All of me

img_2799Like most of you, I’ve been finding ways to amuse myself during our COVID-19 quarantine. The picture attached to this post shows you one thing that’s been occupying my time. This puzzle is a compilation of covers from the first 56 Nancy Drew mysteries. I devoured these books as a kid and am surprised at how many of the plot lines apparently have been nesting in some obscure corner of my brain for the last several decades.

This paragraph is a complete tangent, so if you want to stay with the main theme of this post, just skip on. No offense taken. But as much as I loved Nancy Drew, my favorite girl detective is still Judy Bolton. The Judy series ran roughly contemporaneously with ND, although it differed from its more successful sister in several ways. One difference that I always appreciated was that Judy, unlike Nancy, was not a perfect person. She had a temper, acted impetuously, and bickered with her older brother. She also grew older and changed. We meet her in high school in the first book, The Vanishing Shadow. By the time the series ended, Judy had graduated from high school, worked as a secretary, gotten married, and started to take on issues such as the plight of many Native Americans (The Spirit of Fog Island) and anti-Muslim violence (The Search for the Glowing Hand). We had to go see the Dragon’s Mouth at Yellowstone since Judy had traveled there in one of her books. 🙂

Back to the Nancy covers now! I’m loving the puzzle. Putting each piece in place is satisfying. That’s because the picture is only complete when all of the pieces are there. It takes all of them to make the picture perfect. I’m reminded of the old song, “All of Me.” You may already be familiar with it, but this song is worth another listen. I know it mostly from the Willie Nelson version, but the Billie Holiday rendition grabs me like no other. The song may be on the old side – it was written in 1931 – but its wise message endures. Give completely. If you’re in a relationship, give yourself fully to another person. Once you’ve decided on a course of action, commit yourself. When you read or listen or admire, focus.  “You took the part that once was my heart/So why not take all of me?”

Given that perspective, I’m taking this song as my anthem for our COVID-19 experience. I’m all in on lockdown. There’s no cheating to run out and look at the sunset, even if the police are nowhere in sight. There’s no quick run over to a neighbor’s place for a chat, even if the neighbor is in my building and the visit would be undetectable. We all have to do this to protect ourselves and everyone around us. As with my puzzle, if one piece is missing, if one person cheats – the picture is imperfect. And with COVID-19, imperfection could be disastrous.

We will get through this time and look back on it, perhaps, with a weird fondness. Most of us have never experienced anything that binds us so much, that shows us how we truly are all in this together. Remember that “All of Me” became a hit during the Depression. This was another time when we saw how interconnected we are and rose to the occasion to weather it. We can do this. It just takes all of me. It just takes all of us.





Dance with me

A couple of weeks ago, Mark and I went with some friends to dance at The Broken Spoke. It’s been a minute since I had a hand stamp, so I thought I’d share this picture with you.

The Broken Spoke, for the uninitiated, is a decades-old honky tonk in Austin. It’s a little less honky than some places; for example, there’s no chicken wire between the patrons and the band to protect the musicians from beer bottles, fists, chicken fried steaks, and other potential missiles. But the Spoke still has a creaky wooden floor, mixtures of all sorts of uncomfortable chairs at the tables, and a lot of beer flowing, despite the face that the building is now surrounded by high rise condos and apartments. On a given night, all sorts of folks will be dancing there. You can tell the serious couples because they have on matching outfits – or Stetsons, as was the case of a black-hatted couple the night we were there. As usual, some of the dancers were giggling, some were grimly determined, and more than a few were very well lubricated indeed. We had one particularly notable couple in that last category. They were dancing without leaving the requisite room for the Holy Spirit between them, but that wasn’t enough for the guy in the couple. He made a grab for his partner’s ass during a turn and nearly dumped both of them on the floor. In a feat of unparalleled upper body strength and sheer drunken mulishness, his partner managed to get them upright again. It was an impressive display on her part. I almost clapped.

Now, this wasn’t the first time I’d been there. I have some history with the Spoke. Bear in mind that I attended a grand total of zero dances in junior high and high school. But it’s sort of a law that you have to go to the Spoke at some point if you’re in Austin. I first went there as an undergraduate at the University of Texas in the late 1970s. Other than the facts that I: 1) didn’t like beer then; 2) disliked country music; and 3) couldn’t dance, it was great. After a halfhearted attempt to master the Cotton-Eyed Joe (a line dance) and only learned enough to yell “Bullshit!” at the right time in the dance, I declined further invitations for, well, decades.

The problem – or the providence, depending on how you see it – is that I married a guy who likes to dance and is actually quite good at it. For many years, I was sufficiently self-conscious about dancing that I’d only do so in public if we were with people I’d never see again. So, for example, I’d happily dance on cruises. That’s been lots of fun. One memorable cruise dance happened while we were on the Norwegian coastal ferry in December 2013 to see the Northern Lights and decided to visit the lounge when our evening’s entertainment, a Swedish guy with an electronic keyboard, was playing and singing. It turns out he knew half of the lyrics to “Crazy,” so Mark and I gamely tottered about on the pitching dance floor; said floor was only about the size of two card tables, but we had fun. And last February we danced in the lounge area on our Nile cruise boat, attired in gallebayas and eventually joined by the guys tending bar. That was fun, too.

But I got braver over the years. I’ve danced at several weddings now, including our daughter and son-in-law’s (and we knew we were going to see them again) and at a few fundraisers and charity events. I still am about as graceful as a moose and have a tendency to try to wrest the lead from Mark, but about a decade ago I had an helpful epiphany about dancing. You know how many people in the whole universe care whether I can dance well? One. Me. No one else gives a flip. And then a couple of years ago I had another epiphany. You know how many people even notice how I dance? One. Me. (Maybe Mark if I step on his feet.) On the dance floor, I’ve quit caring how little people might think of me, because I realized that they were thinking of me so very little. This is truly liberating.

So you know what? I’ve decided that what I’ve learned about dancing applies to a lot of other areas of life as well. I have crooked teeth, but I’m going to smile in pictures. I laugh too loudly but feel free to guffaw when something amuses me. I have wrinkles and age spots, but phooey on makeup. I’m going to wear sandals whether or not my toenails are polished and jeans because they’re comfortable and bright colors because they make me happy. If anybody has a problem with that, they’re welcome to keep that tidbit to themselves.

So the next time you’re feeling awkward or self-conscious or too old for something, feel free to join me in not giving a shit. Instead, visualize me holding out a hand to you as the band begins to play. It’s our song, folks. Come dance with me.

Game on

It’s probably pretty clear from previous entries in this blog that I like to read. A lot. In fact, a psychologist I met at church once noted that we all had obsessions, and I confessed that mine was books. She paused, looked at me and said, “Well, there are a lot worse ones to have.”

She was undoubtedly right, but I have another, slightly less obvious obsession. I love playing online games.

Now, playing games is an old, old practice. Our tour guide in Egypt brought that message home when he pointed out faint markings scratched in the stone walks surrounding a temple where ancient Egyptians came to be healed. The squares were a game, which patients etched in the walkways where they sat and waited. I can just imagine mothers trying to distract sick, bored, and wiggly children. Been there, done that, in many a doctor’s office. A moment of sympathy flashed across the millennia between us.

Slightly more recently, I played lots of games as a kid. Some of these were games my mother made up to keep us from getting too restless while we waited for the doctor to appear, the dentist to finish, the tennis lesson to end, whatever. My favorite was always seeing how many words you could make out of one word. (I’m pretty good at Wordle now, partly as a result.) And we played a boxed game she had as a kid. It was called Fibber McGee and Molly and was based on an old radio show. Basically it’s the same idea as MadLibs, which we played in the car with our kids for ages.

Some of the board games my family had included really obscure ones, like Video Village, which was a version of a TV show, and Broker, which dealt with the stock market and which my brother adored. (FYI he rebelled against capitalism en toto in the 1960s, but that might just have been a coincidence.) I like Clue – I still love mysteries – and a game called Careers, where you could become an actor or a farmer or astronaut, etc., etc. You got points for endeavors in your field. I loathed Monopoly and still do to this day. I played with my sister, who’s several years older than I am and was (and still is) a wee bit competitive. When I was five and she was 11, let’s just say that she understood a lot more about real estate (not to mention addition and subtraction) than I did. Scars remain.

In high school, my friends and I played a lot of Spades in between rounds at speech tournaments and, as old-fashioned as it sounds, Charades at parties. Note: do not let debate partners play on teams in these games. They spend so much time with each other that they kind of know what the other person is thinking. Sadly, I was never invited to a party where we played Spin the Bottle. But I’ve been happily married for 37 years now, so I guess I made up for lost time.

The games I play now are pretty much online. I miss some of my old standards, like Joy Garden, Rocket Mania, and Cradle of Rome. But fear not, for I’ve found other fun ways to spend my time. I still like Tetris and Candy Crush, and I sometimes play a hidden objects game called Seekers Notes. I’m mad at the SN folks, though, because they double charged me on an in game purchase and have basically blown off my complaint. My current obsession is a parking lot game, where I happily move tiny electronic vehicles out of the way of walls, fire hydrants, mailboxes, and sneaky little old ladies who walk around the parking lot and turn abruptly in front of ongoing cars. If you hit a little old lady, you lose, but if you only hit her walker, you get extra points. That’s a bit perverse, but there you are.

Now, here’s the point that always kind of surprises me about playing online games. When you tell someone who also plays them, you generally have a pleasant conversation ahead. But when the other person doesn’t share your taste for such pursuits, you generally get a rather acidic response along the lines of, “Oh, I don’t do that. It’s such a huge waste of time.”

Why is having fun wasting your time?

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve worked hard in my life. I studied hard to get good grades as a kid and participated in lots of demanding extracurricular activities. I put myself through college and law school and did pretty well in both. Post school, I was a wife, a mom, a practicing lawyer, and a law professor and administrator. But I’ve always tried to make room for fun; it’s what feeds me, what makes it possible to get up and do it again the next morning. Whether it’s reading, or watching movies, or traveling, or hanging out with friends, fun is restorative and energizing and comforting. In fact, Mark and I still quote Dr. Seuss to each other, even after all these years: “Such things are fun, and fun is good.”

So here’s to fun – and games! And if you ever want to play a rousing game of Clue, just let me know. But be warned: if you want to play a rousing game of Monopoly, you’re out of luck with me. But I will give you my sister’s address.

The languages of the streets

Having recently returned from a trip to Egypt, I can assure you that the languages there are quite different from ours. Duh, you may be saying now, since the primary language there is Arabic, and the old language was written in hieroglyphics. But the languages of the streets, especially in Cairo, run as deep and as varied as the channels of the Nile.

Some of the street languages are what you’d might expect. Vendors are everywhere, for example, hawking everything from little pyramids made of stone to friendship bracelets made of plastic beads. They cry out, “Brother! Cousin! My lady!” as you walk by them; one guy even yelled out “Hey, cowboy!” when Mark wore his (Canadian-made) Tilley hat one day. Too, five times a day you hear the muezzin calling faithful Muslims to prayer. And engines are everywhere. Cars, trucks, buses, minivans, tuk tuks, and heaven knows what other vehicles careen through the streets, passing each other with mere centimeters to spare and blithely ignoring lane lines, traffic signs, and the few stop lights that dot the Egyptian roadways. It’s an urban symphony.

But the streets also have languages that we don’t recognize, much less understand. Our guide in Alexandria opened our ears to one such tongue when he asked us to listen to the rhythm of the horns being blown by various vehicles. Sure, some blasts were your run-of-the-mill outraged lean on the horn, expressing indignation at some irksome maneuver by another driver. But if you listened carefully, you could hear that a few patterns were repeated by multiple vehicles. Our guide explained that those patterns had specific meanings. One series, for example, bleated out the rhythm of the words “I love you” in Arabic; drivers honk this out at attractive women. (Sigh.) The only sequence I remember, though, is four short blasts, one long one, and one short one. This is the cadence of someone saying “Son of an —-hole” in Arabic. I decided to learn that one because it might come in handy someday on Interstate 35. Travel is so broadening.

The other street language we learned about involved hand signals instead of horns. To understand this one, you need a little background information. For one thing, many people ride minibuses that run regular, self-appointed routes. One minibus might, for example, go up and back from Tahrir Square to the municipal building where residents pay their water bills. For another thing, people walk in the streets, hail transportation from the streets, and have long conversations in the streets. Sidewalks are for sissies and for parking cars on. Go figure. Anyway, people who want to grab a minibus that is going on the municipal building route stand in the street and make a pumping motion with their hands. The driver of the minibus keeps an eye out for this signal, stops to pick up the passenger, and everyone goes on their way. (Apparently the sign for a ride to the pyramids is to make a little triangle with your thumbs and forefingers, which I thought was rather cute.) Mind you, the driver is doing all of this while navigating the maelstrom of Egyptian traffic, smoking, and talking on a cell phone – all at the same time. It’s no wonder these people were able to build the pyramids; they appear to have six or seven hands apiece, all of which are busy at any given time.

So if you’re lucky enough to get to travel to Egypt, be sure and keep an eye and an ear out for the language of the streets. The country has much to say, if only we know how to listen.

You said it, Maggie

I admit to being a big “Downton Abbey” fan, and a large part of that is due to the snarky Dowager Countess. Magnificently played by Maggie Smith, Violet Crawley is the queen of one-liners. Who wouldn’t love a character with quips like these? “I’ll take that as a compliment,” says her visitor. The DC responds, “I must have said it wrong.”

One of my favorite lines from her comes in response to a remark made in the first season, when the new heir to Downtown Abbey, Matthew Crawley, is talking about how he intends to continue practicing law as he learns the ropes of running an estate. He notes that he will be available to do the latter during evenings and weekends. As you can see from the picture, Violet is ready to remind Matthew of the chasm between the aristocracy’s existence and his plebeian world. She leans across the table and inquires, “What is a week-end?”


I’m writing about this remark because Mark and I are about to leave on a vacation – I think. I mean, I’m sure we’re going somewhere; tickets for a tour of Egypt are booked, flights are scheduled, and our bed is covered with stuff to pack. But the word “vacation” implies that you’re getting away from something. When you’re retired, as we are, there’s no job to escape. When you live in apartment overlooking the Mediterranean and spend your time reading and hanging out with friends, there’s not a lot about your current situation to want to get away from. So we’re taking a trip, but are we taking a vacation?

Let me know if you figure this one out. In the meantime, I’ll be shoving travel pants into my suitcase and trying to think of witty ripostes to use on our fellow travelers. Wish me luck!

Hello walls

You have no idea how ironic this picture is and why Johnny Cash ought to be in it.

Let me explain. Mark and I recently visited Mallorca. Famous as the playground of the rich, this lovely island has it all: beaches, mountains, castles, and sweeping views of the Mediterranean. But what Mallorca, and specifically this place, got me thinking about was the contrast between the walls we build and the sea surrounding us.

I began musing on this topic when we visited Bellver Castle, situated on a mountain near Palma. To be sure, visiting a castle in Spain is kind of like going to a Starbucks in the USA – the buildings are everywhere, and what’s for sale inside is generally overpriced. Bellver commands gorgeous views of Palma and the sea, as the picture above shows. The castle was built in the 1300s as a defensive position and a residence for King James II of Mallorca. But the buildings have a darker side as well. Political prisoners deemed too seditious to be let loose in society were held there. These prisoners were to be found as late as the 20th century, when two Catalan leaders were imprisoned there before they were shot.
And what did those shut up in the castle look on, day and night? The sea. The beautiful, ever-moving sea, where for thousands of years human movement from one place to another has been going on, day and night. And much of that movement has been about politics.

Many the journeys across Mare Nostrum, as the Romans called the Med, were, of course, commercial in nature. Traders have sailed these waters for thousands of years, carrying cargo in everything from wine skins and amphora full of of olive oil to modern shipping containers stuffed with TVs from China and designer clothing stitched up in Vietnam. If you ever visit us, we will take you to Cartagena to see the renowned Museum of Underwater Archaeology. This gem of a museum will give you a good look at commerce in our sea.

But many Mediterranean voyages involved politics. Certainly these were sometimes cast as exploration or pilgrimage. For example, Phoenicians sailed to Cadiz to recreate their fine cities on its hooked peninsula. Cleopatra sailed her exotic painted ships to Rome to visit Julius Caesar. (That went well.) Saint Paul sailed in the Mediterranean, sometimes voluntarily and sometimes not. Later, Crusaders climbed aboard ships and set their eyes on the Holy Land, where they hoped to carve out territory for themselves in this life and the next. And many political voyages were more overt. The Greeks sailed for Troy, Hannibal ferried his elephants from Africa, Roman galleys moved troops and governors across the waves, Napoleon and the English battled up and down the coasts, Germans and the Allies struggled for supremacy. The list is almost endless, but you get the idea.

It’s worth noting the cost of these voyages. Most of them succeeded, but many others did not. Innumerable shipwrecks, ranging in age from prehistory to the present day, litter the sea floor.

Perhaps the most compelling sea stories of all, though, are about the refugees who’ve sailed this sea. We teach some of these stories in literature classes. When Troy fell (more walls), Virgil tells us that brave Aeneas and a tiny remnant of his family sailed for Italy to try to start over. Much more recently, on the sun-drenched beaches of Mallorca, Spanish Republicans escaping from Franco launched every boat they could find and headed to relative safety in France. A few years later, many in France would sail to neutral Spain or Africa to flee from the Nazis. And in our own times, desperate refugees from Africa and the Middle East clamber into leaky, overcrowded watercraft to escape war and poverty and, perhaps, find a better life in the EU or, ultimately, other parts of the world. The sea has always offered a way to move, to escape, to evade the strictures of the walls people construct.

Which brings us back to irony and Johnny Cash. Cue the Man in Black and his classic “Folsom Prison Blues,” where the prisoner in his cell hears a train whistle and laments, “But those people keep on movin’, and that’s what tortures me.” So here we are. Hello walls – and the sea beyond.

Beatles birthday

Yes, January 4 was that one. But apparently somebody will still need me and feed me.

January 4 is actually a funny birthday. On one level, it’s unfortunately right after Christmas and New Year’s, so people are kind of over celebrating. And I can’t count the number of times we went back to school on my birthday. On the other hand, when I was a kid, my mother – every year – would buy me toys and such “for Christmas and birthday,” feel generous and put them all under the tree, and then go buy a new set of birthday presents at after-Christmas sales. That was kind of sweet. So it all depends on how you look at it. In fact, I once worked with a guy who told me in passing how much he hated his birthday, and I told him I loved mine. It turns out we were both born on January 4. I think about that a lot.

Anyway, fast forward to this year. Turning any blank-4 age means going from early in the decade to mid-decade, and I notice that more as I age. And my body lets me know I’m older: my eyesight has worsened, my left hip protests when I first get out of bed, and I appear to be building a defensive barrier of jowls around my neck. So there’s a trepidation associated with birthdays now that didn’t used to be there. This is normal, presumably, although not necessarily terribly comforting.

I ended up having a really lovely day, though. Many friends and family members sent electronic greetings; some of my buddies from Democrats Abroad Spain even put together a montage of video greetings, which really made my day. Friends in France sang “Happy Birthday” in a snowy video from Montpelier, and of course the kids were in touch. Mark bought me a beautiful bouquet of flowers. We capped the day off with a dinner at a local restaurant with 14 lovely friends. The wine flowed, people chatted, and I got more hugs and kisses than any human being deserves. Chocolates and limoncello might also have been involved, but I’ll never tell. And a couple of dear friends in Murcia violated my injunction against presents and gave me a beautiful necklace that I’ll treasure forever. What great people, and what a great day!

And that’s actually my takeaway from this birthday: joy is corporate. My happiness is bound up in this lovely community of friends and family, both near and far. This conclusion surprises me a little, since I think of myself as a bit of a loner, off in the corner with a book. But my dizzyingly happy day was all about being with others and the pure pleasure that brought. Maybe this old dog can still learn a few new tricks.

I’ll leave you with one final image of my day. As we were getting ready for bed on the 3rd, I was a bit pouty-faced about changing ages. I’m old, said my brain; I’m old and I’m just going to keep getting older (duh, or keel over). Once again, my community saved me. My precious husband called up “When I’m 64” from his playlist, pulled me off my moody couch, and danced me around the room. That’s magic, folks, and I’m here to tell you it’s real. In fact, I’ve decided that next year’s birthday, should I be lucky enough to have one, is also going to be Beatle-themed. Except this time I’m going with “With a Little Help from my Friends.”

Happy New Year!

Hey, remember me?

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. I could recite the excuses I’ve been using on myself, but that would be both irrelevant and boring. Suffice it to say that I’m resolved to blog more this year.

I hope you had a lovely start to 2023. Mark and I spent it in Zurich, sort of accidentally. We’d booked a flight from the Midwest, where we’d been seeing our kids and granddaughter for Christmas, and we were supposed to connect through Zurich. A couple of months ago, though, the airline changed its schedule, and we ended up with a day’s layover in Zurich. And that day happened to be New Year’s Eve. Worse things have happened!

Mark found us a lovely little hotel in the center of the city, and we grabbed a cab from the airport to it as soon as we got through Customs. God love the people at this establishment, because the staff had our room ready at 9:30 in the morning. Naps ensued, followed by a city tour and more naps. Jet lag is real, people!

We had dinner at a lovely little Italian restaurant across the cobbled street from our hotel. And at the appropriate time, we wandered down to the river, stood on the bridge with thousands of our best friends, and watched fireworks displays all around. The crowning glory was the municipality’s fireworks display, which was launched out over Lake Zurich. It was spectacular, and we toasted midnight with cups of Glühwein, the hot spiced wine favored in both the German-speaking world and the Morris/Tullos household. On our way back to our hotel, we danced a bit to the tunes the DJs were spinning and just generally acted like goofy tourists out on the town. And of course I spoke Spanish to everyone who spoke German to me, because apparently several neurons in my brain are convinced that there’s only one foreign language in the world. Mark teases me about it, but he did it this morning as well. Perhaps the condition is contagious.

Anyway, that’s the report from New Year’s Eve. We’re now back in our apartment in Spain. I unpacked the can of black eyed peas that we schlepped across the Atlantic, so that we will have good luck this year. (I think we deserve extra for all of that hauling, but we will have to see if that comes to pass.) I wish you good luck and much joy this year as well.

Great ballparks I have forgotten

I recently took this picture at Oracle Park in San Francisco. Mark and I spent a fun evening there, watching the Giants play the Diamondbacks. The Giants won, by the way, but we weren’t there to see the 10th inning victory. We left around 9pm to head back to our hotel, due both to a really, really early flight the next morning and the fact that we were freezing in the stands. Mark Twain said something along the lines that the coldest winter he ever spent was summer in San Francisco, and I agree!

(By the way, don’t ask me why the Coke bottle appears to be poised to pour its contents into a baseball glove. Happily, those contents are actually two long slides, which looked like lots of fun. Alas, riders must be 14 years of age or younger. I’m still a little bitter about that.)

I didn’t grow up loving baseball, but I certainly married into it. Our wedding vows included the usual bits about sickness, health, and being richer or poorer, but I’m pretty sure someone also mentioned runners first and third and nobody out. And our daughters were raised going to games at stadiums across America, where they bought ridiculously expensive caps and learned to score a game properly. Never say we didn’t raise our kids right.

So over the last 37 years and change I’ve attended a lot of games in a lot of parks. Please don’t ask me which parks; I don’t remember. If you really need to know, talk to Mark. He keeps a list on his phone of the parks he has been to and the ones he still needs to see. He also has a list of bands we’ve seen, for bonus points.

I suppose I should be annoyed or concerned or sad or something that I can’t remember all of the parks I’ve been to. Our society places a premium on remembering, and for good reason. Knowing your name and your address and where your car keys are makes life much simpler. Too, having a good memory is essential for important life activities like the bar exam and pub trivia nights. And having recently spent time with a dear friend who is experiencing memory loss drives home how tough it is for all concerned when the brain fades. I get it.

At the same time, I think it’s possible to remember too much. We have all known people who can’t let go of old injuries, perceived or real. Of course, some traumas, such as abuse, linger in us in ways that are not easily put behind. But when you’re still visibly angry over an insult hurled at you in 1976 by someone who has been dead for over 30 years, a little constructive forgetting might not be such a bad thing.

This might apply to nations as well. I’m thinking here of a teenaged girl from Kosovo who lived with Mark’s aunt and uncle for a year during high school. This was during the most recent war in the Balkans. We invited uncle, aunt, and exchange student over for dinner. The girl and I chatted for a while, and finally she said to me, ”I feel like I can talk to you. I want to explain what is happening in my country.” Flattered, I told her I’d like to hear what she had to say. She straightened up from her teenager slump and started, ”It all started in 1389 at the Battle of the Field of Crows….” Honestly, I was too stunned by her opener to comprehend much of what came next. This girl, who was maybe 17, should in my book be thinking about school and friends and dating and university, not invasions 600 years in the past. I know I don’t understand what it’s like to be Serbian. But I do understand what it’s like to be a pretty carefree 17, and that’s not it. Sometimes you can remember too much.

Then, too, trying to gather everything you do into your memory can rob you of enjoyment of the present moment. For example, at many of the concerts Mark has on his list, we’ve stood next to people who spend the entire performance fiddling with their phones to get the best video or the perfect still photo. Enjoying the music and the fellow-feeling of being in a crowd at a concert gets lost when all you see is the lens of your own phone. Taking one picture and then putting the phone down may leave you with fewer memories, but it also allows for greater enjoyment. Pleasure, here and now, surely counts for as much as a photographic record of your experiences.

So I have no idea which ballparks I’ve been to, or who pitched on a given night, or which team had the best uniforms and concessions. But I do remember that I love Mark, and he loves baseball and me (not necessarily in that order), and that we’ve loved our times together at games. This is enough for me. I hope it is for you, too.

Bad girls go to Benidorm

Or so says a T-shirt I saw last weekend – “Good girls go to Heaven/Bad girls go to Benidorm.”

For those not acquainted with Spanish party spots, Benidorm is a city on the Mediterranean coast, a little north of Alicante. Benidorm is a city of about 75,000 people, roughly 8% of whom hail from the United Kingdom. You can see that in the names of local establishments, such as “Beer’s Friend,” ”London Supermarket,” and ”Benidorm Yorkshire Pride.” A walk on the beachfront will give you lots of opportunities to hear English being spoken, largely by older folks with too few clothes and too much sun on board.

All of this has given Benidorm a reputation sort of like Atlantic City – people come to play (read, drink) and sit in the sun. The picture of a beachfront bar gives you some idea of what I mean. This, in turn, means that lots of hen parties and stag parties take place in Benidorm on any given weekend. A couple of years ago Mark and I took a Ryan Air flight (which is always a questionable choice) from Bristol, England to Alicante, the airport that serves Benidorm. Stupidly, we took a late afternoon flight on a Thursday. Our fellow passengers included a stag party dressed in T-shirts featuring a photo of the groom on the toilet, which ought to give you a clue about how the flight went. Although honestly the stag partiers behaved better than the members of the senior men’s rugby team, who were drunk when they boarded the plane and even drunker when they got off. One team member came and sat on Mark’s lap so he could talk to his friend in the seat ahead, which I put the kibosh on by telling him that I was the only person who got to sit there. Sigh. This weekend we were treated to the sight of a groom roaming the beachfront in an inflatable penis costume. Sigh again.

So Benidorm can be a bit, um, overwhelming, and parts of it downright cheesy (so much so that there’s even a British TV show about it). In fact, I was a little skeptical the first time a friend suggested an outing there. But it just goes to show that, if you’re not too high and mighty to try something, you might just end up enjoying yourself a lot. We’ve found that one fun thing to do is to go to the Benidorm Palace, where tribute bands regularly play shows for sell-out crowds of folks who come on coach (bus, to us Americans) tours. We have done now this twice with our British friends Lynne and Tony and had a ball both times.

Take last weekend. We went with them on a coach tour to see The Manfreds perform at the Palace. We all sang along to such greats as ”Do Wah Diddy Diddy” and ”Pretty Flamingo” and generally had a great time. We were on the young end of the age range on our bus; in fact, one woman who looked quite elderly and walked very slowly, even with a walker, came along. At first I was skeptical about her ability to manage, but this gal had spunk and style. She showed up for the festivities dressed in a sequined blue and purple dress that glittered when she walked. Her ensemble was completed by sparkly hair combs and orthopedic sandals. She toddled gamely through the evening and looked to be having a blast.

So that’s my wit and wisdom on Benidorm, which is expansive enough to accommodate inflatable penis costumes and little old ladies with glittery dresses and sturdy shoes. To which I say, long may it wave!

The flag that isn’t there

War has come to our little Spanish paradise.

I don’t mean that we are being bombed or shot at, or even that we are threatened in any physical way. To suggest that our situation is anywhere near that of the Ukrainians is ridiculous and, honestly, insulting to them (Boris Johnson!). But the terrible Russian invasion of Ukraine has affected our piece – and our peace – here, as it has all around the world.

I’ve actually been to Ukraine. In 1983, my big trip after the bar exam was to what was then the Soviet Union. It was a legal study tour, and it was fascinating. We visited Moscow, Kyiv, Baku (Azerbaijan), Yerevan (Armenia), and Tbilisi (Georgia). I remember liking Kyiv a lot. It had nice parks with lovely flowers blooming, and the food was quite good. The people were much friendlier than in Moscow. The dislike of Russia was no big secret. I remember one tour guide pointing out a large statue of a man seated on a horse; it was supposed to symbolize the bonds between Ukraine and Russia. The guide explained that the Ukrainians had carefully situated the statue so that the horse’s rear end pointed directly at Moscow. We all had a good laugh.

I bet there’s not a lot of laughing going on now in Kyiv.

Here in Spain, virtually every city has relief efforts for Ukraine and Ukrainians underway. Truck convoys carrying food and medical supplies leave almost daily. Fundraisers abound. And we have refugees – many, many refugees. Facebook is full of requests for shelter, clothing, and language assistance. There’s a story behind every request, and heartbreak in every story. It’s wrenching to read. Mark had occasion the other day to go to the Ukrainian Assistance Agency that has been set up here in Torrevieja. He said that a mass of people stood outside, waiting to get in and see if they could get help settling in here in our little coastal haven. It is impossible for me to imagine what these people must feel.

A change has come to our local spirit as well. Torrevieja typically has a lot of Russians in it, especially in the winter. In fact, many businesses around here fly the flags of various countries where their customers hail from. Just a few months ago, you would have seen the Russian flag – horizontal stripes of red, blue, and white, from bottom to top – at many establishments around town. But now the Russian flags are gone. Witness the car dealership pictured above. The Russian flag has been replaced by the multi-starred flag of the European Union. Our war, it seems, is about the flag that isn’t there.

Instead, we have the heartbreak.