Wednesday, June 22, 2011

There and Back Again

So, we made it home.  As you already know, since we've talked to every reader of this blog in the last few weeks (that is, both of them).  But there's still the story of the return journey to be told, for Posterity, whomever the hell that is.  The return trip started with our last full day in Oviedo, rainy (not surprisingly), but we walked all over town taking pictures of every sculpture we knew of and even finding a couple we didn't know about.  We planned this as a way to say goodbye to Oviedo, to indulge our nostalgia, and get out of the house and walk around a lot before we'd be sitting on our butts traveling for a couple of days.

Our main target was the tribute to "Labor" in the Parque San Francisco, on Uria, the main street, a statue that looked uncannily like a monument to disco.

Of course, we had to do some participatory poses, like the girls raisin' the roof here.  Our very first stop was in our neighborhood, Annabel hanging out with the sidra pourers, and then Annabel and I posed with the photograper's shop.

We had to pose with the luggage, since this was all about leaving.  And then, of course, we had to get front and back shots of "the Butt."

Yes, Oviedo does not merely have a giant butt sculpture in one of its most crowded intersections--there's a butt on each side.  But at least that solves the problem of how to represent a giant crotch.

For a couple of weeks before we left, since after the elections in Spain, there had been a protest camp in one of the central squares, and they incorporate one of the most well-known sculptures, La Gorda (the fat woman), into their protest.  This is one of MANY tributes to motherhood that have been immortalized in sculpture in Oviedo.  We took pictures of at least three different statues that were called "La Maternidad," and they were bad and sometimes really weird.  This is the best of the bunch--if you can see it behind the signs.

And another one practicing participatory sculpture-photography--Annabel in the book-hat, with the humanities campus in the background, very close to our apartment.  We took a few pictures of other things besides sculptures, including more than one in the "cured meat" category, like the jamon vending machine that Alex had been meaning to photograph for months (with a portrait of us reflected in it), and the window full of chorizo at the Rey Jamon.  Also an occasional favorite bit of architecture, in a town full of interesting and varied buildings--this one is Alex's favorite.

We didn't take pictures of our trip down to Madrid or the flight over, but we did take a few of our fabulous stopover at the Casa Lauren&Leon in Seattle.

The top one is the cool guest house they built for us (with studio for Julie downstairs and office for Lauren upstairs (which she can only use when we're not visiting, of course)), the middle one is the interior of the upstairs (our home away from home), and the bottom one is their very own cool house where we hang out most of the time we're there.  We managed to have a lot of fun in a couple of jet-lagged days with family.

Lauren commissioned the drawing at the bottom at the Seattle Folk Fest at the Center--do you recognize the Seattle and Fairbanks cousins?  The drawing managed to bring out the fact of how much they look like each other--either Quin or Chace could be Annabel's brother.

One highlight of visiting Seattle was seeing the paintings and drawings Julie is doing from her visit to Greece last fall.  It was a powerful flashback to our time in Greece, and a beautiful look at things we hadn't exactly seen the first time.

And then it was time to fly back to Fairbanks, and after she had what she described as "the best lunch ever" at the airport in Seattle, Annabel had the supreme pleasure of being surprised by a huge contingent of her friends (not to mention their parents) meeting us at the airport.  We didn't get pictures of all of them, but maybe you can get a sense of just how excited Annabel was to be home again.

I had to put the airport lunch picture in there because we never responded to faithful readers Jen and Ryan's request for "more pictures of food."  Since we only had a half-dozen or so comments on the blog over nine months, it feels churlish not to have granted a simple request in one of those few.

We were overwhelmed with stuff to get down when we finally got home, but the first was to buy a car to make doing all the others easier.  Just because it's such a perfect symbol of American life and the culture that we were returning to, after nine months of walking and taking public transportation, I leave you with a final image of our new SUV.  I've already put 800 miles on it.  You can go home again, as long as you have a decent set of wheels.  Now if we can only get back the garage door opener that our renter accidentally took with him...

It was a wonderful adventure, and it's great to be back home.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A big wee lass in the highlands

The first night we were in Scotland Annabel was brought to tears of joy when the barman handed over our beers and said, "Will there be nothing for the wee lassie?"  She's kind of got a thing for David Tennant, like the thing I've kind of got for Mike Myers.  As for Alex, she's reading a series of Scottish time-travel romances.  I think she was actually nervous for a moment when she first stepped into the stone circle at Tomnaverie.

But Alex did not disappear into a time vortex when she crossed the stone circle (thereby leaving her true love (me) behind), so all was well.  Nor did Annabel manage to navigate this phone box to another dimension.  We had to content ourselves with a different kind of time travel, the kind in which one visits castles.

Just a handful of the many options in Aberdeenshire if one is looking for castles.  The only one currently being lived in is the one in the middle, Balmoral, where the Queen (yes, that Queen) spends six weeks every summer.  We had the privilege of driving our car onto the grounds because the golf tournament  I was playing in (the Royal Deeside Golf Week) in nearby Ballater had wangled the privilege of letting tourney participants play at the extremely private Balmoral Golf club.  The twenty-odd of us who took advantage of the opportunity were the only people on the course that day, and I experienced several intensely British moments.  I didn't take my camera on the round, but here's a shot over the first tee.

"Please wash hands after playing"???  I may never wash my hands again.  Or maybe I'll just settle for never cleaning my spikes again.  The card leads off with a section called "Etiquette":

* Members should dress smartly.
* There is no golf permitted until 1:00pm on Sundays.

Ballater Golf Club, where my tournament was held, was not quite as posh, but it was still pretty strait-laced.  No spikes, hats, or cell phones in the clubhouse, for instance.  I was admonished more than once on the course to restrain my enthusiasm (generally expressed for my playing partners' shots, but once for my own eagle).  They take their golf very seriously here.  I shot my best round of the week at Balmoral (where it didn't count towards the tournament); back at Ballater I was humbled by a wide assortment of men and women, some of them considerably older than I.  Here are pictures of everyone on the first morning, teeing up for the Texas Scramble.  (My group is about six rows down.)  This format allows you to use anyone's drive.  Perhaps you'll have a clue to how I was playing that week when I tell you that we used more tee shots by each of these women than by me.  I don't understand--doesn't this look like a fine swing?

That link is the only access I have right now to pictures of the man who invited us to this event, Bill Bennett, his son Bill Jr.,  and his friends Kjel, Theo, and Vangelis from Athens.  The best meal we had all week--indeed, the best meal I've had in a long time--was prepared by Chef Bill (Jr.), and the whole Scottish-Greek contingent were wonderful sponsors and supporters of us all week.  We'll have more pictures of them, and of Annabel as well, as soon as we get a batch from Theo, the man with the Big Lens.

When I wasn't busy with my fellow duffers, losing balls in the gorse and the Dee, I joined up with my girls for some motoring about the countryside...on the wrong side of the road.  We were pretty worried about that part of the adventure, especially when our car rental company emailed us two days before we left Oviedo to say that they didn't have any automatics available.  Neither of us wanted to add shifting with the wrong hand to driving on the wrong side.  But when we got to the desk, they had graciously arranged to pass us on to another company who even offered us a slightly better rate for a slightly bigger car.  Thus we had plenty of opportunities to admire the bright yellow fields of rapeseed crops, the "hairy coos," the pheasants, and most of all the gamboling wee lambies.

Sheep everywhere.  And not a few bunnies.  We learned to recognize some of the more common and striking birds, such as lapwings, oyster catchers, wagtails, and blackbirds.  

And when we'd had enough nature and culture tourism for the day, there was always the whiskey.  Alex determined to educate herself regarding Scotch whiskey, with an eye to cultivating a regular libation that is not exceedingly girly or dependent on whatever mixers were available.  Why not Scotch, since that's my drink of choice anyway?  We visited the distillery on the Balmoral estate, Royal Lochnagar, where we missed the formal tour but were entertained by one Gordon Muir (the second of that name to come up on Google, if you're wondering), an extremely loquacious Scotsman who talked about whiskey and the contemporary Scottish poet Norman McCaig, among other things.  He recommended another tour, in the direction we were heading on our last day, and that tour at Fettercairn was most satisfying.  

The chart in the middle is a handy tool for sorting among some of the more widely available whiskeys.  Makes a handsome dish towel, don't you think?  "Ladies' whiskeys" are in the lower left-hand quadrant.

Our home base for wide-ranging expeditions in search of castles and distilleries, and the sanctuary to which I returned each day after being mauled on the links, was the Inchgeal Lodge, a fabulous bed and breakfast in Ballater, walking distance from the course, once the home of Queen Victoria's doctor while she was staying at Balmoral.  Our hostess was an utter sweetheart, taking on such above-and-beyond tasks as looking up the broadcast time for Dr. Who and doing a load of our laundry.

That's our room on the top right, the best in the house.  We were Diane and John's longest-staying guests to date, and everything about our highland home was delightful.  Ballater is actually inside the Cairgorms National Park, the largest national park in the U.K., and the landscape ranges from quaint and domestic down in the valleys (especially here on the Deeside) to considerably wilder in the highlands, which were everywhere up there on the horizon.

Note the blue sky in that picture, and in one or two others.  We were amused at the end of the week to be told by several of the golfers, "Well, at least you had good weather."  I suppose we had what passes for good weather in Scotland in mid-May, meaning it never actually snowed, although it was freezing cold most of the time, and rarely rained harder than a drizzle, although it did that often.  It was impossible to predict exactly what the weather would be doing thirty minutes on, but through all the changes it remained windy and cold.  I played a total of four holes of golf in my shirtsleeves over the course of the week, perhaps another thirty-six holes in two layers, and for the rest of the time I was wearing three layers.  I don't believe I'd ever in my previous golfing life worn three layers while swinging a club, not even on a chilly August Alaskan day.

Speaking of Alaska, much of the high country reminded us of home, particularly one sunny day when we took off after golf to investigate the "Spittal of Muick."

Annabel chose the high road and Alex the low road.  I followed Annabel, of course, since given a choice I always go up, and my daughter seems to have taken after me in that respect. Alex took the smooth path down to the loch and filled her bottle with the cold water.  Annabel and I scrambled about in the heather.  We don't have pictures from the longest excursion the two of them did without me, to Loch Ness.  But I imagine the country around there looks not unlike these pictures of the loch at Glen Muick.

The rain held off for most of our last day (the only completely golf-free day), which we spent on a loop over the mountains to the east coast and back.  Just driving through the country was an adventure we never tired of all week, and the fact that everyone spoke English, sort of, was a bonus.  For instance, the signs.

The top one is at the St. Cyrus Nature Preserve on the coast; unfortunately we didn't actually see any toads.  The middle one is in Stonehaven, a beautiful town a bit to the north; how can you argue with the slogan "...because every day is different"?  The bottom one was not lying or exaggerating in the least; Dunnottar was indeed impressive, ruined, and a fortress.  We'd saved the best castle for last, as it turned out.

Isolated on its rock, it held out against Cromwell and preserved the Scottish Crown Jewels.  It's a warren of wonderful walls and windows looking down sheer cliffs.  It also has my new favorite men's room in all the world.

A truly world-class "Gents W.C." must  have a whiff of danger.  This one perches on a corner of the rock, such that I couldn't even get around the back to take a picture of how close it is to the edge.  Surprisingly to me,  this place is privately owned, but at five pounds it was the best deal of the whole trip.

We could have spent a lot more time there, but as you can perhaps tell, the weather was deteriorating.  Annabel had gotten a little beach time earlier, at St. Cyrus, as you can see below, and we also beach-combed a bit in Stonehaven.  But my most vivid memory of the Scottish coast will be the gulls and murres in the water and on the sheer rock walls surrounding Dunnottar Castle.

All flights went smoothly, once we made it through the thunderstorm at takeoff in Oviedo, although changing terminals between flights at De Gaulle was interesting once again.  On the way there we landed from Oviedo, took the winding shuttle bus from 2G to 2E, found our gate, checked in, boarded another shuttle bus, and rode that bus back over the winding route to 2G where we boarded our plane to Aberdeen just a couple hundred feet from the plane we'd landed on.  On the way back we had a very long hike through 2E and out of security to yet a different shuttle bus, and then back through security again to the by-now familiar lounge in 2G where we awaited word of our gate.  At least we didn't have to send anyone on ahead to hold the plane for us, as Julie had in De Gaulle on our return from Athens.

And now we're in pack-up mode for the return to Fairbanks.  We've calculated that by the time we get back to Fairbanks, we will have taken twenty-two separate flights since we left home on Sept. 1.  We're ready to stay put for a while.  Goodbye to Scotland, and soon goodbye to Europe.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ends and somewhat odds

Off to Scotland day after tomorrow, then back here with just a few days to pack it all up.  An odd kind of limbo we're living in, not unproductive as Alex and I are both getting good work done on our research, but still a kind of frozen moment, suspended between our year's adventure in Europe and the long trip home.  What to do in the meantime?  Why not haul a few pictures out of the vault?

We had a fun afternoon a couple of weeks ago with our friend Helio, father of Annabel's friends and schoolmates Roma and Flavia.  He drove the three of us out to Cabo de Peñas, the northernmost point of the Spanish coast, directly north of Oviedo, to show us his old stomping grounds, including the big nature preserve that encompasses the cape itself, the village he grew up in just alongside the cape, and the two largest towns in the area, Luanco (where he and his girls live by the beach in the summer) and Candás.

These shots are out on the point itself.  Some of you may recognize that strip of blue blowing out from Annabel's head.  Yes, the blue hair she had glued on at the Tanana Valley Fair last August is still, incredibly, hanging in there.

The first one above is the beach in Luanco where Roma and Flavia will be hanging out once school ends in June.  The next three are in Candás, a town that has clearly used its public art opportunities to assert its traditional connection with the sea.  Annabel was impressed by the large anchor.  I as impressed by the odd statue, which kind of reminds me of an overweight Gollum, naked with a fish in one hand.  I can't figure out exactly what it's saying about the locals.  Something I neglected to mention in the last blog that I'm going to miss is the architecture in Asturias, the colors and shapes of the beautiful buildings.  I gather that both of these coastal towns are going through hard times, but they're certainly preserving their civic spirit, Candás somewhat more vividly than Luanco.

What else besides that fun outing?  I never did get pictures of the penitentes in León--there are still some on Annabel's camera, I think--but here's a shot of some Easter candy in the KKK-shape of the folks in the procession.  Followed by another of some more traditional American Easter candy (giant chocolate chicken) and my personal favorite, a gummy pulpo.

Did you ever get to see any pictures from Annabel's science assignment, the parachute designed to preserve an egg uncracked from our third-story window?  She took pictures of all the prototypes, starting with a handkerchief, progressing to a cut-up shopping bag, and ending with a cut-up garbage back from which was suspended a rubber swim cap and an egg padded with paper towels.  It did finally work, and below is a picture of the successful model.  Annabel did the tests with chocolate eggs to help solace her for failures.

When I posted on the nice walk we took a couple of weeks ago, I neglected to include this fine shot of bug stuff.  Tiny rock homes, once underwater, and this carapace of something insectoidal that graduated to bigger and better things.  Almost but not quite the dragonfly larval exoskeletons Annabel likes to find in Fairbanks.  Like I've said before, it's not really a post without a bug shot.

Another thing I should have mentioned in the blog about what I'll miss:  performing goats outside our window.  Or rather, "performing" goats, since as far as I could tell this goat was simply being its normal goatlike self while on the end of a leash.  The accompanying music was quite loud, luckily, since otherwise I might have missed the show (and not gotten these pictures for you).

Time to go meet Annabel's bus for the second-last time.  I'll leave you with a picture of all but one of Alex's students, mugging it up with my girls on the last dinner we made for them, and a shot of Annabel and Woody, a teaser for a future post with even more fabulous local sculpture.  Hasta luego.