The air is good in Buenos Aires

We’re off on an adventure.  San Francisco to Dallas to Buenos Aires to Ushuaia to a ship taking us to Antarctica.  I’m going to see the penguins.

We got to Buenos Aires (big time travelers call it “BA”) Friday morning, and slept most of the day away.  In the evening, we went to a tango show, just like all the other tourists.  There are 175 people on our tour, and 70 or 80 of us took this little jaunt.


We went to Cafe los Angelitos,  which makes a hell of a good living getting tour groups in and out with military precision.  We filed in, were herded into seats in long rows of tables and the food, orders were swiftly taken and the food proceeded to race out of the kitchen.

The menu is, shall we say, compact.  You can get steak or chicken or some veggie plate.  I’ll bet they can predict withing 2 or 3 plates how many of each to prepare every night.  There are endless bottles of white or red wine–no wine list, just white or red.  If you try to put water in your glass you confuse the system.


My appetizer was gravlax, with some potatoes covered in a spicy mayo.  Yes, I pushed most of the mayo aside.


I think everyone in the photo is from our tour group.  There are sub-groups from the Commonwealth Club, Harvard alumni, U Washington alumni, Duke alumni, Bryn Mawr alumni, Yale alumni, and some others.  It’s a wildly over educated and well traveled group, and should be interesting as hell.

Dinner pushed through in record time for South America, the show started about 10.  There were 5 couples of dancers, plus one premiere couple, 2 or 3 singers and a 5 piece band centered on the bandoneon, a Latin variation on the concertina or accordion.  The dancing was fast and furious, the music was relentlessly uptempo and the show moved along nicely, except for a couple of musical interludes to give the dancers time to change costumes and catch their breath.


The opening act was a period piece showing the origins of tango among the poorer and lower classes of Argentine society 100 years ago.

The stars with a solo performance

You couldn’t really have a show in BA (he says, trying to sound cool) without a nod to Evita. The lead singer came out to a marvelous production of the song Buenos Aires, where Evita is a young woman coming to the big city and telling it she’s going to be a star.


The band is on a ledge over the stage, and for this number the female dancer starts on their level and then oozes herself down to stage level.

I was impressed by the choreography and the strong graphic elements of the staging and the dance.  Here is the opening of a very modern number:


The show had both a male and a female singer, of whom I thought the woman the stronger.  Again, beautiful costuming and dramatic lighting combined to make a first rate experience.


The show was long–we left the hotel at 8:30 and didn’t get back until almost midnight.  20 minutes less would have been fine with us, but you can’t say we didn’t get our $115 dollars worth.


Saturday morning Kate and I took the city tour–Gail slept in and Brad went swimming.

Buenos Aires is a city of 4 million, with 10 million more in the surrounding metropolitan area.  it has a long history of money and glamour–remember the name Argentina comes from the silver that was so abundant when the nation was a province of Spain.  There are huge mansions that once belonged to silver barons and owners of immense ranches exporting beef to the world.  These mansions are now often embassies and museums.

We visited La Recoleta Cemetary, home to hundreds of magnificent marble mausoleums dating back over 100 years.  If your family can’t afford the upkeep and rent, you can sell the family crypt to someone who will change the name and perhaps completely redesign it.  You have to take the family bones with you, though.

These are the final resting places of the very rich and famous, with impressive sculptures and rich materials.

This immense crypt belongs to a family of Catholics who found out their ancestors were Jews fleeing the Inquisition, so the building has both crosses and a menorah.


This sculpture is of a young woman who died in 1970 in an avalanche.  Her dog’s nose is polished bright by the hundreds of people rubbing it for luck.


And finally, the most noted crypt of all, that of the family Duarte, whose most famous daughter was Eva Peron.  She was laid to rest here years after her death and an amazing journey in which her remains were moved and hidden and buried in Italy.  Now she is home with her family.


Coming out of La Recoleta Cemetery, we found this vast ficus tree, whose branches stretch for more than 100 feet and have to be held up by steel stanchions or this piece of statuary.

Driving down the street, I saw something amazing–a Citroen Deux Chevaux touring car.  Everybody has to have a gimmick, I guess, and this one is pretty interesting.  I’d take a day tour in it.


Our final stop was the Boca, a very touristy district that once was where the poor people lived and made their homes of scrap metal painted with any color they could get their hands on.  Now it is very artsy, with dozens of artists and artisans selling their colorful wares on the street.  Even on man with no hands who paints with the brush in his mouth, right there on the sidewalk.

For some reason I never learned, the Boca is marked by three dimensional caricatures of the famous and the infamous, mostly on balconies overlooking the pedestrian streets.  Here’s a gallery of them.


Later in the afternoon, we went shopping on a pedestrian mall near the hotel.  I had to buy a pair of shorts in the first store I saw because it’s so damned hot and humid here.  Silly me, I didn’t think I’d need shorts on an expedition to Antarctica.

Then the bad thing happened.  We had been warned repeatedly to beware of thieves, but failed to take proper heed.  I heard a scream, turned, and found that Coleen, a member of our group, had been attacked and her Rolex stolen right off her wrist, and the thief was racing down the street to jump on a waiting motorcycle and make a fast getaway.

The good news is that she has insurance, she has money and she isn’t hurt.  By chance there was a police car along in 30 seconds, so she went to the station and gave a full report.  It won’t get her watch back, but may help to catch the bad guys.

Now I have to hit the sack so we can leave for the airport at 6 am for Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world where we catch out boat.  It could be worse–some people have to leave the hotel at 3am.

They promise some sort of wifi on the ship, so I’ll post when I can.


Happy #%£*~{^ New Year

It may seem a bit late, but life’s been a bit complicated lately.

The view from my hospital bed as the New Year turned.

I was sick for a week before Christmas.  The day after Christmas, great pain in my gut took me to the ER.  Turns out you can have a gallstone even after they take out your gallbladder.

Two days later they let me go home.  On Saturday night before New Years Eve, Gail and I went to Metro for one of the finest meals of my life.  We had the carpaccio, then I enjoyed the Avocado Poke and finished it off with a torchon of foie gras. A meal so great it put me right back in the hospital–my pancreas was still inflamed from the gallstone, and the high-fat meal sent me right over the edge into acute pancreatitis.  We had a few people over to see the new year in, and I left them in an Uber headed to Kaiser.

Two more days later, and they let me go home again, with strict instructions to follow a very low fat diet and no alcohol for at least a month to let my innards get back to normal. Oh joy.

Things you learn the hard way.  Most of the IV bags in the US are made in Puerto Rico.  Or were, until there was a hurricane which left the island devastated and without power.  If the residents of the territory were white and voted red, perhaps Trump would be making and effort to get the place back up and running.  Since they are brown, and vote blue, there is virtually nothing happening and the US is suffering a shortage of IV bags.  Your government at work.

We went to the regional in Monterey, as always.  Clearly our favorite tournament of the year.  Wish I’d played better.

Things are turning around.  Tomorrow we are off to Buenos Aires and thence to Antarctica. I’ve got a fortune in thermal underwear and a super telephoto lens.  Gail promises to never set foot off the ship, preferring to sit on deck with good binoculars and a glass of wine.  Stay tuned, it should be a wild ride.

Playing with the new lens


You know that old saying about the difference between men and boys being the price of their toys?  I suppose it’s true.


I don’t have, or particularly want, a $20,000 wristwatch r $100,000 car.  I get to wear nice shirts, but not $10,000 Brioni suits.  But I do have some pretty high class photo equipment, which i justify by needing to have great illustrations for this blog.  Yeah, right.

Duck silhouettes in Santa Cruz

Preparatory to our trip to Antarctica in the new year, I’ve added a super telephoto lens to the arsenal, a Tamron 150-600 mm..  Can’t wait to get shots of the penguins whiskers (do they have whiskers?  I guess I’ll find out).


Gail and I went to Santa Cruz last week so she could play cards with her cousin Mary.  Her sister usually scrapes up a partner for me, but nobody drew the short straw this time, and I had no one to play with.  That seemed like a sign from God that I should take the new big gun and the dog and go walking around practicing.  It wouldn’t do to get 11,000 miles away from here and not know how to work the thing.


The plan was to walk around Neary Lagoon, listed online as a great birding site.  Sadly for us, one of the ways they protect the wildlife is to prohibit dogs, even cute red ones, even on leash.


Google to the rescue, and we found the duck pond in riverside park, then walked a mile or so up and down the river, noticing the enormous homeless encampments.  Modern day Hoovervilles for people who wouldn’t know that name.


Later, we went to the Crow’s Nest, on the beach, to meet with Gail and the rest of the family for a drink and appetizer.  When the sun went down I rushed out for the sunset photo above, and the seagulls were a bonus.


I have to say I’m stunned with this new lens.  It’s more than I would ever have imagined.  It had just been released when we went to Africa a few years ago, and I could not lay my hands on it at that time.  Can’t wait to see what I can do with it in Antarctica.

I think I’ve cooled down enough

Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” 

Last Monday, as we were moving into the last round, the director announced that for the entire week, all the games would be ACBL Charity games, with the Contra Costa Bridge Center paying the extra dollar for the players.

The previous week, the club had donated half of the table fees to SHARE, the food bank that lives in the same church where we play cards.  The donation was over $1600, a number to be very proud of.

Since the Unit Vice-President (who was president last year), Ann Hollingsworth, was at my table, I asked her what the Unit was doing for charity.  She brightened right up, and said they were doing quite a lot.

“The Unit is paying for all the food at the Unit Games.  And we paid for food at the Sectional last weekend” she merrily chirped.

Discerning readers will  notice immediately that paying for the food at our own parties isn’t charity, a fact I mentioned to Ann.  I suggested that people with self respect or the slightest charitable bone in their body don’t behave that way.

“Our bylaws don’t require that we give anything to charity.  We’re keeping the money for the bridge players”, Ann said.

Resisting the urge to get myself life in prison, I asked if the bylaws said we had to be selfish assholes. She said no, the money was for the benefit of the players.

Ann then told me that they would discuss local charitable donation next year, because in the course of this entire year there just hadn’t been enough time.   I think I may have stopped being polite about there.

This is reprehensible.  We are a wealthy group of people, surrounded every day by the poor and homeless coming to the food bank at our own club.  To think that we are going to sit on roughly $35,000 so  we can smugly go swimming in it like Scrooge McDuck in his vault is an abomination.

In years past, our unit has proudly made an active point of contributing to local charities.  I spoke with two past presidents and learned that our board traditionally had a specific charity chair whose purpose it was to locate local charities and recommend donations to the board.  Not anymore.

When did Unit 499 become useless, heartless, uncaring Philistines? Why?  I don’t know, and I don’t care. I’m better than that, and you are too.  The current unit board, at least the president and vice-president, not so much.

The ACBL donates money to charity.  District 21 donates.  Contra Costa Bridge Center donates.  Only Unit 499 remains stingy and uncaring, due to an absolute failure of leadership.  It’s time that stopped.

I urge you to call any and all members of the unit board and tell them we are not heartless cretins.  The list is on the unit website. Tell them that we should be contributing members of society.  Tell them that you want our unit to make regular, reasonable contributions to worthwhile local charities.  We have to do better, this is intolerable.



The Impossible Happens


The Impossible Burger.  You know it isn’t mine with all those mushrooms.

I don’t understand vegetarians.

I get the idea that one doesn’t want to eat meat, or anything sentient, or anything that has a face.  Not my choice, but OK fine, if that’s what you want.

What I don’t understand is how much vegetarians seem to want to eat something that looks and tastes like meat, it just isn’t.  I see “vegetarian chicken” on menus, but it makes no sense to me.  Every burger place around offers a veggie patty, made from various and sundry vegetables and mushrooms.  They don’t really taste like good beef, but people seem to want them for the illusion.

I like meat, but I sure don’t have any interest in a “carrot” made of beef to experience veggies without having to eat them.  If I want a carrot, I’ll have one.  I think if anyone wants a piece of chicken, or a burger, they should just go out and have one.

All this is preamble to having dinner last week at The Counter, a marvelous custom burger joint on California Ave. in Walnut Creek.  They’ve been advertising the new “impossible burger”, a manufactured slab of wheat, soy, potato protein, coconut oil and something called heme.  It is supposed to look, cook, taste and bleed just like real beef.  We brought our friend Reed, who eats chicken and fish but not red meat, as the official tester.

I have always liked The Counter.  You get to create a burger to your taste, with dozens of options and thousands of possible combinations.  Big patty or small.  5 kinds of bun, or put it all in a bowl with lettuce. Beef, turkey, fish, vegetarian patty, and now the Impossible Burger (which is $3 extra–so-called “ethical eating” isn’t cheap.)  They have great fries, sweet potato fries, onion strings,  and thick malts.  It’s kind of noisy inside, but you can’t have everything.  Go when the weather is warm and you can eat outside.

Back to the Impossible Burger.  The damned thing is good, real good.


If it looks like beef, and tastes like beef, but isn’t beef then what is it?

Reeds Impossible Burger was excellent.  Seared and crispy outside, red and tasty inside.  Looked, smelled, chewed and tasted like beef.  It’s everything a non-meat eater could ever want in a burger. You could easily be fooled by this–you just would never think it wasn’t real.

The Holy Grail of fake burgers has been found.  This one is the real thing.  If you’re a vegetarian who still craves burgers, head out to The Counter and have one.  Heck, even if you’re not a vegetarian–it tastes so good you’ll enjoy it and not get any of that nasty cholesterol.

In Our Own Backyard

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Veterans Day. There will be ceremonies at Arlington, and Normandy, and parades down the main street of every town in the country, in memory of the men and women, living and dead, who fought for their country.  As there should be.

Walking in Lafayette last week, I was reminded of the now almost 8000 people lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, memorialized in a politically controversial display on a hill across from the BART station.  It was a big deal when it was new; now I think people just pass by without seeing, or noticing that the numbers are still going up, although much more slowly than before, thankfully.

Nobody wants to think about the Iraq war.  Bush lied us into it, with grand talk of non-existent WMDs.  Obama couldn’t solve the problem.  Trump?  Not bloody likely.  But there are almost 8000 families out there who can’t forget. Not to mention countless veterans who need help that a heartless congress won’t provide.

So thank a vet today, enjoy a parade, have a hot dog with extra relish.  And don’t forget the vets of the forgotten war, or the politicians who put those 7932 crosses on a hill in Lafayette.




Halloween at Reed’s

Our lifetime total of kids looking for a “trick or treat” stands at 0.  Living behind a gate and down a long, dark, steep driveway is often pleasant, but the drawback is a total lack of urchins begging for candy their mothers will promptly confiscate and dole out over time.

Wanting to have some fun, we went up to Benicia to our friend Reed’s house.  She promised horde of kidlings searching for candy, and a bowl of lobster bisque.  Who could resist?  Her house was decorated for the event, and I spent 20 minutes trying to get the candles to stay lit.


Reed dressed up for the event, and looked spectacular in the candlelight and twilight combined.


There were no kids.  Okay, maybe 8, total.  Each one got enough Kit Kat bars to cause diabetes, and a few Reese’s peanut butter cups to seal the deal.  Still, we had fun, because we had dogs in costumes to entertain us.


Reed with Claudia and Elmer.

The Halloween Superstore didn’t have costumes for pets, but a kindly 13 year old girl told me Target was the place.  No, I have no idea what the black and white wings adorned with spider and web are supposed to represent, but it looks good on the little girl and it was the only thing that fit.  Elmer tolerates his wings, but refuses to get up and walk as long as the tutu is attached to him.  Wise dog.

Reed likes Claudia almost as much as we do.

Elmer tries hard to be distinguished and mature, which is hard when you have a silly costume forced upon you.


Gail doesn’t really get into the spirit of things like Halloween.  She just wanted to sit on the porch and hold her dog.  It looks like a plan to me.


We enjoyed our lobster bisque, ate a bit of candy, watched a few kids and were home early.  The doggie costumes went into a costume box for next year.  A good time was had by all.

Out walking on Sunday

Part of trying to get more exercise: I take the dog for a walk, ending up at a nice restaurant.  Gail meets us for Sunday lunch, then drives us back to where I left the car.  We get lunch like a family, the dog and I get to stretch our legs a bit.

This week I parked on North Main St.   Started by heading to the Walnut Creek Farmer’s Market.  Since it was the weekend before Halloween, there were plenty of kids in costumes already.   I particularly admired Super Dad here, with his two kids all in Superman costumes.  The littlest of them even had tiny capes attached to his super socks.



Some people just need to make rules.  I take Claudia to the grocery store every day.  We’ve been in Safeway, Lunardi’s, Target and Whole Foods.  Nobody cares.  Try to take her on a city street where they are selling farm goods?  Not so much.


I somehow doubt that the health department is regulating streets, but it wasn’t worth the fight.  I can buy veggies lots of other places.

I love little kids.  Little kids love Claudia.  This is working for me.


I can be very naive.  I thought these were carefully bred hybrid carnations, just for the season.  Gail told me they just put the cut white flowers in dye to make this color.  What next?  Will I find out Trump dyes his hair and sprays his tan on?


We walked downtown and around a couple of long blocks, then met Gail at Va de Vi, her favorite restaurant, and a place with lots of outdoor seating so all 3 of us could enjoy our meal.  I appreciate that their menu changes, so there is always something new to try.

This week, the new treat was arrancini (deep fried rice balls stuffed with gooey melted cheese) on a bed of pureed butternut squash, topped with a bit of pesto.  Very, very good.


Feeling energetic, Claudia and I turned down the offer of a ride back to the car and walked up N. Main.  The city has embarked on a campaign of public art, and I was entranced by a sculpture on a streetcorner.  So was the dog.


This walk was far from strenuous, but I guess every little bit counts.  Better to get out of the house for an hour than sit motionless in front of the computer raising my blood pressure by reading political posts from people I disagree with.  Even though I refute them with certified facts and unimpeachable logic, they never seem to see the light of my indisputable wisdom.   Better I should walk the dog.

Our party went to the dogs


Claudia turned one year old yesterday.  Gail, who doesn’t believe in birthdays, thought we should have a party.  I’ve never said no to a party, and neither has Claudia.

We invited a bunch of dogs, and said their owners could come, too.  I found out that the pet store sells dog treats that were appropriate for the event:


All designed for your furry friend.

I had to find some thing to put out for the two legged guests:


Wrigley arrived, bringing Jill Mclean.  Wrigley is a tiny Malti-poo, who moves so fast I never really got a clear photo of him.


Claudia did a nice job of hostessing, greeting her guests politely.


Elmer showed up with Reed:


Elmer heard there would be treats.  Nothing keeps Elmer from treats.

Reed seemed to be holding court with Elmer, Martha and Claudia:


We finally got to meet Rosie, brought by Ed and Sheryl:


Rosie has some dysplasia and arthritis, has just had surgery and wasn’t allowed to run and play much.  She’s a beautiful chocolate lab.


Martha came with Lisa.  She’s a chubby little thing, always smiling.  (Martha.  Lisa not chubby.)

You can’t have a birthday party without ice cream and cake.


There were presents, too.  This bear, with squeaky toys in all four paws, came from Rosie:


We all had a riotous time.  The dogs jumped and played, the adults just chatted and laughed when something funny happened, or all 5 dogs started barking at once for no apparent reason.

When it was time to go home, Rosie looked sad:


Wrigley doesn’t know how to look sad:


Thanks to all our friends and their dogs who came to celebrate Claudia’s big day.  We had a wonderful time with you, and look forward to doing it again.

Your government at work



I got a new car, and I’d like to transfer the personalized plates from the old station wagon in the garage to the new ride.

So I called up the DMV and asked what to do.  Because one car is registered to Gail and one to me, there is a small problem.  With the DMV, there is always a problem.

Paperwork needs to be filled out.  Gail sure as hell isn’t going to go to the office with me, so I needed the paperwork at home.  Could they email it to me?

No.  The DMV doesn’t do email.  Can’t have any of that new-fangled communications in the largest state in the union, the third largest economy in the world.

So the nice lady at the other end of the phone pulled out the paperwork, hand addressed an envelope and sent it to me.  Just like they did in 1863.  Can’t get more efficient than that.