Costa Rica

Road Trip to Paradise

My partner and I recently went on a long awaited much anticipated trip to Costa Rica. In the time of the corona-virus we have all had to curtail our travelling out of a necessity to stay safe and simply because many places were unavailable to travel to. Costa Rica has just recently opened its borders and welcomed tourist traffic back to this Central American paradise.

In order to enter the country, one had to fill out a form asking many health-related questions and based on the answers you were issued a Health Pass. This was needed before you could even get on the airplane stateside and was checked many times along the way and when you got to the airport in San Jose when we were going through Customs and Immigration.

Also required for entry was a health insurance policy to cover medical expenses and lodging in case you tested positive for Covid on the way out of the country and had to quarantine. A negative covid test was required before leaving.

On the way down the airline (Delta) blocked off the middle row for social distancing and required all passengers and crew to wear masks. Once we got in country most workers and local people also wore masks and of course we continued to wear ours as well. We were able to relax the mask rule sometimes while riding in the transport vehicles or when we stopped to eat and were sitting at our table. Whenever we went to a restaurant the first thing the greeter did at every place we visited was to point to a sink and hand sanitizer station to clean our hands before we were seated.

Everyone we met was very friendly and enthusiastic. They have a saying in Costa Rica that is good for any occasion: “Pura Vida!”

We left our apartment in Louisville, Kentucky about 5:30 in the morning and caught an Uber to the airport for our 7:00 flight. We changed planes in Atlanta and arrived in Costa Rica by 1:30 pm. There is a two-hour difference between Costa Rica and Louisville and pretty much for the whole nine days I was living on Louisville time.

We made our travel arrangements with a travel agency in the States before leaving. When we arrived in San Jose, the country’s capitol, an in-country travel team took over and a representative met us at the airport when we landed. He escorted us through immigration, scanned out health passes and led us to our driver for our first destination.

Our first destination was the Volcano Lodge near the Arenal Volcano. It was about a three-hour journey. As we hadn’t eaten yet we asked Fernando, our stalwart driver,  if we could stop along the way. He said yes, there was a place he knew about half way. Fernando was very friendly and talkative and gave us a guided tour of the countryside as we traveled along.

As promised about halfway we stopped at a restaurant called Mi Rancho. The food was delicious. I had what was called a typical Costa Rican Dinner,  a Chicken Casado, consisting of black beans, plantains, salad, a tortilla, and chicken. I had an Imperial Beer which is the beer of choice in Costa Rica.

Fernando and Maureen

We got back on the road and shortly reached our destination at the Volcano Lodge and Thermal Springs. On the way we drove through the little town of La Fortuna which was near the lodge. It looked to have a variety of shops and restaurants and we made a mental note to come back for a visit while we were still in the area.

Day 2

In the morning we had breakfast in the hotel restaurant, Sura Bar and Bistro. I did a nature walk first. After breakfast we immersed ourselves first in the hot springs, then in the hot mineral water pool, then the cold pool.  Afterwards we had Bloody Mary’s out by the pool. Then we returned to the room for some afternoon delight. Afterwards we went out on the patio to read until it was time to meet our driver for our next adventure, the hanging bridges tour.

Hanging Bridge

Greivin, our guide and driver for the day, picked us up a little before 2:00 and drove us to Mistico Park for the hanging bridges tour. There are ten static bridges, six hanging bridges, and one waterfall. We stopped along the way to take pictures in front of the magnificent Arenal Volcano. There are over 200 volcanic formations in Costa Rica with five of them considered active. Arenal is one that is considered active and is one of the most popular sites to visit in Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano

When we arrived at Mistico Park, located in the middle of a rain forest, we stopped to take more pictures. Then we began our hike. We walked over the many hanging bridges observing the flora and the fauna. It was a four-mile hike and a three-hour tour. Greivin proved to be an excellent guide.

Our Guide Greiven

When we got back to the hotel, we had a couple of drinks out on the patio before dinner. We showered and changed clothes, then walked down to the Sura for dinner. I had the typical Costa Rican dinner with chicken beans, rice, salad, and plantains. Maureen had the eggplant. The food was delicious! I had a shot of 30-year-old Centenario rum on the rocks and Maureen had a gin and tonic.

Tomorrow is a new day, and we will be on our own.

Day 3

On our own today. We did the hot springs again, had breakfast, came back to the room and read out on the patio for a while. I am reading Under Kilimanjaro, by Ernest Hemingway. I always bring Hemingway with me when I travel. I find him to be a source of great inspiration. I found it quite ironic that I was reading a book about a fellow traveler who was camped under the great volcano of Africa, Kilimanjaro, while I was camped under another volcano, Arenal, thousands of miles away. We both loved the country so, he in Africa, me in Costa Rica. And we were both with women we loved who played a significant role in each of the stories; he with miss Mary and I with miss Maureen.

Hot Mineral Pool

Later in the day we decide to go into La Fortuna which was about nine miles away. We walked up to the front desk and had the concierge hail us a taxi. In a few minutes a red car pulled up with a familiar yellow triangular sign on top., Our taxi had arrived. Our driver was named Johnny Miranda and he said to call him when we were ready to go back and he would pick us up again. He dropped up off in center of town near the restaurant we planned to eat at later that evening.

Johnny says, “Habla Espanola?”

I say, “Un poquito. Habla Ingles?”

Johnny says, “Un poquito.”

We both laughed, but we didn’t have any problem communicating after that. As a matter of fact, most people we encountered spoke some English and we never had any problem communicating with anyone.

Every town in Costa Rica has four elements: A church, a school, a soccer field and a bar. La Fortuna was no exception. I might add one other element, a central park. We had fun exploring the town, going into some of the shops, taking pictures, and we stopped at a place called, La Prada, to have a drink and a snack before dinner.

The Church at La Fortuna

Dinner was at Don Rufino’s, a high-end establishment that was recommend by Fernando. I had the sautéed fish which was excellent. To drink I had the Centenario Rum, this time the 15-year-old variety. Maureen asked me if I liked it as much as the 30-year-old and said I enjoyed it exactly half as much.

After dinner I called Senor Johnny on my cell phone and he appeared Johnny on the spot and drove us home to the Volcano Lodge. We changed clothes for a late-night dip in the hot springs. We sat at the bar on stools submerged in the hot water and ordered drinks. I had a Jack Daniels on the rocks and Maureen had her mainstay, gin and tonic.

Home to bed, reading Sirens of Titan, until the words danced on the pages and I drifted off to sleep.

Day 4

Last day at Volcano Lodge. Had breakfast with Miss Maureen. Back at the room reading Hemingway. We have a little time before we have to pack up and leave. I will miss this place and certainly I would come back.

We drove all day through the fog on narrow twisty roads through the mountains. We stopped a couple of times to stretch our legs and relieve ourselves. We also stopped for lunch at another roadside attraction. I had the typical Cost Rican lunch which I never tire of. We finally reached our destination in Manuel Antonio about 5:00 in a driving rain. We checked into the hotel, Si Como No, and went to our room. We were given umbrellas and a staff person brought our luggage. The rooms were little cottages perched on the cliffs in the jungle overlooking the Pacific Ocean. 

Hotel Si Como No
Rico Tico Jungle Grill
View from the balcony
Stairway to heaven

Poolside

After we got settled in, we went out for dinner at the hotel restaurant, Claro Que Si and had an excellent meal. I had the Sauteed shrimp. To drink I had rum again. One straight on the rocks and then I switched up and tried another drink called Red Eyed Gin and Tonic. It was pretty good, but one was enough. Maureen had her customary Hendrick’s Gin and Tonic. Two in fact. We retired after that. Long day. 

Claro Que Si
View from the balcony

Day 5

Breakfast at the Rico Tico Jungle Grill with a magnificent view of the Jungle and the ocean. Later we took a taxi to Manuel Antonio Park. Senor Luis was our driver. We had to pay an entry fee to get into the park but it was worth it. We walked two miles to the beach through the jungle. What a lovely secluded cove with very few people. Spent a couple of hours in the sun having fun in the ocean and on the beach. We walked back out and had lunch at one of the many restaurants just outside the park entrance. Once again, I had the typical Casado, this time with pork. Had two Imperial Beers to drink. Maureen had the nachos.

Beach at Manuel Antonio

Called our driver to pick us up and we went back to the hotel. I was exhausted and took a two-hour nap. The sun really takes it out of me. Later we went down to the Claro Que Si for dinner. We had standing reservation for 7:00 and we got out usual table at the edge of the dining room overlooking the jungle. That is where we saw our first sloth. He was just hanging around in a tree just outside the restaurant in plain view. He caused quite a sensation and everyone crowded around against the railing to catch a glimpse of this awesome creature. I took pictures. “No flash!” The wait person admonished, “They don’t like flashes.” Everyone was very protective of the wild life.   

Sloth

We went back to the room and sat out on the patio and watched the lightning flashes light up the night sky. It went on all night long.

Day 6

Waterfall day.

I was picked up in the morning by my guide Corry and our driver. Miss Maureen stayed home as her knee was bothering her and I knew we would be going over some rough trails and walking on slippery rocks and such so she decided to stay back and hang out by the pool. Turns out it was a wise decision. At our first waterfall Corry climbed a tree and jumped into the natural pool at the base of the waterfall.

My guide Corry

The next waterfall was at Uvita. It features a 30-foot natural water slide, which I tried. We had to climb to the top of the falls. I sat in the saddle and crossed my arms, tucked my chin and lay back, and Corry gave me a little nudge and the next thing I knew I was in the water swimming out. Very exhilarating!

30 foot natural water slide

By this time, it was lunchtime. We drove to a little restaurant at the top of a hill overlooking the ocean. The view was breathtaking. And the food was delicious.

After lunch, we went to anther waterfall, called Cascada Del Pavon. We had to hike a way into the jungle to get to it. This waterfall featured a boulder that had rolled down the mountain millions of years ago and lodged between two larger boulders at the top of the waterfall dividing the stream. We took some pictures and hiked back out. Our next stop was the ocean!

Cascada Del Pavon

This is was a public beach used by the locals and it was fairly crowded. It featured some caves, but it was high tide and the caves were full of water so we couldn’t go in. Corry let me wander about on my own for a while and invited me to jump in the ocean, but I demurred. I did take a lot of pictures and it was a beautiful beach. While I was gone Corry made some origami figures from some reeds he found in the area. Very clever of Corry to make these figures which he presented to me as a gift.

A day at the beach

Origami by Corry

Uvita, Costa Rica

On the way back we made two stops for photo ops. One was of a Trex sculpture and one was for a sculpture of a Blue Whale in Uvita. Oh yes, we actually made a third stop to photograph one of the mysterious stone spheres that have been discovered in Costa Rica. No one knows where they come from, how they got there, or how they were made.

T-Rex
Mysterious Stone Sphere

Day 7

Sat out by the pool in the morning. Had breakfast at the Rico Tico Jungle Grill. At 1:00 we were picked up by our bus driver who transported us down to the docks for our catamaran sunset tour. We boarded The Tom Cat about 2:00 along with the other passengers and “set sail” off into the sunset. Only the sun didn’t set for another few hours so we cruised up and down Costa Rican Coast. We stopped at one point in a little cove to let people dive into the ocean and snorkel if they wanted or slide into the ocean from one of the two water slides mounted on the back of the boat. It was a double decker and people were above board and below deck. There was music and plenty to drink and they even served a late lunch of shish kabob. I was drinking rum. Maureen demurred as they didn’t have anything she liked. It was quite a party and everyone had a lot of fun. The sunset was spectacular and was definitely the highlight of the cruise. I took pictures of course and the other passengers danced a conga line all around the boat. After the sun set, we headed back for the docks. On the way back we observed dolphins jumping out of the water in pairs to the delight of everyone on board.

Catamaran Tour

Cruising off the Costa Rican Coast
Upper Deck
Lower Deck
Conga Line
Spectacular Sunset

Once back at the docks we caught our bus back to the hotel. When we got back, we rested up a bit then got dressed for dinner and headed down to the Claro Que Si. We were greeted warmly by the host and escorted to our usual table in the corner.

Another long, but quite satisfying day.

Day 8

Time to head back to San Jose. We checked out of the hotel and waited for our driver to pick us up. He arrived right on time at 9:30. It was about a three-hour drive to San Jose. We had to be at our hotel by 1:00 for our scheduled covid test, which we needed to leave the country. A doctor was supposed to meet us in our room to administer the test.

We arrived at 12:30 in plenty of time to check in and get to our room in anticipation the doctor’s visit. The Grano de Oro was a beautiful old Spanish hotel that had at one time been a mansion. The rooms were well appointed, there were huge exotic plants in the atrium and original art hung on the walls. Absolutely beautiful old-world charm.

Hotel Grano de Oro

The doctor showed up a little after 1:00 and administered the test. We paid her the required amount and were informed that we would receive the results on our cell phone within three hours.

Maureen waiting for her test
In the Atrium
Art on the walls of the hotel

Maureen and I decided to take a walk and explore downtown San Jose. We were on 30th street about two blocks off Central Boulevard, which is the main drag. It was beautiful afternoon but it looked like rain so we borrowed an umbrella from the hotel. We walked the two blocks over to Central, turned right and proceeded into the heart of the city. We walked about twenty block and then decided to turn back. By that time, it had stared to rain so I deployed the umbrella. Maureen remembered spotting an interesting looking restaurant on the way so we decided we would stop by there for a drink and maybe a bite to eat.

Al Viento (To the Wind)

We reached the restaurant and went inside. Turns out it was a French Bistro. Who would have thought we would find a French side walk café in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica? But yet, there we were. The name of the bistro was Le Bistot De Paris. We were seated at a table before an open patio leading to the street and were able to see the moveable feast that was San Jose all the while protected from the rain. We ordered a cheese plate and escargot and a bottle of wine. It was a lovely way to pass a couple hours before we walked back to the hotel.

Le Bistrot De Paris

When we got back, we settled in and got organized and took a little nap. Then it was time for dinner. The hotel had a fine restaurant in a well-appointed dining room. The waiters were skilled, polite, professional, and dressed formally. The food was absolutely delicious, fine dining at its best.

We went back to our room, read a little bit, then turned in for the night. We knew it was going to be a long day tomorrow, for tomorrow we headed for home.

Day 9

At 8:30 our ride arrived promptly to take us to the airport. All our documents were in order and we had done everything we needed to get back home. Our flight was at 1:16 on Delta. Maureen had to check a bag. Everything went smoothly and we were at the gate in plenty of time to board. We were flying to Atlanta then switching planes and flying on in to Louisville after a short layover. We got home about midnight and a good friend picked us up and drove us home. Thus ended our nine-day adventure to Costa Rica.

At the gate

Fatal Attraction

Editors note: This is a story that I have previously published which I have rewritten and revised. I hope you enjoy it.

A few months ago, I had the good fortune to move to Old Louisville. As fate would have it, I moved into an apartment building on Third Street just four houses down from a house I used to live in as a young man during the turbulent ’70s. As a matter of fact, my family actually owned that building and sold it in 1993.

Fast forward to the present.

My friend Victoria was looking for an apartment and I have long been encouraging her to look in Old Louisville. It was a very interesting place to live with a lot of old Victorian Mansions which have been subdivided into apartments. And there was Central Park nearby.

One day she was over at my place and we went out apartment hunting together. She had several picked out over on Fourth Street to look at. It was raining so we took our umbrellas.

We walked down Hill Street over to Fourth and as we were about to round the corner, I noticed a “For Rent” sign in the front yard of a house that I had long admired. I called it the House of Lions and Pineapples. It was a beautiful three-story red brick Victorian with two stone lions and pineapples sitting outside the black wrought iron gate.

I said, “Why don’t you give them a call?”

She did and we were able to see it right then. They had just put it on the market and were in the process of cleaning it and painting it when we went in. Victoria fell in love with it immediately and I did too.

After looking at a couple of other places in the area Victoria decided that the house of pineapples and lions was the one for her, so we called the owner and asked for a meeting. Sure, come on over they said. They lived on Third Street, just a few doors down from where I am living now. They gave us their address and we headed over there.

“Hey! Wait a minute! What’s that address again,” I asked Victoria. “1461? Why I used to live in that house back in the ’70s.  As a matter of fact, my family owned that very building back then!”

When we got there and knocked on the door, a little old lady, round and short, answered the door. She was all smiles. I introduced myself and told her I used to live in this building back in the ’70s and wasn’t it ironic that we were here?

“Oh, did you know Dr. Bell?”

 “Why yes! I am his son!”

We sat down and had a nice talk. Joe and his wife Arden bought the house in 1993 from my parents. At that time, I was part-owner of the house myself and received some of the proceeds from the sale. Arden gave us a tour of the house.

“I bet it looks a lot different now than it did then,” she said.

Yep, it sure did!

So, there we were. My friend Victoria was about to rent an apartment from a couple who owned the house I used to live in when I was a kid but was sold to them in 1993, the same year she was born. What kind of alignment of the planets was necessary to bring us to this point? By what chance occurrences was Victoria destined to cross my path and rent this apartment in the building of the lions and pineapples?

It put me in mind of a story I once heard when I was living in Philadelphia.

It seems there was this college professor living in my building, The Marine Club Apartments, who sent his servant to the Italian Market for supplies.  In a very little while, the servant came back, shaking and trembling. It was clear he had been greatly disturbed by something that had happened at the market.

He said, “Mister Coffer, sir, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd. I turned to look to see who it was and I saw it was Death staring me in the face.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture. I ran from the market and came back here. Mister Coffer, will you please lend me your car so that I can ride away from this city and avoid my fate?  I will go across the river to Salem and there, Death will not find me.” 

The college professor gave him the keys to his Mustang, and the servant rode away as fast as the car could drive, not without leaving a stretch of burning black rubber behind him as he peeled out of the parking garage. Later that day the professor went down to the Italian Market and he saw Death standing in the crowd and he went over and asked her, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant this morning when you saw him?”

“That was not a threatening gesture,” she said, “I was just surprised to see him in here in Philly, as I had an appointment with him tonight in Salem.”

Thomas Wolfe wrote in his book, Look Homeward Angel, “Through chance, we are each a ghost to all the others, and our only reality; through chance, the huge hinge of the world, and a grain of dust; the stone that starts an avalanche, the pebble whose concentric circle widen across the seas.”

Although chance may have something to do with our lives and though we might make a move this way or that we are still bound like an ant on a leaf rushing down a river to the sea. And there is precious little we can do about it but enjoy the ride.

Victoria rented the apartment and she is living there now one block away in the building of the lions and pineapples. And if you squint your eyes and hold your mouth in a certain way you can almost see the flapping wings of the butterfly in the rainforest that made it all possible.

Hell or High Water

Photo credit: Christopher Fryer

My young friend Victoria had been wanting to take me to this speakeasy she knew about downtown for the longest. We had our chance to go the other night so we went. The only thing is you can’t just show up, you have to be invited. So, Victoria went through the necessary machinations to secure the invite and we showed up on time in our finest costumes for the occasion.

We walked through the unprepossessing door from an alley off Main Street, then entered a small cubbyhole of a space manned by two standing gentlemen and a woman who was seated at a desk in front of a locked door that was located directly behind them.

“Papers, please.”

We showed our IDs to the woman. She found our names on the roster which was resting on the desk and handed us back our IDs. She slightly nodded to the gentleman guarding the door. He swung it wide and we stepped through the doorway to the top of a sharply declining stairwell.

As we made our way down the steep stairway, I couldn’t help but notice the atmosphere changing with each step. The air seemed to grow denser as if perfumed by some unknown censer. The lighting changed gradually and it seemed to give off a soft reddish glow. The temperature was getting colder by degrees the lower we went. At the bottom of the steps, we were greeted by our smiling host. In the background, we could hear the music playing and I swear I could hear the strains of “Put on a Happy Face.”

“Step this way please.”

We followed our host past a long and rather ornate wooden bar into the inner sanctum of Hell or High Water to our assigned seating.  We arrived at a small round glass-topped table flanked by two high-backed leather chairs. He placed two drink menus in front of us and said, “Your server will be with you shortly.”

We looked the menu over and tried to decide what specialty cocktail to order. When the server came over, I decided to ask for a recommendation.

“Do you like the smell of smoke and leather?” he asked.

 I allowed as I did.

“Well then, I recommend Sparks Fly.”

I took a look at that on the menu and saw that it contained Mezcal, Cardamaro, Benedictine, Crème de Cacao, and Gun Powder Proof Rum.  Sounded like an explosive concoction.

“Ok. I’ll try that.”

Victoria had the Devil’s Advocate, which was fitting.

I looked behind me at the room and on the back wall was a gigantic bookcase filled with books. The lighting was extremely dim and the music hushed.

As we sat sipping our drinks and soaking up the atmosphere, I was searching my head for something unfoolish to say.  Victoria is such a good listener I wanted to come up with a good story that would put her in awe and elicit her rapt attention. She was my best audience.

I thought about a book that I had been reading and there was a particularly good scene in it I wanted to share with her about a logic problem. Victoria liked logic problems.

“I say, have you heard about the Monty Hall problem?”

She shook her pretty head no. Her eyes fairly glistened in the low light.

“Well, there’s this book I’m reading called, Sweet Tooth. It’s by Ian McEwan. A very clever piece about a female British spy in the 70s. In one of the chapters the protagonist, Serena Frome (rhymes with plume), and her lover/writer/friend Tom Haley were having dinner in their favorite seafood restaurant in Brighton and Tom says, ‘I’m always telling you stories about poems and novels but you never tell me anything about math. It’s time you did. Something counterintuitive, paradoxical.’

“Serena thought for a while.”

‘Well, there was this one story making the rounds at Cambridge while I was there. It’s called the Monty Hall Problem.’

I took a sip of my drink and paused for emphasis. Then I went on telling Victoria about the Monty Hall problem in the book.

 “So, let me tell it to you as best as I remember it. I think you will like it.”

“It seems there are three boxes. Two are empty and one holds a fabulous prize like an all-expense-paid vacation to some exotic place on earth. You have to choose which one you think it might be in. You choose box number one. The host, Monty Hall, who knows what’s inside each box, opens another box. Say, box number three. It’s empty. He then says to you, ‘Do you want to choose box number two or stick with box number one?’

I then asked Victoria what she would do. She says it doesn’t make any difference because you have a fifty-fifty chance either way.

“Not true,” I say. “If you switch you have a two in three chance of winning. If you stick you only have a one in three.”

“No. that can’t be. If you have two boxes remaining, it’s a fifty-fifty chance.”

“I know that’s what it seems like, but if you do the math that’s not right. It’s sort of a paradox. It’s really about re-evaluating your decisions as you get new information. Monty filters your choice by opening one of the boxes. You now have new information. You know the fabulous vacation is not in box number three. This changes the odds.”

Victoria sat back in her leather chair and stared into the middle distance. I saw in her face the slow signs of recognition as she grappled with the problem and gradually came to understand the solution with the new information, I had supplied to her.

“Oh! Now I get it. I don’t know why I didn’t at first.”

“That’s because it’s counterintuitive. Most people don’t at first. By the way. Tom didn’t get it at first either. Now here’s the kicker, getting back to the book. Tom takes this math problem and decides to incorporate it into one of his short stories.”

The server came over and asked us if we’d like another drink.

I nodded my assent and said, “Yes, but I think I’ll have something more traditional this time. Do you have Old Forester?”

“Yes.”

“Good! Well then, I’ll have an Old Forester and soda. Club soda.”

“And for the lady?”

Victoria says she’ll have a rum and coke.

The server gives a slight bow and disappears back into the gloaming.

“So,” I say. “Getting back to the book. Tom and Serena spend the rest of the weekend together back at Tom’s apartment. He claims to have had an epiphany and now totally understands the solution to the Monty Hall problem, although at first, he insisted just like you, that there was only a fifty-fifty chance the prize was in box number one or two. Serena gave him another way of looking at it. She said what if there were a million boxes? And you choose box six hundred thousand? Monty opens all the other boxes except box number ninety-seven. Now the only closed boxes are yours and ninety-seven. What are the odds now?  Tom still insists fifty-fifty. ‘No! It’s a million to one against it being in your box.  And an almost certainty it’s in the other! Finally, he gets it. 

“So, they go back to the apartment, and Tom thanks her for the idea and starts writing a story about the problem. He calls it, ‘The Adultery Probability.’ They make love, eat leftovers and on Sunday afternoon Tom escorts Serena to the train station. She takes the next train back to London.

“Monday morning, she is back at her job at MI-5. Tom doesn’t know she is a spy and is responsible for his newfound fortune of being awarded a financial grant so that he doesn’t have to work and instead can concentrate on his writing. This is the ‘dirty little secret’ that is hanging over Serena’s head and stands between them like the sword of Damocles as she tries to figure out how and when to tell him about it.

“Three days go by and Serena gets a manuscript in the post. It’s Tom’s story. He has attached a note: ‘Did I get this right?’ She reads it before going to work and is horrified to learn that alas, he did not get it right.”

I can see Victoria is getting a little bit restive. Must be her ADHD kicking in again, I thought.

“Do you want to walk around a bit and explore,” I ask Victoria?

“Sure,” she says. Victoria is always up for a little adventure.

“We’ll continue on with the story when we get back to the table.”

So, we pushed our chairs back and grabbed our drinks, and went for a little trek about the place. We were sitting in the Library Room which was two stories tall and opened up to the ceiling. Up a flight of stairs, there were two other rooms and a mezzanine looking over the downstairs portion of the library. Off to either side of the mezzanine were the two other two rooms, the boudoir Room and the Fumoir Room, only there was no smoking in the Fumoir Room. What went on in the Boudoir room, I wasn’t certain. Each room was richly appointed with distinctive features of the period offering its occupants intimacy and privacy.

Downstairs, in the bar area, there were lounges made of richly upholstered plush red velvet with lamplight gently streaming over each one. I had the feeling that I could sink down into that velvet lining and disappear forever. We stood there transfixed for a while, hypnotized by the ambiance. We snapped out of our reverie and headed back to our table in the library.

We sat back down and a little silence ensued as we thought about what we had just witnessed.

“Don’t you just hate that?” Victoria asked.

“What?”

“That awkward silence when no one has anything to say?”

“Oh that. No, I don’t mind. Sometimes it’s good to just sit and think about things for a while and something naturally will come up of its own accord.”

“Well, I tell you what. Why don’t you tell me the rest of that story?”

“Good idea.” I raise my drink to her and say, “Here’s looking at you kid.”

She smiles back and touches her glass to mine as I resume the story.

“Now, where was I? Oh yes! Serena has just read Tom’s story and discovered to her horror that Tom indeed did not get the problem right. His story went something like this. A London architect suspects his wife of fooling around. One day, when he has time on his hands, he follows her to a sleazy hotel in Brighton. He spies her in the lobby with a man. They obtain a key from the desk clerk and head up the stairs. Terry, the architect, stealthily enters the hotel and follows them up the stairs, staying out of sight. They reach the fourth floor and Terry can hear a door open and close, but he can’t see which one. When he arrives on the floor, he can see there are only three rooms, 401, 402, and 403. His plan is to wait until the couple is in bed together then break into the room and catch them in flagrante delicto. Only one problem. Which room are they in?

“Terry listens for a sound but hears nothing. Time passes. He needs to make a choice. He chooses door 401 because it’s closest. He steps back to make a run for the door when the door to 403 opens and an Indian couple with a baby comes out of the room.  They smile at Terry and go down the steps.

“He figures he has a one-in-three chance his wife was in room 401. This means that until now there was a two-in-three chance she’s in either 402 or 403. Now that he knows 403 is empty there must be a two in three chance, she’s in 402. Only a fool would stay with his first choice, for the laws of probability are immutable. He makes his run and crashes through the door of 402 and catches the couple in mid-stroke. He gives the chap a slap across the chops and makes a hasty retreat out the door and heads for London to file for divorce.

“Serena thinks about this story all day long after she gets to work. It was a good story but it was flawed. It couldn’t stand as written. It didn’t make sense. The Indian couple coming out of room 403 did not tip the balance in favor of 402. Their emergence was random while Monty’s choice was not. He knows what is in each box. If Terry had chosen room 403 the Indian couple could not magically transfer themselves to another room so they could come out another door. After they come out of 403 Terry’s wife was just as likely to be in 402 or 401.

“Serena didn’t think she could just tell Tom the story didn’t work, rather she felt she had to fix it. She had an idea how. Tom could re-write the story and make it work. First, she had to get rid of the Indian couple. Then as Terry takes a few steps back to run at the door to room 401, he overhears two housekeepers talking on the landing below. One says, ‘I’ll just pop upstairs and do one of the two empty rooms.’ The other says, ‘Be careful, that couple are in their usual room.’  

“Terry quickly re-figures the odds and decides to stand in front of room 401 forcing the housekeeper to go into one of the other two rooms. She knows where the couple is. Whatever room she chooses, Terry will move to the other door, doubling his chances. And that is exactly what happens. The housekeeper goes into 403. Terry makes his move and crashes into 402 and voila, there they are!”

“And there you have it. The rest of the story!”

I finished my drink and the server came over and asked if I wanted another but I said no I’d had enough. Victoria declined as well. We spent the rest of the evening in pleasant conversation as is our usual custom and we were well-positioned to engage in another one of our favorite pastimes, that of observing other customers and making up stories about their lives. We found this to be very amusing. Oh, I know, we were perfectly awful, but it was fun.

Later I got to thinking about that evening and thought it would be fun to reconstruct it as a story. I thought the parallels between the two couples were interesting. Similar, but slightly different. Sort of like an alternate universe. There was magic in the invention. You take a little from here and a little from there and you take all the parts and put them together to form a comprehensive whole, synergized and harmonized. Sort of like a stew cooked by chefs to create something new and delicious. A story within a story, like the windmills of your mind. We had fun that night. And I vowed we would come back someday, no matter what it took. Come hell or high water.

Facebook is a Double-edged Sword

It cuts both ways

France Haugen testifying before the Senate. Photo credit: Drew Angewrer/Getty Images

Facebook is a double-edged sword. And like many things in life, it can be a force for good or evil. First the good. It is a means of connecting and staying in touch with other like-minded human beings or family members. It can hook you up with long-lost friends or relatives. It can be fun, entertaining, and a platform for free expression and creativity. I have met people from all over the world and even in my own city that I never would have had the chance to meet otherwise. And I really do care about these people.

Now, the bad.

Facebook can be divisive, polarizing, and demoralizing.

There is a whistleblower, Frances Haugen, who worked as a product manager on Facebook’s civic misinformation team during and after the 2020 election testifying before congress right now.

The key problem, Haugen has argued, is that Facebook’s business is built around driving as much engagement as possible from the social network’s billions of users, and data shows that social media users engage more with inflammatory content.

“When we live in an information environment that is full of angry, hateful, polarizing content it erodes our civic trust, it erodes our faith in each other, it erodes our ability to want to care for each other,” she added. The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world.” 

“Extremists subsequently weaponized Facebook to plan the Capitol riot. Facebook posts have repeatedly been cited by federal prosecutors in cases against the Capitol.”

“Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click on less ads, they’ll make less money,” Frances Haugen told Scott Pelley of CBS’s “60 Minutes.” She went on to say, “The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.”

Mark Zuckerberg operates according to his motto: “Move fast and break things.” Which would seem to presage living in a consequence-free environment. However, in 2019, the FTC fined Facebook a record-breaking five billion dollars for deceiving billions of users and failing to protect their privacy.

So, I have mixed feelings about Facebook. I have been in some pretty ugly Facebook fights that were unpleasant, and I have dropped friends and have been dropped. Neither of my two sisters is friends with me on Facebook because of my political views and edgy comments. That makes me sad. But, on the other hand, I have some remarkable friends that I interact with every day and share ideas with and pictures and well wishes who I wouldn’t give up for the world. I also have an audience, some of whom will actually listen to me and read my rants and raves. For that, I am truly grateful. But Facebook needs to clean up its act and be more of a force for good. I know they can do better!

Vanessa Collier

Performs at Mojo’s Boneyard

Vanessa Collier now playing at Mojo’s Bone Yard
Mojo’s Boneyard

Last night in Evansville Indiana at Mojo’s Boneyard, I had the opportunity to see Vanessa Collier Live! She put on another fabulous show with her great band backing her up. She projects powerful vocals and belts out a bluesy sound as she sings her original compositions and covers the classics. Miss Collier is a virtuoso saxophone player and always excites the audience with her signature moves as she walks out into the audience and plays a little at each table and then moves on. She is a real crowd pleaser and I predict she will become a big star someday.

Vanessa Collier and her Band
Vanessa Collier and her band

My only complaint was Mojo’s no picture-taking policy which quite cramped my style. I did get a few shots but not exactly what I wanted. Oh well! The main event was listening to that great sound and watching this amazing performer connect with her audience. If you ever get a chance to see her, I highly recommend that you do. She is currently on tour.

Vanessa Collier
Vanessa Collier
Vanessa Collier and her band
Vanessa Collier and her band

All photos by Benn Bell

Freedom

Live free, but do no harm

Photo by Benn Bell

In the course of human affairs, there is perhaps no more important principle than the right of personal freedom for the individual. However, these rights are not unlimited. One has to go no further than to John Stuart Mill for guidance. Mill posits the “harm principle” which holds that the actions of individuals should only be limited to prevent harm to other individuals. He states in his treatise, On Liberty, “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” If we turn to Frances’s Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789,” we see a similar statement of values: “Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.”

Articles IV and V from the Declaration of the Rights of Man states:

Liberty consists of doing anything which does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has only those borders which assure other members of the society the fruition of these same rights. These borders can be determined only by the law.

The law has the right to forbid only actions harmful to society. Anything which is not forbidden by the law cannot be impeded, and no one can be constrained to do what it does not order.

An individual’s action can be legitimately encroached upon if and only if that action might harm another individual.

Returning to Mill, “No person is an entirely isolated being.” But it is only when an individual “violates a distinct and assignable obligation to any other person or persons, the case is taken out of the self-regarding class.” We harm an individual only when we violate an obligation to that individual. The damage done by the bad example set to others by a drunkard provides no legitimate reason for interference with his conduct; if his drunkenness causes him to violate the obligation to support his family, then that action constitutes “a harm” and is subject to interference.

If we cause sickness and death to come another individual through our actions or inactions such as wearing a mask and or being vaccinated during a pandemic, then we are in violation of the “harm principle” and are subject to interference.

The dividing line between the legitimate and illegitimate use of our freedom is difficult, but not impossible to draw. As responsible citizens and moral beings, we must look out for the rights of others as well as our own individual rights.

Zardoz

A Poem

My name is Zardoz

I come from the land of Ur

I come seeking relief

I am in disguise

Yes, I have come to tell you something

I need your understanding

I want to know the correct path

Sharing a good laugh with you would be nice

I don’t want to be sad

When I have what I need I will feel Ok.

Fork in the Road

Celestial Tip of the Day

Celestial tip of the day: when hiking on the orange Trail in Jefferson Memorial Forest, when you first start out, if the Sun is over your left shoulder when coming back be sure that the sun is over your right shoulder, that way when you come to the fork in the road you will take the right one. That is all.