Monday, November 29, 2010


(Pigs in a Farmyard, Carl Henrich Bogh, 1864, Art

Against my better judgment, I glance into the exterior mirror of the purple El Camino.

I can not believe what my eyes are seeing.

I'm looking straight at somebody's hoof.

I turn away as quickly as possible.

But then sheer curiosity gets the better of me.

I return for a second gawk.

I am horrified to see that the hoof is attached to a.........a.......... leg.

A wave of nausea spills over me as I turn my head away from the grizzly scene.

Thankfully, the leg is mostly covered in white butcher paper.

Gathering courage I never knew I had, I set my sights on the hoof which is attached to the partially covered leg and ask myself these questions:

1. "Why is a dead pig lying in the bed of my new husband's purple El Camino?"

Answer:  Family members in Star Valley, Wyoming are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the dead pig. They want to cut the dead pig into smaller pieces, freeze the meat, retrieve the packages at a later date, cook them and eat them.


2. "Why must newly wedded city girls be subjected to sights such as this?"

Answer:  It comes with the territory. Most studly Wyoming Wranglers deal regularly with freshly dead animals. One hundred and seventy- six percent of them eat the meat from these animals. Let this be a warning to all you citified females out there who are thinking about falling in love with cowboys of any sort:


Hint:  Desensitize yourselves - NOW! - by taking frequent field trips to meat-packing plants during the period of your premarital engagement. Forget the romantic walks leading you to the no-gore-allowed meat section in your local market. As far as you're concerned, beautiful displays of "filet mignon" do not now nor have they ever existed in any supermarket. By following this crucial plan, you will gradually buck up to the realities of your future life with Mr. Studly Wrangler.

3. Why is the dead pig sawed in half?

Answer:  Civilized people would never find the need to ask such a ridiculous question. They understand that dead pigs are not really dead pigs at all. They are pieces of pork - also known as the other white meat.

Never refer to the meat master as a "butcher." A "butcher" carries out his duties in a crude, rude, violent manner. The meat master artfully slices - never brazenly "cuts"- his delicate meat.

The meat master always plies his craft inside a spiffy supermarket. THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS.

The pristine pork is then carefully placed on sanitized white Styrofoam trays. (Blue Styrofoam trays are permissible in a pinch but they are a poor second choice.)

Finally, the meat is hygienically shrink wrapped and labeled with lyrical words such as: "Butterflied pork chops."

Further clarification:



Five hours later, we pull into the driveway at my mother-in-law's farm in Star Valley.

My Wyoming Wrangler has wisely prepared me for the inevitable on the drive up.

That's because he wants to live to see another day.

He tells me that the dead pig is about to undergo further bodily transformations.

A saw will be involved.

I tell him, "OK, cowboy, that's waaaaay too much information."

Twenty minutes after we arrive, I actually get out of the El Camino.

I stare at the shed from my personal vantage point.

Which is 657 miles from the shed itself.

Believe me when I tell you this, I am not moving one inch closer to that shed.

Not in this lifetime or the next.

The electric saw buzzes menacingly from inside the building.

As does the laughter of the people who are busily "transforming" the dead pig into smaller pieces.

A minuscule portion of my new marital family is present and accounted for out there.

My brother-in-law, Ted, shouts across the yard and asks me if I would like to help wrap the piggy pieces in paper.

I tell him with lightening speed: "Gee, no thanks, Ted. I am learning so much about how to cut up a dead pig by studying the entire procedure from right here."

Kindly, Ted replies, "Suit yourself."

Minutes pass as the whirring of the saw and the good-natured laughter continues unabated.

I squint into the darkened opening of the shed for what seems like hours.

Janeene, my saintly sister-in-law, takes pity on me.

She asks, "Merry, would you like to write the labels for us?"

I cautiously inquire, "Labels?"

"Yes," she says, "You can label the pieces of meat for us. That would be a great help."

I nearly blurt out, "Does this mean I won't have to stand within 657 miles of the sawed up deader than dead pig?"

Instead, I drag my feet across the yard as if each of my ankles is wearing 100 pound weights.

I stop cold on the slab of cement just outside the shed.

I peek inside the building and study the scene of the crime.

Then I carefully determine that the parts of the dead pig - which have significantly multiplied, by the way - have been safely enrobed in brown butcher paper.

It all looks innocent enough.

I step ever so slowly inside the shed as Janeene gives me a pencil and small slips of white paper.

She smiles brightly at me and says, "You can write "pork shoulder" on this one."

I immediately decide I love this woman more than life itself.

Never in the history of the world have the letters p-o-r-k  s-h-o-u-l-d-e-r been written with such flourish!

Yes - I can write!

I adore pencils.

The sharper the better.

I can even spell a few simple words.

But dead pigs?

I don't do dead pigs.

Not now.

Not ever.

And my studly Wyoming Wrangler?

He loves his family.

He adores beautiful Star Valley.

He is grateful for the lessons he learned growing up on the farm.

Most of them involved that nasty four letter word w-o-r-k.

But here's the news that always takes me to my happy place:

While I was strategically roping my cowboy many moons earlier, I learned that dead pigs aren't his thing either.

So four months later we packed up the purple El Camino and headed east for Vanderbilt University.

There wasn't a pig - dead or alive - anywhere in sight.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Workin' It: The Floor Scrapers

(The Floor Scrapers, Gustave Caillebotte, 1875, Musee D'Orsay, Paris)

I stand before Gustave Caillebotte's "The Floor Scrapers" and I am mesmerized.

It takes but a quick, six second study and I'm seriously hooked.

Admittedly, there is little about this painting that would normally intrigue me.

The Renaissance madonnas are obviously missing.

Monet's riverscapes of the Seine in Paris are nowhere to be found.

And my beloved gemstone hues?

The crimson rubies, the verdant emeralds and the moonlit sapphires must surely be hiding inside their jewel box.

Here's the clincher:

It's subject matter - work - is my least favorite activity on the planet.

And yet.......

I am transfixed every time I am privileged to gaze upon this painting.

To me, these men possess a type of holiness within their mightily stretched torsos.

Caught in the act of accomplishing a demanding task, they push forward with a diligence that many others will never know.

I'm one of those people who lives in my head.

I can spend more time reading, studying, writing, analyzing and daydreaming than nearly anyone I know.

For the past two weeks, I have spent time painting the walls in a home that will soon be inhabited by my son-in-law's parents.

Please forgive my immodesty, but no one can roll paint on walls like I can.

After all, I learned from the best........

Lisa La Porta on HGTV'S "Designed to Sell."

Lisa instructs: "Always form the letter "W" when you begin to roll the paint on the wall. That technique will help you eliminate vertical lines. Then blend things from that point."

I bow to my master.

I also bend, crouch, and flex my arm muscles in a whirlwind of physical activity each time I paint.

When at last I am through for the day, my roller hand is throbbing and my roller thumb is cramping.

It's so worth it.

I have earned a "high" that no mind bending drug could hope to match.

Need I mention that the freshly painted walls look sparkling clean and colorfully alive?

There is an immediate satisfaction in all of this for me.

Hence, my wall work causes me to relate well to these floor scraping men.

When I see their taut muscles at work I get it.

I almost feel the rhythm of their movements as their toned arms push the scrapers across the floor.

There is a special sort of beauty at work here.

Oh, and perhaps I am wrong about the "missing" gemstone colors.

To be sure, there is a quiet economy of color in this masterpiece.

But I clearly see splashes of smoky topaz (or Hershey dark chocolate!) complemented by ethereal shades of aquamarine on this canvas.

Two welcome escapees from the jewel box no doubt.

We know nothing about the religious codes of the laborers.

But may I please submit this thought to you?

For these floor scraping moments, the workers are certainly creators of the first degree.

And in that sense they are, indeed, godly gentlemen.


Please know that you have the rare opportunity to view "The Floor Scrapers" up close and personal at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts right now!

You won't regret making the effort to see this wonderful work of art.

And as a special bonus, the Musee d'Orsay in Paris has kindly thrown in 99 additional masterpieces for your viewing pleasure.

This particular collection of paintings will likely never be seen in this assemblage again.

It all travels home to Paris on January 23rd.

So lace up your Nike's and get down there A.S.A.P.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Nike: The Wind Seeker

(Greek:  2nd centruy BC, marble, Louvre, Paris)

Ok, reader peeps, this week we are going to diverge a little from our normal routine here at "The Merry Scribe."

That means we are going to cut the comedy.

Now before you throw your laptop out the nearest window, please allow Dr. Merry to prescribe some necessary medicine for you.

As we all know, there is more to life than just the funny stuff.

Dang it!

Can I be honest here?

If the powers that be had appointed me CEO over this planet, there would be nothing but funny stuff.

And that's exactly why I am not the CEO over anything - including the lint in my dryer.

The lint let's me think I'm it's daily slayer.

But both of us know the disgusting truth.

Besides, I'm doing this for your own good.

It is not right that people should laugh all the time.

Sometimes we must refine ourselves - ouch! - and actually learn something.

I promise - it will only hurt for a little while.

Before you know it, your artsy-fartsy boo-boo will be all better.

And your funny bone will be back in business before you can say "Bob Heiney."

So................without further adieu please allow me to inaugurate Docent Day here at "The Merry Scribe."

And just in case you are wondering - it wasn't that many years ago that I was wondering - a docent is an art educator.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *  

The Winged Victory of Samothrace (Nike) is my favorite sculpture of all time.


Well, for starters, she exudes feminine power.

Her body is well built and strong.

I love the fact that she no longer possesses her head.

Maybe she would be deemed beautiful if she had one.

Or maybe not.

In any case, the point is moot.

Because she is headless, we are never distracted by the potential beauty of her face.

Instead, we are drawn to the power of a woman nearly in flight.

She is armless.

No matter.

We are now free to concentrate on the strength of her steadfast legs.

Nike's flat chest does not draw attention.

And here is the real shocker:

She is clothed.

Her gowned body has not been objectified by today's in-your-face nudity.

This frees the viewer to contemplate Nike's actions - not her sexual possibilities.

Her robes flutter in the wind.

Indeed, they trail behind her as the air lifts them in the breeze.

Nike's magnificent wings are bent inward in the act of flight.

Her body is thrust forward directly into the wind.

What adventure is she running toward?

She appears fearless as she moves through the air.

There is a spirit of reckless abandon about her.

Whatever task awaits her, she is surely ready and willing to accept it.

Everything about this sculpture portrays the beauty of a woman in dedicated movement.

Nike resides at the head of the Grand Staircase II in the Louvre.

She stands alone.

In reality, who or what could compete with her?

She is surrounded by prominent stairways, massive stone arches and beautiful leaded ceiling windows.

This is, indeed, a fitting backdrop for such commanding art.

I adore this woman of ancient days.

Timeless, she steps purposefully into the world, modeling power and strength for her sisters as they pursue their own sacred dreams.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


(Dante & Virgil; Hippolyte Flandrin; 1835; Musee des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, France)

Later that evening, Bob drifts off to a deep sleep punctuated with visions of seagulls shooting bullets of something - he's isn't sure what.

Soon, he sees Dante and Virgil coming toward him in the distance.

As they make their approach, Bob squints and says, "What took you guys so long?"

Dante replies, "We got delayed on the Fifth Circle. Virgil wanted to pick up a few things for you in "The Scream" Gift Shop. Welcome to the Ninth, Bob!"

Puzzled at their thoughtfulness, Bob wonders to himself: "Does this mean I am going to have to be nice to people - even in Hell?"

Smiling, Virgil grasps a blood red basket.

He places it in Bob's hands and says, "We want you to enjoy these gifts!"

Bob notices a swirling banner lying elegantly across the ruby hued cellophane.

The glittery words read: "We welcome Hell's newest hottie!"

He peers cautiously into the basket and surveys the contents.

Horrified, he sees a wheel of blue cheese the size of a monster truck tire.

Dante's eyes sparkle as he adds, "We've taken the liberty of enrolling you in the "Blue Cheese of the Month Club, Bob."

A faint grimace crosses Bob's face.

But he is determined to remain cool amidst the Ninth's stiffling heat.

Within seconds Bob's eyes focus nervously on a pre-paid membership packet to the Hades Museum of Art.

Virgil elaborates: "The museum's permanent exhibit is entitled: "Feeling Our Feelings Forever - Art That Never Ends."

The poet continues: "Bob, we know you're dying to see this exhibit. Please remember that you are required to view this fascinating collection three times a week - always and forever."

Virgil adds, " Emotional outbursts are mandatory. Kleenex is provided free of charge on Tuesdays."

Bob's knees begin to wiggle like jelly.

He stares off into Hell's horizon thinking to himself: "What did I do to deserve this?"

Just then Virgil hands Bob a crimson red envelope and commands, "Go ahead, I insist that you open it."

Bob pulls a bright pink brochure ever so slowly from the envelope.

It reads: "Congratulations, Bob! You have just won an annual, three month vacation to the gift shops on the Fifth Circle. You must spend a minimum of $50,000 in each store - weekly. Shop till you drop!"

Virgil winks at Bob and says: "We take that admonition seriously here on the Ninth."

Dante glances at Bob and quickly sizes him up, "You look as white as a ghost, my friend."

"Perhaps we should direct you to Hell's Five Star restaurant: "We Only Do Grilled Chicken Salad."

Dante adds, "This popular salad is priced right at just $175.00 per entree. Croutons are available for an additional $20.00."

Bob drops his head into his hands and whimpers softly.

Virgil tells him, "Oh, I almost forgot. Here is a book of coupons which introduces our newest service:

"Doody Calls."

Virgil cautions Bob, "Those unpredictable seagulls are Class-A dive bombers here on the Ninth."

"They have developed a particular affection for folically-challenged males."

"I wouldn't be surprised if they target your place hourly."

Limp with agony, Bob whispers to his companions, "Thanks, but you really shouldn't have gone to all this trouble just for me."

As they turn to walk away, Virgil explains to Bob, "The gift basket is not something we usually do here."

"But this is a highly unusual circumstance."

Virgil's eyes soften as he touches Bob's arm.

"We checked the Ninth's Resident Roster yesterday. Your neighbor for eternity will be a woman called "Merry."

"Not the most appropriate name for a resident of Hell but we work with what we have."

"Do you happen to know her?"

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


(Dante & Virgil in Union Square, Isabel Bishop, 1932, Delaware Museum of Art)

Bob rushes to push open the door to Oslo's National Gallery of Art.

"He seems a little too happy to be leaving this cultural edifice," I muse to myself.

I quickly realize that I need to cut the Bobster some major slack.

So I say to him, "Honey, all we have left to do is walk back to the ship and get onboard!"

Bob glances at me and keeps walking toward the Baltic.

The temperature on the streets of Oslo is close to 326 F - and that's in the shade.

To say that it is HOT is the understatement of all time.

Bob and I are sweating buckets.

I am tired and cranky.

Because I am directionally-challenged, I am confused about our location every time we stop to search the map.

I say to Bob, "Please figure out the quickest way to get back to the ship. My feet are killing me and we don't have much time left before we need to be onboard."

We stop at a street corner for a no-walk light.

My eyes are scanning for taxis.




Because the Oslo taxi drivers are sane, they have left Oslo for work at the Arctic Circle.

Bob is studying the map like crazy.

I'm studying Bob.

I am nearly out of my mind with - for want of a better word - exhaustion.

I can tell that I am within seconds of getting my full gear "crazy" on.

I watch Bob study the map.

He is squatting on the street trying desperately to figure things out.

I decide that the best move on my part will be to kill Bob and hijack a car so I can get back to the ship before it leaves Oslo.

This plan seems utterly rational to me.

Then it happens.

From out of nowhere........


A big green blob of glop lands right in the center of Bob's map!



A second load of the same green stuff drops directly on the back of Bob's hand.

Bob grins up at me and says, "I guess one of these seagulls had to answer nature's call."

Then he actually.......... LAUGHS!

Perhaps I should say that laughing would not have been my first reaction.

I would have rapidly removed my AK47 from my handbag - which I keep handy for just such an emergency - and blown that bag of feathers with the loosey-goosey bowels into the middle of the next universe.

But that's just me.

We immediately realize that we need to get the green doody OFF THE MAP A.S.A.P. because the seagull's aim was dead on.

At this point, I am nearly comatose with exhaustion.

But the Bobster is in his element.

Bob says to me, "Do you have anything to mop up this mess?"

I watch as the green gunk runs down the back of his hand in rivers.

I choke back dry heaves and say to him, "I think so."

I dig into my purse and retrieve several tissues which I hand to him.

Then Bob picks up his precious map and moves it and himself close to the buildings to be out of the way of passersby.

He lays the map on the sidewalk and begins to blot up the bird - how shall I say this? - poop.

If he doesn't act fast, the needed information will disintegrate into doody oblivion.

He knows he must be able to read the very spot that is covered with the remains of the colon explosion.

I look at him and don't know whether to laugh or cry so I do some of both.

Bob is still in amusement mode as he blots away.

My heart goes out to this man who has been so incredibly steady and patient through every crazy thing I've put him through during the past 40 years.

I love him for that and so much more.

That doesn't mean that I've forgotten about killing him.

I need a target to relieve my overwhelming anxiety and he is the obvious choice.

At this point, my feet feel like they're on fire.

Crawling to the ship seems like an enjoyable alternative to walking.

I ask Bob, "How close are we to the ship?"

He answers and points, "It's just over there."

I look.

I see nothing.

I want to kill him.

But that sounds like way too much work.

Instead, I stare at him and shriek, "ARE YOU ABSOLUTELY SURE?"

He says quietly, "Trust me. Trust me."

And so I do.

We drag our bodies through another block of ambulatory torture.

Then, turning the corner, we see the magnificent Star Princess in full view.

The blazing lights of heaven could not have looked more welcoming!

We fall in line with many of our cruise-mates who are making their way back to the ship in time for the afternoon sail-away.

Later that evening, I begin daydreaming about the wonders of Oslo.

Strangely, I can no longer feel my legs and feet.

That's because maximum-strength Advil is my new BFF.

I'm hard core.

I refuse to ingest anything but Advil gelcaps.

I get a faster hit with those sweet puppies.

Frankly, I can't live without the stuff.

(Traipsing all over Europe like a crazy person will do that to you.)

Still, I have to admit that every pain, every incident of misery has been worth it.

I am thrilled to the bone that we finally saw my grandparents' homeland.

I say to Bob, "Wasn't it a wonderful day, honey?"

He smiles at me and says, "Yes, dear."

Monday, October 4, 2010


(Carl Bloch, In a Roman Osteria, 1866, Statens Museum For Kunst, Copenhagen)

Bob and I pass the gallery gift shop on the way to the museum's cafe.

He purposefully looks the other way.

But I crane my neck to the left as far as it will go in order to scan the shop's merchandise as we whizz by.

I can easily see that I am going to have to get away from Bob long enough to buy a boatload of stuff in this artsy store.

But first things first.

I look at Bob hopefully and say, "Honey, are you hungry?"

You would think that I would know better, wouldn't you?

I've probably asked this man that very same question at least 60 gazillion times in the 40 plus years I've known him.

The answer has always been, "No, not really."

And it never matters how long it's been since the last morsel of food has passed his lips - it could be 6 hours, 17 days, or 3 years - Bob is never, ever hungry.


I'm always hungry - even if I just ate three seconds ago.

We walk into the small cafe and I am immediately stunned.

My eyes feast on the magnificent sight before me.

The walls of the cafe are covered top to bottom in emerald green marble.

White Greek columns stand like heavenly sentinels throughout the room.

Bas relief angels drape themselves in all of their beige-y loveliness on the ceiling of the cafe.

Catching my breath I exclaim to Bob, "Who designed this room and can I please live in it forever?"

All of this artistic gorgeousness means only one thing to Bob.


He knows that it took a lot of money to create this room.

And he knows that it is requiring a lot of money to maintain it.

Within 45 minutes a chunk of our money will be donated to the cause.

Our lovely Norwegian server, Ingrid, smiles at us as she approaches our table.

She speaks perfect English.

I waste no time explaining our situation to Ingrid.

"This is going to be our one and only Norwegian meal. We - excuse me - I - would like to eat something that is authentically Norwegian. What do you suggest?"

She quickly replies, "Well, we do have a limited menu. But the herring plate would certainly fill your request for authentic Norwegian food."

I smile sweetly at her and say, "Gee, maybe something not quite that authentic! My dad's parents were from Norway and he used to buy pickled herring for us when we were little kids. I actually ate it because I didn't know any better - whoops! - I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to offend you!"

Ingrid laughs and says, "I know what you mean. I can't stand it either."

She continued: "The asparagus soup is lovely. And it comes with dark, crusty bread. Soup and bread are staples of the Norwegian cuisine."

I said, 'That sounds fabulous! And I'll take the open-faced blue cheese sandwich drizzled with honey, as well."

I know exactly what Bob is thinking:

"I can't believe she is going to eat that nasty cheese and then breathe all over me. On a scale of 1 to 10, that stuff has an "ick" factor of at least 189."

Pleased as punch with my selections I glance at Bob who is, by now, deep into the menu zone.

That means he is studying the menu selections as if this meal is going to be his last.

Here's the thing about Bob: He would much rather eat his own home-cooked meals than any of the fancier stuff that most restaurants offer.

If he has to eat out, his first choice is almost always Cracker Barrel because the menu there is very similar to what he cooks at home for himself and the family.

The truth is: Bob's cuisine is always healthier and tastier.

Personally, I would rather be shot at dawn than walk into the kitchen to do anything but eat.

Bob finally settles on that old Norwegian classic - mixed veggie salad with grilled chicken.

He likes to live dangerously.

Ingrid flies off to the kitchen, relieved to be rid of us for a few minutes.

Then she returns with sparkling crystal goblets filled with ice ( a bit of a rarity in Europe) and gobs of refreshing water.

Lemon wedges sit sturdily on the rims of the goblets.

However, one lonely lemon wedge is never enough for me.

Ingrid remembers that I asked for a plate of sliced lemon wedges and they appear within seconds.

I gaze admiringly at the freshly cut rose sitting in its watery crystal vase in the middle of our table.

White linen napkins and simple porcelain plates - white again, of course - lighten the table in a visually.

The presentation is superb - everything speaks of elegance, romance, and good taste.

I allow myself to be wrapped in the ambiance of this lovely cafe.

Bob isn't nearly as impressed.

He looks at me and says, "Do you realize that my salad is going to cost the equivalent of $30 in American money?"

"No, honey, that really hasn't even crossed my mind," I reply. "It doesn't matter to me because this is our one and only meal in the country of my grandparents. Chances are, this experience will never happen again."

I can tell by the look on Bob's face that he is counting on that.

Just then Ingrid arrives with our entrees.

I lift the first spoonful of asparagus soup to my lips.

Its delicate flavor and silk-like texture send me into spasms of delight.

Slices of crusty brown bread, rich with everything grainy, sit at the side of the soup, accompanied by creamy butter sticks.

I say to Bob, "This stuff tastes divine!"

Next, I lift the sandwich to my mouth and sink my teeth into the cheesy, sweet honey goodness.

Bob whimpers in utter disgust as the moldy mixture passes my lips.

I notice his reaction, of course, but I can't swallow the blue cheese fast enough.

I feel as if I am stuffing my mouth with tiny bits of heaven.

Bob's chicken salad looks equally gorgeous.

The large white bowl is filled to overflowing with crisp, colorful veggies.

The roasted chicken has been perfectly sliced and scattered in a circular pattern across the top of the mixed lettuce greens.

The same grainy bread and butter sticks appear on the side of his monstrous white plate.

Bob takes a few bites of his salad and says, "This food looks good but it isn't anything special."

"I know that's disappointing," I say to Bob as I shove more cheese and honey into my mouth.

I smile sweetly and say, "Every single bite of my meal is absolutely scrumptious!"

I add, "You are having a really tough day.  But look at it this way - we'll be back on the Star Princess before you can say "I hate Oslo."

Polishing off my last bite of sandwich, I plant a cheese-laced kiss on his lips and say, "I've got to run into the gift shop and pick up a few thousand postcards."

Bob breathes a sigh of acceptance as he thinks to himself,   "Why prolong the agony?  I'll tell the Post Office to forward my mail to the Seventh Circle - effective immediately.  Please tell me they've never heard of blue cheese."

Monday, September 27, 2010


(The Scream, Edvard Munch,

Bob and I jump off the trolley at the Royal Palace in Oslo because it's as good a place as any to start our tour of Old Town.

There is a royal guard standing at attention in the tiny guard house in front of the palace.

I could be wrong but it looks like a black bear cub is tied to the top of his head.

The "cub" is secured to the guard's head by a large chin strap that looks as if it's about to strangle the guard.

His uniform is military black - dark, inky military black.

His demeanor is "stern" - bordering on what I would call "if you touch me I'll kill you."

Several tourists stand in the early morning sun gawking at him.

Bob and I join the gawking party but frankly, I've had more fun watching snow melt.

So we decide to check out the action on Oslo's main drag: Karl Johannes Gate.

We walk down to the Domkirke - Oslo's old and stately cathedral.

Cathedral designs - both the exteriors and the interiors - always fire-up Bob's imagination.

I say to myself: "Bob is really going to enjoy seeing this church."

He pulls the handle of the ancient hand-carved door.

It's locked tighter than a drum.

We walk to the side entrance and I pull the handle to that door.

It's a no go.

We are both disappointed but this is particularly frustrating for Bob since this church will be our one and only cathedral stop in Oslo.

It's not a stretch to assume that the church is locked because of the early morning hour and we reluctantly leave the cathedral's grounds.

We reverse our steps and walk back up Karl Johannes Gate.

This wide avenue is filled with classy shops, lovely restaurants and a bounty of historic edifices.

Bob is having a field day taking pictures of all the architectural wonders on the Gate.

(The pronunciation for "Gate" in Norwegian is: ga -ta, by the way).

We pace ourselves so we will arrive just as the doors open for the day at the National Gallery of Art.

We arrive promptly at 10 a.m.

As we walk up the steps of the art museum I happen to notice a small sign to the left of the building.

It reads: "Museum opens at 11 a.m. on Saturdays."

And this is, of course, a Saturday!

I quickly inform Bob and say to him, "It looks like we have an hour to kill. What should we do?"

Bob attempts to spit it out, "There's a g - g- gi - gift shop across the street. Let's see if it's open."

Miraculously, it is!

Cautiously, I ask Bob, "Are you sure you want to go in there?"

We both know we are tempting fate but we are so completely bored we no longer care.

Like pigs shuffling off to the slaughterhouse, we open the door to the shop.

The die is cast.

We wander through the aisles of cutesy cards, figurines, stuffed animals and novelty chocolates for a few minutes until I discover racks of miniature art prints - copies of original paintings by Norwegian artists - near the check out counter.

I glance sideways at Bob as I lift the first art print out of it's slot on the rack.

I can feel his cold breath as it hits my neck.

His left eye begins to twitch.

His lip starts to quiver.

For the unaware, these are the tell tale signs of a person - usually male - who is entering the initial stages of "shopitis."

This condition is often associated with anyone who abhors shopping for longer than say - 16 seconds.

Bob has suffered from advanced shopitis since the very day of our marriage - nearly 40 years ago.

In fact, it was immediately after our wedding breakfast when Bob and I stopped by a woman's clothing shop in Orem.

I needed to purchase a very warm sweater for our trip to colder than cold Wyoming - the sight of our second open house in celebration of our wedded happiness.

I noticed the aggravated eye twitching and the sickening cold breath on my neck for the first time as we stood in that tiny store studying price tags.

Believe me, it was terrifying.

Not for him, of course.

For me.

It was in that shop that I realized my carefree days of blissful retail therapy were about to be seriously numbered.

These scary memories force cold shivers up my spine as I stand like a condemned woman in the gift shop.

Then I realize that Bob is getting antsy to the maxxxxxxxxxxxx.

He is walking up and down the aisles of the shop trying desperately to contain his mounting frustration.

Just like an FBI agent on surveillance, he steals agitated glances in my direction and waits for any possible signal from me that we are about to leave the store.

To make matters worse, he knows that I am going to hand over the plastic and actually pay for these items in mere seconds.

Then it happens.

I glance quickly across the shop and see Bob standing in the stuffed teddy bear aisle staring at me.

Our piercing eyes lock in utter horror.

When things progress to this point, I must purchase something, anything as soon as possible.

Or I will be forced to leave the shop with nothing.

Yes, that's right - I said NOTHING!!!!!!!

As far as I'm concerned, that's a fate worse than death.

I hurry and pay for the art prints as quickly as possible.

My heart is about to jump out of my chest.

In a matter of seconds, the deal is done.

Bob and I meet at the check-out counter as the cashier places my art prints in the bag.

Our only goal?

To get out of this shop immediately.

Preferably sooner.

As usual, Bob's breathing returns to normal as we exit the store.

We walk back up the street to the National Gallery.

Mounds of people are gathering on the steps of the museum waiting for the doors to open.

We jockey for position on the steps and wait several minutes before the guard unlocks the doors at 11:05 a.m.

Inside, Bob corners a guard and asks, "Can I take pictures of the art?"

The guard replies, "We don't allow photos in the galleries but you may take interior pictures of the remaining areas of the building if you wish."

I see Bob's hopeful expression change within seconds.

I know he is not happy.

He enjoys taking pictures of the art because he likes to stay BUSY.

We linger in the wonderful landscape gallery where many Norwegian artists shine brightly.

Stunning portraits of blonde-headed children in peasant dress catch our eyes in the next gallery.

The crowds thicken as we near the room that holds Edvard Munch's psychological masterpiece, "The Scream."

This painting is currently one of the most beloved works of art in the world.

People from all countries and every walk of life find it's stark emotionalism intriguing.

Bob finds it worthy of a one second glance on his way out of the gallery.


Please allow me to interpret the meaning of Mr. Munch's masterpiece for you.

Munch has painted his "screamer" at the exact moment his subject learns that he has been permanently assigned to the Fifth Circle of Hell.

He is caught in that very moment - eternally horrified as he realizes that the Fiftth Circle is where all of the gift shops are located.

Bob should have warned him.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


("I Won't Do It and You Can't Make Me"  Emoting Child by Gustav Vigeland, Oslo, Norway)

"We need to get off this ship as soon as possible," I said to Bob during breakfast.

I hastily added: "It's going to take us awhile to get out to Vigeland Sculpture Park and we don't have any time to waste today."

Bob glances at me and says: "We'll have plenty of time to do everything on our schedule if we are ready to go around 8 a.m."

We leave the Star Princess promptly at 7:15 a.m. (hey, we're burning daylight here!) and walk from the dock to the nearest taxi stand a few minutes away.

The taxi will take us to the center of Oslo where we will catch the trolley out to Vigeland Park.

But Bob, my strapping Viking for the day, boldly tells the taxi driver to take us directly to the sculpture park.

I nearly scream with joy!

There will be no "have we got the right trolley" worries on this glorious morning!

There will be no "this is taking forever" trolley transferring today!

My Viking has just hired a taxi for a DIRECT ride to the park, for goodness sake!

As a result of this noble, chivalrous decision I am going to experience a rare, blissful and stress-free sedan ride out to the "Oslo land of many sculptures."

I want to bow down and kiss Bob the Bold's filthy Viking boot!

On second thought.........


Vigeland Sculpture Park is a sight to behold in the early summer light.

Velvety green lawns blanket the entire area.

Blossoming roses in every color imaginable are scattered in flower beds too numerous to mention.

Stately trees and shimmering ponds round out this idyllic scene.

The park is dedicated to Gustav Vigeland - Norway's most beloved sculptor.

Fifty-eight bronzes of men, women and children flank the footbridge over the river that runs through the park.

These human forms are depicted going about their lives in its many dimensions - each figure as naked as a jaybird in June.

The sculptures are shown expressing feelings of joy, anger and sadness as they go about their everyday activities.

As we amble down the walkway into the sculpture gardens, Bob pauses and says to me, ""Do you want pictures of ALL of these sculptures?"

I gaze at him as if he has just arrived from Mars, "Yes, honey, of course, every single one of them!"

Stopping frequently to examine each sculpture in detail, I am delighted by these magnificent figures.

As usual, Bob is not wasting precious time.

He is busily engaged with his camera snapping pictures as quickly as his his nimble fingers will allow.

I turn to him and say, "Do you like these sculptures, honey?"

Stone faced, he slowly turns and glances at me and then returns to his camera.

That look can only mean one thing:

"These people/statues need to stop worrying about their emotional temperatures, put some clothes on and get busy doing something useful."

But, bless him, he doesn't say a word.

Instead, he waits for me to suck the very life out of him while I gush over the spectacular sculptures.

Let me be completely honest here - naked people emoting has never been Bob's thing.

So I reluctantly decide that my long suffering Viking has suffered long enough.

I look at Bob and say, "We'd better get moving if we want to see everything on our schedule."

He smiles and says, "Yes, dear."

We catch the trolley at the entrance to the park, leaving our clothes-free friends behind.


I'm pretty sure that the inhabitants of Hell don't wear clothes either.

Why would they?

The temperature there is off the charts and the humidity?

Literally, unbearable.

Besides, I don't think modesty has a high priority in Hell.

It was time for me to admit the cold, hard truth.

I saw Bob enter the Third Circle of Hell the moment he laid eyes on those bare bottomed bronzes.

And I, unwittingly, had been his guide.

Just call me "Virgil."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


(Dante:  He Hath Seen Well; Jean Leon Gerome;

Note:  In the original version of Dante's "The Divine Comedy," Dante and Virgil visit the inhabitants of Hell as they wind their way through the nine circles of ever increasing depravity.  My next few blogs will depict the journey of their newest doomed companion - the longest of the long suffering - Bob.

If I'm completely honest about it, I have to admit that Bob's arrival in Norwegian Hell began the night before we arrived in Oslo.

Me being me, I felt duty bound to fully explain my increasing excitement at the thought that I would finally be walking on the same land that my Norwegian grandparents had trod over a century ago.

Our conversation went something like this:

Merry: "Now, honey, you know that I have waited nearly three million years to get to Norway."

Bob: "Yes, dear."

Merry: "And you know that we are going to be in Oslo barely seven hours."

Bob: "Yes, dear."

Merry: I know that you completely understand that our time there will be very precious to me."

Bob: "Yes, dear."

Merry: "I am so afraid that we might miss something very important."

Bob: "Yes, dear."

Merry: "And do you remember how I walked with you all over the beautiful village of Michelfeld, Germany where your grandparents were born?"

Bob: "Yes, dear."

Merry: "I'm going to need that same support from you tomorrow when we visit Oslo."

Bob: "Yes, dear."

Merry: "Basically, it comes down to this: if I ask you to do something in Oslo - even though it may seem ridiculous to you - I will need you to put your ideas and your feelings on the back burner and simply support my Norwegian experience in every way."

Bob: "Yes, dear."

Next, we discussed the setting of the all important alarm clock.

I wanted to see those little black hands land at 5:00 a.m.

Bob held out for 5:30.

We wisely decided to meet in the middle.

The alarm would be set for a sprightly 5:15 a.m.

This would give us enough time to eat breakfast and shower before we stepped off the ship and onto the hollowed ground of Norway in the early morning hours.

Fortunately, I awoke at 5:00 a.m. without the assistance of the pesky alarm.

I am using the word "fortunately" because Bob forgot to actually set the alarm.

I am going to take the high road here and assume that this was an honest mistake on his part.

But if I had decided to take the low road - which is my usual destination of choice - I might have accused him of deliberately trying to sabotage our already skimpy time in Oslo by "accidentally" setting the clock for 5:30.

I watched Bob sleep like a baby for what turned out to be the longest 15 minutes of my life.

Then I boldly startled him out of a deep and restful sleep with these fear-inducing words:

"Honey, it's time to get up!"

Magically, his eyes opened.

He stared at me and asked, "What time is it?"

I smiled at him and said, "It's time to arise and greet the beautiful city of Oslo!"

He stared at me blankly.

Stumbling, we crawled into our clothes and shuffled off to the Horizon Court for breakfast.

We crammed enough food down our gullets to stoke us for the next six millenia.

Then we waddled back to the Baja deck like the over stuffed penguins we eerily resembled and opened the door to our stateroom.

I quickly jumped into the shower stall that was mysteriously growing smaller every day.

I said to myself: "Girl, you have GOT to stop eating those to-die-for pastry swans stuffed with vanilla pudding every time you plop yourself down in the Horizon Court!"

Like that was seriously going to happen.

Minutes later, I clicked the blow dryer into high gear as I said to Bob, "Honey, you have to hurry. I don't want to miss a second of this day!"

From the bowels of the darkened closet I heard these words, "Yes, dear."

The inhabitants of Hell were already grinning.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Bag Lady

(The Railway Station, William Powell Frith, 1800's , Art

Okay, I'll admit it.

I'm deathly afraid that I am going to run out of food while I'm traveling in Europe.

I know these feelings are completely unreasonable.

But then again, the act of reason has very little to do with the development of feelings in the first place.

Gretch and I had bought hot chocolate and pastries at the train station in Innsbruck, Austria midmorning.

Just as expected, everything was superbly scrumptious.

While inhaling my chocolate croissant, I gazed down the station's corridor and saw the sparkle of lights and glistening glass windows.

I peered at this inviting scene more closely.

Boxes of every shape, size and color were sitting on shelves.

Jars and cans stood like soldiers at attention next to them.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing!

No, it wasn't a snack bar.

And it definitely wasn't a magazine shop.

I was staring at an honest to goodness grocery store right there in the middle of the train station!

I began running toward mecca as fast as my little legs could carry me.

I slowed to a comfortable trot as I entered the store.

My eagle eyes made a cursory examination of the aisles as my brain began to whirl with ideas.

I knew that our barely swallowed snack of five minutes ago would not sustain us past the next 15 minutes - tops.

That thought alone was enough to frighten the fat right off me.

But then I realized that we would be back on the train to Italy during the respectable hours - 11 a.m. through 2 p.m. - when lunch should rightly be consumed.

I clearly had no choice.

I would have to buy lunch in this grocery store palace!

I grabbed Gretch and we shot down the aisle toward the deli.

Sandwiches of every sort and variety were spread throughout the display case.

They seemed to be speaking to me:

"Choose me! Choose Me!"

Kind soul that I am, I didn't want to leave anyone out so I quickly selected five sandwiches - two tempting turkeys, one mouthwatering ham, one sturdy looking beef and one lonely all-by-itself chicken at the end of the row.

Delicate leaves of crisp green lettuce peeked out of the slices of bread.

Thick slices of juicy red tomato hung over the sides of the sandwiches.

Bottles of delectable dressings stood in a beautiful tray inside the display case - all ready to be called into action as condiments.

Four of us would be noshing on lunch.

But I had selected five sandwiches.

Oh, well - as my dad used to say - that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Next, we needed something to wash those tasty sandwiches down the old pipes.

Heading for the beverage aisle, I glanced quickly at the salad display.

I thought to myself, "How many vegetable servings is one person supposed to ingest in a day?"

The last time I checked, the revered American Food Pyramid had amped that figure up to 92 half cup servings per day - fresh vegetables only.

A person can squeeze by with just 46 servings if the vegetables are cooked.

That was good news.

Feeling unusually guilty, I said to myself: "I'd better pick up a few salads too."

Gretch and I sized up the libation offerings in the beverage aisle.

Things looked really promising, I have to say.

We chose a gallon of apple cider, three gigantic bottles of mineral water and a half gallon of chocolate milk to round things out.

(Most of the things that would be "rounding out," by the way, could be easily located on my body in a matter of hours.)

My mind began to wander to our upcoming train ride.

I said to Gretch: "I hope they provide catheters on the train because after I drink all of this fluid, that's going to be my only option!"

We giggled as we walked over to my favorite section of any grocery store - the cookie aisle.

I've had a love affair with cookies all of my life.

And I don't intend to break up with the little buggers anytime soon.

Our eyes focused on a veritable treasure trove of Austrian biscuits, cookies and pastries.

How was I going to choose from among them?

The answer to that question was incredibly obvious.

Pass any of them up?

Let's get serious here.

I promptly dropped 6 packages of cookies and two bags of mini- donuts into our basket.

I realized that I needed to be sensible.

We were leaving Austria within minutes.

Who knew if we would ever return?

I would regret it forever if I missed even one of those Austrian confections.

I dropped a package of apple strudel in my basket just as Bob reached my side.

I glanced up at him and said, "Have you been having fun in the train station, honey?"

His eyes dropped to my basket as he said, "Yes, I've been studying all of the historical markers and getting some exercise in too."

I wanted to slap him silly!

Maybe that would jolt all of that high minded discipline out of him.

Instead, I said, "Gretch and I have been having fun shopping for groceries."

Then he continued: "Do you really think we need all of that food?"

The hair on the back of my neck began to curl.

He had used the word "need" which automatically caused me to become hyper-vigilant.

"Well, no, we don't really NEED it but won't it be fun to sample these Austrian delicacies on the train?"

Wisely, he stepped away from me and headed for the check-out.

As Bob was gazing down the corridor, I tossed four chocolate bars - all proudly made in Austria - on the conveyor belt.

We walked out of the food palace with a plastic bag the size of New Zealand.

Seth, who had been computing in the train station, met us in the corridor.

His eyes fell on my plastic bag as he said, "Stocking up, are we?"

People stared at me as we walked through the train on our way to our compartment.

I thought to myself: "Oh, give it a rest, you nosy Nellies. I've picked up a few groceries. I haven't killed anyone.......yet."

I did not care if the entire world thought I was crazy to the core.

The only thing I cared about was finding a catheter.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Shrimp "Scampy"

(A Mouse in the Trap, Pietro Torrini, 1800's,

Soon after our arrival in London, Gretchen slid this piece of news into a perfectly pleasant conversation:

"We think we may have a mouse in the flat. I left a package of cookies on the kitchen counter the other night. When I was making breakfast the next morning I noticed that the edge of the plastic wrapper had been opened. The end cookie looked like it had been gnawed on."

I instinctively knew that no one or nothing with the ability to "gnaw" would ever be allowed within 467 feet of me.

So I jumped up, grabbed my cell and booked one of those " as-soon-as-you-can-get-me-there" flights back home.

I'm kidding, of course.

But not by much.

I thought to myself: "Great, good and wonderful. I'm living in a mouse house. And I'm going to be held captive by the whims of this monster who is going to make personal appearances in the flat whenever he feels like it."

Seth went to work setting traps with tempting delicacies like peanut butter and cheddar cheese.

Scampy - short for "scampered" or "scampering" - always managed to grab the goodies and then high tail it out of there.

This was no dumb mouse.

Several nights later, Bob saw a tiny brown blob scurry across the shadows of the living room floor.

I asked Bob: "You saw Scampy?"

Bob: "Yes, I did."

Merry: "What did he look like?"

Bob: "What do you think he looked like? It's a mouse."

Merry: "I mean did he have any identifying characteristics?"

Bob: "I think he was wearing a purple earring in his left ear. Are you happy?"

Obviously, I was not going to be getting any sympathy from Bob.

So I decided that my best plan of attack would be to forget that Scampy existed.

This strategy worked remarkably well until the week before we left for Italy.

We decided to hold a Family Council one evening after dinner.

The topic?

The once-and-for-all permanent end of Scampy.

We all agreed that our 10 day trip to Italy should give our dear Scampy enough time to "buy the farm."

Bob and Seth, our resident rodent warriors, moved into high gear.

The guys went to our quaint neighborhood hardware shop and purchased a boatload of traps and something else........

sticky paper.

We decided that this arsenal of weaponry would be set in several places around the flat just before we left for the airport.

Good-bye, Scampy!

There was just one more piece of business I needed to take care of.

I made Bob promise that if Scampy did "kick the bucket" while we were gone, he would quickly and quietly dispose of the remains with no graphic discussion of the details.

He promised.

Naturally, the other shoe dropped the night before we left for Italy.

I was lying in bed wondering how I was going to force my body to get off the mattress at 3 a.m. when I heard a distinct rustling sound in my wastebasket.

My heart nearly stopped beating.

Then I heard it again.

Earlier in the evening I had dumped an open bag of chocolates into the wastebasket because the date on the bag had expired.

I know what you're thinking.

Why would any decent, red-blooded American woman allow a bag of chocolates to expire?

The answer baffles me as well.

The rustling in the wicker wastebasket was revving up - crinkle, crackle, snap, pop.

The noises were making me nervous.

Minutes later - realizing that I was being ridiculous - I jumped out of bed and saw Scampy scoot under my door just as I turned the light on.

I thought to myself: "My stars! I've eaten shrimp larger than Scampy - he's tiny!"

I'm not proud of what I did next but here we have it:

I woke Bob up.

I said to him, "Scampy was in my wastebasket feasting on my chocolates a few seconds ago."

Bob opened one eye, looked at me and said, "Then he'll be fat and happy. Put the wastebasket out in the hall. Goodnight."

I immediately did what I was told.*

Returning to bed, I spent several minutes worrying that Scampy might return to the scene of his crime and scare the bejeebers out of me

I knew it was time for a one woman therapy session.

I said to myself, "This is silly. Scampy is more afraid of you than you are of him."

Feeling suddenly powerful, I turned the light off and went to sleep.

* This documented event is the one and only time I have "done what I was told."  May it ever be so.


Scampy did, indeed, move on to better things while we were in Italy. The powers that be informed us that it was the sticky paper that got him. Fortunately for Bob and Seth, Gretchen and I will never have first-hand knowledge of Scampy's sad demise.

(Peasants Meal, Cheltenham Museum, Cheltenham England)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Pudding, Anyone?

(Still Life, Cornelius de Heem, 1600's, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio)

Recently, I have been fantasizing about the gastronomical delights we have enjoyed in Europe.

If you can't dredge up any other reason to go across the pond other than food, believe me, that's reason enough to go.

I could have taken a long, leisurely bath in the creme brulee we devoured in Paris.

Why shouldn't my bodily pores indulge themselves too?

There was the lighter-than-air chocolate mouse I yummed up at the Louvre.

Every single time we eat there I order it.

And every single time I enjoy it more than I ever have before.

I never think about the Louvre without coveting the divine cheese wedges that never fail to tickle my taste buds.

Not much on earth makes me forget about the glories of art.

But those cheese wedges have the power to do it!

The fresh spinach sauté in Milan?

Bring it on!

The shrimp scampi in Venice?

Simply the best I've ever tasted.

The fresh baked, moist and fluffy croissants in London of all places?

Oh, the wonder of it all as the flaky dough melts on my tongue!

The black pudding in Cheltenham?

Not so much.

First of all, who in their right mind would seriously label a pudding "black?"

I can think of a lot of things that should be labeled "black."

Things like ties, tar and, of course, the iconic "little black dress," for instance.

But pudding?

I don't think so.

On that beautiful morning in Cheltenham, Bob and I walked downstairs to breakfast in the posh dining room of our small hotel.

It had been a long time - that means never - since we had enjoyed breakfast in a room dripping with crystal chandeliers, sparkling goblets and white linen tablecloths.

Bob and I studied the menu and then decided on the "full traditional English breakfast."

This feast included an assortment of juices, scrambled eggs, ham, sausage, baked beans, freshly sliced tomatoes, grilled mushrooms, black pudding and toast with orange marmalade.

While waiting for this harvest of food to arrive, I gazed at my girth and then at the width of the dining room's entry door.

I simply wasn't sure if I would be able to crawl - I knew that walking would be out of the question - through that spacious opening after I had consumed this British breakfast.

But I decided to throw caution to the wind and go for it!

A short while later, our server arrived with our breakfast plates laden upon her arms.

I asked the young woman to tell me the ingredients in the black pudding.

She sweetly ignored my request and urged me to try it.

In the spirit of preserving good international relations, I almost succumbed to her coy suggestion.

But then I vaguely remembered reading somewhere that black pudding was made from some sort of animal innards.

Please believe me when I tell you this - there was not going to be one chance in The Hot Place that I was going to let that stuff touch my lips let alone my precious stomach.

Just then "Bob The Brave" chomped down on a bite of his pudding.

I casually inquired, "How is it?"

He looked at me with his piercing blue eyes and said, "It's bad."

In Bob-ese, the word "bad" - when used in a food context - translates to "this is the most vile tasting stuff that's ever entered my mouth."

So my instincts had been right.

Later, we discovered that "black pudding" is just another term for "blood sausage."

Because I had not yet ingested enough fat, sugar and salt grams in my traditional English breakfast - minus the black pudding - I decided to order a cup of hot chocolate with cream.

While sipping my hot chocolate, I instructed Bob to go to the front desk and reserve an ambulance........

just in case the cream in my warm cocoa had put me over my day's fat gram limit and caused me to need an emergency quadruple by-pass.

In the meantime?

The creamy hot chocolate tasted sublime as it splashed on my tongue and trickled down my throat.

Some things in life are simply worth the risk.

Please note:

In the interest of maintaining the emotional health and gastro-intestinal welfare of my readers, all recipes for "black pudding" and "blood sausage" have been banished from this blog until life as we know it is over - perhaps longer.

Monday, June 28, 2010

La Toilette

(La Toilette, Georges Croegaert, 1891, Private Collection, Art

I've always had a serious fascination with bathroom plumbing.

And when I say "plumbing," I am referring to that oh-so-necessary item known as the commode.

To the uninformed, the word "commode" means "toilet" in polite society.

I adore the pristine crispness of a beautiful white commode.

It should go without saying that all decent commodes are white - not beige, not sage green, and certainly not mauve pink.

Midnight black?

Ick to the max!

I'll pretend that disgusting image never entered my mind!

There is something about the power of a flush that makes me get all tingly inside

A solid push on the handle and - WHOOSH! - everything disappears like magic!

But where does "everything" go?

I don't want to get too technical but I sincerely believe that "everything" disappears into the - hmmmm - bowels of the earth.

Although I'd love to, I'll never forget the restroom in the lobby of our Edinburgh hotel.

I cautiously opened the door - this was a wise decision - and slowly moved inside.

My gaze landed on an overly used (I'm trying to be nice here) hand towel that had been draped haphazardly on the back of the commode.

Let me just say that's never a good sign.

My eyes moved to the commode.

The height of this thing - from top to bottom - had to be nearly 3 feet!

Had they built this thing to service Amazons?

For a split second, I seriously wondered if I was going to need a ladder to climb on board.

The toilet seat was truly a work of art.

Certainly Medieval craftsmen had fashioned this splintered wood device to torture unsuspecting users.

Not to be outdone, the loosey-goosey handle wobbled in my hand as I performed The Great Flush. get the picture.

"Why DOES this toilet look so strange?" I asked myself.

My frazzled brain was sputtering quickly to solve the puzzle.

Ah - hah!!!

I had unknowingly discovered the earth's original commode!

And it was on permanent display right here in this very lobby.

Suddenly, the light bulb in my brain flickered on.

This had to be one of those educational interactive exhibits in which museum go-ers are encouraged to become personally involved with the object on view.

How in the world could I be this fortunate to see such a thing?

And how in the world could I hold the contents of my bladder another second?

Obviously, some questions are better left unanswered.

I refused to wash my hands at the filthy sink.

Nothing in that restroom could have been dirtier than that sorry little basin.

Besides, I knew we were just minutes away from entering a private bathroom in our upstairs accommodations.

Hopefully, conditions there would be sanitary.

I grabbed a used paper towel - there was not a fresh one in sight - and twisted the door knob.

The desk clerk smiled at me as I headed up the stairs.

Thrilled to be in the lobby again, I grinned back at her.

Opening the door to our room, I glanced down and noticed a dainty length of bathroom tissue trailing from my perky sandal......

a sweet souvenir of my visit to the world's original commode.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Twitching Tush

(The Sick Girl, Felix Vallotton, 1892,

Something utterly ridiculous has happened.

Here we are - just six days until we depart for our Scandinavian Grand Adventure and I am sure that I have broken my tush.

As you might well imagine, this has occurred at the least desirable moment.

I am lumbering around on both feet but I have posterior pain the likes of which I have never experienced.

You may (or may not) be asking yourselves, "How on earth did this happen?"

Detective that I am, I believe I have tracked down the cause quite quickly.

It all started last year when Bob the Builder and I were finishing the interior of our new house.

Because I've always been allergic to work - thankfully, no one has found a cure for this ailment to date - I offer to paint walls when "reno" time pops up.

Last year, while rolling our 178 walls with "caramel sandstone," something else popped as well.

More correctly, something "popped out."

As a result, I sat in a chair with a heating pad on my left posterior - um, cheek - for three solid days praying for a speedy death.

Yes, I should have gone to the doctor.

But since I happen to be allergic to physicians as well, I decided to tough it out.

Things improved quickly and I returned to my normal snappy self before I could say the word "phobias."

Then a few months ago, I began having pain down my left thigh.

This felt a lot like the pain I experienced when I was expecting one of our children.

Fortunately for that particular offspring, I do not remember which child it was that decided to do bodily harm to his or her saintly mother.

If I remember correctly - and believe me, I do - that searing pain was directly related to my sciatic nerve.

My son-in-law, John, who is no stranger to back pain himself, informed me last evening that my broken tush is most likely related to spinal/vertebrae problems.

Something to do with shifty movement between the "lumbar # 4 and 5 discs."

This time the pain is traveling right down the middle of my left "cheek."

That pain is, in his opinion, related to my sciatic nerve as well.

Who am I to argue with a fellow sufferer?

I absolutely believe he is on to something.

I have spent the last two months working on two huge projects:

Bob the Trudge Master and I have been physically training for all the walking we will be doing in Europe. This means that we have been out the door and walking around our neighborhood for 30 minutes every morning at or around 6 a.m. As a result of this monumental effort, I now have calves that could walk from our house to Anchorage, Alaska and back again within the space of 35 minutes!

I have been sitting and writing, sitting and writing, and sitting and writing some more for many, many weeks. I have been working on several " Merry Scribe" projects - this blog being one of them.

Fast forward to last Friday.

I got up from a writing blitz, took a few steps and instantly began hobbling in pain.

I glanced back at the reproduction "Italian Renaissance" desk chair that I adore for it's unique design and Michelangelo-esque tapestry seat cover.

My delicate posterior regions have been practically glued to this chair for hours at a time as I have drafted page after page of the finest writing the world will ever see.


I fully intend to hack that torture device into toothpick size splinters and then torch it's slivery remains into oblivion.

Which brings me to the following happy circumstance.

I am receiving a one hour massage this very afternoon by an expert therapist who comes highly recommended by one of my dearest friends on the planet.

When I made the appointment to see the therapist - just one week ago - I had no idea that I would need her services so desperately.

I firmly believe that God works in mysterious ways.

Mysterious to us, by the way, never to Him.

Who knows how all of this is going to turn out?

I'm praying that I will be as fit as a fiddle and ready to speed walk all over Erik the Red's Scandinavian turf.

Or perhaps Bob The Annoyed will be pushing me around Copenhagen in a wheel chair - eventually dumping me into the city's fair harbor when he's had more than enough of my petulant whining.

I seriously suspect that something smack dab in the middle of those two possibilities may well occur.

We shall see.

I see the clock is tick, tick, ticking away.

I'm going to force myself to stand up now and drag my aching tush to the shower.

I've got an appointment with an angel of mercy and absolutely nothing is going to prevent me from keeping it.

Bottoms up!

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Romance in Rio

(James Tissot, Un Dejeuner, 1868, Private Collection, Art

Bob and I had just finished a lovely dinner in Scotland - Edinburgh to be exact.

The Irish stew had tempted both of us so we indulged ourselves, savoring every delicious bite.

Then Mother Nature decided to call - again.

(She can be a real nuisance, can't she?)

I excused myself and walked upstairs to the ladies room.

As I reached the landing, a middle-aged man looked at me and asked:

"Do you know if any of the shops are still open?"

I said, "We just left the Royal Mile and some of the stores are open there."

Then he looked at me and said, "You're an American girl, aren't you?"


My ears were still ringing with unbounded glee.

His melodious words floated through my head:

"American girl."


This man had just referred to me as a "girl" and I was ecstatic.

No one - and I mean absolutely no one - has called me a "girl" in - oh, I don't know - maybe 287 years.

Well, what can I say?

I fell madly, deeply, adoringly in love with this man.


I did not care if his personal hygeine routine consisted of one yearly bath taken in a teaspoon of water.

I did not care if he lived with a portly pet python named "Buster."

I did not care if he moonlighted on weekends as a serial killer.

I simply did not care.

My Mystery Man continued to chat:

"I have never been to Edinburgh. My elderly mother does not understand my interest in travel.

But I love to get out in the world and see new places. It broadens my mind."

As he spoke I thought to myself: "What a charming man! Perhaps we could run off to Rio together.

My brain began commenting on his musings to me:

"Guess what? This is my very first time in Edinburgh too!"

We have so much in common!!!

"Can you believe it? We both have elderly mothers! And they've traveled somewhere - definitely to the grocery store!"

We have so much in common!!!

"You can't be serious! I love to travel too! See, I'm right here in Edinburgh talking to you, sweet cheeks."

We have so much in common!

"Isn't this amazing? Travel broadens my mind too - and my flattened posterior which has logged way too many hours sitting on planes, trains and automobiles.

We have so much in common!

I gazed longingly into his azure blue eyes for what seemed like forever.

Then I came to my senses.

I wished him well and proceeded to the ladies room.

Minutes later, I returned to Bob and mentioned the encounter with my mystery man.

He didn't seem at all threatened by his potential competitor.

In fact, he smiled as I related the story to him.

I was immediately suspicious.

Perhaps Bob was thinking to himself:

"I just missed my chance to unload this woman. The guy probably would have taken her off my hands if I'd offered him enough money."

Then Bob glanced sweetly at me and said: "Dear, I'm happy that you had a nice conversation with your new friend."

I gazed longingly into his azure blue eyes for what seemed like forever.

I knew in that instant that Bob would always be my one and only mystery man.

And Rio?


It was Bob who took me to Venice, after all.

And I've always been a Venice kind of girl.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sweet Switzerland

(Bassin d'Argenteuil by Claude Monet)

Bob's maternal grandfather was born in Salenstein, Switzerland.

Because of this familial fact, it was our great pleasure to travel to this beautiful part of the world awhile ago.

To put it simply, we wanted to immerse ourselves in the land of Albert's birth.

On the morning of our arrival, Salenstein was bathed in a gray and misty fog.

I was bummed to the max!

My mind had pictured a sparkling sun swirling around Switzerland's skies.

The words "gray", "misty" and "fog" were not supposed to be part of the script.

As I soon discovered, the day's inclement weather would have nothing to do with my feelings about Salenstein.


What could I possibly say that would do justice to this place?

Salenstein is picture post-card perfect.

It is a small rural community built on towering hills overlooking a placid lake.

Apple orchards and dairy cows pepper Salenstein's land.

It just so happens that Bob and Gretchen are world class apple eaters.

The minute they saw the lush, crimson fruit hanging from the trees, they began salivating.

In anticipation of a taste test, Bob declared: "I'll bet those apples are good."

(To the uninformed, the word "good" in Bob-ese means: delicious, scrumptious, perfectly perfect.)

Gretch was right behind him, her eyes surveying the multiplicity of just- ripened apple trees.

Were Seth and I apple lovers as well?

Not so much.

Soon, the Bobster and Gretch could wait no longer.

They each bit into a ruby red orb.

Ahhhhh - this was, indeed, food for the gods!

They exclaimed in near unison: "These are the sweetest, crunchiest apples we have ever tasted!"

Seth and I were delighted that our mates had been able to enjoy such gustatory pleasures.

But my eyes were riveted on the nearby dairy cows.

I was mesmerized by their taupe-colored hides which looked strikingly beautiful next to the emerald green grass.

Please believe me, I can find art anywhere - even in a Swiss pasture.

And to top it all off, my gorgeous cows were bejeweled with - what else? - the requisite Swiss cow bells.

Be still, my beating heart!


Leaving the beauty of Salenstein behind, we drove through hilly, country roads until we found a village that looked like a promising place to find lunch.

We parked outside a busy grocery and I wasted no time entering the shop.

I was on a serious mission to hunt and gather my two favorite culinary C's - cheese and chocolate.

Without delay, I purchased four kinds of cheese and four varieties of chocolate.

I couldn't resist a loaf of bread that looked simply mouthwatering so I threw that into the mix as well.

Starving, we unwrapped our goodies in the car and quickly consumed our repast.

Perhaps the reason was raw hunger, but everything tasted fabulous.

Each cheese had its own distinctive flavor but we awarded the grand prize in the taste category to a stunningly beautiful flower-shaped concoction.

The razor thin slices had been rolled into petal form - complete with curly edges.

The "flower" looked and tasted divine.

The bread was sweet, moist and supremely cheese compatible.

The Swiss chocolates were much too milky for my taste.

(I'm hard-core, people. Only the darkest of the dark chocolates ever pass my puckering lips.)

Fortunately, the milk chocolate fans in my merry little band were more than willing to relieve me of the burden of having to consume it.


Later in the afternoon, we came to a lake side restaurant that advertised hot apple strudel on their overhead sign.

I said to my captive audience, "We are not going to miss this!"

The amiable waiter showed us to an outdoor table on the roof of the restaurant.

We looked out on a shimmering lake immediately to our left.

After several minutes of pleasant chit-chat, the waiter returned with our strudel.

One glance and I knew this sweet piece of heaven would be melt-in-my-mouth perfect.

Tiny berries tumbled down the sides of the warm apple slices.

Vanilla ice cream puddled at the sides of the flaky crust.

An abundance of whipped cream covered everything.

Surely this fruity confection would be found on heaven's menu, wouldn't it?

As we slowly paced our way through the lovely strudel, the sun returned in it's full glory.

Sailboats - their white masts gleaming in the light - rippled along the blue-green water.

I wanted to hold this picturesque scene in my mind forever.

I'm well on my way to doing just that.


1. Absolutely no apples were stolen from unsuspecting orchard owners in the creation of these true-to-life scenes. They were legally purchased at a village market and then consumed on sight.

2. Although no cow bells can be seen in the accompanying photo, cow bells were indeed found on several of the photographed cows' closest friends. Unfortunately, for reasons which we can not fully figure out, the cow bell cows were not deemed photo worthy by our group photographer.

3. Claude Monet's brilliant sailboat painting was created in France - not Switzerland. Who cares? It could have been created in Switzerland and that's all that matters.