Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes

It’s a discouraging thing to realize our heroes and superstars are just. . . human.  They grow and move on and change.  My first lesson in this was when I was a pre-teen.  I’d pillaged my older brother’s record collection and found the Monkees.  Being the very demographic for whom they were created, I was hooked.  Gentle reader, if you are unfamiliar with the Monkees, they were put together by some management team to slip-stream in on the popularity of the Beatles ~ 4 guys: 1 cute, 1 talented, 1 “character,” 1 other.  It took a while for them to learn any musicianship so they could stop lip/instrument synching, but they were marketed with their own television show!  It’s a shame those were the only albums I inadvertently saved before the Great Rehab Rock-&Roll Purge, but that is another story.  I loved the Monkees, particularly Davy Jones, the cute one.  I found the show on TV.  (Looking back, it was obviously in syndication by then.)  The album jackets provided information for the Monkees Fan Club.  Joy!  I wrote to them, as fans do.  The letter came back, “Return to Sender.”  My mother gently explained to me how old those albums were, that the Monkees were probably no longer together as a band.  I was crushed.  It was as though something real and living had suddenly been pressed under glass, stopped in time, no longer the interactive force I had believed in the day before.  Over the years, one member and another would pass through the news, but the Monkees had, indeed, ceased to exist.

the Monkees

This may have been less disappointing than what another David Jones has done to me.  In the late ’60s, in order to differentiate himself from Davy Jones of the Monkees, David Robert Jones became David Bowie.  In the early ‘70s, he was on the bleeding edge, glitter glamorous, punk presaging, gender bending, rock & rolling.  Through theatrical personae, he let his angels and demons loose on the stage.  His music was eclectic, his lyrics compelling, and the whole show was an instigation.

He lived through the ‘70s and way too much cocaine, but kept working.  He was evolving, too.  David Bowie of the ‘80s was cleaned up and respectable, but the music still made me want to move.  When he attempted to be “just another member” of a band with Tin Machine, and failed at it miserably, the music lost my interest.  He continued to produce through the ‘90s, but I retreated to the old Bowie that I loved.  When Heathen was released in 2002, I gave it a listen.  Meh.  Then he didn’t release another for a decade.

Recent public appearances have shown that Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke have given way to . . . my dad.  Not my particular father, but he’s looking like everybody’s dad.  He’s looking his age.  It’s the human thing to do.  I can’t blame him.  But the music . . . the tracts I’ve heard have been so lifeless.  That’s what is killing me.  David Bowie is still making music but I don’t want to listen to it.  He’s always been a chameleon, always changing, and if this late-60-something year-old man wants to make rocking chair music, that’s his bag.


But to be fair, I hadn’t listened to all the songs on his later albums.  It was just too depressing.  So, just now, I’ve sampled some more.  There may be hope.  That voice which has always moved me is still there.  I can picture the smile Ziggy wore, crooked teeth and all, when he was having so much fun and on fire about his art.  Nature’s first green is gold . . . these golden years … I’ll stick with you, baby, for a thousand years.

A Major Minor Miracle

Aperitvi, Happy Hour, is a strong social custom in Italy.  The man and I enjoy reconnecting at the end of the day over a glass and some nibbles, but since I don’t like beer or wine and anything stronger gives me a migraine, I drink kefir.  Because I am opposed to the dairy industry, I make water kefir at home.  A fortunate choice you will later realize.

The basic process begins with a starter called a SCOBY (symbiotic community of bacteria & yeast) that eats sugar and provides probiotics and carbonation to the beverage.  The SCOBY lives in a covered pitcher and every few days I pour off its water, now water kefir, and bottle it with some fruit juice for secondary fermentation.  Then SCOBY gets new sugar water and some minerals.  While the bottled kefir continues to ferment, the resealable flip top bottle contains the carbon dioxide the SCOBY exhales (or some biological process like that), thus naturally carbonating the beverage.

My current SCOBY has had a very busy year.  He’s taken several naps in the fridge while we went away for a week or two or three.  When we went Home for seven weeks, he had to be dehydrated and wait in suspended animation for my return.  Which he did like a champ.  We’re back on schedule and the kefir is good.  Except it’s been kind of flat.  I’ve watched the tiny bubbles rising in the bottles, but nothing more than a gentle pop when I opened them.  The fact that I could see the bubbles is probably a clue.  That gas is supposed to remain in suspension until the pressure is released.  A soda bottle doesn’t sit there quietly making bubbles with its cap on.  So I suspected the seals on these particular bottles weren’t doing the job.  Italian houses are full of bottles; for wine, for limoncello, for olive oil, for vinegar, for grappa, because so many people do their own of all of these.  Maybe they were for wine to let the gas out.  There is a fizzy red wine, probably discovered when someone put their grape juice in the wrong bottle.  So I went digging around the kitchen to find some bottles with better seals.

Normally, I have an open bottle in the fridge and a couple waiting on the counter.  But the counter was looking crowded.  I had the brilliant idea to put them on top of a cabinet in Kiwi’s apartment instead (it’s also our apartment’s half bath, but don’t tell her).  High storage is generally the man’s domain.  I’m satisfied with the low cabinets, under-the-bed, and the bottom drawers.  So I never even think of the useful space which I can’t reach without a step-stool.  But the man doesn’t go in Kiwi’s apartment, so Bob’s my uncle.  I put two bottles on high, even somewhat decoratively with a candle between them, on Sunday.

Tuesday morning, I awoke to the sound of shattering glass.  I thought that bloody French door in the kitchen had finally gone.  It’s made of the thinnest glass and installed only loosely such that the glass rattles brittlely (it’s a word, I tell you, I looked it up, rhymes with Italy) in the frame which shakes lamely on its hinges whenever the Navy is testing explosive in the bay.  I hate that door… mostly because I am pathologically unnerved by broken glass and it just sits there threatening me, waiting . . .  But it wasn’t the kitchen door.  The man was just stepping in from the other porch ~yes, we eat breakfast on the balcony, overlooking the Mediterranean, sipping fine Italian coffee; but I digress~  in time to see shards sparkling down through the spray and splatter of a liter of sugar water.  All over Kiwi’s apartment.

He came to tell me what it was, and that it wasn’t him.  I went to look;  it was a disaster, a sharp, splintery, runny, sticky, personally-horrifying disaster.  Knowing how broken glass affects me, I assiduously avoid breaking it.  I had never confronted such a mess, didn’t even know where to begin.  It actually crossed my mind to just close the door and never use that room again.  I’m usually more practical than that, so my better nature won out, and I began to mop my way in.  Within ten minutes, I was bleeding.  The sight of blood spreading out in a pool of water is also no way to start the day, especially when the blood is mine.  I picked up the “big” pieces, but aside from the bottle neck, there weren’t any bigger than the palm of my hand.  The man says the thing exploded like a shrapnel grenade.  I had definitely chosen the wrong bottle.  It was square, not as strong as round to begin with, and probably intended for olive oil.  Failure mode duly noted.  From now on, I will bottle in proper beer bottles from the back stock of LBC, Little Black Cat / Lewis Brewing Consortium / Lerici Beer Company.

It’s been ages since I’ve had a physical-labor all-day sort of job.  But it had to be done.  The sticky was drying and getting worse.  Every surface, every item, every thing had to be wiped down.  So I kept going.  It took all day until it was time to leave for an appointment and dinner.  And still it isn’t finished. The washing machine knob is suspiciously stiff now.  The sliding door of the medicine chest really just doesn’t.  When I leaned my weary back against the wall, it stuck.  No, it’s not finished yet.

But this is when I began to appreciate all the ways it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.  There was nothing else that day I needed to be doing.  Dinner out was already planned.  No one was in the room when it blew.  It didn’t happen when no one was home at all and Kiwi would have tried to navigate the disaster to reach her sandbox (which was mercifully protected under the counter) … or eat from her dish, which was not.  That is a thought I wish never to be having.

Then, later, standing in the kitchen, I looked at where the bottles had always sat.  It would have been exponentially worse:  open shelving chock full of containers and things and stuff, wooden shelving, in fact, and inconveniently absorbent, too; a much larger room to clean with so many more nooks and crannies, just waiting to draw bugs in the spring; another bottle would have been against it, a glass jar of kibble next to that ~ more casualties, more sneaky shards of glass everywhere.

The bottle that failed so catastrophically was the first one I’d ever thought to put anywhere else.  And up high, where I don’t keep things?  Hardly a thought I would have had for myself.  I know God takes care of me.  I am grateful for His love, even when I need to change my perspective to see it.  This is probably a lesson for the future as well.  Look for His hand, even when disaster strikes.  It may be shielding me from so much worse.

Gorilla Day!


Here we are, primate fans, on the Virunga Massif, which sits astride the borders of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda.  The three national parks create one giant reserve, the non-human residents entirely unaware of the political boundaries they cross at will.  Dian Fossey pursued her study of gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, where descendants of her subjects live today.  So, very much in Fossey’s shadow ~likely there would be no gorillas on the Virunga to visit, if not for her work~ we met our guides and were told of our assigned family group, Kwitonda.  There are 23 members, but the patriarch, Kwitonda himself, died of undetermined cause 2 years ago at the approximate age of 40.  He left many offspring, including 3 silverbacks.  You may find their entries by the Gorilla Doctors, who watch over and care for them, here and here.

After a short drive, a stroll through the pyrethrum fields, and an hour or so in the jungle, we met up with the trekkers.  It was time to leave our bags and approach the gorillas.  As we were just dropping our packs, a rustle in the foliage directly behind us brought forth the head of the clan to check us out.  They know the rangers, guides, and trekkers and seem to understand that these trusted men bring a few (8) others every day to stare and take photos and quickly leave.  We were approved.  He went on his way.


We carried on after him, 1st meeting his 2nd in command, who must be so accustomed to visitors that he gave us an almost male-model series of poses.

Then a female passed by, so we followed her to a larger part of the group with a number of juveniles.  We were not to approach too close in order to avoid injury to ourselves and, more importantly, any transmission of disease to the gorillas.  But they seem to have forgotten and the youngsters were happily playing until one nearly scampered up my leg, only to have a guide interpose himself between us.  I was disappointed, but it was for the best.  It would be so easy to love them to death.

In fact, the groups which have been habituated to humans are so much so that the top silverback displayed no uneasiness about getting on with his job of carrying on the species.  Yes, perhaps we were privy to the creation of one of next year’s Kwita Izina’s honorees.  The lady of his attentions looked bored, resting her head on her hand, quite possibly thinking about shopping.

So, as if watching children play and witnessing hope for the future would not have been enough, in our final moments on the clock, the newest mother ambled through with her month-old baby clinging to her back… then falling off… then rolling around… My heart burst.  Best of luck little one.  You are going to need it.

So, there you have it.  Our pilgrimage to Rwanda to meet the creatures for whom Dian Fossey gave her life.  They are worth it.  We are worth what it costs to save species other than ourselves.  What an awful place it will be when it’s just us and the cockroaches.  All the money in the world can’t buy connection to those whom we have driven from it… to our true impoverishment.


Into a sea of friendly faces, I walked through the door.  So many old friends I see too seldom, we are a tribe of waterbabies brought together by the game, but united by a common spirit.  It was the annual Christmas party, which usually brings some out of woodwork who have drifted out of the pool, or the area or the country.  Old friends… with histories and stories and backstories, friend/ships ~if you will allow me, gentle reader, to wax corny~ that sail through years, crossing paths occasionally, but sometimes tying up unexpectedly in the same harbor for a night.  Two of my oldest friends in this community were there before my eyes, quite out of the wild blue yonder, icing on the chocolate cake.  

I find dear friends where I live now, but they arrive and depart quickly, uncertain when or if we’ll meet again, connected by a brief time in a special place.  But these people are the ones I don’t doubt I’ll ever see again, even when it is too long.  So, after all the merry was made, hugs and kisses shared, and everyone had found their beds, I lay awake with so many good times replaying on the back of my skull.  The laughter and shenanigans and adventures and competition and support in hard times were all there, in faces that light up my own whenever the wind and the tides wash us up together again.  Thank you my friends, my tribe, for welcoming me home with open arms every time and without reservation.

(Sorry for the further diversion, Jimm.  I know you’ll understand.  Wish you had been there, too.  The gorillas are coming.)


Onward and upward, north to Lake Kivu, where we stopped for lunch at a tropical spot in Gisenyi where Kigalese take a nice weekend away.  The temperature was lovely.  The palms swayed.  And I finally had my ugali.  Throughout our posh safari in Tanzania I repeatedly submitted my wish to eat local fare, including ugali, but apparently it is too pedestrian for European tourists.  Never saw it.  Made with yuca flour (wikipedia says fufu is yuca while ugali is maize, but I’m going with what the man who brought it from the kitchen said), it’s sort of a bread, kind of a dumpling, definitely a starchy substrate for more flavorful sauces and stews eaten out of hand.  I really liked it.  It was elastic and expanding and seemed to retain its original volume ~a ball, not as big as my head but bigger than a softball~ through at least one additional lunch, then very slowly diminishing with daily depredations when mealtimes fell too far apart for my metabolic needs.


After our leisurely lunch, when I may have even napped for a minute under the palapas, we were on our way to Musanze.  Except the car wouldn’t start.  There is a funny little ginkle ~that word requires more explanation than I am prepared to give.  Suffice it to say, a doohickey that performs a task for which it is not needed~ that must be touched to the after-market security system in order for the ignition to engage.  It looked like our ginkle may have been … damaged.  How were we going to replace an old ginkle for an even older car, only loosely rented from a man for whom we hadn’t even a phone number?  A staff-member of the lodge/restaurant was happy to take a look.  That drew a half-dozen other men.  Does the sound of a car bonnet lifting make some homing beacon, audible and irresistible to only Y-chromosomes?  Several of the men had ladies, obviously dressed in their Sunday best ~gorgeous, traditional dresses and headwear~ standing back, arms crossed but patiently familiar with the ritual.  Hmm, might  just be a dead battery.  We won’t discuss the earlier conversation regarding the increased safety of driving in daylight with the headlights on.  A few of the men disappeared and immediately reappeared with … a coat hanger?  I stepped back a little farther, with the ladies in waiting.  And yes, these guys successfully jump-started our car not with cables and big alligator clips, color-coded with rubber handles and all, but with what looked like nothing so much as an unwound metal coat hanger.  Very impressive.  I thanked the ladies, in French as they were probably of the pre-English language generation, for their time and their husbands.  They lit up in smiles, said it wasn’t anything, and looked distinctly proud that their men had saved the stupid tourists a great deal of trouble and probably money.  We drove for a good while before turning that engine off again.  It never gave us any more lip.

It was well-after dark when we arrived in Musanze, triangulating a meeting place by phone with our proprietress.  The meet-up was successful and absolutely necessary.  We never would have found the place, down and around unlit, unpaved, unmarked back streets as it was.  After a quick change-a-roo so Jimm could have facilities (I never saw where “down the hall” would have been if he had kept the first room offered), we were soon tucked in under our respective mosquito nets.

In the morning we headed up to Virunga Lodge, the older posh lodge serving Volcanoes National Park, just to see it and take in the view.  We didn’t expect to be welcomed with open arms, not being guests and definitely looking worse for wear, but figured we could have a drink and be gone before the guests returned from their morning trek.  When sad sedan just couldn’t make the final incline toward the mountain-top lodge, we were forced to park it on the side of the road and go it on foot, which would have been alarming enough to the guards who only ever see white people turn up in Land Rovers, but we immediately collected an entourage of raggedy school children for whom we were the most exciting thing to happen all week.  About a dozen boys and girls took our hands and a few started chattering away in both Kinyarwanda and English.  The boy responsible for the goat tried to carry it in order to keep up with the rest, but not lose his goat, who did not want to be carried.  There was shouting… and wrestling… and bleating.  All of them were darling.  Most of the children went to school in the other part of the day (the blue and khaki are uniforms).  When the girls asked me what my job is, I desperately wanted to be able to show them that a woman can be anything.  It was an encouraging sign that they assumed I had a job.  I don’t.  I’m a housewife… and a terrible liar, so I told the truth and said it’s my choice and that by going to school they can choose to be anything they want, too.  They escorted us all the way up to the lodge gates where the guards gave them such a frowning that they scampered away quickly.


Goat&GirlsSo we had a coffee, enjoyed the million dollar view, confirmed that Virunga Lodge is a bit of an aging lady compared to Nyungwe Forest Lodge, and took our leave… into the waiting hands of our new young friends.  This boded well for the car being where we left it and in approximately the same condition, which it was.  As we were attempting to extricate ourselves, a boy of about 6 invited us to his house.  When I asked, he swore his mother said it was OK.  We met his family… and neighbors… and goats.  The patriarch spoke French rather than English and was so tickled when I pulled out a few phrases.  He was sorry that Jimm had no more sons than just Craig.  Yes, but I just left it at that.  We visited a while, then finally made our way back to the car.  These folks, living in 2-room mud huts, farming unspeakably steep hillsides, have the same million dollar view as the guests just above them staying in the posh lodge.  It was something special to meet those people and see their home, rather than blasting past in an SUV, oblivious.


The next day brought us Golden Monkeys!  Another permitted trek with guides, trekkers, and rangers, the ratio of travail to pay-off was still much better than Chimpanzee Day.  The Goldens spend time lower in the trees, seeming to mind us not a whit, maybe as much as to turn their backs to our cameras, but no more than that.  The troop was on the move, so we followed, and as the sun came out we got some very nice shots at the end of our allotted time with them.  As we would have with the gorillas, it’s one hour, no more, then get out of their living room.  Fair enough.  It was a pleasure to be there, where they live as they should, in the wild, valued and protected.



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