Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Work 7 days a year for free? Would you do that? is advertising on TV telling babysitters, for example, that they can now accept credit card payment and it will ONLY cost them 2.75% of the amount charged. Do these low-wage earners understand that accepting credit card payment will mean that they will be working 1 week and 2 days without pay every year? Yet, that is what 2.75% of the charge means. I find that objectionable. If these workers were working for an employer, how would they feel if they were told that they would have to work 7 days a year without pay?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sunday afternoon in Alicante

My travelling partner, Gabrielle, has been counting the days and there are few left before she is wearing her fur-lined boots back home in Regina, so she is soaking up the sun at the beach of Alicante. I take off to wander around and see some of the lovely old buildings.

Thinking it would be too much like the Puerto Vallarta of Southern Spain, I had hesitated about coming to Alicante, but the town itself is a gem.
I want to go up to the Castillo de Santa Barbara on Mount Benacantil and to see the 360 degree view over the town, but I can't find the elevator which takes tourists up. I am standing alone trying to decipher the indication on my little map. Alicante is a difficult place to figure out at times because it is built on a hill and of course, the maps don't show what layer you should be at. To get to the elevator from the beach, there is a busy road that you can only cross via a superb looping pedestrian bridge, the Pasarela del Postiguet, two or three hundred meters long, that goes from the beach to the other side of the road; you go around slowly climbing inside the loop and up about 30 steps and you're above and across the busy street below.
It doesn't take long before I'm accosted by a kindly looking local gentleman offering to show me the entrance to the elevator. I tell him there is no need to walk along with me; "If you just point me in the right direction, it should be easy to find." It turns out that one has to go through a tunnel, about 300 meters long before reaching the elevator. "I am just doing my daily walk," says Luis, "solo paseando". And he will be happy to come along; it will be no trouble at all, he assures me.

"Believe it or not," says Luis, "I was born here, I am 65 years old and I have never been up there via the elevator." He tells me he used to drive a taxi so he has taken many tourists up by car but has never been in the elevator. He insists on accompanying me. It is late afternoon and there are just enough tourists to make the area safe and not too many to spoil the view...

It very slowly sinks in that Luis was 'solo paseando', looking for someone to warm his bed. Up around the castillo, he points to his house over in the distance, behind the architecture museum; he does not seem to notice that each time he comes closer to me, I step away another meter; he now points to his ex-wife's house. "We are still friends, you understand."

"Better be friends in two separate houses than enemies in the same house." I tell him, and he agrees.

He has been asking me questions about myself and I have told him the usual lies. (A friend with whom I once travelled to India was quite shocked at my ability to lie so easily. "I never knew you were a liar," she commented. "Only when I travel - it is for safety - never put your cards face up with strangers," I told her.)

The visit lasts a good 20 minutes. The castillo is an interesting historical spot and the view is, as promised in the guide book, spectacular.

My companion is, as we would say in French, no higher than 3 apples, but he is a handsome sort of fellow in a rustic kind of way; lots of hair and blue eyes. And he does not walk like an old man. I can tell he has charmed a few women in his days (perhaps the reason he has been sent to pasture by his previous wife - or perhaps he was telling me fibs all along - perhaps his wife is busy cooking supper for him...) His hand reaches 'casually, as if absentmindedly' over to my forearm a bit too often. I need to ditch him because he doesn't seem to get the hint that all I wanted was to visit the castle.

Back at street level, I reiterate that there is no need to accompany me back to my hotel (When he asked where I was staying, I told him I could not remember the name of the hotel, just how to get there. Over there, I had said, pointing somewhere in the distance.) "No se preocupe," says Luis, (don't worry), "I need the exercise; it is my daily routine."

It is an unfortunate hazard for women who travel alone, no matter their age, that men of all ages will assume they are looking for action. I have experienced it many times before. Oscar the Cuban artist; George the Mexican poet; Mohammed the Turkish doorman; Archhhhhmed the Parisian student from Egypt...all young, all handsome, all penniless and willing to do anything to upgrade their financial status. But Luis is no student, no artist, no poet; he is... let's be frank, a horny old man. He is handsome enough that a few Lolitas would likely succumb to his charms given a small stack of euros, but thinking perhaps that I am some damzelle in distress, he is hoping he might be able to leave his wallet in his pocket.

Along the waterfront, I stop and point to one of the less ostentatious moored yatchs. "Three times the size of ours," I say. "If only my dear husband could be here with me to enjoy this, he would love sailing around here. but unfortunately when business calls..."

A few steps later, Luis suddenly remembers that he is expecting visitors at home and he must catch the next bus. I stretch my hand to shake his. "No beso?" he begs. "No beso." I smile, "gracias y adios."

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bradley Manning - spy or hero?

John Altenburg, a retired Us serviceman said today in a TV interview, talking about Bradley Manning:

"He was a soldier. And as a soldier, we are expected to be disciplined and we are expected to comply with our orders and our directions."

Hitler's soldiers did just that. Mussolini's soldiers did just that. Franco's soldiers did just that; Saddam Hussein's soldiers did just that. American soldiers did just that in Viet Nam, Iraq, Alghanistan... and continue to do so wherever they are, generating hate for the US (and the West in general) all over the world.

Bravo for Manning for telling it like it is. The cold-blooded killing of innocent people is murder, no matter who does it. The ones who fired are the ones who should go behind bars.

It is heartening to see that soldiers and subordinates are finally rising against their superiors and following their conscience. No more of this blind obeying of orders that perpetuate hate and lead to humanitarian disasters.

Soldiers should not be trained as robots; they have a brain and a conscience and they should be allowed to use it when their superiors are giving the wrong orders.

In my books, Bradley Manning is a hero.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Taking care of Auntie

To fly from Pune to Calcutta, one must go either via Delhi, Mumbai or Bangaluru. Having already visited both Delhi and Mumbai, I opted for Bangaluru. And, since I was stopping over, I might as well stay a couple of nights and visit. A quick email to a neighbour from Bangaluru living in Canada asking what I should see in Bangaluru received this reply: “Forget Bangaluru; visit Mysore.”
I arrived at my hotel very late but nevertheless enquired if there was a tour to Mysore the next day. In India, with the remote possibility of backshish, everything is possible. A quick telephone call and I was booked for a 7 o’clock pick up the next morning. For the equivalent of $10. I would be picked up at my hotel to join a bus of Indian tourists for the 140 km drive south to Mysore, a tour of the city and return to my hotel.
Promptly, on Sunday morning, a taxi arrived at my modest hotel where I seemed to be the only tourist and the only woman; I was delivered to the tour bus. There was one seat left at the front, by itself: the only seat with actual view to the road from where I would enjoy the semi-tropical flowers and the palm trees during the two-hour drive to Mysore. In India as in Mexico amongst others, for some reason unknown to me (but I suspect it is to prevent road fright) a curtain is drawn at the front of the bus, behind the driver. On this particular bus, the curtain was actually only ¾ of the way so that I luckily had unobstructed view.
I was the only non-national on the tour and was thus offered that seat, the very best one on the whole bus. It was a little humbling but, knowing the hospitality of Indians, I knew every single one of them was proud to let me have that seat. Shortly, a young woman behind me asked: “Excuse me, Madam, what is your country?” I was, by then, very used to this question and was thankful for all the times it had been used as an overture to conversation. The young woman was part of a group of 6 young people, all university graduates spending 2 months in Bangaluru training in I.T. They were from all parts of India.
I ended up spending the day with these very lovely newly graduated students; it was not the first time that I experienced the wonderful hospitality of Indians. When I tried to purchase their lunch in order to show my appreciation, they flatly refused. "No, no, Auntie, you are a guest in our country." At dinner time, I managed to sneak payment for their meals to the waiter but when they realized what I had done, they firmly refused to let me pay and asked the waiter to refund my money - they paid for my meal as well as their own.
Back in Bangaluru around 11 pm, the bus driver announced that unfortunately, it was too late for him to drop everyone off at their original departure point as he was supposed to do. The 6 students refused to leave until a solution had been found to have me safely delivered to my hotel. Not being familiar at all with Bangaluru, I had not wanted to take a taxi, and eventually, the kind bus driver talked to his supervisor who instructed him to drop me off at my hotel.
I was sad to part from my young friends but the memories will remain.

Friday, June 1, 2012

New Song in a Strange land by Esther Warner

New Song in a Strange land is a memoir by Esther (a woman from Iowa) about her time in Liberia in the early 1940's, when she was about 30 years old, and while her husband worked for the rubber company. Esther was a first class writer, an absolutely fascinating woman, intrepid to the extreme, intelligent, avant-garde, art collector, appreciative and respectful of the culture she was getting to know; she has a great talent for showing the highly developed philosophical side of that people without ever any condescension, with lots of self-deprecation and humour. She is wonderful at using the language as spoken by the natives. I found a copy at a rummage sale and could not put it down. This book is beautifully illustrated by Jo Dendel, a man she met while in Africa. (She ended up leaving her husband and marrying this man); the book should be re-edited; it would be a New York Times best seller; it is as interesting today as it must have been after its first publication in the mid-40's. I could not put it down. And I was sad when it was finished. It is just one of those lucky finds one falls upon by chance at a rummage sale. Lucky me! The reason there are not too many copies of this book in circulation is most likely that once a person gets a copy, that person does not want to part with it; it is too much of a treasure... I am keeping it for my granddaughters so they will find a new hero, a new role model, in Esther. You might be able to get a copy at or at

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bed and Breakfast in beautiful city of Cienfuegos, Cuba

My hosts Norma and Oswaldo could not have been more pleasant. As is often my luck when I travel solo, I received royal treatment on a small budget during my stay in this Unesco site nicknamed "The Pearl of the South".
Norma and Oswaldo's impeccable house is located one block off the Prado, about 3 minutes' walk down to the Malecon and 5 minutes walk up to the spectacular Parque Marti with its Colonial architecture
reminiscent of a more elegant age, including the Teatro Tomas Terry where the likes of Caruso and Sarah Bernhardt once performed, and many other buildings so delicious you want to wrap them up and put them in your pocket to enjoy them again later;

I could not have found a more inviting place to stay and more attentive hosts.

My room was impeccable and with a definite Cuban feel, and the newly renovated bathroom had lots of convenient hooks and shelves; hot water was available at all times. My room had air conditioning although I did not use it. In the alcove of my room, a small refrigerator was at my disposition and a stock of water, beer and soft drinks for me to purchase if I wished. Oswaldo and Norma's was the kind of house where I did not even lock my bedroom door so confident did I feel of my hosts' integrity.

As for the meals, they were worthy of a reputable restaurant and always beautifully presented, and at the hour I wished. I paid about $30. for bed and breakfast

and about $6. for a wonderful dinner of fish etc.

I enjoyed Cienfuegos so much that I ended up staying three days, although I had planned only on two.
The Pearl of the South is a great place to visit even for older travellers because it is flat and the sidewalks are not crowded. There are no touts or beggars. The malecon

leading to beautiful old mansions,

the Prado which runs for several blocks and is lined with benches, and where you will see Cubans rocking peacefully in the shade

and the pedestrian mall are perfect for strolling; this nostalgic Colonial city is well worth a visit. And if you don't feel like walking, a bicitaxista will take you around at your leisure for about $2. an hour.

If you know anyone going to Cuba who needs a nice, safe place to stay, here are the details:

Norma and Oswaldo, Hostal Soto, Avenida 40, #3712 (between Calle 37 and Calle 39)Cienfuegos, Unfortunately, I don't have a recent email address or telephone number for them but you can find them upon arrival in Cienfuegos. Just hire a bicitaxi for a few dollars at the bus starion. Oswaldo and Norma can also offer their services to show you around; This would be a perfect place for a novice solo traveller. ps. B & B's are called Casas Particulares in Cuba. If you go to their place upon arrival and they are full, they will find you an adequate place to stay; there is always somewhere to stay :)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Visit to my rickshaw wallah's home in Jaipur

A visit to someone's home in India has always been a wonderful experience for me. That day, I visited Papu's home. Papu is my rickshaw wallah in Jaipur. The family of five lives in one room; The kids sleep on roll-up mats and the couple share a single bed. There is one trunk that holds all their clothing. There is a washroom in the building for all the apartments (about 12) When I visited, Papu's wife offered chai, as all good Indian families would do, and they sent the chidren to buy some cookies for my chai. The whole neighbourhood came by to meet this strange white-haired lady; I was a real event in their neighbourhood. I had only a few words of Hindi then and so it made for a rather fun visit. The warmth of these people is absolutely legendary. I never feel lonely even when I am travelling alone in India.