The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

It’s October, the month of Halloween and the start of the more solemn Day of the Dead. As a tribute to those holidays I will be posting The Cities of the Dead, stories and photos of various cemeteries. A former co-worker once reacted in shock when I told her that I’d visited a cemetery in New Orleans. Macabre, she thought. Old cemeteries are fascinating. They tell stories of people and their times. 

Rue St. Jean was our evening hangout during our stay in Quebec City. St. Jean is a lively, eclectic mixture of restaurants, shops; boutiques, bars, churches and history. You can do some shopping, have a quick drink at Bar Le Sacrilège where the seats are church pews; dine at one of St.Jean’s many restaurants; people watch while enjoying some gelato and then close out the night listening to some live music at Fou-Bar. The next morning you can ask forgiveness for your sins at Notre-Dame de Québec Cathedral-Basilica. It’s all there. And in the midst of all the lively goings on is a cemetery – a fascinating old historic graveyard.

During the early 19th century, Quebec City was one of the most important ports in North America for immigration from Great Britain.  By the mid-nineteenth century nearly half of Quebec City’s population was English speaking. In need of a cemetery to serve the Anglican and Protestant community, St Matthew’s was opened for it’s grim business in 1771. The oldest cemetery in Quebec City, St. Matthew’s is the eternal home for some of Canada’s earliest settlers.

Looming over the cemetery is St. Matthew’s Church which had it’s beginnings in the early 19th century when an Anglican priest celebrated mass for parishioners in the gravedigger’s house. Later renovations that included arched windows and a dome officially turned the old home into a chapel. The chapel was destroyed by fire in 1845. A new chapel was erected in 1849 with a capacity of 500. Between 1870 and 1882, architect William T. Thomas designed changes that transformed the chapel into the church that now presides over the graveyard.

During the 20th century the city’s Anglican population began to dwindle and in 1979 the city was asked to take charge of both the cemetery and the church. With their acquisition the church was turned into a library and the graveyard was designated a city park.

The park is a hangout for locals who meet and chat on stone benches under the many ancient trees. Dogs chase balls on the patches of grass, weaving around the many old tombstones that still remain.

I paid the park an early morning visit with my camera and then again with Cora one evening just before heading to dinner.

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Above, aglow in the evening light, St. Matthew’s church is framed by a pair of old trees in the former cemetery, now park. In the two photos below, old grave markers flank old St. Matthew’s.

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There are 314 gravestones in St. Matthew’s Cemetery representing 580 souls. The cemetery is the final home for some 6,000 to 10,000 people. However, given the limited space available people were buried in layers. So many residents yet so few gravestones. Why? Most of those buried in the cemetery (or their next of kin) would not have been able to afford a monument.

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As with any cemetery the markers tell stories of life, death and the occupations of Old Quebec’s residents. Many of the markers are the victims of time and weather; broken, cracked, tilting and inscriptions worn.

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I should preface this post by allowing that I have been and still am a sports fan. I enjoy football, baseball, basketball and track and field. Over the years though, my fanaticism has been tempered.

“When cash is handed over to soccer officials in the world, it is invariably siphoned by dodgy officials. Still, the Qatari tournament represents everything rotten about global soccer.” ~ Franklin Foer writing for The Atlantic

“The humidity kills you. There is nothing to breathe. I thought I wouldn’t finish. It’s disrespect towards the athletes.” ~ Volha Mazuronak, Marathoner, Belarus.

Eight young women, finely tuned, high performance coiled springs crouch in the starting blocks. The time for butterflies has long passed. Now is the time for concentration. Now is the time to fold into the blocks in anticipation. Now is the time, God or muscle memory willing to time their launch, not a microsecond before the crack of the starter’s gun and not a microsecond after the competition. The crack and they drive off the line straight as a pistol shot 100 meters down the track. The woman with the flowing hair colored like a rainbow snowcone leaps to the front and rejects the pretenders. From gun to tape Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce preserves her dominance as the world’s fastest woman. She exults in victory. In any normal year she would parade with the Jamaican flag draped over her shoulders to the cheers of a capacity crowd. Not so this year. The stadium is for all intents and purposes – empty.

Sunday, after having had my fill of a landscaping project I plopped onto the sofa ready to watch football and be useless. When I turned on the TV there, to my surprise was the World Athletics Championships ( aka World Track and Field Championships). Either this was a 45 day tape delay or the schedule was changed or I’ve been so out of touch with track and field that I don’t know what’s what with the sport anymore. Turns out the latter two are correct. Yes I’ve been out of touch and yes the schedule was changed. The World Championships are normally held in mid-August but since the event is being held in Doha the organizers decided to push the championships back in order to get “cooler” weather. 

Where the hell is Doha?

I asked that same question, looked it up and learned that Doha is in Qatar, a small country on the Arab Peninsula. Which begged some questions. Why would you hold the 2nd most prestigious track event (the Olympics being the crown jewel) in a place where the average temperature ranges from a low of 84 to a high of 102℉ (29 – 39℃)? Why award a track and field competition to a country with a negligible at best, track and field tradition? The same questions might apply to the awarding of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, also to Qatar. 

Besides being a location that’s brutal for athletic competition what exactly does Qatar have to offer? Spectators who are willing to travel across the world for a major sporting event also look for something to do in the host country. Maybe it’s just me who’s happy staying in a cabin next to a trout stream but I just don’t see the attraction of baking in a place where the tourist attractions are oceans of sand dunes, the relief of air conditioning and brightly lit, modern high rises. built using forced labor. 

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Just one exit up Highway 80 from Hercules, where I live, is the little town of Rodeo, California. Passing through Rodeo, population 8600, give or take, you get the sense of a town that’s just trying to hold on; a sort of sad charm that characterizes many American small towns.

Like many small towns it has a well worn, neighborly feel, home to generations of families that all seem to know each other. They attended the same elementary school and high school, shop at the Safeway on the western edge of town and share after work drinks at Ricky’s Corner, the little dive bar on the eastern end of the main drag.

Ricky’s is like any proper dive bar; dark, unpretentious, amiable and frequented by regulars who’ve been going there for years. The bartender asks how the family is doing, what about that son who’s off to college or the daughter on the John Swett High volleyball team. Meanwhile as she chats, she slides a wooden salad bowl full of pretzels in front of you to go with your shot and a beer. No big screen TV here, just a small set perched above the bar playing sports or news.

There’s a Little League ballfield named after baseball Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez one of the little town’s favorite sons. Every September the crack of the bat and pop of ball on leather are replaced by the hawking of chili and the admiring murmurs of car aficionados; it’s the annual Chili Cook Off and Car Show. Cora and I tasted the offerings a couple years back and they weren’t bad. Mine’s better but doesn’t that leave it to me to put up or shut-up? Continue reading

Friday Fotos took a week off and is feeling very refreshed. This week FF decided to dig into the archives to come up with a medley of images from the past.

Green Apple Books

In the heart of San Francisco’s bustling, eclectic Clement Street on the city’s western end is Green Apple Books, a venerable, book seller that just celebrated it’s 52nd birthday. No small feat for an independent bookstore in the age of Amazon. Green Apple is a San Francisco institution that has such a celebrated history and is such a rock solid member of the community that I doubt it will every succumb to the Bezos leviathan. Besides it’s longevity and reputation as a destination bookstore it’s history has included some famous customers including regular Robin Williams.

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It’s not hard to find Green Apple Books. Just look for the cool mural over the entrance.

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“The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.” ~ Andy Rooney.

The San Francisco Bay Trail is an ambitious work in progress; a planned 500 mile long hiking and cycling path encompassing the entire San Francisco Bay, touching all nine San Francisco Bay Area counties and 47 cities. To date, 350 miles of the trail are complete. In nearby Pinole the Bay Trail takes flight as a bridge that rises up in a curving arc from a waterfront park. The bridge passes high over the Pinole wetlands and the Union Pacific railroad tracks providing a sweeping view of San Pablo Bay and the Marin County hills. With just the right sunset, San Pablo Bay is transformed into a colorful sheet of rainbow sherbet colors. The Pinole bridge and the Bay Trail are frequent courses when I go running with my dog Lexi.

On one recent Saturday, Lexi and I were just completing mile five, descending towards the end of the bridge into Waterfront Park. We approached a man walking in the same direction with his Golden Retriever. The man heard us coming from behind and pulled his companion a little closer allowing us ample space to pass. As Lexi and I passed and rounded the final bend dropping us into the Waterfront parking lot I saw a loose black lab mix just as he spotted Lexi and I.

As the dog barked and bolted toward us I slammed on the brakes, “Oh shit.”

The dog’s owner called the dog and the dog brushed the man off as if he were an annoying flea, then took a quick sniff at Lexi and rushed at the man and the Golden. I called out to the offending owner that there’s a reason for leash laws. The man with the Golden tried to shoo away the black dog who’d stopped him and his dog in their tracks.
“Go on get outta here. Hey,” he shouted at the owner, “call your dog.”
My run was on hold because to continue running would’ve just had the loose dog chasing after us. “Call in your dog.” I shouted.

The paunchy man with a wise guy grin called back, “Take it easy.” Here’s where he applied the usual inconsiderate dog owner bromide. It’s the one with multiple choice excuses. “Don’t worry he’s (fill in the blank); just playing / just a puppy / just saying hi / just a little excited / just being playful. My favorite though is, “He’s never bitten anyone before.” The options are almost endless but the one thing that they all have in common is they never include the words I – am – sorry.

Instead of apologizing for the doggy ruckus he caused he called me and the other man “a couple of drama queens.”

The other man was still trying to shed the black dog from his own, “You see what happens? Call your dog.”

“Take it easy drama queen.”
We’d now reached that point in which any chance for a calm discussion about dogs, leashes and leash laws was just so much dog poop. I asked the man if he was special. “You must be special. The laws don’t apply to you I guess.”
“Shut up old man.”
Old man? Did he just call me old man? Only one person calls me old man and that’s my wife – the old woman. Of course you know mister, this means war.
“I might be old but at least I’m not hiding a basketball under my shirt. Oh wait, there’s no courts at this park so that can’t be a basketball. You’re just fat.”

More words, a good many of them bad and beginning with the letter “F” were exchanged as I walked out of the park and he got in his car. Lexi and I started running again.
“Have a heart attack old man!” he called.
“Have another donut tubby!” Continue reading

“Pardon my French” is a common English language phrase ostensibly disguising profanity as words from the French language.

Québec is a predominantly French-speaking province in eastern Canada with 2 vibrant cities in its south, connected by the Chemin du Roy highway along the Saint Lawrence River.
~ Wikipedia

Prior to our trip to Quebec Province I was told by a fellow, and in no uncertain terms, that I would have to “parlez vous Francais” in order to get by and get around. It turns out that what he told me was a canard and I don’t mean French for “duck,” I mean English for fabrication. That’s a good thing because Cora and I didn’t spend but about 5 minutes trying to learn French.

Along with Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian, French is one of what are called the Romance Languages. Cora being familiar with Spanish couldn’t bluff her way into French because while they’re all derived from Latin the similarities seem fewer than the differences. So she basically said the hell with it, or as the Quebecois might say, “l’enfer avec ça.” I wasn’t much better but I did make the minor effort of an occasional “bonjour,” and “merci.”

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North Hatley is located in a corner of Quebec Province known as The Eastern Townships (Cantons de l’Est) which rubs up against the borders of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Starting about 50 miles east of busy Montreal this area is a quiet area of mountains, green forests, vineyards and picturesque villages. Well, quiet if you don’t count the tourists and visitors from Montreal looking to get away from it all and relax.

The village North Hatley, 83 miles east of Montreal, is like something that might have jumped out of a Rick Steves’ dream for its quaint colorful charm. Cora and I took the side trip to North Hatley on our way to Quebec City. Located on Lake Massawippi, North Hatley’s population is listed as 750 but on any given day that number fluctuates much higher if you throw in the tourists.

On our way to North Hatley we stopped at a winery, Le Cap d’ Argent that was recommended by Fodors. We took away a dessert wine called The Archer, a blend of red wine, brandy and maple syrup, because what’s Canada without maple syrup.

Below, two views of the vineyard of Le Cap d’ Argent. 

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Le Cap de Argent fields

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The first full day of our trip began with the short two hour drive from Burlington, Vermont to Montreal, Canada. Our first stop was the Roman Catholic Basilica, the Oratoire – St. Joseph (St. Joseph’s Oratory). The church, located on the northwest slope of Mont-Royal, is Canada’s largest. 

After touring the church itself, Cora and I walked through the Passion Garden. For me this was the highlight of our visit to the church and it’s grounds.

The path traces the 14 stations of the cross, each station featuring limestone statues approximately 9 feet tall.

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It took the sculptor, Ercolo Barbieri, 6 years to carve the 42 figures that make up the stations.

A rolling path meanders through lawns, trees and shrubs in a variety of green hues splashed with a medley of colorful flowers.

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The garden, located on the east side of the church covers 200,000 square feet.

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It’s entirely possible that Burlington (Vermont) International is my all-time favorite airport. BTV, as it’s called in airport jargon, was the final destination on our outbound flight from San Francisco (SFO) and the start of our vacation.

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Friday Fotos is back! Back after the technical issue of a crashed photo editing program and my subsequent foot dragging on deciding on a new program.

This reboot celebrates a fixture that Cora and I saw almost everywhere we went in the beautiful state of Maine. It’s quintessential Maine. It’s a tool that can be used as a unique, colorful ornament and it symbolizes one of Maine’s most popular culinary contributions – lobster. It’s the lobsterman’s buoy.

The buoy is attached to a lobster trap or set of traps and marks the spot where a lobsterman has placed his traps. The distinctive colors and patterns of the buoy identify its owner. Each lobsterman’s buoy has his own distinct color pattern. Think of it as an aquatic version of a cattle brand. Not only must the buoy display a distinct color pattern but the owner’s fishing boat must also display the same color pattern. The color design can be displayed on the hull’s two sides.

To see lobster buoys in Maine you don’t have to go to the docks. Mainers use them as ornaments and you can see the buoys hanging out just about anywhere; at restaurants, storefronts, from trees, lampposts, mailbox posts and porches. I’ve even seen them made into birdhouses. And they make for colorful photo subjects!

I got the lowdown on lobsterman’s buoys from the website Lobster Anywhere. If you want to learn more follow the link to their article Lobster Buoys Mark the Spot.

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Bouys lamp

Bouys in tree

 

 

buoys on a lamp post

 

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Bouys in tree close up

 

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