November 22, 2022. In the South Atlantic, 6.15° S, 32.50° W.

Although Viking Jupiter can accommodate 930 passengers, we are slightly under capacity with about 890. There are a number of ship sponsored small groups, such as the Mah Jong group, Bridge Players, The Friends of Bill W, and the Solo Travelers group.

Christine saw the Solo Travelers one evening and it appeared that they numbed fewer than 20. Except for them virtually all of the other passengers are traveling as companions, and the vast majority of them “romantic”.

We are in continuous close proximity with all the passengers which has provided me with the opportunity to “couples watch”.

They come in all flavors. We find that demographically Christine and I are at the younger side of average, perhaps the longer side of years together, well placed for our experience as travelers, and probably at the more extreme end for “adventures” shared.

Most passengers are from the United States, but Canada is very well represented. It should come as no surprise that given the age of most onboard, Florida as a state of current residence is well represented.

This brings me to some other characteristics of the affection-bonded companions. There are a few interracial couples and quite a few same sex couples. If the demographics were younger I imagine the interracial proportion would be higher. Looking back 20 or 30 years ago I believe that the percentage of obvious same sex couples would have been much smaller as so many back then would have still been “closeted”. I am thankful for the enlightened social evolution that favors a broader acceptance of colorblind and gender-blind love. I hope that it continues to evolve in favor of broad acceptance.

Years ago my dear mother, may she rest in peace, might have scowled in disapproval at couples from both of these groups. As she entered her later years she became more tolerant. There is one group that may have yet received her unspoken ire.

Early in the cruise I observed a couple, clearly dear to each other, but separated by generation. Father and daughter?… niece?… No, husband and wife. Within my thoughts I could feel the specter of my mother’s disapproval. I turned my focus onto my own thoughts and feelings, asking myself “Why?”, not about them, but about myself.

Mindfulness is a wonderful skill to acquire. So many of us never stop to become aware of their thoughts and ask that question of themselves, “Why?”. In examining my thoughts and seeking an answer to the question I concluded that I and perhaps society still have work to do.

When Christine and I married we presumed that we had decades ahead of us together.

Fortunately, that has been the case. Life is a lottery and comes with no guarantees. Most couples bond with the hope of sharing life and love. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it does not. The ages of the lovers is not the most relevant factor of success.

Back to my mother: I am confident in my assessment of her righteous indignation. Yet she and I lived in the shadow of “uncommon companions” who were very dear to us.

My mother was a first generation American, born to Lebanese immigrants. Her parents’ marriage was arranged by the families. Grandfather fought as an American “Doughboy” in the First World War, returning to Lebanon after the war to meet and marry my grandmother.

Grandfather’s Passport photograph
Grandmother’s passport photograph

That marriage occurred around 1920 or 1921. Their first of 6 children was born in 1923.

My grandparents prospered and became icons in their West Virginia community. They were leaders in commerce and as parishioners in their Catholic Church. All of their children were college educated, my mother receiving her Master’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin where she met my father shortly after the Second World War.

My parents, 1949.

I can scarcely imagine a more successful and loving marriage than the one shared by my grandparents.

Their life together ended with grandfather’s death in 1958. Grandmother continued on as the family matriarch until her passing in 1979.

By the way, my grandfather, Joseph Francis, was born in 1884. My grandmother, Labibi Raad Francis, was born in 1905. I will leave it to you to do the math.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. The above photo, taken around 1957, features my grandparents who are the couple on the right. The little boy on the far right would eventually grow up to be the author of these “Thoughts”.

November 14, 2022. At sea off the coast of northwest Africa.

Before I delve into the titled topic here is a brief cruise report:

We spent yesterday in the port of Malaga, Spain.

Christine and I participated in a 3 hour walking tour which sounds more strenuous than it really was.

An excavated Roman Amphitheater

Being a member of a tour group is not my preferred way to explore a destination. However, practicality sometimes takes priority over preference… so, when on a cruise one must often do what the other cruisers do.

The upsides were the pleasant weather and beauty of the compact central city.

The downsides were that it was Sunday with most shops closed. Perhaps that also qualifies as an “upside”! The huge cathedral was open, but only for Mass and prayer.

I entered ostensibly for that purpose, so there are no pictures. I dearly wish that I could have taken one of the priest hearing confessions. Between penitents he was either net-surfing on his mobile phone, or doing video chat absolutions. It reminded me of seeing a priest, one of at least a dozen concelebrating Mass in Santiago, who periodically reached up the sleeve of his robe to surreptitiously pull out his phone to snap a shot or two of the remarkable experience unfolding before him.

Malaga is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso. He spent his youth living on the perimeter of this square.

The city takes pains to highlight the association, however the artist left Spain due to the horrors of its civil war and vowed never to return until democracy was restored. That restoration began in 1975 with the death of the dictator, Francisco Franco. Picasso died two years earlier, never having returned to his homeland.

Another limitation on our visit was that it coincided with the running of a marathon that featured thousands of runners.

Our cruise itinerary had included crossing the Mediterranean last night and spending today in Casablanca, Morocco. Unfortunately that has been canceled.

Part of Viking’s proactive COVID protocol is the requirement that all passengers and crew be fully vaccinated and boosted, also submitting to daily PCR testing. Crew wear masks at all times, but masks are optional for passengers. A positive test results in a mandatory 5 day period of in-room quarantine.

The captain reported that there have been a few (less than 10) positive cases, but even that small number meant that Morocco would not grant the ship permission for passengers to disembark. Therefore, we are rerouting. Today is at-sea, and tomorrow we will spend the day in Madeira on the Portuguese island of Funchal.

In a future post I will present a pictorial tour of the ship. Currently the wifi is not able to upload all of the pictures that I have taken shipboard. What the pictures cannot express is the remarkable service and pleasant disposition of the crew.

Although we are all familiar with the term “common courtesy” I have found that courtesy in daily life can often be in short supply. Aboard this ship and during our prior sailings with Viking we found we were surrounded by service delivered with “uncommon courtesy”. That is not to say that it was rare or infrequent, but that it is so exceptional as to be “uncommon”.

I have approached a number of crew and after thanking them for their cheerful attention to our comforts asked them about this. One remarked it comes from gratitude for this employment opportunity. Another commented that the employment interview process focused significantly upon personality. Yet another said that the attitude is infectious (no pun intended) among staff. A senior staff person with over 15 years in the industry pointed out that one quickly figures out if this type of work is a good fit. At the end of one’s contract that person either continues in the industry or not.

In any case we are experiencing a level of service seldom seen by us onshore. Perhaps another factor is the smaller ship size and the circumstances which result in frequent interactions with the same crew members… which allows for the development of a kind of relationship.

There is unfortunately an “uncommon discourtesy” which we have observed. Most passengers reflect positively the service that they receive. A very few do not. Is it from a sense of privilege, narcissism, lack of gratitude/charity or just having a bad day? I don’t know. What I do know is that having witnessed discourtesy it gives me pause to be mindful in my appreciation for the good people who staff this ship. It is an appreciation which we would all do well to exercise in our daily onshore lives.

Peace Everyone. Pete

October 28, 2022. At Burgos, Spain.

Dear Christine. A few days ago I told you I had decided. You ask how I came to the choice, and why while I was walking across Portugal and Spain. Your question took me by surprise, and I’m not satisfied with the quick answer that I gave. The question has occupied my thoughts these last few days because we both deserve a thoughtful reply.

“It” has haunted and stalked me since grade school. Until playmates begin pointing it out, I gave it no mind, I was being like my mother. My dad said we both just worried too much.

In high school I was too young to legally drink alcohol, but that didn’t stop me. Friends found it curious that after a beer or two “it” temporarily disappeared. I since learned that this is a common trait.

Aptitude tests in college and my own interests pointed me in the direction of a career in medicine, but that was certainly out of the question. Instead, I became a lawyer.

I was always able to adapt. Two hands to put a key in a lock, tall beverage glasses half full or lids on coffee cups, instead of hammers and nails it was cordless drills and screws. A really good legal assistant and voice-to-text typing proved invaluable.

“It” didn’t stop me from bicycling across the United States when I was 58 or hiking with you across Spain when I was 61 and then across Portugal when I was 66. It didn’t stop me from sailing, traveling, or pursuing the things that have enriched our lives with our children and grandchildren.

This last month has been different. I am again hiking Portugal and Spain, but this time without you. “It” has become progressively worse the last few years, but the assistance that you have given me each day we are together has quietly taken up the slack in a way that I had not fully appreciated.

In your absence I see my limitations every time I look at a menu. Where I sit in a restaurant matters, as does the question of table service versus self-service. Completing information forms at the airport or hotel necessitates humility on my part and assistance from others. While I am beyond being embarrassed, I am not beyond confronting reality and the future.

I hinted at this in my earlier essay, “Alone and Invisible“:

“…I also read from the script of the possible future. We have shared over 48 years together, 45 of them as husband and wife. It is exceedingly rare that spouses draw their last breaths together. More common is the outcome visioned in the vows which begin the journey of marriage, “…until death do us part.” It was thus with my mother living alone for 11 years after dad died, and the same for your dad living 9 years without your mother. It is likely that one of us will have to embrace “alone” as a way of life.”

My mantra has always been, “Don’t put off until tomorrow the things you may then find you are unable to do.“ At 70 years old I am mindful that circumstances could arise at any time to deprive me of this decision.

So, assuming the neurologists and neurosurgeons still agree, I have decided to undergo bilateral Deep Brain Stimulation surgery (“DBS”) to treat my Essential Tremors. I have chosen this over the newer Focused Ultrasound therapy (“FUS”) because it is reversible and can be done bilaterally. While both treatments report over 90% rates of patient satisfaction and safety, DBS has a proven track record of long-term efficacy. I have weighed these factors against the usual risks of surgery and my understandable aversion to having holes drilled in my skull and implants placed in the center of my brain.

All that having been said, you are still a part of this decision and I invite your thoughts when we rejoin each other next week in Barcelona.

Love, Peter.

PS. Those of you other than my wife may wonder why I am being so public about this. It is because this condition has been “public” my entire life. It is not something I have ever been able to hide. ET is the most prevalent of neurological motion disorders in the world. ET directly impacts the lives of nearly 1 out of every 50 people. It also impacts the lives of loved ones like my wife. Fortunately, for most it is merely annoying. Unfortunately, for many like me it becomes progressive in later years and significantly effects the quality of life.

If you would like to learn more about Essential Tremors this link will provide a good start to your inquiry: National Institute of Neurological Disorders

October 12, 2022. At Vigo, Spain.

Dear Christine. I had a wonderful time at dinner last night with Tom and Bambi, from Georgia. It’s remarkable how alike many of our professional and life circumstances are.

In 2018 we were fortunate to have met our Canadian “doppelgängers“ Tom and Nanci. History repeats, but alas you are not here. I am confident we will get together back in the States. The motivation is strong and they have heard so much about you for me it is as if they already know you.

My walk back to the Pension last night was spectacular. I did not have my camera, but then I did have my iPhone.

Early yesterday as I was reviewing today’s route it appeared that I was up against a very long day of well over 25 km. On top of that there were a number of significant climbs and route complications. I decided to catch an early morning bus and eliminate the first 7 km. This would also leapfrog me out of the urban area and into some very pleasant forest trails.

First light does not occur here until 8:30 AM. The bus departure was 8 AM and because there is some kind of a holiday there was a reduced timetable. The next bus would not be until 10 AM, too late for me.

I arrived at the bus stop 15 minutes early. The bus was already there, engine running, but the bus driver did not open the door until 10 minutes before departure. As I began to step onto the bus he halted me and pointed to his masked face. No mask, no ride, no exception! Nobody told me! I was in a panic. The driver spoke no English but was touched by my predicament. He searched through his own belongings to see if he had an extra mask. No mask.

The clock was ticking and I ran across the street to a café that had just opened. I pantomimed my need to the proprietor and the only two customers who were enjoying their coffee. No masks.

I returned to the bus stop and laying my day pack down in the dark I began frantically searched through its contents by feel. No mask.

Crestfallen, I began to turn toward the bus to indicate my defeat. However, my eye caught a dark shape just a few feet from me, nearly camouflaged and invisible against the dark bench. IT WAS A MASK!!

With less than a minute to spare I was on the bus and we were wheels-rolling out of town.

Camino magic? Camino moment? Miracle?… Or just somebody forgot their mask. In any case, in my moment of need my eye set up on it. It really doesn’t matter what I call it. The outcome was the same. The incident set into motion a cascade of thoughts that lasted the duration of my 21 km hike. I wish you had been at my side so that I could have processed my musings with you in real time. Writing them to you in this letter is the next best thing.

As I have said many times: Every miracle comes in two parts, that it occurred, and more important that it was noticed. It also occurs to me that our common understanding of what constitutes a “miracle“ blinds us to the “little miracles” of daily life. The magnitude of those events portrayed from church pulpits is beyond most human experience. What if the conspiracy of time and retelling has taken otherwise noteworthy events and embellished them into the fantastic? Like the size of an angler’s catch grows with each retelling.

Take for example the biblical miracle of the loaves and fishes. In Christ’s time hospitality required the host to provide food and drink for his guests. A multitude had assembled to hear Jesus speak. In essence, he was the host and they were the guests. Imagine the panic of the disciples… How could they possibly honor their duty to such a crowd?

I was taught in parochial school that Jesus found a boy carrying a basket with loaves and fish. Jesus blessed the food, broke the bread and then in distributing them the amount of food miraculously expanded to fill everyone’s need with 12 baskets of leftovers remaining. A miracle! But what if there is an alternate explanation:

Jesus was often referred to as “Teacher“. In fact, that is exactly what he was doing that day on the Mount, teaching. What if in securing those loaves and fish he intentionally and publicly shared the food with those around him, teaching by example.

In that era people rarely left home without taking some food and drink with them. By his example Christ inspired the crowd to share and care for one another. Isn’t that a miracle? What’s more, it is something that Jesus could teach that is within our human capacity to repeat. Amen.

The hike today was long but very pleasant. Most of it was through a huge forest, climbing up and through the mountains overlooking the sea. It was certainly much more pleasant than slogging through the urban areas below.

I did take one wrong turn which ended up adding a few kilometers to my hike. Thank goodness for the early morning bus ride!

This church dates to the 13th century!

I arrived in Vigo in the early afternoon. It is urban, and that says it all.

I am meeting Ken and Bambi again for dinner this evening and looking forward to sharing our tales from this day.

Thank you for being my wife… and at times my muse. Love, Peter

PS. During my hike I passed by an attractive rural home and yard. An older woman was creating a mosaic on the wall next to her garden. It was quite extraordinary. I wish I could’ve stopped to talk with her but I was afraid I would merely scare her and distract her from her art.

October 3, 2022 at Porto, Portugal.

Dear Christine. It was so good to hear your voice today and to connect in a lengthy phone call. I’m glad that the special overseas call option has finally kicked in on T-Mobile. I’m really excited for you on your upcoming high school reunion. Don’t worry, you’ll have a great time connecting!

We leave for the Camino tomorrow morning, but more on that in a bit.

I had not intended to do a great deal of walking today but the weather was nice and there were opportunities to take in some city sites which required walking. Over 10 km in all. This letter will give some highlights, not a great deal of depth, but of course pictures.

We wandered the area where you and I stayed in 2018. You may recall it’s a university area and there are students strolling about wearing black capes. Sorry, but no pictures of them. There’s a bookstore, which is not unusual in a college neighborhood, but what is unusual is that this is the bookstore where are J. K. Rowling spent many hours drinking coffee and constructed her story work for the Harry Potter series.

The bookstore is not particularly large or noteworthy from the outside, yet hundreds of people lineup here every day (adults no less!) and stand in line for the opportunity to visit the store. As we approached the area the throng of people extended in a line one block long, and doubled back another full block.

They each pay €5 admission which is credited against any purchase. People are not admitted until a similar number of people have exited. It’s crazy! I didn’t go in.

The neighborhood, caped students, and architecture apparently provided her with some inspiration.

Nearby was the tall stone tower that I again missed the opportunity to climb. This certainly guarantees us another visit to Puerto!

Not far from there was another unusual store, this one dedicated to the sale of canned sardines and various other similarly canned seafood items.

They are really not intended for eating but as gifts and for collecting. One whole wall was sardine cans with a year emblazoned on the front, 1916 through the present. They are “birthday sardines!“ The sales lady was careful to explain that the cans say something about the depicted year, but the sardines are fresh packed. How many people do you know that collect sardines? Yea, me neither.

We visited a pair of unusual churches. They are both Catholic and of similar design. They were built 100 years apart, in the 17th and 18th centuries respectively.

There was some problem with having the church is actually touch so a “hidden house“ was constructed to separate them. The house is approximately 10 feet wide and five stories tall. It is represented as the narrowest house in Porto, somewhat reminiscent of the canal houses that you and I have seen in Amsterdam.

Why two similar churches were located so close to each other? I don’t know.

We toured the churches and saw the opulent robes, gilded altars, religious articles, and curiously enough birthing chairs!

They look like something out of the middle ages (probably because that’s where the design originates). I thought they were toilets for the bishops, but was disabused of the notion upon reading the storyboard.

There were catacombs beneath the church where approximately 400 religious had been buried over the course of a many years. No pictures were allowed. There were bones, and the visible remains of one saintly woman who died in the 1700s. Apparently, resting in peace is not actually an option for this one who lived a good life.

By the way, religious men who were buried in the crypt (Priests and Brothers) were interred a matter of right. Religious women (Nuns), had to pay with money for the privilege during life.

There were a variety of relics on display, including a minuscule splinter represented as a piece of the “true cross“. It even had a “certificate of authenticity” signed by an Italian bishop in the 1600s. I’ve heard it is said that one could built a house with all of the pieces of the “true cross“ if they were only gathered together. I wonder how much the church paid for that splinter?

Outside of the churches there were the occasional beggar, and I saw a few troubled people sleeping in doorways over the course of the day.

I found it troubling to see such wealth and power on display by heads of a church founded on Christ’s teachings.

OK, I’m going to step down off of my soapbox.

Later in the afternoon we took in a 3 hour street art walking tour presented by an archeologist born and raised in Porto. It was fascinating and “free“ with donations requested. It is impossible for me to set out in this letter out all of the information we were provided.

Highlights: The tile work that is found throughout Porto is considered street art. It is against the law to paint heritage surfaces, but there is a website that tells artists where owners throughout the city have designated parts of their property as open for art. “Paper art” is legal anywhere, because it’s easily removed. “Tagging“, which we call graffiti, is vandalism, not art. Here are some images:

This tall building in the background is an interesting assembly of art tiles.

The artist distributed blank tiles throughout the art community, inviting the other artists to apply their own images. The original artist then assembled these into a monumental collage The words that you can see in the center mean, “Who are you Porto?” I hope that the picture resolution is sufficient that you can focus in and see some of the individual pieces.

It’s not a particularly pleasant neighborhood, being located across the street from the train station. There were two small “hole in the wall“ restaurants. Our tour guide mentioned them as highly recommended, frequented by locals, cheap, and featuring authentic Portuguese cuisine. We returned there after struggling to work out our baggage transfer arrangements and enjoyed a terrific dinner and full bottle of wine. I had a huge roasted cod dinner and Kris enjoyed a similar sardine entree. The entire bill was €31, which works out to less than $30!

About the baggage transfer: We found a company that will transport the bags and is “high-tech“. Instead of leaving a little envelopes with instructions and money attached to the bag, one registers and provides all of the info and payment online. The company then sends an email with a QR code that is to be printed and attached to the bags. It’s a great concept, provided you have a printer. The hostel has a printer, the printer didn’t have ink. After some significant stressing out, a phone call with the transfer company it got worked out. I have to take a photograph of the bags in the morning and emailed it to company.

Enough for now. This turned out a lot longer than I expected which is probably a good thing. I do not know what the Internet situation will be tomorrow.

I love you. Sleep well. Me

PS. No PS.