ADA in Europe

This would be fabulous without all the tourists.

The abbey of the Mont Saint Michel dominates a small piece of land in the region of Normandy, France, sitting high on the hill above a village of narrow streets and cobblestone surfaces. While jostling through the packs of tourists, one must pause occasionally to appreciate the striking beauty of this promontory that becomes inaccessible by land at high tide. I recall from a tour long ago that the abbey itself has been used as an abbey, a prison, and a palace. Don’t quote me on that. I also recall that monks spent their final years here. No wonder. The steep inclines, rough-hewn stairs, and lopsided cobblestones would make escape impossible.

It is rare to see people with disabilities in Europe. Updating ancient cities is probably prohibitively costly. So a woman in an electric scooter tooling around a small town in Portugal appeared to be an anomaly. (I wish I could name the town, but the entire tour is a blur at this point.) Just when I was mulling over how she was getting around, I saw a ramp leading from the sidewalk into the street. Then I noticed several of them. These were the first accommodations I had seen anywhere in Europe. Had Portugal adopted the ADA?

I recall when the ADA became law. Street corners were modified to allow wheelchairs and walkers. Turnstile entries offered alternative doorways. Not just the disabled, but parents pushing strollers appreciated the changes. As my joints have deteriorated, I appreciate the ramps at the curbs, dismayed at how difficult 6” can be. Same with elevated toilets which, thankfully, are becoming the norm.

So what about this lady in Portugal? I entertained the thought that she is the mayor’s wife whose husband proposed the adaptations. Good for him. When the sexism in that thought woke me, I allowed that she herself is the mayor. Later as a man in an electric wheelchair breezed by me, I placed him as the mayor’s husband. Well, maybe the mayor.

If I had had more time, I would have trekked over to cậmara municipal (city hall) to find out how these accommodations came about. In any case, good for them. I know there is at least one town in Portugal that will accept my walker if needed. If only I could remember the name of the town.

Surprised by Touch

A gentle touch can release ripples of peace.

The touch startled me. Mike and I were enjoying a tour of Spain and Portugal, delighted by the friendliness of the people and the relative safety of the streets. Then, while in conversation, a man gently squeezed my elbow. There was no threat, no intimidation, just connection. But it sent a bolt through my brain. Incidents with other people alerted me to how long it had been since an unfamiliar person had touched me purposely in American society. And how nice it was to connect with a simple physical gesture.

My friends and I recall the uncomfortable squeezes and hugs from “uncles”, family or friend, that were too frequent in our childhood in the ‘50s and ‘60s. “That’s what men do,” was my mother’s response when I complained. We learned to duck and swerve when Uncle Al came near. I don’t mean to minimize the horror of sexual abuse. But I posit that we have lost something when we codify casual human contact. A touch on the arm can mean “I hear you.” A gentle press on the back, “I got you.” A tap on the hand, “I see you.” Man to woman, woman to man, man to man, woman to woman. We are physical beings. Isn’t physical touch part of our communication system?

There were many things I loved about Portugal: the pastries, the colors and textures of the land, the lack of guns, the reliable internet, the people. And surprisingly, I enjoyed the occasional touch.

More Lessons from the Iberian Peninsula

So many good things to say about Spain and Portugal.

  • 1492 was a very bad year for Spain, plummeting them into hundreds of years of decline. (It was also a bad year for the indigenous Americans for different reasons.)
  • Separation of church and state is a good policy.
  • Franco was a terrible dictator. Is there such thing as a good dictator?
  • The trendy glass shower enclosures that cover only half the shower don’t work.
  • Extra large bath towels are nice.
  • Strictly enforced traffic laws not only decrease fatalities but make driving and walking near streets comfortable.
  • It is fun exploring areas knowing that there are no (or highly controlled) guns nearby.
  • Excellent affordable health care is possible.
  • Learning the opening motif of Vivaldi’s “Autumn” from the Four Seasons on the harmonica does not satisfy my need to make music.
  • One can tire of touring churches, palaces, and religious art.
  • Spain and Portugal have reliable internet service.

Book Launch!

Shut Up and Write Central Phoenix launched their newest anthology: Beyond Boundaries: Tales of Transcendence. It is compiled of flash fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. What fun to watch as the original drafts were polished to wonder works of art.

Check it out. Reviews are welcome!

Standing in the Window

Can’t beat the pastries in Portugal!

The disturbing racket of an argument on the street reached our third-floor hotel window late one night in Lisbon, Portugal. Mike rose from the chair to peer out. As an American, my first thought was: get away from the window, they might shoot you. Then I remembered, there are virtually no guns in Portugal. I scooted to the window to take stock.

Several young men were holding back another young man volleying shouts with a shopkeeper. As the incident continued off and on for about an hour, I realized I was anticipating the sound of gunfire. The barrage of news of firearm deaths over the recent years had ingrained a fear in me. The police never came, and the streets went silent. Although I commiserated with the men, who were obviously distressed, it was reassuring that no firearms were available.

The following day I witnessed an altercation between a man and a woman as they passed our table at an outdoor café. Evidently alerted earlier, five police officers arrived, spilling from a compact car and isolating the couple in a nearby building. The incident brought to mind the clown car of the circus when an inordinate number of clowns emerge from a mini-car. Within minutes, the cops returned to the car and drove away. At no time did anyone duck for cover.

There was a sense of safety in the Iberian peninsula that is missing from American streets. The primary risk was tripping over the slippery granite tiles paving the walkways. Then, of course, pickpockets in the cities. Despite apocryphal stories of thoughtful pickpockets who return passports and credit cards, keeping only the cash, I clutched my purse tightly. But I didn’t fear violence.

I confess: I worry about my grandchildren growing up in a society unable to resolve differences without violence. Strolling in the safety of Spain and Portugal, I was aware of the stress that I feel on the streets at home. I don’t know what happened to the shopkeeper and the belligerent young man or the unhappy couple. I know their disagreements didn’t end in death. Perhaps they reconciled the next day with coffee and Pastéis de Nata. Really, with all that good pastry, why waste life arguing?

What’s So Special About Special

There is free wine on the cross Atlantic flight.

In one day, Mike and I had accrued over 7000 steps traipsing through two international airports, at last settling into our seats for the second and final leg of our journey home from Europe. I almost wrote “cocooned in our seats” but that sounds way too cozy. “Canned” is a better word.

After breezing through customs in Philadelphia, we joined the maze for security screening. Twenty minutes later, a TSA officer shouted that passengers with TSA PreCheck were in the wrong line. Okay, well, where is the right line? Her vague arm signals sent us back through the maze and further down the hallway where we located the TSA PreCheck flag positioned strategically behind a three-foot concrete column.

Observation: in Spain and Portugal, airports post signs with instructions to pass through security; Americans shout.

Aboard the 787, I unwrapped the blanket and pillow absconded from the earlier cross-Atlantic flight, hooked up my iPad, and squeezed my water bottle into the seat pocket, quieting my mind for the final 5+ hour flight. Fatigue and hunger for decent food fed my anxiety until an attendant finished her welcome with the succoring offer: Thank you for choosing American Airlines. Let us know if we can make your flight more comfortable.

I promptly summoned the attendant, noting the exact contrast to the attractive Portuguese stewardess on the earlier flight.

“Could you please remove the row of seats in front of us?” I asked.

“Ma’am, I can’t do that.”

“Oh, well, can you ask the passenger reclined in my husband’s lap to set her seat upright?”

“Ma’am, I can’t do that. She has a right to recline her seat and break your husbands’ knees.”

“Does my husband have a right to be comfortable?”

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, but he does not.”

“Okay, then, can you ask the pilot to fly faster to shorten the flight time?”

“No, Ma’am, I cannot.”

“Well, what can you do to make the flight more comfortable?”

“I can offer you alcohol.”

“Okay, I’ll take a whiskey.”

“That will be $10.”

“I would be more comfortable if you would waive the $10.”

“No, Ma’am, I can’t do that.”

“So why do they invite passengers to make requests to make the flight more pleasant?”

“Ma’am, that is a psychological ploy. Market research has shown that 98.2% of the people relax immediately when hearing that announcement, falsely assuming that they have control. You must be of the other 1.8%.”

Anticipating no immediate relief, I excused myself, clambering over the lady in my husband’s lap, to stretch my legs by visiting the lavatory, where I discovered no toilet paper.

Having sandpapered my privates with paper towels, I returned to my seat and summoned Mr. Non-Portuguese Flight Attendant.

“Would it be possible to put toilet paper in the lavatory?”

“Ma’am, I am sorry, but I can’t. It is refilled weekly. Perhaps a nice turkey sandwich will settle you.”

“Thank you. But I see a large bun and no turkey.”

“There is no turkey, Ma’am. Market research shows that 98.2% of the people who are told that they are eating a turkey sandwich believe there is actual turkey in the bun. You must be of the other 1.8%.”

I settled my head on the cotton swab pillow and reflected, “I always wanted to be special.”

Peopled Out

I would definitely consider a move to Portugal. Just not in the tourist towns.

A wise friend, reviewing his hike on a short portion of the Appalachian Trail, declared that he had underestimated the difficulty of the path and overestimated his physical endurance.

I recall Larry’s words often having spent 10 days in Chicago followed by two tours in Europe. Now just over halfway through the second tour, I realize that I underestimated the difficulty of group tours and overestimated my physical endurance. A bout of COVID and a toothache probably didn’t help.

My mother, as many readers know, loved a party. She wasn’t a drinker, but she enjoyed groups of people talking, laughing, playing games. I observed that as she aged, she continued to commit herself to social engagements. But during the event, she tired and became irritable. Traveling in our younger years, we often planned four or five experiences per day. Now we have breakfast, one outing, and dinner.

But we still want to do those five experiences. My mind and body just don’t endure. It is quite disappointing. I also need time to process what I have seen. So today, I opted out of the morning walk surrounded by 40 other people, wandering through town, another cathedral, another palace, and incessant narration provided by a quite knowledgeable guide. I am sitting in a lovely hotel room, doors open to let in the breeze coming across the pool. My brain is rebooting. My body is relaxing. Soon I will leave to find an espresso. Then, ready or not, it will be time to board the bus.


“Where have you been?” you ask. This will bring you up to date. Ignore the sketchy prose. And don’t even suggest that we look good in this photo.

This was the Spain leg of our trip. Our schedule left little down time. Starting the journey fatigued didn’t help. I hadn’t slept well for weeks. The over night flight from Chicago to Madrid was uneventful, but we sat behind the wall separating first class from the peons. Although I no longer experience the extreme motion sickness of my younger years, sitting in a box with no visibility made me nauseous. I leaned into the aisle to look ahead through the long fuselage.

There was a foretaste of things to come when I requested decaf coffee after dinner and the attendant presented instant coffee. I haven’t seen that for years. I was to learn that coffee in Spain is not what it is elsewhere in Europe.

Due to exhaustion, I didn’t get oriented very quickly and recall a few sites but very little specific as we moved quickly from town to town. Monica was our guide on the Globus tour, friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. So, a few points that I do recall:

  • 1492 was a very bad year for everyone in Spain except the Catholics
  • Spanish history is a microcosm of the intolerant Catholic patriarchy
  • Franco was a terrible leader
  • Strict driving laws have reduced traffic fatalities, ranking them now 11 from the previous 1. Gunshots don’t rank at all.
  • I love that Europe believes in large bath towels albeit not plush
  • Barcelona is in the region of Catalonia with its unique language and desire to separate from Spain, as proclaimed with the Catalonian flag (single star imbedded in the Spanish flag) and yellow ribbon to demand the release of political prisoners. Monica said those flags flew from every window a few years ago. Now, rarely. Perhaps Covid halted the movement.  
  • Other than paella, the food is nothing to write home about. We were surprised that, although the Spaniards are reported to eat a lot of seafood, it was rarely offered on menus.

Someday I will write more about Spain. I guess it isn’t in my DNA; I did not feel a connection with it although the people were lovely and, except for the amazing amount of graffiti, the land is pleasant, especially along the coast.

I was looking forward to Barcelona and my expectations were met when Mike and I explored La Ramblas our first evening, walking to the water front for supper, which was, mediocre. (Why would I expect anything outstanding at a place in Spain called Kurz u Gut?) Unfortunately, that was all I saw of Barcelona because I awoke the next morning with headache, stuffy sinuses, and body aches. A doctor was called to the hotel and diagnosed COVID. Although there is no quarantine these days, I could not join the tour for the final dinner (as if I could move out of bed). So I missed Montserrat, city tour of Barcelona and everything that is always recommended. However, I don’t plan to return.

Two and a half days in bed, and I was ready to go again. That prescription strength Tylenol is great! So on to Portugal!

If You See It, Catch It

Several of my thoughts are floating around in these clouds.

Earlier today an idea for a blog passed through my brain. Literally passed through. I recall only that I had an idea, nothing about the topic itself except that it compared two behaviors.

I also ordered a set of Apple Air Tags today to track our luggage while traveling in Europe. Several friends have spent days without a change of underwear while trying to locate lost luggage, so I feel a little apprehensive. You can reverse underwear only so many times before it smells.

It now occurs to me that we need tracking tags for ideas. How many thoughts are floating around in space, released from brains that can no longer hold onto them? The atmosphere must be teeming with profound thoughts bumping against each other, lost in the void. Perhaps a chip could be placed in our brain to mark each idea as it developed and stay with it until fully expressed or executed. Many discussions among the senior population would be saved from those immortal words, “Now where was I going with this?”

The world has suffered the loss of music arrangements and the written word that I developed when I had no access to a keyboard or paper and pen. Those were my best thoughts, my most creative insights, limited to God’s ears and eyes only. Today’s idea was no different. I apologize to the world. It’s your loss as well as mine. If you see it, catch it. There will be a reward.

It’s Only Hair

Thank you, The Beatles.

We girls of the 50s and 60s dutifully wore our skirts to school, the hem touching the floor when we kneeled to assure a respectable length. Skirts, impractical in the parts of the country with real winter, forced us to don “leggings” underneath, mine were corduroy, to walk the mile to school. Yes, through the snow. Luckily, not uphill both ways. There was no graceful way to undress at our lockers when arriving, stuffing the metal containers with wet boots, wet pants, wet coats, hats, and gloves, all wool that stinks when wet. Lunches of tuna or egg salad sandwiches were stored unrefrigerated. Damp clothes and decaying food entombed in lockers combined with the natural odor of adolescence permeating the hallways. The air must have been flammable. How did the staff tolerate it? Less alarming, the boys had their restrictions, too. Hair short enough to prevent touching the collared shirt tucked into the pants.

Salvation came in the form of The Beatles who arrived from the Motherland, our elders decrying the long hair and non-traditional suits as we young people embraced them. Look at those pictures of the early Beatles. They were prim compared with today’s rock groups.

The undercurrent of the 60s and 70s: news exposing the horrors of the Viet Nam debacle. My generation exploded. Dress codes were trashed; girls donned pants, threw away girdles, and discarded makeup. More radically, long hair and facial hair appeared on young men. Parents expressed shame of their bearded sons. I was proud of my mother who, perhaps recalling the bare head of her late father, said, “It’s only hair.“

My personal aversion to the hirsuteness of my male peers was fueled by the unkempt, oily locks that appeared to be the norm. New to the game, perhaps young men did not know how to care for a full head. It took a while to identify classmates behind the manes. One morning, a young man with shaved pate and naked chin responded to class roll call. Everyone turned toward the seat normally occupied by a student with bushy dark hair and a full beard. Even the professor hesitated and appeared to question the identity of the responder. No one knew who he was without the hair. Years later it occurred to me the kid was probably being drafted into the military.

The generation that revolutionized male hairstyles did not, unfortunately, change the world in the ways it had dreamed. Although less vital than world peace, clean air, and civil rights for all, the contention behind hairstyles remains today. Although we allowed leeway for C-boy to choose hair length and color, fearing a draw to drug culture, I resisted his pleas for a Mohawk (is that a racist term now? If so, I apologize), although one of his best friends sported the style. Perhaps I was wrong.

So now I have two grandsons with very non-traditional hair. Mowgli sports a bright pink wedge cut, natural waves exploding to create a halo framing his fine features. Blue Boy appears with an asymmetrical cut, the longer strands a bright purple. They both have fingernails painted dark. I guess Mowgli’s might be to hide the dirt underneath.  

When I pick the boys up from school, many shades of hair color emerge from the building. This must be a thing. And to be honest, all those children are, like my grandsons, beloved and special. Judging from my family tree, those thick tresses of my boys may thin with adulthood. Enjoy it while you can, I say.  

And it’s only hair. Thanks, Mom.