The Oro Valley Desert & Readings

August 27, 2016

The Desert

I loved to watch the wildlife at my last house – the deer, raccoon, javelinas, bobcats, rabbits (cottontail and jackrabbit), and all of the birds (especially the roadrunners and hawks).

There is a hill of desert behind the house I’m renting.  Because it is separated from the rest of the desert, typical of developers, (unless a creature, scarab_beetleusually a coyote, dares to cross the ring road around the subdivision), I can see only a few rabbits, cactus wrens (in the prickly pear, eating not the fruit, but the bugs after the fruit), doves, quail, and goldfinches.  And ants – lots of ants.  Also, recently the beautiful emerald green scarab beetles (also, according to Wikipedia, known as the figeater beetle, whose habitat is primarily the southwestern United States and Mexico).  Their photo.

“My” dove (see her photo in this blog: raised one chick and both of them left.  (Not sure if there was a father around – sometimes the nest was not being tended.)  Lazy, I didn’t get rid of the nest on the back patio beam.  A week later, the dove returned, laid one more egg, and raised one more chick.  They are gone now.  Reminds me of friends who had one daughter.  When she went off to college, being empty nesters, they were lonely and had another child.  (The kids are twenty years apart.)

Our monsoon rains have brought out flowers on the barrel cactus and many fruit on the prickly pear cactus (called tuna in Spanish).

IMG_6493 IMG_6495

IMG_6502[1]Here is a photo of insect eggs, yellow and gold, laid neatly in lines on my bedroom window.  (Okay, I didn’t work hard enough to get their color – it was too bright outside.)  Each is approximately 2mm long.  I googled insect eggs and found no match, but all of these gorgeous others.


insect-eggs-3insect-eggs-5 insect-eggs-4


Just read The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty.  In 1972 it won her a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It was a nice novel, but I didn’t think that it came up to the quality of The Orphan Master’s Son, Olive Kitteridge, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, or other winners that I have read.  (But 1972 was when Marcus Welby, M.D, and My Three Sons were popular on TV.)

I am presently reading The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain. Bill Bryson married an English woman and now resides there and writes.  This book is a walking tour through Britain (with humour  and many snarky remarks).  I last visited the British Isles, approximately 25 years ago, when my children were young.  For the month-long vacation I had rented four cottages, two in England, one in Wales, one in Scotland (to see Blair Castle, but that’s another story), each for one week.  I remember being surprised that there was a footpath going right past the front garden of our Welsh cottage.  That’s when I learned that Britain has 140,000 miles of footpaths all across the island. 

Can’t imagine our Agro-Giants allowing people to walk through their crops in the US.  Plus, I checked, and Britain is about 57% the size of California.  I googled people who have walked across the United States, and there have been 19 recorded from 1896 to 2015.  A few more have bicycled; a young woman who I worked with in FEMA did it.  She had a hard time getting in enough training beforehand as we were working 60-hour weeks after Hurricane Katrina, and the storm had decimated most of the roads.  Also, my nephew rode across country back in his college days.  If I know two people who have done it, there must be hundreds.

But the walking tour brought to mind the walk a friend had taken with another, from Tucson to Nogales, approximately 70 miles (back when we were all younger).  Unfortunately, most of the way they walked next to a highway, breathing in the particulate matter and many noxious gases.  Their wives met them in Nogales for dinner.  (Google said that it should take 23 hours, 45 minutes for that walk, but I think they did it in half of that time.)  Believe that was the end of his long treks.


Pain in Tucson

August 25, 2016

waspTucson made last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, not once but twice, and both articles about pain.

The first:

The second:

Justin Schmidt with a live tarantula-hawk wasp (Pain Level 4). Photo: Robert Clark for The New York Times.


August 2016

August 12, 2016

Seen today

A man riding a horse down the sidewalk next to La Cañada this morning.  (Note: the tilde does not show on the street sign or maps, so the voice for google maps, not knowing it’s a Spanish word, pronounces it like the country to our north.)  Just now (4:40), two coyotes trotting down the road that rings my subdivision.

Rio Olympics

katie-ledecky-swimmingAren’t the Olympics great?  Something to hear about on the news other than the Election!  Here’s just USA golds, so far…

Swimmers: Michael Phelps with his four gold metals, Katie Ledecky with three golds and a silver (great article on her in the Sunday NY Times Magazine two weeks ago, before the Olympics had even started1– check out this photo of her – she’s been compared to SecretariatSecretariat), Ryan Murphy (Backstroke) with two golds, and Simone Manuel (Freestyle) and Lilly King (Breaststroke) with a gold each.  Plus Michael Phelps, Caeleb Dressel, Ryan Held and Nathan Adrian with two golds in Freestyle Relay and Allison Schmitt, Leah Smith, Maya DiRado and Katie Ledecky with one gold for Freestyle Relay.

Simone BilesThen there’s our Women’s Gymnastics team (Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian and Aly Raisman) with its all-around gold and Simone Biles (who the Times calls perhaps the best female gymnast in history – her vault was awesome to watch) with two golds. (Photographs by Jeremy White; composite image by Sergio Peçanha and Jon Huang, seen in the NY Times.)

The U.S. men's and women's basketball teams will reportedly stay on the Silver Cloud cruise ship rather than the Athletes' Village during the Olympic Games that start in Rio de Janeiro on Friday. The cruise ship is shown here on Monday at Rio's Maua PierContinue with Kayla Harrison (Judo), Kristin Armstrong (Cycling) and Virginia Thrasher (Air Rifle) with one gold each.  Let’s hear it for the women of the USA!

Will Team USA, the men’s and women’s basketball teams (housed on a cruise ship!) earn their golds?  Keep watching…


The Horse Race

July 8, 2016

Our election

This is a very scary scenario about one of the people we have running for president.  I couldn’t even watch it to the end.

This is for the people who want to vote for him:

Australia’s election

Australia’s election was held 5 days ago (when I started writing this yesterday) and they still only have 80% of the votes counted.  But what else I find incredible is that their federal election was held on Saturday 2 July 2016 to elect all 226 members of the 45th Parliament of Australia, after an extended eight-week official campaign period. Imagine how marvelous that would be.  Only two months of blather.  I turn off the news whenever they start talking about politics now. Used to be just who was winning on the latest polls, now it all of the horrible things the front runners have said and done. I can’t even stand to read the in-depth articles in the NY Times Magazine.

Speaking of which, was astounded to read the only article in last Sunday’s Times on the Australia’s election, and it was all the Horse Race statistics, no issues.  Had to google for issues: The economy, Health, Families, Education, Environment (Climate change! Renewable energy! Forests! Great Barrier Reef!), NBN (Australia’s new broadband network), Rural and regional affairs, Workplace relations1.  Imagine not arguing about guns2 or immigrants or a wall with Mexico (remember when the Berlin Wall came down?).


(These two countries have piqued my interest since meeting Aussies and Brits on my vacation.) Here are the comments from one of the Brits on Brexit:

What can I say? I believe there is only one word – a “shambles”!  What a mess! The divisions between people are enormous – our children are looking at job transfers out of the country. Poor things – it will come good – eventually, but not before we’re six foot under & they’ve got to live with the bigoted views of some of the older generation.  The young that did vote were vehemently anti-Brexit. I believe the whole campaign was badly handled & only glad I was out of the country for 3 weeks of it! Wondering where to go hide now!!

And another friend said to read this:

Our Wild West

A black man (with a concealed carry permit), driving with his girlfriend, was stopped for a broken tail light in Minnesota, and was shot multiple times when he reached for his wallet to show his license. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana a black man protestwas repeatedly shot by police officers after he was pinned to the ground. Because of this there was a peaceful demonstration against violence in Dallas, and a sniper, a black Afghanistan veteran, killed five white policemen and injured seven others, so the police sent in a robot with a bomb and blew him up.  (Photo from the New York Times: People rallied in Dallas to protest the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Laura Buckman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

policeWhat can I say.  Between 2000 and 2011, 4,518 people in the US have been killed by police officers.3 According to Wikipedia,

Police in Great Britain… are not routinely armed. Fatal shootings of police are extremely rare; there were three in England and Wales in the eleven-year period from 2000/01 to 2010/11.

Yes, Britain has only 20% of the population of the US, but 20% of 4,518 is 915, not 3.  Or to reverse that, 5 times 3 is 15, not 4,518!(Second photo also from the New York Times: Dallas police officers responded after shots were fired during a protest on Thursday. Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News, via Associated Press)

2A person [in Australia] who wants to possess or use a firearm must have a firearm licence. Licence holders must be at least 18 years of age, have a “genuine reason” for holding a firearm licence and must not be a “prohibited person”. All firearms in Australia must be registered by serial number to the owner, who holds a firearms licence, except that firearms manufactured before 1 January 1901 may not need to be registered in some states. The firearm owner must have secure storage for the firearm. Firearms dealers must be over 21 years of age and hold a dealer’s licence, and dealers’ employees must be vetted by the police. “Prohibited persons” cannot be employed by dealers. Besides other requirements, dealers must ensure that the purchaser of a firearm holds a firearm licence, must maintain a register and must notify police of each transaction.


Fourth of July in Oro Valley

July 5, 2016

Last night Oro Valley (just north of Tucson) had a July 4th celebration at a park next to the high school which included many food vendors, live music, bouncing castles and a climbing wall for the kids, and fireworks provided by the Hilton El Conquistador Resort at 9pm. We (my daughter and husband and their three kids and me) got there about 6:30 for pizza for the kids and BBQ for the adults, except I decided to try Venezuelan food – carne Arepamechada (Venezuelan shredded beef) arepa and a malta.

The Arepa is a staple of Venezuelan cuisine, and often compared to a taco.  However, there are a few key differences between the two that make the arepa stand out as the tastier option. The shell is a soft dough made from soaked, ground kernels of corn maize, which is placed on the griddle, giving the arepa its signature grill lines. It’s then filled with a variety of ingredients ranging from meat to veggies, cheese, and sauce.

Malta is a lightly carbonated non-alcoholic malt beverage, brewed from barley, hops, and water much like beer; corn and caramel color may also be added.

jenga 2The park was packed (500?  800? more?) with a nice melange of people – white, black, Hispanic, Asian, little kids to seniors, two guys in wheelchairs, at least half of the people wearing red, white, and blue.  A black kid with a mohawk, a woman with half of her hair purple, a couple of little girls in special flag dresses, many adult in the fashionable torn jeans with T-shirts, two crying kids talking to a female police officer who was reassuring them that she’d find their mother. Baseball caps being worn frontwards and backwards, firemen giving little kids red plastic fire fighter’s helmets. A couple of Asian women speaking Chinese, a mixed group of young kids playing a four-foot jenga (hadn’t brought my camera – this from the internet to give you an idea – the kids in the park were playing on grass).

After the two jumping castles and the climbing wall and the stringing of two patriotic necklaces (the face-painting line was way too long), we set up our blanket and fold-up camp chairs next to the family of a friend of my youngest grandchild, who we ran into.  Bought rather expensive icies as it was still hot even with the sun going down, listened to the bands, the singing of the national anthem, and then the lights went off and the fireworks from the nearby resort started.

We couldn’t see the low ones behind the trees, but even with just the high ones it was a very impressive show.  Somebody said there were three times the fireworks as last year. Much better than the Marriott Starr Pass Resort I had watched for years from my last house1, when I wasn’t in California or Vancouver. (We did laugh that we would have had a better view from my present rental, as I’m practically across the street from the Hilton El Conquistador Resort.)

1 Couldn’t find any photo of fireworks from the Starr Pass Resort from the Fourth of July, but here are some from February 2013 (don’t remember the reason.)

Leaving the Aegean

July 4, 2016

Note: do not fly Air Berlin (a partner of American Airlines, whose frequent flyer miles I was using) in economy.  You can’t make your seat reservation until 30 hours before takeoff.  That was a bit of a problem, since that would have been at 4:30am two days before I left, for the first flight.  Really didn’t want a center seat.  I hadn’t gotten a sim card for my phone, and on the boat the wifi was iffy.  But after breakfast Maria and Heinrich got the wifi working and booked the seats for me for the first two flights.  When I arrived in Munich I had to make my seat arrangements for the flight across the Atlantic.

Also: I had enough frequent flyer miles with AA for business class but pretty much was told that to use them I would have had to book about a year in advance!  I never think that far ahead, so I’m going to ditch the credit card that gives me the AA miles and get one that just gives me cash back.  Plus it took an AA agent on the phone over an hour helping me to book with my miles, just for economy.  Hence circuitous routes.

I was the first to leave of our group. Had breakfast on the boat before the drive to the airport in Rhodes. First two flights we got a drink and either “salty or sweet”. Potato chips first flight, to Munich, apple at the airport, chocolate on the next plane, to Düsseldorf. (Admittedly, I had overeaten in Greece, so was still not hungry.) People kept speaking to me in German, as if I looked like I lived there.

Through a cool drizzle, to a hotel right next to the airport, the Maritime Hotel Düsseldorf, for an overnight.  The AC was turned way down, and the air had that clean feel of no humidity.  There was a down comforter.  I abstained from dinner and went right to sleep.  (This was the first time in two weeks that I had not had to deposit the toilet paper in a separate receptacle, an adjustment.)  Got up very early and walked to the airport early as I had to submit my bags to Customs. I waited in four different lines at the airport. High security. No problem with the cheese, but I was asked to take out the sculpture (in my carry-on), and they swabbed it and checked it for various chemicals.

Fortunately I had enough time for a chocolate croissant and a latte. Plane to Fort Myers, Florida only half full so scored five seats across in the center, but then couldn’t sleep (not only has the width of the plane seats decreased, but the depth has too, to about 18″, not exactly couch width – and German seats are smaller than American seats), especially as the flight attendants came by with a snack and two meals, and it was daytime for me. But granted, all of the (tiny) seats have individual screens. Watched a Tarantino film, three Game of Thrones reruns, then for fun a James Bond. Had two Kindle books on my tablet, but no recharge for the battery in economy.

Luckily I had bought a paperback in Rhodes, so had something to read on the next two planes, to Chicago and to Tucson. When I boarded that last plane, they announced that Tucson was 115°.  By the time I arrived, at 9:30 pm, the temperature has gone down to 100°.  What a welcome home.

Aegean Day 14

July 4, 2016


IMG_6428Note: The medieval walled city of Rhodes has been on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites since 1988.

IMG_6432We started the day with the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes. IMG_6437 The castle has a mishmash of ancient art. A couple of the guys have formed the AFM club, or maybe it’s the ABM (Another Bloody Museum) club.  They’re the tag-alongs.  A detail of one of the intricate mosaics. (Notice the stairs. We have climbed a lot of stairs.)





This mosaic depicts the great scene of the creation of [the island of] Nisyros. [During the Battle of the Gods and Giants] Poseidon [God of the Sea] is chasing the giant Polyvotis [on the left] and in a few seconds will hit his trident on the island of Kos, will get a piece and throw it at the latter. Mother Earth (Gaia), goddess Athena [who leaped from the head of Zeus, already adult, dressed with her armor] and Nike [the Winged Goddess of Victory] are watching the scene. Polyvotis will be buried at the bottom of the sea below the newly created island and every time he breaths the Nisyros’ volcano reacts!!! (per our guide Maria)

The muses:

IMG_6435You may recognize this sculpture:

Laocoön, in Greek legend, a seer and a priest of the god Apollo… Laocoön offended Apollo by breaking his oath of celibacy and …by having sexual intercourse with his wife in Apollo’s sanctuary. Thus, while preparing to sacrifice a bull on the altar of the god Poseidon (a task that had fallen to him by lot), Laocoön and his twin sons… were crushed to death by two great sea serpents… sent by Apollo.

A much better-known reason for his punishment was that he had warned the Trojans against accepting the wooden horse left by the Greeks. This legend found its most famous expressions in Virgil’s Aeneid and in the Laocoön statue (now in the Vatican Museum)… The statue was for a time in the palace of the Emperor Titus. After its rediscovery during the Renaissance, it regained its exalted reputation…

Next we walk along entirety of the enormous ramparts, show on this map in brown.



IMG_6444There is a double wall with a huge moat.  You can see the whole city from the top.  On the left is the Old Town clock tower, in the center the tiled dome of St Georges Church, and on the right, a minaret of the Suleiman Mosque.

IMG_6454After lunch we are on our own to take photos, shop, whatever.  Heinrich snaps my photo and takes me to a shop to buy a museum copy statue.  He didn’t think I ought to get this one, no doubt because, as sculpturean archeologist, he thought I ought to be accurate and get a museum replica of an item from the Dodecanese, since that’s we are, not the Cyclades, Modiglianianother group of islands off the coast of Greece.

It is the head of a canonical figurine from around 2800–2300 BC… Cycladic culture developed around 3000 BC and for over one thousand years produced sculptures that had a strong influence on modern artists such as Picasso, Modigliani, Brancusi and many more.1 And that’s why I liked it. Here is a sculpture by Modigliani, Head of a Woman, in our National Gallery.

That evening we have our farewell dinner on board, J gives a thank you and our tips to the crew members.

Summary of the trip: talks on archeology (an archeological museum on each island), mythology (which I had studied 50+ years ago), history (which I never knew), and architectural styles.  Tours of towns, archeological ruins and museums.  Lots of good food and wine, marvelous group of people, great conversation and lots of laughs.  An enjoyable time.


Aegean Day 13

July 4, 2016


I overslept this morning, awakened by the breakfast bell.  Think that all of the wine (and masticha) after that gin and tonic at the kafeneio had done me in.

In the morning we motor to a bay off Turkey. We can’t disembark to trek up to the best preserved fortification of the Hellenistic period (click on the above photo to see it at the top of the island) because we haven’t gotten our visas stamped. (Darn!) Only three of us get in the water as the strong breeze makes it difficult to swim back to the gulet. Half-a-dozen boats have dropped anchor. Two small outboard motor boats, filled with rugs, jewelry, scarfs, zip towards us, and the women, tying up to our craft, ask us in English if we’d like to buy.


We’re a somnolent group, sitting with our books in our laps, contemplating the choppy waves and, after this afternoon and tomorrow on Rhodes, the fact that we shall be going home. Not sure anyone wants to, this has been in such an idyllic trip.


Our craft snuggles up with other boats in the crowded harbour, have our lunch and set of for an archeological museum, housed in the medieval Hospital of the Knights, a splendid building with a severe arcaded courtyard and a wide flight of stairs leading to a gallery which runs round three sides of the square. Almost the whole of the east side is occupied by the Infirmary Hall, surely one of the most wonderful rooms in Europe. Nearly a hundred meters long, it has a vaulted roof IMG_6404IMG_6403supported by arches springing from the seven pillars which divide the hall lengthwise… (The Companion Guide to the Greek Islands, by Ernle Bradford, one of the pile of reference books in the “library” onboard, opposite the bar.)

Marble sculptures.  Asclepius with his snake-entwined staff. Hygieia, his daughter (also with snake), who was the goddess/personification of health, cleanliness and hygiene.

Lots of gorgeous mosaics on the walls of an outdoors room, done in the pebble technique.  (Imagine gathering all of these pebbles, in different colours, all of the same size.)  These were removed from the floors they were on to display in the museum. (Click on them to enlarge.)



Dinner on a roof-top patio. Wine (of course) and a wide variety of dishes. I never used to like dolmades, specifically the stuffed grape leaves, but am enjoying them as much as the fried cheese.

Aegean Day 12

July 3, 2016


In the morning we motored to a calm bay in Alinia, as the waves were getting a bit dicey. Swimming (I did a quick swim just to cool down, as there’s hardly a breeze), kayaking, paddle boarding, sunning. Many other boats coming and going, keeping the number at about eight, including a few full of rowdy swimmers, one sailboat all of the way from Australia, and two catamarans.


After lunch another swim (that old rule forbidding swimming after eating has been thrown out), then we continue to the beautiful island of Symi with its lovely neoclassical port town, one of the prettiest sights in the Mediterranean. I don’t agree.  I think Chalki was prettier.  There are all sorts of fake details on the buildings here, such as these eyebrows over the windows, the pediments that don’t have an attic vent that have a fake circle painted there.  And the Corinthian pilasters.  And the dentils.  (IMG_6380Check out the light blue pediment on the front center yellow building in the right photo.)  Yeah, this is Greece and it’s supposed to have classical architecture, but this town is overdone for tourists.  At least the shutters shut!  (One of my beefs with so many American houses, shutters bolted down for ornamentation on ugly buildings.) I’m the sole proponent of form follows function in our group. But there were a couple of houses that I liked with shed roofs rather than the typical gable.  Nice contrast to all of the



We climb what seems like hundreds of stairs to an ancient wall and a view of the entire town and harbour and the humongous cruise ship. (Many people on such a ship say they’ve been to Greece, but never leave the boat, lucky for us, but the ship does obscure the view, until it leaves, with a lot of braying horns saying goodbye. There had been such a ship in Venice and I heard that the city was considering not allowing them as few of the passengers spend any money in town.)

A stop for drinks halfway down at a kafeneio, the patio covered by a grape arbor over what would be a street if it weren’t for all of the stairs, with children dashing past us, no couch potatoes here.

shellfishA quick stop at the boat to freshen up, then fish dinner along the noisy harbour, motorscooters, cars and small trucks sharing what looks like a one-lane road along the edge of our tables, and the boats beyond, crowded together with centimeters to spare. Lots of wine followed by a shot of masticha, made from tree sap on the island of Helios.

Aegean Day 10

June 29, 2016


Found more photos from yesterday in Nisyros.  Believe we hiked around a town above the volcano, Emborio.  Must show you the narrow lanes and the stairs:



Just another beautiful morning on the Aegean. As we “sail” – motor – away from Nisyros I catch a whiff of sulfur.  On to Tilos.  


Because we are travelling during our mid-morning break, no cappuccino freddo.  Maria served us frappes, which she makes from Nescafe (instant coffee), stirred in a bit of water to dissolve it, then poured over ice and mixed with frothed milk and a teaspoon of sugar. Thought I’d try it as I’m getting used to the multiple cups of coffee we’re consuming (which is why I’ve ceased taking naps). Back down to one cup when I return to the States.



We drove up a winding road visit the Monastery of St. Panteleimon. Funny that it is located at the end of the only road on Tilos, but our van driver has to use his GPS to find it. (Notice more of those high, narrow stairs without a handrail.)

IMG_6317IMG_6322Next a tiny museum, the Dwarf Elephant Exhibition, devoted to the island’s extinct species of pigmy elephant, the bones found in a cave on the island.  (This is another museum that says it’s closed, bu Maria gets us in.) Next door is another small Byzantine church. Lunch at a restaurant with a patio looking across the island, cats attending.


IMG_6331Weather is forecast for strong winds and rain in the evening, so we cross to the small island of Chalki after lunch.  From the sea the port town of Chorio is beautiful, all of the buildings, stacked up from the bay, are different pastel colors, the shutters in bright colours, the door and window frames white, the roofs tiled.


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