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Monday, May 28, 2018

Happy to have my photo ‘Rome Graffiti’ used as cover for Spring 2018 – Issue 7

Stüffe’s Barber Shop


Got my biannual shave and haircut today. A wonderful ninety minutes in the hands of a master who makes bald spots disappear. Her whose only mission is to make me look better than when I came in. These are moments of total pleasure . . . pure relax. No conversation. I don’t want to talk. I am at peace.

The background music’s perfect, just right volume lets you listen if you want to, high school favorites from the U.S 1950s plays today. Bill Haley and the Comets, Ray Charles, bring back a flood of high school memories as clippers buzz and scissors snipping sharply with precision.

Then the shave—a face massage of ointments, hot towel, thermal heaven. Then the razor, the incredible straight razor, been around about as long as time I guess. A simple tool, beyond improvement. She’s got some old ones, a collection under glass. I remember when going into the Army with a bunch of boys from Southern Illinois, and Georgia.  They took away our knives and all possible weapons.  Some of the guys had straight razors—beautiful razors that had probably been in the family for generations.  They were so hurt, turning them in. A sergeant told them they would be returned when we completed basic training. Some were so naive they believed the promise.

After the hot towel comes a Badger bristled brushes’ soft caress of soapy warmth.  Then the amazing the feel of cold steel on my neck, the incredible sharpness. There’s no smoother shave on earth, but it’s a lot of trouble. Time consuming.
Shaving is different since the invention of the safety razor. Now there are infinite variations, 3 blades, four, or more.  They all cut, but nothing like a straight razor. When the straight razor cuts, that whisker is gone—as much as it can possibly be, until tomorrow. The razor on my throat . . .  hard not to fanaticize.  This is as close to death I get, other than being in the car with my wife at the wheel. I recall a Sweeny Todd thing I went to in London . . . Razors.
Nothing happens. I am safe. It’s almost over. Cold towel now—so good. A last few moments of total peace.

“Wake up,” Stüffe tells me with a grin. I do—with some regret. My next appointment in six months.

Best shave I ever had:

Was in Benares, India, on the ghats along  Ganges.  If I could relive a time and place from somewhere in my past, this 1980s moment would be one, this thirty minutes of desire-less happiness. Nothing more needed for the moment. Only peace.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Truth About London – A travel Confession – Part 5

We’re up at 4 a.m. – Last day in London. An expensive cab ride to the railroad station. I have no complaints. The train’s much faster than the bus we took on our arrival, less than half the time.

The airport’s crowded, of course, and we find our large, shared suitcase is two kilos overweight. We need take some stuff out or pay for the extra weight. I stuff my shaving kit and some guidebooks into my backpack, wife crams some things into her purse and we pass the checked baggage requirement.

We move on to the usual madness of checking in, dumping all of our pockets into the plastic bins that roll to the x-ray. I get beeped on my way through the metal detection gate. Why? Then I remember, cell phone in a pocked of my pants leg. I hurriedly show it to the lady on the line.
“Forgot,” I tell her.
“Too late,” she shakes her head.

Another scan and body search by a male guard who finally lets me pass. Then a backpack inspection. Woman opens my shaving kit looks at me with disdain, says nothing. Puts my little bottles in a plastic bag.

“Can’t keep these.” She takes my Head and Shoulders and some toothpaste as my pants are falling off—no belt.

We finally make it through, then spend time standing for the plane that’s now an hour late. Another plane has parked in the wrong place and it takes time to sort it out. I find a place to sit on the floor with my back against the wall.

Our ride home is easier than it was coming in. I read a book I brought as others read their cell phones. Just a short walk to our car when we get off, no problem, but we can’t get out. Gate at the lot refuses to release us after wife taps in the pre-paid code. We finally give it up and pay again with hope we’ll get our money back.

Three hour car tip home is easy, cell phone telling us the way. Cat meets me at the door, with a censorious look – three days on dry food. Runs to food dish for fresh meat.


My son-in-law brings dogs an hour later. They’re ecstatic with tail wagging madness, overjoyed to be with mom again.

My own tail to does not wag, it’s dragging, but it’s good to be back home. Now time to play with photos, memories and words. I wish we’d had more time. So many things to see and do in that amazing city, London. With a year to spend one could not see them all, or even part, but it’s been good. My birthday, 80 years—in London. Indefatigable wife says she would like to go again. She’s Swedish.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Truth About London – A travel Confession – Part 4

Part 4
London Eye

Walking the Walk

We’ve had a good breakfast and an early start. My legs have not reset. My feet are flatter than yesterday’s pancakes and feeling every step. My wife loves walking, walks the dogs on hour long tours three times a day. She keeps a dog long pace, and is frustrated by my lack of speed. She is the horse that won’t be passed.
She looks behind to see if I’m with her. “No matter how slow I go you always walk slower,” she tells me.

Spot on. We never really find my pace. I’m in no hurry; do not have to be on time. We make it to the tubes, two rides—our transport tickets working easily, no problem. Colored lines show how to get from one tube to another in the many layered labyrinth of rails. Standing room only— crowded.

London Eye’s a relatively short walk, then another line, but it keeps moving. London Eye is very cool. The structure by itself is fascinating. I would have loved to watch it being built. It fairly sparkles in the sky, and never stops moving—very slowly, slow enough for people to step on and off. Backpack and bag are searched again.

Ride last less than a half an hour. Views worth the cost of trip. This city, London—huge beyond my expectations, growing ever larger, like the wheel, it never stops.


The ride was good, met all my expectations. After getting off we have some free time I see a place that’s selling fish and chips. I loved fish and chips sold where we lived in America and am excited to buy the original here in London, but am disappointed. Tastes like cardboard, really bad. I leave it for the pigeons. We move on, but don’t get far. The London Marathon has started, and the streets are jammed, some streets blocked off.
Once again we can’t get anywhere from where we are. We stop for coffee at a jam packed Starbucks, and peruse our maps. It takes an hour to find our way to Trafalgar Square.


We stop to look around. Lots going on, protestors, artists, souvenir stands. Legs are killing me. I spot the National museum.
“Let’s go there,” I say.

“What do you want to see?” wife asks.

“I want to find a soft couch, and sit and stare at a painting for an hour or so.”

Wife decides to take some time to shop. I go alone and find it’s everything I want. Wonderful places to sit, and entrance is free after a backpack check. I’m surprised they people are allowed to take photos.

I’m most taken with a painting of a horse named Whistlejacket. George Stubbs – 1762. Horse only lost four times in its career. He’s such a pleasant thing to look at from this wonderful soft, leather couch. Just what I wanted, perfect, peaceful, quiet and not crowded here.


I meet the wife outside some ninety minutes later. She’s not found what she was shopping for.

“Not enough time,” she says.

So true.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Truth About London – A travel Confession – Part 3

Part 3

We buy transport passes with our credit cars, you have to have them going in at out of underground and buses. They’re easy to use, just slap ‘em face down at the turn styles.
More walking and two tube rides take us to Southwark and the Shard— Europe’s tallest building. Costs $40 and change for a ride to the top. Great views, we are told. I figure views are just as good from the London Eye and less expressive. They’re washing the Shard’s windows today—must be an interesting job.


We couldn’t figure how to get from where we are to London Bridge, and ask one of the many Police Support people, but she doesn’t live in London, she’s from out of town, and clueless, but has a cell phone. I learn London Bridge is not what we are looking for, it’s Tower Bridge. Eventually we get it figured out.


We have to cross London Bridge, then a long walk along the Thames to Tower Bridge. It’s an interesting stroll, great views, but by my legs are giving out again. I’m not a wuss. I work out at a gym three times a week, lift weights and do Nautilus,  but I don’t walk. Walking is not my thing.

We pre-bought tickets, for the bridge on line, so we wouldn’t have to stand in long lines, but you have to wait in line to get the paper tickets that you bought on line. The wait and line we’re not too bad, about a half hour. Wife’s purse and my backpack are searched. Anything larger than a modest woman’s purse is inspected at every event, ride, museum and side show. Guards stand at the entrance of every large office building. If you want in you’d better have a damn good reason. These people are paranoid—a heightened state of awareness. The intermittent scans and inspections are a bother, and should seem more of a bother. We get used to them, accepting . . . how it is. The heightened security makes sense—thousands of people thronging much beloved, and important places. It’s easy to understand, but sad.

The bridge is an interesting tour. We enjoy looking down through a glass floor at the top. People wave up at us from tour boats passing far below. It puzzles me how clean the glass is. Thousands of people walk across this thing every day and there’s not a scratch or a scuff mark on it. Most interesting was the old steam engine that used to raise the drawbridge. It’s massive thing, painted beautifully. I doubt it had the paint job when in use, but it’s a work of art now. Must have been a trip to see that thing in action.

When the tour over, lots more walking, and two tube rides. The damn train starts and stops like a jackrabbit and I’m thrown off balance on the way home, stumbling into others standing in the aisle. No big deal, but a guy gets up and offers me his seat. Embarrassing. I try to refuse but he insists—three times. It feels great to sit down again.
We find our hotel easily. I have a beer and smoke on the patio. The bridge is one thing off my bucket list. One left, The London Eye.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Truth About London – A travel Confession – Part 2

Part 2   London:

We get off the plane and follow a crowd of passengers into a crowd of passengers that merge into an ever larger crowd that bulges and then splits like an ameba, into two parts, European passports and ‘Other.’ We are other. There are thousands of us squeezed into an endless snake-like line.
Photo taken just before I saw the sign.  ‘Do Not Take Photos.’

 There’s no edges to the mass, just people, far as you can see.

An hour and fifteen minutes later we have finally made it to the inspector who is friendly and courteous, with smiles. How do they do it? He asks how long we will stay, and stamps us in. “Have fun,” he says. We’re on our way—almost. More time spent waiting for a bus that’s late.

An hour and thirty minutes later we get off and start to look for our hotel without much luck. It’s a pretty big hotel and we have the street address. We’re sure we are very close, but nobody knows where it is. I am gaining a first and lasting tourist impression. Nobody here is from here. They are all from somewhere else, friendly and helpful. Cell phones come out. We finally find it, take a three hour rest, then we’re on our way to Covent Garden and Leicester Square.
More crowds. We’re never more than three feet from another person. Introverts will understand my stressful point of view, but wife has plans and endless energy. She’s Swedish. We peruse the mammoth shopping center. Somebody’s singing opera with surprisingly loud voice amidst the passersby, and those at outdoor tables having lunch with drinks and conversation. We pay an extravagant price for a barely average dinner, but I’m grateful just to have a place to sit. I make it last as long as possible, then we are on our way again.
My legs and feet are killing me. I find a curbside space to sit as wait as wife goes off to do some short term, freelance shopping. Feet are on my mind and I start noticing the feet of people passing by. I took some photos. Wish I’d taken more. An interesting curbside vision. Could have led to something.

Wife returns with some notebooks  she’s been unable to find in Sweden and we take one last walk—not far, to Savoy Theater, and Dream Girls.

Good, soft seats, just three rows back from stage – a total pleasure. Great show with fantastic sets and actors. Wow, those voices, and the dancing. Cast is black, all but two token white guys—had to be damned good to make that show. They all were.
We got lost again on our way home, three blocks away from our hotel, but finally found it. Then to bed. Thank God. Tomorrow’s Saturday, and London Bridge. Seems like it ought to be an easy thing to find.