US Army Retired

US Army Retired

Monday, November 28, 2011

Good News

Well, sort of.
I've been offered a contract for Book Two of Father Serra's Legacy. While The King's Highway has been written, new research material indicates I have a number of extensive revisions to make, along with some general editing. As I've only reached page 115 of 209, I'm going to have to reduce my time here and on various discussion forums.
I hope off of the followers here will be patient with me.
[The publisher also said something to the effect that they were interested in anything I write so I may have a new home for Sonora Symphony.]

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day Two of My Motor Scooter Trip

The sound of iron wheels and shod hoofs crossing cobble stone streets awakened me. People talked to one another and it took a moment to realize it was in French. The wonderful aroma of baking bread wafted through the window.
Tossing back the feather-filled cover, I placed my feet on the highly polished wooden floor and glanced at my wrist watch. Six a.m.! How could I oversleep like that? I grinned and stretched, rising to walk to the open door onto the balcony.
Pelicans skimmed the water of the bay, often no more than a meter above the gentle waves. About a kilometer to my left, the south, clouds of terns and seagulls swirled in tornadoes of wings against piers where fishing boats tied up to unload their catch. More sails glided into port from the Atlantic.
I padded over to the bathtub and stripped, pleased at the warmth of the water from the hand-held shower head. Not quite as hot as back in the barracks but comfortable. I lathered myself and put a new blade in my razor to remove what little hair grew on my teenage face. After toweling myself, I brushed my teeth before donning my OD boxer shorts and tee shirt. I repacked my handy little shaving kit and put my dirty clothes into the bottom of my backpack.
The one reason for selecting that particular inn, beside the security for my motor scooter, was breakfast. This was my first introduction to a Continental Breakfast. The small room had a half dozen tables covered with snowy white cloths. A sideboard held plates, cups and small dishes. A mother, father and a young boy and girl sat at one table. A couple occupied another.
I sighed with relief when the one man stood and introduced himself – in English [or British] – to welcome me. “Is this your first breakfast like this?” I told him yes and he invited me to join he and his wife, introducing themselves as being on vacation from some town in England. His wife rose and went to the sideboard, returning with a plate holding a croissant, two small pats of butter and a small cup of marmalade, and an egg in a cup clearly designed to hold it.
I had absolutely no idea what to do with the egg. So, the guy demonstrated how one carefully removed the top, showing the soft-boiled interior. I rose and went to the sideboard myself to pour of glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee.
It was delicious! I hadn't had unsalted butter since living on the ranch. The orange juice has as much pulp as juice. The bread had to be less than an hour or so out of the oven.
And the conversation with my table mates was most enjoyable. He had served in the British Army during the Korean War. They were on the first half of their month-long vacation time. The shared their time between the beach and the town's market place.
The breakfast room overlooked the beach front and, as early as it was, people were already out on the sand and even in the sea.
The women then gave me one of probably the best tips I'd received up to then – gratuities in Europe were included in the price. To tip is often an insult and they think you are trying to shove your economic status in their faces.
I had no detailed plan for the day's travel except to cross into Spain and then travel along the southern edge of the Pyrenees. I quickly reached the border where brightly uniformed border guards smiled and waved me through, obviously seeing the US Forces license plate on my scooter.
It was like entering a new world. The people wore colorful clothing. Window boxes overflowed with bright flowers on every balcony. Smiles predominated.
Following Rand and McNally, I turned inland to reach famous Pamplona. I could almost see Papa Hemingway watching the running of the bulls. The mountains to the north began to grow higher as I rode east and I began to worry whether my scooter had enough horsepower to get me over them.
I needn't worry. The well-paved roads kept a reasonable grade, often with awesome switchbacks.

I stopped for a light lunch in Jaca, Spain and found someone who spoke enough English to tell me I could cross the mountains back into France before nightfall. The scooter had a headlamp but I didn't want to find myself in the middle of nowhere in the dark. Besides, I was already having enough trouble concentrating on the highway and the passing vehicles without trying to ride at night.
I think the biggest breath-holder of the trip came when I entered a tunnel that seemed to go on forever. Part of it had those open arches. I pulled into one and got off the scooter to grab hold of the ledge as I gazed out at mountains making me feel puny.

I'm certain this is not the hotel I stayed in in Candanchú but it was similar. Again, the person behind the desk greeted me nicely and I found it difficult to believe I was back in France. I had not had a bit of trouble at the border. The village was a winter resort and with little to no snow on the ground, few visitors were there. That's probably why I was treated so nicely. Dinner was quite good and I enjoyed a lentil soup along with a piece of roast beef. And yes, I had a couple of glasses of red wine.
I walked around the town until about nine o'clock, with a stop at one sidewalk café for a glass of wine and to watch the people in the square.
The bed was comfortable and I snuggled into the big featherbed, dropping quickly asleep.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Which One?


 I'm kind torn between them.

In the first, the view of ocean goes with Sailor while the  bell goes with Carpenter.

But, the story takes place in a desert of Baja California which is filled with saguaro and other cacti.

Comments please!

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Different Type of Tour

During two summers before my enlistment in the US Army, my Boy Scout Troop took tours of the United States. The differences in my country amazed me. From the shores of the Pacific Ocean, through great deserts, the swamps and bayous of the south and eastern shore, the tall pines and great trees of the northeast, the Great Plains, and the Rocky Mountains. We often traveled for several hours without seeing any towns or villages.
So, I found the French countryside far different from the USA. Los Angeles is not particularly a city as the center of a “landopolis” - a place where houses sat wherever one looked. There were never any clear lines between the towns. That was not the case in the countryside I now rode through. One did not go more than 5 or 6 kilometers without entering a small village.
Another note. My moped had a tank that held 1 liter of gasoline. Our gas stamps came in one, five, and ten liter denominations so I almost never used the monthly allocations. [We won't talk about how one bought the full allotment and “traded” them to one's buddies.] Being willing to peddle as much as using the engine often gave me well over 250 kilometers on a tank.
The Lambretta was a bit different. I had a 5 liter tank with a range of about 100 kilometers per liter – more if one kicked it into neutral going downhill. I bought the 1 liter stamps as I never used up all the tank and didn't want to give away the amount I didn't need on a 5 liter stamp. I may not be right about this but seem to remember the Exchange Service had a deal with ESSO and that was where one had to buy gas. I'm also not certain what companies operated there but seem to remember Shell, British Petroleum and another – but not a French company.
Interior of the Cathedral in Bordeaux
There I was, a young, virile man in a far away country, free to fall into the depths of sin. [That's all you're gonna read about that part of my time there!]
But, one of the things I truly enjoyed with the architecture, the old buildings came from historical times. I especially enjoyed visiting churches. The massive cathedrals with their towering ceilings and ornate facades and internal friezes always caught my attention. During my trips, I found a lot of smaller local churches just as beautiful.
I also broke from my Mormon upbringing by attending masses at the various churches in the area. Something about the Gregorian chants echoing from the vast ceilings calmed me. I even understood some of the Latin and the way the rite was conducted. I also discovered little places here and there where one could see remnants of things constructed during the presence of the Romans in the area.
In early summer of 1959, I took a 7 day leave to see the countryside. I had a Rand-McNally map from the Stars and Stripes store and figured I could make my way without getting lost. I had some American Express traveler's checks and French bills and coins.
At a top speed of about 45mph, I wasn't going to be traveling on the major highways where drivers had no idea speed limits existed. The first leg from Bussac to Bordeaux gave me no choice and I rode the very edge of the highway, hanging on for dear life with a truck or bus roared by, the wind tossing my around.
No, I didn't wear a helmet. They weren't required and I couldn't wear my army helmet. I wore a knit cap with a pair of shop goggles over my eyeglasses. And gloves with my black GI boots.
I reached Bayonne a little after noon and found a boulangerie [bakery], boucher [butcher], and boutique de vins [wine shop] to buy my lunch. A bench in a nice park filled with beautiful flowers almost, but not quite, hid the sight of soot-covered buildings and people wearing drab clothes.
It did not take much longer until I reached the Bay of Biscay and rode down the highway to Biarritz. There was a long stretch of beach but not a big crowd of bathers. I also saw very few bikinis. The one thing that upset me was to see tufts of dark hair showing under arm pits, a furry coat on legs, and similar tufts in places I won't delineate here.

I quickly moved on and, as it was getting late, decided to find a place to spend the night in Saint Jean-de-Luz. The first thing I noticed about the landscape south of Bordeaux was the total lack of signs of destruction from the big was only 13 years earlier. To see bullet holes in walls was common north of Bordeaux although it had been in Fichy France. I found a small inn facing the waterfront, selecting it because it had an interior courtyard where I could park my motor scooter.
The one thing I had learned was to check for the glass covered price list posted by the door of almost every establishment. The prices were clear so, with my English/French dictionary in hand, I went inside. Very quaint. Highly polished wood floor, old pictures and paintings covering the walls, some furniture that appeared to come from the late 1800s and a small bell desk with a woman in her 50s or 60s. Unlike her countrywomen to the north, she smiled and appeared pleased to welcome an American soldier to her establishment. She even tried to speak some words of English to me! [I almost fell over in shock.]
I filled out the required card, showed her my military ID and leave papers [which she had no idea what to do with but understood I didn't need a passport or visa] and paid by converting one of my traveler checks. She even gave me a most reasonable conversion rate that was posted behind her desk. I put my motor scooter in a corner of the courtyard and ensured it was locked, then followed her upstairs to my room. It was small but very clean and the sanitary facilities were more than adequate to include an old fashioned bathtub on legs. Yeah, it had the required bidet. The best thing was the small balcony facing the ocean.
Two doors away was a small restaurant. Again, I checked the clearly posted menu and sat down at a table looking out over the beach. It was not yet the height of summer and not that many people walked or lolled on the beach or in the water. Parents enjoying the day with their children were the majority. A waiter came out and patiently waited while I translated the menu. At least I'd become fluent in the different types of wine and ordered a small bottle of Bordeaux – it was not until a few years later that I learned to savor different types of wine.

I ordered alaitue, tomate, oignon et la salade au fromage, un soupe de poisson, et veau et les pommes de terre la puree et haricots verts. The wine was excellent, the lettuce crisp with an excellent vinegar and oil dressing, and the veal with mashed potatoes and green beans nicely finished the presentation. Actually French cooking worth talking about. There was an assortment of pastry, so I tried something with pears in it and topped off the meal with strong café avec crème et le sucre. Like every eating establishment I entered,  a large espresso machine stood behind the bar but I never had a taste for it.
The one thing I liked about eating was that nobody hurried. As long as I had a drink in front of me, I could spend hours. That's just what I did, watching the passing people to include a few young ladies who hid their faces and giggled as they passed the obvious American observing them.
There was a rare television set in the bar area and, when it grew dark, I went in and found a table where I could watch some kind of variety show in black and white. I only stayed long enough to drink a glass of cognac before going upstairs to my room. I left the window wide open to hear the soothing sound of waves – and the honking of horns that appeared mandatory for any French driver. The mattress was firm but the feather comforter and pillow soon led me to the land of slumber.
More next time.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I don't believe I reached the Milestone

5,000 + pageviews

Thanks to all of you for dropping by.
If there's anything special you'd like to see - post a comment. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Back to the Daily Grind

During the train ride back from Italy, we were loaded down with all sorts of gifts and foods to keep us fed during the long journey. The Italians riding in our train car knew we were American GIs and beamed with pride when someone would translate for us that all our loot came as gifts from Ralph's home village. As if what we carried wasn't enough, no few fellow travelers tried to add to our riches.
We had no thought of the upcoming crossing into France until we stopped at the last train depot before the border and an Italian customs inspector came on board. He asked for our ID cards and then asked where our sacks of stuff came from. He too beamed when he learned of Ralph's trip home but frowned as he told us he felt certain the French customs inspectors would demand a “small gift” from us in order not to confiscate what we carried.
In our stupid smugness, we hadn't even given it a thought. In fact, we'd forgotten all about financial matters as our entire stay in the village had been free. If we tried to offer to defray costs, we were informed our offers were insulting – however nicely it was done. So, we had exactly the number of dollars we'd had on the trip south. Fortunately, the Italian customs guy came to our defense and rode with us across the border into France. He took the French customs inspector aside and whispered with him. It was clear the two were arguing. However, in the end, two twenty dollars bills went from our hands to his and he gave us a paper with a big red seal that indicated duties had been paid on our goods. The Italian simply shook our hands and wished us a safe trip back to Bussac.
One of my favorite experiences in the village had been riding around on near little motor scooters. One easily cut in and out of the byways and alleys. I decided I was going to buy one the first chance I got. So, after spreading around some of the goodies with the guys in the platoon, we stored the remainder of our stuff and prepared to get back to business.
I've never been a frugal individual and whatever savings account I'd had was only there at Duple's insistence. But, the first thing I did when we got back to camp was to go to the Ameican Express Office to open a savings account. I actually kept my promise to myself of depositing 25% of my meager paycheck in the account. I even stopped the trips into Bordeaux to enjoy the GI bars and kept my sightseeing to my moped. It was cheaper. And, the French people of the small villages seemed far less disapproving of an ignorant American who did not share their belief in French superiority. Sitting at a café table slowly sipping a glass of wine and watching people [you can imagine which type of people] was a great – and cheap – way to pass an afternoon.
Like most things that happen when one is young and in the military, the chance to buy a motor scooter seemed to fall into my lap. I went to the Service Club to pass the time playing one of my favorite card games – Pinochle – and saw a note posted on the bulletin board. Someone was heading back to The World and had to sell his motor scooter. I quickly took down the note and got in contact with him the next day. He named a very reasonable price and I hit up one of my buddied for the few bucks I needed over what I had in the Amexco account. With a Bill of Sale I'd typed up at work, I passed over the money and was the proud owner of a Lambretta motor scooter.
It needed work. One of the cables had to be replaced. The brakes were worn. And the paint had a lot of scratches. Again, I managed to forego all little extras and saved up enough to go into the nearest town, Angoulême, to buy the parts. Unlike most of my fellow GIs, I had no thought of paying the first price offered. My moped rides had taught me that nobody in France ever paid the posted price! I bartered at length with the guy, actually walking out of the shop twice, until I got what I thought was a good price. [I later learned, of course, that he still took me for about 25% more than they were worth.]
The lieutenant allowed me to keep it parked at the shop so, on a Saturday, I was able to work on it there. It probably took me a bit longer than someone who actually knew what they were doing, but I fixed it. I also used sandpaper to remove some of the scratches in the paint and even banged out a couple of dings. I then took a can of bright blue spray paint and turned my new transportation into a work of art.
Oh yeah. I had no problem selling for moped for a few dollars more than I'd paid for it. A new 'cruit arrived from Stateside.
I poured through the maps in the Service Club trying to decide where I would go for my first trip. The Pyrenees seemed to be a beautiful place to visit. Doing some calculations, I figured it was a little over 300 kilometers to Bayonne and not much further beyond that to the mountains. At the Lambretta's top speed of 45mph, that was about a 5 hours ride. From there, a lot of side roads would take me along the flanks of the mountains to one place I wanted to see – Lourdes. A stop at Bairritz would also give me a chance to see if bikinis were as popular as I was led to believe.
Now it was just a matter of waiting for the next payday and getting an overnight pass – which isn't that hard when one is the company clerk.
Jusqu'à ce que le prochain post
[Have to make a confession here. While I became fluent in German and Spanish, I have never been able to fully get into French. I could understand a bit but probably never really tried to gain any fluency in it due to my personal feelings about the French people. I freely admit that I am not a Francophile.]

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Further Adventures in France

[This is really about a trip to Italy]

I quickly settled into my job and military life. Our unit was small so I got to know every member in it – probably more so than the others as I had access to all their military and personal histories.
Everybody in the platoon but Harold and I were from the Deep South. One of the guys was Ralph Spagnolo of Italian heritage, but he too was from Louisiana or Alabama. Ralph invited me to go with him to a place on the Italian coast where his family was from. I was going to pass it up as I didn't have a whole lot of money. “Don't worry about it,” he told me, “We can do it on the cheap.” Through the on base Special Services, we bought Third Class train tickets. They Donut Dolly also gave us tips on how to travel as cheaply as possible. We exchanged our entire month's paycheck in U.S. Dollars – getting special permission from our platoon leader to do so.

Each of us carried a backpack with changes of clothing and ponchos for the daily rain showers we had in Bussac. However, with our GI haircuts, clothes and shoes, nobody was going to identify us as anything but what we were. We caught the shuttle bus into Bordeaux and walked the mile or so to the big, gray, iron and glass train station. One of the tips we'd received was to buy snacks and stuff from the stands outside the station and definitely NOT on board the train. We also bought a bottle of cheap red wine to quench our thirsts. Our Post Exchange Swiss Army knives took care of the corkscrew need.
Only the very well-to-do French had cars in 1959. Most were either the Citroën “Gangster Wagon” as we liked to call the Avant [see picture below] that always caught my attention as the way the front doors opened or the little “upside-down-washboard” car whose name I can't remember.
Everyone else traveled by bus or train so the station was huge with endless tracks. Even back then, the Europeans provided pictures to help travelers – although I always got the impression the French did so begrudgingly. So, we had little trouble finding the right train. Aw c'mon now? You don't expect me to remember the route we took do you?
I do remember the Third Class seats were wood, but shaped so it wasn't too bad. I also quickly found that out backpacks made excellent cushions, not only to sit on but to use as a pillow. We left early in the afternoon and passed through miles of countryside with open fields or wooded areas, interspersed with towns and villages. It was certainly a far cry from the sprawl of houses I grew up with in Southern California. We seemed to stop at every single village along the way with lots of people getting on and off.
Oh yeah – there were express trains but were a bit too steep for our limited budgets.
As neither of us spoke more than a bit of “Bar room French” we got lots of dirty looks from everyone, especially the conductor who clearly showed his disgust every time he came by to once again check our tickets. I figured Ralph knew a little bit or that his Italian might help us. Oh yeah? He didn't speak a word of Italian.
My parents came to the States to be Americans, not Italians. They never spoke Italian in front of me and made it a point that English was not our language.”
Every once in a while, French Gendarmes would board to pass through the cars checking passports. We only carried our US Army ID Cards as all European nations accepted them as valid ID and we didn't even need visas to go from France to Italy.
Passing into Italy was truly like entering a new country!
They grayness of France disappeared in an instant. The people. Their clothes. Their attitude. The towns and villages. The Italian policemen who came on board, smiled at us and one even tried to speak English. He was curious at Ralph's name and beamed with delight to learn he was going to visit the village his family came from. He even took the time to write down some directions as to which train depot to change to what train and some other tips on getting to where we were going.
And the train passengers surprised us beyond belief. They welcomed us! Americans! Their friends. Their liberators. An Italian family moved into the seats around us and freely shared their food and wine with us. All eagerly tried to ask us about America using the universal signing. They also happily tried to teach us Italian. And sever of the attractive young Italian lasses smiled as to warm our “souls.”
It took us almost three full days to reach a small fishing village on the western coast of Italy. In addition to our backpacks, we each had a colorful blanket-poncho and cloth traveling bags for food and other little things. Almost everybody in our car rose to shake our hands and some of the ladies kissed us. One family was getting off at our station and took us in hand, insisting that they be our guides. They, of course, recognized the name Spagnolo and it turned out they were related to Ralph – as was almost every individual living in the village.
I don't remember Ralph's father's name but we were greeted as the wandering son returning from a far land. Even the village priest was a relative. There was no staying in a hotel or inn. We were led to probably the biggest house in the village where the Patron, another relative, made us welcome. He was something like the assistant mayor or something similar, had some impressive college degrees, and spoke pretty good English. We each had a huge bedroom with 18' ceilings and a big four-poster bed covered with feather comforters. A maid even came to take away our kinds ratty clothes, a manservant replacing them with a complete casual outfit – it seemed one of the Patron's boy had gone to Rome and those were his clothes.
We had only taken two week's leave and the train trip took three days each way. That meant we could only stay for 9 days. I don't think the party stopped from the time we arrived until the time we left. Ralph was family. And, because I was his friend and we served together, so was it.
We went out on a fishing boat a couple of times – I think it was a way to find out if Ralph had lost the instincts of his ancestors. At least neither of us got seasick and we worked as hard as we could, not exactly being sailors or fishermen.
The food? I won't even try to describe to amazing smells, aromas, tastes or just plain delight of the endless dishes placed before us.
Mangiare! Bere!” The demands to eat and drink filled out ears. And everyone wanted to dance. Dances that Ralph and I had absolutely no idea how to do. But, that didn't matter. We were hauled into the village plaza or patios or porches to make total fools of ourselves.
The time came to leave. The conductor look at us in amazement as we made our rounds of so many people there to send us off. Hugs and kisses and handshakes. It was truly a time of sadness at such a wonderful time coming to an end. We waved back as the train pulled away from the depot. Neither of us spoke during the long train ride back to Bordeaux. We were too busy remembering the wonderful time we'd had and the superb people we'd met.
And no! There's no way I'm going into details of just how wonderful some of our encounters had been. That's none of your business.
Ciao – until my next post.