blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Tingling feet

Another new experience this evening: I had a pedicure, entirely conducted in Spanish, from a Nicaraguan lady called Socorro. The procedure took place in her son's and his girlfriend's back garden, my feet being soaked in a washing up bowl and then treated on Socorro's lap with a variety of equipment including something that looked just like a cheese grater as she sat on a low stool in front of me. She applied a gritty cream and a smooth cream and three layers of varnish and as she pared the nails (uños de los pies) her son handed me a hamburger to eat from his barbecue. My feet now look cleaner and smarter than they have done for years.

All this was a very kind thank you from a family of six whom Chris had taken flying in PTN last weekend, not all at once. They are planning to move to Nicaragua later this year to take up organic farming (pigs, chickens and coconuts) on a smallholding near a volcano.

My feet were tingling earlier this month as well, while we were staying at Bad Pyrmont, a spa town in Germany where there's a barefoot walk for therapeutic purposes in the Kurpark. Here's the description of its benefits in German:
Bei der Benutzung des Barfusspfades wird der Tastsinn trainiert, d.h. die taktile Wahrnehmung über die Füße. Unterschiedliche Bodenbeschaffenheiten (Rasen, unterschiedliche Stein- und Kieskörnungen, Holz, Rindenmulch, Naturmoor, Tartan) können auf dem Barfusspfad begangen werden. Dabei werden die Reflexzonen der Fußsohlen stimuliert.
Es handelt sich um eine sensomotorische Wahrnehmung, bei der das Gleichgewichtsvermögen trainiert wird. Der großzügig angelegte Barfusspfad ermöglicht neben der Massage der Reflexzonen der Füße eine Stabilisierung der Fußstatik, der Fußmuskulatur und der Gelenkstruktur.
(Translation: "Use of the barefoot path trains one's sense of touch, i.e. one's tactile perception of the feet. Different ground textures––grass, stone, pebbles, wood, bark mulch, natural mud, Tartan(?!)––can be walked upon, on the barefoot path. In this way, the reflex zones of the feet are stimulated.

It is about training one's sensory-motor perception and balance. The generously laid out Barfusspfad enables a massage of the reflex zones of the feet as well as a stabilisation of static forces on the foot, the foot muscles and joint structure."––extract from a brochure from the Health Centre at the Kurpark)
And then there's another two paragraphs about the benefits of washing off the mud under the cold tap afterwards.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

We went to Winchester

Over Charleston Lake, Ontario, April 16th
This was the city of Winchester in Virginia, where an Apple Blossom Festival takes place, not the one in Hampshire, England. We flew there on April 16th by Hobbs Air, aka Canadian Foxtrot Papa Tango November, our Cessna 172. John and Jill accompanied us in their Piper Comanche, C-FOIB. On the way, we landed at Syracuse to clear customs and to eat a substantial lunch at Zebbs, down the road, getting there in the crew car lent to us by the FBO (Landmark Aviation). Although we'd seen ice beneath us from the Ottawa River to the St. Lawrence river and had flown through a snow shower on the Syracuse approach, the landscape gradually became less wintery as we flew south over the hills and steep sided valleys of Pennsylvania and onwards. As we passed State College, we remembered the time we'd visited George and his colleagues there, in 2005 if I remember rightly; we'd flown in PTN on that occasion too.

Winchester lies in the Shenandoah Valley, whence the song comes ...

Banks of the Shenandoah River
We saw the Shenandoah River from overhead as we flew in on Wednesday, and stood by its banks on Thursday, Chris and John having managed to hire a Kia Soul to drive us around in.

Winchester, the principal town of Frederick County, was captured and recaptured 70 times in the 1860s, during America's Civil War. It was hard to imagine the hundreds of traumatised, wounded men and the dead bodies on the lawn in front of its court house, now a peaceful museum in the pedestrian zone, but the building had served as a barracks, as a prison and a hospital in those days. One of the soldiers had scribbled on the wall in a fury, cursing the Confederate leader,  Jefferson Davis: "... May he be put in the northwest corner with a southeast wind blowing ashes in his eyes to all ETERNITY." Winchester's residents considered themselves to be on the Confederate side, and maybe still do, because when the interesting and knowledgeable lady in the library shop told Jill and me about the civil war history, she said, "We lost!" and added, "Losers never forget."

We'd spotted the library the night before while walking round the town by lamplight after supper, marvelling at the white blossom on the trees and the quality of the architecture. The Handley Library was so imposing that we had to find out what it was. With its great dome, seen from down Piccadilly Street it looked like a cathedral. An Irish philanthropist, Judge John Handley, left money in his will to have it built as a gift to the town; it had first opened in 1913 and has recently been restored to its first glory.

Judge Handley's picture in the Library
Inside, the library's appearance is both spectacular and welcoming, especially the children's library upstairs. A couple of street people were having a comfortable rest in the periodicals room. A gentleman at the reception desk noticed that Jill and I were visitors from elsewhere and politely made us acquainted with the history of the place.

Walking round the town was a pleasant experience; trees and shopfronts were decorated, there were fountains playing outside the public conveniences (Chris and John came out very amused after being instructed by a Mystery Voice in English and Spanish on how to make use of them!) and no lack of restaurants. In its early days, Winchester had boasted two bars and nine brothels, so we learned later in the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. It was the first town built by European settlers west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. James Wood, its founding father, came from Winchester in England, and some of the early settlers were British Quakers--I stumbled upon their preserved graveyard later, in a grove of trees hidden behind a stone wall behind the Hertz rental office and a factory fence. In the civil war battles decoy canons made of wood were put in prominent places on the battle field; they were nicknamed "Quaker guns".

Monument to the soldiers of the Civil War
In the civil war the Confederate side imported British weapons, British medicine, British cloth for their uniforms. 600,000 men were killed in the civil war, the equivalent of 15 million of today's population of the USA. The first time a soldier went into battle, he called it "seeing the elephant." The most common operation was an amputation, the only way to save lives in those days.

A woman called Kate McVicar lived here in the 19th century. As a girl she tended the war wounded in her family house that had become a hospital and she became a compulsive writer, telling her stories under the pen name of "Nemo". Another woman who came from Winchester was the famous singer, Patsy Cline. Here is Jill, who says she should have worn one of the flounced dresses in the exhibition about Patsy, in order to look the part for this picture:

Jill posing as Patsy Cline

Old mansion in the grounds of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley
The hotel we stayed at was the George Washington Hotel. There were many reminders of George Washington in this town as he'd worked here in his youth, as a surveyor. Later he'd commanded the Virginia Regiment and represented Frederick County in the House of Burgesses.

The local trees are the cherry, the oak, the walnut and the maple. We went for a walk in a nearby arboretum on the Friday and walked down an avenue of flowering dogwood trees. I used to love them in North Carolina, when we lived in Chapel Hill. Birds were singing and I spotted a bluebird there. In the sloping fields round about, big, stately houses stood, surrounded by picket fences; their owners kept horses and you could imagine the ladies speaking in their southern drawl and wearing bonnets and long dresses.

On Friday, after breakfast at the cafe called "Just Like Grandma's" we visited the national Air and Space Museum next to Dulles airport on the edge of Washington. It houses more aircraft and spacecraft than its sister Smithsonian museum in downtown Washington, including the Space Shuttle Discovery, a Concord, a Junkers 52, the extraordinary Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, and the GlobalFlyer which, with a single jet engine, flew nonstop round the world in under three days. On the way, John had to ask "a lady in pyjamas" for directions when we were uncertain of our position on the highways and byways of Virginia. We chose a more direct but slower way back to Winchester, going through some pretty, very obviously prosperous little towns.

Returning to Ottawa on Easter Saturday, we had a strong wind against us, but were still lucky with the sunny day. I identified Harpers Ferry on the Pot-OH-mac (Potomac) River in the distance and once again we crossed the glaciated ridges of Pennsylvania. We stopped at Binghamton (a terribly bumpy approach––Chris loved it, laughing out loud when a gust blew us sideways) to refuel and stretch our legs and see the old Link Trainer displayed in the terminal building, then took the preferred route skirting the MOAs (Military Operations Areas) near Wilkes Barre home to Canada, crossing the border at Ogdensburg and landing as Canpass holders at Rockcliffe. The journey north had taken us six hours.

The Quaker graveyard on the edge ofWinchester
Pennsylvania's fields, from above

Our GPS display showing us about to cross the Canadian border

The Interstate Bridge at Ogdensburg

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

An old juxtaposition

I haven't given up on my blog; I just took a break. (Thank you, John B., for the nudge!) There's plenty to write about because we've been travelling again. Blog resuming now.


I thought it was forty or more years ago that I first used to notice the picture on the Bakerloo Line at Charing Cross advertising the National Gallery in London, but maybe it wasn't as long ago as that. According to my private archives, I wrote a poem about it in 1988 that I entitled "Juxtapositions" (see below). I think that may have been the first time I and consciously made use of the word.

On May 9th this year, on a tube train between Paddington and Waterloo, I rode into the station once again ... and was thrilled to see that the poster was still there. I had time to take a picture of it, because my train was stuck for a long time between the tunnels, due to a signal failure. In the end I gave up waiting and dragged my luggage down some long corridors and up and down flights of steps to take a Northern Line train instead.

The painting in the National Gallery is by Botticelli.

Venus, in the picture, smiles at Mars asleep 
On the tiles, in the London Underground. 
Her tune swoops upwards 
(From The Planets) rousing 
My partisan, cliché-infected heart to cry, 
How complex life is, how desirable!
How, from across the world, people 
Come to our house, brought from so many histories 
To this coincidence; 
Or side by side upon our shelves, in intimate confinement: 
Who would have guessed such promiscuity 
In our incongruous, enchanting library? 
I see connections that would seem improbable. 
Are they mere chance, or are they meant to be?

 Venus from Gustave Holst's Planets suite