This is our third day in Buenos Aires, and our last night at the Recoleta Grand Hotel. Tomorrow we board the Viking Sea where we will make our home for the next 3 weeks. However, we are not through with Buenos Aires as the ship will remain in port for two more nights.

We now know that there is much of this city that we will not see. A few days is hardly enough time to explore the varied neighborhoods of this modern capitol city. We will continue our explorations, but it is doubtful that we will spend much time in any museums or galleries. The weather is fine and the streets are alive!

Shortly after leaving the hotel this morning we stopped to look at a map. Our quest was Cementerio de Recoleta and to seek the grave of Evita Peron. Seeing us, a nice lady and her 11 year old daughter stopped to offer their help. Miai speaks a little English, and relied upon her daughter to lend a hand with translation. Their kindness lead to a 15 minute visit and recommendations for places to buy custom made leather goods. Christine and Miai exchanged contact information. Miai is leaving soon for the States where I hope that she is afforded the same level of hospitality that she extended to us.

A short stroll brought us to the Recoleta park grounds and Cemetery. Today is Sunday so booths featuring local artists and their wares lined the sidewalks for hundreds of yards.

We took in an outdoor cafe for a leisurely lunch in the cool shade of an enormous rubber tree. This one’s limbs extended dozens of yards from the center and required the assistance of iron crutches to keep them elevated above the ground. One such support was supplied by a sculpture of Atlas the Titan. I took a moment to briefly relieve him of some of his burden.

Nearby were street performers giving impromptu Tango lessons. We could not let the opportunity pass. Taking turns we each enjoyed moments of imagined celebrity in the arms of a young Latin dancer. Fortunately, still images are much kinder than any video would have been. Ah, to be young again!

I have always been drawn to cemeteries. I have often wandered among the graves and imagined the life stories that must have been, but are now compressed into little more than a “Born on… Died on…”

The famous Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris France is home to such notables as Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and of course Jim Morrison of the Doors. It is a small city with tree lined boulevards and family tombs that are like small mansions. Cementerio de Recoleta is its equal on a slightly smaller scale.

Here is a place where The “Who’s Who” of Argentine society is now the “Who Was”. The tombs are among the most elaborate that I have every seen. Many are adorned with beautiful entries, stained glass windows, and doors with artistic brass engravings. One even featured electric coach lights above the door. Much as I looked, I saw no door-knockers.

Some of the tombs extended two or even three stories below the ground. Just inside the doors and “reception” were narrow stairs that gave access the the lower levels.

The grounds were the final resting places of Presidents…

Generals…

Liberators…

Giants of business and finance…

…and of course,

Evita Peron.

All of their celebrity is eclipsed by the tombs of two teenage girls. 19 year old Liliana de Szaszak (1944-1970) died tragically in an avalanche in Austria. It is reputed that her dog, Sabu, was so attached to her that he died in Buenos Aires at the moment of her passing.

Ruffian Cambaceres (1883-1903) was found dead in her bedroom of a suspected heart attack. On the night of her internment a watchman overheard sounds within the family mausoleum. Investigation the next day revealed that the coffin had moved. When the lid was opened scratches were found on the inside surface and all over Rufina’s face and neck. She had been buried alive.

Christine and I once visited an ossuary in Rome Italy. At the entry was a skeleton constructed from the bones of one or more of the departed. It was clothed as a monk and held a sign that declared, “What you are I once was. What I am you will become”.

The cemetery at Pere Lachaise and the one we visited today are final resting places, but they are also monuments to our arrogance. They are displays of wealth, status, and notoriety. They are fictions to a belief that we as legends live on forever.

Many of the tombs have become metaphors of the death and decay of those who are within. Fallen plaster, rotting caskets, dust, rust, and tarnish. Death is the great equalizer, and on that happy note…

Peace Everyone. Pete

We had decided that we would hit the streets of Buenos Aires early today. Eyes opened and feet to the floor at 6:30 a.m., unfortunately that was Kansas City time. By local Buenos Aires time we had overslept. It was 9:30. To be honest, we needed the sleep more than the City needed us.

Showered, dressed, and in the hotel lobby we were confronted with our first obstacle of the day, rain. I was prepared with a waterproof windbreaker, but Christine found this to be her first “I forgot it” article. The hotel kindly lent her an umbrella and we were off to find her a raincoat.

15 minutes walk took us to a very upscale shopping district and gallery.

Outside the Pacifico Galaria was a long and broad pedestrian avenue where we frequently encountered men and women who would approach asking, “Cambio?,,, Cambio?… Cambio?…” We later learned that these were black market money changers who preyed on unsuspecting tourists. They offer to exchange currencies at a discount and without requiring and registering identification (as the law dictates), but as often as not they supply counterfeit or retired currency that is worthless. Live and learn, we avoided the trap.

The shopping gallery was beautifully opulent by any US standard. The shops were prepared for Christmas well in advance of Summer. Remember, seasons are reversed here and December 21 to March 20 is Summer. We are currently in the middle of their very verdant Spring with flowers evident everywhere.

Christine secured an attractive “impermeable” that will serve her well here and at home.

We next found a “Hop on – Hop off” tour bus.

For $1.300 AR (about twenty dollars US) per person one is issued a ticket for the bus. You receive an inexpensive set of headphones which plug into a built in audio console located at each seat. A switch gives you access to the running narrative in any one of a dozen languages. We chose English. The ticket is good for 24 hours and you can “hop on – hop off” as often as you like at any one of 33 stops. This gave us an excellent overview of this very modern city.

Buenos Aires is a wonder of lush gardens…

Expansive boulevards… (the Avenue 9 de Julio is said to be the widest boulevard in the world, and at 18 lanes, plus dedicated bus lanes and centered parks its entire length, I believe it. To cross the “boulevard” one negotiates a series of pedestrian friendly walkways. It is one-tenth of a mile, one side to the other!)

We decided that we would return the next day to visit the Plaza de Mayo (Presidential Palace)…

The Teatro Colon (reputed to be among the finest in the world)…

The Recoleta park vendors and cemetery (where Eva Peron is interred)…

and other sites that time and inclination allow.

The highlight of the evening was yet before us. Back in the States I had made online reservations for dinner and a well regarded Tango performance at the Teatro Astor Piazzolla. $124 US had purchased tickets for both of us (not each!) that included transport from and back to our hotel.

It was an exceptional experience! The chauffeur and transport arrived on time and delivered us and about 6 other hotel guests to the Theater.

Diners could select from one item in each category of 3 starters, 6 mains, and three deserts. A “bottomless” glass of wine was included. I am not usually a red-meat person, but when in Argentina… The steak and accompaniments were excellent, as was the attentive service.

Our evening started at 7 p.m. and our return to the hotel was made shortly after midnight. Sandwiched in between was a 90 minute performance of energetic, athletic, sensual, and endearing dance vignettes that wowed us and the other 100+ patrons.

Each of the next three pictures have an embedded link. Tap on the picture to be taken to one of three short videos of our experience.

Thus far our decision to spend a few extra days in Buenos Aires prior to boarding the ship has served us well. Our second day aboard the boat is this coming Tuesday and includes a tour of the city prior to leaving for Montevideo Uruguay. I suspect that we will pass on the tour and just find a cozy cafe for an afternoon in one of Buenos Aires’ picturesque parks.

Peace Everyone. Pete

It should come as no surprise that I like to travel… a lot. I also hate getting ready to travel… a lot. For at least a week before departure I consciously and subconsciously stress about what to pack, what arrangements I need to make, and the myriad of minutia that is fostered by my compulsive nature. A few nights ago I awoke in a cold sweat thinking, “Visas, what about VISAS!!!” 3 a.m. I was up and at the computer verifying what I no-doubt verified months ago, all we need is our passports for the 4 countries we will be visiting. Next night, “DAMN, forgot to order currency!” Email to our bank and double damn, it’s Veterans Day and the bank is closed. The reality is, no big deal. International destination airports have almost as many currency exchanges as Starbucks coffee bars. Like Starbucks, you pay a premium for the airport location.

It was easier for us to pack for our 6 week UK trip earlier this year (and for that matter last year’s 13 week/16 country trip) than for this one. We didn’t have to worry about a wide ranging climate and in both cases a backpack worked well for each of us. Not so for this coming 4 weeks. Buenos Aires had temps in the low 90’s this week and Santiago Chile at the end of our trip is likewise on the warm side. However, the Falkland Islands and the southern reaches of the continent can experience temperatures into the 30’s with snow flurries. What’s more, dinner on the ship, while not a tuxedo affair, does warrant a nicer wardrobe than is my usual style. Christine and I had an array of clothes spread all over our guest room as we attempted to plan accordingly. We succeeded in packing into a carryon for each of us and one checked bag. For us, that’s a lot.

The next part of travel that I hate almost enough to dissuade me from the journey is the whole airport/departure/flight/arrival/airport sequence. This time we flew American Airlines. The originating flight was less than 2 hours from Kansas City to Dallas.

The main event was a grueling 10+ hours in the narrowest cabin seats that I have ever experienced. Earlier I had sprung for an “upgrade” (more legroom with the bulkhead in front of us), but we had hoped to snag a business class/1st class upgrade at the gate… no such luck, the flight was sold out and we were packed like sardines.

Sharing our 4 across center section was every flight attendant’s nightmare. He was a passenger so rude, offensive, and LOUD (even before we left the gate), that as we were taxiing for takeoff the flight purser wandered back and threaten to have the pilot return to the gate where other authorities could address his “concerns”. The passenger was sober and clearly had “issues”, but a lack of intellect was not among them. He wisely shut up and buried himself in his book the rest of the flight, “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Since you are reading this you may infer that we survived the flight. We arrived on time at Ministro Pistarini International Airport, an ultra-modern facility located on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. I had previously arranged for transport to our hotel which is located in the central city. The 45 minute drive featured a 10 lane toll highway. At one point there were 40 tollbooths across the lanes to (unsuccessfully) minimize congestion. We experienced professional grade rush hour traffic at 10 a.m..

The driver got us to the hotel in one piece and the Recoleta Grand Hotel accommodated us with an early check-in and a top notch room at only $130.00 US a night.

It is a bit past noon. I had some success in grabbing enough sleep on our overnight flight but not so Christine. She is taking a catchup nap after which we will head out to reconnoiter the immediate area of our hotel. More Later.

It is much later. We had a wonderful afternoon aimlessly wandering the central city. Lunch was at a sidewalk French restaurant where Christine enjoyed a tortilla con jamon et queso (ham and cheese). I had a pizza. Go figure.

My camera was evident and on three separate occasions I was warned by locals to secure it against theft. While walked we observed a young teen attempt to snatch a purse, and a police incident that seemed to center around a petty theft.

We have often been asked by friends about the risk of crime in the places we have traveled. Vigilance is the first order of protection and not taking unnecessary risks is the second. Also, to put matters into a sad perspective: Kansas City has a population that is just under 500,000. Buenos Aires has nearly 3 million. In 2017 (the last year I could secure statistics on) Buenos Aires had 144 homicides. That same year Kansas City Missouri (not metro area) had 151.

Our walk took in some of the idyllic life of the city.

We encountered a monstrous 250 year old “rubber” tree, a statue of San Martin, Argentina’s 1815 version of George Washington, and some beautiful parklands. Our plan for tomorrow is to take a “hop on hop off” bus that covers most of the best known features and sites of the city.

This evening we adjourned to a very well regarded Argentinian steak restaurant. It was recommended by our hotel and Trip Advisor placed it as number 3 out of nearly 6,000 dining venues in the city.

We were not disappointed. Christine declared her filet to be the finest cut of meat that she has ever been served. We arrived just after opening time, and within 30 minutes the place was packed. In turn, the restaurant was “packing” its customers with the best of succulent animal protean. Vegetarians need not apply.

The servings were beyond generous and the price was remarkably easy on the wallet. Our meal consisting of a bottle of a fine red wine, two steak dinners, sides, salads, and coffee came in at a little over $50, tip included! Christine’s steak alone would have cost that back home.

The currency here is the Argentine Peso. They use a dollar sign as the symbol for the peso, but the exchange rate is about 60 pesos to one US dollar. It takes a bit of adjusting to see the ice cream vendor in the park hawking ice cream bars for “$30” (fifty cents US), or “$700” for our bottle of wine (about twelve dollars US).

It is 11:15 p.m. (8:15 p.m. in Kansas City) as I wrap this up. Sleep in a king size bed will be especially welcome, especially after the challenges of last night.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. I’m experimenting with using smaller format images for uploading with these posts. It saves on international data charges, loads much faster, and (I hope) does not noticeably impact on the quality of the image viewed on devices. Fingers are crossed. Pete.

Ponce de Leon sought it in the swamps of Florida, Dorian Gray sold his soul that it might be preserved, and Peter Pan traveled beyond the “second star on the right” to avoid losing it. Eternal youth may be a fiction but retaining the spirit of one’s youth is not. For the members of “The Gravy Train”, the inner child is found at the end of an unremarkable driveway in Leawood Kansas and is exercised weekly from the seats of our bicycles.

(Some of us in days of youth… I’m third row, second from the right)

For over 15 years a small band of riders have assembled each Saturday, Sunday, and the odd weekday morning to ride their fragile creations of metal and carbon fiber. Powered by muscle, bone, sinew, and at times force of will, they briefly escape the responsibilities of adulthood. Clad in second skins of spandex and protected only by their helmets (which some may say are only good enough to preserve an open casket option) they leave before dawn, pounding the roadways of Johnson County Kansas and beyond. They are deterred only by rain and ice. Never by the cold. The inner child is energized!

I was welcomed into The Gravy Train as a rider in 2008. Each of the riders own a story of their path into cycling and then to the Gravy Train. Mine began in 2006 at the age of 54 during a family vacation.

My daughters had rented bicycles to ride about Rehoboth Beach Delaware. I was curious to test the old adage that once learned one can never forget how to ride. The bike was small, clunky, and a poor fit. 14 miles down the road and I was awash with the memories of my bicycling childhood… racing friends, jumping curbs, attaching playing cards to the fenders that the neighborhood might resonate with the sound of my imaginary motorcycle. Upon our return to Kansas City I bought my first adult bike, a hybrid.

Hybrids are a compromise. Not just as bikes, but perhaps as a symbol that the rider’s commitment is made with reservation. My reservation lasted a little more than a year. In 2007 I ordered a custom fitted and fabricated titanium steed. Bikes do have “bells and whistles”, and this one had all of the ones that a serious rider would recognize. It cost nearly twice what I had paid in 1974 for my first new car. “How much?!!?” Christine exclaimed at the time… “It’s guy jewelry”, was my reply.

I ride my “Seven” (the brand name) to this day. Over tens of thousands of miles it has launched me into the idealism of charity rides: cure cancer, cure multiple sclerosis, even cure poverty. It has taken me across Kansas, Missouri, and 5,000 miles across the United States. I have ridden up to 125 miles in a single day. I’ve gotten my money’s worth and so have the charities.

There are fishing widows, golf widows, and bicycle widows.

Christine does not count herself a member of any of those groups. While she does not ride, she has been actively supportive in other ways, not the least of which was when she assumed the role of support driver, manager, and “herder of cats” for me and 11 other riders known as “Cycling for Change” who crossed the country on behalf of Catholic Charities.

As we neared Kansas City, The Gravy Train rode to meet us in Atchison Kansas and to my honor they escorted us into Kansas City.

The Gravy Train rides typically begin before dawn and end with a full day yet ahead of us. This tends to immunize us from complaints at home. Saturday rides cover at least 20 miles at a brisk pace. 10 years ago that might have been a 19+ mph average for me. These days my 67 year old legs can serve up the occasional 17 mph average. We stop for breakfast at a local First Watch restaurant where our arrival is anticipated. Sometimes server Alan has come out to hand me a cup of coffee just as I am dismounting. After breakfast we continue another 5 miles or so at a more leisurely pace, regaling in the experience that we are sharing.

The Gravy Train breakfast ride has even been memorized in a well executed, if tongue-in-cheek, video produced by our resident Ichthyologist, Joe T.

Tap on the picture to see the video.

Our group’s name derives from the “Gravy Train”, a breakfast item once featured by First Watch and favored by a few of the riders. I don’t know if it still appears on the menu, but most of us now opt for a healthier selection.

The Sunday rides are a bit more relaxed and usually take in one of the areas upscale coffee houses.

Weekday rides are a serious hour in the saddle that ramps up the cardio-vascular system.
Other rides and events include tours of area Christmas decorations, rides to and from Lawrence Kansas that, depending on the route, put 70 to 100 miles on the odometer.

Members join many of the local organized event rides, some of which are competitive in nature. There are rides to Lake Lotawana and an annual Christmas party that each include our “significant others” in attendance. Christine and I look forward to hosting this year’s Christmas gathering.

Our bicycles are the common thread that binds us. Rarely is there discussion of work, politics, religion or anything else that might detract from the celebration of our comradery.

I had ridden with the group over a year before I came to know of the other riders’ occupational lives. The talents of the group include expertise in engineering, technology, business, medicine, architecture, and of course there is a sprinkling of lawyers. One rider is a nationally known ichthyologist and illustrator who is to fish what John Audubon was to birds.

When I first joined The Gravy Train we were in our 30’s 40’s, and a few of us were in our 50’s. Today we have aged up a decade. I am currently the oldest active rider at 67. New blood continues to join and refresh our ranks.

It is common for us to ride in a “pace line”. The lead rider holds a speed that he cannot long sustain. The following riders take advantage of the opportunity to draft in the front rider’s slipstream. It is said that drafting reduces the effort required to sustain a speed by as much as 30%. Reaching a point of fatigue the lead rider leaves the line and coasts back to take a position at the rear, his original place being taken by the next rider. Down the line of riders the distance between a rider’s rear tire and the next rider’s front tire may be less than a foot as the serpentine line of cyclists reach speeds well over 20 and even 30 miles per hour.

A sudden surprise movement by any cyclist would spell disaster for all of those behind. Thus, hand and voice signals have been developed that warn of vehicular traffic, debris/irregularities in the road or that the rider is slowing or stopping. Our trust in one another is taken for granted, but not taken lightly.

I conservatively estimate that The Gravy Train rides cover over 30,000 rider miles in a year, over 300,000 miles since I joined the group. Skill and good fortune have been our protection from misfortune.

Rides are a treat for the senses…

A full moon dips below the horizon. The sky grows scarlet as sunrise approaches. Vistas of Spring greenery are the counterpoint to the blaze of Autumn color that we experience at opposite ends of the seasonal spectrum. Roads snake stream side with dips into valleys draped in dew laden fog.

Searing Summer heat requires two water bottles to maintain hydration, while in the cold of Winter the speed creates a wind chill that numbs the face, feet, and hands. No two rides are alike.

Returning to that driveway at the end of a ride I am often physically spent. However, I am always energized with gratitude for the friendships and experiences that I have shared with The Gravy Train. It’s a good trade.
Peace Everyone. Pete

In Memoriam: Mark T. Fisher, Ph.D. (1954-2018)

I met Mark Fisher through our participation in another bicycling group. We became good friends and frequently rode together. Two years into our friendship we learned through casual conversation that we had grown up mere miles from one another in the south suburbs of Chicago. We further determined that his wife, Kathy, and I attended the same grade school and that his brother-in-law and I had been good friends throughout 8 years of parochial school. It is indeed a small world woven with complexity.

I introduced Mark to the Gravy Train. He became an immediate friend to all. Mark was an amazing bicyclist, proud that he did not own a car as he managed his daily commutes to and from work on his bike. Like the US Mail neither rain, snow, ice, cold, heat, or dark of night deterred him. This we knew about Mark: He was an incredibly strong rider, a loving father, and a devoted husband. He lit up our rides with his raucous wit and humor. He would have given any of us the shirt off of his back.

What Mark rarely (and only when pressed) mentioned was that he was a world class research professor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. His alter ego, Dr. Fisher, held a number of firsts in his field. He was a top world expert in “kinetic protean partitioning” and related topics that I haven’t the slightest understanding of. He developed the world’s first “chaperonin-based biolayer interferometer biosensor to detect pre-aggregate species of concentrated protein therapeutics”. Mark authored over fifty published manuscripts, was awarded two patents, and delivered countless lectures nationally and internationally. To the Gravy Train he was always just Mark.

Mark died suddenly and tragically in 2018. His absence from our ranks remains palpable, and painful.

 

Winter is malevolent in its reluctance to release its grip on the plains of North Dakota. So it was in March of 1922 when Peter first opened his eyes to that harsh world. Born to Michael and Marianna (a derivative of Mary), immigrant Germans from Russia, he was the youngest of their 6 surviving children.

 

A quilt, perhaps “The Quilt”, was the first barrier that swaddled and separated him from his mother’s warmth. Stitched from the rags and tatters of worn dresses, shirts, dungarees… it was an artifact of necessity and love, recycling before the term had been coined. Austerity and poverty were the drivers by which cow chips were “harvested” to heat their homes; cellars stored root vegetables, home canned goods, blood sausage, hams, and crocks of fermenting kraut to see a family through the isolation of life stealing blizzards; and a worker at the local dairy smoked his cigars to the point of burning his lips only to then knock off the ash and chew the remaining stub. He would then dry the mash of used tobacco, grind it between his fingers and roll the dust into a cigarette. “Waste not” was a way of life, a mantra that took many forms. Renewal was born of necessity and not ecology. Quilts breathed new life into old cloth and were an expression of a woman’s art and her love.

As a young student in the one-room schoolhouse Peter learned to speak English. He was also inspired to become a teacher. His father believed any education beyond the 8th grade merely took a man needlessly from the toils that were important for survival.

 

Thus, a divide formed between father and son. Marianna encouraged Peter and shared his dream that he might find a better life beyond the prairie. Peter’s passion for education was equaled only by his passion for running. Near daily his flaming red hair could be seen streaking across the horizon.

 

Often he would compete with an equally fleet-of-foot young Sioux native from the nearby Fort Totten/Spirit Lake Reservation. Some days “Red” would win, and on other days it was the onyx haired youth who would prevail. Their friendly rivalry was fired by genetics that spanned millennia and continents. Local events featured them, and as they grew older they met in State competitions. Each would find their remarkable speed to be the key to higher education.

Peter graduated from high school as Salutatorian in a class of two. He was awarded an athletic scholarship to Bemidji State University where he captained the track and football teams. Years later he would be inducted into the University’s Athletic Hall of Fame. There was little that Marianna could give him as he left home for college; Some money that she had secreted from her husband over the years (and upon discovery it earned her a beating at his hands), and The Quilt.

The Quilt remained among Peter’s possessions throughout college, the Second World War, graduate school, and his marriage to Pauline. In 1952 they brought their first child, another Peter, home. The Quilt was there.

 

The younger Peter was thoughtful and sensitive in a way that the older one did not understand. “You think/worry/feel too much…” was an often spoken refrain from father to son. In the son’s late adolescence the elder occasionally introduced the younger as, “a friend of the family”, or as the Prodigal Son. It was not a withholding of love, just an acknowledgement of frustration and the divide.

Young Peter left for college not in pursuit of any passion for higher education, but as an escape from the conflict with the elder. Pauline had little to offer that would mend the divide, but in 1970 she sent her oldest son off to college with The Quilt.

The Quilt was older than either Pauline or her husband. It had weathered at least 50 winters and showed in its fibers the strain of the years. Marianna had died in 1952, a few months after young Peter’s birth. It fell to Pauline’s mother, Labibe (her name is an Arabic derivative of Mary), who was an immigrant from Lebanon, to deploy her skills to mend the failing Quilt. She stitched what she could, but ultimately chose to encase it in flannel. The Quilt served young Peter throughout college and accompanied him in 1974 on the road to his new home in Kansas City, Missouri.

The Quilt was there for his marriage to Christine, the birth of yet another Peter, and the births of daughters Renee and Alexis. At one time or another it embraced each member of the family. Marianna’s hand hovered lovingly, and silently, over the family.

By the time that the elder Peter and Pauline came to celebrate 40 years of marriage The Quilt had become little more than a large rag. Labibe’s felt casing had itself become threadbare and riddled with holes. Shreds and pieces of The Quilt could be found wherever it had lain. Christine removed the covering and found one salvageable section that measured about 4 square feet. She hand stitched what she could to restore the piece and make it suitable as a framed artifact, a gift to Peter and Pauline on their wedding anniversary.

Peter passed from this life in 2009. The framed remnant of The Quilt still adorns a wall in Pauline’s home. It displays Christine’s handwritten attribution to Marianna Volk Schloss, its creator.

The years that followed brought adulthood to Peter and Christine’s children. They in turn brought grandchildren into Peter and Christine’s life, one of which is also named Peter. Christine has made a quilt for each of the grandchildren… gifts given at a birthday or at Christmas.

 

Recently she finished work on a quilt that now graces our bed. It is a stunning piece that caused me to marvel and then ask, “How many stitches does it take to make a quilt?” “Two hundred thousand… maybe more” she replied.

 

Authors and poets such as Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and Barbara DeAngelis have written that love is invisible… that it cannot be seen or measured. I imagine that they were never given a quilt.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. The earliest Peter Schloss that I have knowledge of was born in 1793 in Jockgrim, Germany. His grandson, my great-grandfather, was Peter Schloss. He was born near Odessa, Russia/Ukraine in 1857. He and his family are pictured below.

We have never considered ourselves to be “cruise ship travelers”, (whatever that means). However in the Spring of 2018 we crossed the Atlantic aboard a Norwegian registered Viking Company cruise ship. We found the experience to be wonderfully unique. It combined a high degree of pampered elegance with well selected ports of call, and the opportunity to enjoy new friendships with folks who share many of our interests. Journeying the roads less traveled with a small camper in tow may, however, be our pursuit alone among the cruising cadre.

The 2018 voyage spanned 15 days, made 5 ports of call, and covered approximately 6,500 miles. I confess that I was ready to disembark when we landed in Spain. I itched to pursue the less polished aspects of our itinerary that ultimately spanned 13 weeks and took in 16 countries. Why then do we find ourselves preparing to again board another lengthy voyage?

I have long held a fantasy dream of sailing around Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America. Over the years I have read chronicles of such voyages, among them Joshua Slocum’s “Sailing Alone Around the World”, and David Hays’ less well known but excellent “My Old Man and the Sea”. Hays and his father each privately journaled their thoughts as they hazarded the treacherous south seas passage in a small sailboat. Their thoughts were later knit into a single voice that spoke as much of their relationship under stress as it did of the perils of raging winds and towering seas. My “dream vision” played out on the deck of a 45 foot sailboat, not a 750 foot ship.

On the other hand, Christine has long wanted to expand our travel itinerary to include South America and the Southern Hemisphere. Her ideas were decidedly land-based and not shipboard.

On no less than three occasions within the span of a week we had fielded friends’ questions, “What’s next?”. Our answers included mention of those seemingly remote and divergent ambitions… my sailing “around the Horn”, and Christine traveling South American. We never meant our words to be heard by providence, let alone by Viking Cruises. But hear us they must have because the following week we received a special offer in the mail from Viking. A three week cruise embarking in Buenos Aires, Argentina, sailing around Cape Horn, and making final landfall in Valparaiso, Chile. As prior customers we were offered not only a special rate for a Penthouse Veranda stateroom, but the round-trip airfare from Kansas City was included at no additional cost.

As a Mediator I have counseled thousands of divorcing/divorced couples to embrace what they can jointly “live with”, even if it is not what they each separately want. It was time for us to practice what I have preached. Within an hour of receiving the mailing I was on the telephone with Viking and offering up my credit card number. We flexed the flight to allow for a few extra days on each end of the journey in both Buenos Aires and Santiago, Chile, extending the trip to 30 days. I could live with the big boat version of Cape Horn, and Christine could live with the shipboard focus on South America, provided there were reasonably effective seasick remedies available.

I don’t think that either of us would be doing this if the offer had come from one of the big vessel companies. Viking’s approach to the ocean cruise experience draws upon its roots as a purveyor of Europe river cruises. A few years ago, they branched into Ocean sailing, constructing a new fleet of vessels that are only 20% the size of the “big guys”. Furthermore, they have approached cruising by highlighting a “less is more” approach. They proudly feature:

  • No Photographers
  • No art auctions
  • No charge for beer and wine at meals
  • Our stateroom also features complimentary wine, beer, spirits, and snacks that are  replenished daily
  • No charge for the upscale dining options
  • Free unlimited Wi-Fi
  • Free laundry
  • Free Spa admission
  • All cabins are exterior with balcony
  • No formal nights
  • No smoking
  • No casino
  • No children under 18
  • Included room service, 24/7
  • Shore excursions are included in all ports of call

We were sold on this as the best “unique” option for reaching Europe in 2018, and that experience gives us no hesitation in reprising the voyage in 2019. This time the 21 day passage includes 9 ports of call, among them landings in various Argentina ports, Uruguay, the Falkland Islands, Ushuaia (the southernmost city in the world), and various ports in Chile. The passage will see us ‘rounding the Horn’, and journeying through the fjords of southern Chile. In all the ship will traverse approximately 3,500 miles of the most storied (and potentially violent) waters in the world.

There are 10 sea days that we intend to spend in the Spa (Christine), Gym (me), poolside (both of us) and daily docent lead workshops that focus on cooking, culture, art, and geology/ecology. Evenings include live entertainment. Best of all, evening attire is upscale casual, another reason that we like Viking!


If you would like more information about our cruise here are links to a video and cruise information:

Video (18 day Itinerary)

Cruise Information

In a little more than 2 weeks we depart for Buenos Aires. I look forward to sharing my “Thoughts” and images with you as we travel and sail this new experience.

Peace Everyone! Pete

The KCMetro Casita+ Owners Group began in 2015. Shortly after Christine and I purchased our Casita trailer we learned that there were a number of other owners of this relatively “rare” breed of camper in the Kansas City metropolitan area. In fact, there were at least 5 within a mile of our home.

Casitas, and other fiberglass “eggs” are unique in that they are usually sold only by the factories that make them (no dealerships), they are compact, efficient, very solid, and they retain a remarkable percentage of their original price on the pre-owned market.

After a few months of camping Christine and I connected with other local owners and used Facebook as a vehicle to establish the KC Metro Casita+ Owners Group. Since 2015 we have grown to over 65 members and we represent over 30 trailers. While most of the trailers are Casitas, our group also includes Scamp, Oliver, and Escape brands, and a “non-egg” Sprinter RV. All makes of campers are welcome, even non-owners who are just contemplating the purchase. The only requirements for membership are a love of camping and a willingness to participate in our activities.

Each year the membership joins for 4 group activities. In the Winter and Summer we gather for a “Pot-Luck” Supper that is hosted at a member’s home. In the Spring and Fall we meet at a pre-selected State or Federal Park for a weekend group campout. This year we met the first weekend of October at Missouri’s Watkins Mill State Park, located approximately 30 miles north of downtown Kansas City. What follows is a summary of this years Fall Campout:

A few members made camp on Thursday, but most arrived on Friday. The weekend promised perfect Fall temperatures, but we were operating under a threat of showers on Saturday. We numbered 14 trailers and 25 members present.

On Friday evening we descended upon the Wabash BBQ restaurant in nearby Excelsior Springs for dinner and a group campfire followed. The main activities began early Saturday.

Like the Boy Scouts, we embrace the motto, “Be Prepared”! We erected shelters while Ted began turning out his crowd pleasing pancakes. As with dinner to follow, this is a “Pot Luck” affair with members displaying their camp cooking culinary expertise.

It was our good fortune that the rains held off until breakfast and cleanup had concluded. When the rains came it was with a vengeance! Many of the campsites became swamps, but we were not to be deterred from our enjoyment of the day. At noon the Watkins Mill State Historic Site opened for visitors, hosted by an array of period-dressed reenactors.

Born in 1806, Waltus L. Watkins left his family’s farm in Kentucky at the age of 18. By his 22nd birthday this poly-math had become an expert weaver and machinist.

He moved to Liberty, Missouri in 1830, and in 1839 purchased 580 acres of land in northern Clay County where he and his wife established a farm. By 1880 his holdings had grown to 3,660 acres located in Clay and Ray Counties. In addition to farming he engaged in a variety of industrial operations that included a sawmill, grain mill, and brickmaking. Notwithstanding the energy that he dedicated to his commercial endeavors, Waltus found time to father 11 children with his wife, Mary Ann. Including workmen, boarders, and other family members the household usually numbered 15-20 people. The farm raised livestock, made butter, cheese, honey, and cured meats. During planting and harvest an additional 25+ hands were hired and fed.

In 1860 Watkins constructed his woolen factory which has been restored and can be toured for a nominal charge. Our afternoon did not include the Mill, rather focusing upon the special activities featured at the mansion, and nearby school and church. (The Mill photo and portrait are courtesy of Missouri Parks)

The Woolen Mill employed over 40 skilled workers and was powered by a huge 60 horsepower riverboat steam engine. The Mill closed in 1890, but over the 30 years that it operated it had produced many types of cloth, blankets, yarns, and clothing. Its goods could be found in every city and town within 60 miles.

Our tour of the home included visits to the various rooms which featured authentic period pieces, many of which were original to the Watkins family.

The home, started in 1850, took 4 years to complete. The rock-solid grand staircase had taken artisan carpenters 2 years to build and has not yet required repair.

Crafts on display included spinning, weaving, cider making, operations in the summer kitchen and a blacksmith at his forge. The well-arranged visitors center provided a wealth of information on the history of the Watkins Farm and Mill.

A short distance from the Watkins home are the restored Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church (1871), and Franklin Academy School (1856).

The Church was active until 1917 and although there is no active congregation it is available for rental as a wedding venue. Its interior is original and authentically restored.

The octagonal brick school predates the public schools of the area. It was a “subscription” school where local families paid tuition which was based upon a family’s financial means. The desks are original… the teacher is not.

By late afternoon the grounds had begun to dry and campers had retired to their individual campsites to begin food preparation for the evening gathering. Our contribution would be a Dutch Oven Lasagna. Others prepared a dizzying display of salads, mains, sides, and deserts. There would be few leftovers.

Rather than set up on the still damp ground, it was decided to make use of the wide paved driveway to gather for dinner. The sky had cleared for a spectacular evening meal, campfire, and even some antics with a Hula-Hoop.

By the end of the evening we had already planned and scheduled our 2020 Winter “Pot Luck” and Spring Campout.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. Coincidentally, Christine celebrated her birthday on Saturday welcomed by these good friends and Medicare. Life is good.

During a recent camping trip I had occasion to watch a solo ant crawl zig-zag across the top of our small folding table. He touched a banana peel that I had placed on the table but did not seem overly interested in it. As I finished my banana, I resisted the urge to squash him. He presented no threat to me and I was certainly more a guest in his world than he was in mine. I continued to watch as he descended to the ground and then disposed of the peel.
Within 5 minutes the ant returned… at least I presumed it was him since one ant looks pretty much the same as another to me. This time he was closely followed by scores of his nestmates. A solo insect explorer was one thing, an armada of invaders was another. With a spritz of Raid and the wipe of a damp cloth I rendered the tabletop a less hospitable environment for further ant incursions.
I had just witnessed one insect on a mission of exploration communicate his discovery to others of his kind and then rally their support in furtherance of a greatly expanded enterprise. On a very small scale I had just watched a parody of humanity’s habits of exploration. Curiosity has driven us to extended our reach across every continent, into the depths of the oceans, and now out into the solar system… perhaps one day into the vastness of “Space, the final frontier… to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before”. Forgive me, but I am a lifelong “Star Trekkie”

Will we know life when we see it? NASA continues to struggle to develop a definition of life, fearing that we won’t know it when we see it:

“There is no broadly accepted definition of ‘life.’ Suggested definitions face problems, often in the form of robust counter-examples… defining ‘life’ currently poses a dilemma analogous to that faced by those hoping to define ‘water’ before the existence of molecular theory. In the absence of an analogous theory of the nature of living systems, interminable controversy over the definition of life is inescapable.” (Cleland, Carol E.; Chyba, Christopher F., Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere, v. 32, Issue 4, p. 387-393 (2002)).

As a child attending Catholic parochial school I was taught that humans were the sole form of intelligent life in the Universe. It has taken millennia for us to abandon the notion that earth was the center of that Universe. In my own lifetime science has moved from ignorance of the existence of other solar systems to an understanding that planetary systems are as numerous as the grains of sand upon all of the beaches of the world. Why should only one very tiny blue grain of that sand be selected by a Creator to host life?
The problem is that any attempt to define life necessarily derives from our limited frame of reference. We won’t necessarily know “life” when we see it if it isn’t “life as we know it”. I suspect that theologies which have historically taught that life only exists on Earth will struggle to adapt if/when there is an extra-terrestrial discovery of “something” (microscopic or otherwise) that is arguably “life”. If such a discovery forces us to accept that life exists beyond the confines of Earth then a likely response to protect our assumed uniqueness will be to say that our intelligence sets us apart as favored “in God’s eyes”.
Unfortunately, we have not done a very good job at acknowledging intellect when we encounter it in our own world. Examples abound that run contrary to our species-centric prejudices: Birds that make tools; Apes that learn language; Elephants that self-identify in a mirror, create art, and decades later remember distinct encounters with individual humans; Sea Mammals that have complex languages, show empathy for humans in distress, and pursue sex for pleasure; Orcas that elevate post-menopausal females into leadership roles because of their stability, maturity, and experience, thus enhancing the general welfare of the group (BTW, only 5 species are known to experience menopause, Humans and 4 species of whales); and of course a lone ant that happened to walk across my camp table.
We have often chosen to ignore or dismiss the existence of intellect in our own species based solely upon skin color, theology, or national origin. We remain poor stewards of our own environment, and we decimate our numbers in conflicts that prove that we do not learn from history. If an extraterrestrial species ever visits Earth it is entirely understandable that it may conclude Earth to be devoid of intelligent life.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS: I have been generally absent from social media and my “Thoughts” since August. That does not mean that we have been idle or that I have not been thinking. We are making progress on the pursuit of our plans for a Colorado vacation home, I have returned to more serious bicycling, and we have been planning for more “next things”. We depart in November on a 30 day trip that will include a 3 week cruise around the southern tip of South America. A week in Cozumel off the Yucatan Peninsula has also been scheduled for February. Stay tuned for the travel commentaries to come.

Yesterday, August 10th, Christine and I joined longtime friends Greg and Rebecca for lunch at a very good brewery/restaurant “Fields and Ivy” located in Lawrence Kansas. Ours is one of those very special friendships that sustain beyond the boundaries of distance and time. My 45 year association with Greg warrants comment which I will reserve for later in this post.

Greg and Rebecca both follow our travels. At lunch Rebecca issued a mild reprimand to me… “So what happened?… As far as everyone who follows you is concerned you just disappeared somewhere between Salt Lake City and Denver.” It was a light hearted comment, but she is correct. My bad.

The drive from Salt Lake to Winter Park was largely uneventful, except that it coincided with Robert Muller’s testimony before two House of Representatives Committees. The proceedings were aired live on the NPR feed hosted on Sirrus Satellite Radio. The mountains effectively limit the use of FM radio, but the satellite broadcast firmly held my attention for most of the day’s drive. I doubt that one in a thousand Americans tuned in for the whole thing. I had nothing better to do and I found it captivating. No other comment is necessary lest I become just another talking head.

I overnighted in Winter Park and enjoyed my last Dutch Oven dinner and bourbon accompanied campfire of the trip.

I also savored the 40-50 degree night temperatures which will elude Denver and Kansas City until Fall arrives.

I arrived in Denver for a two night stay with our friend Kris. She lives very close to two paved bicycle paths that are a part of Denver’s impressive network of trails that cover scores of miles. I took advantage of the opportunity to get in a pleasant morning ride.
I was Kris’ guest to a couple of events, one of which was an evening gathering of a group of her long-time female friends. I was welcome, but I was also the sole male among the 14 in attendance. I mingled but also embraced being a “fly on the wall” with the opportunity to observe and consider how differently women and men socialize with one another in the general absence of the other sex. Something for me to “chew on” in the future.

The second event was an afternoon “Pot Luck” lunch hosted by the Denver chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC).

As one who has walked both the French and Portuguese routes to Santiago de Compostela Spain, and co-founded the Kansas City chapter of APOC, I was right at home with the group.

The night before my departure for Kansas City we went to dinner at a highly regarded restaurant in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood. “Tables” is one of those rare finds where the food and service are exceptional, the price is moderate, and the very talented chefs/owners personally visit your table to ensure that the dining experience meets their standards of excellence.

Kris and I could also carry on a conversation without shouting at each other… a rarity in restaurants these days. It was Kris’ first visit and I imagine it won’t be her last.

It was time for me to bid an early farewell the following morning (Sunday the 28th). For her part, Kris had preparations to make for a backpacking trip later in the week. She and four friends were hiking the circumference of the base of Mount Rainier in Washington State. The endeavor over rugged terrain would take more than a week, cover over 100 miles, and accumulate over 25,000 feet of elevation changes. She is a strong and adventurous woman.

I had not intended to drive the entire 610 miles home in one day. Towing a trailer can be taxing, especially solo.

However, the Sunday traffic was moderate, the weather passable, and I had a favorable tailwind. Stopping only for gas, a quick lunch, and an occasionally for the bathroom (that is conveniently located in the trailer), I made it home well before dark. I knew I was really home when Christine and I were in each others arms. The solitude that really wasn’t had come to an end.

About that “solitude”: I previously remarked that the act of writing these posts created an aura of companionship. I wonder if the effect is different when one writes entries in a personal diary. Does the expectation of an audience or of privacy change the experience of examining ones thoughts in writing? I have never been one to keep a private diary. However the impression that when I am writing I am “with” many other people is quite real… and comforting.
I also wonder if prayer brings comfort to the “faithful” out of the sincere belief that their words have the ear of God. Similarly, is understanding of this comfort lost on those who are non-believers?

Whether or not the Creator is listening is a different question than whether or not one BELIEVES the Creator is listening. In medicine it is the placebo effect that renders a sugar pill an effective remedy for pain… the belief, not the pill.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS: In July 1974 I traveled to Kansas City to accept a position as a Missouri State Probation and Parole officer. I had just completed my undergraduate studies at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

On my first day in the office I met Greg Tempel. Greg, also a new hire, had recently finished his undergrad work at Central Missouri State University. Greg was assigned one of two specialty caseloads. His duties included supervision of drug dependent offenders living in a half-way house. The other specialty caseload was assigned to me, supervision of alcoholic offenders living in a different half-way house. We quickly became friends and found that our approaches to caseload/client management were similar and a slightly out of step with more liberal sociological models that were then in vogue.

Greg and I shared an apartment for a time. In our third year working for the State, and without the other’s knowledge, we each applied to law school. We were each accepted and by pure chance ended up in the same classes throughout the first year.

Greg was an exceptional student with very disciplined study habits. He was also athletically inclined. Our friendship was flavored with a spirit of competition that called me to do better… although most of the time Greg came out ahead.

In our second year of law school Greg invited me to join him as his partner in a lawn service. It was successful beyond our expectations. We (literally) wore three sets of tires off of our two push mowers the only Summer we operated the business. The telephone rang off the wall with calls for our services the following year, but the requirements of the final year before graduation and the looming stress of the State Bar Examination ended our Student Lawn Service. I have no doubt that we could have grown that joint enterprise into a financially lucrative business.

Another thing that Greg and I had in common was the good fortune to marry well. Greg and his wife Rebecca moved to Colorado to pursue their professions and start their family. Christine and I had married the Summer that I entered law school. We had children born in both my second and last year of school. Greg and I remained in contact over the decades and seized opportunities to visit when they visited Kansas City and when we vacationed in Colorado.

At the end of a vacation in 2014 we met Greg and Rebecca for breakfast at a diner near Fort Collins Colorado. Greg mentioned that he was retiring in April the following year and that he and Rebecca would be moving to Lawrence to be closer to family and Rebecca’s KU Jayhawks. Until that moment retirement had only been an intangible for Christine and me. My facial expression must have revealed something to Greg because he exclaimed, “…and damn it, you are not going to retire before me!!” I retired in May.

Greg always brought the best out in me. My general ideology trends liberal while his trends conservative. We each respect the view of the other from his side of that fence. When we get together we have a beer (or two), we laugh about the past, we are grateful for the present, and we talk about the future that will be owned by our children and grandchildren. As I said… a friendship that sustains beyond the boundaries of distance and time.

I left at dawn on the 22nd from the US Forest Service “Cabin City” campground where 47 degrees was my morning’s greeting. While in the mountains this was one of the warmest overnight temperatures I have experienced on this trip. One morning was just below freezing. Kansas City has not been so fortunate.

It was a long driving day that took me half way to Salt Lake City where I planned to visit our friends Lena and Ron at their home. More on that visit later…

I took advantage of a truck stop to do laundry, catch a shower, and then I put more miles behind me before overnighting with the “Big Rigs” at an Interstate rest stop.

The morning of the 23rd was another early riser in order to time my arrival in Salt Lake City before noon.

As I drove south into Utah on I-15, I enjoyed an extraordinary panorama that must have cried “Promised Land” to the Mormon pioneers of the mid-19th Century. I had to mentally blot out the Interstate and the occasional sounds of 18 wheelers, large RV’s, and passenger cars pounding the pavement of this arterial highway.

The roadway was completed around 1990. The section that I traveled just south of the Utah/Idaho boarder was perched on a rise with a shallow valley to the west on my right. In the distance the crystal clear air revealed mountains to the east and a well laid out western town of a few hundred citizens down in the valley to the west. Perched upon the rise between the town and the highway was an equally well laid grid-work cemetery, the morning sun brilliantly illuminating the hundreds of white stone monuments. The grounds were obviously associated with the town. I guessed that the “citizens” in repose outnumbered the living residents of the town. A question was thus presented to me: Do those now living upon the Earth outnumber those who have gone before us in death? A stop for gas and a hurried consultation with Professor Google provided me with some answers.

First of all, I am not the first person to have asked the question. Secondly, our species (Homo sapiens) has been around for about 50,000 years. They did a terrible job of record keeping until the 1800’s. Demographers were left with a puzzle that had clues but no definitive statistics.

Earth is currently home to over 7.5 billion souls. We are replacing our dearly departed at the rate of approximately 20 births per 1,000 people. In and before the Middle Ages this number was likely around 80 per 1,000 people. However, factoring infant mortality the life expectancy of our species during and before the Middle Ages may have been as low as 10-12 years! Today the world-wide life expectancy it is around 67 for males and 71 for females.

Crunching the numbers, the Population Reference Bureau (“PRB”) has estimated that more than 108 billion members of our species have been born to date, and that approximately 7% of that number are alive today. That is approximately 14 dead for every person now living.

Kudos and a “tip of the hat” to Arthur C. Clark (author of “2001 as Space Odyssey”) who in 1968 estimated the ratio at 30-1 when the Earth’s population was just 3.5 billion. His estimate is consistent with the PRB’s.

In order for the number of living humans to exceed the number of dead ones the Earth must somehow support well over 100 billion living humans… pretty unlikely. “Whew!!!”

Back to Salt Lake City: Christine and I first met Ron and Lena in 2017 while camping on Sitka Island and traveling to mainland Alaska.

We immediately hit it off with this like minded traveling couple. They were originally from Canada and each achieved their PhD, Ron in Chemistry and Lena in Social Sciences. They founded their own business that involved environmental issues and engineered solutions. They retired around 2000. In 2018 Christine and I were traveling through Spain on our way to walk the Portuguese Camino. I received a message from them. They had been reading my posts and damned if they weren’t in Madrid on the same day that we were! We joined them for a memorable evening with promises to get together again. Again came yesterday at their home in Salt Lake City.

Ron and Lena are in the process of downsizing and simplifying life. They have sold the remarkable 1898 home that they totally renovated.

They put aside their packing duties to entertain me with lively conversation, wine, lunch and dinner, and an amazing night overlook of the city.

Within 10 minutes of my arrival in their home we were talking about this year’s travels and “next things” for the future. Among those future possibilities are: An RV camping tour of the inner and outer coasts of the Mexican Baja Peninsula… A one-week sailing from Montreal to the Madeleine Islands of the St. Lawrence (Nanci and Tom I hope you are reading this!)… and a voyage to the Arctic up the west coast of Norway on the “Hurtigruten”, a mailboat with spartan passenger accommodations for the intrepid traveler (Hege and Jan-Cato I hope you are reading this!).

There are no definite plans, but “next things” have a habit of finding us, and so it seems with Ron and Lena. Beyond amazing is that Ron and Lena know our Denver friend Kris (my next stop as I am homeward bound), having met her in 2016 while walking a route of the Camino in France! Some things simply defy explanation.

Tomorrow I return to Winter Park for an overnight before arriving in Denver. In the meantime…

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. Speaking of the “Unexplainable”. This morning, without any action on my part, my website re-launched two posts from our 2018 Europe trip, one about Norway and the other about Berlin which included a get together with Stanley, a gentleman with whom I had just exchanged email greetings yesterday. I remain convinced that our senses are inadequate to explain the experiences that befall us.