On June 8, 2023, we were in Gdansk, Poland. It was just for a day, and Gdansk was not for the most part a particularly pleasant city to visit. Poland has had more of a struggle than, say, East Germany in the aftermath of winning its freedom back in the 1980's, and Gdansk is far less clean and modern than the former East Berlin.

However, Gdansk was as moving and as inspiring as Berlin, where we had touched remnants of the Berlin Wall and stood at the site of Checkpoint Charlie. Arguably, Poland led the revival that liberated Eastern Europe, and it was an awesome experience to see the Gdansk shipyard where the Solidarity Movement had its beginnings.

An unexpected additional blessing was that we were in Gdansk for the Feast of Corpus Christi, and we were vividly reminded that in Poland during the Soviet era, the Catholic Church resisted the assaults on Christianity more successfully than in most other Eastern European countries, and that the Church's leadership and courage was a major factor in their liberation.

It came as a complete surprise to us, walking around the city, suddenly to find ourselves in the middle of their Corpus Christi Day procession, and what a moving experience that was. Even with all the tourists (like us) milling around and taking pictures. (I was not so moved as not to notice the very clever sound system, with speakers strategically placed throughout the procession to keep everyone together. I've been in too many much, much smaller Palm Sunday services, in which the tail of the procession gets hopelessly and painfully out of sync with the head, not to appreciate this innovation.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 30, 2024 at 6:00 am | Edit
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This story from my father's journals shows that air travel technology may have changed a lot in the past 50 years, but travel delays are much the same. What I find most interesting was the complete lack of airport security, not even checking the passengers' tickets for boarding, and thus not realizing that they were trying to board more passengers than there were seats on the plane. Also that there was another plane, with crew, available to accommodate the supererogatory passengers.

June 30, 1967, complete with foreshadowing. He was travelling from Philadelphia to Albany, New York.

This morning as I left for work it was raining hard, and at the time looked as though I could have trouble flying home tonight, if there were no change in the weather. The rain stopped sometime during the morning, however, and by the time I caught a taxi to the airport about 6:30 this evening, the weather posed no problem. I walked to the 30th Street station to get the cab because it was not obvious I would get one in front of the GE building. Traffic was quite heavy as we started out toward the airport, but was not really bad as we neared the airport. Apparently most of the traffic was made up of people heading for the beach.

The airport terminal was crowded, however, and I had a 5 or 10 minute wait before I could get a seat in the coffee shop and a much longer wait before I got my dinner. The coffee shop at the Philadelphia Airport is not the place to go for a quick meal. I had plenty of time, however, as my plane did not leave until 8:20.

My flight to Kennedy Airport was on National Airlines, and was uneventful, although the plane was full. But at Kennedy I saw the biggest crowd I have ever seen around an airport. I chose to walk to the Mohawk counter, which is in the building diametrically opposite the National terminal, and I found the roads, and many of the parking lots, filled to overflowing. The traffic was bumper to bumper and crawling on most of the roads, and the parking lots near the National terminal were not only jammed, but overflowing, with cars parked on sidewalks, and double-parked in ways that blocked other cars from getting out. Things were not quite so bad near the Mohawk-Eastern building, but were still quite crowded. A good percentage of the crowd were servicemen—showing without a doubt the influence of the Vietnam war.

At the Mohawk counter I was informed that because of a radar failure at Kennedy, my Mohawk flight would leave from LaGuardia and I should go to Gate 1 or 2 at 10:15 where a bus would take me to LaGuardia. So I called Lynn and told her the story and suggested that she call Mohawk before she went to the airport to meet me. It was obvious that we would be quite late.

The bus for LaGuardia was boarded, not at 10:15, but at 10:45, and after wending its way by devious routes, it arrived at LaGuardia and we were deposited at the Mohawk terminal with no indication of what to do next. Before long, however, an announcement said that our flight was boarding at Gate 25. What it meant was that it would eventually board at Gate 25.

After some delay, we boarded the plane with absolutely no checking of our tickets. As the plane became more and more crowded, the stewardess asked people to move forward and sit down, and she was greeted with the news that there were no more seats. Eventually, the plane was emptied, and all the passengers were loaded in a more orderly fashion on two planes. I gather that the problem was that an earlier flight from LaGuardia had been cancelled, and its passengers put on my flight on a standby basis, but somewhere along the line, the stand-by status got lost. Fortunately, there were two planes and crews available.

The upshot of all this activity (or, at times, inactivity) was that I arrived at the Albany Airport at 1:30 a.m.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 6, 2024 at 10:30 am | Edit
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[I have been having so much fun posting excerpts from from my father's journals that I decided to give it its own category:  Glimpses of the Past.  This is the first one posted in that new category; eventually I'll try to go back and include previous posts.]

In 1964, my father and his co-workers flew from Albany, New York to Washington, DC for a meeting with The Customer. (It wasn't till decades later that I learned that the customer was actually the CIA, but that's another story.) Their return flight was somewhat eventful, as he recalled in his journal.  (Emphasis, and comments in brackets, mine.)

When we got to the National Airlines counter we found the plane would be 15 minutes late (we found out later that the plane had been delayed in Jacksonville, Florida by President Johnson's plane either coming or going) so we had plenty of time. Then there was an announcement of further delay—the plane had made in emergency landing in Richmond because a passenger had had a heart attack. We had an hour and 50 minutes between planes at Idlewild [former name of JFK airport], so there was no panic over these delays, but there was a growing concern. Our plane finally arrived and we left Washington about an hour and 15 minutes late. We stopped at Baltimore and then the pilot appeared to make very good time between Baltimore and New York, making the trip in about 30 minutes. We deplaned and waited a while for the bus which would take us to the Mohawk Airlines terminal, but we arrived at the Mohawk ticket counter about 9:40 for our 10 p.m. flight, so we really didn't have any trouble.

Being delayed by the president and then by a passenger's heart attack are unusual enough, but what really struck me is the part I highlighted in bold. Arriving at the ticket counter 20 minutes before departure and having that be of no concern at all? Now that's impressive. Progress over time is not always in the positive direction.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, December 18, 2023 at 5:05 pm | Edit
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When we lived in Rochester, New York, one of our neighbors grew red and black currant bushes in her backyard, and shared them with us. Sadly, she moved away soon after we become acquainted, and the bushes were removed. At the time, I thought the new residents just didn't want to bother with them, but maybe they knew something I didn't:

The plants were illegal. Here's the story. (17 minutes at normal speed)

In brief: Plants of the genus Ribes, which also includes gooseberries, are susceptible to a fungus that also produces white pine blister rust, which in the early 1900's was devastating our white pine trees.

Apparently the lumber industry had a more vigorous lobby than the gooseberry family, and our federal government both outlawed the Ribes family and began a massive program of eradication. If it had been the 21st century, gooseberry fans would have been demonetized on YouTube and banned from Twitter.

The federal regulations against Ribes were lifted in 1966, but many states still prohibit or restrict it. My neighbor's yard didn't become a legal site until 2003, and many places in New York still aren't. Here's an interesting list of state regulations. My favorite may be Pennsylvania: "In 1933, Pennsylvania passed a law that limited growing gooseberries and currants in certain areas; however, the law is not enforced. Therefore, all Ribes can be grown in the state."

(It must be pointed out, however, that laws that are traditionally not enforced can still be a threat. if your name is Donald Trump, growing currants in Pennsylvania might still land you in court faster than you can eat one.)

Back in the early 1900's, national governments apparently felt they were faced with a stark choice: save the pine trees, or save the currants and gooseberries. The United States chose lumber; Europe chose food. Both are important, of course, but in hindsight it seems clear that letting nature take its course might have been best. When governments take to using hatchets when flyswatters will do, bad things happen. In subsequent years, better approaches to the white pine blister rust problem have been developed. I suspect these developments would have come sooner if we hadn't decided to commit plant genocide instead.

Because of their great nutritional benefits, Ribes, especially black currants, are making a slow comeback. But I've never seen them in our local grocery store. For that, so far I still need to make a trip to Europe, where currants and gooseberries are easily found.

You might enjoy the post I wrote 13 years ago about my visit to a farm near Basel, Switzerland, where I was allowed to taste freely of gooseberries, three colors of currants, and other marvelous fruits that are difficult to procure here.

UPDATE 1: I have it on good authority that there's at least one farm in New Jersey where I can pick gooseberries and currants if I'm passing through at the right time. It would be interesting to know if "currants" listed on their website also includes the black variety, which New Jersey still heavily restricts—that is, if the Wikipedia article is correct, which is a risky assumption, though less so with currants than with current events).

UPDATE 2: Do not be confused by what are called Zante currants, which look like mini-raisins and are made from small grapes. You can find Ribes black currant products on amazon.com, but a search is more likely to misdirect you, if that's what you're looking for.

UPDATE 3: In the United Kingdom, Australia, and no doubt some other parts of the world, purple Skittles candies are black current flavored. In the United States, the flavor is grape. Not content with trying to eradicate the plant itself, we seem intent on eradicating America's taste for the fruit.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 24, 2023 at 9:39 am | Edit
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If you want to be a local guide for the Viking cruise line, one of the most important things to remember is that a large number of your clients will be retired folks. That is, on the elderly side. When you are walking them through your beautiful city, with its Gothic churches, scenic views, and cute little shops, and ask, "Does anyone have any questions?" there's a high probability that the first inquiry will be, "Where's the nearest bathroom?"

Having returned just a few days ago from one of those lovely cruises, my mind was perhaps primed for that question.

Three times a week we take advantage of the therapeutic pool at our neighborhood park. It's a fantastic opportunity and we miss it when we are away, but there's one thing about their water aerobics classes that annoys us: all of the instructors insist on playing music during the workouts. I don't mind that when the music is instrumental and at low volume, but most of the instructors apparently assume that because our bodies aren't working as well as they used to, the same applies to our ears. And anything with lyrics tends to leave me with one or more earworms for the rest of the day.

Yesterday the music was not too loud, but the songs had words and were more than usually annoying.  (Have I mentioned my 60-year aversion to the Beatles and all they engendered?)

But then....

What was that? What did he just say?

"There's a bathroom on the right."

Nah, couldn't be. Then he sang it again. Yep. "There's a bathroom on the right."

Clearly this guy was a Viking cruise guide before turning songwriter.

Turns out, I'm not the only one to have heard that. Google "bathroom on the right" and you find a large number of people who made the same mistake I did, and they can't all have recently been on a cruise with fellow senior citizens.

You'll also find that the real lyrics are, "There's a bad moon on the rise."

Frankly, I think the bathroom version makes more sense.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, June 19, 2023 at 5:25 am | Edit
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One of these days I hope to have a more coherent set of posts about our recent cruise, but that will be a while—and I still have barely started the big trip from a year ago. So for now, I'll take inspiration where I find it as I look through our photos.

On our brief visit to Copenhagen, one of the first sites we encountered was St. Alban's—the only Anglican Church in Denmark, built in the 1880's for the city's English-speaking population. We did not get to go inside, our tour guide having a schedule to keep, put I did get some shots of the outside as we went by. Its flint walls are unusual for Scandinavia.

I took the next picture just to remind me later which church this was.

But then this notice on the board caught my eye.

I find that odd, and not a little bit jarring. In much of the world, that would be a distinctly un-Anglican sentiment, though some American Episcopal churches would undoubtedly be fine with it.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 16, 2023 at 9:58 am | Edit
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I am not and have never been one who desires a "spa treatment." Manicures, pedicures, full-body massages, facials, being rubbed with weird-smelling oils—the very thought makes me shudder. Granted, I can't really say I don't like the experience, because I've never tried it. On the other hand, I've never tried running into a burning building, either, but I think I can safely say I'd rather pass on that experience.

It seems to be generally true that cruise ships and resorts include spa facilities. I've always avoided them as enthusiastically as I avoid the casinos, bars, and smoking areas.

And then came our Viking Ocean cruise.

What's the difference? This spa had a dry sauna, a steam room, a cold room (with "snow"), a cold-water bucket shower, and ... a cold plunge—a small, shallow pool of a temperature that reminded me of the Pacific Ocean off the cost of Washington. And, unlike all the other spa services, these didn't involve an additional charge.

All were interesting, but I soon settled into a routine I loved: time in the steam room, followed by (much less) time in the cold plunge, then back to the steam, then the cold, etc. On the first day, the experience took a lot out of me—just two in-and-out dips left me completely exhausted.

But also exhilarated. With each day, each dip, the cold became less of a shock, and I was able to stay in the water longer. If I'd been able to swim it would have been easier, but the tank was even smaller than a typical hot tub.

I'm totally amazed at how good it made me feel.

I was told that the steam room was 113 degrees, and the cold plunge 52 degrees. (If those seem like weird numbers, consider that they were originally given in Celsius.) It occurred to me that I could duplicate the experience at home with a hot shower and our pool, which has been known to get into the low 50's in the winter. So there's no need to go to a spa for it. Whether or not I will actually do it at home remains to be seen.

But from now on, if I'm on a cruise or at a resort with spa facilities, I won't automatically avoid them like the plague.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, June 13, 2023 at 6:12 am | Edit
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"By the rude bridge that arched the flood..."

Oh, wait, that was a different war.

But here, where we are berthed, on September 1, 1939, the first shots of WWII were fired.  (This is the view from our balcony.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 9, 2023 at 9:35 am | Edit
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Is It Always Fun to Travel Abroad? by Antonio Evaristo Morales-Pita (Austin-Macauley, 2021)

I wasn't happy to discover that Porter had bought this book.

We were in Chicago, worshipping at the wonderful church of our former rector. After the service, the author approached Porter, engaged him in conversation (normal for after a church service) and pressured him to buy his new book (not normal).

Having bought it, I figured we ought to read it, but I was not looking forward to the experience. Much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it—enough that I figure it's worth a review.

The author was born in Cuba, lived there through Castro's revolution and long afterwards, and eventually ended up an American citizen. Whenever and wherever he was, he travelled as much as he could. He speaks several languages and if he didn't come anywhere near visiting every country in the world it wasn't for lack of trying. In this book he briefly describes some of the major events of his life, and the places he visited, including his recommendations of what to see and do.

Is the book well-written? Frankly, no. The author's English isn't as good as it might be—what works really well for speaking does not always translate well to writing. I also found it too egotistical for my taste. In short, the book is a walking testimony to the importance of editors in the world of publishing. More than anything else, the book sounds to me like a personal blog.

But I like reading blogs. I write a blog. I like the writing of ordinary people telling their own stories, and I don't hold them to the highest publishing standards.

You can get your own copy of Is It Always Fun to Travel Abroad? on amazon.com for less than $4. Let me just say that we vastly overpaid for our copy. On the other hand, we do have an autographed edition. :) And it is fun to read about the author's travels abroad and to get his perspective on places and events.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 28, 2023 at 5:55 am | Edit
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On Saturday, for some reason that I have forgotten, I wrote this story to Facebook instead of here. Usually I cross-post the other way around. Below is the story, followed by an update.

Here's a reminder that when we pray at church for those travelling in the next week, it is no meaningless exercise. Travel is dangerous!

Early this morning, Porter was driving a choir friend to the airport. At about the time he should have been on his way home again, my phone rang. It was Porter, asking if I could find out if something major had happened at the airport. They had been almost there when traffic ground to a halt and Google claimed the road ahead was closed. It sent them on a very long detour to the other side of the airport, where traffic had also ground to a halt.

I tried several sources of news with no success. I looked on Google Maps and saw that indeed the traffic was a total mess all around the airport. But I couldn't help except with moral support, as the clock ticked away the minutes before our friend's flight. Porter saw people getting out of their cars and walking to the airport.

Eventually, however, Porter crept his way to the B side of the airport, where he could drop our friend off. He then drove to the nearest Panera Bread and ordered himself a drink and a breakfast soufflé, figuring there was no point in making the (nominally) 45-minute drive home if he was just going to have to turn around and pick our friend up again.

By that point we knew that whatever the problem was, it wasn't inside the airport, because the security lines were short, and soon our friend let us know that he did make it to the gate on time.

It wasn't till after Porter was home and I could see him, safe and sound, that the news caught up with the story and we learned that the cause of the mess was a fatal car crash immediately ahead of where our guys had been shunted to the alternate route.

Seconds earlier and they might have been in the crash themselves; seconds later they would not have been able to take the detour and been like the drivers who reported sitting in their cars for two hours.

One thing I know for sure: I'm really, really glad that I already knew our guys were fine by the time I read that two people had died in a car crash exactly where and when I expected them to be.

[knees still weak at the thought]

UPDATE: I know now that the guys actually didn't just miss the accident, which occurred at 2:30 a.m. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around how a one-vehicle accident at that hour could have the roads still closed six hours later. Granted, it was nasty—four people in a Land Rover had crashed into a concrete barrier and flipped into a canal. Two passengers were killed, the driver and another passenger had minor injuries. The surprise isn't that two people were killed, but that two people only had minor injuries after smashing into concrete and ending up in a canal.

Despite—probably because of—Google making some bizarre suggestions for the detour, our guys' delay was apparently much less than most people's. And it wasn't just passengers who couldn't make their planes—lots of flights were affected, I assume because flight crews were stuck in the traffic, too. We don't have the whole story yet, but I know the takeoff of our friend's flight was delayed by half an hour, and since his connection was going to be a tight one anyway, he probably missed that. However, we do know that he arrived safely at his destination.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 11, 2022 at 6:15 am | Edit
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From the official travel.state.gov website:

The CDC order from December 2, 2021, requiring persons aged two and above to show a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding a flight to the United States, is rescinded, effective June 12, 2022, at 12:01AM ET. This means that starting at 12:01AM ET on June 12, 2022, air passengers will not need to get tested and show a negative COVID-19 test result or show documentation of recovery from COVID-19 prior to boarding a flight to the United States regardless of vaccination status or citizenship.

Hallelujah! I expect a large jump in foreign travel now, because as we know from vivid personal experience, the threat of finding yourself stranded in a foreign country for an indeterminate period of time is a big deterrent to travel.

The news is not quite so good for tourist destinations in America, as the order is still in effect requiring foreign visitors to be vaccinated. We haven't quite caught up to countries like Switzerland, which officially states,

There are currently no entry restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No proof of vaccination, recovery or testing is required for entry into Switzerland.

But we have made a very good, if overdue, start.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 12, 2022 at 3:20 pm | Edit
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What does extended coercion do to common sense and courtesy?

I think about our drug laws. While I understand the reasoning of those—including friends who have been state prosecutors—who say that we'd be better off legalizing most drugs, I also understand the fears of others—especially parents—who know that removing a prohibition leads people to believe that what was once illegal is suddenly now harmless.

Note also how, when "right turn on red after stop" became legal, it took very little time for drivers to act as if it were mandatory, and to cheat on the "stop" part of the equation.

Our recent flight home from Europe took place only days after the mask mandates for airline passengers were lifted. Now don't get me wrong; I'm all for it. Not only does the combination of mask and altitude make my blood oxygen plunge, but putting the mask back on "in between sips and bites" gets old really fast (and fouls up the inside of the mask).

And yet, we and the people around us wore our masks for most of the transatlantic journey.

Why? Because seated just behind Porter was a lady with a very nasty-sounding, persistent cough. Who neither wore a mask nor covered her mouth, despite the urgings of the flight attendant. ("Please cover your mouth when you cough; you're scaring the other passengers.") This flight was also a lesson in the difficulties of a flight attendant's job; he was remarkably patient with this person, who was difficult in other ways as well.

Obviously at this point we were not worried about COVID, but that didn't mean we were eager to catch some other virus. I'm also well aware that, especially in elderly people, there are many non-contagious conditions that cause coughing. But we wore our masks.

Making a drug legal doesn't make it safe to experiment with. Allowing cars to turn right against a red light doesn't give someone the right to lean on his horn when the person in front of him is more cautious than he would be. And lifting mask mandates for the general population does not mean we should throw out common sense, and courtesy to our fellow passengers.

But when we have been constrained for so long by the letter of the law, it's easy to forget the spirit.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, May 1, 2022 at 8:44 am | Edit
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I think I will tell the story of our recent trip to Europe in topical segments rather than strictly chronologically. The COVID pandemic, being so intimately woven throughout, seems a good place to start.

Our last trip to Europe before the pandemic shut down travel had been in September 2019—to Switzerland (of course) with a side trip to Rome. Then 2020 and 2021 broke our 13-year streak of annual (sometimes more frequently) international travel to visit our international daughter and her family.

Our planned Viking river cruise of 2020 was postponed twice—and then drastically altered thanks to the fact that one of the stops was to have been St. Petersburg (not the city on the west coast of Florida). As part of Viking's compensation for the inconvenience, we acquired along the way a one-week cruise up the Rhône River in France, with an extension that gave us two weeks in Switzerland. Much to my surprise, that one survived.

It seemed fitting to remove, at least temporarily, my Facebook profile picture, which prolaimed—in response to Facbook's pressure to brag about having received the COVID-19 vaccine—that "My vaccination status is none of your business." Because suddenly my vaccination status had become everyone's business. First it was Chicago, where we couldn't attend a concert, visit a museum, or eat in a restaurant without out photo ID and proof of vaccination. This time it was international travel.

I've said many times that I deplore the division of our society into the "clean" (vaccinated) and the "unclean" (unvaccinated), with its harmful (sometimes hateful) discrimination against the latter. I've also admitted that my scruples only go so far. I may willingly cut back on my restaurant meals and museum visits, but seeing friends and family is another issue. We were willing to go through all sorts of bureaucratic hoops to make that happen.

The problem was that those hoops kept changing. Europe started opening up drastically, and so did some of our states. But America's rules regarding international travel remained stuck where they were the first week in December. And Viking chose to keep its own rules very strict. (Wisely, I think, much as I hated them, because how were they to know when the countries involved would change their minds again?) Plus, as we all know, websites are not always kept up-to-date, and we found that one page on a given informational site would contradict another.

But finally, with tests taken, documentation in multiple formats, and unwanted apps installed on our phones, we thought we were ready. The most stressful part was the required pre-travel COVID testing: there's nothing like knowing all your plans could be so easily trashed at the last minute to bring home, once again, the sub conditione jacobaea warning.

Our results were negative, and we boarded the plane for the first leg of our journey, to Montreal. All looked to be going well, as they pronounced all our paperwork to be in order as we waited to board the next flight, this time to Brussels. But at the very last minute (boarding had already started), they decided that our European Union forms were not sufficient, and that we needed special forms for Belgium. (Which, last I knew, was still in the EU.) These had to be filled out online (one for each of us) and we had to wait for e-mail confirmation of approval. Miraculously, both our e-mails came through in time and we were able to board the plane.

As it turned out, neither the form for Belgium nor the original EU form were ever looked at.

Masks, by the way, were required at every stage of the journey. We had been told that ordinary masks would not suffice, and that we had to acquire and use N-95 masks—another requirement that turned out to be false.

The rest of the journey, from Brussels to Marseille to the awaiting Viking ship, went smoothly. Once on board we were subjected to another COVID test, as we would be daily for the rest of the cruise. Once this was confirmed as negative, we were allowed to remove our masks. The one guest whose test came back positive was quietly "disappeared."

The cruise up the Rhône was lovely; I'll save the details for another post. Only two things bothered me: The substantial dinners never started till after 7 p.m. and lasted till 9, perfect conditions to provoke reflux; thus I soon developed a mild sore throat and post-nasal drip. This was made worse by the plane trees, which were in bloom everywhere, shedding pollen in blizzards and creating "snowdrifts" that we shuffled through on our frequent city walks. This, of course, exacerbated my symptoms, and added itchy eyes to the mix. Still, it wasn't that bad, and I could somewhat mitigate the problem by wearing a mask when we were outside. (France has done away with masking rules, but wearing one helped with the pollen and additionally kept my face warm in the brisk mornings.)

At least, I assured myself, I knew for a fact that what was bothering me was allergies, not COVID. Not if testing means anything, since every one of my daily tests came back negative.

Until one didn't.

On the very last evening of the cruise, as we were packing and preparing to disembark at 4 a.m. the following day for our flight to Zurich, there came a knock on the door.

"Mrs. Wightman? Are you all right?"

"Yes, of course. Why do you ask?"

"Because you have tested positive for COVID."

Porter's test had come back negative, but that made no difference: we would both be whisked off to an unnamed hotel for isolation and quarantine.

It's a pity that we had already filled out and turned in our customer satisfaction surveys, because at that point our very happy experience with Viking turned into somewhat of a nightmare of unanswered questions. Since Janet & family were expecting us the next day, we had to start making plans, but Viking could not or would not tell us anything. Not where we were going, not what would happen, not how long we'd have to stay isolated. Their best guess was 10-14 days. Once we arrived at the hotel, we were told, a Viking representative would explain all of that to us. Could we please have that person's phone number so we could explain our specific situation and include our waiting family in the plans? No, we could not. Nothing could happen till we were settled into the hotel. Finally, they promised to give us the phone number as we were leaving the ship. Which for some reason took until after noon the next day (at least they served us breakfast).

At that point we were treated to a 350-euro taxi ride (paid for by Viking) from Lyon, where we were berthed, to ... wait for it ... Geneva, Switzerland! To the InterContinental Hotel, to be precise. My guess is that Viking, headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, has some sort of relationship with the InterContinental. The name of the hotel only matters in that it turns out that I had stayed there once before, in 1969, when for reasons I never knew, our Girl Scout troop, which otherwise lived as cheaply as possible during our European tour—i.e. sleeping at youth hostels, convents, and the like—spent our last night before flying home at this incredible luxury hotel. It wasn't the least bit familiar to me, but then again, a lot would have changed in more than half a century, and besides, we weren't allowed to leave our room.

During the long taxi ride, Porter had called the number Viking had finally provided for our contact, only to find out that it was some other Viking representative's number, not that of the person dealing with our problem. They wouldn't give out the number of the right person, but assured us she would be waiting for us at the hotel.

She wasn't. Our taxi driver checked us in and walked us up to our room.

We were in some sort of hotel "isolation ward," with at least 18 rooms filled with people from our ship. Considering there were only some 145 passengers on the cruise, and most of the hotel rooms probably housed two people, that's a pretty impressive percentage. And to think that if I could have held off for just one more day we'd never have known. I'm pretty sure that if there had been one more day of testing, Porter would have been positive as well, as it seems he was no more than a day or two behind me.

As prisons go, it could hardly have been better. We were required to stay in our rooms and get our meals via room service. The room service prices were absolutely sky high, but as we were told we had an allowance of 140 francs per person per day, that was okay. (Or so we thought.) If we hadn't been so busy trying to pry information out of Viking, we could have enjoyed it.

To shorten the story, in the end it was the "wrong number" person who eventually helped us the most. The official contact had finally called, much later; she refused to give us her phone number, and would only say that she'd be by the next morning to deal with us. By now you are sensing the pattern: We never heard from her again, despite having told her that we needed to let our family know our status before 9 a.m.

There was no reason for them to keep us in isolation. Switzerland now has no isolation/quarantine requirements, so they couldn't hold us. As far as I can tell, most people in Switzerland either have already had COVID or consider it nothing to worry about.

The only thing holding us back was the need to fulfill Viking's requirements, since they held us hostage by virtue of being the ones who were taking care of our flights back to the U.S. Finally, the "wrong number" Viking contact faxed the hotel a paper for me to sign releasing Viking from all responsibility for my medical care, and Stephan generously made the three-hour drive to Geneva to rescue us.

There was one more unpleasant surprise: just as we were leaving, a hotel employee came running up to inform us that Viking required us to pay the hotel bill in full. We didn't hesitate, though it was over $400 for the few hours we were there. (So much for the food allowance we thought we had!) Porter will be seeing what he can do about reimbursement through either Viking or our travel insurance, but at the time the only thing we were thinking of was getting where we belonged: with family.

And finally we were, having lost only one day of our planned, very busy, schedule. Again, that's material for another post.

From that point on, our only COVID worry was getting the negative test results needed to fly home. Before we left, there had been some speculation that the U. S. would lift the requirement before our return, but alas that did not happen. Our chief concern was that some people continue to test positive long after they've recovered. In hindsight, we probably should have gotten Porter's positive status diagnosed officially, so that we could both get the "recovered from COVID" documentation, but at the time it seemed like an unnecessary expense and, more importantly, disruption to our schedule.

Fortunately, a good collection of at-home tests was available to us. Our first tests, taken 10 days after my initial positive result, came back still positive for both of us. Mine was a little lighter than Porter's, giving me hope that we were progressing in the right direction.

Four days after that, we tested again.

One down, one to go.

Two days later, Porter followed.

Of course, this was not good enough for the U.S. government, which requires tests to be properly documented by an official medical facility, but Stephan found us a place for that purpose and graciously accompanied us for testing. The price was very reasonable, and in less than an hour we had our coveted paperwork, and could pack in earnest. We flew out early the next day, as originally scheduled. The timing was a little too close for comfort, but all's well that ends well.

As much as we love visiting our family, the prospect of an indefinite stay wasn't pleasant for any of us, and the thought that our government could suddenly decide we were not permitted to come home was disconcerting and disorienting. I haven't been so glad to be back on U. S. soil since returning from Venezuela years ago.

As for COVID itself, what was our experience? I'm not certain. The only reason we know we had it is that we were tested. If we'd been at home, we wouldn't have had a clue. For me, the symptoms were very mild and indistinguishable from normal seasonal allergies. Porter's were much milder than an ordinary cold. Neither of us had a fever, lost sense of taste/smell, or had any hint of difficulty breathing.

In hindsight, the day after my positive test was the worst for me. (I didn't know I had COVID at the time.) That was Palm Sunday, our most strenuous day of the cruise: over 16,000 steps (according to my phone), up and down hills, at a pace so brisk I could not stop to take photos without falling significantly behind. I was exhausted by dinnertime, and left the table before dessert was served. (Perhaps the latter should have been a clue.) After that, I found I tired more easily (not uncommon when visiting grandchildren!) and experienced occasional light-headedness. Then one day I suddenly realized I had more energy—and later that day I tested negative. Porter's lingering symptom was a sore throat and tiredness—not that that stopped him from repeatedly playing soccer with our grandsons.

It took us ten to fourteen days to test negative; could we have shortened that by taking to our beds and resting? Maybe. I'm not convinced—though had we been at home I wouldn't have minded a few days of lounging around with a book and copious cups of tea. I'm just so grateful that we were not slowed down either on the cruise or in our family activities. If we had to catch COVID while on vacation and out of the country, it's hard to imagine the timing and course of infection working out better than they did. I'm told the French healthcare system is very good, but I'm happy not to have put that to the test.

Now my vaccination status is once again no one's business but my own. Maybe I'll put back my Facebook profile picture to that effect. Nonetheless, I'm reveling in what I call my super-vaccination: three shots, and recovery from the disease itself. The protection may be temporary, but for now, no one can ask for more. 

And no one can blame Florida's relaxed COVID restrictions for our illnesses. This was no ordinary Southern-style virus, but the high-class, COVID-française. Nothing but the best pour nous!

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 28, 2022 at 6:52 pm | Edit
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Faith's new flight arrangements required us to get to the airport earlier than planned, so church was the only big event of the day (besides flying home). In truth, it would have been the big event no matter what else we had scheduled. Worshipping at Father Trey Garland's new church, St. Paul's By-the-Lake in the Rogers Park neighborhood, was the reason we made this trip.

St. Paul's is not within walking distance from the Palmer House. It is, however, within walking distance from the Jarvis L stop, so that's what we did.

We had planned to go out to lunch with Father Trey after the service. An unexpected death in the congregation made that impossible, however, so we were very thankful for what seemed at the time to be a very annoying mistake.

For some unknown reason, our cell phones, which were set to change time zones automatically, occasionally and apparently randomly flipped back and forth between Eastern and Central Time. Unbeknownst to him, this happened to Porter's phone while we were enjoying a leisurely breakfast at the Corner Café. He looked at the time as we were getting up to leave—and suddenly we were running for the train. We made it, and only later realized we had arrived at the church an hour early.

Which, as I said, turned out to be perfect, as Father Trey had time between services to give us the grand tour of the church and the rectory. It was wonderful to see him again and catch up a little bit. Then there was the service itself....  (Only masks required.)

I don't expect most of my readers to comprehend what it meant to me to worship at a service that used both the 1928 Prayer Book and the 1940 Hymnal.  We received a warm welcome in the service and a personal prayer for our travels. And most of the the service was SUNG. (Not the sermon, in case you were wondering, though I wouldn't put it past Father Trey to try that sometime.)

My heart overflowed.

All too soon, we reluctantly said farewell and made our way back to Midway. We had much more time than we needed, but given the circumstances and the fact that there wasn't really time to do anything else of substance, we decided to spend our waiting time at the airport, on the other side of security. After dinner, we saw Faith off to Baltimore. Her "grandmothers" (me plus the two choir ladies) may have been a bit nervous, but she was looking forward to having a couple of hours with an airport to explore and $20 to spend.

Finally, it was our turn. After an uneventful flight and drive from the airport, we arrived home very nearly the same time Faith did.

The unanimous conclusion was that any time Porter wants to exercise his travel agent skills and organize another trip, this group will be happy to sign on again. But perhaps in a warmer season.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 2, 2022 at 5:32 pm | Edit
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For breakfast, we once again opted for convenience: the Corner Bakery Café, right next to the Palmer House. (ID and vax pass required, though if we had done take-out we might have been able to avoid that.) One of the reasons Porter chose the Palmer House as our hotel was that it is right in the middle of most of what we planned to do. Our goal this morning, the Art Institute of Chicago, was only a short walk away.

We didn't go there directly, however, but stopped along the way at Millennium Park. (I only just discovered that link, which turns out to be somewhat depressing. First of all, it comes with a bright pink ad at the top for the COVID-19 vaccine. Then there's the list of prohibited items, including jackknives, pets, and suitcases. Chicago is weirder than I thought. For us, it was just a pleasant little city park with an arresting sculpture in the middle. No one asked for proof of vaccination, and we didn't even have to wear our masks. (But we sometimes did, for the warmth.)

On to the Art Institute! (ID, vax passes, and masks required.)

One great advantage of a large museum is that the art is diverse. The weird art and still weirder commentary is there, but it's avoidable. Our party split up here, for maximum flexibility.

The Art Institute hosts an impressive collection of masterworks. For me, one of the most fun was Van Gogh's Bedroom, chiefly because it meant we have now seen all three of Van Gogh's versions of the painting: one in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris (2007), the next at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (2018), and finally this one (2022).

Those of us who have spent time with Porter in museums expected we'd be there from opening until the museum closed, but as it happened we all ran out of energy at the same time, leaving the museum about an hour and a half early in favor of dinner and some rest before our big evening event: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert.

There wasn't as much rest as we had hoped. Did I mention that we were visiting Chicago in the middle of winter? And that on this night a big winter storm was hitting the Northeast? While we were supposed to be resting, we got the news that Faith's Sunday flight from Chicago to Boston had been cancelled. Ours to Orlando was still good, but we were not about to get on a plane and leave a thirteen-year-old behind to spend the night alone in the airport (or even in a hotel). We batted around several possible options, including one in which one of our choir ladies volunteered to give up her Orlando-bound seat to Faith, rent a car, and go visit her sister, who lived a mere four-hour drive from Chicago!

Cooler heads prevailed, however, and as the concert time approached, Faith's mom told us firmly, "Faith has been greatly looking forward to this concert, so go and enjoy it. We will take care of the problem." So off we went, once again on foot, as Symphony Center is only a short walk from the Palmer House. ID, vax pass, and yes, masks were once again the order of the day night. By now were were getting pretty good at the drill, and Faith's extra-large paperwork was still bringing smiles.

While Faith's dad worked on her problem, the four of us had our own work to do once we entered the concert hall. Twenty-four hours before our flight time was just 10 minutes before the start of the concert. Since we were flying Southwest, that meant we were checking in from our concert seats. That could have worked out very well—except that our seats were in a wireless dead zone and the four of us were soon seen scurrying around the lobby waving our phones and searching for a signal. (I found one near the restrooms.) Finally, it was "mission accomplished" for us, and more critically, for Faith, whose dad had found her a flight that went to Manchester, NH with a plane change in Baltimore. Not ideal, with the risk of the connecting flight being itself cancelled, but if Faith and her parents were comfortable with it, who were we to impose our fears on them? Just in time, we were able to settle down and enjoy the music of Vivaldi and Handel. (Click on program images to enlarge.)


Faith, Porter, and I had special seats—behind the orchestra. We were nearly close enough to read the players' music. Most of the musicians had standard sheet music, but the harpsichord player used an iPad with a foot pedal for turning pages.

Best of all was being directly opposite conductor Riccardo Muti and able to see his skill close-up. He did not use a baton, but did all his directing with his hands. Correction—he also used his face, and did not wear a mask. What he did was as far from "keeping the beat" as you can imagine. He sculpted the music. At times he didn't appear to conduct at all, letting the musicians do their work, adding just a small hand gesture here, an eyebrow twitch there. Absolutely fascinating.

We had come prepared for a cold, cold walk in bitter wind after the concert, but it really wasn't bad at all. A balmy 21 degrees and almost pleasant. The coldest temperature I saw during the whole trip was 12 degrees, and at that time I was snuggled warmly in bed.

We had earned our rest this day. The next would bring delight of a different sort.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, March 30, 2022 at 9:25 am | Edit
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