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People are always asking Bob what’s retirement like; do you miss doctoring, what do you do all day? For an old codger he remains pretty busy. He just started flying again, and will have to study and practice to get his instrument rating up to date. After all, who doesn’t want to fly through clouds? And he packed up a U-Haul truck with some of our furniture, drove it over 500 miles to Nashville, and is currently reupholstering some chairs!

Now, if you were to ask ME what his retirement is like, you might get another story. A therapist once told me that he explains it this way to the men he counsels: “Imagine you’re still working, and your wife comes into your office and sits down by your desk every day. And never leaves.”

Is that transparent enough?

The first time I heard the word transparent to describe people and not paper, or windows, was from my psychologist brother, Dr Jim’s lips. Years ago he was talking about people from California, because he’d married Anita in Big Sur and chose to live and work there among the tomato and wine vineyards. In general, he was describing  someone who is happy in their own skin, who is not guarded.

Think of Woody Allen movies, where the lighting is so scorchingly bright on the West Coast, and diffuse and dark on the East.

The next time I heard about transparency was while writing for The Berkshire Eagle. I learned that reporters could access any and all public records. You may not remember this, but back in the day when women had to be married to get birth control and credit cards, many records were sealed, including our own medical records! And then we the people passed “Sunshine Laws!”

Through sunshine laws, administrative agencies are required to do their work in public, and as a result, the process is sometimes called “government in the sunshine.” A law that requires open meetings ordinarily specifies the only instances when a meeting can be closed to the public and mandates that certain procedures be followed before a particular meeting is closed. The Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C.A. § 552) requires agencies to share information they have obtained with the public. Exceptions are permitted, in general, in the interest of national security or to safeguard the privacy of businesses. http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Sunshine+Law

The Freedom of Information Act was passed by Congress in 1966 and not surprisingly was spearheaded by California Congressman John Moss. If you’d like to look up a Citizen’s Guide to Using the Freedom of Information Act and the amended Privacy Act of 1974, you will find the following quote from our 4th President who lived right over the hill at Montpelier:

“A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”  James Madison

So we should arm ourselves with knowledge. That. Bears. Repeating. I’ve been thinking alot lately about how this Russian thing is a “Prologue to a Farce,” or perhaps even a tragedy in the form of treason.

Now the third time I thought about transparency was after being elected to a school board. Because it really wasn’t until I found myself on the other side of the table, the side that held closed meetings to discuss policy and personnel, that I realized there is a Yin and Yang, a dark and a light side to everything. Of course we didn’t want to disclose “on the record” why a teacher wasn’t getting tenure, and of course that teacher’s union could appeal to an administrative law judge, but in reality Due Process takes time…

These are the times that try our souls. Mr T has been celebrating Bastille Day, which is like our Fourth of July, in Paris. He was parading around, shaking hands a little less forcefully, while still defending his dear boy Donald Jr from the “Witch Hunt” of “Fake News.” One glaringly inappropriate, if not sexist, remark to Brigette Macron, the First Lady of France, stands out. Looking her up and down he said:

“You’re in such great shape,” then Mr T turned to her husband Emmanuel Macron, nodding approval and delivered one word, “Beautiful.”

Maybe he hasn’t seen many 60+ year old women in his tower, after all he’s traded in trophy wives a few times. We have a lecherous ex-Miss Universe owner for a President who is running our country like a reality show. To quote Olivia, “Let’s get physical, let’s get into physical. Let me hear your body talk.” Is that transparent enough?

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I know it sounds a bit bizarre, but we are home from the South of France by way of meeting an old high school friend in Heathrow Airport courtesy of Facebook. Edie and her husband Steve had been traveling around Great Britain and we’d been following each other’s exploits – she kissed the Blarney stone, I made a quiche. You know how these things go. Facebook envy, it attacks when we least expect it…it’s what started us out on this journey; my vicarious following of a Facebook friend and her buddies hunting for mushrooms in Italy!

After a grueling day of travel in three airports in three countries, covering about 4,500 miles and traveling through many time zones, I had to roll all over the floor with my deliriously happy dog…then I turned on the TV last night to watch Bill Murray receive the Mark Twain Prize for Humor on PBS. I figured it would be better than a jolt of CNN after such a long news-free sabbatical. I missed the run-up, but caught his surprisingly sentimental speech, which actually took place at the kennedy Center last October, before the election. http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/watch-bill-murray-accept-mark-twain-prize-for-american-humor-w446373

Remember those happy Camelot days? Before Mr T (BT), when we thought anything was possible for our country, when we had a statesman, a gentleman for a President, and a First lady who actually lived with him and they seemed to love each other? Government may have been clunky at times, but it worked and was moving toward a brighter future for ALL Americans. After Macron’s victory in France, I was feeling pretty bleak about our state of affairs.

And on our last day in St Remy, I met a delightful, older (probably 80+) British woman who was traveling alone. I helped to translate a store clerk’s French for her – it seemed she had taken a bus to this town and the clerk thought that with the rain and the hills in the next town she should rest at the local cafe. It was too hilly and slippery the clerk said to this elegant, grey haired lady with a cane. Then my fellow traveler turned to me and asked, “Are you an American?”

“Unfortunately,” I replied, “I am.”

She looked me straight in the eye and wagged her finger at me and said in her proper British accent, “No, no, you must be proud to be an American! I am sure you are referring to Trump?” And I shook my head resolutely. In fact, I nearly cried. Some people you meet in passing bring out that Ann Tyler moment for each of us. Then she took my hand and told me that he will not last forever, that my people are smarter and stronger and there will be change. That everything changes.

So I sat with Bob at a cafe for an almond pastry and deux cappuccino and I told him her story. And we talked about how Europe takes the broad, balcony view; because of their history, maybe Brexit will be just a blip on the larger screen.

And as I was falling asleep in our own comfy bed, in that place between reality and dreams, I thought of meeting our friends at Heathrow, like the movie Love Actually. And I thought about Bill Murray’s speech, talking about the trampoline in his heart. That love is like that, it bounces out to touch others. People beyond continents and time.

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Choosing to paint, to create for your life’s work is never easy. So many artists were only discovered by the art world late in life, or even after death. Today we visited the small town of Arles, where Van Gogh lived for a short time. He had been committed to an asylum on the outskirts of town, where he painted “The Weeders.”

The museum devoted to Vincent was small with less than a dozen of his paintings. But the exhibit that grabbed me, that caught me by the throat was about an American woman artist I had never heard of; someone who was from my home state of PA. Her paintings and a video of her life drew me into the Flapper’s world. One that was less than kind to passionate women. 

Alice Neel was a portraitist who lost her first child and her second was taken away by the state. She had a compulsion to paint and her brush strokes had as much fire as the Dutch man in the other room. You could feel the pain of her subjects. 

And when she said in an interview that she always felt guilty for painting – and not keeping house as women were expected to do – until the Whitney exhibited her work when she was in her 80s, my heart skipped a beat. 

She was a sweet, beaming grandmother at that point. And when they wanted her to stop her slide show, she peed on the floor. 

On purpose. 

How many women artists have we lost over the years? How many more have I never heard of? I am in love with Provence, even in the cold and the rain. You have won me over! Maybe this beach house idea is misguided?

Here is Andy Warhol with what looks like surgical scars. 

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Another day, another market. For me this is the best way to travel; visit vintage and farmers’ markets, climb up medieval cobblestone hills with lavender wind in my hair. No laundry, no cleaning, no schedule and three cooks preparing delicious dinners every night. 

Bob just jumped into the pool because the sun has returned. Provence is warming up, the rain has stopped and it looks as if Liberty Egalite and Fraternite will win this election – the French people are voting today for inclusion, for freedom, for Macron! Tonight we will all eat cake because it’s Catherine’s birthday!

Catherine is a recovery room nurse with a golden retriever at home, who looks just like our villa dog Flash. Only Flash is a brilliant black with a white stripe down his chest. 

Tomorrow is cooking class! Ratatouille and bouillabaisse are on the menu along with an evening of wine tasting in Luberon.  I’ve never actually had to cut up a whole fish, head to tail, so wish me luck. 

And desserts? Mais oui for lunch and dinner! I’m afraid I may never eat another American strawberry again, they are so sweet here. I’m also afraid to get back on a scale when we return home. Our fabulous tour hosts are Marco, Claudio and Suzanna of https://www.whatscookin.it/

They pamper us, they drive us, they delight us every day. Barbara is teaching me about truffles because I’ve always wondered what the whole mystique is about; the smell, the tree roots, the dogs. And I’m proud to say we had some freshly grated on eggs this morning because this area is actually truffle heaven. 

I bought a couple of grams in a small shop that looks like an abbey – they are dried December truffles that smell like chocolate. I’m hoping my cousin Kenny the chef will give me a recipe or two. I was thinking of maybe sprinkling them on a white pizza? For now I must hide them from fearless Flash. 

We will light a fire and turn on the TV tonight to see the official results. Macron needs more than 60% to govern well. I am falling more in love with France every day, the language, the people, the cuisine! 

Maybe I can talk Bob into buying some inoculated filbert trees for growing truffles? I hear that TN terrain is ripe for the special symbiotic relationship it takes to create such a gastronomic delight. I wonder if Ms Bean could be trained…

Cheers to learning new things! And to my French friends for fighting fear and voting for Love. We needed them during our Revolution and we still do! 

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I hear small pieces of news from the states, like a dream I cannot remember all the pieces. Did Mika and Joe get engaged? Did Congress actually dismantle the ACA? Did somebody win the voice?

But I woke and forgot these snippets of memory to listen to coffee being ground and birds singing. My back is still tender, so after a rainy, magical walk around Aix yesterday we have decided to hang by the pool today and worship the sun. There is a medieval city across a field of wild thyme, and depending on our mood, we may take a stroll after lunch. 

Some people travel to live, and some live to travel. Like food, one can let it consume your life. And I have never been a good traveler, I’m more of a stay-at-home, non-traveler type. Maybe it was Nell and her agoraphobia, or maybe it was my semi-homeless upbringing, never feeling at home with one mother or the other, always between two families.

But our new “family” for this trip is a happy and healthy bunch staying in a secluded villa. It all started on Facebook with one of the Big Chill’s sister. Barb is a retired physician and organizes groups of friends who love food (check), love to cook (check), and love to hunt fungi (um no). Well at least I’ve never gone foraging for mushrooms, and wouldn’t know a real one from a poisonous one, but this group does. We are eleven Americans, nearly half in health related fields.

This is a different kind of trip. No traipsing through the forest on a fungi treasure hunt, just visiting open-air markets and sightseeing in the South of France. At the end of each day, our chefs have prepared fabulous meals with local ingredients. For instance, this area is known as Luberon and it is famous for wine of course, and melons! Last night we had melon ice cream for dessert and it was the freshest most delicious ice cream I’ve ever tasted in my whole life!

We are too early for the fabulous fields of lavender- that happens the end of June and early July, so as Bob likes to say, “We must return.” Because soon Bob will be getting his wings back, and I know he will want to fly away whenever and wherever the Mistral wind blows him. 

Today we miss the flower and farmers’ markets, the Roman ruins and the wine tasting at Chateauneuf du Pape. Maybe tomorrow we will be ship-shape for our trip to Avignon. I will stretch and I will swim, getting stronger every day. But right now, reading by the pool would be divine. On Sunday the French will decide their future, so who knows? Maybe Bob and I will be stranded here in Paradise. 

I had better brush up on my French, n’est ce pas?  

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Tell me something good
Tell me that you love me, yeah

This Rufus & Chaka Khan song has been spinning through my head for days. Penned by Stevie Wonder, it’s not so much a funky love song to me, as it is a plea to our newly elected executive branch to stop worrying about a nuclear arms race. And rolling back civil rights, including where we can take a leak. Cause it’s not about bathrooms boys!

So here’s something good Bob and I have been planning for weeks now – a trip to the South of France. And it’s OK that the French are ratcheting up their own particular brand of politics, because I don’t plan on reading anything about their election. This trip will be purely hedonistic; we’ll be staying at a villa with a group of friends and a CHEF!  And we will be learning how to cook French food!

As some of you may know, Bob loves to travel. His parents carted him around the world as a child. I recently saw some early footage of 7 year old Bob lugging a gigantic pair of binoculars off a boat in the Caribbean. Plus, since we affirmed our Ancestry DNA I’ve realized that he has a strong nomadic gene that keeps his eyes searching for the horizon, or an oasis, or something… If he sits still for too long in one place, his biology may actually change! His fingers and toes start to tingle and off he goes!

Me, travel? Not so much. Maybe it’s my biology too? After all, the Irish always knew to “Pay the rent first” since their Protestant landlords could throw them off their farms at a moment’s notice. And then there’s my Year of Living Dangerously, which lead to my own nomadic existence. Driving back and forth across the Delaware Water Gap to visit the Flapper who was recuperating from the automobile accident. I had a paradoxical upbringing, filled with unconditional love from two very different families who tried to share me equally.

Instead of thriving on this NJ to PA cross-cultural-border parenting, I became an adult who preferred to stay at home with a nice cup of tea, or a glass of wine. I might have become agoraphobic if it wasn’t for the Flapper. She instilled in me a love for learning about other people, for listening to their stories. And there’s only so much one can learn from their own front porch.

We travel light, two carry-ons. And this time no children, or grandchildren, which is only the second time for us; we did that Viking cruise last year. I’ve heard that the first ten to fifteen years of retirement people travel quite a bit, and knowing Bob I had better be prepared with travel-size toiletries. I will keep a bag packed.

This morning i stumbled upon an article in the Travel section of BBC News, “50 Reasons to #LoveTheWorld.” Stunning photographs and insight into why (some) people love to travel. My reason might be “Because widening my experience of other cultures deepens my capacity for compassion.” It also helps me live in the NOW, since I love to leave lots of time unplanned to discover the unexpected.

http://www.bbc.com/travel/gallery/20161122-50-reason-to-lovetheworld–2016-edition

But first I have to make a poster for the Town Hall we’ll be attending this weekend at the local high school. The one our GOP Rep Tom Garrett refuses to attend after hosting two cowardly Facebook meetings: “The Facebook event couldn’t really even be considered a town hall. It was more Tom Garrett reading pre-written statements into a camera. Constituents continually said that the Facebook event was insufficient and that they needed an in-person town hall where there could be an actual conversation between Tom Garrett and his constituents. Garrett ultimately refused to hold such an event, saying of his events during the congressional recess that ‘most will be online’”  http://bluevirginia.us/2017/02/tom-garrett-tried-avoid-constituents-holding-virtual-town-hall-facebook-not-go-well

Sorry for that bit of Bad News Garrett from the 5th Congressional District of the Old Dominion. On a lighter note, Ms Bean always wants to go outside to her slice of sun on the deck! Enjoy this beautiful Spring weather everyone.  ps, that’s a pomelo we didn’t pick from a tree, like we did in California (insert smile emoji). And it sits atop a French waxed tablecloth of lavender from the French West Indies.img_0125

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I remember what our cousin Jamie said to me a few days after 9/11. Her husband worked on Wall Street and she lived just a few blocks away from us on the Jersey Shore. “This is how the Israelis live every day.” It made me stop and think. To live in fear of the next suicide bomber on a bus, of a woman totally covered with hijab or a burka, or a terrorist, dressed as a policeman, with a bomb-exploding vest strapped to his chest. You learn not to trust anyone unless you know them, you build a safe room in your house, and then you go about your life.

I had to tell myself that the 9/11 terrorists shaved their beards and tried to look “normal” when they boarded our planes if I found myself profiling people in airline terminals. I remembered the Irish girl who’s Arab boyfriend packed a bomb in her suitcase the day before we landed in Heathrow. She was flying ElAl, so of course even in the 80s they found the bomb and arrested them. When the Bride lived in Paris her Junior year at Duke, she was profiled while trying to attend high holy day services at a synagogue. Could she recite the Hebrew prayers? After all, she didn’t “look” Jewish. Terrorists don’t all look like ninjas.

One news affiliate reported that one of the French suspects wanted to kill Jews, but his handler told him it was better to avenge their prophet by killing cartoonists. In a way this was a mistake. Because explaining the massacre of Jewish people, even today, fits into a tidy European notion of the Mid-East Conflict playing out in their neighborhood. It’s like saying black-on-black or gang-on-gang gun violence in the US doesn’t really matter because it doesn’t affect US. Mais non, let them kill each other is what conservative talk radio will say. Arab vs Jew? It’s a biblical dilemma right?

The Islamist terror campaign in Europe has focused on Jews and cartoonists, but it will not end with Jews and cartoonists. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/01/europe-is-under-siege/384305/

But flying planes into the Twin Towers, and now this massacre at a satirical French weekly, Charlie Hebdo, this brings the utter monstrosity of these Islamist zealots to light. It’s not just that they hate Jews, which they do, but they hate all of us…Westerners who speak freely and allow our art to be exhibited and our women to walk without covering our hair in the street.

Yes we allow photographs of a crucifix dipped into the artist’s urine to be displayed, and a painting of the Madonna in elephant dung to be in a museum. I am rather peeved that only the Huffington Post had the balls to publish the offending prophet cartoons. I guess the NYT doesn’t want to employ armed guards for its editors? Maybe every publication in the free world should pick a day to publish the offending cartoons? We should be like the Danes in WWII.

What this Paris attack has shown us, is that we are all living like Israelis now, whether we admit it or not.

If you want an in-depth look into how disaffected, home-grown terrorists are recruited from Europe and the US and taught to hate and kill in Yemen and Syria and Iraq, I’ve found this Foreign Policy website to be most instructive: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/01/09/live-coverage-multiple-hostage-standoffs-in-charlie-hebdo-hunt/

The terrorists in Paris want to die as martyrs, I say let them, and change the word to criminals.

By Ruben L Oppenheimer

By Ruben L Oppenheimer

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