Having just returned from a week-long stay in charming, delightful Tuscany, I am reflecting on seven near perfect days.

That is, minus travel misadventures. These involve late flights, missed connections, inconvenient airline reschedulings and much more. I learned two lessons: (1) when traveling internationally, schedule at least three hours between flights (2) If you want to travel, you have to put up with a lot of —-.
Oh yes. Keep an extra set of underwear and extra medication with you to allow for your luggage’s late arrival more than two days late!

That aside, let the vacation commence. We had made the decision that we would not drive because neither my traveling companion or I felt comfortable navigating hilly, narrow, two-way traffic European roads where markers usually point to at least eight possible destinations. We would get around using taxis and arrange an English-speaking driver for touring.

Since we had not made arrangements for tours before arriving, the resort arranged a taxi to our first destination, Volterra, a charming city (as they all are) high up in the Tuscany hills, overlooking the beautiful Cecina Valley. It even has accommodations in a medieval hotel. Volterra is the alabaster capital of the world, and it was a delight to see the many and varied items that might be made from this material. Think of something and it probably exists in alabaster. Etruscans were the inhabitants of Italy before the Romans, and this is an Etruscan city. Actually, Volterra is believed to have been inhabited continuously since the end of the eighth century, BCE. In the middle ages, it was under the control of the Medici family.

Our second day took us to San Gimignano This is a small walled village famous for its medieval architecture, towers and the Duomo San Gimignano. Within are store after store of varied, striking, colorful ceramics.

From the grounds of our resort, we were able to see the nearest small village of Peccioli, a town of some two thousand five hundred. Each Tuesday, a local guide conducts a tour. Maximo took our group on a walk along its lanes and squares, with a detailed explanation of local art, history and customs. This included a trip to the Etruscan museum with a detailed explanation of what we were seeing. Peccioli is a remarkable town because they have built a waste treatment facility which supplies heat to neighboring communities. With the funds from this plant, they have constructed a three hundred car garage with an elevator to the old medieval town. It also contains a restaurant that has delicious food and is furnished in medieval style.

On our fourth day, we met David, the English-speaking driver who would be with us for three days. David is employed by a company called “I Drive,” and he added so much to our trip. Totally conversant in English, we were able to talk for all the car hours on a wide-ranging variety of subjects. We found him to be both interested in what we had to say and interesting to speak with because he is worldly, well-traveled and knowledgeable. I would recommend this way of traveling to anyone. I do not think it is actually much more expensive than renting a car and, oh, so much more convenient and comfortable. We were able to go where we were going without the hassle of getting there. Besides, David knows in which towns he can park and where to park. Wonderful way to travel! If you plan on going to Tuscany, visit the company website, http://idriveItaly.it/

Our first stop was Pisa. The Leaning Tower is actually a complex of monuments and buildings including one for baptism and a cemetery. Pisa does not lack for churches, because there are twenty others in the town.The University of Pisa is world-famous, dating back to the twelfth century. Our guide took us to the first Leaning Tower, built about one hundred years before the current one. Nobody was there because its existence seems to be a well kept secret.

That afternoon, we traveled to Lucca, a town of upscale shops, justly famous for its intact Renaissance era city wall. As with most Tuscany towns, it contains a bell tower with stairs. In this case, we are talking about two hundred seven of them. If you climb the stairs, you are rewarded with magnificent panoramic views. We had climbed one hundred the day before in Peccioli, and that was more than enough climbing for us. We passed. We walked right by the amphitheatre because we expected to see the remains of benches. Instead, it has an empty center, ringed by restaurants and tourist shops. It is the birthplace of many famous people, including Puccini, composer of the opera La Boheme.

The following day we traveled to Siena, declared by UNESCO to be a world heritage site. It is famous for its cuisine, art, museums, medieval cityscape and the Palio, a world-famous horse race, held twice yearly. It is a labyrinthine city, the fairly wide streets twisting every which way. The founder of Siena was Senius.the twin of Romulus, who founded Rome. This accounts for the many statues of the she-wolf suckling the brothers. The Duomo is world-famous and was originally intended to be the largest cathedral in the world.

On Thursday, we made a detour to Monteriggioni, a picturesque medieval walled town on a hill in the province of Siena. This town was referenced in Dante’s Divine Comedy. It has circular walls, following the contour of the hills, with two gates. One faces Florence and the other Rome.

We drove through the region of Chianti which extends through the provinces of Florence and Siena. It is a lovely region of gentle green hills and vineyards.

On our very last day, we went to the province of Cinque Terre, a rugged portion of the coast of the Italian Riviera. The province is a UNESCO world heritage site, containing five very small villages. Torrential rains and an avalanche caused roads to be impassable. They are currently under repair, and we toured the villages by boat.

On our way home, we made a detour to the vineyard of Poggio Alloro just outside San Gimignano for a wine tasting. How do you describe perfection? The view from the table as we sat drinking our wine and munching on bread, cheese and meats, was absolutely breathtaking. I will see it in my dreams.

We also went to a wine tasting at Fattoria Fabbiano, a vineyard about five minutes away from our resort. The wines were wonderful, and they make a white wine that is about the best I have ever tasted. Unfortunately, I was unable to buy any because the shipping costs of seventy dollars for six bottles makes the cost prohibitive.

Food and wine in Tuscany deserve their reputation for excellence. My friend and I tried just about everything (dietary restrictions be hanged). I even sampled the wild boar stew, a local delicacy featured on many restaurant menus. I know, I know, but it actually is better than it sounds.

Now, I would like to make a few random observations.

First on my list, taxis in Italy. If we wanted to go even one mile, the minimum charge was fifty Euros. At a conversion rate of approximately $1.40 for the Euro to $1.00 American,that is a charge of $70.50, plus tip. The reason for this wildly exorbitant expense is that a taxi license is difficult to obtain in Italy and is the kind of thing that is passed from father to son. I guess it is a kind of union, or monopoly. In his halting English, the driver explained that he has to charge that much money because he comes a long distance. Really? We had to worry about where he started? Anyway, that is what we were stuck with.

We were amazed when we stopped for lunch at a Siena café to have a charge posted on our bills that was almost half of what I ordered. When they were questioned, the waitress said that they had charged us for “setting up.” We asked what that meant. Well, we were using their chairs, and they had placed a tablecloth on the table, and didn’t they serve you food?. Talk about nickel and diming. Then they want a tip besides? Our driver assured us that this type of charge is perfectly proper in Italy, and that it is not seen on most menus because they have already figured it into the price. I certainly like calculating it in the price better.

One positive random observation is that restaurants never seem eager to give you the check. Sometimes in America, the servers will plunk the bill down before you are even finished eating. Italian restaurants do want the money, but there is no pressure to leave. Sometimes, we practically had to plead for the check, and then they were in no hurry. Eating is a leisurely experience, down to the leaving part.

There you have it. Seven near perfect days in a very special environment.


Illegal Aliens and Buried Bombs in Boca Raton, Florida (2)

Boca Raton, Florida is a popular south Florida destination.  Boca Raton sounds snazzy and sort of rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?  The actual meaning is not at all romantic.  It means “mouth of the rat” in Spanish.  I don’t know how many rats there were in Boca Raton, but the name was born when Boca Raton was accidentally moved on maps from Biscayne Bay, which is an inlet.  Spanish sailor slang for inlet is Boca Raton, or mouth of the rat.

The Highland Beach area, has a long and colorful history, which is described beautifully in “The Amazing Story of Highland Beach,” by Sandy Simon.  Highland Beach is a small beachfront community of high rises and oceanfront homes and is located between Boca Raton to the south and Delray Beach to the north.  Although settlers came to Boca Raton and Highland Beach in the beginning of he twentieth century and many streets carry their names, the first large wave of settlement occurred in the condominium boom of the second part of the twentieth century.  Before the rush of people, mainly from points northeast with a few Midwesterners sprinkled in for local color in the 1960’s, there were gunrunners to Cuba in the late 1890’s, rum runners in the 1920’s. and Japanese settlers in  Boca Raton and Highland Beach.  In fact, Highland Beach was known as “Jap Rocks,” back in the day, with abundant tales of marauding German U-boats during World War II.

As is the case throughout Florida, many retirees spend their golden years basking in the warmth of the state.  Before I began spending winters here, I remember coming to Florida for a long weekend.  One evening, I attended the theatre.  The individual who spoke pre-play told us to finish unwrapping our candy wrappers before the performance began.  (Of course, this was before cell phones, so the “shut off your phones” message was not necessary).  When her message was complete, she smiled sweetly and thanked the audience for coming out on such a cold night. It was fifty-five degrees!  Yes, I thought.  That is what I want to do.  Spend my winter in a place where they thank me for coming out in bitterly cold fifty-five degree weather!

Boca Raton and Highland Beach are peaceful places.  There is much to see and do.  Highland Beach, in particular, is an extremely small community, covering just three miles end to end. The community is so protective of its status that businesses are not allowed within its borders.   Except, that is, for a Holiday Inn that existed before the town and is “grandfathered”   The library offers extremely fine programs, ranging from musical offerings to a weekly philosophical Socrates Café discussion group to an always lively exchange of views in the weekly current events group.  For those who are athletically inclined, there are physical activity classes including Yoga.  To learn relaxation techniques, there is meditation, and if you are a game player, mah jongg or Scrabble.  Each Friday, the library presents a movie, and sometimes the movie is so current that it is still showing at local movie theatres.  Restaurants abound, offering an eclectic variety of world cuisine, and fine, sometimes thrilling theatrical fare is available as well.

Florida Atlantic University should not be left out of any description of local area activities.  The program offerings for lifelong learning are nothing short of spectacular.  Throughout the year, lectures series of four, six or eight week courses are offered.  You pick your own pleasure from the smorgasbord of courses available.  Do you like the law?  There is a resident expert who will talk about Supreme Court cases one semester and Supreme Court justices another.  Are you a movie buff?  Several lecturers discuss a plethora of movie selections.  Perhaps you are interested in movies of the forties, fifties, sixties or seventies?  There is sure to be a course in one of these.  Perhaps your love is music.  Courses abound.  Current events and presidential foibles are well represented by excellent lecturers who know how to capture the attention of an audience.

The lecture hall set aside for the Lifelong Learning program seats five hundred people.  Usually the sessions are filled.  There are two lecturers, however, who command fifteen hundred to eighteen hundred attendees.  So that more than five hundred can be accommodated, the Barry Kaye Auditorium on the Boca Raton campus is utilized.  It is amazing when an auditorium of that size can be almost filled with people attending a lecture.  Of course, the instructors who attract the sizeable audience (many return year after year) are exceptional.  They are right on the money with specialties  about what is happening in the world and implications, or the foibles of presidents and what does not make it into the history books.  In their areas of specialization and expertise, instructors tweak their courses to allow for continuing interest in a subject area, looked in a light that is a little different.

The weather is almost the best in the contiguous forty-eight states.  When we drive through Tennessee or Georgia en route here, it may be cloudy, rainy or downright cold.  The same is true for our spring drive home, except then there is the danger of tornadoes through the mountains of Tennessee, or actually, anywhere along our route.  Not that southern Florida is always warm in winter.  But, south Florida is the best weather that can be found without going to Hawaii, where in the right location, it is always summer.  Now,  a touchy subject.  Is it true that one’s blood thins out if cold is never experienced?  When the temperature hovers in the fifties, it seems that people drag out all the cold weather clothes imported from colder climes.  It is amusing to see people decked out in a warm jacket, hat and gloves, shivering as though their teeth are going to chatter right out of their mouths.

There was a cold winter in south Florida about three seasons ago.  During that winter, when temperatures routinely hovered in the low thirties, it was impossible to purchase a space heater.  I know.  The heat in my apartment failed, and no space heater was to be found for thirty miles.  Because south Florida lives in a delusionary state, believing it will never be cold enough to justify central heating, many restaurants, theatres and other public places, were unheated.  It was worth a smile to see people clothed in jackets hats and gloves in these same places.  Not typical Florida restaurant goers or theatre audiences at all.

State Road I, designated the “AIA Scenic and Historic Coastal Highway” is the boulevard along which people with time and desire to see oceanfront communities can meander as an alternate to I95. It begins jut south of Georgia on Amelia Island and runs mostly along the Atlantic Ocean before ending in Key West, Florida.  It is usually just as tranquil as its surroundings and generally easily traveled, although traffic does pick up in the winter when snowbirds from the north arrive for the “season,” or “snow flakes” come for a week or two to break up the dreariness and angst of a northern winter.

One day, returning home in the process of turning south onto AIA, I realized that I would be blocked by a wall of traffic.  Quickly, I maneuvered into the left lane and proceeded to go north to Delray Beach.  Once there, I turned around and drove to the southern end of Highland Beach, taking USI, (Federal Highway) home.  The detour lasted the better part of a half hour, and when I made my south turn, the traffic had eased.  What had caused this monumental traffic jam on the usually placid boulevard?  The news told me later that night.  They had found a buried, unexploded World War II bomb and were trying to remove it without an explosion!

Another day, as I traveled southward, traffic suddenly came to a halt.  There was no movement in either direction, and because AIA has only one lane in either direction, there was no place to move.  The only thing I could do was to let traffic take its course while I sat and waited.  As I played the waiting game, I wondered what could have caused the tie-up.  Was it another unexploded bomb?  What could it be?  I had to wait until the nightly news, when I learned that illegal aliens had somehow found their way to the shores of Highland Beach and the police were diligently attempting to capture them.  Visions of perhaps a dozen people running in all directions, attempting to avoid capture, were dancing around in my head.  Fanciful.  Perhaps.  Later I learned that one had ultimately been captured.  How many were there?  I’ll never know.

What were the lessons to be learned in these bizarre happenings?  First, that the area truly has a storied history and the tales of marauding World War II U-boats are probably true.  Second, that although I believe this to be a strange place for illegal aliens to land, the desire for freedom and a better life are strong and will take people to wherever they think they need to go. Third, things are not always what they seem, and truth may really be stronger than fiction.

Ooo…la…la…la…French Gourmet Dining Experience

About once a month, I receive a brochure in the mail from Viking River Cruises. I look at it, ponder its contents for a while and then place it in the recycle bin. Last year, I thought, what if? After discussing the idea with some of my friends, we decided that a river cruise just might be fun. We have all taken at least one cruise with a cast of thousands of passengers, but this would be something different, more intimate, since these vessels are small and, for the most part, sail with two hundred or less.

After some research, we decided on AMA Waterways for our maiden voyage. I have always wanted to spend some time in France, and one of their cruises sails in the south of France. Perfect. Arrangements were made, and the trip commenced on April 19, 2013. After sitting on the tarmac at O’Hare Field for two and one half hours, waiting out the flood that encircled Chicago, we were off, in time for me to miss my connecting flight from Frankfort, Germany to Lyons, France.

All’s well that ends well, and I finally made it to Lyons, to rainy, cool weather, but definitely in time to board the boat on the Rhone River. On our first day, we remained in Lyons to tour Fourviere Hill for “a fantastic view of Lyons.” The rain and fierce, aggressive winds tore our umbrellas as we climbed the hill for our panoramic view of the city so nothing was left except the steel rods. We could not see anything as we huddled into ourselves for warmth, feeling sorry for our guide who was not warmly dressed, but who bravely persisted in doing her job, talking about the sights we were supposed to see.

Day two was in the picturesque region of Beaujolis, home of fine wines. We visited a winery, where we tasted several wines, had sausage and cheese and listened to the owner talk in French about his wines as the local guide translated. He said he did not speak in English, as he was “not paid to do that.” Our tour included the tiny, quaint, pristine village of Oignt (pronounced Wah), which has been voted best local small village.

Day three was a walking and train trip to the Roman ruins on Mont Pipet Hill in the town of Vienne. A minitrain took us up to a well preserved temple, dedicated to Julius Caesar and his wife, Livia. Interestingly, all the retail stores were closed because this was a Monday and retail stores in France are shuttered on Sunday and Monday every week. I could not help mentally contrasting that with the seven days our stores are open all year long.

The morning of day four took us from the town of Tournon to a wine tasting experience in the wine making region of Cotes du Rhone. There we listened to a young woman, representative of an old, winery family, tell us all about the history of wine making and techniques, after which we had a tasting of seven wines.

In the evening, we journeyed to the town of Viviers for a “ghost walk.” Most of the passengers on the ship participated, as this was definitely a fun activity. We walked through the old city, a walled, medieval town, where our guide, dressed in period costume, introduced us to the “ghost” of Noel Albert, the most famous inhabitant, beheaded for corruption. It was well lit, to highlight the medieval feeling of the city by night. Although 30,000 people lived here at one time, today the town counts less than 4,000 inhabitants.

The fifth day trip was Avignon, where we toured the papal palace. At one time, Avignon was an important Catholic church center and was the home of the papacy from 1309 to 1377. Avignon actually belonged to the Catholic church for 400 years until the French Revolution when it was reincorporated into France. Seven popes resided in this vast, resplendent palace. During our walk, I noted that this is a lively town with many shops.

Finally, our last day in Arles and a visit to an impressionist museum in a stone quarry. In 45 minutes, against a background of classical music, we watched all of the paintings of the impressionist painters change, ceiling, walls and floor, until all the works of every impressionist painter had been shown. We then visited the asylum where Vincent Van Gogh was a patient and where he painted many of his finest works. The hospital is still in use, and one hundred women are currently patients.

Later that afternoon, we toured the city of Arles, which has splendid Roman remains, notably a huge theatre and an amphitheatre, with a seating capacity of 25,000, proving that the Romans lived well, even in the provinces. The town is also a gathering place for gypsies from all over Europe.

The food was divine, truly ooo…la…la…la…a French gourmet dining experience. We were in the heart of French gastronomy and wines, where the French take true pride in both the presentation and taste of their offerings. Fine wines of the area were ever present, offered freely without cost at both lunch and dinner. Pastries and wonderful breads were all baked on board by boat chefs and bakers.

The staff was friendly and accommodating, always providing a cordial, friendly atmosphere. There is no assigned seating, so if you are open to meeting new people, you can meet and make new friends during mealtimes. After dinner, on many evenings, local entertainment is brought on board. We saw performances by a chanteuse, a pianist with many hats and songs from around the world, and a trio of gypsy performers.

All of the towns have local tour guides, guaranteeing familiarity with the area. A nice touch is the Quietbox, which has earphones so that the guides can be heard from a distance. No more following on the heels of the guide to guarantee hearing the presentation! Also, the cabins each have a television that can be converted into the Internet at the touch of a button.

River cruising has only been in existence since 2006, because the Rhone was once a treacherous, often flooding, body of water. The first lock was installed in 1956, and today twelve locks make the river current manageable. At present, over 20 boats sail around the rivers of Europe and Asia. Three new boats are being added this year, one of which will be on the AMA line. Boats cannot be made wider, only longer, so this is a limiting size factor.

On the seventh day, after disembarking in Arles, we went back to Marseille, from where it is possible to take a trip through the French Riviera. In Marseille, we boarded a Hop On-Hop Off bus tour around the Marseille City Center. Because the company had shortened their schedule, we would have had to wait two and one half hours for a bus if we left the vehicle to explore, so we had to content ourselves with the ride around the old city.

The next day, a van booked through a local tour company took us to Cannes, Nice and Monaco, all lovely, pristine communities. We took pictures in front of the famous theatre in Cannes. The grand staircase is not grand at all, just ordinary stairs, which must be photographed so that they will appear imposing. The beaches of Nice have many names, one of which is Miami Beach. They contain no sand, only stones, so the people lying on them must be very uncomfortable. Monaco is imposingly kept up, so that it appears as unreal as a movie set. We also visited the Fragonard perfume factory where we learned that there are only 150 perfume makers in the entire world. Schooling lasts three years, with another seven of internship. Anybody making perfume cannot drink liquor, smoke or eat spices, as these activities will impact the nose. A perfumer only works two hours a day. The nose gets tired.

From Marseille, we flew to Paris. Ah, Paris. So much has been written about it. What can I possibly add that will matter? On our first day, we walked on the Avenue Champs d’Elysee to the Tuileries Gardens, which are not gardens at all, but simply statues still remaining where an opulent, imposing palace stood before the French Revolution. The French people have an interesting distance perspective. We were told repeatedly, over a distance of over two miles, that the Tuileries are “just over there.” What we learned is that nobody who said “just over there” had ever walked the distance.

On our first full day, we rode the Hop on-Hop Off bus, to which we had purchased a two day pass, which had to be used on consecutive days. Our first stop was the Eiffel Tower where the line snaked around the block. Had we stood in the line, it would have taken several hours to be taken to the top, so we elected not to remain. Instead, we visited the Cathedral of Notre Dame, where the wait was at least reasonable.

That night we did the tourist thing and saw the show at the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre. If they packed in any more tables, there would have been no room to walk. The food was mediocre, but the show was lush and memorable, with excellent dancers, memorable, vivid colors and costumes, a ventriloquist and a couple of who performed a remarkable, seemingly impossible, acrobatic act.

Our second Hop on-Hop off was largely spent in the charming, old Marais section, which also contains the Jewish Quarter. There are several Jewish stores among the boutiques. Among them was a Jewish bakery, where we had a most delicious sandwich.

As we peered into the window of a tiny, locked synagogue, a man came to the outside door and invited us inside. If more than a dozen people were in this room, it would have felt claustrophobic. It was that small. However, adorning the bimah, were no less than six beautiful Torahs. The man turned out to be the assistant rabbi, who spoke to us at length about the “improvements” the mayor of this district had made. It seems that the cute boutiques and newly paved streets are not improvements at all in the minds of the Orthodox Jewish community who lived here. He bemoaned the fact that the stores were open on Saturday when residents were enjoying the Sabbath, and that the noise and tumult of all the visitors defiling their area had caused everyone to move away, creating a kind of ghost street. Some quirky laughs came when we saw a resale shop entitled “Come on Eileen” and when we noted the name Panzer on a grocery store window.

We visited the Paris museum of the Holocaust. It is free and richly documented but, unfortunately, very little was translated into English, so we missed a great deal of the commentary.

We finished the afternoon in Montparnasse, where we had coffee and hot chocolate in a café during a downpour. At the end of the day, we had a very rich French dinner in a recommended restaurant. A final note. The French people get a bad rap. They were unfailingly polite and often volunteered “I speak English” when they heard us talking in rudimentary French.

My last day in Paris. On my first trip to Paris, I had not been able to go to Versailles. It was one of the major sights I wanted to see this time around. Museums are shuttered on Mondays, so we had bought a two day bus pass for Monday and Tuesday. Because of the consecutive day rule, only Wednesday was left for Versailles. It seems that Wednesday, May 1, is the French Labor Day and everything is closed. Everything. Even department stores. We were going to the Bon Marche, the grande dame of French shopping, only to find that it too was shuttered. Instead we saw the La Basilique du Sacre Coeur du Montmartre, where a funicular (mini train) elevated us several hundred steps to this impressive small cathedral. We also walked the length of the Avenue of the Abesses, lively and charming.

Foiled again. Two trips to Paris and still unable to see the fabled splendor of Versailles. Well, I guess that just means that I will have to return to France.

On Publishing a Book – second installment (Or, senior citizen computer befuddlement)

Even posting a blog represents a mountain climbed for me.  When I decided to write a blog, I typed the name and e-mail information, and I thought that I was all set.  Wrong.  At that point, I decided to change the title.  All I succeeded in doing was to add another page.  Somehow I still thought that I could  add a page and that would fix the problem..  So, when all was said and done, I had three pages, and I did not know which one to use.  Finally, I settled on one of them by just shrugging my shoulders and selecting the first..  Fine.  I typed about fifteen hundred words, let it sit and then wanted to proofread before publishing.  I had saved the draft but did not know how to find it again.  Through trial and error, I succeeded in  locating it.  The spellcheck function kicked in, but when I attempted to proofread the underlined errors, I received a message that asked me whether I wished to stay on the page or leave it.  I could not make it work, so I could not publish my post.

In frustration, I called the person who had been my editor through the writing of the book now in the process of being published.  She said she was new to blogging and could not provide any real help.  I tried frantically and in vain to find an e-mail address, any e-mail address, where I could ask for help.  No luck.  I guess WordPress thinks that if you know how to type, you know how to blog.  Or, maybe they do not want to be bothered with e-mails. Or, alternatively, everybody who wants to blog is more proficient than I with the computer. Anyway, I asked the person who is getting my book ready to publish online and he said he did not know anything about blogging.  After thinking about the situation for a few days, I got in touch with the tutoring company whose services I had used last year.

I looked through the lists under the general heading of “Computer.”  Although I had typed Computer in the subject heading, there were many tutors listed for the three r’s – reading, writing and arithmetic.  There were not actually many computer tutors, and even fewer who listed blogging as one of their teaching options.  Eventually, I came up with  couple of  names, whom I contacted, making an appointment with one of the people.

When the tutor arrived, she showed me how to title the blog, and even more important, how to retrieve my draft.  We spent the hour reviewing the mechanics of blogging, and she departed, requesting that I commend her services to the tutoring company.  I was prepared to do that and sent an e-mail to everyone on my contact list, advising them of my new project.

Later that evening, I received some e-mails telling me that I had not directed them to a blog but to an e-mail address.  What to do?  Frankly, I was embarrassed.  Not only had I given many people an incorrect address, but I had even published it on Facebook! My immediate response was to contact the tutor and ask for her assistance in resolving the problem.  Anxiously, I waited for a response.  And waited.  And waited.  She had been eager to get back to me when making the appointment, but now my e-mail failed to include any advice from her.

Apologetically, I wrote my editor asking her if she paid for her blog and if that was actually necessary.  She said she paid nothing but was looking into this further as a paid blog may receive more “presence.”  That makes sense.  Instead of being the last of ten thousand possible entries, paying for the privilege of typing may push a particular blog further up the page.  She is thinking about it, and I will have to think about it, too.

Anyway, I heard from her later.  She informed me that I had created an e-mail address with the @ symbol.  Instead of saying eadinpanzeractivelife@wordpress.com, it should have read eladinpanzeractivelife.wordpress.com.  Such is the way of the computer.  Who would have thought that a little change in a symbol from @ to . would make a world of difference?  That is, before the advent of the computer, who is a very strict mistress.   Thanks to my editor, I was able to notify everyone that they would indeed be able to read the blog.  She has helped me tremendously throughout the entire writing process, and her blog is motherdreaming.wordpress.com.  I recommend it because it is both well written and informative.

The current tutor finally got back to me after about five days because she wanted a recommendation fo the tutoring company and must have finally realized that she would not receive one if she left me suspended forever.  Although her commentary was now redundant, I sent in the commendation.

Well, there I am.  I hope the working through of the mechanics of a blog has not been too boring.   It is simply the befuddlement of a senior lost in cyberspace.

On Publishing a Book

I’m going to publish a book. I’m so excited! I will have to go back to the beginning to talk about this book because it has taken me fifty years to reach this point. As a senior citizen, I have finally gained the courage to do it. I guess I have always wanted to write. All my life I have been a reader, and at all times, have considered a book my best friend. When I was seven years old, my teacher called my mother to school and said that I would fall eventually because I was always walking down the hall and stairs reading. As an adult, I must have always have a book nearby, and when traveling, if I should finish what I am reading, I will definitely rush into the nearest airport bookstore to purchase a new one. Because the accumulation of books when traveling has become cumbersome, I recently purchased a Nook and read a book on it. I am not thrilled with this electronic device because I still love the feel of a real, live book and its pages, but I will have to go with the new way of reading because print is becoming obsolete. But, I digress.

Going back to 1962, my first child was born. Because I had an illness after the birth of my daughter, I was unable to return to my teaching job. Having been very active to that point, I felt somewhat bored, especially during the time that she napped. One day, I pulled out a sheet of paper and sat down at my typewriter. This was long before the computer age.

In fact, during my life as a secretary, it was a big thrill to use the new invention of the electric typewriter since it did not involve having to exert much pressure on the keys.

Because I had always been an avid fiction reader, I decided to write a book in that genre. What to write? What does one write about? I was mindful of the warning that for the written word to be meaningful, it had to be or relate to something with which the author is familiar. With that in mind, I decided I would write a book that would be autobiographical and fictional at the same time. In other words, although fiction, it would contain elements of the truth. I do not think I thought of memoir because it was not a topic with which I was familiar, although I had read “remembrance of Times Past,” in college and hated it.

As I began to write, I thought back to my childhood and to the colorful characters I had known. In fact, most of these people would have fit into the “Fiddler on the Roof,” first generation, immigrant neighborhood where I spent much of my youth. The book flowed almost without thought, and the blend of fiction and non-fiction seemed to meld effortlessly. I continued this pattern for the next year, writing about two hours daily, and at the end of that time, I had one hundred fifty pages. I went on blissfully writing until one day I hit a wall. As easy as it had been to write to that point, that is how difficult it became. In my mind, I was thinking back as I was writing the story, and although it was not truth, enough of it was so that I did not understand what was happening. Although I tried, each time I saw down to write, the same thing occurred.

Eventually, life happened, and the hundred fifty pages, bound in a three-ring notebook, just sat there. At first, it stared at me with reproach, but after a while, I managed to forget about it. Not really, though. Always, in the back of my mind, that unfinished project was tucked somewhere. It was a busy life, what with raising a son and daughter, divorce, a full-time teaching high school special education students in a commute requiring obscene time from my far northern suburb, a part-time dictaphone typing job to make ends meet, and eventually a return to school in search of a doctorate. Forty years managed to slip away, with that notebook always staring at me from the bottom of my typewriter stand, and later, the bottom shelf of my computer setup.

After retirement in 2003, I dabbled a bit with scoring standardized examinations for the huge Pearson company and editing doctoral dissertations. But, I kept looking at that bottom shelf, and it kept nagging at me. Finally, one day, I decided to enroll in a writing class. I did not want an online class but a live situation where people would critique my writing and I, in turn, would critique theirs. Unfortunately, I could not locate even one personal class. Looking online, I found someone who was advertising tutoring in the art of the short story. I contacted this individual and made an appointment. As we met in her home, we discussed keeping a journal and writing short stories. She suggested sources and readings, and we made another appointment.

When we met again, we went over what I had written. In conversation and in passing, I mentioned my book. I told her that I supposed we would have to tackle first things first by writing short stories. She was interested in my attempts at novel-writing, and for our third meeting, I picked up the one hundred fifty page manuscript and hauled it to her house. She read the first chapter, looked up, and said, “It reads like a novel.” My relief must have been almost palpable, but my sigh was only inside. “But,” she went on, “there are a lot of characters and I’m not sure where you are heading.” Yes, of course. I would have to make it all more cohesive, eliminate characters, or combine them. Perhaps a light was going on in my head.

Thinking further, I knew what I had to do. There were two major female characters who had to be combined into one. After I decided this, I was able to resume writing and complete the book. My mentor provided advice for rewriting and editing know-how. After we had determined that it was in a state of readiness, she provided me with a computer link to agents. So began my long journey to locate an agent.

Their requirements for determining whether to take me on as a client were diverse. Some merely wanted a letter describing in general terms the nature of the book. Others wanted the first ten pages. Still others wished to see fifty pages or perhaps the first three chapters. It didn’t matter. Unanimously, they rejected me. I had always been contemptuous of the so-called vanity press. If a piece of literature did not stand on its own, it seemed arrogant to spend several thousand dollars to print it for your own edification and for the few friends and family who would then read it. So, my feeling was that if I could not find an agent, the writing could not stand on its own and I should simply forget the entire project, chalking it up to finishing what I had long ago begun.

But, I did not know about the brave new world of self-publishing. It seems that nowadays to publish a book, what is needed is only a manuscript and the technical know-how to put it online. Therein lies the rub. The computer is always a struggle for me. It seems that I have to do each task many times before I am competent enough to sit down and just get it done. It also seems I never figure out the solution but simply persevere until I give up in frustration. In fact, I hired a tutor because I was tired of not knowing how to retrieve pictures from my camera or how to upload documents and photographs. So, I found a tutoring company and hired a very nice man who had several sessions with me and gave me excellent, detailed notes. The problem was that I thought when I needed to use the information, I would just have to consult the notes. Wrong. When I attempted to do those tasks several months later, I was unable to do so. He came back, and we discussed publishing my book.

He has done the technical work for online publishing before, and we talked about the pros and cons of Lulu versus CreateSpace. Actually, both are free to publish, but when I looked at the cost per book, CreateSpace won. Plus, I can be on the Kindle with it, but not with Lulu. So, the die is cast, so to speak.

I have typed this piece on Word because I did not know how to blog. I’m still not sure know how. I am crossing my fingers that when I try to publish this and get back on, I will be able to do that. This is my first submission, and it promises to be most interesting learning experience. Stay tuned.