The Whole Picture is Nothing But a Compilation of Details.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Spot light: Ecotourism in San Martin de los Andes, Argentina

According to several sources, Argentina’s Ministry of Tourism forecasted that 2010 would set a new record number of foreign visitors to this South American nation, which enjoyed a 32% overall growth in arrivals during the summer months from 2002-2009 according to the Bureau of Market Research and Statistics SecTur. Since greed is a constant and proven threat to sustainability worldwide, I asked what, if anything, is being done to ensure that nature-based tourism (not to be confused with the term “eco-tourism”) in Argentina is enjoyed without jeopardizing the quality and sustainability of the resources themselves?
The government of Argentina realized the importance of tourism and responded to the growth by forming a separate Ministério de Turismo in July 2010. Better late than never, I thought as I typed in their web address , admittedly skeptical of what I would find in way of information pertaining to sustainable travel. Pleasantly surprised, I found a website, much more progressive and focused of sustainability than I had expected: Offered in English, Spanish and Portuguese, the site divides tourism geographically and into seven subcategories: active tourism, sport tourism, world heritage, cultural tourism, special interest, health tourism, and Route 40 (which traverses Argentina north-south). I also learned that Argentina made the list “The Developing World’s Best Ethical Destinations 2010/2011”, generated by Ethical Traveler, a non-profit organization formed to “empower travelers to change the world”. This annual ranking is based on categories such as environmental protection, social welfare, and human rights. 
Humbled and encouraged by what I found on a national level, I turned my focus to San Martin de los Andes, a town of 24,000 residents in the Nequén region of Patagonia, Argentina, which can easily be referred to as “Chamonix Mont Blanc of the Andes”. 
Much like its French counterpart, tourism is the main socioeconomic activity of San Martin de los Andes, due to the abundant natural resources in the area. The influx of tourists during peak seasons is remarkable, and Brazilians, Porteños from Buenos Aires, Chileans, Europeans, Canadians and Americans fill every café, hospedaje, kayak, and lift chair July through September for snow based activities, and December through March for all imaginable outdoor activities not requiring snow, from hiking, sailing, and climbing, to fishing and horseback riding. Just like the Alps, but in Spanish and without the cows.     
I visited the official website of San Martin de los Andes, which is informative but offered only in Spanish, something I am certain will change soon to also include English and Portuguese. In addition to the pages relating to how to get there and where to stay, the site has pages devoted to sustainable tourism, disabled travelers, and their system for tourism quality, a three-phase educational plan designed to guarantee standards for quality and sustainability within the tourism industry. I clicked on “turismo sustenable” where I learned that the department of tourism is dedicated to managing all the resources so that the economic, social and aesthetic necessities can be satisfied at the same time that they conserve cultural integrity, the essential ecological processes, the biological diversity and the ecosystems that support the life.
Encouraged by the official initiatives, but aware that nothing happens without participation on the frontlines, I took my query one step further down the food chain and with the help of a local friend, spoke with guides, and tour operators in the area. Their combined response was overwhelmingly positive and it is with pleasure I conclude that even though there is still work to do, people on all levels are truly catching on to the importance of promoting tourism whilst helping preserve natural resources and local economies for future generations to come. Por fin.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Destination Cajon del Maipo, Chile

One hour southwest of Santiago, capital of Chile, lays a valley cradled by snowcapped mountains that enjoys a Mediterranean climate, a rich history, and amazing natural resources, including glaciers, lakes, hot springs, volcanoes and rivers, ideal for all outdoor activities imaginable. It is hard to picture that millions of years ago this area was submerged, a discovery confirmed by the findings of marine fossils, still to this day.
Welcome to Cajón del Maipo, a historically rich Mecca for outdoor enthusiasts.
The first humans to settle in the area were the hunting and hardy Chiquillanes Indians; there is also evidence of the presence of the Inca’s in the 1500’s. In the late 1800’s, the mining of silver and other minerals attracted new settlers. (Today the rich mineral content is much enjoyed in the numerous hot springs.). In more recent history, 1992 – 2002, the population grew by 14.9%, to a little over 13,000.
The proximity to Santiago and its almost five million inhabitants is a curse and a blessing. Cajón del Maipo is the perfect weekend destination, which means crowds but also revenue potential for the area.
Global awareness for responsible tourism has grown in recent years, as reports of diminishing and damaged natural and cultural resources make front page news almost on a daily basis. More and more legislation is put in place and local governments and tourism organizations around the world are designing programs to help protect their resources; natural, cultural, economical, historical etcetera. Chile is no exception. Below are examples specific to Cajón del Maipo.
  • In 2001, the town San Jose del Maipo, founded in 1792, was recognized as a zone of touristic interest, and its historic town  center of colonial buildings marked for preservation by Chile’s National Monuments Council.
  • A heritage guide for the area is expected to be released in March 2011.
  • Inaugurated on January 11, 2011, a new initiative and the first of its kind in the area, brings clean energy to Baños Morales, a small village situated at the confluence of rivers Morales and Volcán.
On January 13, 2011, the national tourism agency “Sernatur” launched Chile’s first official tourism site. Disappointingly, it is without any mention of ecological preservation or involvement of local cultures.
Should we be alarmed that the government is not placing enough emphasis on saving Chile’s resources?
  • Chile is a well developed nation, with a highly educated population, proud of their natural resources, eager and committed to preserve and educate on a grass roots level.
  • Efforts and investments made nationwide and in neighboring countries in the past ten to fifteen years by tourism industry professionals local governments, the park services and others is very encouraging. It may have been a trend slow to catch on, but it truly seems the floodgates are about to come down. Note the dates on the events listed above.
In an ideal world, current problems, results of exploitation of one kind or another should have never happened. Well, we all know that hindsight is 20/20, so what we can do now is to vote with our feet and change the way we travel, thereby halt and hopefully reverse some of the damage done.
Please do your share.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Travelling by the Seat of my Pants

Taking time off your normal everyday life (wait, did I say normal?) takes preparation and planning. I did neither. One and a half hours before my 7 am departure I still needed to shower and pack. But let me fill you in: I actually had a plan, only it was sabotaged by a sick horse that carefully chose his time to colic to coincide with my leaving work early to start my five-week long vacation in South America. I bet you didn’t know that horses only ever get sick when you have firm plans to be elsewhere…
Leaving work early before vacation is like nailing jello to a tree. Since I’m a stickler for making sure everything is in good order before I go away I am late leaving work from the minute I start my day. To finish it all, I cancel dinner and drinks with friends, and am just about to leave when a big dark bay gelding falls ill to a point of needing hand walking for hours and hours and vet care. I call to inform the local vet that she will be late for dinner as she is supposed to be at the very same dinner I cancelled. She arrives moments later, and with half the guest list at the barn, the other fifty percent stop by with a bottle of wine. My hay supplier is in the area and calls to wish me a nice vacation, so I invite him to join the party. He is a little disappointed with the lack of food, and the wine which smells like rotten, disintegrating horse feet. I try to improve it with a candy cane, but there is simply no saving it. At 9:50 pm, the horse seems to have turned a corner and is alert and happy, so I leave. I only just walk in the door of my house as the phone rings. It is the man who does night check… “Horse is back down”. Damn.  I feed the cat quickly and grab my laundry, which still needs to be washed before I leave in ten hours. My sandwich falls on the floor but there is no doubt the ten-second rule applies: It is the only food I have held in my hand since breakfast.
Back at the barn, I take over from the night staff, who’s walking the horse when I arrive. This time it is not a matter of a meager four hours to get the horse through his belly ache– no, this time we carry on through the night. At midnight, I insist the night staff and the other visitors leave as I can still make my plane if I leave the barn at seven – the time the morning crew arrives.
There is something very special about being alone in a barn full of horses. Especially at night. Those of you who have know what I’m talking about. The rest of you I hope will experience it someday. I prefer winter to summer because of the silence. No birds, no swishing tails and best of all, no pesky flies: only the sound of the horses sleeping. Add light snow falling softly, and I hope you can feel the stillness.
In this serene environment I walk a dark bay horse up and down the aisle countless times. After two hours he looks and acts well enough to be left in his stall for a little while. On the floor in the office, I wrap myself in a fluffy horse blanket, use my clean laundry as a pillow and curl up waiting for the alarm to go off an hour later so I can walk the bay horse again.
At 5 am, after a long night of hand walking, Banamine, the wonder drug, purging of intestines, and hot mash, yes, all for the horse, I am comfortable enough with his well-being to take to the dark, snowy roads and head out. At home at last, I ponder if I should drink that “after work” beer or have breakfast. I shower and sit down, utterly drained, desperate for sleep. With thirty-five minutes til I must leave for the airport, somehow my hands slowly, absentmindedly make me breakfast and begin to place things in my backpack. Thank God they didn’t hand me a beer.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


I sense someone is watching me as I get dressed this morning. Slightly uncomfortable in my naked state, I look around. There, from underneath my white dresser: My favorite flip flops peering out with an apologetic expression. Reminding me of their being. I put them in my pile of things to go to Patagonia.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pete On a Plane

Chapter One:

I'm safely stowed in the overhead compartment. Nooone can see me here, but I can see everyone. Best seat in the plane, by far. I watch as six passengers play musical chairs as orchestrated by the air steward to accommodate PegLeg, who's my best friend. PegLeg never wants to inconvenience anyone, so you may not have noticed that being temporarily disabled due to knee surgery really bothers her mind a lot. But I know better...  It makes me happy to see that she's taken care of and I understand why she insists on flying with this airline. The air steward shares lots of funny stories about passengers flying with medical conditions. One had had breast surgery and the stitches ripped out, resulting in her bleeding all over the place. Talk about embarrassing!

As I'm busy watching people, PegLeg watches the movie "Eat. Pray. Love." with Julia Roberts and I can tell from watching her that she relates to some of it (canned or not) from her past private experiences. And she loves resting her eyes on that Spanish actor Javier Bardem.

I don't need to use the bathroom, but it strikes me how small they are on a plane and wonder how PegLeg is going to fit. Thankfully, she's not too tall and if she angles her foot 90° she can fit and close the door. By the way, has anyone figured out why turbulence only happens when the restrooms are in use? Or for that matter, how this big metal structure can fly?

PegLeg and I were going to see the Swedish countryside by train by flying into the capital of Denmark and take the train from there to Stockholm. We were both really looking forward to it, but as the stars would have it, we arrive London late and miss our connecting flight. The line to rebook is long, as many of the scheduled planes have been cancelled due to heavy snow falls in Germany and Switzerland. PegLeg has her big knee brace on, thus we get well taken care of, but also subject to a lot of extra security screening. Noone asks about me though... Our airline cannot get us to Copenhagen in time for the train but PegLeg tries her luck and suggests with a big smile that perhaps there is room on a flight to Stockholm instead...? Today is our lucky day! As many other passengers are stranded for as much as two days, we get booked on the flight PegLeg wanted to get on when she first booked the tickets for this journey!

A Danish man is seated diagonally across from us. Behind him is a slight, very unassuming, quiet man with long legs. The Dane suddenly snaps his head around and barks: "My seat is in the upright position and there is NO need for your knees to be in my back!" The slight man looks puzzled, surprised at the unexpected attack and readjusts his legs. Then the Dane slams his seat into the reclined position. Out of spite. "What is happening to mankind", I wonder. “Why couldn't he have asked kindly”? Instead, he repeats the scenario one hour later. No Christmas gifts for that man. Nor for the parents of the dreadfully behaved children behind us.

Luggage on our backs, we board the bus to the city center. Due to our change in travel plans we are going to PegLeg's parents instead of to her sister as originally planned. Suddenly, PegLeg's face lights up and I ask why. "Mmmm" she says. "Mum and Dad have an amazing bathtub. She's looking forward to submersing herself completely and enjoy the peace and quiet. But darn it! I didn't bring a bathing suit! I bet she'll keep me out of it... 

There is a lot of snow here in Stockholm, Sweden, which is why PegLeg's parents won't pick us up at Arlanda Airport. Very wise of them to decline. PegLeg told me about the time a few years ago when they were forced off the road by a big ten-wheel garbage truck. I'm glad I wasn't with her then.

Phew, today was a long day. I think I am going to sleep like a rock.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Over decades of time, traditions can turn any day into a holy day. Christmas is one of those days for many:

Children with bright eyes, gleaming with joy are made to believe in Santa Claus, who is no more than dad or grampy is disguise. This however takes years to figure out, as older siblings play along in keeping the younger ones in the dark until they one day discover the truth themselves, and join forces with "the other side" and continue the tradition of purposely keeping those not yet in the know, in the dark. This tradition is as old as Santa himself... Dad's annual disappearing act is never questioned as Santa is absolutely hypnotizing as he comes pushing through the snow, burlap sac on his back, lantern in hand casting light on his path. He bangs on the door and demands to know in a booming voice if there are any nice children and tasty libations in the house. No wonder he frightens the very young.

Let's start at the beginning: The madness begins the 1st of Advent, which marks four weeks of frenzied activity: buying gifts; sending out Christmas cards; obtaining and decorating the tree; making gingerbread cookies, saffron bread, toffee, ham, salads with kale and beetroot, sausage, meatballs, porrage (for Santa), sill; creating a riddle for each and every gift that goes under the tree; putting up lights and decorations around the whole house. And outside too. It's absolute mayhem. And worth every effort. Easy for me to say... who drop in a few days before Christmas and do nothing of the forementioned, but enjoy the increased level of energy all around town, sipping a latte, smiling, watching hurried people scurrying around, elbowing their way through a parcel-packed crowd. I'm on vacation.
My Christmas begins at 9 am when I wake up, listening for the Christmas carols mum always plays on Christmas morning. Not before. Not after. Only at Christmas. Since it isn't playing I can't get up. Besides, I know it soon will, as I am to be woken up at 9:15, in time to get ready to go to my sister's house to meet her in-laws for the first time. She's been married for ten years and they want to verify that I am made of flesh and blood, and not just an imaginary aunt who lives in the US.

Blustery but dry cold keeps me company on my walk down memory lane, through Södra Ängby, a neighborhood that looks like a colony of sugar cubes. The architect behind almost all of the 500 houses is Edvin Engström and they were built between 1930 and 1939. The architecture is what we say in Sweden "functionalism" - modern architecture with influences from cubism. This is where I grew up, these houses occupied by my friends from grades 1 - 9. Some of them have taken over their parents' homes and now have children who are classmates with my nieces and nephews. Strange place to visit...

The three children, and the in-laws are all dressed in Christmas garb, like Santa's little helpers and are already into a few gifts but moreover, deeply into the sugary goodies. Us adults sit down to "fika", which can be translated as a moment together, with coffee and "and". "And" varies, but is always a cookie, bisquit or a pastry of some sort. Today it's saffronbread, orange biscotti, gingerbread cookies, toffee and chocolate pralines. Homemade, of course. It is Christmas. It should be noted that "fika" is holy, and vastly different from "having a cup of coffee".

With time to spare before the remainder of the family arrives, I take a walk to get some fresh air. Yes, it is     -15°C, and it is lovely outside. What was a really, really long walk as a child takes me fifteen minutes so I carry on, walking as far as I can without crossing my own path (who wants to walk in circles?), a limiting factor in a small neighborhood. Many other people have the same idea as I do and we nod and wish each other a Merry Christmas. The atmosphere is peaceful and friendly.

Dinner is a festive meal with an abundance of food, beer and snaps. My brother in law has selected a variety of microbrews to try and we have fun experimenting.  My favorites are called "Mysingen" and "Dalle's stout".

At 3 pm, everything comes to a complete halt. Ours and every other TV set in Sweden is turned on and set to channel 1. For as long as anyone can remember, this is the time for Disney's classical Disney Christmas greeting: a number of classical, sacred cartoon movie clips such as Lady and the Tramp, The Bull Ferdinand, Snow White, and one or two new ones each year. It's enjoyed with a massive red and white peppermint lollipop and can under no circumstances be interrupted.

Just as the Disney greeting comes to an end, Santa arrives. Imagine that!? Hours of giftgiving begins, with the children being the focus, but being high on sugar, they are far from focused on anything. At last, the final gift is opened, some family members depart, the children are fed again, and I sit down with my sister and brother in law to a, for them, much welcome rest, and a glass of  whiskey.

A Merry Christmas to All.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Life on One Leg 2008

Life on One Leg

Thanksgiving hunt ended abruptly. THUMP! And there I was, sitting on the ground watching my horse Lars galloping across the field to catch up with “first flight” – the jumping field, after one and a half hours of pleasant riding. Twenty-four years old he is my foot! Then again, I’m the biggest supporter of the saying “age is nothing but a number”. Serves me right.

Falling off a horse is usually a gradual process of “oh”, “oh no”, ‘NO” and “OH SHIT”! Not this time. There was not a moment of fear or time to look down at the ground to see what I would hit upon the imminent and unavoidable collision with Mother Earth. I simply sat there. On my ass. Surrounded by the riders who had stopped to help me.

Heather Hunt, who was riding right behind me when Lars hit the eject button, had already dismounted by the time I oriented myself and realized I was indeed on the ground. “That was really mean. You didn’t stand a chance. No one would have sat that” she says. (This is always nice to hear.) Next order of business: Quick self-diagnosis. Blood rushing to my right ankle, making it completely numb; never a good sign. My head seems intact, albeit whip-lashed, arms OK, back OK. Altogether - not life-threatening by any stretch of the imagination. Good. What’s next?

Being situated in the middle of a field with a completely numb and unserviceable ankle presents a bit of a dilemma: I need to get to a place I can get picked up but I realize that I have no use of my right ankle/foot (as you all know I am the last one to admit to being hurt but I am sure of this one…). Hmm. Lars has now been captured from his moment of freedom, and brought back to me, so I can do one of two things: 1. hop 300’ on one leg over uneven ground, or 2. get on a four-legged, hairy, flea-bitten grey wheel chair which I just came off. Considering the certain outcome of # 1 (falling on my face, twisting the other ankle), I opt for # 2.

Mounting a horse from the ground with the use of one sole leg presents a challenge. Fortunately Lars is size smaller, so by lengthening the stirrup leather as far as I can and grabbing the saddle I manage to heave myself up onto his back as Heather is holding him steady. The Myopia 2-horse trailer is already en route. We really need flashing lights on that thing like the ambulance… it is not the first time it has had to respond to an emergency.

Little pony Spencer is soaked with sweat (who knew he was going hunting ahead of time…?) and hard of breathing, so for his and his rider’s safety, we pull him out of the hunt as well. I can tell his young rider is disappointed so I channel my energy away from my pounding, numb ankle to cheering her up the best I can. Perhaps I didn’t help her at all, but it at least helped me staying collected whilst waiting for assistance! Dismounting was easier – Lars really is a nice horse. But “nice” is followed by “horse” hence there is still an element of unpredictability involved.

Back at the barn I remove my riding boot to assess if I really need to go to the hospital. (I have a new appreciation for zippered boots.) The outside part of my ankle resembles more that of a really funky-looking root vegetable or gourd than a part of a human leg. I guess I must go. Sigh. Lucky I don’t travel to Argentina until eight weeks from now! One of my wonderful boarders insists on taking me right away. We just have to pick her car up down the street.

At the emergency room the staff smiles as I enter. “Another riding injury” they comment. Now I know where the other guy went. Without violating any hospital confidentiality, the nurse insinuates that he is also here, and doing OK. Wow! We can have our own Thanksgiving dinner! I am poked, prodded, and x-rayed in typical fashion, waiting for the doctor (in typical fashion) when the phone rings in my room. Strange, I think. It stops, and rings again at which point the nurse comes in and picks it up. I am in a neck brace so I can’t do a thing. She says it’s for me. Huh! Who knows I’m here? AND – who is not occupied with Thanksgiving but finds time to check on little me?

It’s another one of my borders – or perhaps it is an angel disguised as one. She announces that she is on her way and will be there in fifteen minutes. I protest “After all – it’s Thanksgiving!” “I have a whole staff here caring for me!” etcetera. My efforts wasted, she simply says “well I’m already out the door. See you in a minute.” How is that for a “shush your mouth”? Ginny arrives moments later with fresh flowers and continues to demonstrate how wonderful, warm, and generous a person she is: She stays until the poking, pulling, twisting, diagnosing (fractured fibula), and packaging (full cast) is complete, drives me to the barn, and insists I come with her to her house for Thanksgiving. How can I say no? I truly am thankful. Thankful to be surrounded by such wonderful people. I can’t help but smile thinking of the people who believe that the Myopia Hunt Club membership is made up by snobs…HA! I am obviously out of commission for the foreseeable future: So much for my promise of giving the staff Friday after Thanksgiving off.

What would you say if you were in a car accident and the driver of the other vehicle hopped out of the car with a solid cast on her right leg? Yup. I thought so. So would I.

Hence, after a few days of driving (only where necessary, I promise), including moving apartments I come to my senses and succumb to the fact that I am truly an invalid. I should add that the move is the easiest move ever: I watch my friends Kathy and John pack and move all my stuff, including my very crate-resistant cat. Times like these make some friends appear and others disappear. I wouldn’t recommend it but it’s an easy and effective way of weeding the good from bad. 

Two days later, a true friend, Debbie, takes me shopping for necessities such as books, tea, a shower curtain, and toilet paper. After hopping around the store for two hours I realize I can stop worrying about losing my toned, hay-throwing muscles on arms and shoulders over the winter. At least not for the next six to eight weeks.

Finally somewhat settled in my new apartment, I can begin using drugs (prescribed) to help my neck muscles relax. Three days later I’m back to my normally bad neck, discontinue the drug use, and begin to think of possible ways to circumvent the fact that I am a one-legged wanna-be wonder woman who can drive nowhere and is able to walk only for a limited amount of time due to the known fact that using crutches is exhausting!

With my internet hooked up (thanks Paul and Matt!) I research the public transportation system and quickly discover bus #451: it drives practically past my apartment all the way to north Beverly from where I can easily catch a ride or a cab to work. Much easier than hoofing it a full fifteen minutes to the train station! Additionally, the experience of riding the bus is generally more colorful than riding the train. Now on my third day of commuting via bus, I arrive each day at work all giddy. It sounds silly, but oh what a trip it is to travel via public transportation. The sights you see, the people you meet, the conversations you have, and hear around you… I am a huge fan. Of course it takes more time out of your day, but the pressure you feel when in a car -  going everywhere all the time to do everything- fizzles. It is a beautiful feeling.

In five to six weeks when I’m likely to be cast-free, I bet I will be a fully functional one-legged wanna-be wonder woman. Who won’t take the time to write…  L

Grateful 2010

It was a lovely day, total routine, just leading a horse
Then the day took a very different course
A sudden kick in the back,
wow – what a mean attack!
A trip to the emergency room
resulted in a report filled with gloom:
Three to five broken ribs and a liver contusion.
Maybe it was all just an illusion?
Alas, no indeed, it was not,
Dr. Johnson also worried about a potential blood clot.
Once stabilized, I was moved to ward “Johnson number five”
where they would, for the next six days keep me alive.
The hospital staff allowed me to rest and to heal,
Their care was tender and absolutely ideal
Dr. Johnson, knowledgeable and in charge
Designed and led the way to improvement and discharge
My friends, family, and coworkers who care
Made my room the brightest one there.
With balloons, stuffed animals, cards, and flowers
Your phone calls, messages, and visits at all hours
“Thank you” is not enough to express how I feel
It is because of You that I am able to heal

The Kick

The Kick
It started as a regular day at work. Well, an unusual day in that nothing was out of the ordinary; the norm at any barn.
We had just taken over the care of the huntsman’s gelding for the two months that their groom was away, and I continued his program by turning him out in the pony-ring where I stayed watching to ensure he wouldn’t do something horse-like, like hurting himself by running, or jumping out – particularly since he was recovering from injury. I left his halter on for extra safety.
He looked longingly, a little too longingly for my liking, over the fence down towards the grass paddock and I decided it was time to bring him in before he made that decision himself. I went into the paddock, clipped him onto the lead rope, and we started heading in together. Feeling good about life, he begun to shake his head and hop about. Fifteen hundred pounds of unpredictability on a rope. Yay, you might think. But this is what we do every day, twenty times a day. It is such routine, so I thought nothing of it, but took a step back so he wouldn’t accidentally jump on top of me, slacked the lead rope and gave it a quick, hard tug to inform him his antics were not a part of the program I had in mind that morning. At that same instant I saw in, what seemed like slow motion, his hind leg come forward. He struck me hard in the back, and I stumbled, or was thrown to the ground; I’m not quite sure of which.
For the first time ever, I remembered not worrying about the loose horse, and screamed not “loose horse” but “DAMN THAT HURT” as the gelding ran, luckily away from me. I tried to bring him down with my angry gaze, but he kept running so I must improve my technique for the next time. I clutched my torso as I lay on the soggy ground squealing like a stuck pig. “HURT” “Ah that HURT” I screamed, like I believed the pain would ease the louder I bellowed. It did not. I phoned my coworker, but she couldn’t hear the phone over the noise of hooking up the trailer. Nobody else was nearby and I suddenly felt extremely lonely. Scared of getting up, having concluded my injuries definitely involved broken ribs, but not knowing what else, I stayed on the ground whaling until someone responded “Are you ok?”  Suddenly I realized I needed help. Informing people that I was in pain seemed pointless, so I changed my tune from “hurt” to “help”. Help was approaching, and consisted of the Budweiser beer delivery man who had heard me over the sound of his truck, some three hundred feet away. With that kind of a lung capacity, perhaps I should consider a career as an opera singer? In tow came the huntsman with the runaway horse, asking fervently what he could do. My one reply, repeated over and over was “get rid of the horse! NOW!” He was not even ten feet away and I was more petrified than I think I had ever been of anything in my entire life. All I could picture was him getting loose again, and running over me where I laid, clutching my midsection in pain, unable to move.
The huntsman returned sans horse. After some serious contemplation on my end, of what my next move was going to be, or not to be, I made the decision that I needed to go to the hospital immediately. Immediately meant “before the pain set in”, and the clock was ticking rapidly as I had already lost at fifteen minutes on the ground.  The huntsman helped me up and into the barn.
Feeling the pain setting in I refused to sit down and repeated that I needed to go to the hospital right away. It seemed like an eternity until the huntsman grasped the concept. My initial thought was of course to drive myself, so I wouldn’t have to inconvenience anyone with a pick-up when I was ready to go home, but a quick rewind of what had just happened, coupled with the increasing level pain deterred me. For those of you who know me – it tells you a lot about the state I was in, doesn’t it? The huntsman offered to drive, but wasn’t sure of the way. At this point, feeling like I was in a comedy, I saw the next scene flash in front of my eyes: The two of us getting lost, and me, doubled over in pain, trying to give directions to the emergency room.  Re-take! The huntsman called over to maintenance to see if they could take me. Cut! Again, please!!! Can someone come up with a good script for this? Quickly? Maintenance gave the order to call 9-1-1 – ah, what a brilliant idea! “How do I call 9-1-1?” said the huntsman. Damn foreigners! I walked him through what to say… and shortly thereafter the fire engine showed up, then my boss, having an ability to always show up at the right time, and at last, the ambulance. Having done their assessment of my injuries they loaded me into the ambulance, on my insistence, on my side. The last face I laid eyes on was Heather, and as they shut the door my face imploded with fear. I began walking down “Pity Me Lane” and soon the tears were streaming down my face, and my body turned into a convulsing mass. If you ever find yourself with broken ribs, this particular exercise is one you want to avoid. So instead I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing, which earned the admiration of the paramedic who thought my bravery was remarkable. I was not brave at all; it simply hurt too much to do anything else. Yet again, my body and mind amazed me with it’s actions, and put me in a better place than if I had decided for myself.
With my boss on our heels I counted and winced as we drove down the driveway, over the six speed bumps, noted the left-hand turn onto Rt 1A, the first set of train tracks, and then the second set before we made the last turn into Beverly Hospital Emergency Delivery Dock. As of yet, I had not had any pain medication and was acutely aware of the unspeakable pain pounding through my body. The paramedics rolled me off, yes; you read that correctly – rolled me off– the backboard and onto the gurney of the hospital. Still with no pain medication to alleviate the tremendous pain, and it made me wonder how pain is measured… on a scale from one to ten? According to who? Under what circumstances?
Finally I was in the emergency room, stationary, and surrounded by action: Concrete action ensuring first, my safety and second, my comfort, at this stage a very relative concept. The trauma surgeon, naturally a former client, took charge and the film started rolling. I felt like a junkie, laying there anticipating, craving the injection I knew was imminent.  The pain medication sent a tidal wave of nausea through my body, but most importantly, dulled the pain. The shock set in, in full force, making me shake in a fashion similar to those machines that shake up and mix paint: Uncontrollably. I was cold as a corpse, but clearly the shaking prevented anyone from thinking I was dead. Because, has anyone ever seen a dead body shake like a paint mixing machine? Frosty cold, I had heaps of warm blankets thrown on top of me, with a continuous flow of new warm ones replacing the cold, my boss massaging my feet; nothing helped. Another injection of “I don’t know, I don’t care” seemed to help. Luckily without throwing off my vital signs.
Before long I was on the move again, for x-rays and a cat scan. The report was gloomy: three to five broken ribs and an acute liver contusion. Even though it is always better to know than to float in uncertainty, this report scared me. “Internal bleeding.” I have broken many bones in my lifetime but had not yet damaged the things that actually keep me alive and functioning. Those things you can’t live without. Grim. It frightened me terribly, yet I was comforted by the fact that I know a doctor on a personal level who specializes in livers. Wishing I didn’t have to call in the special favor, I swallowed my instinctive reaction of “I don’t want to inconvenience anyone” and requested he be consulted. Within five minutes we spoke via phone, and based on the blood counts I read to him he assured me I should not require surgery but be observed for three days. The trauma surgeon in charge had ordered four days of observation, so I felt safe.
I barely recall being wheeled up to room number 507, where my body, now completely controlled by others, was moved again from one bed to another and hooked up to IV morphine with my own regulator. Thinking it would be just my luck to survive the horse kick and overdose of hospital supplied drugs, I made sure it had a safety measure built in so I couldn’t. I never hallucinated or experienced any strange dreams, which of course was everyone’s question, and my concern. If anything, I was disappointed in how poorly it managed my pain, this, so highly sought after pain drug. In hindsight, I ask myself if I gave myself enough.
I should not have been surprised when my unsuspecting friend rang to say hi. He seems to always call and/or show up at the right time, and as soon as I told him what had happened he was on his way to be by my side. The other hero, who knows me better than anyone showed up with a cell phone charger and books, shaking his head at this all too familiar situation. Of course they both showed up when I was in the midst of experiencing what bed rest really means. Since I had dreaded the moment and held off for as long as I could, I impressed the nurse by filling three full bed pans.
The six days that followed were a blur of countless visitors, Percocets, and checks for vital signs. On day three, I was allowed to eat real food, which prompted me to ask about restroom privileges. I wasn’t keen on the known results of solid food paired with a bed pan. Fortunately the answer was yes (or I would have continued fasting). The food at Beverly hospital is excellent: A couple of choices per meal, good quality and prepped, cooked, delivered, and cleaned up by someone else. Admittedly, under these conditions, almost all food can be classified as good in my book.
Day four I was allowed a shower and felt like a million bucks. Ok, a million bucks in pieces. Day five brought on a visit by physical therapy who worked with me primarily in getting me in and out of bed, which was my biggest challenge. After much painful trial and error, we found a way, which, aided by the automated bed’s ability to raise my torso, took only twenty minutes and didn’t bring tears to my eyes.
As a result of aforementioned “success”, I was told the next morning that I was being discharged. REALLY?! Livid, and petrified, as I still couldn’t get in and out of bed unassisted, I summoned anyone and everyone who could have something to do with this decision. The Wise had concluded, since only time, not technique would improve my condition, I was no longer in need of hospital services. The minor detail of immobility, they seemed to have forgotten, in the bigger picture of insurance regulations. Surely I could have someone move in with me, or I could just live in the sleeper chair I don’t own…!
They kept me one more day and ordered a hospital bed to be delivered to my apartment. This I felt was a realistic solution, and looked forward to going home. Gentle movers and wonderful friends arrived and packed up my books, stuffed animals, balloons, and flowers. I had more luggage going home than I do when I travel abroad.  Dressed in my friend’s dress shirt, since they had cut my clothes off in the emergency room, yoga pants and stable boots I declined the unstable wheel chair which would have only shook my ribs around and caused pain. As the perfect car, already set up for my friend’s elderly and physically impaired mother, was fetched, I took my first fresh breath of air in six days. Full of exhaust or not – it felt wonderful. I felt alive.

Whirlwind of Joy and Love

Twirling, swirling, thrown about, floating. Swallowed up in the whole, yet adding to the mix my own chemistry, slightly changing the tint, simultaneously being modified to a different temperature. Like a butterfly fluttering, touching for a moment, a fleeting kiss, a beautiful moment. My Fairy dust a part of the Whirlwind of Life, touching people, being touched. Losing track of up and down, what is real and what is imagined. Whirlwind of joy and love.
The center is quiet. From here, you can regard the chaos, the multifaceted, crazy, orbiting nothings that make up the whole.  Your core.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Happiness Defined

Happiness is nothing but a by-product of the ability to recognize, enjoy, and be thankful for what comes our way.

Passing Time

Being able to simply pass time is not simple at all. In fact, it is probably one of the most difficult things one can do. The value of passing time tends to go unnoticed and is quickly becoming a lost art. Lost. Lost between shuttling children to and from games, grocery shopping, cleaning the house, working, training...  running around being.... lost.

Passing time. Drifting. Pondering nothing. Finding your mind empty, yet receptive on a very superfluous level. Fleeting feelings floating through your mind. Subconsciously processing nothing. Things falling into place. Suddenly.
I plug into my MP3 player and close my eyes. I disappear from the outside world, from the cafe and the six or so twenty-year olds discussing... who cares what? To my ears it is just babble. I tap the rhythm with my foot, moving my body to the music. Passing time. In my own world. I don't know, nor do I care, if people are watching me. They are not a part of this. It is my experience. My place. There is no door to pass through to get here, but few people make it, mainly because they don't take the first step. There are no directions. Only one way will get you here. Yours. One step at a time.

Pete in Paris

Chapter 10:
Almost on European time, only because I have to, I depart for Copenhagen at 8:45 am. Mum, who wants to see me off, see the fast train, and go shopping (I suspect the last reason weighs heavily), comes along to the Central Station. Much to my chagrin, only because dad has been so horridly pessimistic about the train, it’s delayed thirty minutes. I have plenty of time to spare, so it doesn’t matter one bit. I’m so happy I didn’t have to leave the house at 4 am!

We roll out and I am giddy over the legroom, space and sense of freedom. A hawk circles above. The landscape is breathtaking: forest of fir, Christmas trees and birch; snow-covered lakes, and fields, dotted with tiny red or yellow farm houses with gables matching the white snow. So picturesque and idyllic! Of course, I happen to know how much work it involves.  Passing through Smaland, the sun illuminates the snow and hoarfrost and the treetops glitter like they are covered in millions of tiny diamonds. The journey is delightful. Peaceful. Drifting snow and fog makes the landscape look eerie and dreamlike. Neverending beauty. Three deer carefully crossing a brook, frozen over, in their difficult search for food. A rainbow arches across the blue skies in Alvesta as I listen to ‘Home’ by Donavon Frankenreiter. I smile. Every branch and needle, clad in thick frost against a clear pale blue winter sky. The light softens as the day moves toward late afternoon.
We have a new conductor, announcing the few stops and many route changes with a strong southern drawl, impossible for most, Swedes included, to understand. Between the accent and the rerouting of passengers, is a miracle that, or should I say if, anyone arrives at their correct destination. Somehow, I manage to decipher enough to understand I need to change trains in Malmo, the final destination of this train, in order to get to the Copenhagen airport. For me, travelling with just Pete my Pet Rock, my extraterritorial PegLeg (due to knee surgery two weeks ago) and plenty of extra time, these detours become opportunities to experience additional, unplanned segments of a journey that otherwise would not have been. For other travellers, I imagine it’s perceived as an absolute nightmare, bringing not only regular luggage but Christmas gifts too.

Admittedly, the train from Malmo to Copenhagen is crowded. People packed in, standing room only, not unlike a can of sardines, with a few babycarriages and suitcases thrown in for good measure and variation. At the airport, I disembark, or get pushed out by the crowd, not sure which, and continue to check-in, to rid myself of my backpack as soon as possible. 

Taxfree is not what it used to be, after the induction of EU and since I only travel within the union, I have no advantage at all. Regardless, it falls in the same category as sales and marketing campaigns and disinterests me beyond belief. Having had nothing to eat, I convince myself it would be a good idea, especially since the flight is delayed. Again I’m reminded of why I typically don’t eat airport food: it is horrible. An hour late, at 10 pm I arrive Orly airport and Lo is waiting for me at the gate. The last time we saw each other was in August, at her house in Hamilton, so this is a totally different experience: She and I, like two sisters, reunited and on vacation in Paris (of all places) for two and a half days. I’d thought that Charles de Gaulle airport had better access to Paris but I quickly realize Orly is far closer and only fifteen minutes from the airport!

My friend, Lo had found a studio in the Marais district, well known amongst the gay population, incredibly well situated with an unimaginable, wonderful small neighborhood atmosphere. Boulangeries, cafés, patisseries wherever you turn your head… On our way to the studio, we stop to grab a bottle of red. We catch up a little on life over a glass before crawling into a most comfortable bed, staring up on the old, natural wooden beams in the ceiling.

Chapter 11
We wake up at 11 am, taking in Paris on our time, as opposed to letting Paris take us over with a list of sights to see. This approach serves us very well; we take breakfast as people finish their lunch, and we always seem to move in the opposite direction of the crowds. We set out on foot. And walk, and walk, and walk. Which is good rehab for PegLeg, until the end of the day when it’s had enough. Our big plans of a late evening with live Jazz and wine turns into wine, cheese, bread, and greek delicacies. On our way back we stumble onto a Nepalese exhibit, which we browse before getting comfortable at the studio. Life couldn’t be better. Ice and aspirin bring happiness to PegLeg. We make tentative plans for tomorrow to visit the Eiffel Tower, le musée Quai Branly, a whimsical store called Pylones, Montmartre, and take a touristic bus tour around Paris.

Chapter 12
We wake up at 11 am. Idly, we revise our plans and somewhat prioritize according to geographical location. What we do matters much less than the time spent together.  The museum and the Eiffel tower are put together at the top of the list, however with each step on our way to the Tower, my interest fades a little to end with a sudden POOF, just like a magic trick, as we turn the corner and see the line!

Instead we go to the Primitive Art exhibit at Quai Branly Museum: thousands of artifacts from the great geographical regions in which the Musée du quai Branly’s collections originated: Oceania, Asia, Africa and the Americas. The exhibit is truly outstanding and we cruise slowly through masks, jewelry and tapa in Oceania, Asian costumes, and African musical instruments and textiles, experiencing the major crossroads between civilizations and cultures: Asia-Oceania, Insulindia (maritime southeast Asia), and Mashreck-Maghreb (low rainfall areas of North Africa and West Asia). It’s dark when we leave, pushing to make the 6:30 pm bus tour around Paris.

Fortunately, the clock ticks faster than PegLeg can hop along and instead we end up on Rue Cler (or was it Cher? = expensive in French). Packed with gourmet shops, have we perhaps stumbled on heaven itself? Lo disappears into a honey store and proceeds to get as high on honey tasting as the bee probably did on the pollen he collected. There is honey with ginseng, honey mustard, honey with herbs de Provence, lavender honey…  We follow our noses to an “éspicery”, located next to a chocolaterie, a truffle’s throw from the fruit and vegetable stand where we buy lychees from Madagascar, which is located two baguette lengths away from the charcuterie. 
An hour is easily passed in this Mecca of gourmet boutiques and we make perfect timing for the 8 pm bus touristique. In one and half hours, we are educated in Parisian history and architecture without fighting a crowd, or taking a single step. Once more, our plans of a Big Evening are dismissed in favor of another evening in the studio with wine and cheese on the little metal picnic table. With our time in Paris coming to an end, we commit to getting up at 9 am.

Chapter 13
Sans alarm, I wake up at 9 am – a miracle! We meet Laure, a college friend of Lo’s, for lunch in a Greek restaurant and I feel like I’m in Cyprus. Delicious food is accompanied by lots of laughter as they share stories about life at the apartment four girls in their 20’s shared in the Alps.

We have shopping to do. After all, we are in Paris! But, instead of heading to Faubourg Saint-Honoré district, the pulse of Paris design and fashion, we head back to le Marais where we have each spotted one store each we’d like to visit. Lo, a sewing supply store, and me, a whimsical house ware store. Big spenders we are; our combined spending is less than the cost of lunch… Alas, absolutely for free I hatch ideas at the sewing store regarding how I will spiff up my kitchen. Before dashing to the train station at Montmartre, we visit Place de la Bastille, where the Bastille prison stood until its physical destruction between 14 July 1789 and 14 July 1790 during the French Revolution, and la Place de Vosgues, constructed 1605 – 1612 and the prototype of all the residential squares of European cities that were to come. before quickly grabbing our bags and dash off to the train station. The Parisian subway is the second busiest in the world, after Moscow but was not designed in 1900 to accommodate any persons with disabilities. There are no escalators and no ramps - only stairs. With a need to beat the system, I make Lo my second handrail for descending and hop down, one or two steps at a time. Going up, I simply double –step it with my now iron strong other leg. By the time we reach Montparnasse I have had an excellent but one-sided stair master workout and am hot and exhausted. I can’t imagine being in a wheel chair.

Pete on the TGV

The TGV (Train Grand Vitesse) swiftly swishes us through the French countryside and contrary to the Swedish equivalent, which got stuck behind normal speed trains, the TGV goes at 200km/hour, and Bordeaux is reached in three hours and fifteen minutes. Lo’s husband, Claude and the daughters, Charlotte, 5 and Jeanne, 7, pick us up at the station. It’s a happy and lively car going to their home in La Maine, where Patrick, a friend of Lo’s and Claude’s is waiting. He speaks no English.