Swimming, Singing, and Diplomacy

My father, Robert C. Amerson, was an American Foreign Service officer with the United States Information Agency during the Cold War. Building relationships was an essential part of his diplomatic responsibilities, “winning hearts and minds” for America.

Growing up as the perpetual new kid in school gave me the ability to quickly make new friends. That may be one of the reasons that I so enjoyed teaching exercise, and when I moved to South Florida and the venue became outdoor pools, I was a very happy camper. Trust and guided support allowed my adult students to relax and discover the joy of moving in a pool. Buoyancy and resistance are a marvelous combination.

There is nothing better that witnessing 60+ year-old women overcome their fear of the water and float for the first time in their lives, smiling ear-to-ear like happy kids. And when adults progresses from being unable to put their heads under water to swimming the freestyle across the pool, there’s no stopping that kind of confidence.

You may also know how important the water has been to my survival and recovery from a near-fatal illness last year.

Today, I want to share another person’s story. It combines my father’s chosen career and swimming. I came upon this delightful anecdote in Bonnie Tsui’s new book, Why We Swim. I am a complete fan.

Why We Swim is a gorgeous hybrid of a book. Bonnie Tsui combines fascinating reporting about some of the world’s most remarkable swimmers with delightful meditations about what it means for us naked apes to leap in the water for no apparent reason. You won’t regret diving in.

Carl Zimmer, New York Times science columnist and author of She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity

Bonnie Tsui writes about Joseph “Jay” Taylor, an American diplomat in Baghdad who received an award from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009 for teaching his fellow Green Zone colleagues to swim. The Green Zone was where the international community lived, and where the American Embassy was housed in Saddam Hussein’s royal palace, which included a luxurious pool.

… adorned with eight-foot fountains and lighted with standing chandeliers for nighttime swimming. Jay couldn’t believe that he got to swim in it, even if on more than one occasion he had to jump out of the deep end at the scream of an air-raid siren and, still dripping, clamber hastily into a concrete bunker as the boom boom of exploding mortars vibrated around him.

Bonnie Tsui, Why We Swim

The swim lessons began when Jay offered to teach a colleague from Madagascar who thrashing about the pool without much success. Soon, he was teaching two classes a week.

Cooks, drivers, translators, peacekeeping troops, helicopter pilots: People from all over the world, from all kinds of places and backgrounds, wanted Jay to be their swim coach … Honduras … India … Ukraine … Lebanon … Mexico. It was a miniature United Nations, a global diaspora of people who had never learned to swim.

Bonnie Tsui, Why We Swim

They called themselves the Baghdad Swim Team. They formed a community, forging bonds and finding solace in a common pursuit. I get that. Some of my most intimate friendships have begun in a pool. More importantly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognized Jay Taylor’s efforts with an award for teaching those wartime swimming lessons. For building community.

My Dad could have been one of Jay’s students. He almost drowned as a kid in rural South Dakota and was never comfortable in water, making this memory so much sweeter. It was the only road trip I ever had with just my father. We drove from the East Coast to Iowa for the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. It was hot summer, and the small outdoor pool at the Illinois motel where we stopped for the night was perfect temperature for after-dinner relaxation. We bobbed in that pool for about a half-hour. It was probably the longest Dad was ever in a pool, and I got to be there.

Snooky, Elaine, Bob, Terry, and Jeanie

Dad built community with music, a habit learned on the South Dakota prairie. From hootenannies with expats in Rome, to música folklórica in Bogotá, to flamenco guitar sessions in Madrid, Dad loved nothing more than an informal gathering of music-makers. He celebrated his 80th birthday with his siblings the way they grew up — harmonizing!

Cruising? No, thanks, not yet.

The global cruise industry expected to carry 32 million passengers and taken $71 billion in revenue this year. This will fall by at least 50% this year.

Euromonitor International

According to a recent article in USA Today, cruising has been postponed until September 15, but there are a lot of us former fans who won’t be dockside again until there’s a vaccine.

Their entire business model is based on large group social activity. Americans’ failure to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines pretty much guarantees that we’d party like frat boys given the opportunity to hop aboard.

No, thanks.

We were huge fans of the cruise travel business, in part because of our proximity to the industry’s South Florida base. We can be dockside in an hour’s drive, feeling very grateful to avoid the hassles of flying and overnight stays in order to be ready to board. We’ve had great Caribbean trips out of Ft. Lauderdale and Miami.

But it’s images like this one that will keep us off ships until there is a vaccine.

As part of their response to the pandemic, cruise lines are looking to explore enhanced passenger and crew screening, social distancing, modifying or eliminating buffet dining options, enhanced medical capability, new training for crew members and pre-arranged medical evacuation options with consideration to local health care.

Notice how the medical capability line is buried in their press kit?

In an article that puts a Happy Face on reality, USA Today said that cruisers are ready to resume their seagoing lifestyle. The conditions required to reopen the industry do not include equipping ships with rigorous medical facilities. Damn the virus, full speed ahead.

Prior to last year, we hadn’t given a cruise ship’s medical support a whole lot of thought. We knew of ships on which illness had become rampant, but we sanitized early and often. I came down with a bad cold on the Baltic Sea, but that seemed a small price for such a stellar tour.

It was not until last year’s fateful Atlantic crossing, destination Amsterdam, that the medical risks became crystal clear.

We sailed easily through the first week and made our first landfall in Portugal’s Azores.

But by the time we pulled away from the Azores headed to mainland Europe, my husband had caught a bad cold, and it quickly blossomed into full blown bronchitis with a wracking cough that prevented him from sleeping. The ship’s doctor gave him aspirin and lozenges, recommending he seek medical attention ashore for anything stronger. He also mentioned that about half the ship had bronchitis.

In Amsterdam, my husband got medication.

[However, I became a patient when an undiagnosed abdominal aneurysm ruptured. Had I taken ill two hours later, we would have been back aboard the ship. I would not have made it.]

But, back to this story. Bronchitis is downright benign compared to coronavirus.

In February, cruise ships became an early symbol of how rapidly the coronavirus could spread in confined spaces, when more than 700 passengers on the Diamond Princess became infected as the ship idled off Japan. As social distancing grew more common in February and early March, cruises were among the first activities Americans started avoiding.

David Yaffe- Bellany, NYT

By March 13, the last day we were out in the world as we knew it, Americans were shocked by the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and complied with government’s stay-at-home orders. I wrote that hopping on a cruise ship with limited medical support was unthinkable. Two months later, Governor Ron DeSantis announced Florida was re-opening. I wrote that the data simply didn’t support that decision, that we were flying blind into the storm. And here we are, another two months into the pandemic and Florida’s cases are growing at record rates, causing other states to impose quarantines on travelers who would venture out. Florida’s failures part of the reason that Americans are being blocked from travel to Europe.

Vacationing seems awfully far away.

One of the things that we’ve seen from crises in general is that the industry is very resilient and that we rebound fairly quickly.

Laurie Pennington Gray, Tourism Crisis Management Initiative

Norwegian is installing medical grade air filters and adding medical staff. Carnival is raising the temperature in its washers and dryers to make sure napkins and sheets are fully sanitized. They are staggering boarding times, expanding dining times ,eliminating buffets, requiring masks.

They are also incentivizing group behavior with offers of free food, free drinks, free shore excursions.

And, only now, there is mention of improving medical capacity on board.

In a recent article for the Miami Herald, reporter Taylor Dolven writes that Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have organized a panel of experts to develop safety protocols for the COVID-19 era when (if?) cruising resumes.

The industry is operating its ships — with no guests and reduced staff — under protocols for limiting the spread of COVID-19 control monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With mask-wearing, social distancing, and quarantine in place, nearly a quarter of the ships now at sea still have confirmed cases aboard.

It astounds me that it has taken six months of pandemic for this business- and life-saving collaboration to arise, and that the initiative does not include all the businesses in the industry. And that it is only now that I am seeing the mention of ventilators.

The guest profile on typical cruise ship voyages matches those at greatest risk for severe illness which may require hospitalization and need for respiratory support.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

My heart goes out to cruise staff who must remain aboard. For the rest of us, let’s stay ashore.

It seems like a logistical nightmare to me.

Tara Smith, Professor of Epidemiology, Kent State University

Rethinking Cruising

In February, cruise ships became an early symbol of how rapidly the coronavirus could spread in confined spaces, when more than 700 passengers on the Diamond Princess became infected as the ship idled off Japan. As social distancing grew more common in February and early March, cruises were among the first activities Americans started avoiding.

David Yaffe- Bellany, NYT

About two weeks ago, Carnival Corporation, which owns a whopping 50% of the cruise industry, reported that it had 25 ships with as many as 6000 passengers in open waters off the Florida coast, awaiting permission to land. Governor DeSantis balked at allowing anyone but Floridians to disembark, moving Congresswoman Donna Shalala to liken his position to the turning away of the ship carrying hundreds of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.

DeSantis eventually relented and passengers are off the seas, but now it’s the employees who are stranded aboard. These are the waitstaff, the dancers, the room attendants, the masseuses, contractual employees whose contracts are terminating before they will be able to make their way home.

I loved this gentleman’s title….

Now, there are still 100 ships at sea off the American coast, with nearly 80,000 cruise employees stranded aboard.

Dave Sebastian and Costa Paris, Wall Street Journal
This trio performed nightly on our 2018 Caribbean Christmas cruise

My husband and I discovered the pleasure of getting on a boat, unpacking once, and seeing the world from a balcony over the water — several on the Caribbean, a Hawaiian island tour, a perfect Mediterranean journey, our 2019 Atlantic crossing from Florida to Amsterdam. Now, it seems likely that cruising may not recover, not without making a big change in how it handles illness.

It was on that final cruise, in May of last year, that Ray was stricken with bronchitis, for which the boat had no real medication. The ship doctor said that about half the ship was sick, and he had aspirin and lozenges only.

[We stayed in Amsterdam instead of going on a tulip tour just to get Ray antibiotics on May 5, which is why I survived my arterial rupture that day, but let’s not give the boat credit, maybe a higher power.]

Long before the coronavirus shut down the world, we knew we’d never again put ourselves at risk on the seas without a health safety net. The small print on the boarding documents make it very clear that the boat is not responsible for keeping you safe. The choices you make — the amount of alcohol you drink and the stupid things you might do under the influence, let’s say — fall under the “at your own risk” category.

But there is a difference between being stupid and being attacked by an illness. Our boat could offer Ray no help in beating back a crippling bronchitis. We were on our own to find help on land.

Here’s the standard description of what you can expect when you get aboard a cruise ship:

The ship’s medical center contains several beds and is set up to treat minor nonemergency conditions or to stabilize passengers facing life-threatening conditions…the facility should have wheelchairs, a stretcher, back board for spine immobilization, lab capabilities for tests, oxygen, EKG capability, two defibrillators, cardiac monitors and other equipment to gauge vital signs…it is important to view the ship’s medical facility as an infirmary and not as a hospital.

The Cruise Critic

Now, in comes the coronavirus. Although Carnival Corporation (which owns Holland America, on which we sailed last year) says they have ICU beds and ventilators that make some of their ships appropriate back-ups for mainland hospitals, these are limited at best: passengers requiring acute medical care and hospitalization were transferred off Carnival’s Grand Princess in March. We know how Ray suffered in our room, unable to sleep. We cannot imagine the anguish of those suffering with the coronavirus in similar circumstances.

When the Grand Princess sailed back out of the San Francisco harbor, it had on board 1,100 crew. They are part of the 80,000 who are no longer working and not yet home, drifting at sea as the coronavirus lockdown bars them from finding their way. We wish them Godspeed in getting home, but also in finding employment again. The cruise industry has a lot of work to do to earn the public’s trust.

UPDATE: Costa, an upscale Cruise line, is being sued. The lawsuit alleges that the cruise line was negligent in a number of ways such as failing to use reasonable care to provide and maintain a safe voyage — Transatlantic voyage that left Fort Lauderdale March 5 — failing to warn passengers that a prior passenger had shown Coronavirus symptoms. “Simply put, Costa recklessly and intentionally put thousands of passengers through a living nightmare so he could protect its bottom line.” Susan Salisbury, The Palm Beach Post.

My Snoring Solution

About this time last year, I bragged that I was the most boring patient in Palm Beach County. Never a day in the hospital. Original parts. No chronic disease. Boring. 

Except for my ONE problem. I snored. It was annoying my husband, and it had even started to wake ME up. Most nights, we slept in separate bedrooms. As things go, not a bad solution. 

But then, we made travel plans: a two-week to cruise across the Atlantic, plus one more week exploring the fjords of Norway by ship, and then a whole month in a canal-side apartment in Amsterdam. It was the trip of a lifetime. 

IF we survived 28 long nights in tight quarters. The snoring needed to end. 

So, I filled out a questionnaire at my doctor’s about something called sleep apnea. I had it.

  • Then, I got plugged into electrodes for an overnight study to see how often my sleep was disturbed. A lot. 
  • Finally, I did one more overnight with a hose on my face to determine if pouring air down my pipes might keep me asleep and quiet. It did. 

I breathlessly awaited the arrival of my Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine.

The five-pound miracle worker arrived in a handy traveling case just in time for the trip. I placed it on my side of the cruise ship bed where, every night for two weeks, it turned me into Darth Vader. “I am your wife. Kiss me goodnight.” It was a pleasant surprise to learn that my husband could find me under all that paraphernalia, and an even bigger surprise that we both slept well. No one was banished to the balcony or, worse, below deck with the crew. 

It was a marvelous two weeks. Then, we got to Amsterdam and all hell broke loose.

Embassy Art

I am coming back into myself as I recover from my long hospitalization in Amsterdam. I am nearly independent on my feet, walking up to 2 miles a day now. My upper body has filled in enough to make my Amsterdam PJ’s look small on me, and I’m more fully occupying my old bras. [TMI? Anyone share this weird repeat of adolescence?]

When we return to Shands Hospital at the beginning of November for a repeat CT scan of my abdomen, my days of being a patient will be just outnumbered by my days of being a new-born civilian. I expect Shands to find me significantly improved and increasingly boring from a medical point of view, with no need for any further probing for six months. That’s how I’m approaching things.

Physical independence has expanded my world: from a single bed, to a hospital hallway, to Oosterpark, to Florida my home and neighborhood. Yesterday, my husband and I ventured further than we’ve been since our return, and, as always, we are the better for this little taste of travel.

Our destination was the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens about a half-hour from us along the Intracoastal Waterway of West Palm Beach. This monumental brick sculpture, untitled but inspired by the Himalayas, announces your arrival at a splendidly unique realm.

Untitled Horizontal Sculpture

It was envisioned, designed and built by Ann Weaver Norton, a small woman with a monumental vision who made her way from Alabama to New York City at age 23 to pursue her art. She studied sculpture at Cooper Union and other schools, and she secured traveling fellowships to visit sculpture gardens in England and Italy, places she must surely have reflected back on in later years. During her 15 years in New York, she achieved significant success, showing her work at the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

In 1943, needing income to support her art, Ann Weaver accepted a teaching position at the art school affiliated with the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. She was an independent woman of 43 when she married the museum founder, wealthy steel magnate and recent widower Ralph Norton, 30 years her senior. He built her a studio behind their home before he died just 5 years later. Ann Weaver Norton lived and worked in this splendid property until her death in 1982. The home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the two-acre garden contains 250 species of palms and cycads and nine of the mammoth sculptures she began building in West Palm Beach.

Seven Beings (pink Norwegian granite)
Gateway 5

The work of several other artists appears to sprout organically from the tropical landscape.

Two surprise connections to my old Foreign Service life made our visit particularly meaningful. The end of the Cold War is celebrated in one garden piece …

… and Ann Norton’s sculptures were selected to be shown at the Residence of the American Ambassador to Hungary in Budapest in 2002 as part of the State Department’s Art in Embassies project. To this Foreign Service kid, knowing that Ann Weaver Norton helped tell America’s story overseas made our visit particularly meaningful.

My Coming Out Party

Two months ago today, my husband, Ray, and I flew home to Florida from Amsterdam, where I’d become critical ill during a vacation. OLVG Hospital was my home for many weeks: the ICU saved my life and the 7AGastroenterology Unit helped me become familiar with myself again. We miss that amazing community, and this note from my doctor shows you why.

In the past two months, after being cleared by the University of Florida’s Shands, my new go-to hospital, I have made steady progress in holding up my own weight and walking: from a rented Rollator, the sturdy walker similar to the one my mother called “My Cadillac;” to a no-seater; to a cane; to no assistance most of the time.

My basket of home-gym tools is no longer dusty, and my workouts at FYZICAL physical therapy are encouraging and wonderfully exhausting. My body lets me know when I’ve done enough. Sometimes all that means is that I need to stop reading and do nothing for a bit. Sometimes I’m plain tuckered out. One rotten thing about lying in a hospital bed all day is that you don’t have the “ahh” moment when it comes to relaxing into a bed for sleep. I was never a napper; I am now!

As I make progress, I am frequently thinking back to the wise advice I got from one of my OLVG doctors: don’t stress about making it “all the way back” to however you were before your illness; aim for small goals and enjoy the process of being able to recover; and there will be days in which you will feel you are going backwards, rather than forwards.

I had one of those days on Friday. The most I achieved was watching recorded episodes of Dr. Who (we became BBC fans while in Amsterdam) and about six hours of House while lying in bed eating crackers and sipping milk. It wasn’t until I stopped feeling sorry for my sad self that I realized being able to watch a show about hospital life meant that I am indeed making progress. Even if it still hurts to roll over.

I wasn’t at all sure I would be strong enough to carry through on our Colombian neighbors’ invitation to lunch, and I knew it was a stretch for my husband, who is battling his own way back from being a shocked spouse in a strange city hoping his wife will live. We’ve kept to ourselves most of the past two months.

Ajiaco, pandebono and empandas, and avocados were yesterday’s luscious lunch

But, my friend was serving ajiaco, the stew made in Bogotá that I had last tasted in 1971, when my parents, sister and I made a return trip to the city we’d called home in the ’60s. We were treated to orchids and ajiaco by very dear friends, Luis and Andres Cárdenas, boys who had grown to be handsome young men in the five years we’d been away. Their sisters Mai, Isabel, and Teresa and a cousin joined Luis and Andrés for photos in our old house.

The Cárdenas and Amerson kids reunited in Bogotá, 1971

We went. We had a wonderful time eating delicious food in Bogotano hospitality. It is like a miracle to have a friend down my street who knows that the furniture in our entryway is not just a bench but a Colombian escaño, just like I know that our delectable lunch was not a chicken stew but a Bogotá ajiaco.

Magic from the past, like a path back to childhood.

Back to the USA

On July 29, I walked out of Amsterdam ‘s OLVG hospital, my home of twelve weeks, and into Florida’s Shands Hospital. It was almost as easy as it sounds.

We’d begun planning to get me back for weeks. Once my medical status stabilized (no feeding tube, no catheter, consistent blood readings, better strength), my doctor Emo cleared me to fly. My daughter, along with my sister and her college roommate, worked the travel, insurance, and rehabilitation bureaucracies to prepare for a medical evacuation to a rehab facility close to home. Emo compiled my medical and physiotherapy records.

The place turned me down. Although I was used to the fact that I had survived a dramatic health event, the story did alarm the rehab clinic. They wanted me to be cleared by an American hospital before being reconsidered as a rehab patient. But their hospital partner could not guarantee me a bed.

After the interdisciplinary excellence of my treatment at OLVG, I found the cautious and lawyerly American response offensive. I even explored the option of Dutch rehab: why not stay with the system that had done me so much good? No go: my insurance would not cover it.

Daughter Victoria solved the problem, like every other one that had arisen: I would go to Shands, the University of Florida’s stellar institution at which she’d begun the final hworking year of her doctorate. Yes, they’d take me, Emo’s counterpart told him; we just need to free up a bed. Perfect.

A few days went by. Then a few more. Pretty soon, we’d been waiting for two weeks, and Ray’s apartment lease was up. I was gaining strength, now able to handle walking on my own, though a bit shaky. My doctor Emo agreed: no medical evacuation needed, I could travel home with Ray alone. With wheelchair assistance in the terminal, I should be fine.

We were done with waiting. Maybe Shands would come through, maybe we’d need to go directly home. Either way, we were outa there.

On Friday, we booked Monday business class tickets on the only direct flight available that week, and Emo tried Shands one last time: the patient had identified the only suitable flight, which would bring them to Gainesville Monday night. Miraculously, the response was the right one: Shands would identify a bed Sunday night and was looking forward to welcoming me.

Sometimes you jump, and THEN the net appears.

The trip was almost easy: in fact, I highly recommend traveling by wheelchair. At Schiphol Airport, we were whisked past lines of mobile passengers through passport and security checks (yes, they do pat down ladies in wheelchairs), into the swank and spacious KLM lounge to enjoy a buffet lunch, and to the front of the line at the gate. “Passengers requiring assistance” was now me.

Our travel agent Tanya Kugel, http://www.enltravel.com, had secured us the first row of the business class, from which I took a picture of an empty plane as we boarded. We were four steps away from the bathroom, my primary concern in my post-catheter reality, and first to get the four-course meal. The seats slid into a nearly full recline. I dozed off and on, watched Amazing Grace documenting Aretha’s live recording of gospel music, and we were on the ground in Orlando before nightfall.

Seared tuna and other appetizers, and a strawberry sundae

Another assisted whisk through a complicated terminal and we were curbside when the car service appeared to take us to Shands. We were in Victoria’s weepy embrace by 10, and I was in my bed being assisted by nurses and doctors by 10:30.

Easy.

Next: finding out how I should live the rest of my life, or at least the next few months.

How I Survived My Amsterdam Vacation, Part One: We Got Kicked Off the Ship

Dear readers, I apologize for my three-month absence, but boy do I have a story to tell you.

I had devised the perfect spring vacation: a long transatlantic cruise to Northern Europe, including a week in Norway, the land of my ancestors, followed by a month’s stay in Amsterdam, one of our favorite cities. Neither my husband Ray nor I had work obligations, and the two-month trip shimmered like a miraculous mirage.

The first two weeks lived up to the hype. Holland America’s newest ship, the Nieuw Statendam, left Ft. Lauderdale on its inaugural eastern crossing under sunny skies and calm seas on April 28.

The view from our balcony as we left Ft. Lauderdale

We drifted along: a perpetual food feast on fthe Lido deck; live classical music every afternoon followed by Motown every night; mind blowing light shows accompanied the clever choreography of the resident dance troupe; and the occasional shower did not spoil the ease of our voyage.

First landfall was the Azores, which surprised us with their rugged beauty, but the afternoon bus ride with coughing passengers also open the door to Ray getting bronchitis.

There are more cows than people in the Azores

We stayed on board during the days stop in Normandy, saving our energy for a lovely day in Bruges.

One of the canals in medieval Bruges

By the time the ship docked in Amsterdam to take on more passengers for the Norwegian leg of the trip Ray was feeling miserable. We cancelled our planned ship excursion to Keukenhof Gardens and went ashore by ourselves to search out medicine. We had no way of knowing that Ray’s bronchitis would save my life.

As Ray stepped into the pharmacy, I fainted on the sidewalk, though all I remember is looking up at the kind faces of very tall Dutch men.“The ambulance is on its way,” one of them said. Indeed, the adorable EMTs were there within minutes, clad in turquoise and spring green. My vital signs were normal and I felt fine. “Take us back to the ship,“ I directed. There was no way I was missing Norway.

The ship doctor met us on the dock: I guess an ambulance pulling up alongside a cruise ship is not a good sign, and he did not advise me to re-board. He and the EMTs got into a bit of a shouting match over who was right about how fine I was and I decided I was getting on the ship. Ray and I signed the waivers taking responsibility for our actions and up we went to our lovely room.

Ray headed up to the Lido deck to pick us up some lunch, and I fainted again, though all I remember is standing next to the bed feeling a little dizzy.

What happened next is not my memory nor would I have any real awareness of my life for the next three weeks.

Ray says now he has rarely been so overwhelmed: I was sprawled on the bed mumbling incoherently; something was seriously wrong. He grabbed the phone. Within minutes the ship’s medical staff, another ambulance crew, and every steward on our floor had flooded our room and Ray was throwing our things into three suitcases. I was carried out on a stretcher to the waiting ambulance.

It was a quick dash to the nearest hospital but it seemed an eternity to Ray as he chastised himself for not insisting that I go to a hospital after first fainting. Waves of guilt would continue to wash over him in the hours, days, weeks that followed.

The minute we were in the ER, a team began CPR. My body had given out.

Next: Part Two, Anatomical Triage.

Five Things I Didn’t Expect from the Azores: recollections from April


More cows than people. Twice as many, on Terceira, so named for being the third of nine islands claimed by Portugal in the 1400s. Poor Terceira: the only one that didn’t get an original name: the first is Saō Miguel; the second is Santa Maria. Like parents running out of imagination when their third kid is born, but then getting shamed into getting back to Real Names for the remaining six.

Mosaic sidewalks. In a little nothing pueblo on the volcanic cliffs.

Hydrangeas

But we were weeks too early to see these showy flowers burst from bushes so prolific on Saō Miguel that they are used like fences. So, imagine blue, pink, and purple bordering this lake in the crater of the Sete Ciudades volcano.

Emerald green fields. Like New Zealand only with cows instead of sheep.

Bullfighting. A bullring used for promotional exhibits which we lucked into. No stabbing and killing just young men with pluck .

Russia: no longer the Bad Guy?

Before our cruise ship arrived at the port of St. Petersburg in 2017, Russia had been in the American headlines for months. That wasn’t unusual: its predecessor, the Soviet Union, made headlines all the time during my father’s Foreign Service career promoting American democracy to stem the tide of Communism. The Russians were the Bad Guys. We were the Good Guys. The Macarthy hearings made it clear: the only good Red was a dead Red, especially for the Republicans.

So what was, and is, disturbing about the Russia stories of the past two years is that the presumed Good Guys are being investigated for colluding with the Bad Guys, and the Republicans in the White House and on the Hill are being very relaxed about the whole thing. Trump’s election may have been orchestrated by Putin. Trump deflects and redirects and distracts, adopting Russian terminology to distance himself from the issue: it’s all fake news. And, anyway, what’s the big deal?

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Truth and fiction no longer stand apart: Trump’s people have given alternative facts a place at the table. Why is everyone’s head not exploding?

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