The launch of the Space-X Falcon Heavy was spectacular, and I so wish I had been there to see it. After seeing the space shuttle Atlantis launch (in person), I know that a video can only hint at the experience. Still, what a video! Watch it all the way through to see the two boosters make their Hollywood-perfect landings, and Elon’s red Tesla and its mannequin starman float among the stars!
Allysen and I went shootin’ yesterday. That is to say, we took a firearms safety class, which culminated in our firing a few rounds into paper targets in the adjoining shooting range, and coming away with safety certificates.
Let me explain. We’re not exactly gun people, we don’t aspire to gun ownership, and we’re both strong supporters of gun-control laws. But guns are part of our culture, and it seems to make sense to have some basic knowledge of how they work. Plus, the actual aiming and shooting at targets promised to be an enjoyable challenge. (My previous experience with firearms consisted of firing one bullet at a tree with my grandfather’s rifle, when I was a kid.)
This, however, actually started some years ago, when Allysen and Jayce went to a women’s-only, all-day training program, where they learned about and got to try out a variety of guns, ranging from muzzle-loaders to revolvers to modern pistols. Also, bows and arrows. They had a great time—they learned a lot, in an atmosphere that was friendly and supportive, and largely devoid of macho bullshit. Allysen wanted me have a chance at the same kind of thing, and so as a surprise present, she researched local ranges and found one that had good reviews, no NRA requirement (!), and basic classes.
As it turned out, this class was interesting, as much from a sociological as a firearms-learning perspective. But it sure wasn’t what she’d experienced before, or was hoping for. The instructor was affable and a decent teacher when he was on topic about basic gun knowledge, legal requirements, and safety. But when he wandered into the morass of anti-gun-control political opinion mongering, I just wanted to stuff a sock in his mouth. Except, you know, he totes a gun. Loaded. With a chambered round. (I already knew about some of this stuff; I learned it from Jack Reacher novels.)
I was particularly troubled that he was urging gun neophytes to carry loaded weapons, with a chambered round ready to fire. His analogy was this: If a bad guy comes at you, not having a round in your chamber ready to go is like saying you’ll fasten your seatbelt right before you crash your car. Wellll, that’s just a load of dingoes’ kidneys, in my opinion. Fastening your seatbelt ahead of time doesn’t threaten the safety of others around you; carrying a locked and loaded weapon just might. Sure, it’s possible there will be that rare situation when you’re attacked without warning and maybe being ready to stop the baddie at a moment’s notice will be good. But mostly, I think it’s a recipe for shooting the wrong people, either by accident or in the heat of an argument.
Another bit of codswallop was his assertion that banning bump stocks—devices to make your gun fire faster, definitely useful if your plans for the day include shooting up a crowd of people—was equivalent to banning the remote starters on car key fobs. Ahhh…. no, I don’t think so.
Debatable advice like that notwithstanding, we learned some interesting and occasionally surprising things, such as that having a license to carry a concealed weapon means you must conceal the weapon. I never knew that. I always assumed it meant you could conceal the weapon, not that you had to. But it turns out if you make your sidearm visible to others, that’s considered brandishing the gun, and that’s a felony. Oops. (We didn’t get into how this applies to carrying a rifle, which is sort of hard to conceal.)
Eventually we all got to go into the range, and we each popped off a few rounds from a 22 revolver and a 22 pistol. That part was definitely fun—but disappointing, because we thought we’d get to do a lot more hands-on learning than we did. I was hoping we’d have a chance to try a bigger variety of hardware, maybe including a rifle. But nope. Pop pop pop. Here’s your certificate. Go thou and apply for a firearms permit.
Will we? Well, if I look like I’m getting ready to carry a concealed weapon, please give me a sedative, confiscate my credit cards, and send me to bed. But target shooting? And maybe clay pigeon shooting? I think that could be fun. We’ll see.
Our time here is nearly up–we’re down to hours now–and there is so much yet to do! I spent most of the last two days rebuilding some of the outdoor stairway railing that Hurricane Maria demolished. Finishing that job, and fixing the wobbly top step once and for all, were my priority items for our final two days. My work yesterday was interrupted three or four times by brief rain squalls—each lasting just long enough to force me to get all the power tools gathered up and carted inside, and then blowing over. I think that was the first day I did not go to Home Depot–yay!–which helps account for my actually getting a lot done. (Though I did have to ask Allysen to pick up some drill bits and screws at Sears.)
This may not look like much, but it involved a lot of drilling through the channel iron posts that are part of the original construction. More than one drill bit died in the replacing of these rails! And the belt sanding. I hate belt sanding! But it sure does the job. The water situation is still not resolved, despite our having influence in high places, via Frances next door. The city water has always been iffy, due to insufficient pressure to get a decent supply up to the top of the hill; but this year it’s worse than ever, and I don’t think it can be blamed solely on the hurricane. With the demise of the original, underground cistern for backup water, Allysen finally did what we’ve talked about for years: She went and bought a 1000 gallon plastic cistern and pump, which will be installed after we leave by Ricardo (who is not just an electrician). Here it is, presented for your edification by Jayce.
Next time we’re here, by Grabthaw’s Hammer, there will be enough water to run the washing machine! And the new toilets, yes, they will work! And the showers!
Today I rebuilt the first step, with multiple interruptions to help with transferring images and videos of the hurricane cleanup for submission with the insurance claim. Wouldn’t have been so hard except that the current internet service here is just a hair above nonexistent. Which is making posting this a challenge!
Never mind that. This here step’s goin’ nowhere.
The Northeast blizzard of early January delayed flights everywhere. Daughter Jayce headed down a day later than planned, and Allysen’s mom returned to Boston from a visit to L.A. two days late. Still, my flight seemed a go, three days after the storm.
When you fly from Boston to Ponce, you can take either JetBlue or JetBlue, and you can connect at JFK in New York, or in Orlando. Either way, you arrive in the dead of night, around 4-5 a.m. Fair enough. But my flight out of Boston was delayed, and then delayed again, and it looked increasingly certain that I would miss my connection to Ponce. And there wasn’t an open seat to Puerto Rico on any airline for several days. Nail biting time. If I took the flight to JFK and missed the connection, I’d be stranded there with no options for joining Allysen in time to be of any help.
The good Help Desk people at JetBlue in Boston offered me one hope: Run now to the gate where a flight was about to leave for LaGuardia, and then get myself by hook or by crook to JFK to catch my Ponce flight. “It’s a deal!” I cried as I hotfooted it to the gate. Bless them, I was met by a flight attendant who was already checking on his iPad on my best way to get from LaGuardia to JFK. The basic idea was a cab, but a broken water main at JFK had snarled up car traffic going into the airport. (By the time we were coming into LaGuardia, he was able to report that traffic was moving again.)
My seatmate on that flight turned out to be doing exactly the same thing, except that he was connecting to Minsk, in Belarus. So we shared a cab, and got there in time, and I found myself eating JFK food court food right when I would have been doing it anyway.
Sidebar: Going through TSA in Boston was a breeze. The TSA staff were helpful, smiling, friendly. In New York, it looked like the zombie apocalypse. I had no trouble, but all the staff were vacant-eyed and grim. Why is that? End sidebar.
The Ponce flight was itself delayed, as it turned out. Daylight was not far off, as I stumbled down the stairs from the tail of the plane and set foot on the Isle of Enchantment. Some people can sleep on planes. I’m not one of them. I was feeling pretty bedraggled by the time I got to the house.
There was still no running water. But at least the toilets worked, if you carried water from the pool. I fell into a brief but deep sleep, in which I dreamed restlessly about having a really intense dream, about… I don’t know what, because it evaporated the moment I woke up.
Time to get to work… (to be continued…)
If you remember my chronicles of the last couple of Januaries, it’s happening again. We’re in Puerto Rico, repairing damage to the house that Allysen’s parents built. Last year we got it all fixed up and available to rent, at last. And then came Hurricane Maria. The people here did heroic work clearing away fallen trees and generally cleaning up the huge amounts of debris left from the hurricane. Despite that, it turns out the damage was considerably worse than we had believed.
Allysen came down first, a few days after Christmas. Her initial discovery: no running water. (Power and water had been restored a least a month before to the neighborhood, but water to our place was nonexistent. This was not a hurricane issue so much as a chronic utility issue.) Her second discovery: three of the four toilets were unusable (even when supplied by buckets of water from the pool). It turned out that when the great mahogany tree came down in the hurricane, its roots ripped up a section of the septic line. The one toilet that did work had a huge piece of cracked concrete hanging over it, looking like the Sledge of Damocles. Large sections of fence were mangled, and the newly installed driveway gate was bent. An accident that mashed the rental car was just the icing on the cake. (No one was hurt, thankfully.)
Through all this, Allysen remained astonishingly calm, steady, God-trusting, and of good cheer. If it has been me here alone, I think I would have locked up, thrown away the key, and headed back to the airport.
While this was going on in Puerto Rico, I was contending with a little blizzard in Boston…. (to be continued…)
We had already planned to spend the day seeing the city of Reykjavik, and it turned out we had picked the day of a huge annual Culture Festival, a little like our First Night. The parks were full of musicians and people celebrating one way or another, and it also turned out to be a day when nobody minded if you parked on the grass at the edge of the overfull parking area. (Coming from Boston, where that would be an invitation to the tow trucks, it felt like a big boon.)
Here’s a picture of the National Library, which unfortunately was closed.
Across the street was the National Museum of Iceland, which I got no pictures of, but which had a lot of interesting exhibits about the history of Iceland (something I was completely ignorant about). After working our way through that, we set off on foot to see the “grim church”—which was not at all grim, but a magnificent modern cathedral named Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church with a towering steeple you can go up in for a view of the city. There was a music festival on in the church, as well—unrelated, I think, to the city festival—so we listened for a bit and then went topside for the view.
The fellow on the pedestal in front of the cathedral is Lief Erickson, the statue a gift from the United States, back in the 1930s. I’m not sure what the occasion for the gift was.
Next morning was departure day, with an early drive to Keflavik and the international airport. Their method for handling departures was interesting, to say the least. After working our way through a long duty-free store—I’ve never seen so much chocolate and licorice and booze in my life—we spotted the sign to our gate: 20 minutes walking time away, according to the helpful sign. (They might have mentioned that sooner, I thought.) We sped up. At the end of that race, we found ourselves at the end of a pretty narrow concourse, where people were trying to get on four different flights with the exact same departure time and were gathered in a big scrum. (“Are you in the line for Boston?” “No, this is the line for Dulles.” “Toronto is over there.”) Boarding was via stairs—one last lungful of crisp Iceland air before stepping into a flying canister full of the last flight’s exhalations.
Somehow we made it, though. Four hours later, I was peering down at the Maine coast with its splattering of islands—I had no idea there were so many!—and less than six hours later, we were back in Boston. Home again.
Very little went according to plan in Iceland, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a good time. Our rental car, once we got it, turned out to be a stick shift—which wasn’t a problem (I learned to drive on a stick), but a surprise, as many people I know do not know how to drive stick. Another surprise was learning that the one place to buy fuel for less than the standard amount is at Costco, only recently arrived in Iceland! I made a mental note to check for my Costco card, and we set out.
Our initial impression of the country was of extremely spare and utilitarian architecture—square and drab and a bit ugly. The road from the airport to Reykjavik passed through some pretty harsh lava-based land, which put us in mind of Mordor and the Emyn Muil that Frodo and Sam made their way across. It was not without beauty, though; the mountains against the horizon drew us onward.
We reached our Airbnb outside the city a little subdued by the exterior architecture—and were stunned to find ourselves in a beautiful two-bedroom apartment, very Scandinavian Design, clean and elegant and definitely upscale. Our host confided that we were their first rental customers—it was their actual home, which they leave for a summer home elsewhere. I guess they haven’t learned how much they could ask for it!
Our first day we set out at the crack of lunchtime to drive the Golden Circle tour of the most popular geologic spots on the island—where tectonic activity drives everything from geysers to geothermal power stations. The Garmin GPS that came with the car had other ideas. It took us way off the intended route, and we saw some sights most tourists miss, such as this lovely lake.
It also set us back a couple of hours, so we traded getting to see the Thingvellir Park for an unexpected adventure. Eventually—switching to Googlemaps on my phone—we found our way back to the route and the volcanic crater lake of Kerið. This was pretty cool.
As was the geyser at the Geysir site. They have a geyser that pops off every 6-8 minutes, and while it’s not huge, it’s fun. There’s also an odd pair of spring-fed pools, side by side, one cloudy blue and the other crystal clear. Why? No explanation was given. In fact, the conveying of information is one place where the Icelanders could pick up a few tips from the U.S. Park Service. Not only is little information available; it can be hard to tell where the actual attraction is!
Our last stop of the day was the Gulfoss Waterfall, which easily rivals Niagara for its breathtaking power and beauty—all hidden in a stretch of flat terrain that looks like the last place on Earth you would look for a waterfall!
You set out down a basically unmarked boardwalk, which dips down… to reveal a gorge and thundering beast that looks for all the world like the Falls of Rauros on the River Anduin.
By the time we got back, it was 11 pm, and we had just one more day to spend in Iceland. What to do?
This will be told mainly in pictures. We took a ferry across the Baltic to Tallinn, in Estonia, on Monday and walked around the old medieval town there. That was fun, though I got awfully tired of walking on cobblestone.
Tuesday we mostly crashed, but then rode around the city on the tram and checked out the market square and a nearby brew pub—very nice. There are a lot of small breweries in Helsinki, as it turns out. The American-style IPA has made definite inroads. Chatted a bit with the brewmaster of this pub, who turns out to be a lover of hard SF and space opera.
Wednesday we visited Church of the Rock—a church partially carved into solid bedrock. They seemed to have an ongoing service (they were speaking German when we were there), while catering to a steady flow of tourists. Then on to the Ateneum, a big art museum in the city center. Allysen went on to a modern art museum, while Jayce and I took a city ferry to the island fortress Suomenlinna, and spent several hours walking around. Among other things, Suomenlinna has a church that doubles as a lighthouse, a restored Finnish submarine from WW2, various fortifications and cannons, and a tomb that looks as though it marks the grave of a man from Numenor. All the roads and paths were cobblestone. I have developed an extreme dislike of walking on cobblestone! But I loved the views.
Today we leave for Reykjavik and two days in Iceland.
Daughter Lexi has returned after nearly a month racking up countries on her passport. She flew in from Qatar, which she got to from Egypt, via Greece, and before that Israel, via Turkey, via Algeria, via Italy! Did I miss any? The amazing thing is that she met up and stayed with friends, or friends of friends, in almost all those locations. How is that possible? She saw the Vatican, visited mosques, celebrated Easter in Jerusalem at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and visited a family outside of Bethlehem. We were following her progress on Google Maps/Earth at one point, and I was amused to see “Manger Street” running through Bethlehem. I wonder how many “Genuine, Original, Tested and Approved by Baby Jesus Mangers” there are.
This kid builds more bridges than the WPA. I am in awe. I am also deeply relieved to see her back home.
Here are a few pix she shared with us:
Chasing leaks. That’s how this trip started, what with tearing up a tile floor to find out where upwelling water was coming from. (We never did, not really. We couldn’t replicate the problem after the tile was up. We have guesses, but only guesses.) Other leaks were smaller, but equally enigmatic. We had some workarounds in progress.
Then, on our last-but-one night at Casarboles (tree house), I was showering upstairs, and Allysen ran in with cries of, “Stop! Water’s raining down into the closet!” Nooo! (Yesss!)
Too late to get the plumbers before we had to leave, and anyway, all the pipes were in cement. It was up to me to see if I could find the leak. And amazingly, on the last day, I did. Silicone seal between shower tub and drain pipe was all deteriorated. Ask Freddi, and he says, in Spanish, “Oh yes, that happens. Phil always just put new silicone in.” And so that’s what I did, carefully troweling it in, just like Doctor McCoy in the Star Trek episode about the Horta. And it cured the leak. We think. There wasn’t time for really thorough testing. Plug and pray, that’s our motto.
In the last couple of days, we did that, and finished painting every inch of what seemed like a 7-acre deck, complete with railings, and caulked a bunch of molding in a different shower, and inventoried tools, and made little cautionary signs (bilingual) to post above the toilets, and of course made trips to Home Depot. And, oh, a hundred or so other things.
We took a little time in the evening of the last day—before the big, final push right through to 4 a.m. and departure for the predawn flight—to relax and enjoy a meal by the pool. It really was quite lovely. Here’s a selfie of the two of us, relaxing by the pool.
And here’s how Casarboles looks after dark. The place is pretty much ready for guests! We’ll be putting it on Air BnB and like that, very soon.
Oh—we’re home in Boston now, recovering. It’s snowing.