It took some discipline to keep our backpacks around the eleven to twelve pound range. A litter of water can push you over. Add a package of figs and oranges or a hunk of cheese and and you really notice the weight. Especially after twenty miles. We had an outdoor wardrobe, if it was below thirty we wore the whole thing, and a set of clothes for street wear. I had a small sketchbook and my iPad but that was it for extras. So when I found this stone on the second day in, a stone that felt so comfortable in my hand I didn’t want to let go of it. I really had to think hard about whether I was really going to bring it home.
It wasn’t just the shape, like an organic hand warmer or a bar of soap, it was the combination of stone, the milky white and the earthy orange brown. I carried it in my hand for hours and then shoved to the bottom of my pack when we stopped. When we got home Peggi noticed this little arrow etched in the stone, an arrow like the hundreds we followed on the Camino de Santiago. I’m thinking this is a miracle.
Would you trust a car salesman who primarily types with the middle finger of his right hand? Or one who sells you a car that has less miles on it than it did when you test drove it a few days earlier. We might have been reading the wrong number on the mini monitor, the one behind the steering wheel, where the speedometer used to be. After you’ve been hit in the rear and the guy takes off, the car you love is beyond repair and its title wrongly has a lean attached it is hard to tell who to trust.
I thought by the time we were ready for a new car there would be all sorts of options. And I don’t mean ones that run on alternative fuels. That whole project has been deliberately stalled. I was thinking of shared vehicles, self driving or maybe just a better mass transit system. We have always had only one car so when our fifteen year run with the Element came to an abrupt end, we had to learn about the current options under pressure.
We did most of shopping online. Sadly there are only three types of vehicles out there and within those types they all look the same. SUVs of various sizes, pick-up trucks and your basic car/sedans that all look the same. We were happy with the Element so went out to Honda. First to complain about the discontinuation of the Element and then to look at the options in 3D. The CRV was the next best thing but then there was this report.
Despite the irreparable damage from the hit and run they offered us some money on a trade in but when we looked at the title to our Element, for the first time in fifteen years, we found there was a lien attached. The 2003 Element was our first new car purchase and we did it in cash so we were taken aback. We remember going out to John Holtz (no longer in business) with a cashier’s check and then going in a back room where we were up-sold on an extended warranty package. Since we already had a cashier’s check for the full amount of the car they said we could put the warranty coverage on our credit card and pay it off monthly so we did but the lien was never removed. And the bank that held the lien was bought by Santander, a giant Spanish bank.
We sort of feel like the kid in “Breaking Away” who was so enamored with the Italian bike team until he raced with them and they took him down. It took us a week to get to someone inside the Spanish bank was willing to help.
We were not a customer. We had no account there and the Customer Service phone line was a giant maze where you wait forever on hold with a music loop for the next person who tries to transfer you and then cuts you off. We started over so many times we learned the codes to get through the phone maze. At the first utterance of a recorded voice we pushed 1, and after the next voice another 1 and another and then four zeros to the next level’s four questions. The zeros are not even an option there but they confuse the system and get you to a real sounding person. And then they want to transfer you to the loan department, a separate company, because they find out you are not a customer. After landing over there a few times we learned to plead with the represenative to get us to their supervisor. We dealt with five supervisors and at last found one who was willing to fax a lien release letter to the car dealer, but by then it was too late in the day on Friday. With any luck we will be driving a new car to yoga on Monday night.
Steve Brown was one of the three original partners in the legendary Bug Jar. Margaret Explosion was playing a regular Friday night Happy Hour there for a few years and he was always behind the bar, off duty from his day job at a big financial firm, encouraging us to invest the little we had. I’m so thankful for that. He’s now a partner, with Tommy Burnett, in Iron Smoke Whisky, a northern New York whiskey distillery of all things. But it is also a bar with a sound system and tonight, the day before Tom Waits birthday, they hosted a Tom Waits tribute.
I like the Rain Dogs period for Tom Waits. Hated The earlier Electra years and then lost track of him. Apparently I am in the minority’s here because the night’s performers mostly drifted to the mopey loungy stuff. Irish Ben managed to bring the house down with a solo, voice only because they couldn’t get his acoustic guitar feed to work, version of a song called Martha, a song he dedicated to his wife, Helen. Teresa Wilcox went for it with “Clap Hands.” And the band sounded like a million bucks, Phil Marshall, Brian Williams, the drummer from Busted Valentines and the keyboard player from Mighty High and Dry.
Madeline McQueen did a great version of “The Heart Of Saturday Night” and someone named Rod Smith did a reved up version of “Downtown Train.” The whole cast finished with a “We Are The World” kind thing with everyone one on stage singing something like “a freeway will never come” over and over. We had a couple Paradox Brewery Beaver Bite IPAs, saw a whole bunch of old friends, and had good time.
“Una invitación para comprender español y para conversar en espanól, lengua expresiva, romántica y musical.” An invitation to understand Spanish and speak in Spanish, an expressive language, romantic and musical. That is my translation of a passage in the intro to “An Invitation to Spanish,” a 1947 book I picked up at a garage sale. As much as I enjoy listening to Peggi converse in Spanish I came back from Spain more determined than ever to learn some of the language.
I’ve been chipping away at the photos I shot and slowly reliving the experience. I just opened one from the cathedral in Santiago of sign that reads, “Culto Al Santisimo.” Cult of the saint? Worshipers of the holy? Adoration of the Holy Sacrament? That last guess is from Google translate. Maybe there is no literal translation. I do enjoy that.
In 1982 our next door neighbor had had enough. We were rehearing in our basement and it wasn’t the band noise that bothered him, it was our guitar player’s muffler. That and the coming and going at all hours. The houses on Hall Street were close together and equipment had to be unloaded at three in the morning. We found this letter taped to our back door.
I couldn’t imagine that we would ever be friends but we lived next door for twenty seven years. I wasn’t even able to tell him were were gonna move so I asked him if he wanted to go for a ride with me. When he got in the car I told him to turn around. The back of our car was loaded with furniture and boxes and took a drive tor new place. He liked it.
Sparky was born in Kentucky and Peggi and I spent a lot of time in Indiana so there was that hillbilly connection. I told him I played in a country band there and he claimed to be in a country band then. I never knew what to believe from Sparky. I knew he had a gun and he sat in the dark in his house on Halloween it nearby. He told us so. He claimed to to have shot a sewer rat out front. And we saw him hosing down noisy crickets at night. He only went to fifth grade and I spent an afternoon trying to teach him fractions. He raked his lawn in his pajamas while smoking a pipe. I started keeping track of Sparky episodes.
After we moved he regularly came to visit and we would stop by to check up on him. At the funeral services tonight we learned he stopped by people’s homes all over town. He seemed to get younger and happier each time we saw him. He bought homemade Polish sausage from a woman in Buffalo and we grilled it in the backyard. Did it really come from Buffalo? It was the best sausage I have ever had in my life.
I was happy to see some of my photos of Sparky on the board at the funeral home and a photo of my painting, “Sparky Goes To A Gig.” A country singer dressed in black with a wide brimmed hat and red scarf sang “The Streets of Laredo” and then a Johnny Cash medley. Sparky was ninety two, an age when all his friends should have been dead but the funeral home was packed. We told his daughter we would send her a link to this video that Peggi shot.
Not as rugged as the Camino de Santiago but a close second. We walked a Record Store Day circuit today on icy city sidewalks. We parked our car in Wegmans lot on East Avenue and started our loop with a cup of Rochester’s Choice at Canaltown and then headed down Winton and Highland to the Bop Shop. My brother-in-law was there with our nephew and Gary Lewis was spinning records. My brother-in-law had him sign some Playboys records. Barrence Whitfield appeared to be working there. He was looking over my shoulder as I picked up the Eric Dolphy release and asked if I had ever heard “Ezz-thetics” a Charles Russel record with Dolphy, Don Ellis and Dave Baker. Peggi took a Jazz Studies class from Baker at IU when he taught there. I came home with the record.
I saw a Sun Ra record in there but had heard from my neighbor that it was four dollars cheaper down the road at Hi-Fi Lounge, a place we had never been, so that was our next stop. We sat in the back room there listening to an electronica audiophile lp playing through one of the sound systems they sell. I told the owner, Mark, that we still have the speakers I built from parts I bought at Rochester Radio on West Main. He didn’t remember that place.
It was sunny for our walk to Record Archive so we went down Oakdale where my cousins used to live. Archive was packed. Deb was doing sound for a guitar player in the back room and she suggested we buy a beer while we shopped. I bought a few two dollar 45s – Charlie Rich, Stylistics, Elvis and The Carpenters.
We have been included in a group text of people planning tomorrow’s get-together at Jedi and Helena’s. We’re bringing appetizers and the group is getting bigger. One off topic text came with just a link. It took us to a YouTube demonstration of a phone app that keeps robocallers on the line thereby eating the time they would have spent bugging other callers. We assumed it was what she intended to send us but it was just an especially long ad that played before a favorite song of hers. When the song started our phone rang and it was a robot caller, a group that has called before. An unbelievably cheery voice starts with, “Hi, This Is Jennifer.” I slammed the phone down.
Monday was our first day back to yoga class since we walked across Spain. I have always felt like Jeffery’s class flies by. I tune into his command and apply a concentrated effort to properly hold the particular poses and the two hours disappear. This time was different. I could not surrender. I was unable to hear all he said so I would miss a movement and then hear an instruction to move in a way that was impossible because I was still back on a previous pose. I was somewhere between daydreaming and antsy. Coming back was a bit of a shock. Here we are responsible for more than the contents of our backpacks. It will take some adjustment.
We’re Abundance Food Co-Op members so we make a point of doing a big shop once a month for our 10% off. Before going in the store we walk down Averill to the river where we get on the River Path. We walk toward UR, formerly the UofR, and the path just keeps getting prettier. The campus is dreamy and I usually find myself wondering what it would be like going to school there but I snap out of that pretty quickly. There are three or four options for crossing the river but we usually cross on Elmwood Avenue and then come back toward downtown on the west side. The west side is wilder, less developed and a little lonelier but it is even prettier than the east side.
What a treat, coming back to Rochester for the peak of Fall colors.
We walked down to the lake yesterday and over to our polling place in the Point Pleasant Fire House. Our friend, Kathy, lives near there and she votes up at East High. On our way home we noticed people voting at the Church of the Transfiguration, right at our corner. Does this have something to do with voter suppression?
Groceries were in order today. We walked along the Sea Breeze Way up to Amans on Culver. We usually go in the back door there and then out the front so we can check out the local produce before heading to Wegmans. The place is no longer open air. There was only one shopper in there and a new worker who asked us if she could help us. Outside the shrubs and small trees were all 75% off, their gardens were turned under, firewood was on display and the pumpkins were marked down. Nothing waits for you when you leave town but it is all good.
Margaret Explosion plays the Little Theater Café tonight.
Kind of funny how the barista at the Starbucks in Penn Station gave us that command. The tone was closer to “I have headache” than “enjoy.”
Peggi proofread my Spain posts on the train up to Rochester. I was reading over her shoulder and it took a bit of tidying up. I have a hard time with spelling for starters. I misspelled innovator in a head. I used the word “flea” instead of “flee.” But my most common mistake is is typing a short word like “our” or “the” two times. Almost like a stutter.
Duane got forced out of his old place when Greenpoint followed Williamsburg and you needed your income to be supplemented by a trust fund to afford the housing. His current place in Kensington is coming up now. He is a trendsetter. We read about an Austrian restaurant in the New Yorker that is a block away so checked that out a few months back. Last night we ate in a hipster, Mexican place right across the street, La Loba Cantina. The owner gave a each of us a shot of tequila for dessert. We couldn’t finish our orders so we had the leftovers for breakfast.
The photo above, was printed on the editorial page of El País a few days before we left Madrid. I absolutely love it. There was no copy connected, no current show or anything. Just an important piece of art communication.
Wandering around Molinaseca we found a bar with a fútbol game on, a match with two local teams, Ponferrada vs. Pontevedra. The tables in the bar were full and the bartender, a big guy in a plaid shirt, gave us a tapa with our beer and brought a plate of meatballs out from the kitchen and passed them around to everyone in the bar. It was a 0-0 finish and the the locals seemed happy with that result. Ponferrada is the closest town. Maybe they were lucky to get a draw.
It is probably our age but when we walk all day we find walking uphill much easier than going downhill. When you put on an extra ten to fifteen pounds, the weight of our backpacks, you find the bottoms of your feet feeling bruised and the effort it takes to brace yourself against gravity on each downhill step takes a toll. Just saying, certainly not a complaint. The Camino experience is above complaining. We’ll walk by someone who is clearly in pain and they will smile and say “Buen Camino.”
Leonard Cohen learned to play classical guitar from a Spanish musician in his hometown of Montreal. “He took the guitar and he produced a sound from that guitar that I’d never heard… a six chord progression that many, many flamenco songs are based on. It was those six chords, that guitar pattern that has been the basis of all my songs.” In 2016 Cohen received the Prince of Asturias award in Oviedo and he had dinner at the place we ate at tonight in Villafranca Del Bierzo. The owner was pictured on the wall with Cohen and the owner’s son helped Peggi figure out how to buy more minutes on her prepaid Vodaphone SIM card while we we sitting under a photo of his father and Leonard.
Every time the Virgin Mary appears to someone she gets a new name. And she always looks a little different so there are many depictions. The name associated with Santiago’s Marian apparition is Nuestra Señora del Pilar, Lady of the Pillar, and she is depicted with a radiant golden crown. Santiago, or St. James the greater, one of the twelve apostles, came to the Iberian peninsula to preach the gospel and he is the patron saint of both Spain and Portugal but they revere the Virgen Del Pilar more and today, October 12th, is her feast day. It coincides with Columbus Day and is celebrated as the national holiday of Spain, the “Fiesta Nacional de España.”
So it’s a feast day and a celebration of a genocide with a military parade in Madrid that costs 800,000 euros. We walked twenty two miles to Astorga and were too spaced out to figure out how the holy day/holiday was being celebrated. The shops were all closed and groups of people were on the street in traditional garb. We bought some wine and Tejas de Almendra and took them back to our room to toast the Virgin del Pilar.
We’ve been watching a Spanish tv show on Netflix called “Ministerio Del Tiempo” where the characters are given assignments that take them back in time, usually for the purpose of ensuring history unfolds the way they feel it should. We are forever backing the show up because the Spanaids talk so fast, Peggi can only catch a bit of it and we can’t read the English sub-titles before they’re gone.
Looking out the window of our train car in Utica I had the sensation we were time traveling. Maybe next year we’ll ride this old train up to Pete and Shelley’s place.
The Tierney side of my family had its annual picnic today and this one was more fun than all the rest for some reason. Only one set of aunt and uncles is left so it is mostly cousins and their families. I have a lot of cousins on this side and we are all around the same age. It always was when we were growing up especially the Christmas parties at my grandmother’s house where we would all run around while the adults talked in the basement. With most of those adults gone now the reunions are fun again.
My cousin, Kathleen, organizes these affairs and a few years back I told her you can’t call it a reunion if you have it every year. I must have read that somewhere. Anyway, she now calls it a “family picnic.” Kathleen is a natural born leader. A few years older than me, she organized us all when we were little kids. Today she is a nun, a Sister of Mercy. I told her we were doing the Camino in Spain and she had never heard of it, the oldest religious pilgrimage in the Christian world. I never knew exactly where she stood with Catholicism and I was especially curious because of all the recent turmoil so I dove right in. We registered our disgust with the priestly sexual abuse and cover-up and within minutes she was discussing how we can can get to the ordination of women.
My sister, Amy, had the brilliant idea to bring some of the watercolors that our dad left behind when he passed. She arranged them on a table and the relatives helped theirselves, each leaving with some original Leo Dodd’s.
I was talking to my mom’s cousin, Joe O’Keefe, when he leaned in to tell me my mom was always his favorite of the Tierney girls. My mom’s sister, Ann, walked by just as he said that and I said, “Does Ann know that?” He laughed and called me a “no good, bog-trotting, trouble making, Mic,” a mouthful of a phrase I had not heard before.
Lee Friedlander called Henry Wessel the “Photo Buddha.” Wessel died recently and in addition to his body of work he left us this beautiful quote. “The process of photographing is a pleasure: eyes open, receptive, sensing, and at some point, connecting. It’s thrilling to be outside of your mind, your eyes far ahead of your thoughts.”
Our yoga teacher talks through the entire class. I like this but he told us one of his former students complained about it. He mostly talks about the pose and I find it helps me to work toward the proper position. Otherwise I would be daydreaming. Sometimes he goes off on a tangent. Last night he told us about a book he was reading on telomeres, the caps at the end of each strand of DNA. He described them as the plastic wraps on the end of shoelaces. His manner of talking is part of the meditation and the class flies by.
Pete LaBonne joins Margaret Explosion on the grand piano Wednesday night. This will be our last performance until November.
Some people know how to throw a party. Fifty years is a lot to celebrate. Quite a few of us didn’t even make it. I went to my fifth high school reunion this weekend and this one should have been the best. Maybe it was. Maybe the standards have shifted.
I was looking forward to the first few hours of chaos, when everyone arrives and you spot an old friend across the room that you haven’t seen since high school, or someone greets you by name and you have no idea who it is, when someone tells you the silliest story, something they remember about you that doesn’t even sound like you. That you. There is a real buzz in the air as you reconnect and find yourself talking to someone you never said a word to in high school.
We experienced all this last week at Peggi’s reunion outside of Detroit. The ones my classmates threw every ten years went like this as well but something was off this time. The get together at the sports bar the night before was pure fun. Surrounded by giant tvs we managed to whoop it up. The reunion itself, the next night at the old Happy Acres golf club, was almost planned to death. Name tags were distributed as we filed in and we were encouraged to find a table so an MC/minister/classmate could work the room. And after that the town supervisor, also a classmate, said his piece. They killed the buzz in record time but we managed to rise above it all. We just had to work a little harder. We were sitting with Joe and he knows how to act. And before dinner was even finished we were milling about and magical conversations ensued.
We drove out here with Frank, the school president in 1968, and we didn’t want to leave until he had finished holding court with Marianne, Holly and Mickey so we hung out by the bar. A classmate said goodbye but came back about ten minutes later because he had forgotten his sports jacket. The committee was packing up the Party Store decorations when we went out for the car. The guy who had forgotten his jacket was still there, trying to get an Uber. He said he might be impaired and he didn’t want to jeopardize his job. We offered to give him a ride.
The front seat was Frank’s because his hip is new so we asked our passenger to sit in the back with Peggi. He had a hard time getting in because both of his knees had been replaced. We found Frank at the door and met another classmate there who was smoking a cigarette. He had too much to drink so we offered to give him a ride even though our car’s four seats were full. He refused our offer and we left. Peggi asked our back seat passenger what his job was and he told us he was a financial planner. He dropped something on the floor and fumbled around for it. It was a breathalyzer. His own breathalyzer.
Berry Gordy purchased this house on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, Michigan in 1959. The soundtrack of our youth was recorded in Hitsville USA. Now the Motown Museum was a must see for us this weekend when we drove to Detroit for Peggi’s 50th high school reunion. We stayed downtown last time we were here and and we were happy to see how much it has bloomed since. We had lunch in the Eastern Market and Peggi bought a “Detroit Girl” t-shirt from a vendor for five bucks. This time we stayed in Royal Oak with an old friend of Peggi’s.
The reunion was a multi-pronged affair. I took photos of Peggi standing in front of two of her family’s old houses and then we met classmates at a bar where a beer and a glass of wine cost us 23 dollars. The group moved to a party at the home of one her schoolmates. He had his drums set up in the basement with blacklight posters on the wall. A group of guys who were in a band when they all were in high school entertained us in a mature lounge punk style. I spent some time talking to a biker, the partner of one of Peggi’s classmates. He had a beard like ZZ Top and he told me he worked in a machine shop long enough to lose a good deal of his hearing, the low end in his left ear and the high end in his right ear. He said if someone calls “she can always tell if I’m talking to a man or a woman because I use the left ear for women and the right ear for men.” The two of them rode their bikes from Detroit to Key West and back this summer.
The following night was the actual reunion, name tags with the high school pictures and all, and it was almost anti-climatic after the shock of seeing everyone the night before. The dj was pretty good and the class got rowdy in a hurry. Peggi and I danced to Spencer Davis’s “Gimme Some Lovin'” and the Detroit Wheels’ “Devil With The Blue Dress.” Both sounded unbelievably good. I’ve been to all five of Peggi’s reunions so I can easily find someone to talk to while Peggi is careening down Memory Lane. A few people told me I was a good sport for going. I thought I was having more fun than that.
The Little Theater tests the waters with movies by only giving them one showing. I was looking forward to the Joan Jett documentary and they have just announced it will be here for one screening, on a Wednesday this month when our band is playing in the Café. We’ll miss Dylan at the Auditorium because that too is a Wednesday. Tomorrow night “Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda” plays the Little at 7pm. Our friend, Stan, called our attention it this one. Sakamoto was a member of the the Yellow Magic Orchestra and is an Oscar-winning film composer. After the Fukushima disaster he became an an outspoken social activist against nuclear power in Japan. A few weeks back I posted a link to a set of music he compiled for his favorite restaurant in NYC.
I’m starting to feel like that guy you see at every art opening chowing down the food. We went to two this weekend. On Friday we drove along the Parkway to Albion for Pete Monacelli’s “Searching For Home” show. This series is mostly flat, hard edged paintings with architectural shapes pulling and pushing the plane. On Sunday we stopped by Margaret Spevak’s opening in the Café. Her quilts happily cross the boundaries of craft and art. Both shows were delightful.
Olcott and Wolcott, are both about the same distance from our house, one in the direction of Buffalo and the other on the way to Syracuse. Both are idyllic little towns on the shore of Lake Ontario, surrounded by fruit orchards. We visited both this summer and pushed it yesterday by continuing on to Fair Haven, the town after Wolcott.
Matthew was our guide. I had not been here since I was a kid and I was anxious to see the diving boards along the channel that runs off the lake into the state park. The hardware is still there but the boards are gone.
We parked in the center of town near the library, next to a street person who was sitting on the lawn. He was barefoot and wearing cut-offs, that’s it. Matthew introduced him to us and he stood up to say, “We’re going to touch” and he gave me a polite hug.
The town is charming. It swells in size over the summer and has three art galleries. We visited them all before heading to Little Sodus Inn, a dark funky bar right at the bottom of the bay. We passed a sign that read, “Curfew in Effect 10PM to 5AM Under 18 years of age.” The bartender’s top was cut really low yet it never ran out of tattoo covered breasts. We took our beers out in the sun but I could see spending some time in there.
Walking toward the lake by some dreamy cottages we stopped at the “Fly by Night Cookie Shop and Miniature Museum,” a fairytale like place run by a large German woman who looked like she stepped out of a Bruegal painting. We picked out cookies from glass jars, chocolate rum balls, “Hee Hee” cookies shaped like marijuana leaves and coconut almond macaroons.
Our next stop was a general store on Main Street with a “No Skateboarding or Loitering” sign out front. First thing that caught my eye was a shelf of gag items, a lollipop that will turn your tongue blue, birthday candles that you can’t blow out, and a bloody bandaid with a nail through it that you can wrap around your finger. A table near the door was stocked with local produce. We bought peaches, apples and eggs. The counter near the cash register was surrounded with tiers of Bic lighters, Bill’s Beef Sticks and five short stacks of “Big Slab” Beef Jerky in a big transparent case. Your choice of “Original, Black Pepper, Teriyaki, Sweet n’ Spicy and Cajun.”
Back at our car the shirtless guy was still on the lawn and a young couple, maybe eighteen years old or so, was sitting on a bench. The woman was was clearly strung out and she jumped up to pace with her phone. She walked around the building and returned holding the phone out to the guy and asking the person on the other end if they wanted to talk to daddy.