Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Monday we spent in Naples in the morning, with a visit to the ruins of Herculaneum in the afternoon. While we have been to Naples twice before, this was the first time we explored this interesting town on foot. We started with a visit to the beautiful Royal Palace (photo), followed by a walk through the old town, loaded with historic churches and interesting piazzas, shops and restaurants. While Naples is not as beautiful as some of the other towns we have visited recently, it is just as fascinating as any of them. In the afternoon we took a guided tour of the ruins of Herculaneum (photo), which was covered by a landslide of mud when Mt. Vesuvius erupted nearly 2,000 years ago. Much smaller but better preserved than Pompeii, this once popular seaside resort for the wealthy has many beautiful secrets within its walls. Today we are set to take an excursion to Orvieto high in the hills of Umbria, while the ship is docked near Rome.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Yesterday (Sunday) our ship arrived at Messina (photo) in Sicily. From Messina we took a full day excursion to Mt. Etna and Taormina (photo).
The trip to Mt. Etna, an active volcano, took a couple of hours. As we approached the mountain, one of the vents on the side of the caldera gave off a plume of gases (photo.) We continued up the side of the mountain to an elevation of over 6,000 feet, above the tree line. Mt. Etna has many extinct craters (photo) in addition to the currently active peak that erupts on average once a year. It was an unusual experience walking on the lava covered landscape high up on the side of the mountain.
After visiting Mt. Etna we drove to what is perhaps Sicily’s most famous town: Taormina. Bustling with tourists, this quaint little town is perched 600 ft. up on a hillside overlooking the ocean. Here we enjoyed a delicious lunch at a quality hotel before spending some time walking through the town. We also visited the historic Greco-Roman theater, one of the main attractions in Taormina. Sicily is a beautiful island, and we were delighted to return there during this trip. Today (Monday) we are in Naples. We have a trip planned to see the ruins of Herculaneum.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
WHAT NIKKO TAUGHT ME
As a special pet, Nikko the Burmese cat taught me much about felines, about Jim and myself, and about life. After our previous cat, Rob, died, Jim and I had no intention of getting a pedigree pet. We had always searched for animals, dogs and cats, at the animal shelters. We had no luck in finding the right cat, and finally I suggested we try a Burmese, because my first partner, Paul had raised them, and they were so human-friendly. Skeptical Jim was of the opinion that pedigrees were difficult and also did not last long, as they had all sorts of health problems---or so he thought. Yet Nikko had fewer medical problems than our other pets, until his final kidney failure, and he lasted longer than any other animal we lived with.
The Day We Brought Nikko Home
We found Nikko through a newspaper ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The ad was placed by a woman who raised Burms in Brynn Athyn, a suburb of the city. We drove out to her big place in the country to find a house and farm lands full of kids, dogs, and of course Burmese kittens. Nikko’s mom walked on the breeder’s shoulders, which was a good sign. To me Nikko looked like the runt of the litter, but he was a male among many sisters, and my good friend Louise had always said, “nothing is such a good combination as a female dog and a male cat.” How right she was: male cats bond with humans to an extraordinary degree, while female dogs become the most loyal of companions.
Nikko bonded with me quicker than with Jim because as a tiny, 8 week old kitten he sat in my lap, in a shallow cardboard box on the way back to Philadelphia, and I took on the job of feeding him daily. But when he first saw the car he growled at our dog Frida. Frida, a wonderful large golden dog, looked puzzled at the small ball of brown fur, while Jim said, “oh no, they won’t get along.” Within a matter of days they became soul buddies.
After a few hours home, Nikko laboriously followed me up the stairs. He was so small that he had to take one step at a time. In the bathroom he watched me use the toilet and then hopped down in the bathtub—the other appliance in the room---and used the tub to relieve himself. The breeder had told us, “oh, yes, he’s housebroken,” but no doubt he had used the vast grass tracks in the country as a natural bathroom. So, the next day, we filled the bathtub with water, and took Nikko down to the basement and placed him gently in the litter box. He caught on immediately, proving how smart cats are. That was the first time Nikko proved his intelligence, and I’ll always remember him as one of the smartest animals I’ve known.
How Nikko Talked to Us (1)
Nikko, like many Burmese and Siamese, was a very talkative pet. Jim decided that cat talk originated on Mars, where all the cats came from. They landed on Earth only after digging all those canals. After all, Jim reasoned, how could any Earth creature have such huge eyes? Nikko, an extraordinarily beautiful cat, had sleek dark chocolate colored fur, a round ‘apple head,’ and enormous golden eyes.
More than any other pet we’ve lived with, Jim liked to ‘interpret’ what Nikko told us in his talky way. Jim would say remarks like ‘Daddy, I want to go out in the yard to visit with the birds,” or
“hey, you guys, don’t step on my tail!” (The last comment was a loud screech in Martian.)
How Nikko Talked to Us (2)
Nikko constantly talked to us using body language, as well as telling us his thoughts in ‘Martian.’
As Jim mentioned in his remembrance, Nikko quickly learned how to jump on my shoulder. I’m round shouldered, with a curvature of the spine, so my shoulders were a comfy place for the cat to sit. It was higher off the floor to Jim’s shoulders, but Nikko sometimes leaped way up there as well. Jim loved watching Nikko wait on my shoulders for a piece of fish or chicken.
During the cocktail hour we enjoy before dinner every night, Nikko always came when called. He was such an ‘equal opportunity’ pet that he would switch from my lap to Jim’s. Only in his last few years would he stay mostly on my lap, which seemed perhaps an easier place to be since Jim liked to give the cat power massages. But at night Nikko curled up on Jim’s arm, since I’m a restless sleeper. Nikko spent more time outside with Jim also, since both were the outdoor type. While Jim tended the garden at our house on Fire Island, Nikko would happily chase toads or birds, or nibble on grass. Other times, he loved to stretch out in the sun. As Jim might say, all cats love the sun because they recall how bright it was on Mars.
Being smart, Nikko told us what he wanted in body language. Our friend Tom M. was amazed to see Nikko hop up to a kitchen counter and stare with pleading in his eyes, toward the cabinet where his food was kept. That was a trick Nikko learned early and repeated throughout his life.
Nikko’s Last Hunt
In the last couple years of Nikko’s life his kidney disease slowed him down. Yet remarkably, when he was 17 he brought me a last bird—an old sparrow---on Fire Island. He was a great hunter, and many mice as well as a few birds landed up at our feet. I might shudder, but always tried to thank Nikko for the offerings he wanted to share with us.
Not only did Nikko easily capture our hearts, but he got along remarkably well with his canine companions. He would spar with Frida, and they would lie down next to each other. After Frida died, Jim was devastated. It took us four or five months to find another dog in a shelter. Or, the dog who selected us, I should say, did not come along until Bradley claimed Jim. In the meantime, Nikko had been the sole animal in the house. When Bradley moved in, Nikko went on a hunger strike, insulted and disappointed that his humans would bring another animal home. But after a couple more weeks he was playing with Brad, and the two remained lifelong friends.
I like to imagine that maybe Nikko shattered some stereotypes about cats: he wasn’t the most independent of creatures since he constantly followed us around the house. He spent more time in our company than Bradley the dog. He often knew what you were saying to him, and he was a quick learner. When he first groomed Jim’s head--- a great honor for a human--- Jim told him ‘no.’ So he rarely performed that function on my tall partner, instead waking me up with his rough tongue grooming my hair. Nikko taught me more than any other animal I’ve ever known. Whoever comes next has huge paws to fill. As Jim would say, “this little guy soaks up love like a sponge soaks up water.”
Thoughts on Nikko
“Remember the way I held you,
You’re always in my heart.”
- from “Lay Down Burden” by Brian Wilson
We enjoyed Nikko for almost 18 and one half years. Losing an animal companion that you have loved for so long, one that has loved you back in return more than you can measure is like losing your own child. The pain is there when you wake in the night, or at times when the mind wanders. The pain will lessen with time, and with the presence of a new little kitten, but the unique memories will never leave.
What was so special about Nikko? For me it was in the special relationship that he had with Dan and me…different in the way he interacted with each of us. He loved us both as much as he could, but showed his affection differently to each of us. I have fond memories of Nikko the shoulder cat. In his younger days “Neek” would hop up on Dan’s shoulder at mealtime, and follow Dan’s fork from dinner plate to Dan’s mouth hoping to intercept a morsel. Sometimes he would walk across the shoulder of dinner guests at dinner parties! He rarely got on my shoulder, though. In Cherry Grove during his youthful years, he was fond of playing the “string game” in bed, chasing a piece of floss. We used to purchase toy mice for him. I would throw the mice and he would chase them. Sometimes he played so intensely that his little ears actually got warm! He loved the garden at 2506 Aspen, and particularly, our garden in Cherry Grove. He would go to the door and ask to go out to the lower garden at Liberty Bell. He spent many hours there chasing toads, butterflies and other miniature wildlife. One time In Cherry Grove he captured a poor small green bird and proudly brought it up to the top deck to show us. In the 2506 Aspen Street garden one time we found him with a dead squirrel, one that was obviously an elderly animal. I said to Neek, “What happened?” I used to answer for him a lot. His answer: “This squirrel was dead when I found him. He must have had a heart attack!”
In the morning, he had a bag of tricks to get us up and feed him. A vocal cat, this was one of his most vocal times. However, his most intense trick, reserved again almost exclusively for Dan, was grooming Dan’s hair with what we called his brush tongue! With me, Nikko seemed to be fond of my handling, which was I’m sure too rough at times, but he just about always came when I called him, for a nap, or a power pet, or a neck or back rub, just to sit nestled on my lap at my knee with my legs crossed. I used to demonstrate for guests my fondness for turning poor Neek on his back and giving him an intense back massage. He tolerated it each and every time. Nap time with Neek became a ritual in later years. He would call out after lunch, and join me in bed, lying next to me with his front paws on my arm as I hugged him with my other arm. His purr was so loud and so comforting. It was only at the end that I struggled to hear it.
With both of us he was always very affectionate. He would just about always join us sitting on Dan’s lap for evening cocktails. He and Bradley got along very well. Sometimes Brad would nip at him playfully and sometimes Neek would groom Brad. They were a fine team, the “C” team as Dan and I termed them (earlier animal companions constituted the “A” and “B” teams.)
We said goodbye to Nikko at the beginning of this week of vacation prior to embarking on a wonderful Mediterranean cruise. The flight overnight was rough for me, coming only hours after I took Nikko to the vet for the last time. The heavy sadness I felt could have cast a pall over the entire vacation, but then good things, and some totally unexpected surprises started to happen to us, some little and some not so little, and continue to happen to us on our trip. I'm not religious nor a believer in gods, but I do feel as though the natural force of a special little feline friend is looking out for us, taking care of us, and letting us know that all is OK, that everything is all right.
So soon we will look for another feline companion, not to take the place of Nikko, because none could and it would not be fair to expect that. But rather, to enrich our lives in the way only a cat can. If we’re very fortunate, we’ll find another as special in his or her own unique way as our little Nikko was and is. That is my hope.
Friday, August 27, 2010
Yesterday we spent a relaxing day at sea aboard the Celebrity Equinox. We started the day with a nice breakfast in the main restaurant. We both had a frittata made with feta cheese, olives and veggies. It’s fun to sit down in the main restaurant for meals rather than dining at the around the clock buffet, though the main restaurant is not available for all meals on board. Today, for example, both breakfast and lunch will be served buffet style. The food is very good at the buffet; it’s just that we like to be pampered with table service!
We usually head for the jogging track after breakfast and walk for two miles, which is 16 laps around the track. Then Jim heads for the busy open air pool area (see photo) while Dan relaxes in the solarium, shielded from the sun. Lunch yesterday was a sit down treat in the main dining room, but before lunch we enjoyed another presentation by the on board Corning Museum master glass blowers, who have a studio on the top deck. These artisans are fascinating to watch as they craft masterpieces in glass from molten material. The glass studio is a joint educational project of Celebrity Cruises and the Corning Museum. No glass is sold on board because of the non profit nature of the endeavor. However, a few lucky passengers win select pieces in raffles that the artists conduct from time to time. You have to be there to win and not every show ends with a raffle. Jim was the lucky winner of a beautiful vase (photo) crafted by Tom Ryder (seated, in the photo).
Later in the day Jim had fun dancing at the 70s disco tea dance. Then we joined our San Francisco friends Bill and Wes for cocktails in the Martini bar and dinner in the “Blu” specialty restaurant. It was another fun day at sea.
Additional Photos: The Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem taken from a high overlook, and Masada (the plateau on the right) taken from the window of our coach.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
RETURN TO ISRAEL
Jim and I last visited Israel many years ago, on another cruise. Then we visited Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the later city already under Palestinian control. So on this Atlantis cruise we decided to sign up for an excursion to Masada and the Dead Sea. The trip involved a long coach ride across Israel, and stopped briefly in Jerusalem so everyone could see a panoramic view of the city from a mountain near the University of Israel.
Soon our bus reached the desert, with its stark beauty and the contrast of the bright green-blue Dead Sea, revealing the mountains beyond, the border with Jordan. Masada itself is on a high mountain. It is an important archaeological site for two reasons: in the first century King Herod the Great built an enormous palace as a refuge. After his time the last Jewish resistance to the Romans took place at Masada, when the remaining freedom fighters, over 963, sacrificed themselves rather than become slaves to the foreign conquerors. All of this was chronicled by the ancient historian Josephus Flavius. The site itself was re-discovered in the late 19th century. By that time many earthquakes had destroyed much of the palace-fortress atop the huge mountain. But since the 1930s modern Jewish archaeologists have restored much of the buildings. Our guide showed us parts of the palace, and where the ancient Jews lived, fought the Romans and ultimately died. Ravens circled the hot air above our heads, and I thought often of how much our friend Louise spoke of her love for this amazing country. We took a new cable car to the top of Masada, but there’s also a long walk available for hikers, who usually only walk at sunrise, to avoid the scorching heat of the day. From the top of Masada one can see the Dead Sea far below, and how much the waters have turned into sink holes.
After lunch at a hotel on the Dead Sea, we were able to swim in its strange waters. It’s very difficult to walk on the hot grounds around that Sea, as it’s almost all salt. The water is 33 percent salt, and feels very oily, since it is so viscous. If one swallowed the water in great quantities, one would die quickly. Jim wore flip flops and floated in the water, while I just swam for a short while. Without doubt, the unusual experience of being in its waters is most unusual part of visiting this part of Israel.
Some of our shipmates partied in Tel Aviv in the evening but Jim and I relaxed onboard at the martini bar and then enjoyed a leisurely dinner. We had learned much about the complex social and political problems facing modern Israel. At the start of the trip our tour guide Keren told us that the country’s greatest problem was water. There was much to think and talk about after another day spent in this ancient yet modern country.
Yesterday we enjoyed a day at sea, as the Celebrity Equinox sailed from Athens to Israel. On board the ship, we enjoyed a lovely brunch and caught up with our friends Bill and Wes from San Francisco. We met Bill and Wes last year on the Atlantis cruise from Rome to Egypt. It’s always nice to meet up with people you know on these large cruise ships. We had cocktails and dinner together.
The new Acropolis museum is really spectacular. Sculptures from the various structures of the Acropolis are beautifully displayed. The featured video of the Parthenon is given both in Greek and English. We had a nice lunch in the cafeteria as well. The museum is built over ruins from centuries ago. Large areas of the floor are actually made of glass so that you can see the ruins below (photo).
The modern Athens metro runs all the way from the airport to the center of town. The stations are beautiful and the one at Acropolis even includes a reproduction of the Parthenon frieze! (photo).
Yesterday on board the Equinox was fun. We attended two glass blowing shows on the top deck where we watched three master glass blowers from the Corning glass museum at work. Jim was extremely fortunate to win a beautiful glass vase that was raffled off. At 5 PM it was party time and we attended the “Dog Tag Tea Dance” in uniform before having dinner (photo).
As I write this it is about 6 AM. We will dock in Ashdod, Israel shortly. Today we will take an excursion to Masada and take a swim in the Dead Sea!
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Surprise In Athens!
We thank all of our friends who have expressed their condolences on the loss of our beloved Nikko. While we are saddened immensely, we also know that we did the right thing for him by ending his suffering. We take great joy in his long life and we have wonderful memories of him.
The timing of this trip to the Mediterranean is probably a good thing for us now because it helps take our minds off the loss of Nikko. We left Monday and arrived in Athens at 8:30 AM Tuesday. Since boarding our ship was set for 3 PM, we checked our bags at the airport and took the metro into Athens, about a one hour ride. On our last trip to this historic city, we did not get such a good impression. We found it hot and smoggy. However, this time we were astonished to find the city much changed: clean, modernized, and actually beautiful. It was also not oppressively hot as it was on our previous trip.
Dan wanted to visit the new Acropolis museum at the Acropolis, which is located at the foot of the hill on top of which sits the Parthenon and the other historic temples at the site. The museum is really impressive and beautiful. We spent an hour or so touring the exhibits and having a great Greek lunch, before spending some time walking around the Plaka. Finally, we returned to the airport to pick up our bags and head to the ship docked in Piraeus.
We boarded the ship and went to our cabin before heading out to enjoy the sailing away party on the top deck. We were treated to a beautiful sunset to the West and a full moon rising to the East over Piraeus. It was a spectacular start to our trip!
Monday, August 23, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Ms. Huffington writes:
I get that the progressives, and the activists, and the young people who voted for the first time, and the disillusioned voters who returned to the polls in '08, feel slighted by the president. You thought you had a special connection with him, but it turns out he'd rather hang out with Larry Summers, flirt with Olympia Snowe, or play war games late into the night with David Petraeus. Face it: he just isn't that into you. But, in the end, it doesn't matter where the president's heart is -- it matters what he does. LBJ wasn't that into the National Voting Rights Act until Martin Luther King and the Selma march pushed him into it.
So, in order for us to force MR. Obama to do the right thing, we basically have to take to the streets.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
The entrance to the Ascension circuit party in the Pines last Sunday:
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
While we're disappointed that same sex marriages cannot resume right away in California, this is probably a good thing because it keeps the Supreme Cout out of the issue for the time being. I'm still confident that the Ninth Circuit will rule in our favor, or throw out the pro-Prop 8 appeal due to lack of standing. Having that decision in our pocket will strengthen our long term marriage equality case. Then, when the issue finally does reach the Supreme Court, we'll be in a better position to prevail there. So. we'll have to be patient a little longer.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Brown Headed Cowbirds at our feeder.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Someday, perhaps twenty-five years from now, the former President's grandchildren may pose the question: "Grandpa, some people in school say that when you were president you opposed same-sex marriage. That's not true, is it, Grandpa?" I am rather confident that, unless he makes this fundamental struggle for civil rights and equal justice his own, Grandpa Barack will be able to offer no answer of which he will not be ashamed.
- Huffington Post
"Although we're disappointed that Judge Walker elected today to give the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals a chance to consider the issue of the stay, we are gratified that he has denied the request to put his historic ruling on hold during any appeals. He has applied the standard legal tests in the standard way and reached the only logical conclusions given the overwhelming evidence produced at trial: Nobody is harmed—especially not the backers of Prop 8—by restoring equality in marriage to California's same-sex couples. Nobody suffers when everyone is treated equally. There's enough equality to go around.
"To maintain the stay, the Ninth Circuit will have to find that Prop 8's proponents are likely to win on appeal or will suffer irreparable harm if same-sex couples again are allowed to marry. But at this point, the truth is crystal clear, as last week's decision explains: the only people suffering harm are lesbian and gay couples whose constitutional rights are violated every day that Prop 8 remains in force, and who simply seek the same rights everyone else already enjoys."
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Let's talk gay issues. Speed isn't quite the problem. It's more an issue of political homophobia, as Joe calls it. An irrational fear of gays and their civil rights, even when the 70% of the public is routinely on our side, as it is with repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Rather than simply repeal the damn law, and institute a stop-loss order in the meantime to stop the discharges, the President continues to defend DADT in court, continues to end the careers of patriotic gay and lesbian service members, and now we're debating "repeal" legislation that does everything but repeal DADT. If you think this legislation repeals DADT, then ask anyone in the White House "under this legislation, when do the discharges finally stop?" Good luck getting an answer...
People aren't ticked at Obama because of the speed of his legislative accomplishments. They're ticked about the substance, and the President's unwillingness to fight for what he says he believes in. And no amount of legislation with the right title and the wrong policies is going to change that.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Photo: The deck garden at Liberty Bell.
Yesterday's temper tantrum at the White House directed at the base of the Democratic Party, the progressives and liberals, may be the last straw. If a real progressive runs against Obama in 2012 he or she will get my vote, and the vote of a lot of other disgruntled people who supported Obama and wanted him to succeed. Why do many of us on the left feel the way we do?
Here's Jacki Schechner on AmericaBlog:
I'm paraphrasing here, but a wise boss of mine used to say the way to lead was to "energize the base and inspire the middle," and instead, President Obama has been "alienating the base and confusing the middle." ...What permeates is the sense that the President has compromised his alleged values and backtracked on his campaign promises in a way that jaded insiders would say was to be expected but the general population hoped wasn't the case. We wanted to believe. We really did. I know I did...Had Obama run the first two years of his presidency the same way he ran his campaign - with guts and gusto - he would have solidified the full support of his base and the middle. They would have been ecstatic to get what they voted for. But when the President almost instantaneously cloaked himself in compromise and became the guy who just wanted to be liked, he showed a weakness that disenfranchised those of us who truly believed.
Actually, I was not among the true believers. I did not vote for Obama because of his stated opposition to marriage equality. That he continues to oppose the existing legal marriages of gay men and lesbian women makes me very angry. It's unlikely that I would have voted for him anyway, even if he had been better on a whole range of issues where he has let his supporters on the left down:
1. Fails to close GITMO.
2. Fails to quickly end Iraq War.
3. Escalates the war in Afghanistan.
4. Backs lifting ban on commercial whaling.
5. Opposes marriage equality.
6. Refuses to sign on to international treaty banning land mines.
7. Excercises no leadership to end DADT.
8. Argues in favor of DOMA with hateful anti-gay DOJ brief.
9. Gives only partial spousal benefits to federal GLBT employees and no health care benefits.
10. Fails to nominate a strong liberal to the Supreme Court.
11. Fails to advocate for a strong enough stimulus to create jobs.
12. Fails to press for real energy independence with tough conservation.
13. Favors offshore drilling.
14. Continues biased policy of unconditional support for Israel.
15. Continues improper Bush policies on secrecy, wiretapping, etc.
16. Keeps Bush appointee Gates on as Defense Secretary.
17. Refuses to cut defense spending.
18. Maintains Reagan era ban on gay men donating blood.
19. Failed to fund worldwide anti-AIDS programs as promised.
20. Failed to push for real immigration reform as promised.
Just being "better than Bush" is not enough. That's not what Obama promised. He promised real change, but what he has delivered during the past year an a half is little better than what we had under Bush. Health care "reform" with no public option is no great acomplishment. Escalating the war in Afghanistan is right out of Dick Cheney's play book. Announcing an expansion of offshore drilling 20 days before the BP disaster in the Gulf was a body blow to environmentalists...and so forth, and so on. Your enemy is not the Democratic left, Mr. President. But it may be too late already to repair the damage you've done to your most hopeful and enthusiastic supporters.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Monday, August 9, 2010
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Saturday, August 7, 2010
According to Pam's House Blend blog, New York U. S. Sentor Kirsten Gillibrand is now saying there will be no vote on the DADT "compromise" until after the mid term elections. However, pushing the vote off until the lame duck session it seems to me will make it even harder to muster enough votes to break a filibuster of even the weak compromise bill, which as we know, is NOT repeal of DADT. With conservative Dems like Nelson and even Webb having stated their opposition to the compromise bill, where will the 60 votes to pass it come from in the Senate? IF the Republicans gain senate seats in the mid term elections, which is likely, that will strengthen the opposition to passing even the crappy compromise DADT bill in the senate. I like Gillibrand, but let's wake up here. We're being jagged around once again. How can she really believe the scenario she is selling us?
Friday, August 6, 2010
This is one of Dan's paintings. He is exhibiting some of his works this weekend at the Point Of Woods Art Show on FIre Island.
Thursday, August 5, 2010