Rock Stacking and Balancing

I have in the past posted several episodes with photos of what I called “Rock Stacks.” It turns out that most of them were not stacks at all. What I have been doing all along is Rock Balancing.

I discovered this while checking the Search Engine hits that brought people to my blog. Occasionally “Rock Stacking” generates a hit. I decided the check some of the other matches, and came upon this page, which discusses the difference. The same search linked to an episode here at Muddled Ramblings called The Man is Keeping Me Down.

I’m not unhappy about being wrong. I have long tried to differentiate my delicate and transient works from the cairns and other piles that the kids are doing these days. I like their stacks, but the goals of the two crafts are different. Stacks are very much about the setting, and as you can see if you follow the above link, there are some pretty nice ones. From now on, therefore, I will adopt the correct nomenclature.

I do have one thing in common with the stackers, however. Most rock balancers create spires with three rocks, while I’m rarely content with that. Three rocks is relatively simple: base, left hand, and right hand – fiddle and nudge until everything is stable. It’s the rock you put on top of that mess (or if you use rocks too big to manipulate with only one hand) that really makes the thing. As a result many of my favorite efforts have come out something of a hybrid between stacking and balancing. Ultimately, however, it is the impossible-seeming, gravity-defying balance that I like the most.

An incomplete spire, but the tiny contact zones are lost in the background jumble.

An incomplete spire, but the tiny contact zones that make it interesting are lost in the background jumble.

While I’m on the subject of rock balancing, while on the cruise my partners in crime and I did some pretty sweet balancing of whatever items were handy. Naturally some of the items were glass, which makes the result more interesting and also makes the crew of the boat more nervous. Add in waves and you have yourself a party! I don’t have any pictures of the results (I was busy stacking balancing after all, and one of the stacks balances(?) included my camera), but others took pics. I’d love to link to those pictures here, if people will send URL’s.

Also on the boat was a guy who is way into 3D photography. He showed me how ridiculously simple it is to take 3D shots (the hard part is viewing them). One of the key things about 3D is that it really helps separate the subject from the background. Many of my old rock stack balance spire photos suffer from the rocks being exactly the same color and texture as the background. Boy, 3D would make those pictures better. If you poke around at Rock on, Rock ON! you will see some really good balancing (better than I have pulled off to date), including one 3D shot.

Next time…

Follow the Carp

It took a little longer to shake off the cobwebs this morning, a combination of getting used to the time zone and (more significantly) staying up too late last night. I didn’t have all morning to lie about, however, I needed to be fed and ready at 8:15, when the family was gathering to get our instructions for the trip to Kyoto. Thirty minutes later I had a number 16 affixed to my chest and we were on our way.

Our guide, with carp, near a big tree

Our guide, with carp, near a big tree

The trip started with a coach ride from the port of Kobe to Kyoto. The guide of coach 16 was a friendly fellow with lots of interesting stories about the little things that give a city its character. I didn’t hear all the stories; I was seated in the back, next to Obnoxious Italian Guy. The coach was full, and Obnoxious Italian Guy and his girlfriend simply needed more space than the seat provided. Not because they were big, but because he in particular was animated. He sat semi-sideways in the seat, using my shoulder as a back rest, and laughed and joked and waved his arms in a culturally-correct manner, and generally annoyed me. If I had said something he probably would have been quite all right with that; my quiet annoyance was probably just as culturally abrasive to him as his space-invading histrionics were to me.

In any case, we got to Kyoto. Our first stop was a Buddhist temple, built by a powerful Shogun and cousin of the Emperor. Before we got off the bus our guide showed the baton he would carry. At the end were two mini carp kites. “Follow the carp,” he said. He reminded us again when we were mustering after getting off the bus, where another tour guide was giving the same advice to her group, holding up an almost identical carp-festooned baton.

The Golden Pavillion, built by some shogun guy in Kyoto Japan

The Golden Pavillion, built by some shogun guy in Kyoto Japan

The place was was, as you might expect, beautiful. The most striking building was the golden Pavillion, a three-story structure. The upper two stories were covered in gilt which reflected in a still pond, while the ground floor was dark wood. “It is best when it is raining,” our guide said. He moved his hands to indicate a downpour. “When it is raining very hard. Then the upper part seems to be floating in the air. Very beautiful.” It was hot and humid; I hoped for rain, but no such luck.

We toured the grounds, pausing to hear stories of carp transforming into dragons and so forth. Almost right away my camera battery gave out. That was OK, I was surrounded by photographers. I concentrated on looking around.

All too soon we were done with the place, and I felt for the first time the downside of a group tour. We were in a place of quiet contemplation, a place designed explicitly to be a good place to sit and think (or not think). But, I was with forty other people and we had places to go. A tour can hardly schedule time for forty antsy tourists to stop for a moment, breathe, and feel the harmony of the surroundings permeate their own souls. We got back on the bus.

A small shrine in a Zen garden, Kyoto

A small shrine in a Zen garden, Kyoto

We drove past the Emperor’s Palace grounds, over the river where once thrived kabuki and brothels, to our next stop, a Shinto temple. We were instructed in the proper cleaning ritual, a symbolic preparation to enter the place and in itself a sort of prayer. I tried to get myself in the proper frame of mind as I washed left hand, right hand, mouth (cover your mouth when you spit the cleansing water back out – do not show God your teeth), then finally the handle of the water scoop, to make it ready for the next person.

Thus cleansed and in the proper frame of mind we entered the temple grounds. The buildings were massive and brightly painted. The place was a half-sized replica of the Emperor’s palace, which was burned down a century or four ago. Our group crunched over the white gravel of the grounds and approached the main shrine, which houses the spirits of not one but two great Emperors. We bowed respectfully, clapped, and made our wishes. (I did not wish for anything as base as a cooling rainstorm.) One can also purchase fortunes at the temple, not all of which are good. There are trees white with the fortune slips, as people who are not happy with their fortune will tie it to a branch and get a new one.

Get your coin in the bowl and go to heaven!

Get your coin in the bowl and go to heaven!

Back on the bus half an hour later and on to the next stop, a famous market street bursting with fresh seafood, intriguing snacks, enticing aromas, and the vibrant energy that any good market has. (Remind me to look up the name of this street.) Then it was back on the bus once again for a trip to a fancy hotel for a buffet lunch with dozens of dishes, from the familiar to the mysterious. I ate too much, trying to balance exotic and mundane. The afternoon included a visit to another, particularly cool temple perched on the hills overlooking the city, and time to shop in the streets that lead up to the temple.

I was feeling a powerful thirst, so I paused and drank a beverage called Pocasi Sweat (or something like that – “sweat” was in the name). It is what Gatorade used to be before it got sweet — a not-very-tasty-but-effective thirst quencher that replaces electrolytes. It was indeed refreshing.

Finally, we went to the train station and boarded the Shikansen (rhymes with ‘bullet train’) back from Kyoto to Kobe. According to fuego’s GPS-phone, we reached speeds of almost 280 km/h, the maximum the train is allowed to go in urban parts of the country. The trains don’t stop often and when they do it is not for long; we were warned by our guide that while the train would stop for almost two minutes in Kyoto, in Kobe we would have only a minute to get off. I think our huge group delayed departure a few seconds. Hopefully they were able to make up the time on the next leg.

Back in Kobe we boarded a different bus and were shuttled back to the boat, tired, pleased, and just a bit frazzled, considering all the places of peace and tranquility we had stampeded through. Better to stampede, though, than to not see it at all.

Sunset off the Stern

Sunset Panorama

Sunset Panorama

Last night I ditched a family dinner to sit on the fantail of the boat and watch the sun set, to ponder life and all the little moving parts that are required to sustain it, and to take a few pictures. This is built from a series of fourteen still photos, and came together pretty well. You can click to see a less-shrunk version. The sunset got a lot redder after a while, but I didn’t go back and take another set for a panorama.

Sunset off the stern of the boat

Sunset off the stern of the boat

Some Pictures I Took

Harlean Carpenter, photographed by Jerry Seeger

Harlean Carpenter, photographed by Jerry Seeger

Harlean Carpenter, the woman behind PoeticPinup.com, has a new photo gallery up. The big news about this particular gallery is that I’m the photographer. Yep, that’s right, I pulled out my big ol’ camera and entered the world of fashion photography. Some of the pictures came out pretty well, thanks mostly to the experience of the model knowing what she wanted and how to get it. Still, every once in a while I came up with some good advice.

I learned quite a bit while I was at it. I’ll have more opportunities to work with Harlean, and hopefully over time my skills will improve. Also, someday I might have better lights and a better tripod. Crazy!

Harlean Carpenter is a fiction created to create fiction. She is also a pinup model, though still a fiction.

Lookin’ for a Bluesman

zlato proved useful once more, sending me the info about and American guitarist and singer who works regular gigs here and there around town. It turns out I’d heard Brad Huff play once before on a night spent hanging with zlato, but I had forgotten the guy’s name, along with everything else about him. Last night he had a gig at an American-owned bagel place. “Looks like we’re having bagels for dinner tonight!” fuego replied when I sent him the info.

As the day wore on, I was overcome by deep and profound sleepies. Brad plays often enough, we could miss one night and the world would not come to an end. Through the innefficiency of text messaging fuego and I were not quite on the same page; I was getting writing done and was not inclined to go out, but by the time I stated that explicitly fuego was already on his way.

As well he should have been. Really it should have been me dragging him. This is my sandbox, my budget, and if I don’t drag this bastard project forward through sheer force of will, then who is going to? I resolved to rally. While I was getting my act together I got another message from fuego. He was quite a bit early for the concert, so he’d gone to another place nearby, a potential location for the film. He told me how to find the place and I started on my way.

Brad huff at bohemia bagel

A lonely bluesman at Bohemia Bagel

It took a while to get there by tram. fuego’s directions were excellent, and the place was easy to spot. I got inside and realized that finding the place and finding someone inside that place are entirely separate challenges. It is a crazy labyrinth of stone and metal, filled with mood lighting and kinetic sculptures made from old engines. It’s contrived, but damn if they didn’t get it right. The levels have levels, there are nooks and crannies everywhere. They had Sailor Jerry Rum, which I did not try. I didn’t take any pictures. We had a coupld of beers, discussed it in the context of “Moonlight.” It’s much busier and more modern than I imagined the location in the story, but it’s also way cool, which counts for a lot. It’s a place that is without a doubt Prague.

After a while we headed the few blocks to Bohemia Bagel for the show. We had no idea how crowded things would be, so showing up a bit early seemed like a good idea. In this case, there was no need to worry. Bohemia Bagel is simply not a place people think of when they’re going out for an evening. I assume booking a blues player once a week is part of a campaign to change that. We arrived, sat, ordered munchies and beer, and waited. Before long Brad sat down in the corner and started to play. He was good, and when we talked to him on his break he turned out to be a personable guy who understood what we were up to and was interested in working with us. Not only that, but his wife is a pianist and has worked as a hand double as well.

We talked about all sorts of things; the story he told about being abandoned in Tuba City, NM was especially good. No two ways about it, that man has some tales to tell.

The vltava at night

The Vltava, looking toward the castle and old church

After the show he joined us again for a while and we had a round of Becherovka for good will. Then we went our separate ways. In what has become a pattern fuego decided to do a bit more “location scouting” while we were out. We walked across the river down into the center of town, where the basements are the coolest, and trod the cobblestones looking for likely venues. Nothing presented itself right away, but we stopped off as a place called (something like) Fat Boy Bar, a place neither fuego nor I had even been before. It was fairly quiet in there by then. We got beers and made ourselves comfortable.

A while later I looked up and there was Brad, still dragging his little wheel bag with his amplifier, his guitar slung over his back. I waved, he laughed, and came over to join us. “I got on the wrong tram,” he said. “I used to come in here all the time, but I haven’t been in ages.” Yet there we were, as if guided by some divine practical joker, and more stories ensued. And more beer. Maybe some more Becherovka. Maybe not.

Time continued to stumble ahead toward dawn, clumsily but inexorably, dragging us with it. Eventually it was time to go home. We walked out into the quiet Prague streets. I really like the city at that time of night; one of my favorite Prague moments was a similar walk through fresh snow. We bid Brad goodnight at his (correct) tram stop and fuego and I started tromping homewards. We made it as far as El Paso.

tramsleeper.jpg

I wonder if he can play the blues…

El Paso is a bar I pass often but rarely go into. One of those visits was on a very similar walk home with fuego, late at night when we both know better but are willing to forget for a while that we do. El Paso is open almost all night, just closing long enouogh to clear out the drunks before they start a new day. We sat, chatted a little more, mostly about the project, and eventually there was just no denying that it was time to go home. I walked part of the way but I was passing the tram stop just as the night tram pulled up (still night trams — at least it wasn’t as late as last time) and I hopped on for the last half-mile or less. The tram itself was a fairly modern number, but all night trams come equipped with a sleeping drunk guy. This guy is living in luxury; he’s not forced into the standard slumped-forward posture you see on the older trams. I’ll tell you a story about that sometime.

Finally, home, happy to be there, I spent a little while chatting with That Girl. She called me a dork. (She loves dorks, luckily.) I didn’t last long, and then I flopped down on the Curiously Uncomfortable Couch and was asleep almost before I was horizontal. Quite a productive day, overall…

One of Those Mornings

morning hair

How I looked when I woke up this morning.

Scarred for Life

This (somewhat dated) image of a NASCAR fan is disturbing on so many levels that all I can say is, “Hell yeah!” Don’t click that link if you’re happy with your life the way it is.

A Perfectly Ordinary Evening

LCNH%20on%20a%20Wednesday%20Night.jpg

Little Café Near Home on a Wednesday night

fuego passed his old phone to me when he got a new one. Let me tell you, this puppy is pretty fancy. The other night I was at Little Café Near Home, trying to sort out all the features. One thing I did was take some pictures and email them to myself. Yep, my phone has wireless Internet. The Opera Mini browser works fairly well rendering Web pages on the little screen, and overall I’m pretty darn happy with it.

The phone has not one, but two cameras. As well as the main camera, which is pretty nice but the controls are a bit cumbersome, there is a secondary, lower-quality camera on the same side as the screen, whose only purpose, as far as I can tell, is self-portraits.

So here is a view of LCNH that I rather like, for reasons I can’t put my finger on. I am sitting at the far end of the place, so you can see that the the place really is quite small.

Breakfast!

banana%20bread.jpg

Breakfast!

rainy morn, groggy head
ooo! heart-shaped banana bread
big-ass pot of tea

A couple of snaps from the road.

I finally got some semblance of a workflow to get my pictures from the camera to the blog (should have checked to see what software I had on the laptop before leaving — neither Canon’s nor Apple’s software can be downloaded). Anyway, here we go!

Misty Mountain, somewhere east of Seattle

Frozen Lake.

Black and white sure is artsy!

Ritzville Sunset

I’ll put up a larger collection over at the gallery once I have software that doesn’t suck for that sort of thing.

Thunder in Krumlov

Out on the water, making our way downstream, our raft stood out. Cap’n Soup Boy standing tall, waving the battered Jolly Roger, wearing his pirate gear, while Izzy and I acted in a generally piratic way… it worked. Those on shore called out and took pictures. There was no doubt that the ladies were particularly impressed (I kept a low profile). Izzy was making plans. When we got to Krumlov, he was going to tear that place up. Rock and roll all night, etc.

We pulled up at our final stop (“Let’s keep going!” Little John called), dried off, and boarded the van to Krumlov. It dropped us off right in front of our hostel. (Total cost per person for the rafts and the lift into town: $12. Just try to beat that.)

The van brought our baggage with us, and most of that was of the personal kind. While we on the Zen Boat had had a most enjoyable pull, there was dissent on the other boat. Nothing major, but there were some larger-than-average personalities crowded onto the raft, and friction occurred. I was surprised, then, when later there was friction between Zen Boat members, and that I was one of them. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We were delivered safe and sound at our hostel, and the seven of us checked in. We were put in an eight-bed room, with the last bed already occupied by a chinese guy traveling alone. He was nowhere to be seen, but already I felt sorry for him. It was pushing nine o’clock when we invaded the place, and I groaned when Soup Boy declared that he was going to take a shower before we went out. I was hungry after paddling his ass around all day. Soup Boy showered. Izzy declared his intention to shower as well. I said I wasn’t going to wait while everyone showered, and if that’s what was going to happen, I’d just go on ahead. Rosa also objected.

Izzy got pissed off. Not at me, though, at Rosa. If he’d gotten pissed off at me, I could have apologized and explained that it was my stomach talking and I would continue to be a pushy jerk until I was fed. His anger was directed at Rosa, however, because for much of the day her advice sounded like criticism, and even though Izzy was not the target for most of it, it still bugged him. (In retrospect, I realize I could have stepped in an apologized and intercepted the anger. That’s hindsight for you.)

Advice and criticism. The distinction is not simple, and it’s more complex when you consider friendly criticism. Rosa, however, could improve her delivery. Like me, she was among strangers, and I think she wanted to present her most competent and assertive self. With two exceptions on this trip, I just paddled. Exception one was getting our collective ass out the door for food before everything closed. Izzy knew of a place with a dish called Bohemian Feast, which translates into English as “Big plate of food for not so much money”. Were it not for this special knowledge he held, I might have taken off on my own.

The castle tower in Český Krumlov

The castle tower in Český Krumlov, taken from the riverside table where we ate out feast.

I’m glad I didn’t. The bohemian feast is awesome. We sat at a table by the river, and the food was plentiful and bohemian. Izzy made the right call, and not for the last time. We ate, we drank spiced mead, and fun was had by all. We toasted Soup Boy and I officially thanked him for putting the trip together. We ate more.

Finally it was time to go. Izzy and Little John, both determined previously to get laid seventeen times each, declared they were tired and going back to the hostel. I was up for a bit of nocturnal walking around, and when Soup Boy signed up, the rest of the party expressed interest as well. Where we ate was on the riverside, with the castle soaring above us on the opposite bank. We headed that way.

We strolled through the castle grounds. I was mostly with Rosa, and we chatted about nothing important. Jane was dedicated to talking with Soup, which left Beau on his own. That made me a bit uneasy, since he was Jane’s boyfriend and all. Beau, I think, has a traditional streak like mine. It was peaceful at night, and during one moment of solitude I saw flashes away behind the hills. Lightning, still too distant for me to make out the thunder. I noticed later that the flashes were getting closer. Eventually we moseyed down into town, and looked around for a place to have one final birthday toast. Although it was the weekend during tourist season, most places were closing up by then, with the exception of clubs that looked loud and uncomfortable.

Shadows on the castle wall, Český Krumlov

Shadows on the castle wall

Eventually we found a spot that wasn’t quite closed yet, and I voted for the patio. Others thought maybe we should get home before the rain started, but for me the right choice was to be under a big umbrella outdoors when the deluge happened. I carried the argument for a while, and when Beau complained of getting wet I managed to get us to move to another table with better umbrellage, rather than go inside.

The rain came down. Torrents of big, fat drops splattered into the street, quickly soaking anyone caught out in it. Lightning flashed, thunder rumbled, I sipped my beer and wondered how it could get any better. When the waiter came to suggest we go inside for shelter, Beau and Jane jumped at the chance, however, and so we went into the closing restaurant and sat next to a table full of smokers. Even so, the conversation was pleasant, and I had a good time. The storm passed, we paid our bill, and headed back to the hostel, with only one wrong turn.

When we got there the light was on, Little John and Izzy were sacked out, and Chinese Guy was asleep on the bunk underneath mine. I tried not to jiggle the bed too much as I climbed up. Soon I was asleep.

But not for long. I awoke a short time later to the sound of Chinese Guy snoring gently, and the feeling of my shoulder stiffening up. Hours of steady paddling was going to take its toll on muscles more accustomed to typing. I rolled over to put my arm in a more comfortable position. The bed shook. The snoring stopped.

That set the theme for the rest of the night. Short sleep, snoring and stiff muscles, roll over. I didn’t sleep that much, but I was pleasantly surprised to awaken in the morning, (after Izzy’s alarm went off at 4:30 and Chinese Guy got up early and quietly left) with my muscles in relatively good shape. After a bit of that very pleasant lazy-morning snoozing I climbed out of bed, planning to write while others slept. Izzy and Little John both got up as well, however, and without a single word being spoken we headed out to find breakfast. Not one damn word. That, friends, is how decisions should be made. I enjoyed everyone’s company on the trip, but I was glad to get out into the morning air before other people got up and the inevitable decision paralysis set in.

The streets were deserted that early in the morning. We headed back toward the middle of town, where the most touristy places were, and eventually Izzy landed us at another great place to eat. It was a hostel with a full kitchen that served true English breakfasts, and had unlimited self-serve tea and coffee. On top of that, it was cheap. Breakfast was one of my favorite parts of the entire trip, hanging with a couple of guys, not having to talk but finding things to discuss, some of them even meaningful.

Eventually it was time to go back and join the others and catch the bus back to Prague. As smoothly and calmly as the morning had been to that point, going from a cluster size of three to one of seven increases complexity by several orders of magnitude. Eventually I went out to the hostel’s garden to wait for the others to unknot. Izzy was already there, and Rosa was not far behind me. Beau, it seems, is not a fast starter in the mornings.

Finally we were moving (after Beau ran back to get his phone), but we didn’t get far before some people wanted to stop for breakfast. It was cutting the time a bit close, but I figured that the absolute worst thing that could happen was that we’d be stuck in a truly pleasant little town for another day. From my point of view, that wasn’t so bad, so once again I forced myself to relax and not worry so much about missing the bus.

Sardines

The bus ride home (artist’s rendition).
Photo stolen from here

We did not miss the bus, thanks largely to Izzy and Little John. I’m not sure if it wouldn’t have been better, however, if perhaps we had. When we got on, there were no seats left, so we stood in the aisle. A few more people got on, and the driver called out for everyone standing to squish together more so we could squeeze more people on. Some of our group ended up standing the entire way back to Prague. When people needed to get off the bus, it was a major chore for them to make their way to an exit.

At least there were no chickens. There was a fat guy who wheezed on my head for a few kilometers, and I wondered if there would be more rainstorms in Český Krumlov that night, and why I had wedged onto the bus just because everyone else did. The bus the next day would have been much less crowded. Still, I got to sit much of the way, which is more than some of the others had.

Home at last, tired, happy to be away from the crush of people, I truncated my goodbyes as much as possible without being too impolite and headed for home.

Happy Birthday, Soup Boy, and thanks for putting together a fantastic weekend.

Floating down the Vltava

I got the message on my phone last week, saying something like “We are go for rafting. Meet at Hlavni Nadraži at 6 a.m. Bring rain gear. Pray for sun!” I prayed extra-hard, as I don’t own rain gear.

Soup Boy, my ex-flatmate, was having a birthday party, and he decided to do it in style. That’s the way Soup Boy is. He decided that a serene float down the river with his friends would be a jolly fine way to celebrate his annual quantum aging event. He called the rafting company, went over train schedules, sent out invitations, and managed the whole brouhaha. We would start our journey near the Austrian border and float gently north on the Vltava, stopping along the way for refreshment, paddling through beautiful scenery, and generally having a good time. At the end of the day, if we had not reached Chesky Krumlov, we would get a lift from the rafting company into the beautiful-if-touristy little town, where we would bunk overnight in a hostel.

And that’s how it worked out, sort of.

During the week I got messages from Little John. “Do you have a pirate flag?” was one of the first. Before long the party, under Little John’s influence, became a pirate outing. I had no problem with that, especially when I got the latest cut of Pirates of the White Sand the day before. Arrr!

The day approached and the forecast was changing by the minute, and all we could do was wait for the butterfly in China to flap its wings or not. I got to bed reasonably early, but I had difficulty sleeping. Not nerves, I don’t think, just one of those nights. I was already up and about when my alarm went off at 5, and under the fizzing glare of my noisy lightbulbs I packed a change of clothes and the Jolly Roger. A peek out the window was reassuring; the sky was clear.

As is my way, I got to the meeting point a bit early. I’m pretty laid back about most things, but when I’m traveling I’m not comfortable until I’m installed in my seat and ready to roll. After a short wait I saw Soup Boy and Little John, and their buddy Izzy. (Izzy because not only is that a damn fine pirate name, but because that’s the name of his dog.) While we waited in line for train tickets we were joined by Rosa. That made five out of seven, with time counting away. Soup Boy’s phone chimed and he read the message. “Jane and her boyfriend aren’t going to make it. They overslept. They’ll join is tonight in Checky Krumlov.” I had never met Jane, but I was disappointed. The more the merrier, I figured.

Tickets in hand, Soup Boy said, “OK, we have about fifteen minutes before the train leaves.” As I mentioned before, I like to have butt in seat well before the train pulls out. Generally, I bust my ass to get where I need to be, then sit waiting and wish I’d stopped to grab a sandwich on the way. Fifteen minutes. No problem. The group stood in a ring for a couple of minutes, then some people declared that they were going to grab sandwiches. Just relax, I reminded myself. You’re just along for the ride.

We missed the train. Soup Boy had been a little vague on just when the train left, and we got to the platform in time to watch it pull away. This is why I like to have a margin of error. Now I had no train and no sandwich.

The next train left in an hour, but we were going to have a long wait in Cheske Budejovice. Nothing wrong with that, the center is very pleasant. It just meant that we would be getting out onto the river late. On the plus side, Jane and her beau had time to join us. Overall, a net positive.

An hour later we were on the train, heading south. It is time to review the cast of characters.

Seven Deadly Pirates

Seven Deadly Pirates

  • Me. Mild-mannered writer, watcher of people, drinker of beer. Not so good with strangers. Quiet, except for the times I chew people’s ears off.
  • Soup Boy. Creative and competitive, he doesn’t do anything half-assed. On the surface very unlike me, but we are compatible. We both find the Universe to be slightly absurd.
  • Little John. Offer him any two pieces of information, and he will discover an interesting parallel between them. His answer will likely be given in song, either a snippet of a tune that was popular within the last 100 years or his own adaptation of one of the above. LIttle John is a talker. His enthusiasm is infectious, and a little bit scary.
  • Izzy. A relative youngster, and a good guy to be on a boat with. He speaks his mind, but is not a butthead about it. Izzy likes girls. A lot.
  • Rosa. Born and raised north of the arctic circle, Rosa has stories. She tends toward the talkative end of the spectrum, but not obnoxiously so. When she speaks her mind, it sounds more like criticism. Not sure what the defining factor is there.
  • Jane. The only Czech in the group. She is a very touchy-feely person, and also a talker. When not teaching english to Soup Boy, she is a psychologist and a tutor of gifted students. She is a very sweet, sincere person, but knows every trick in the book for making me feel uncomfortable. The contact, the probing questions, and the honest confessions when I have only known her a few hours are difficult for me to handle. Still, for that, she’s very smart and fun to be around.
  • Beau. No matter where he lives, he will carry Boston with him. Of all the people in the group, I did not form a strong personal opinion of Beau. From Jane I learned that he is a good cook and that he came into her life at a really tough time and he’s been great. Beau, I think, does not like the unexpected.

I am tempted right now to go back and rename all the characters after Gilligan’s Island. The only question: who’s Ginger?

Wrapping up the trip

Me, looking out to sea Cadaqués is in a right pretty corner of Spain, with dramatic rocky coastline, deep blue sea, and bright sun. It is a good place for hiking, and hike we did. I gave Miss Adventure control of the camera, and we spent a very pleasant afternoon rambling about. That night the city emptied and we slept in an actual hotel room, ate food from the grocery store (vegetables! rapture!) and went back out to enjoy the evening. Cassius and I ended up on bar stools in a place along the “Street of Shame”, a longish alley with several clubs on it.

Boats, by miss adventure As with everything else in that town, drinks were overpriced. The closest thing to a decent deal was a list of shots that seem to have been invented by pulling the names of boozes and mixers from a hat. Cassuis amused himself by buying me a couple of them just to watch me drink them. The bartender, having no sense of proportion (although she, herself was quite magnificently proportioned), would pour equal amounts of each ingredient into the glass. The results were horrific. After the second round there was a dispute about price, which surprisingly we won after we had already given up. The prize: another round of horrible shots. Hooray for us.

The next day we wandered the town, looking for a place to do laundry and get a haircut. I had mentioned losing most of my hair, and while Cassius thought it would be amusing to watch, Miss Adventure was quite excited at the prospect indeed. We did not find what we were looking for, and ended up sitting on the pebbly beach, stacking pebbles, throwing pebbles at stacks of pebbles, and (Cassius only) juggling pebbles. I created PebbleHenge, coming soon to a photo album near you.

PebbleHenge
PebbleHenge detail
Then it was on to the bus and over to, uh… What’s the name of that city again? It’s got the Dalí museum in it. Starts with an F. Never mind. The town has two things: A railway station and the Dalí museum. The museum is right cool, and definitely worth a visit.

Wait, there’s a third thing in F-town (map). An honest-go-god barber shop. After the museum, on the evening of my last full day in the hot country, I was shorn. My hair is short. My big bushy beard is gone. Somehow my request to keep it longer on top so my hair wouldn’t stand up was inverted; I now have a bristly brush on top of my head. Next time I will specify centimeters.

Getting hair and beard chopped off, amused onlookers This shearing process was of great entertainment value not only to my companions but to all the others in the place. I was the biggest thing to happen to haircutting in F-town in a long time, I’m sure. That night, chatting up a pair of Uruguayan bartenders, the camera came back out to show the “before” look. I had to point out I was wearing the same shirt to convince people that I had looked that way just that morning.

Cassius and I did the aforementioned chatting in Barcelona, and we did it without Miss Adventure, who was by then on her way to Madrid. I was sorry to say goodbye; she was a fun traveling companion and a congenial friend. Now it was just Cassius and me, carefully rationing our last euros, hanging in the smoll bar (I don’t think that name is Spanish), listening to surprisingly good music (Gang of Four was playing when we first walked past on our roundabout path to our hotel, then when we went back it was Violent Femmes followed by Lou Reed. The bartender who had made the mix CD had just been to a Femmes/Reed concert a couple of days before.) So we sat, watched the two girls pour unbelievably strong drinks, and tried to convince them to come to Prague. It didn’t work — they wanted us to visit Uruguay instead. Maybe someday…

The next morning started relaxed but it turns out getting to the airport can be complicated. No, I take that back, getting to the airport is really quite simple, it’s figuring out getting to the airport that is complex. For instance, there is a train, the R1, that goes there. We walked to a station where the R1 went. Several other trains went there as well, and none of them were marked with letter or number. On the platform is a sign, however, that says that the train to the airport comes here.

Only it doesn’t go there. The R1 isn’t running. We find this out by asking around among the locals on the platform, most of whom know no more about it than we do. We went back upstairs and found a sign that said to get to the airport we needed to get to Barcelona-Saints station, transfer to another train to another station, then get on something else to the airport. By this time we’re starting to feel the pressure. And, how to get to Barcelona-Saints? Which of the unlabeled trains passing through below, marked only by the end of their route, would take us there? Why was there no transit map within the ticket-controlled part of the station?

Finally we asked a security guard. He told us that all the trains went to B-S, and that from there we should take a bus. There was nothing written anywhere about a bus, but that turned out to be the best advice. Had it not been for Cassuis’ ability to speak Spanish, I might still be wandering the transit system of Barcelona.

When we got to the airport, we were time-crunched but not desperate — until we looked at the big board. There was our flight, with a departure time forty minutes earlier than our confirmations had said. Once we found our check-in desk (more great signage) we were told that the departure time on the board and on all the monitors was wrong. With a sigh of relief we checked our bags, made our way through security, spent the very last of our euros on food, and discovered that the gate number on our boarding passes was wrong. Fortunately the correct gate was right next door.

Back to Prague we came, back to the land of reasonably-priced food and beverage, back to the quiet streets of my neighborhood and the shocked expressions of the regulars at Little Café Near Home when they finally recognized me. As they say, all’s swell that ends swell.

Cadaqués

Ah, plans. Schemes. Nefarious plots. It is man alone who has the hubris to attempt to impose his will on the future. Every plan is based on the assumption that the universe is an orderly place where result follows cause, and chaos, while not controllable, is at least manageable.

Spain is not part of this universe.

The day began in Barcelona, in the Bohemian part of town (map). There were four of us in the room, Cassius and Brutus on lower bunks while Miss Adventure and I reposed above. Brutus was up first to head for the airport so he could jet back to Estonia and his job. His jolly cheerfulness was instantly missed, but we had Miss Adventure to add her own perky ray of sunshine to the mix, and on top of that she had ideas about places outside of Barcelona she thought would be fun to visit. After some discussion we all agreed that traveling to Cadaqués, a town known for Salvador Dalí and beautiful rocky shores, was a capital idea. One guide book listed a particularly interesting hotel/restaurant sharing the easternmost point of Spain with a lighthouse. It sounded cool, and one phone call later we had a room held for us. We had a plan.

Wandering in barcelona The bus didn’t leave for a while, so we knocked around town, wandering through the tourist shopping district (Miss Adventure is most certainly not a shopper, praises be), around and about a very pleasant park, grabbed some ice cream, and generally hung out. Miss Adventure turned out to be very easy for me to talk to, with a perspective and attitude that complements mine. She also has a good sense of direction.

On the bus, Cassius studied our new destination more closely, and pieced together bits and pieces to come to the conclusion that the hotel we had a room reserved in was in fact a ways out of town. “We’ll just get a cab,” Cassius said. I didn’t think there would be any cabs waiting to meet the bus, but I didn’t mention it at the time. We could always call for one. It would be pricey, but we would find ourselves in an isolated and dramatic location, a rambler’s paradise.

Night fell, the bus rumbled on, we all napped. Miss Adventure curled neatly into a pair of seats; I didn’t even try. The bus groped its way over twisting mountain roads like a blind grandmother, pausing often as it needed both lanes to go around some of the curves. At last, at last, we dropped down into town (map) and began to execute our plan.

We didn’t get far. We are now in a part of the country where it is assumed most visitors arrive by car (thus no warning about the distance to the hotel we liked). There were no taxis, and calling one was beginning to look impractical. We decided to find a place in town instead.

There are lots of hotels in Cadaqués. Some are small and funky, some are large and ritzy. Some of those listed in our guide books no longer existed. All the hotels, from the humblest pension to the gleaming four-star monstrosities, had one thing in common. They were full. In order to scour the town more efficiently we divided responsibilities based on skills with Spanish. Essentially I watched all our stuff while Cassius and Miss Adventure did the hunting.

All nighter! During the next couple of hours of futile search I got to spend snatches of quiet time with Miss Adventure as we waited for Cassius’ report, and I continued to be surprised byt the easy rapport we had achieved. The credit goes to her, of course. But there we were, with no place to stay and no way to get anywhere else. On one of her missions she managed to sweet-talk the night desk man at one of the hotels into letting us keep our bags there, so at least we would be less encumbered. The man also told her the closing times of the bars. Some restaurants closed at two, which was already past, but others stayed open later. One stayed open until five, and the breakfast restaurants opened at 7:30. We were on to Plan C: The All-Nighter. As I sat with Miss Adventure she became more excited about the prospect, and her mood quickly rubbed off on me as well. Cassius rejoined us and we agreed that the hotel bill for the night had just been redefined as a bar tab. We stashed our gear and off we went.

We settled into the first bar. I ordered beer, Cassius ordered rum and coke, and Miss Adventure requested chocolate milk. Miss Adventure, the tender young thing that she is, partakes of alcohol only in moderation. The drinks were pretty expensive, but we’ve come to expect that.

We were not there long before the bar closed, however. Some people were getting drinks to go, but we headed to the nearby night club, where things were still going strong. We sat on the patio and were shocked when we heard how much the first round of drinks cost. Cassius had ordered another rum and coke, and it had cost well over ten dollars. The beers were pricey, but not as ridiculous. The patio closed next, forcing us into the interior din and smoke, and we continued to nurse our drinks very, very slowly. Even converting our hotel budget to the bar tab wasn’t going to get us very far. Finally Cassius went to the bar for another round, but returned empty-handed. The bartender had asked for eight dollars each for beers and water. Cassius just left them on the counter and walked away.

It became apparent that we were not going to last until five o’clock in that place. After a while we departed, to see if there were any other possibilities. Another place, nicer-looking, just up the way had its door open but appeared to be closing. After a brief discussion Cassius agreed to go and ask if they would serve us. Miss Adventure and I hung back, waiting for some kind of signal as Cassius pleaded with the people inside. No signal came, so finally we went on in.

The bar was closed. The manager was just getting set to leave and her friend was helping. Kath, a youngish englishwoman who likes to say “wicked” popped open our drinks while Cassius chatted with Ralph, a refugee from Holland. And here’s the thing: Ralph was housesitting for his boss, and occasionally took in guests for a quiet under-the-table transaction. Cassius had told them we had no place to go, and suddenly we had a place to go. Plan D.

Looking up from ralph's place Ralph’s place was beyond nice. It was over-the-top sumptuous while retaining that Mediterranean spareness, and as we sat out on the veranda sipping champagne with Kath, listening to the waves lap the shore, we knew we were in a good place. It was getting light when we surrendered to the forces of fatigue; I was attempting an informal time-lapse sequence as the whitewashed buildings resolved out of the gloom. Kath, I must say, is all right. Ralph, too, proved kind and generous in our time of peril. I woke this morning in a comfortable bed, in an unbelievable villa on the harbor. Dang.

Let’s hear it for Plan D.