The Traveling Cripple

In 2001, I Traveled with a Cane—In Considerable Pain

In 2001, I Traveled with a Cane—In Considerable Pain

When I went to Iceland in 2001 (and yes, this will be the last you will hear about my 2001 trip), I was in considerable pain from a severe case of osteoarthritis in my left femoral head. I had hobbled around with that arthritis ever since 1967, the year after I had my brain surgery. Once my pituitary gland was removed and I started taking hormones, I began to grow again. Unfortunately, my left hip joint did not take too kindly to the changes taking place to my body.

By the year 1997 or 1998, I was using a cane. People would constantly ask me why I was standing up when there was a nearby chair. I would answer them by saying because the pain of getting up was far worse than the mere inconvenience of standing. (I can still stand still for long periods of time without discomfort)

Things got worse when I landed in Iceland in August 2001. Of course, pain or no pain, it didn’t stop me from being active. The only effect was, on the two days of touring with my guide Illugi, I had to avoid climbing a particular hill and taking a trail around lava formations near Dettifoss. Otherwise, I was still pretty game.

Pain is one of those things which I can tolerate in fairly high doses. Not that I want to, but it is usually better than the alternative. Now that Martine is in pain from fibromyalgia (or something that looks and behaves very much like fibromyalgia), I tried to explain this to her; but she wasn’t buying it. Every person has his or her own acceptable threshold of pain, and mine just happens to be higher. Is it because I have been in fairly acute physical pain ever since my childhood—first from a pituitary tumor pressing on my optic nerve, and then from osteoarthritis? Only in the last ten years or so have I been as free of pain as I was when I was ten.

The photo above shows Lake Mÿvatn from my window at the Ferðaþjónustan Bjarg. (Don’t try to pronounce this without a Icelander present … or I should say don’t try to pronounce this with an Icelander present.) Notice the tents between the guesthouse and the lake’s edge.

Many campers don’t like the Bjarg and regard the management as unfriendly. I gained points when registering for one of the two rooms in the guesthouse by asking, “Wasn’t the name of Grettir Asmundarsson’s family home in West Iceland called Bjarg?” Not only was the owner shocked that an American knew this, but I quickly found that he was a big time fan of Grettir’s Saga and named his son Illugi (my guide) after Grettir’s youngest brother.

I loved the Bjarg Guesthouse. It had only two bedrooms, but a big kitchen, where I sat eating harðfiskur with fresh Icelandic butter spread on it. There was also a nice living room which I had to myself when I stayed there.


Too Much Rugged Individualism?

John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter in The Searchers (1956)

John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter in The Searchers (1956)

As a nation, we’ve always prided ourselves on our rugged individualism. And I must say that worked pretty well for us—until the world suddenly grew more complicated after World War Two. Costs began spiraling upwards, at times, such as medical care and housing, beyond belief. Suddenly, we found ourselves in a world where there were 300 million rugged individuals, all competing with one another for scarce resources.

Some of us have learned to walk gingerly through this strange new world. Others have continued on as if it still were the Wild West, and as a result failed spectacularly. No matter: They had their guns. It was just a matter of shooting a bunch of innocent strangers and then turning the gun on themselves. This way they were making a point. What exactly that point was, I cannot even begin to guess. But, by golly, as long as they pretended to be a “Militia” as specified in the Second Amendment (the one part of the Constitution that makes me wonder about our Founding Fathers), they could wreak havoc and go down in flames.

Many Americans of a Conservative bent are scornful of what they call Socialism. In a few weeks, I will be spending some time in Iceland, a Scandinavian country with social guarantees that make it less likely that flagrant failures will shoot up their fellow man in spectacular ways. Medical care is far more affordable than in the U.S., though gasoline costs more. (They have to ship it in from the North Sea and other distant locales.)

Even with only 300,000+ people, Iceland has a number of maladjusted individuals who cause mayhem, but their mayhem is more limited and they are more easily captured because, hey, just about everyone is related to everyone else.

With 300+ million people, the United States has far too many rugged individuals. We need to put an ad on Craig’s List for people who are willing to play well with others.

Not that I have anything against John Wayne! The Searchers is probably my favorite film of all time, though I myself probably resemble John Quayle (the Swedish farmer character) more than the Duke.

Stay the Hell Out of Syria

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire

It’s now official: That crazy old man from Arizona, Senator John McCain, is shopping around for another morass for the U.S. military to get stuck in. Let’s look at the possible consequences:

  1. If we align ourselves with the rebels, we are aligning ourselves with Al Qaeda and Wahhabi Sunni Muslim militants.
  2. Fighting against us would be not only Bashar al Assad, but Hezbollah, the Shi’a, and Iran (indirectly).
  3. Russia is supporting Bashar with weaponry, so we will end up with the best that Putin can throw at us.

I can’t see that either side deserves our support. I would not venture a single American life against the whole lot of them. As much as they say they need our help now, what is to keep the rebels from doing a 180° turnabout whenever it suits whoever is in power during a particular fifteen minute slot.

Not only can we not predict who will win, but we can’t figure out what kind of governance would result. My guess is that it would be another Iraq, with sectarian bloodshed lasting for years to come—and with America, once again, identified as the “Great Satan.”

My belief is that we should provide both sides with medical help and sit back with a box of popcorn to see who comes out on top. That would be a refreshing change of pace for once!


Martine Remonstrates with the Geese

Martine at the L.A. Arboretum

Martine at the L.A. Arboretum

Martine and my father have some interesting things in common. My Dad loved to feed the pigeons and, before he married my mother, had his own pigeon coop. Martine also likes to feed the birds, but she prefers ducks and especially geese.

Geese are not the most cooperative of birds. Years ago, when Martine lived in Twentynine Palms and worked at the U.S. Naval Hospital there, we used to have brunch at the Twentynine Palms Inn. On the premises, there was a little pond and some very obstreperous geese, who used to go after Martine. I would have to run at them shouting “Bo!” until they backed down. (Thus no one would claim that I couldn’t say “Bo!” to a goose.)

The last time we went to the L.A. Arboretum, Martine brought along with her a sack of stale bread which she threw at the resident geese and ducks. Predictably, the ganders were being hyper-aggressive and kept pecking at the females and beta and gamma ganders to monopolize the bread. In return, Martine would remonstrate with those geese and make a special effort to feed the better behaved birds more of the crumbs.

Anyhow, when she does that, I feel a special warmth for my little French girl. There is something so sweet about her criticizing the “bad” geese that my heart warms to her all the more.

Opson and Situs

Seafood Mosaic from Pompeii

Seafood Mosaic from Pompeii

In 1997 classical scholar James Davidson published a fascinating little book about the ancient Greeks entitled Courtesans and Fishcakes. Discussing the eating habits of the ancient Athenians, Davidson makes a distinction between opson (ὄψον) and situs (σίτος).

Opson refers to what we would call meat entrées, particularly when they bare seafood. Beef and lamb were more associated with religious sacrifices, during which the meat was shared with participants and attendants at the sacrifice. But fish was the meat of choice at symposia such as the ones described so vividly by Plato and Xenophon.

Certain guests at a Greek symposium were known for what is called opsophagi, or “opson eaters.” It was considered rude for guests to ignore the situs, usually consisting of what we would call the side dish. (In our culture, it would include potatoes, rice, and bread; for the Greeks, wheat or barley was the usual side dish.)

One interest side to diabetes is that it is affected primarily by the dishes the Greeks would consider to be a part of situs (though barley is a special exception). People with Type II Diabetes, such as myself, have to concentrate on the opson, supplementing it with vegetables and fruit.

You can now consider me an opsophagos, though I wouldn’t call it to my face.


Don’t Let the “Ballet Skirts” Fool You

Boys from St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Macedonian Costume

Boys from St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Macedonian Costume

Here’s another photo from the Valley Greek Festival in Northridge that Martine and I attended yesterday.

It has always seemed strange to me that the Greeks favored starched white skirts for their male dancers and soldiers. It certainly does not imply any lack of masculinity on their part. As a wartime correspondent, Ernest Hemingway was with the Greek forces invading Turkey in the aftermath of World War One. It was the first time, he wrote, that he had seen “dead men wearing white ballet skirts and upturned shoes with pompoms on them.” Below is a photo of Greek Evzone soldiers on guard duty:

Greek Evzone Troops

Greek Evzone Troops

Don’t let the “ballet skirts” fool you. Although it has not always been well led, the Greek Evzones have always been a formidable fighting force.


The Dance Goes On

Dancing Aphrodite

Dancing Aphrodite

Today was the Valley Greek Festival in Northridge. Martine and I went to St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at Balboa & Plummer and sampled some of the Greek cuisine (very limited in my case, but still most excellent). Also, I watched some of the folk dancing to the live band—I think its name was Olympia.

The young lady in the photograph above seems to be at all the local Greek festivals. It is a joy to watch her dance: Her moves are incredible. Over the years I have been attending these festivals, perhaps as many as eight or ten years, I have nicknamed her Aphrodite. Never having spoken to her, I do not know her real name; but she is poetry in motion, a regular Terpsichore.

We also took the tour of the church for the umpteenth time. There is something about the Orthodox church that appeals to me. If I were to become an active Christian, I might well switch my allegiance from the Church of Rome to the Church of Hellas. (For one thing, the whole child molestation epidemic among the Catholic clergy has repulsed me, even though I know that only a minority of the priests are guilty.)

The next big Greek festival in the area is in Torrance the weekend after I get back from Iceland in July., followed by the L.A. Greek Fest at Saint Sophia Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles early in September. The dance goes on …