Sunday, October 18, 2009

This is My Guitar



This is my guitar. I bought it at a music store in El Centro, California back in the mid-eighties, when everyone else was buying axe shaped electric guitars and trying to start hair bands. It's a mahogany Fender acoustic with a sunburst top, and it has accompanied me all over the world. Coffee houses from California to Florida, dive bars and road houses in Texas and Tennessee, mountain campfires and beach party singalongs. It's made countless appearances with me at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee, and had the hell played out of it five hours a night, six nights a week, for an entire month at the Casino de Montreux in Montreux, Switzerland. It was my therapist during many a lonely night as I tried to heal a broken heart, and for all I know it may have even helped me to break a few hearts. It's been my trusted songwriting partner hundreds and hundreds of times, in several states, quite a few countries, and at least two continents. It even helped me write the song I used to propose to my girlfriend, who is now my wife of seven years.

I almost felt guilty a few years ago when I got a new guitar, but my voice has deepened as I've gotten older, and I need the rosewood construction of the Martin to help my voice blend with an instrument once again. I've had a few adventures with the Martin and will hopefully have many more, but I still grab the Fender when I get inspired to write another song, or if I'm just feeling a little nostalgic. This is my guitar.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Taveyanne

The little car zig-zagged up the steep alpine road, piloted by a mad Englishwoman. Carol had adopted the Guitar Slinger and me for the month, attending every performance and taking us sight-seeing on our one day off each week. The first Monday we visited an exclusive resort town near Montreux. Rodeo Drive seemed like a bargain as we stared with open mouthed awe at the fortunes asked for the furs and jewelry proudly displayed in the shop windows. The second Monday she had us take the train to Morges, were we visited the Swiss military museum, Chateau de Morges, before being welcomed into Carol's apartment and treated to a proper British supper of shepherd's pie and Yorkshire pudding. Today we were going to Taveyanne.

Taveyanne is in the Villars-Gryon region of Switzerland, 32 kilometers southwest of Montreux. As Guitar Slinger chattered away to Carol I was happy to sit in the cramped back seat of her tiny car and marvel at the scenery. This part of Switzerland can make even the most inept amateur photographer feel like Ansel Adams. Point the camera in any direction and you'll see a perfect postcard through the viewfinder. We slowed as we approached a herd of massive, muscular Swiss cattle near the road to the village. Even Guitar Slinger grew silent as we rolled down the windows to take in the brisk, clean air.Carol stopped the car and waited for two of the cows to lumber across the road. As the rest of the herd grazed in the adjacent meadow, the only sounds to reach our ears were the clanging of a few hundred cowbells as they raised their heads to have a look at us. The sound was at once symphonic and peaceful, a spontaneous soundtrack to the cinematic vistas we enjoyed on our journey up the mountain.

When we reached Taveyanne we left the car in the only parking lot, about a hundred yards away from the village. Carol pointed to a short, stout, pole a few feet away and told us that we were looking at the lone piece of modern technology in Taveyanne. Housed inside the pole was a battery powered radio, only to be used during dire emergencies. Like a life-sized scene trapped in a snow globe, Taveyanne is frozen in centuries passed. There are no blaring televisions, no electronic hums and beeps from computers and cash registers. It's a living window into another time, its few residents leading quiet, simple lives. Carol suggested that we meander around the village before meeting at the refuge for a cup of hot chocolate. Guitar Slinger went east, video camera whirring. I ambled west, hands in pockets.

The smaller homes that surrounded the main lodge had the dates of construction proudly displayed on bronze plaques, or simply etched in ancient slabs of wood above the doorways. They were the oldest structures I'd ever knowingly gazed at, some more than eight hundred years old. Eight hundred years! Amazing that a structure made of nothing but wood and stone could survive the elements for so long. I thought of the countless generations that lived inside those four walls, hundreds and hundreds of babies grown into old men and women. I thought of the strenuous lives they must have led before they were finally reduced to dust, the houses remaining as the only monuments to the hard work, love and laughter, joy and heartbreak that these families must have experienced during their time on earth.

Later the three of us met back at the refuge. The threshold was a time machine, transporting us back a century or more. We remembered to greet the few people inside with a quiet Bonjour as Carol ordered hot chocolate for the three of us. A large cauldron bubbled in the enormous fireplace, and the proprietress grabbed a large metal hook from beside the fire, swinging the cauldron out into the room before dipping a ladle into the bubbling contents and pouring the liquid into our cups.

Among the three of us, only Carol spoke fluent French. I was content to listen to the soft conversations and the crackling of the fire, not understanding the words exactly, but feeling welcome none the less.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Some People Call Me Maurice...

It's easy enough to get caught up in the mundane details of one's daily life, forgetting just how amazing a time we live in. For instance, twenty years ago I had to rely on word of mouth and the grapevine to find out of town gigs, now I just need to do a quick Google search to find venues around the world that may be interested in my music. Furthermore, I can email a complete press pack to the interested parties, all in a digital format. No need to have expensive 8x10 glossy headshots printed, no need to print a bio and duplicate hundreds of tapes or cds to be mailed off to the booking agents in charge of each particular venue. This saves untold amounts of cash, as any musician of a certain age can attest.

It's now easier than ever to widen your audience. There are Intertnet based radio stations, personal websites and blogs, Myspace, Facebook, iTunes, etc. There are even websites that allow your fans to print out tee shirts with your likeness. Can you imagine how long it took one of the original twelfth century troubadours to go on tour? Southern France to Italy was a journey of days, weeks, or months, depending on where point B was. Now we can be a world away in a matter of hours. They sang for their supper back then, with no chance of a group of enthusiastis fans weaving their countenance and the words "Maurice the Harpist doth Rock" on their tunics.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

How to Keep Your Travel Journal

I've written an article on How to Keep Your Travel Journal for those of you that are tired of writing things like "went to France, it was fun" in your journals. I'm no expert, but after years of keeping track of my different adventures, and looking at the pile of notebooks I have to prove it, I realized that I do have a few useful tips.

The great thing about keeping a journal, of course, is being able to do a little armchair traveling when the wanderer in you starts to get restless while you're stuck at home for an long period of time.  What with mortgages, job responsibilities, car notes, etc., sometimes being an adult isn't as fun as you imagined it would be when you were a child. Although I do have to admit, I've managed to keep one childhood promise to myself and routinely have pie or cake for breakfast.

I love looking through my old journals. They not only help me to recapture some of the places I've been, but also remind me of what was going on in my life at a particular time. It's encouraging to me how I've become a better person through my experiences while traveling.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Practice Makes as Close to Perfect as I'll ever Get

I've been writing a lot, lately. Working on the novel, writing new songs, maintaining a few blogs, and sending out a weekly newsletter for the cheese and wine shop I run with Mrs. Troubadour. You may think I'd get burned out, but the opposite always happens for me when I'm busy doing what I love to do.

Just before I met Mrs. Troubadour I was performing an average of five nights a week. I'd usually get home at around 2 am, eat dinner, and surf the Internet looking for more gig opportunities. Then it was off to bed until 10:30 or 11 am. Once fully caffeinated I'd make a few phone calls to fill up my performance schedule for the months ahead. Then I'd work on a new song I was writing, rehearse for a few hours, and take care of a few mundane things until it was time to get ready for the night's gig. If I didn't have anything booked for the evening I'd try to catch a friend's show, or just hang out and watch a movie.

It was one of the most productive periods of my life. I wrote more keepers back then than at any other time in my career. Practice has always been the secret for me. The more I do anything the better I am at it. Of course, this isn't that much of a secret because it works for everyone, but most people lose sight of that.
I read an interview with Eric Clapton a while back. Eric Clapton still practices guitar SIX HOURS A DAY! And he's Eric Freaking Clapton! Yet I know countless musicians that don't pick up a guitar or blow the dust off of a keyboard until they're tuning up for a rare gig. I've been guilty of that myself, and recently.

But now I'm back in writing mode (and I know, you're not supposed to begin a sentence with BUT or AND, but it's a blog. C'mon.) and remembering how good it feels to be firing on all cylinders again.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Goals

When my wife and I were dating, she mentioned more than a few times that she was a little worried that I might be too much of a dreamer. Each time I responded with this:

"So far, everything I've ever wanted to do, I made happen."

These aren't idle words. Granted, I haven't wanted much. Minimalist by nature, my wants have always been more about experiences than they have been about material things. I've always wanted to be a musician. One day, when I was in seventh grade, we were herded into the auditorium to choose our extracurricular activities for the next year. I immediately got into the line for marching band, only to be denied access once I reached the front.

"You're going to play football." I was one of the biggest kids in my class.

"I don't want to play football, I want to play saxophone."

"No, you're going to play football."

"I want to play saxophone."

"Get into the line for football. Now!"

Much as I hated to postpone my dream of learning a musical instrument, my brain was hard-wired to obey authority (at least back then, anyway) and I signed up for football. I played for a few years, quit the team, and taught myself to play the guitar. When I was nineteen I had a marathon six hour writing session that produced ten new songs. I drove to Radio Shack, bought a cheap mike and a blank cassette tape, and raced home to record one of the new tunes.

Oh boy, I thought, this is gonna be good.

At this point I'd never heard a recording of myself, but reasoned that if I could speak, surely I could sing. I recorded the song and hit rewind, the anticipation of being able to hear what would soon come out of my tape deck driving me insane. Finally, I hit play.

It was horrible.

To this day, I've only heard one person that sings worse than I did back then, and although he was terrible, he was only incrementally more terrible than I used to be. I played the tape back a second time, fiddling with the settings on my stereo, sure that it couldn't have been as bad as I thought.

It was.

My first inclination was to not ever even talk again, much less sing, but I soon realized that this was not an option. I'd been making songs up since the first grade. I wanted to be a musician, and I wanted to sing. If I taught myself to play the guitar, couldn't I teach myself not to suck as a vocalist? I played the tape back a third painful time, and then a fourth. I noticed that there were exactly two notes in the song that I hit vocally. What did I do right when I sang those two notes? How did my chest feel when the sounds were springing forth? I recorded the song again, trying to modulate my voice until I felt that sweet spot deep in my chest. This time I still sucked, but not as bad. I kept practicing. By the next day I could sing. I still had a limited vocal range, and thirty years later I still have a limited vocal range, but by God, I can sing.

I've made other dreams happen, most of them having to do with being a working musician or songwriter. Now I've got two more dreams that I'm working on and the deadline is next July when I turn fifty.

1. I'm going to write a manuscript for a novel before my fiftieth birthday, and
2. I'm going to celebrate that birthday in Paris, France, during the Bastille Day festivities.

The manuscript is going slow, but it's going. The Paris trip is going to be paid for by freelance writing and blogging. That too is going slow, but both projects are moving in the right direction, and everyday that I spend working towards these goals makes the next day easier and gets me closer to the finish line.

Until next time, au revoir.

Perfection

Music is part math and part emotion. Because I've been a solo performer for most of my life, I sometimes (maybe most of the time) suck at the math part of it. I'll change tempo in a song a few times during a single performance, I'll play quarter notes when I should be playing half notes, etc. I've got friends that play like metronomes, very technically precise no matter what's going on around them. Maybe it's a simple matter of focus.
Of course, there are musicians out there that focus too much on the technical, precise aspect of playing, and their performances suffer because of the lack of emotion. You have to feel connected to your material, or at least give the impression that you are, so that the audience will feel connected as well. You can listen to two technically precise renditions of the same piece of music, played on the exact same instrument under the exact same conditions and like one version much, much better.

Sometimes your playing can be all over the map and you'll have a great gig in spite of yourself. I've had that happen a few times. When everything goes right for me it's almost like a spiritual event. Playing and singing become effortless, the audience is paying close attention, and I feel an almost overwhelming sense of peace. I feel connected to everyone in the room and in that moment there is nothing else in the world I'd rather be doing, and nowhere else in the world I'd rather be. I've even had this experience, fleetingly, during gigs when the audience wasn't paying attention at all, except for a single song when everything came together for three and a half minutes of perfection.

There have been more sports bars and dives on my schedule than I would have liked, and too few real concert opportunities and experiences, but this is true for most professional musicians. The ones you hear on the radio and read about in gossip magazines are the lucky few, probably less than one percent of the working musicians out there. It doesn't matter. We've all had gigs from hell, and we've all had those fleeting, transcendent moments when everything felt right. It's the memories of those moments and the possibility that they'll happen again that keep you going.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dear AARP....

Today I received your invitation to join your Viagra taking, Just For Men using, Depends wearing organization a few short weeks after my 49th birthday. Kindly take said letter and place it on the tip of your colonoscopy camera just before it embarks on its next journey.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I'm Growing Older But Not Up...

I had a birthday about a week and a half ago. Ten years prior I morosely began my last year as a thirty-something, dreading my forties as I realized that I was indeed mortal, and that the natural order of things had not in fact skipped me for some reason. Now as I look onward (but not forward) to my fifties, I'll admit that my forties weren't that bad after all.

As a matter of fact, there are only a few notable differences between the current me and the me of ten years ago. I'm grayer, and the hair is a little thinner. I also needed reading glasses when I hit my forty-sixth year. Other than that, I look the same. I even feel the same, which is remarkable to me because ten years ago I felt the same way I did in my thirties, even my twenties. I know I'll eventually slow down, and have less energy to expend on a daily basis, but for now that hasn't happened.

Of course, just because I don't feel any different doesn't mean I'm not treated differently. Younger men have to earn respect, now it's given to me as if it were an inalienable right, like the right to vote. People "sir" the hell out of me now. I remember the first time it bothered me. Still in my thirties, I was inside a mall when I spotted a young thug menacingly shouldering his way through the crowd. I've never liked bullies, and whenever I encountered one I'd stare them down, until they averted their gaze and behaved themselves. This worked because I'm a pretty big guy. The bully would look away and I'd think to myself, That's right, buddy. Not on this day, however. This time the bully looked at me and said, "How you doin', sir?" before merrily continuing on his way. Sir?!!, I thought. I'll kick your ass!!!

The other notable difference in getting older is that the older you get, the younger the people in charge seem to be. For the first time in my life the President of the United States of America is younger than me. He's only a year younger, but still. Those in power were always older. When did people my age start running things?

Oh, right. I remember now. Back during my thirties when I was singing in nightclubs every night, sleeping until noon and enjoying my extended adolescence. Waking when my body said, "Hey Will, we got our eight hours in, time to get up." No harsh alarm clocks for me, unless I was traveling for a gig and had a plane to catch. Meanwhile, more industrious members of my generation were swilling Pepto-Bismal and swallowing Imodium AD tablets by the fistful so that they would have the intestinal fortitude to claw their way to the top of their chosen heap.

They can have the power. I've lived enough to know that what makes me happy isn't power, but the ability to lead a life well lived. Setting has a lot to do with that.
When I was recently in Vienna I could think of nothing but my own mortality. A few days later I was in Paris, and felt immortal. Attitude is another factor in living well. I'm more of a realist than most of my friends and family suspect. When posed the "Is the glass half full or half empty" question, most assume that I'm a glass half full kind of guy, when in fact I'm more apt to respond, "That depends. Are we drinking or pouring?" I seem like an optimist because I believe that most of us lucky enough to be in the U.S. or other, stable, Western Hemisphere countries (I'm looking at you, France) have the ability to change our lives to our liking. We may not be the captains of our own ships, but we do indeed have our hands on the tiller from time to time. Don't like where you live? Move. Don't like your job? Find another.

Are you afraid? The poet Rainer Maria Rilke said that "Fear is the dragon that guards our secret treasure." This eye-opening quote came to me by way of Ray Wylie Hubbard, during his performance at a dismally attended gig at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee back in 1994. It was my first day in town, Steve Earle had just been arrested a few hours before for heroin possession, and Ray was playing to a crowd of six, which included the girl behind the bar and the sound man. Ray went on to explain that he was always more comfortable as the cut-up, but after reading a book with that quote in it he decided that although he enjoyed being a funny guy, he would also like to be known as someone who could write a song a little more serious than "Up Against The Wall, Redneck Mother." Ray believed in the truth of that quote, and now when he has a gig it is more often than not sold out.

This post is perhaps a long explanation as to why I'm writing a novel, knowing that the odds are against my finishing it, much less getting it published. I'm writing the novel, statistics be damned. I'll be happy enough to have written a manuscript. Who knows, it may ultimately lead to me being able to add "Published Author" to my life list of things that I'm happy to have experienced. What do you really want to do?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Novel Idea

I've been woefully absent from this blog lately, but with good reason.

I'm writing a novel.

In the "About Me" section of this blog, I mentioned writing songs at an early age. What I have not mentioned until now is that ever since I could read, I assumed I would write books.

I've started many novels in the past, only to abandon them a short time later after realizing that not only could I tell the story in three and a half minutes, it would also rhyme, and maybe you could even dance to it.

This time feels different. Even though I've got more abandoned songs than I do books, for me, there came a point in every song that I've ever completed when I knew what the song was about and how it would end. It then became a matter of details: how do I get from point A to point Z? I've never had that feeling in the many novels I've started, until now. I know what the book is about. The characters are as alive as I am. I know what they will and will not do, I know how they think and what they would say in any given situation.

That's a lot more liberating than it actually sounds. Now I'm the typist. taking notes as the characters in my book live out their lives.

I'll take the occasional break from writing the book to update the blog, but the updates will continue to be sporadic. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pretty Fly For AWhite Guy

Indiana Jane is in town for a few days, and I was telling her how backwards I used to sound. I demonstrated with this: "Ahh cain't see mah pahh cawze thares rahce in mah ahh (translation: I can't see my pie 'cause there's rice in my eye.)" Shortly after realizing that it rhymed, I mentioned that I could re-invent myself as a middle-aged white hip hop performer. My rap name would be "Old Cracker." Indiana Jane countered with the far superior "Stale Cracker."

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Too Much To Do

Well, I'll never complain about being bored again. Mrs. Troubadour and I have been busy getting the doors open to our new business and remodeling an historic home. One night about a month ago we were in bed, exhausted, when I joked that we were wasting six hours every night just laying there unconscious. "We should adopt an infant," I said. Mrs. Troubadour really needs to pay attention to the subtle verbal clues I give when I'm trying to be funny. A few weeks later she adopted a puppy, and we have added "housebreaking a stubborn mutt" to our mile-long list of things to do.

Phase one of the remodel is complete, now we just need to paint most of the rooms and unpack most of the boxes. Our oldest daughter, The Professor, remarked via Skype that "Mom must be unpacking like a mad ass." Indiana Jane and The Professor will both be visiting next month, so hopefully they'll be able to sleep in the guest bedroom instead of on the living room sofa.

As for the business, even though I was sent on a month-long wild goose chase by a misinformed health department employee and the T.A.B.C. caused most of my remaining brown hairs to either join their gray brothers or abandon ship, I can now say it was worth it. Gourmage of Texas is now open, and although we haven't publicized the store yet, the word of mouth traffic has been positive and gratifying.

Gourmage is Mrs. Troubadour's invented word for gourmet fromage, and we have a wide range of cheeses from around the world, as well as a nice selection of hard to find wines, dark beer, French desserts, and hand made chocolates. The shelves are filled with organic and natural grocery items, the walls are adorned with reprints of vintage French and Italian advertising posters, and the air is often filled with the aroma of fresh baked baguettes and croissants. With the exception of the wine and dark beer we have personally tasted everything in the shop. Not a bad deal, and good work if you can get it.
Speaking of good work, we hired a sommelier, Sam Hovland, to personally taste and choose the wines we carry. The only criteria we gave him was that we wanted to be able to offer little known great wines at a reasonable price. We had our first tasting yesterday, and all agreed that Sam did a wonderful job.

Now all that's left to do is paint the house, landscape the yard, publicize the business, housebreak the puppy, lose ten pounds, finish recording my CD...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Home Grown Tomatoes


Jaune Flamme Tomatoes

That's the title of one of my favorite Guy Clark songs, and also one of my next projects. I love the whole home gardening process, from getting the soil ready to eating and sharing the fruits of my labor.

This year I'll be growing quite a few heirloom vegetables. Cucumbers, green beans, lettuce, bell peppers, and seven kinds of tomatoes. I have to say that although my expectations for superior taste are pretty high, I don't think I'll be disappointed. The words "garden variety" have often been used together as a pejorative, identifying something as common, unremarkable. Truth be told the roots of the phrase are actually referring to heirloom plants. They haven't been hybridized and over-bred to withstand the rigors of shipping, so they are much more tender and almost always tastier than the fruits and vegetables you can buy in a store.
I've grown heirloom vegetables before, along with various hybrid varieties. The heirlooms always tasted better.

I'll be growing organically, of course. My post-appropriate named friend, Mark Beets, has a new blog and a shared opinion of the holier-than-thou attitude of many of our celebrities when it comes to saving the earth, but there are many opportunities for the financially challenged among us to do good things for the environment, and ourselves, on a budget. Planting an organic garden is a great step, and a lot cheaper than buying produce at Whole Foods.

My first "organic" garden was when I was sixteen. I use the quotation marks because I was living in Port Neches, TX at the time. Port Neches is in the Golden Triangle area of the state, so named because of the large petrochemical complex that was in my little corner of the world. I steadfastly refused to use chemical fertilizers and insecticides, not realizing at the time how polluted the air, water, and soil was all around me.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What Kind of Traveler are You?

I've got to admit that I have this romanticized self-image of the weary world traveler, making my way through the crowded market streets in a foreign land, chastising the vendors in their native tongue for trying to take advantage of my supposed naivete.

The truth is, I enjoy the experience so much that I'm actually the goofy, wide-eyed small-town guy with the stupid grin plastered across his mug as I take in the sights and sounds of a new place. It's all I can do not to point my finger, and in a loud voice say, "Wow! Look at that!" In other words, I'm a lot less Indiana Jones and a lot more Jethro Bodine.



I love to travel. Some chemical thing happens to me the moment I start planning a trip, and my brain is flooded with endorphins and adrenaline as I go from those first tentative steps at the beginning of my journey to the last, exhausted mile of the road back home. I'm happier, more alert, more alive. And although I like to pretend how cool I am, I'm sure I come across as Jethro, pretending to be a double-naught spy.

Friday, January 23, 2009

San Francisco: Part II

After a day spent walking up and down the hills of Chinatown and clutching for dear life on the trolley poles, Jan was ready to throw our MUNI passes in the nearest trashcan. We cabbed it to Fisherman's Wharf and took a short harbor cruise around Alcatraz and back before heading down to Capurro's for a seafood dinner.



The weather was beautiful and the street performers were out in force, along with the city mandated percentage of panhandlers.


Sunday and Monday were spent at the Food Show, but we were able to finish up early on Tuesday afternoon. We were in the rental car by 2pm, speeding around the city to take in as many sights as we could.

We saw the Painted Ladies...



before heading to the Presidio...



so that we could walk the beach at Chrissy Field...



and take a few snapshots of the Golden Gate Bridge.





The Golden Gate Bridge is a wonder to see. It's one of those iconic man-made sights, on a par with Mount Rushmore and the Eiffel Tower for wow factor. Joggers jogged, children played in the sand, and Jan and I smiled at being able to just be in these particular surroundings. We were also in what appeared to be a panhandler free zone.

San Francisco is relatively small, so we were able to cover a lot of ground. As the rented Corolla struggled up some of the steeper hills, Jan white-knuckled the armrest on the passenger side and wondered out loud if we were going to make it. Thank God for automatic transmissions. We drove down Lombard, billed as the "crookedest street in the world", before heading up to Haight/Ashbury. Jan wanted to do a little souvenir shopping, and met a young guy that intended to prove, later that night, that he was Jesus Christ. The reveal was still a few hours away, so we weren't able to make it.

We stopped at Caffe Delle Stelle for some Italian food before dropping off the rental car and walking back to the hotel. When we got there the street in front of the hotel was blocked off, and a harried film crew was loading up their equipment for the night. We were never able to find out what they were filming. I asked the night clerk at the hotel if she knew, and she didn't even know that they had been filming. Now that's laid back.

That's how I'll think of San Francisco from now on, a laid-back city with underlying stress. I wondered more than once if the stress was due to the fact that there had not been an earthquake in a while, and the denizens of the city were waiting for the other shoe to drop while pretending that they didn't care.

It is beautiful, though.









Thursday, January 22, 2009

San Francisco Trip



Well, it wasn't that kind of trip. Mrs. Troubadour is starting a new business, and we were in San Francisco to attend the Fancy Food Show, a three day trade show with hundreds of vendors from all over the world. I was there in my official capacity as escort and chocolate taster. We arrived a full day early so that we could see some of the sights.

We checked into the King George Hotel about 10am on Saturday and hit the town.



The King George was a little shabby, but very clean. The staff was nice, and although the hotel is technically in the Financial District, it is only a block away from the Tenderloin, a neighborhood apparently known for its dense concentration of panhandlers. Many times we'd walk out the front door only to see a panhandler stationed directly below the canopy of the hotel entrance. Most days we'd be accosted by someone asking for spare change at least three different times before we had even walked a single block. Some of the folks asking for money were obviously street people, but more often than not the "friend in need" was better dressed than we were. That's saying a lot. I'll never make GQ's best dressed list, but Mrs. Troubadour is no slouch when it comes to fashion. Maybe this is an accepted way for everyday San Franciscans to supplement their income. I really wanted and expected to love this town more than I did. Perhaps if I'd been able to take a single walk in any part of the city without being treated like an easy mark by almost everyone I encountered.

We did enjoy ourselves. Union Square is just a few blocks from the hotel. We hopped a trolley



and headed in to Chinatown.









We trusted the advice from our Lonely Planet guidebook and popped into a few highly recommended shops. They were full of the crap that you would expect to have a "Made in China" sticker pasted on the bottom , but there was something comforting about seeing the useless junk in its natural environment. A retail yin to the manufactured yang of eastern prosperity. It was worthless and oddly appealing.
After a few hours of hill climbing we stopped inside a likely looking basement restaurant for Chinese food. It was probably the best meal we had during our five day stay in San Francisco. I noticed that we were among only a handful of tourists in the crowded dining room, a very good sign when you are eating Chinese food.

Rejuvenated by a great meal, we decided to give Lonely Planet another shot, and walked to Stockton Street so that we could experience what the guidebook author described as "street market chaos." Truer words were never written. The pungent smells,



beautiful colors, and sometimes strangely disturbing shapes of some of the unfamiliar roots, fruits, herbs and fungi caused the massive crowd to spill out into the wide street as shoppers, deliverymen and tourists all vied for the same piece of ground.

After the market we ended our Chinatown visit at the mural depicting San Francisco life in the 1930's.





Monday, January 5, 2009

Paris is Intoxicating: Day Three and Adieu

We had to leave for the airport by 5pm. I thought the girls were going to cry. I thought I was going to cry. A three day trip to Paris is too short, and Jan and I both vowed that the next time we came it would be at least for a week, if not two. Indiana Jane and The Professor were up early, out the door of the Edouard VI and speed walking down to the Metro and into the heart of the city.



My last day in Paris was my first day in a week without the Lufthansa Flu. I could breath, smell, and most importantly, taste. The patisserie was a few steps from the hotel, and the lemon tart was delicious.



I suggested to Jan that rather than trying to cram an exhausting day of speed sightseeing into our schedule, we allowed ourselves to just be. We stayed close to what we now considered to be our neighborhood, taking in the architecture and doing a little last minute shopping.





We felt at home, and we must have looked it. Two college aged girls stopped and asked us for directions. A harried looking man in his thirties asked me in broken French if I spoke English. I spouted my phrase book French to the shop keepers with gusto, and was rewarded with smiles and remarks in French about the weather. We were treated like we belonged, and we felt like we belonged. From now on Paris was going to be our city, and we would visit her often.






Before we knew it, our first date with the City of Love was over, and we eagerly anticipated a long romance, and our chance to get to know her better.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Paris is Intoxicating: Day Two





The buildings that comprise the Musee du Louvre made us stop in our tracks. The former residence of the Sun King was magnificent in every way I could imagine: beautiful, enormous, regal. We paused to take photos before heading inside.

We knew going in that we couldn't possibly see everything in the Louvre in one day, or even one month. We also knew before going in that we would return to Paris again and again. Today we would look at the French sculpture exhibit before trying to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa.


It was a Herculean effort to see as much as we did.


Even Mercury has to stop and take a short rest.


No surprise that this guy would be hanging out in the City of Love.


There are lots of other musicians in Paris.

If you are determined to see the Mona Lisa, be prepared to fight your way through the crowd.



After the Louvre Jan and I took a leisurely stroll along the Seine, taking in the sights and wishing we had more time to spend in this incredible city.



I bought a few posters from the vendors along the Seine as we made our way to Notre Dame. The lines to get in were long, so we were content to take a few photos before stopping at a small Bistro to get some hot soup.




Warmed by the soup and tired after a long day, Jan was ready to head back to Notre Dame to hail a taxi. I suggested that we walk a little more, crossing another bridge to get to the other side of the Île de la Cité. We were rewarded by a rendition of "Ma Vie En Rose" from this gentleman.


We strolled a bit more, invigorated by the perfect song for the setting, before grabbing a taxi and heading back to the hotel. We had dinner at one of the bistros on Boulevard du Montparnasse, then walked even more, taking in as many of the sights as we could before reluctantly calling it a night in preparation for our last day in Paris.

Tomorrow: Day Three and Adieu.