of frogs sang an unchanging melody without a break.

“We should go see the Redwoods,” my friend said the following morning.

“I love trees,” I replied, “and especially Redwoods.”

We put on our hiking boots and left our cozy hideaway. For a while, on small winding roads we drove, to finally meet with the giants in a park called Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve. We took the designated paths and stepped into an enchanted world.
 
 

A few other wanderers were already walking the earthy path. Tree lovers. Yet our eyes kept on looking upward towards the ends of the gigantic trees. Taking pictures was not easy. How do you take a great picture of a Redwood tree? So I tried.




The feeling of being tiny against colossal trees, made me dizzy. I had to sit. Then, instead of looking up, I looked straight ahead, at the wide trunks and the dark brown barks of the forest’s giants.
 
 
Some giant trees had faces that looked strangely bestial. Other trees were half burned by a fire that occurred decades ago. Still, most Redwoods withstood flames that barely damaged the bark of their resilient and tenacious species. They keep on living.
 
 
Starting to walk again, we encountered an old Redwood that had unfortunately collapsed. The tree displayed a burned entrance that led into a large dark open space, hidden within its trunk. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. How tall is that tree, I wondered? My bed could fit in there, I further reflected.
 

While being dazzled by the forest landscape, giant Redwood Roots unearthed in a storm, popped here and there, as we stepped deeper into the bosky landscape. Another fallen Redwood with spectacular exposed roots resembled a web. A wood-web, I said to myself.
 
 

As we walked under an umbrella of tree tops, we encountered a young couple enjoying a rest, sitting on the mammoth roots of a tree, admiring the view and perhaps sensing the magic vibes emanating from the woods.
 
 

We hiked further and stopped for lunch. The sun was shyly appearing through the verdant canapé of Redwoods. I wore a warm scarf and a jacket. We sat and breathed in the forest perfume. We listened to silence. No birds or cars nearby. Hearing the silence all around us was a moment of joy. Just us, my friend and I, and the Redwoods. We felt small but we felt happy. We felt lucky to be able to admire a piece of nature that has never been altered by human hands.
 
 

While staying at the Vichy Springs retreat, we of course took several baths. Every day, we appreciated the time spent in the outdoor minerals baths. On our third day in Mendocino, I was finally able to relax. Lounging in a warm therapeutic bath, I watched tiny bubbles invading the surface of my entire body. When I moved my legs around, the water seemed warmer, and bubbles left my body to rise to the surface. Exploding at the edge of the water, I felt in a giant champagne glass. And I do love Champagne.



While I was busy watching millions of bubbles surfacing my skin, a sudden gasp of wind startled me. I looked up, towards the oak trees standing in front of me and reaching high towards a blue sky. Many of the oak trees were already dressed in Halloween costumes, made of Spanish mosses. With the wind, the fading green mosses dandling from the oaks’ branches waved at me and seemed to say: “Halloween will be here soon.”
 
 

Yes, I did drink Champagne while on my birthday escapade. I also visited a Fish Friendly winery in Mendocino and tasted an organic Brut sparkling wine made in an sustainable environment. I had a great birthday.

 

 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Spiders, Spiders, Go Away, Come again some other day



                           Picture by Ella Power                8 years old

As far as I can remember, I’ve always been afraid of spiders. Ever since I had eyes to notice critters running on the walls of my childhood homes and a voice that could scream words, my fear of spiders was born. Back in the days, in my hometown of Brussels, houses made out of bricks were notorious for inhabiting black spiders the size of one of my small wrists. To my young eyes those hairy critters looked gigantic. Still today, I fear spiders especially the big hairy ones. I’ll scream for help while frozen by terror.

Yet California populates spiders as well. One well known in California is the Black Window. Black Widows are poisonous spiders. While the back of the female spider is totally black and shiny, her abdomen is where the famous red spot resides and warns. The male black widow is supposedly smaller than the female, with a tummy only displaying a gray marking or perhaps no marking at all. While living in Northern California for over twenty years, I had met a few Black Widows.

Once, I became the Black Widows’ hunter of a playground while being a teacher-aide in a Marin preschool. Each morning I had to go spider hunting. I noticed that Black Widows seemed to like lodging within the outdoor sandbox of the preschool, under the wooden railings surrounding an area where small children really enjoyed playing.  

One Black Widow met me, face to face, when grabbing on the wooden stick I placed under her upside-down long legs. She was slow to move. The poisonous spider didn’t jump at me, to bite me. She simply stayed there, motionless and shy.  From what I read on the internet, most female Black Widows eat their partners, after mating. That’s where the labeling Black Widow comes from. A myth, some people are arguing.

We were in June. So most males were already dead, I said to myself trying to stay cool while searching for more poisonous spiders. There was a few, each hidden in sticky webs located far away from each other. Black Widows like solitude, I noted, and dark remote places.

“I’m calling an exterminator,” my boss finally exclaimed after I reported on my hunting quest.

I put the small black spider in a glass bowl, with a tied top, so she couldn’t escape. All children in the preschool had the chance to get a glimpse of the trapped spider, so they would know when to scream. Unfortunately, most children started screaming whenever they spotted a spider, any spider. I was running like a mad woman.

“That spider is not a Black Widow,” I reassured, over and over. “Let the spider go free now. Don’t step on it.”

Years later, while spending a night in Sonoma, I had another close encounter with a poisonous critter. My girlfriend and I were having dinner in an Italian restaurant, off the square of Sonoma. The evening was particularly hot. We ate outside, on a verdant patio. Small clothed tables were nicely arranged in the outdoor space, with green plants, fading lights, and Frank Sinatra singing smoothly in the background.

While eating our Italian pastas meantime drinking red and sparkling wines, my friend and I talked of the good all days, when we were sisters in law. Suddenly, my right ear heard the sound of a mosquito targeting one of my naked arms. I abruptly moved and felt a strong bite on my ankle. I forgot about the voracious mosquitoes out here, I thought. I must buy some bug repellent. 

“Wow,” I said to my girlfriend. “A mosquito just bit me on my ankle. That mosquito had very sharp teeth.”

“They like me too,” Diane retorted.

“Vinegar is supposed to be good for mosquito bites,” I replied. “To stop the itching.”

“I’ll have to try that.”

“I wonder why bites itch mostly at night,” I reflected out loud.

“Hum,” Diane said. “Good question.”

One day later, my ankle resembled a soccer ball, swollen and tender to the touch. I searched my medicine cabinet. I first put Tea Tree oil, then Spike Lavender oil on my ankle. At the time, I was already aware of Spike Lavender oil used to heal the painful sting of a yellow jacket. Why not for a bite? I had nothing to lose and no health insurance. The powerful antiseptic property of Tea Tree oil was also in my knowledge. Going to the E.R. was out of the question.

On the internet, I researched spider bites, Black Widows and other poisonous spiders. I further found several articles advising for the same remedies I had just used on my bite. Nights were especially hard as frequent burning itching-attacks interfered with my sleep. I couldn’t scratch as the bite site was too painful.

Following advices still found on the internet, I tied an icepack on my red and swollen ankle to numb the pain. I slept better that night, and by the following morning my ankle had returned to a normal size. Then, I could see two very red bloody marks close to each other and surrounded by a large halo colored in pink.

After a few days of holistic treatment, the site of my bite looked much better. The pink halo eventually faded. The two red marks slowly vanished. But still I wasn’t feeling myself. A sudden Northern California heat-wave made working even harder. I had no energy. One week passed, and one morning I could not stop yarning. Coffee didn’t help. By midday, I started developing a growing headache. I had to go home. I left my clients in a hurry.

“Go home,” Joann said. “It could be the flu.”

“Thank you,” I replied. “I have the chill too.”

While driving back to Novato I wondered if a stronger version of the flu had just struck me, or if I was possibly feeling the aftermath of a Black Widow bite. It doesn’t matter I thought, I’m still feeling ill and in pain.

 Before retiring to my bedroom, I swallowed a charcoal tablet. In bed I stayed for two days, feeling nauseated, while an icepack on the top of my head numbed violent shouting pains. My head was about to explode. The weather was warm but I felt cold.  

Two days later, I emerged from down-under. I felt weak from not eating. Jack took me to the Vichy Spring resort located near the small town of Ukiah. After a few minerals bubble baths in the open air, I felt revived.

Still, going back to work after a few days of rest I struggled with a lack of energy. I need to eat, I reflected. I am way too skinny. My clients were happy to see my return. They love my homemade vegetables soups, my salmon quiches and my super healthy and organic salads. One early night, as I prepared their evening meal, I explained to Al and his wife my sickness and symptoms.

“Are you sure it was a Black Widow,” Al asked. “Did you see the spider?”

“No,” I answered. “I didn’t see the spider. But the outdoor patio where I ate with my friend, while in Sonoma, let me believe it was a Black Widow that bit me. But maybe it was not.”

“My grandchildren are very interested in bugs right now. They just built a bug zoo,” Joann declared with a smile.

“Maybe your granddaughter Ella would draw a Black Widow spider for me,” I said. “She is so talented.”

“She would love that,” Joann acknowledged still smiling.

Back home that night, I opened my computer and started a new document. Spiders, spiders, go away, come again some other day. Online, I further learned that Black Widows like to feed on flies and even cockroaches. Yet, wasps feed on Back Widows, and birds eat bugs. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. It seems Black Widows like to eat at the same time at night as humans do. Just like rain I must endure even though I know its great power, Black Widows play a special part in the vast realm of nature.
 


 

 

 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Books and Dreams





                                                               Picture by Jill Gustafson



The last version of my new book finally arrived. I was afraid to open the cardboard- package a UPS van delivered to my home. Yet, in the fridge, a bottle of Rosé Champagne Taittinger relaxed in a cold atmosphere.
 
July had just started when a heat-wave assaulted Northern California. While spending one night in Sonoma with a girlfriend, my soft-cover book was waiting for me on the footstep of my present home. Not without anticipation, I had to wait to open my package and discover if my last reformatting efforts paid off.

Back to Novato after experiencing Sonoma in extreme heat, I was ready to celebrate and enjoy a glass of Champagne. But at the same time, I was also mentally ready to find imperfections I had possibly missed while reformatting my book. I didn’t want to rejoice too soon.

 That late Sunday morning my drive back home from the Sonoma Lodge felt a pleasant ride. Miles of wild marshes and yellow prairies colonized by chocolate-brown cows busy grazing in vast pastures, unraveled before my eyes. Old vintage barns also appeared along the way. Seeing such beauty nurtured my creative mind.

In my bedroom, I found the UPS cardboard package. I grabbed it and proceeded towards the outdoors. My new home patio looked inviting with white grapes dangling from a wooden-arch-umbrella that gave shade to all below.
 
A glass of water in one hand, I headed for one of the patio’s glass-tables, while holding my package in the other hand. I need a scissors, I thought. Back into the kitchen, I grabbed the blue scissors and started to carefully cut the tape protecting my package. Inside, a transparent plastic covered my precious work. I was ready to unwrap and find out the result of my multiple changes. Patience, I told myself, and put your glasses on your nose.

The changes I had made looked perfect, except, perhaps, one picture I edited last and now looking a wee out of focus. What else? I continued, questioning myself. As I turned pages, I suddenly spotted two pages having a different Line Spacing format that of the other pages. Is that new? I wondered. After reflecting awhile on the necessity of further work, I concluded that more editing needed to be done. 

That afternoon, my friend Jack joined me. I told him of my findings and project. Jack proceeded to read my book again. I silently waited. A perfectionist would never let those details ignored, I reminded myself while waiting for my friend’s approval.

“Yes,” my friend eventually said. “You are almost there.”

“Almost,” I responded. “But I’m happy. I don’t mind doing one more replica of my book. It is necessary.”

“Is it costly?”

“Well, let’s say it is not cheap,” I replied.

“Let’s open some bubbles anyway,” Jack announced. “I’ll have a Belgian Ale.”

“I’ll take a glass of Crémant de Limoux, from Toques et Clochers,” I asserted while reading the label on one of the two bottles Jack brought along. “Let’s wait before opening the good one,” I continued.

“Ok,” Jack said. “It is your movie.”

Each of us holding our own glass of cold bubbly beverages, we cheered to good fortune, and to dreams.

Pathways leading to dreams are never without efforts or challenges, I discovered. Patience seems to also be a key component while walking the roads of life. Reminding myself to be very patient helped me remember what I had once learned in school while reading literatures written in English.
In those University days, I payed attention to: words, nouns, adjectives and adverbs, grammar and tenses, short sentences versus long sentences, punctuations, paragraphs, plots, protagonists, antagonists, heroes and heroines, also the various other characters, and the settings, without forgetting the variety of endings. All those words, full of meanings, participated in my literary education.

“Cheers,” Jack said out loud while raising his glass. “Here is to your dream.”

“Cheers, and thank you for your understanding,” I declared. “I have to try. I do not want to ever regret not trying.”

“Good for you.”
 
                                                                  Fin
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Gloria


                                              Picture by Jill Gustafson



My friends are right. I am a perfectionist. I am still in the process of editing some words written many moons ago meanwhile still refining the online design of my first book.
 Changing certain words or phrases in my short tale has been an ongoing project. Thankfully, some of my friends have helped me progress. By telling me that my story would mostly attract an audience made of children, I understood my need for more editing, one more time.
I never intended to write for children only. But my imagination speaks for my writings. At first, I have little control of it. English words materialize in my mind forasmuch as I do understand them, correctly or not. Sometime I may use words with a European influence, which stems from my French-Belgium background. In any event, adults and seniors may enjoy reading my new book as well. Young at heart humans and animal lovers would be best.

While working again at a Northern California retirement home, I reconnected with Gloria, a longtime resident. I knew Gloria used to be a teacher, an English teacher. The senior retirement home accommodates various residents. Some have physical disabilities while many others suffered mentally. Nowadays, Gloria sits in a wheelchair and needs assistance with her physical life. Yet her brain is in perfect condition.
One early afternoon as I walked towards the entrance of the yellow building, I heard a familiar voice calling out to me.

“I haven’t seen you for two years,” Gloria said. “Are you back?”

“Yes, I am. Nice to see you again.”

“Nice to see you. What have you been up to?” the frail lady continued.

“I wrote a book,” I proudly announced.

“Show it to me,” she said enthusiastically, moving her long delicate hands into the air. 

“I don’t have my book with me today. But I will bring it with me next time I’m here.”

Our conversation abruptly ended, as a female caregiver approached ready to wheel Gloria into the dining-room of the Kisco residence. From now on, I must carry my book everywhere I go. You never know when an opportunity to share your writing may arise.

On my next working visit to the retirement home, Gloria was outside again, sitting in a shady area near the entrance. She saw me and waved me to approach.

“Where is your book?” she said.

“I have it right here with me,” I answered. “I have a few minutes before my shift starts. Do you have a minute?”

“Yes, I have time,” she acknowledged while looking at the cover page. “I like the picture and the title: ‘My Real Name is Lannah.’”

“I took the picture,” I added.

“Very nice picture,” she continued while opening the first page of my new online creation and project.

“Thank you,” I said.

“I can catch errors very well,” Gloria further explained. “Do you mind?”

“I don’t mind at all,” I happily interjected. “You are an omen coming from beyond, to help me.”

“I still read the paper you know. Look,” she said while pointing to a newspaper sitting on her lap.

“Yes, the Sunday newspaper,” I noted.

Silently rejoicing, I waited patiently for Gloria to read further. I stopped talking and sat on an empty bench while she slowly turned pages. “I hope she likes it,” I said to myself feeling angst rising. “I hope she likes it.” Breathing deeply three times, I tried to relax my emotional brain. “Everything is under control,” I told myself, “relax.” Here and there, the former teacher stopped and spotted words she believed were too sophisticated for children.

“These two words are too big together,” she explained. “You need to find some better ones.”

“How about: ‘I was playing in my giant backyard’ instead of ‘I was guarding my territories?’” I asked.

“Yes, that’s better.”

“Or? Let me think,” I continued while returning to silence.

“It is a very cute story,” Gloria commented when she finally turned the last page.

“I’ll show you a new version of my book, when it arrives. I’ve already made many changes you can’t see in this draft,” I further explained.

“I’ll be happy to read your new version. Find me.”

“I will.”

“The Giants are playing in San Francisco this afternoon,” the elderly lady announced. “I have to go.”

Gloria’s caregiver of the day eventually arrived and wheeled her to the game-room, where a very large television was about to broadcast a Giants game. Gloria is a sports lover, I reflected. Good for her. Too bad I don’t understand baseball very well. Too many numbers, letters, statistics and jargon in Baseball. I love the players’ outfits though, and the secret hand language some players use to communicate with other team members.

“Have a fun time,” I said. “Enjoy the game.”

“I will,” she retorted. “Come and see me again.”

“I will.”

Gloria left, and I remained on the outdoor bench for a few more minutes. I felt happy to be able to share my story, and to receive a positive response as well as encouraging suggestions. A sense of hope yet excitement filled me as I awaited the arrival of my new book.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

An Extraordinary Whale Watching Adventure in Bodega Bay

 
 



The temperature was about 90 degrees that day, even in Bodega Bay. My friend and I had decided to spend one night away from home, but we didn’t want to travel too far. Within a few driving minutes from Novato, the Northern California coast revealed a fantastic performance. Hills after hills unraveled while we headed northbound. I could have stared at those hills for hours.

That year rain had not fallen enough on that part of the planet. Under a dry and hot sunny spring season, the wild and green coloring grasses had begun fading, slowly transforming the California hills into miles of yellow furry carpets. Here and there, patches of oak trees and black cows appeared in the unfolding landscape.

Eventually, Bodega Bay came into view. The small fishing town looked magical while surrounded by nature. Slanted old Cypress trees created by the coastal wind and tall shrubs enduring a similar design thrived. But for a few days, the wind had stopped blowing hard. Life could relax. The following morning, my friend wanted to play golf, I opted for the beach. Our sandwiches packed, we each went our separate ways.

“I’ll meet you on the 18th hole,” I said.

“Sounds good. See you in a few hours.”

“Put sunscreen on,” I proclaimed, so I would also remember to apply sunscreen on the uncovered parts of my body and face.

Walking towards the coastline, I arrived at a cliff covered with ice-plants flowering hundreds of dark-pink blossoming. To my right and before my eyes, a rugged landscape staged cliffs resembling the white Dover cliffs of England. Closer, a very large rock pierced the ocean and gave the scenery an enchanting touch. Wooden stairs led me to warm gray sands disappearing into a sea that looked rested and relaxing.  

Although the sun was soon to reach the highest point in the sky, a hatted woman and her dog were the only two other beach walkers besides me. Large pieces of dried wood polished by waves garnished the sandy seaside. I decided to stop and lunched with my back resting against one piece of wood that looked almost white. While eating my tuna sandwich, I starred at the ocean. Pelican birds were gliding in the blue sky forming a flying line in the hazy noon sun. A dark head popped out of the water. It seemed a seal was watching me and perhaps wondering about my lunch.

On my left, the large rock seeming small resembled a giant sword thrusting the ocean while hiding behind a white sparkling curtain constantly in motion. The sun’s rays played a role in the performance. I had my camera with me. I took a few pictures. For a short while, I relaxed and tried to learn how to meditate. Time passed. When I felt revived, I opened my eyes and again watched the ocean. The sea looked very calm with only small waves crashing on the water’s edge. I looked at my watch and one hour had already escaped into the light coastal wind. Suddenly, in the distance, the back of some creature surfaced the ocean. I kept on staring.

Twenty minutes later, in the shallow water and close to the shore, another back emerged from the quiet sea. A whale, I cheered myself: “I saw a whale.” Still sitting, I continued to watch. The aquatic mammal didn’t seem in motion. I started to worry. Standing up and moving towards the water’s edge, my eyes kept on looking. A gray back appeared within the rhythm of gentle waves.

A sprinkle of water spouted out of the sea and up in the air. A large head surfaced. One big eye seemed to be looking at me. I came closer and bare feet entered the cold ocean. The creature of the sea didn’t move. I stepped forward and with one hand started to gently caress the long face. The baby whale looked scared.

“Why are you scared?” I whispered.

“I think I have lost my mother,” a small voice explained.

“Don’t be scared,” I replied. “You have not lost your mother. She went fishing.”

“Oh yes. My mom can’t fish when I’m around. And I am very hungry right now,” continued the young voice. “We still have a long way to go before we can rest.”

“Your mom will be back soon,” I explained. “Stay quiet and wait.”

I could almost see a smile on the face of the giant yet still baby whale. While my hand continued to stroke the rough skin of the sea creature, I noticed a big eye looking more relaxed.

“I hear my mom calling,” the baby whale exclaimed. “I have to go now.”

“Take care,” I said, “and have a safe trip.”

            Within minutes, the young whale disappeared into the ocean. Stepping back onto dry sand, again I looked towards the horizon and searched the water for a spouting or the back of a whale. Suddenly, I saw two backs moving side by side. A few minutes later, Mother Whale popped her head out of the water and jumped once. I took it as a Thank You and a Goodbye.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fish Friendly Wineries









On my first day back from Belgium to San Francisco, my friend Jack drove us north towards the Mendocino coast. Spring had just begun on the Pacific side of the globe with orange poppies thriving along Sonoma’s country roads. The countless undulated hills inhabiting Northern California resembled a velvet carpet dyed in a light verdant tone. Here and there, patches of bulky oak trees exposing distress branches withstood the elements.

Jack behind the wheels, we eventually approached numberless extensive rows of grapevines already growing small green chiseled leaves. In Alexander Valley, we discovered vineyards producing an array of respectable wines. My friend knew of my love for bubbles. Two wineries producing sparking California wines were on our touring agenda. First, Jack made a stop at a vineyard’s tasting-room displaying a least six variety of sparkling wines.

The spring Sunday was especially warm for the season and tourists dressed in summery attires. What a difference with the enduring wet and cold Belgian climate I had just left behind.

While entering a tasting-room built out of wood and painted in white, colorful art pieces garnishing indoor walls caught my attention. I have a heart for arts. Behind a bar, a waiter faced us while proceeding to serve two young female customers. The wine-connoisseur welcomed us then quickly started lecturing his audience about Champagnes and La Méthode Champenoise. I asked questions and he answered. Eventually, he served us both our first samplings. Although tasting wine means not swallowing, I emptied my two sampling glasses without remorse.

“I am fine with my two samplings,” I said.

“Do you want to try some Dry sparkling wines,” the wine-waiter asked Jack.

“Yes, I’d love to.”

“The Blanc de Blanc and Dry Sparkling wines contained more sugar, right?” I inquired.

“Yes, that’s right,” answered the specialized waiter. “In the old days, Champagnes were desert wines, with high level of sugar. The level of sugar in sparkling wines is much lower nowadays though. Today people drink sparkling wines as cocktails.”

“I didn’t know that,” I replied. “I like Brut sparkling wines the best.”

“We’ll take one bottle,” said Jack.

Holding one bottle of Brut sparkling wine in my hand, we exited the Northern California tasting-room. Nature thrived all around us, with thousands of yellow flowers growing wild between the established grapevines of some wineries we passed by. Mustard flowerings, I presumed.

“There is another winery specialized in sparkling wines near our lodging,” Jack said.

“That’s sounds good,” I replied. “Plus, I can’t get tired of the scenery.”

“I agree,” my friend continued. “Alexander Valley is enchanting.”

Driving down empty country roads, we arrived at our second tasting venture. An imposing building made of dark wood appeared in the landscape. Inside a large and cold tasting-room, a young woman enlaced in a warm scarf, presented us with more sparkling wines to taste. Again we started sampling.

“I love seeing wild flowers blooming amidst your grapevines,” I noted.

“We are a Fish Friendly Winery,” replied the young female waitress.

“Fish friendly?” I retorted.

“Yes,” she explained. “Sadly, too many neighboring vineyards are still using pesticides, which pollute the river rolling nearby. You should see the foam floating on the water,” the young woman further exclaimed. “It’s a sad picture. But this winery is respectful of nature. The mustard plants growing  under our vines allow us to be pesticides free.”

“I’m very happy to hear about your friendly practices,” I noted while proceeding to sample my cold sparkling beverage.

“You should advertise more on the fact that this vineyard is eco-friendly,” added Jack.

The two young ladies we encountered in the first vineyard we visited suddenly popped in and joined us for a few more wine-samplings. While Jack continued his tasting session, I left the cold room and aimed for the outdoors where a generous sun quickly warmed my skinny body. Walking along a sandy path, I discovered a panoramic view of the valley adjacent Cloverdale. Meanwhile, I heard busy bees attending spring flowers blossoming around the Fish Friendly winery.

Eventually back on the old roads of Sonoma County, we encountered a few more wineries advertising for their eco-friendly approaches.

“I really enjoy what I see,” I told Jack who was still holding the wheels.

“Yes,” my friend replied. “I am too. I would love to build an eco-friendly learning center out here.”

“There is a sign for a parcel for sale next to the Crocker Inn,” I remarked.


That evening, the moon staged a full yellow face. Behind our sleeping accommodation, thousands of frogs held a loud meeting. Crickets also played a part in the nightly oratory. Yet that night, I slept like a log. The following morning two Acorn Woodpeckers paraded around one thick branch of a mature oak tree thriving nearby our wooden-cabin. After two nights at the converted hunting lodge, we left nature and returned to society.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Old Books, Fresh Oysters and Friendship




Nowadays, the American popular trend is to read books online. I am from an early generation and still cherish paper books. Do not get me wrong, I think online technologies and their capabilities are magical. I venerate trees. As a writer, new online technologies appease my fear. I agree with not cutting millions of trees just for the sake of creativity.

In any event, while planning my return to the Bay Area in California I wanted to travel light. Two years earlier, I had moved boxes of books across the planet. At the time, the country of Belgium was my ultimate destination. My family lives there.

Books can be heavy, and especially the ones I brought back with me to my native country. A boat leaving San Francisco and heading for Antwerp had carried my too many boxes throughout different time zones and oceans. One of my boxes contained a variety of dictionaries. French and English literatures telling great stories were also part of the voyage.

Without a doubt, I am a big fan of paper books of all kinds. Hard-cover dictionaries give me great pleasure while I learn new words and their meanings. Paper-book novels enable me to travel the world without moving an inch from the sofa.  

Eventually while planning my move back to California, I sadly accepted to depart from some my books. Today, most of my dictionaries are still with me. I only gave one away. As Christians might say, my dictionaries are my bibles.    

Fortunately, my Belgian girlfriend, Françoise, knew a few places in Brussels where I might sell my beloved books written in English. With years passing, the three national languages of Belgium seem to have endorsed English as a fourth language, for a better tool to communicate. At the border of Brussels, the town of Waterloo inhabits a high population of English speaking immigrants. Yet Belgium and Brussels inhabit immigrants from all over the world. Most newcomers are not trilingual. To speed communication and understanding, the English language is often spoken.

This cold winter while meeting Françoise in the Belgian Capital, we took my girlfriend’s car into a district of Brussels I did not recognize, even though I was born in that specific Commune. I felt lost in the capital. All the small streets looked the same.

We found a parking spot right in front of a second-hand store that supposedly bought and sold books and CDs. Françoise also had books – written in French – she wanted to try to sell. Two young men managing the buying section of the store attended us without losing a minute.

“Can I give you the books and CDs you did not buy from me,” I asked the friendly staff.

“No thank you, I have plenty of books to read at home and CDs of all kinds,” the young man said. “But you can donate all you have left to Les Petit Riens. The store is right nearby. I would have to recycle your items, or destroy them.”

“I do not want my books to be shredded,” I declared abashed. “That sounds horrible. I want my books to stay alive.”

We were out of the second-hand shop in no time. Before exiting the large room filled with books up the walls, we each had a few euros in our hands. In the meantime, our eyes were busy catching the scenery.

“What a place,” I said.

“Yes. They even have old vinyl records for sale,” Françoise noticed.

“Long-playing are back into fashion in Belgium,” I responded. “Cool.”

“One of my daughters enjoys listening to old recordings.”

“Does she own a vintage needle-phonograph?”

“Yes. I found one.” my girlfriend explained. “I know Brussels like the back of my hand.”

“Where are we going now?”

“We are going to a recycling warehouse and next to a donations store. Both are close by. Zut. Shoo,” Françoise said in French. “I forgot to feed the parking meter.”

“Oups.”

“No parking-ticket on my dashboard though. That is good news.”

Back into my girlfriend’s sizeable car, Françoise drove a few times around the small and busy streets of the Belgian capital in search of another parking spot. Our venture of the day was not over yet. Twelve o’clock was approaching on my watch, and at the same time Belgians stopped working to take a lunch break.

Accordingly, miniature cars made in Europe invaded the old narrow streets of Brussels. We had no luck. While driving around one more time, I spotted a well-known Brussels’ restaurant.

“I would love a bowl of onion soup,” I noted, “with melted cheese on the top.”

“That sounds good,” Françoise replied. “Do you want to try La Quicaillerie?”

“I have been there once, a long time ago,” I said. “I do not remember when and with whom though.”

“There is a public garage nearby,” my friend continued. “My car is too big. We will never find a parking spot around here.”

“Ok,” I answered. “Let us treat ourselves. We did well at the second-hand book store. And this might be the last time we are together, just the two of us, and for a while.”

“Yes, it might be the last time,” Françoise said sighing. “But I will come to visit.”

“I would love for you to come,” I will show you the California wine country, up north where you have not been yet.”

“We have Skype to see each other when we want.”

“Yes we do.”

“I will be nine hours ahead of you. Send me some pictures of your new home.”

“I love to take pictures.”

The small public garage solved our parking dilemma. With our warm coats, hats and gloves still on, we entered a former hardware-shop dating back in the days, and converted into a Belgian restaurant. Inside the Brasserie, a giant vintage clock faced us while standing proudly in the middle of the spacious eatery. Wrought iron railings divided the restaurant into sections but also levels. I counted two other upper levels, with row of tables looking down unto the main dining-room and the entrance door.

Right next to the entrance door, an oyster-bar displayed a variety of oysters coming from France. We both stared. A female hostess showed us to an empty table. Our modern napkins were identical culinary magazines specialized in French Oysters.

“Yum,” I uttered. “I might have to order some oysters.”

Oui. Yes,” Françoise said in French. “I will have some too.”

Quickly, a waitress came and took our orders. Shortly after, two plates filled with shaved ice revealed six medium oysters per order and pieces of cut lemons. A plate staging well-buttered pieces of bread also accompanied our orders.

“I am glad we came,” Françoise said.

“I am glad too. This is great. I love oysters with a zest of lemon.”

“I prefer my oysters with pepper.”

Time stopped as we began eating our sea food. For a few minutes, my mind traveled to Northern California and the Seafood Peddlers Restaurant. While living in San Rafael, with a friend I often sampled Pacific oysters in the popular eatery that has acquired a new name.

New diners entered the Belgian restaurant occupying empty tables near us. I traveled back into reality. More plates of oysters passed us by.

“I will have a light beer on tap with my oysters,” Françoise asked our waitress.

“I will take a Verveine tea,” I said. “I am cold.”

“We need to treat ourselves,” my girlfriend retorted. “Even though we both felt tired this morning, we were both very effective today.”

“Absolutely,” I replied, “we deserve a treat.”

That morning, Françoise and I had both lacked motivation and energy. Around eleven o’clock we had eventually aimed for a cold outing in the crowded capital of Brussels.

The books we did not sell to the second-hand books store were given to a Belgian organization I translated into: The Little Nothing. The second-hand shop only accepts donations, and then sells back to the public a large array of donated things: clothing, furniture, literature, music and probably more.

Without hesitation, our unsold books and CDs were accepted at the very large recycling shop. Françoise’s old skis and boots were also accepted at no cost at the Brussels’ governmental recycling organization.

We had a good day. The oysters we ate gave us the extra energy we needed to continue a day that was moving forwards. Yet the oysters Françoise and I shared made me forget about the books I had sadly left behind. Our trying venture and celebration in Brussels will stay and travel with me.