Saturday, October 29, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Part two - The Arkadelphia Tornado

Forever A Hillbilly: Part two - The Arkadelphia Tornado:      I tried a couple of times to reach Kinley, but I got a busy signal. I headed that way. When I got to the door, I saw a bright, sunny...

Part two - The Arkadelphia Tornado

     I tried a couple of times to reach Kinley, but I got a busy signal. I headed that way. When I got to the door, I saw a bright, sunny day outside. But Arkadelphia was pink. The town was covered with pink insulation. The trailer was also on my car out front, and the front door was a hard squeeze. A car in the street had a ton of bricks on top of it, but I could see nobody inside. I just cannot describe the town, and do it justice. Buildings everywhere were in rubble. Dazed, silent people were beginning to emerge. Screams from trapped individuals were coming from all directions. A couple of hundred yards down the street, the large brick shoestore was just a pile of rubble in the street, and amazingly, people were beginning to emerge from the rubble. I headed down the street toward Kinley's house.

     Half a mile down the street when the tornado hit, Kinley was still in her closet, sitting cross legged on the floor, Spankey in her lap, a pillow on her head. Only that small portion of her wooden house she was in remained on the site. The rest, except for scraps here and there, was blown to who knows where. As the old, very heavy wooden walls collapsed on Kinley, and old chimney that we knew nothing about, that was in that wall fell apart, bricks raining on her head, which was covered by her pillow. A large chunk of the chimney fell beside her, and as the walls fell on her, forcing her face into the dirt, that chunk of the brick chimney held a small portion up slightly, just enough. As her adrenalin rush hit, she was able to rise up slightly. A woman she didn't know helped dig her out. The first thing she saw in her yard was our business sign, Barbara's Photography. She headed up to the studio, accompanied by the woman who helped her, And Spankey.

 When I got a couple of blocks down the street, I saw her. She was coming up the street, Spanky in her arms, being escorted by an Angel. No, I'm not speaking figuratively, I'm dead serious. This woman beside her had, I later found out, helped dig her out. She had told Kinley she lived across the street, but neither of us had ever seen her before. As Kinley and I ran to each other, hugged and cried, the Angel was smiling. We looked around, and she was gone. We've never seen her again. To Kinley and I, she will forever be her Angel.

     Kinley seemed to be all right, and so was Spanky. I led her to a clear space in the street, and told her to not dare move from that spot. I had to try and help some of the screaming, trapped people.

     I found a wrecked building with a woman inside. I talked to her. Yes, she was OK, but could not get out. I heard a scream nearby, different from the others. It was filled with total agony. I  found out later it came from a young man who had just found his mother's body.

     As I started moving boards, to try to help this trapped woman, a strange thing happened. A squad of fully dressed National Guardsmen, complete with camo on their faces, moved into my area. How could they be here already? We were 10 minutes into this thing, yet here they were. I later learned they were returning from a drill, and had to take cover on the edge of the tornado, just as it hit. Anyway, their leader told me to step aside, they would get the woman out. They formed a line, and started moving the boards, one by one. Later, I never had a chance to tell the trapped woman that I didn't just desert her. I've always felt bad about that. As I worked my way back toward Kinley, I saw a man. A merchant. He had cleared out a little spot beside his door, and was standing fast. He was later declared  one of the heroes of the tornado, and maybe he was. I only saw him for a moment, and no telling how many people he rescued before or later. But when I saw him, at that moment  in time, he was just guarding his stuff.

     The alarms were going off at all the banks. I never knew if any unofficial withdrawals were made that day, but I do know of  hundred dollar bills being found nearby.

     When I got back to Kinley, the excitement was beginning to wear off, and she was not feeling good. I had to find help. I saw a police car in the distance, finally got him as close to Kinley as I could, and loaded her aboard.  He said he would take her to the hospital. She was finally moved on to Hot Springs, because our hospital was overflowing. I later caught it, full force, from wife Barbara, for not going with her. I should have. But I reasoned at the time I was needed more here.

     Walking up the street, I saw a strange thing. A unit of national guardsmen were marching down the streeet, in perfect order. At each intersection, the leader halted them, one went forward into the intersection, and held up his hand. First up the street, then down, to halt traffic. Well, the streets were full of wreckage, and there would be no traffic on them that day. Oh well, I guess if you ain't got discipline, you ain't got nothin'.

      A renter, in one of my duplexes a mile away, called me. The front half of the building had been smashed to the floor. His mama was having a heart attack, and the lady from next door was out in the street, wandering about. I told him I was afoot, and could not get there. Call 911.

     After a very long time, it seemed to me, rescue people began to arrive, and take over. I realize now, they got there very quickly, everything considered. But it seemed like forever at the time. I had no idea of the scope of this thing. Help was needed all over.

     The police moved in, full force, and secured the buildings. I talked an officer into letting me go into our building and  get our cameras and money, while he watched me like a hawk. About that time, Barbara and son Corey were arrriving. They told me Kinley had been moved to Hot Springs. Her back was injured. Since she was sitting cross legged, indian style, the doc said if she had been pushed down another couple of inches, it would have done her in. The large chunk of chimney, holding the walls up a little, saved her.The monster F-4 had to be at least a half mile wide. We went to where Kinley was.

     The next day, it was raining. Mrs. Lois Barksdale, Mickey's Grandmother, along with my family, had mobilized a crew to help salvage what was left at their house. The town was shut down, tighter than a drum. We need in, but only rescue personell were allowed. I found an old Red Cross shirt, and led our caravan to the roadblock. "They're with me," I told the cop. He looked at my Red Cross shirt, and waved us in. Sometimes, you just do what you gotta do.

CONTINUED - Thanks for your time, and your attention.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Arkadelphia Tornado of 1997

Forever A Hillbilly: Arkadelphia Tornado of 1997:      The big day for the OBU Father-Son Golf Tournament had arrived. Corey, my son, the OBU grad, the skilled golfer, and I, the novi...

Arkadelphia Tornado of 1997

     The big day for the OBU Father-Son Golf Tournament had arrived. Corey, my son, the OBU grad, the skilled golfer, and I, the novice, were entered as a team. Not "novice," as in beginner, but the eternal type, as in no good.
     We struggled through a dark, rainy morning. Fortunately, everyone else struggled too.It was March 1, 1997. A date seared into my brain forever. Not because it was the date I finally amazed everyone by suddenly becoming a good golfer. That didn't happen. Not by a long shot. Or by a short chipshot, or even by a putt. Not because Corey once again played well, which he did, Well enough to carry me to something close enough to victory to win us both a large umbrella. It is because weather straight from hell was on the way, weather that these umbrellas could not touch.
     After lunch, bad weather predictions were coming in. I went down to our photography studio in downtown Arkadelphia. The tornado sirens started going off. I called daughter Kinley. She was in her house, half a mile down Main street, already taking cover. Kinley has always had an unnatural fear of tornadoes. It had became a family joke. We said, "Kinley, think about it. How many people ever get hit by a tornado? What are the odds?" Still, she was always in a hidey hole at the first hint of a bad storm.
     She told me she already had it figured out. In an interior closet, on the floor, her little dog Spanky in her lap, a pillow over her head. I told her that seemed about as good as any place.
     I went outside. The sirens had stopped, then they started again, along with the report that a large tornado was on the way, scheduled to hit Arkadelphia at 2:20 PM. It was now 2:10. The electricity went off. I wondered for years if it went off because the coming storm hit a line somewhere, or because someone, somewhere, threw a switch, knowing what was about to happen to Arkadelphia, and what hot power lines could mean in the aftermath. Jim Burns, our Emergency Services Director,  recently filled me in. The lines went down west of town, probably about the time he was getting help from Gurdon firemen clearing out his truck from downed trees so he could rush to town.
     I went in and got our best camera, a Hasselblad. I loaded it, because if a tornado was about to hit, I wanted a good picture of it. I was standing on the sidewalk next to my door, and a man from the Honeycomb restaurant next door was beside me. At 2:15 we beagn to hear a loud roar in the west. "Sounds like a train." he said. "No tracks over there," I replied.  The noise increased, and he went inside. I readied my camera. Then a very strange thing happened. Clouds, from all over the sky, started rushing toward a single point, the point of the sound. I decided this thing might be about to form up right on top of me, and it was time to go inside.

      I was playing chicken with an F-4, and I blinked.

      I could not see anything that looked like a tornado, but I snapped a picture any way, and went inside. That would be my last picture for weeks. Afterwards, I could never justify to myself worrying about pictures, when so many people needed help. I don't have a single picture from that time.
     The dressing room, in the middle of the building, looked like the best place. Just as I started in, the wind really picked up. "Aw, man, my awning is blowing away." Then a house trailer, or what was left of it, mostly the frame, came through the front picture window. The back windows of the building were sucked in, the suspended ceiling around me was sucked down to the floor, and the two swinging doors behind me slammed with a loud bang. I went in the dressing room, lay the camera on the floor, and covered it with my body. My thought processes ran something like, "We've got to have something left to make a living with when this is all over." I heard the most awful groaning sound I have ever heard, as my front brick wall, three bricks thick, moved farward a few inches at the top.

     I waited a few moments to make sure this was all over with, then I headed for the phone to call my daughter Kinley. I was  relieved for her. The tornado was moving across the street, I got hit full force, so I felt like there was no way it could have hit her too, half a mile away. Little did I know.
      Just as I picked it up, it rang. It was my brother, Harry, saying he had just heard that downtown Arkadelphia was just blown off the map, and I told him I was OK, but now I had to call Kinley. He hung up, and I was thinking,  we're OK, but he won't be OK. Harry was worrying about me, and  he was dying of Cancer. Before our lives and our business was put back together from this, he would be dead.   CONTINUED, FIVE DAYS.  THANKS FOR READING.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: On Being Classy ---

Forever A Hillbilly: On Being Classy ---:      Some time ago, I wrote a story about a friend of mine. When describing his wife, the first description that came to mind was “very cla...

On Being Classy ---

     Some time ago, I wrote a story about a friend of mine. When describing his wife, the first description that came to mind was “very classy.” Later, at his funeral, the pastor’s first descriptive words about his wife was, “A very classy lady.”
     What is it about some people that just seems to bring the word “classy” to mind? What is it about some people that lets us know they have it? That experience seems to have gotten that question rolling around in my head a lot, while I’m thinking. I’m very good at thinking, especially when you just consider the sheer volume of it. Not necessarily quality thinking, not necessarily very productive thinking. Just thinking.
     Are there descriptive words out there that are so anti-classy, that, if they truly apply to the person in question, rule out any possibility of being classy? To me, some of those words would be snobby, gossipy, unkind, rude, selfish, self-centered, prideful, boastful, vengeful, vulgar, intentionally too loud, (physical limitations, such as not hearing well, don’t count here.) braggart, and shallow. Like I say, this is just my list. Yours may be very different, yet better. Or worse.
     Are there single, descriptive words out there that, if accurately applied, would prove that classy fits? I seem to have a problem with this question. Perfect will not work, because none of us are perfect, yet some are classy. Flawless? That implies perfect. So it would follow that we may have a few minor flaws, yet still be classy. What type of flaws would be allowed? Could it be that only minor flaws that do no harm to others would work? I tend to think so. There seems to be so many factors out there that go into making up a classy person, that no single word or short description can work, alone.
     Physical traits: While physical traits may be our first indicators, such as how we carry ourselves, how friendly we are, our posture, how we choose our clothes, how neat we are, how clean we are, etc. may get us tentatively in the right group initially, the core of it must come from within. We can’t keep that hidden forever.   And, our station in life we are born into can limit these outside appearances. When we were in the middle of the second largest and worst slum in the world  (Kibera, in Kenya) a little girl who I remember as being around ten years old ran out into our path. She smiled, and said “Hi! How are you?” Her clothes were rags, just hanging on her body, but class stood out all over that girl. Barbara and I both wanted to just take her hand and take her home with us, away from that place.
     Can one learn to be classy? Some people say no. You have to be born with it.  Many of us are so far away from being classy, it’s hard to imagine ever climbing up that far, and we may try and try and never succeed. On the other hand, I’m repulsed by the idea that any of us can be born into a situation, so deep in any hole, that we cannot ever climb out of it, no matter how hard we work. I tend to think yes. With hard work, we can learn to be classy.
I think regional dialects have no place here. We learn to talk like people we live among. Many people tend to look down upon others who do not talk like they talk. I, for example, know a ton of classy hillbilly’s. Those who look down upon hillbilly slang are shallow people, to my way of thinking. Other shallow people may judge by body build, weight or height. I tend to think physical characteristics of the body one is born with is not a limiting factor.
     A classy person, generally, just “has it together.” We know they are not about to just lose it in the middle of a conversation, and say something stupid.
     A classy person is a good listener. Never quick to interrupt, or talk over another person. This whole statement smacks me right in the face. I’m too busy thinking of my reply, or my next statement, to fully listen to another. I need to work on this one. The more I write on this subject, the more I begin to realize where I fit in. So, can thinking too much rule me out? Maybe so, If I can’t climb out of that hole. And I’m an old man. Don’t have a lot of time to waste.
 The “smirk” is a habit that we should be very careful with, especially for a smart person. It can easily convey the message, “I’m smarter than you.”
 I have a friend who is very smart. He pretty well always has the correct answer. But he usually starts his correction with, “Well, it COULD be that - -“
     When he does that, I just automatically know he’s about to tell me a truth I can count on, take to the bank. A humble preface to a truth conveyed by a very intelligent, classy person. Some people, however, do not respond well to his gentle approach. He and I were once in a van traveling from New Orleans. The driver seemed to think his sense of direction was superior to others. When the driver passed the proper exit, my friend softly stated, “It could be we should have taken that exit.” The driver paid no attention. We passed another exit. “We may very well have missed our turnoff.” No response. Approaching the next exit, “Turn this durned thing around!! You missed the road!” This time, the driver responded properly. He had just not had it explained to him in those terms before.
      Some people enter a room, and everything about them says, “I’m here! Look at me!” While other people enter a room and everything about them says, “Hello. How are you?” Guess who fits where.
 So what have I accomplished with this column? In the end, very little. Food for thought, and that’s about it. I have never worried about being classy, myself, possibly because I normally do not occupy a position up at the top, looking down; I seem to spend a lot of time at the bottom, looking up. But I’m me, and I just love me, even if it turns out that, in the end, I’m in a small minority.
 A classy person would be very hesitant to put others into a judgmental position in any conversation. So, if we meet on the street, and you ask, “What about me? Am I classy?” Chances are, I would just look at you, smirk, and answer, “I’m far too classy to answer that.” Then you’ll know.
Or readings of my stories – utube/talesfromthesouth/patgillum

Fair warning: the above is all shameless self-promotion

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: France, then Home

Forever A Hillbilly: France, then Home:      Avignon is a unique city. Walled, from ancient times, but modern, too. Seven Popes resided here from 1309 to 1376, when things got ...

France, then Home

     Avignon is a unique city. Walled, from ancient times, but modern, too. Seven Popes resided here from 1309 to 1376, when things got a little hot for them in Rome. There were lots of museums, and we stuck to the free stuff. The way we saw it, we could visit a lot of those expensive, touristy places, and stay a week. Or, we could follow our natural penny pinching inclinations, and stay six weeks. We chose to stay as long as we could.
     The Palace of the Popes was a big draw. We were walking around through it, and came upon a small room with a tomb in it. It contained the body of a Pope, from the early 1400's. Right here. Right in front of me. So close I could touch it. While I was still in awe of that fact, a couple of Nuns came in, started lighting candles. They told me they were about to do a ceremony that they do every day for the Pope. "How long has this ceremony been done, every day?" I asked. She looked at me, like I was slow to catch on, or something. "Every day since he died." Every day since 1400? Now, I was really overcome with awe. When I die, I'll be lucky if someone puts a flower on my grave, once a year, for a couple of years. Now, this is really something. 600+ years?

     There seemed to be any number of stories about the Popes of olden times, there at Avignon.
 One I heard dealt with the story that once a woman concealed that she was a woman so well, she actually became Pope. Things went along smoothly until she went into labor during a big parade. After that, a throne was constructed that the would-be Pope sat on during a ceremony. There was a hole in the bottom of the seat, and someone crawled under the throne and verified he was a man. Now, I have no way to verify these stories. Only that I heard them in Avignon.  
     We enjoyed a rare steak meal that day, complete with outdoor seating. Then we caught the train back to Cavaillon. Uneventfully, a rare thing for us.

     Next we headed for Lyon. For a change, this offered nice, stress free drive along the river through small towns. French drivers are not as pushy as Italians. At Lyon, we would give up our cute little red car, still pretty, and make a mad dash across France on the fast train to Paris.
     Our last laundry day was just as challenging as our first. We cleaned out the car, and Barbara repacked everything into that one giant case for our mad dash across France.
     We found out the right word for "airport" from a guy at a gas station, and he even drew up a map that had all the right words on it. Barbara almost wanted to kiss him on both cheeks like they do here. Not me. After passing the right road a couple of times, we kept looping back and finally delivered our little red car. And guess what! There were no traffic tickets attached! At least, none that had caught up with us in time. I suspect that's a weakness in the system, because a guy in Sweden told me it takes 5-6 weeks to get the ticket. By that time, we would be home, and who's going to extradite me over a traffic ticket? However, when we did get tickets sent to America, Barb paid up. I just know I saw an awful lot of flashing lights. We took the shuttle to the train station, ate pizza, then found a good hotel within short walking distance.
     Now we had a little time to see Lyon. A homeless guy taught us how to ride the metro, with help from two other English speakers. After arriving at city center, we had a little time to walk the streets of Lyon. There are some really different looking people here. We had noticed that before, in Quebec City. Lots of different looking people, who look like each other. I won't undertake to try to explain that, but I've got my theories.

     The fast train was wonderful. Just like watching a greatly sped up film of a very fast trip across country. But it was for real. Everything we saw that was reasonably close to the train was just a blur. Arriving in Paris, we found a Tourist Information, and booked a room. It was very expensive by our standards. Then with a little help we found a bus stop. It got us within reasonable walking distance from our hotel, if you don't take into consideration that I was an old man, broken back, struggling along with a giant bag.

     After we got settled, we talked a lot with the nice couple who own it. At least, with him. She didn't speak a word of English. He said they were going to Alabama, soon, to see kin folk. I told her through him, "If you're going to Alabama, you simply must master these three words: How ya'll doin?" She worked hard at it, but this French speaker just totally choked up on  "Ya'll". She just could not get it out.
     He told us that if we planned to travel in Paris this week, we simply must master the Metro. Well, we were finally able to use it well enough to get around. I won't say we mastered it, but at least, we fought it to a draw. We went to the Eiffel tower, first, and photographed it from all possible angles. Then the Musee D Orsay, where we saw Whistler's mother, and many more great works, next the Louve, with its Mona Lisa, and a lot more. We couldn't see it all in one day.

     Our dear friend Jane Quick gave Barbara a hundred dollar bill when we left home, and earmarked it for one big, fancy meal in Paris. I ate Pigeon, from ze' soute' of Fronce'. It was really good, but it looked just like a pigeon from ze' back alley. Barbara treated herself to a fancy kind of fish that we can't pronounce, and we spent Jane's hundred dollars, and then some.

     We took the metro and the train to Versailles, toured the grounds and the whole package, Then back to the Bastille, and so much more. I lost my bus and metro pass, but fortunately not until the last day. They were doing a lot of talking about the Bird Flu, and scared us about possibly being marooned in Europe, but it didn't happen. Barbara said it well with her last entry in her Europe diary. "Flying home – Yea!"

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Lost in Italy

Forever A Hillbilly: Lost in Italy:      As we traveled on up the Autostrata, along the Italian Riveara, it ran along the mountainside above the crowded coastline. Often as no...

Lost in Italy

     As we traveled on up the Autostrata, along the Italian Riveara, it ran along the mountainside above the crowded coastline. Often as not, we were in a tunnel. We have decided the Italians and the Norwegians are the world's leaders in tunnel building. But the Norwegian engineer we talked to this year said they brought  the Italians up to help with their twelve mile long tunnel and the like, and they soon went home. The rocks were too hard up there.
     Bypassing Genoa, we wound up on a major highway we thought was the Autostrata, but instead, it led to the coast. All lanes dead ended in a giant ferry terminal – to Sardenia! We had no visit planned there, but it was beginning to look like we would. It was Sunday, and the traffic was not heavy, so we parked and I walked to find help. I found a worker there, but he waved me off, would not even try to talk to me. I knew sometimes they were more helpful if you could throw in an Italian word or two, show that I was at least trying. So I went back to Barbara, and she gave me some Italian words. I went back to him, started throwing them in, but he just shook his head and walked off, saying in perfect English, "We're all Italians down here." I was getting the picture by then. He just didn't like anyone who was not Italian. I found a more friendly worker who, through very halting English, finally directed us out.

     Moving on down the coast, we decided to travel the tiny road along the coast, winding through one tiny village after another, and found a place to stay.
     We needed to change our departure date. We were getting tired, and running out of alotted  money.
     We found a library, but they were very unfriendly, saying, "Not a tourist info!" When we got across to them we just needed to use a computer, they became nicer and helpful. Barbara quickly mastered that Italian language computer, something I could just never have done. Left to my own devices, I would just have to live out my life here, being the village idiot and begging for pizza scraps. She managed to change the departure date, leaving out Spain altogether, and hanging out a week in Paris.
     To cut down on what we had to carry home, Barbara planned on mailing packages occasionally. Getting into a post office was like trying to get into Fort Knox. Bullet proof glass between them and us at all times, bomb proof chambers for all packages while they x-rayed them, long lines. When we finally got in front of an official-looking lady, Barbara just had to comment, "Our post office at home is just not like this!" The woman stuck a lecturing finger into the air, and said, "And therein lies the problem!"

     After buying a $4 coke in return for the opportunity to use the bathroom, we found lodging. Then be bought train tickets for Monaco tomorrow. Had we gotten a glimpse into what lay ahead, we probably would have just slept in that day.
     The train gave us a glimpse at the many congested little towns that lined the Riviera, finally moving into France, then Monaco. We spent a good day touring. It was a fantastic place, but not meant for pore' people like us. They were setting up the Grand Prix along beside the water. Police were everywhere. One policeman for every sixty residents. Barbara tried to get a picture of a grand car so exclusive that we didn't even recognize the name, with me standing beside it at a car dealership. Before I was anywhere near close enough to touch it, a man ran out, screaming at us, and ran us off.

     We caught our train back toward our house and our car, smooth as silk. We're world travelers now, and we know how to act the part. When it got to the border, it stopped. An announcement that we couldn't understand was made, and people were starting to get off. There was no train change on the way in, so we sat tight. After a few minutes, we began to realize we were the only people left. That's a bad sign, and just as that was sinking in, the train started back toward Monaco.
     When we got there, we ran back to the ticket agent, who spoke a little English. "You should have changed trains at the border."
     "Any more trains out today?"
     "One is leaving right now. You might catch it if you run. That's the last one."
     We ran. I quickly outdistanced Barbara. I was nearly there now. The train started to move. I was even with the engineer, and I waved frantically. The train slowed, and a door opened. Barbara was just now coming into sight, a long way back, huffing and puffing.  I put one foot on the train, and kept one on the ground, and held my position. If they shut that door now, they would have to squeeze me in it. Once we got on, we found a British couple, who were going past our village, and stuck with them like glue. So much for being big world travelers.
     As we realized we must be nearing our village, Barbara asked, "Now, what is the name of our village?" I didn't have a clue. It was beginning to get dark now. We moved close to the door, and strained to see something familiar. As the train slowed for a village, Barbara screamed, "There's our car!" She bolted for the door, ahead of me, and started pushing it open as soon as the train stopped. But she was on the wrong side, and she was about to step out onto a live track! Those trains run silently, are very fast, and are about a foot apart. Stepping out on the wrong side could mean instant, silent death. Several people tackled her, and pulled her back. Funny how we all remember things differently. According to Barbara, when she started to open that door, she realized her mistake, and closed it. Anyway, we were sure glad to see our cute little red car. We almost hugged and kissed it.

     The next day, we backtracked through all those little towns we had came through last night on the train, heading for France, and Avignon. It took a long time to get through by car, with car and motorcycle congestion just almost unbelievable. If there were toilets for all those people, we sure couldn't find them. The mountains usually rose steeply to our right, and we worked out our own toilet system. When we had a little scrap of flat land to the right, we pulled the car off the road to the mountain side, opened front and back doors, and we had a toilet. You just do what you have to do.

     Italian drivers are very aggressive. I just never knew when someone parked would just back right out in front of me. And, if I was not aggressive right back, I might just get crowded right off the road.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Three Sistene Chapels

Forever A Hillbilly: Three Sistene Chapels:      Driving down the Autostrata, we entered Italy. It was elevated through the high mountains, with miles and miles of vineyards sloping...

Three Sistene Chapels

     Driving down the Autostrata, we entered Italy. It was elevated through the high mountains, with miles and miles of vineyards sloping toward the sky. Venice beckoned, and a few miles outside, we stopped at a guest house, the Villa Widoman. We lucked into an English speaker, and got the lay of the land from her. Then, we headed into Venice by bus. It was very crowded, with standing room only in the aisles. Barbara got separated from me, a little farther back. She got groped, and came flying up the aisle to me, scattering people left and right as she came. Welcome to Italy. By the time I understood what was going on, the guy was getting off – on crutches. What could I do? Trip him when he stepped off the bus? I should have.

     Walking around, we just enjoyed Venice. It is truly an unforgettable place. A large number of African guys each had a sheet laid out, selling knock-off purses. Suddenly, they all grabbed each corner of their sheet, picked it up, and totally disappeared. Just like that. Looking ahead, we saw a group of policemen headed our way.

     On the bus back to our Villa, we had trouble recognizing it, until it stopped, right in front.
     The next day, it rained all day. We walked miles of the inner city, and did the boat tour. The Gondola ride was too expensive, but I did offer to sing to Barbara on the boat. She said, "Just forget it."
     We had assumed the boat would just take us back to our starting place. But no. It stopped, everyone else got off. We waited for it to start again. Finally, the driver came walking back, yelling, "Fini! Fini!" We got the message, got off, looked for another boat back.

     On the bus back, the rain was pouring down. We waited for the bus to stop at our villa, but it just roared past. We finally recognized it as it receded in the distance. We got off at the next stop, stood in the rain 30 minutes, and finally caught another bus back. We looked like a couple of drowned rats, and the bus driver laughed at us. Barbara was in no mood for an Italian comedian, and griped at him all the way back to the Villa. Once we were off, he opened the door back up, laughed, waved, and said, "Arriva darche!" Barbara said, "Yeah, uh huh" Arriving back at our Villa, Barbara explained to our English speaker, "We waited for the bus to stop, but it just went on by! I have no idea why it didn't stop, it did yesterday." She looked us over for a while, and said, "It stopped yesterday because I was on it, and I pressed the stop button." Duh! I guess that's about all you can expect when a hillbilly and a Delta farm gal go abroad.

     Moving on down, we stopped for the night in a small city. We had just about given up on their road map, and just looked for city names on road signs. The hotel was a four star, but not by US standards. The pizza place was at least four stars, though. All fresh ingredients, cut up while we watched.
     We continued our travel strategy of stopping a few miles outside of a major city, keeping our car out of such places, and taking a short train ride in. We could never find a parking place for our car when we got into those horrible traffic jams. The trains were wonderful, and not expensive.

     Florence was an unforgettable city, a mecca for famous artists and scientists. Where the Mona Lisa was painted, where Galileo worked, Elizabeth Browning lived. We missed the David sculpture. The lines were long, and reservations were required. We toured Florence twice. A fantastic place. An attendant at a pay toilet even gave me a receipt. What was I to do with that? Take a tax deduction?
     Back home at our little house, we hit another pizza place. But it was overran by a large group of Chinese tourists. They were very pushy. We've noticed this before. Now, why is that?

     We drove on down to Orvieto. We drove in circles, no English speakers, but found a hotel.
We went to buy train tickets for Rome for the next day. Have I ever told you, every single thing we do is hard? Well, the ticket agent just got so frustrated with us, just trying to buy two simple train tickets to Rome, just a few miles on down the road, that he pretended to shoot himself in the head with his finger gun.
     Unable to find a place to wash clothes, we recycled. Barbara felt absolutely filthy. I felt perfectly fine. We rode a finicula up the hill to the city center. Everything in town seemed to be all about this fantastic church they had. Well, it was spectacular.

     Boarding the train on our hard to get tickets, we went to Rome. We went to the Vatican, but the Pope just was not at home, or he snubbed us. We moved on to St. Peter's Cathedral – determined to see the Sistene Chapel, and it's ceiling. We thought we had seen it in two different rooms, then we accidentally stumbled across it on the way out. The Colosseum was spectacular, though we had to look and photograph it through the rain, and the dirty bus windshield.
     Arriving back at Orvieto, we got a "thumb's up" from the frustrated ticket agent from yesterday. I think he figured that if we ever found our way onto the train, we would never come back.

     When we got to Pisa, we decided it didn't look so big. Surely we could just drive around and locate a big, leaning tower. But no, we finally had to board a bus to get there. Barbara has a problem with straight and crooked, something we worked hard with tripods and cropping to keep secret while we were in the photography business. She snapped her first photo of the leaning tower, and in the photo it was standing straight up! She quickly deleted it, knowing I would make a lot of mileage out of that jewel.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Our Friend, the Spy

Forever A Hillbilly: Our Friend, the Spy: Southern Europe, continued Sorry this post is late, but we've been spending some time in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains, plus my comp...

Our Friend, the Spy

Southern Europe, continued

Sorry this post is late, but we've been spending some time in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains, plus my computer has been acting up.

     The next day, it was raining. We headed for Neuschwanstein Castle at Fussen. We located a road that seemed to lead up to the castle, although we could not, of course, read the signs. We headed up. About half way up, we began to realize there were no other cars on this road. Only horse-drawn carts filled with people. We turned around, got back down without being busted, and found us a horse-drawn cart of our very own to ride up on.  The first stop was at the back, with a beautiful lake, so we got off and pictured away. We got a lot of good pictures of the beautiful back of the castle, and then the rain set in hard.  Barbara was too worn out to walk around to the front, and the driving rain just finished her off.  We loaded on a cart headed down, and I just imagined how grand the front of that castle must have been. But we will never know. We got off the cart in the driving rain, loaded into our car, and headed for Austria.

     Now, all those pictures you see of beautiful, steep round mountains, with cute little men in their cute little pants, neat little pointy hats, walking stick in hand, were for real! We saw a lot of those guys. I had figured that would be like the Arkansas hillbilly stereotype, with their overalls, pointed hat, corncob pipe, Grandma dipping snuff in a rocker, several hounds asleep on the porch. I have actually seen a place like that, in eastern Tennessee. From a train. Take one or two of those requirements off, and it would have nailed me good in Wing.

     Driving on through the mountains and several small towns, we found a guest house beside a steep, beautiful mountain. The nice lady could speak only German, but the only other guest stepped forward, interpreting her German into perfect, even southern, English. Talking just like we talked in Arkansas.
     Well, by now I'm sure you realize, Barbara was not about to just let that lie. She had to know what was going on.
     He was soon our friend, and over a glass of orange juice, she grilled him good. Yes, he had been to America. Still goes regularly. No, he had never been to the South. I went into my hillbilly mode, pulling out,  "We shore are much obliged to you-all,"  throwing in a "feller" now and then, even reaching way back and came up with a "youens'." He couldn't speak hillbilly, but that was about the only thing he couldn't speak. I think it finally helped him realize we were harmless.
     Finally, he just sat there and looked us over good for a long time, poured another glass of orange juice, and began to tell us the most fantastic story we have heard in all our travels. His name was Rio. He was a citizen of the world, he said, claiming no country as his home. He was born in a middle eastern country, and his family moved from one country to another as he grew up, and he picked up one language after another. He was a little dark, a little white, and could pass for about any nationality.
     After becoming a pilot in the Portuguese Air Force, he was trained in regional dialects, for any country. His job was to travel about, assuming the identity of anybody from anywhere.
     He asked us if we had a certain stamp on our car that was required for travel in Austria. Of course, we did not. Agreeing to show us where we could buy one, we all got in our car and headed out. We bought the sticker, and drove around for a long time, just seeing the village and talking. He explained that when you violated a traffic law in Europe, a flash would go off, and they had your picture. The fine would be waiting for us when we turned our rental car in.
     Well, I could already remember a bunch of flashes going off, usually when we were confused and wandering about, which was most of the time. I dreaded seeing our rental car bill.
     He was at the guest house, he said, to meet his buddies, climb the mountain. Then they would spend a day drinking beer and playing cards on top, then climb down.  He currently lived with his wife in Germany.
     After arriving back at our lodging, he offered to buy us dinner. Well, who can refuse that? And, Barbara was nowhere near through with him yet.
     We sat down. He offered to buy me a beer. I didn't like beer, so I said no thanks.
     He looked at me hard. "You won't drink a beer with me, Pat?" I could tell he took that personally. I drank beer.
     After we had eaten a great meal and he had a bunch more beers, he began to really loosen up, and tell us more.
     During the first Gulf War, He was recruited by the US Air Force because he spoke perfect Arabic. He was sent to Colorado Springs for training. His most fearful moments ever, he said, was the night he and his buddies wandered into the wrong part of Colorado Springs by accident. Sounded a lot like stories we had heard a world away, in Australia.
     When He got to Iraq, he assumed his Arabic identity. Those same buddies arrested him one night, and he smiled and said, "It's me, guys." They wouldn't believe him, and he had to show them his US Air Force pants, on under his robe, before they would let him go.
     Currently, he said, he makes regular trips to the eastern US near Washington, D.C. The CIA was never mentioned, but we understood..
     The next morning, he walked us out to our car. He had a small lecture for Barbara. "You travel far too lightly about the world. People will entrap you. You should never have let me in your car yesterday."
     "We had you outnumbered."

     He laughed. "I wasn't worried." He waved Barbara's camera away. No pictures, no address, no e-mail address. "But I will e-mail you." We're still waiting.