Category Archives: travel

Oh, Canada

On Canada Day, our neighbors to the north celebrated the birth of their fine country with picnics, parades, and fireworks. This year’s observance was more significant than usual as this marks the the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the War of 1812. Nobody here cares much about about that, but in Canada? The war of American aggression is still a big deal.

But as Canadians ate hot dogs, drank beer, and lit sparklers, at a remote outpost  in Ontario two young Border Services agents defended their country against another threat from south of the border.

That threat was me.

CBSA checkpoint, Wolfe Island, Ontario

Our car was loaded with the usual vacation clutter as we rolled off the ferry from Cape Vincent, NY to Wolfe Island, Ontario. We’d never spent more than a minute at the tiny customs station near the ferry dock — but something alerted the keen eyed officer that I could be trouble. “We’d like to search your vehicle, so please have a seat on the bench over there.”

We sat in the sun and took it in stride. What could possibly go wrong? “Sir, would you step into the office?”

The officer behind the counter held up a knife. “We found this under your seat.” He had found the folding knife I keep in an emergency kit, a small pouch crammed with gadgets and supplies I’ll probably never use. “We asked if you were bringing any weapons in with you, and this is a weapon.”

The knife is sort of imposing, bigger than something you’d keep in your pocket, but the real problem was its assisted-opening blade which can be deployed with one hand.

“Do you have any other weapons on you?”

Well, as a matter of fact… I took my smaller knife out of my pocket, one of similar design, and put it on the counter. The regarded me skeptically. “I’m a volunteer firefighter, so I don’t go anywhere without a knife. I think of them as tools, not weapons.”

After another half hour they called me back in and told me I was getting off easy. Since it seemed like an innocent mistake they would not arrest me or impound the car or make me pay the $1000 fine ($500 per knife). And no, they would not be returning my “weapons”.

I graciously thanked them, for it’s always best not to be a wise ass when dealing with the authorities, and went on my way. They did their part to protect Canada from knife crazy Americans and I proceeded to enjoyed vacation, armed only with the tiny blade on my Leatherman Micra.

Dust to Dust

For a long time I’ve collected rocks from places we visit and placed them out in the flower beds. This was somewhat inspired by Chicago’s Tribune Tower, where stones from famous sites and structures are embedded in the wall around the building’s perimeter.

Naturally, we needed something from Romania, so I grabbed a stray brick when we were visiting the ruins of the Slimnic Citadel, a 14th century fortification that’s seen better days.

OK, that was irresponsible. If everyone who visited made off with a brick, pretty soon there would be nothing left — and indeed it looked like much of the castle ended up in the walls of the village below.

Interestingly, what survived for centuries in Transylvania did not fare well in my garden. The brick rapidly fell to pieces and continues to erode a little at a time.

Is it the climate here in New York, or are we just seeing the normal progression of things? This is the place where metaphors and analogies usually go, but for today let’s just we’ll leave it at that.

Radio Radio

Alan Chartock and Ray Graf at the WAMC fund drive.

I’ve been listening to WAMC, our local public radio station, since 1985. That’s longer than I’ve been married. I recently volunteered to answer phones during their fund drive, which to a public radio geek, qualifies as a bucket list item.

My fellow volunteers were pretty much who you’d expect, earnest folks who read of books and have bumper stickers on their Prii. That’s plurul for “Prius”. The whole room seemed to be pitched slightly to the left, and that’s OK. I’m not saying that these are better people than those who cling to every bit of ridiculous garbage on the local right wing talk radio station, but they do seem a lot smarter.

If forced to choose, I’d give up TV for radio. Radio has been more important to me, and whether at home in the kitchen, in the car, or working in the yard, it’s always there. I could get by without Storage Wars, but NPR? Absolutely not.

Lately while working at my desk I like listening to music on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, the Irish language service of Ireland’s national public radio. I first heard the station when I was there in September; I turned on the radio in our room on Inis Meáin and traditional music filled the air. It was somehow magical and it moved in a way that turning on the boob tube never could.

Inis Meáin - September 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Graveyard, Rockchapel, County Cork

Simcoe Island

The only way you can get to Simcoe Island, Ontario is to take this cable ferry. Except in the winter — then you might drive across the ice if you are brave enough.

There’s a lighthouse at the tip of Simcoe, and fifteen years ago you could sit next to it and look out on the vast horizon of Lake Ontario. Today there are signs everywhere warning you to keep out. How times have changed.

Where the Sheep Run Scared

You don’t have to go far in Ireland to find something old and interesting.

Rahinnane Castle, up the hill from Ventry Harbor on the Dingle Peninsula, is exactly the sort of thing you expect to see when touring around. To reach the ruins of the 15th century castle, you stop in at a nearby farm and pay a few Euros to walk across their field.

We were the only ones there that afternoon, except for three Border Collie puppies who followed us through the gate. They played with us for a few minutes — until they spotted the sheep gathered around the base of the castle.

The dogs hadn’t been trained to herd properly yet, but they instictively know what to do and chased the sheep up and down the hill and all around the property.

We were sure we were about to be trampled, but the sheep steered clear. In typical tourist fashion, I stood with my camera instead of fleeing for safety.

Foto Friday

Connemara, County Galway

Foto Friday

Cottage and bicycle ~ Connemara, County Galway

Holy Water

Baptismal font in the Catholic church on Inis Meáin, Aran Islands, Galway.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

The font, if not of impermeable stone, must be lined with metal; it must be used exclusively for baptism, and to guard it against profanation, securely covered and locked. Frequency of thirteenth-century legislation on this point throughout Northern Europe reveals the prevalence of a passing superstitious belief in the magical efficacy of the font and its waters.

No, that’s not much of a lock — but enough to comply with the age-old belief that the baptismal waters needed to be protected.