In a little over a month I will be going to California again to visit family and friends. I will be staying there for two weeks and will have much fun and relaxation. Believe it or not, it has been more than five years since I was last there, so it will be nice to see everyone again. Of course, I will also bring my golf clubs with me so that I can go out and have a few rounds of eighteen holes.
Category: Trip to America
I think I am finally getting used to the idea of my oldest kids being where they are. They are in good hands and they will be having the times of their lives, I believe.
Proof they are having a great time in America.
We have been back in Holland now for two days, but still it is difficult indeed to shake off this aggravating thing called jetlag. What is jetlag anyway? Basically, jetlag is caused by crossing over multiple timezones in a short period of time. While your biological clock is based on a certain timeframe, by quickly shifting to another timeframe, the human body takes time to acclimate. While you are in California where it is six in the afternoon (dinner time), your inner clock still set to Dutch time may be telling you that it is three in the morning (REM time). It is time to eat a pile of Mexican food but your body is telling you that it is time to sleep.
You feel tired and cannot concentrate, have dry eyes and throat, and easily become irritated and/or irrational. In addition, it is hard to sleep becuase your periods of slumber are short and light, and you suffer broken sleep because you are either waking up all the time, or too early. All in all, not much fun.
So the four of us were all wide awake last night and could not sleep. In a way it was kind of funny. The two parents and two kids hanging around with all the lights on at two in the morning, reading and talking to pass the time. In a way, it was almost like a slumber party, and the fact that the vacation memories were still fresh in our minds made us feel in a good mood despite the discomforts. Fortunately I did not have to go to work in the morning. I slept until noon, believe it or not.
For more information about jetlag click here.
Well we have finally made it back to the real world of Gouda after having a truly wonderful vacation. What can I say except that the three weeks went by really really fast. The first week was gradual, the second week a bit faster, and the last week just flew by everyone without warning. Everyone was just fantastic and we really appreciate their hospitality. A vacation is by definition finite in time, otherwise it would not be a vacation at all. Kind of like how beauty does not last forever either and that is how its essence can be truly appreciated. If life was one big vacation then would there be room left over for something like a vacation? Not really. It is hard to say good-bye to everyone because I will miss them very much. But the great part I should not forget is the fact that I was blessed with the opportunity to see the rest of my family and relatives and take part in the celebration of being together. I have one day to recover from the jet-lag and re-acclimate myself, before deciding what to do with the rest of my life. Going to have to find out what is really happening and what I have to choose the proper path to follow.
For some strange reason, my kids do not like watermelon. They had it for the very first time while in America on vacation, and (with a slight though politely repressed grimace on their faces) they said it tasted kind of funny. Unusual and not edible. I guess as Dutch kids who grew up in a faraway country where there is no such thing as watermelon, they had never had the opportunity to develop an appreciation for this fine form of gigantic fruit. By never having tasted it, the buds on their youthful tongues had never developed any specialized nerve endings near enough to the surface. Feel like a nice juicy piece of watermelon? No thanks. On the very last day of our stay, my sisters and their husbands and us drove down south near Solomon's Island to have a nice going away picnic. The barbecue was fantastic. Afterwords we had juicy pieces of watermelon, but me and my sisters were the only ones who could really appreciate the great taste. There's nothing better to cap off a filling barbecue on a hot and sultry afternoon next to the water.
One finds it hard to believe that a mere twenty minute drive outside the very densely populated Washington D.C. area brings one to a beautiful countryside of undulating country hills in the peaceful state of Maryland. This was a pleasant surprise for us on our way south on highway 301 to my sister Kathleen's place, which is a fine abode almost in the middle of nowhere but close enough to Annapolis and other medium sized towns. Calvert County is the place to be if you really want to get a feel for the American way of life. So much green vegetation and tall trees swaying in the slight breeze, the sun shining across the tops and casting an array of shadows here and there. If it were not for the telephone poles and the occasional gas station here and there, you might think that you were back in the colonial days. Some of those houses look like mansions, and many small wooden grocery stores along the road seem to verge on mystical wooden cabins dating back from the previous century. We are having a fun time and the time is passing by quickly. In just three days it will be time to head on back to the real world of Gouda. Bummer, but that's life. A vacation is by definition a fleeting moment, so we must absorb as much as possible before we return. The kids are now calling for me to finish up on the computer, as we are ready to go to some world famous water park nearby. This is the water hole where the rednecks go to spend there free time, so we should fit into the crowd perfectly and mingle with no problems. Nothing like having a nice cool dip to escape the sultry heat and humid air. Boy is it sure hot, hotter than hot. This evening Bailey (Kathleen's husband) has promised to treat us to one of his famous barbecues. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into the nice big steak and corn on the cob. Every evening we have dinner together on the wooden porch outside, enjoying the food and talking about anything that comes to mind.
People keep telling me all the time that I look and act just like my father. "Hey," the keep saying, "that's exactly what your father used to do!" Mostly my family, but I can also see it in the eyes of my relatives and friends, how they react. I do not know what it is, but I have heard this more than a dozen times now. Perhaps it is the way I slurp my instant Nescafe, my loud and grumpy voice, the occasional huffing and puffing sounds, the way I sit reclined next to the swimming pool, certain things I say (eg. "I guess I'll have a bite now to tide me over"), my balding scalp (and how it is peeling badly after getting sun-burned), or whatever. To be honest, I do not like to be compared with someone else, even if it is my father. The fact that he has passed away makes it more sensitive for me, but at the same time I can understand the psychological patterns which family members share when they confirm these so-called similarities. Alright, I am who I am, I am me, no matter what. But that does not change the fact that it was my father who gave me half of my life. Similarities remain no matter what, and it is interesting as well as insightful. Not only for the others but for myself also.
Finally got to see my Dad again for the first time since he passed away. Almost two years ago. I made my way with the family to the Arlington Cemetery where my father's ashes have been placed in one of the impressive structures called a columbarium. There was his niche where they had interred his ashes. Three from the top and three to the right. Three down, three across. The number three. I took my blue Monterey, California cap off in respect, stood in silence for about a minute or so. I felt in the air the mood of the official ceremony which had taken place more than a year ago. Finally I felt the marble surface with the engraved words of his name with my fingertips, asked the kids to do the same, and then I said it was time to go. Just like that.
What struck me on the way out of the columbarium was how humid, arid and dusty everything there was, the surroundings so very white and bright in the awesome sunlight. The hard ground was parched and arid, strands of grass yellow and dying in the sun.
I still miss him alot, but time goes on just the same without him.
While reading on the plane from San Francisco to Washington Dulles, I happened to come across the following passage:
"If you think it is important to know about yourself only because I or some one else has told you it is important, then I am afraid all communication between us comes to an end. But if we agree that it is vital that we understand ourselves completely, then you and I have quite a different relationship, then we can explore together with a happy, careful and intelligent inquiry." - Krishnamurti, Freedom from the Unknown.
I found this passage particularly appropriate in light of the fact that my journey through the this country in which I grew up offers me new insights into the past as well as the present. As long as I am not influenced too much by what I am told to see and feel for the United States, eg. through so-called patriotic sunglasses, religious institutions, touristic elements, or whatever.
Every journey, even those while on vacation, offer insights and open up new dimensions into learning about oneself. Even better so as long as you are not overly influenced by the external pressures to experience events in ways that they were never meant to be.
So we had a safe flight back east over the United States, and we now find ourselves at the stylish home of my sister Martine and her husband Alan. We are having a great time.
For the afternoon we all hopped into the rented mini-van, and I drove us on over to Washington D.C. where we saw all kinds of monuments including the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as well as the White House and other important historical stuff.
While we were outside walking around the perimeter of the White House, Maarten of course really had to pee badly. Leave it up to a seven year old to pick out the most opportune moment. The security was tight and there were police all over the place, but this was too important. Maarten ran over to some historic tree and urinated on the magnificent trunk over to the right. I hope President Bush does not mind. No one saw us and we were not arrested.
Boy, was it hot and humid.
My other sister Kathleen and her husband will be arriving shortly for a fun good old American style picnic with barbecue. They are stuck in traffic somewhere. It will be great fun when they get here.
Wait. They have arrived, and it is time to go.
As I had promised him for two weeks now, Maarten and I climbed the hill behind the house together. We sat at the peak for ten minutes in silence (at least as silent as is possible with a curious seven year old) contemplating the future next to each other. It was a great view down to the house and over the the hills across the small valley.
I took a nice long stroll with my mother next to the Carmel Beach along Ocean Avenue just being comfortable. Hopefully in my own quiet way I was able to convey to her how very thankful we are to have been able to visit for two weeks.
Finally, and the most symbolically, Thea shaved my head with the very same hair clippers that my mother used to run loose on my father's bald dome before he passed away two years ago. Kind of funny when you think about it.
No matter how difficult it is to depart, we leave with a combination of subtle sadness and regret over compensated by all the lovely memories we have been able to share.
What else can I say except that we have been having a really really great and fantastic time. It is hard to believe, but we are nearing the end of our first two weeks in good old sunny California. In fact, today is the very last day at Grandma's house, and we will be flying to the East Coast early tomorrow morning. Sad but true. Boy, time sure flies by. Two weeks may seem like a long time, but as you fill the day slots in with all of the activities, people you want to see, sites to visit and ad infinitum, the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fit in nicely and snugly to produce a tight and complete picture of it all. Not much room left over.
The best part of the last few days was visiting the San Francisco area, where we could see all the relatives: my wonderful aunt Jeanine, my cousins Gail and Sue and their husbands Allan and Geoff respectively, and my nephew Scot. Boy has he grown up into a man (24 already) with potential and a love of life! Brent brought his wife Cindy and youngest son Nick also. Even Uncle Dick flew down all the way from Reno, Nevada to see us for the weekend, thanks alot Uncle Dick, I feel honored to see you again. You have not changed that much at all. Everyone was really nice to us, and a special thanks go to Sue and Geoff for letting us stay over at their house. They have an absolutely beautiful home in Orinda, just perfect. Great barbecue dinner with everyone the first evening. You guys are fantastic, I mean it! The big highlight was the good old American picnic we had up in the hills behind Oakland, where after riding the little steam train and the hundred year old merry-go-round, we played baseball and ate some great food. Loved those fudge brownies (I think I had five of them). Why does it all have to go by so quickly? Vacations cannot last forever.
We ended up staying one more day than planned in the Bay Area, because I had to take Lennart to a Giant's game. I felt kind of bad staying away from my Mom, as she was the one who had paid for our plane tickets, and she really likes and deserves to see us more. But this was a once in a life opportunity to see a real ballgame. Although the game was sold out we took the risk and went there anyway using the BART public transportation. Standing in line we kept our fingers crossed, and just as we moved in front of the ticket window, two adjacent seats became free, right in back of home-plate on the upper tier. Boy were we ecstatic. The Pacbell stadium is neat with a fantastic view of the bay. The game itself was packed with runs and hits and plenty of action. We witnessed Barry Bonds hit home-run number 599, and we jumped up and down screaming our lungs out. His last time up he was thrown an intentional walk, so we felt robbed of the historical six hundred. Oh well, can't see everything. We consumed a giant hot-dog, had cokes and ice-cream, all in order to get in the mood. The Monday evening game was a first in a series of three against the Cubs. Wow what an unforgettable evening.
Other activities in San Francisco included: Fisherman's Wharf, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, driving down Lombard Street the crookedest road in the world, China Town, Union Square, a long walk along the Embarcadero promenade next to the piers, Little Italy, riding a Cable Car, the Cable Car Museum, crossing the Bay Bridge, ad infinitum. I am sure I am leaving out something, but I do not want to bore the readers too much with the specifics of our sojourn. The best part though, as I said above, was seeing everyone again, and they were so nice to us. That is probably the one thing I miss the most living so far away: the more intimate family and relatives interactions that are so important in life. Thanks alot to all of you guys! Hope I didn't leave anyone or anything out of this blog entry, and if I did I apologize.
On the way back to Monterey, we stopped over in Menlo Park to visit my old Salinas High School friend Trudi. Hadn't seen her in many years. We had lunch at this so-called famous corner grocery where you could eat upstairs and have their famous brownies. Within an hour, we had a quick chat before I took the family to see Stanford University from which I graduated way back in 1979. That's a long time ago, twenty-three odd years, almost a quarter of a century. We walked along the corridors and I started to give the kids the grand elegant tour filled with interesting discussion and details of student life in those days. At least that is how I felt, all invigorated by the surroundings and rambling on and on about this and that. Unfortunately, it had been a long day up to then, and the poor kids were a little bored to say the least. Pretty bored. Are you sure you do not want to see my old Physics classroom? No thanks. Want to see my room at the Freshman Dorm? Think we'll pass on that one, Dad. Howabout my old Fraternity SAE? We want to get back to Grandma's house now, please. Without realizing it I was acting like a boring old fart father, reminiscing about the good old days. Dad, we are bored stiff. Sorry kids, maybe when you get older you can appreciate the importance of history better. What hit me hard was discovering that my favorite Physics classroom called the "tank" had been demolished back in 1995 to make room for this stupid modern-looking replacement. That hurt. Lots of memories in that place lost forever except for those in my mind.
So here we are at Grandma's house again. The very last day. We are sad but at the same time glad, because we were able to see and do so much. So very much. As a father I feel very thankful they could witness first hand how I grew up and get a feeling of what American life is really like. A bit different from television and the movie films. Because it is vacation maybe not exactly the most objective view of things as they really are, but close enough. I try to temper the kids' judgments about this great country, balance their ideas with the truth insofar as that is possible and to the limited extent that kids even hear what their parents are saying. As far as the kids are concerned though, life in California is a hundred times better than Disneyland. Now that's pretty cool.
Better stop here, even though there are tons and tons of other things to write about. Like yesterday evening when we went out with David Wilsey, his wife Linda and their son Bryan for pizza, and we had a great chat afterwords at their house. Reminiscing about the good old days, talking politics, and discussing the fine art of raising kids. I had even brought with me a couple really old yellowing pictures of me and Dave when we were kids. Pretty funny and also embarrassing. However, I cannot spent the rest of the vacation blogging my limited and valuable vacation time away like this. Grandma will be returning shortly from the hairdresser, and I want to spend some quality time with the greatest mom and grand-mom in the whole wide world. Even vacation life has to continue.
As a symbolic gesture of thankfulness for these wonderful two weeks, I promised to go with the kids to the top of the hill behind the house. Once atop this famous monument of nature, we will salute the Monterey Bay Area with a couple of meditative moments of introspection and deep thanks.
We all went to the Cannery Row this afternoon and it was lots of fun. When I was a kid it was nothing more than a bunch of old warehouses falling apart next to the ocean. Back then, I would climb around underneath the piers looking for starfish and real pirate treasures from the Steinbeck days. Now it is a tourist trap with mobs of people crawling all over the place, but the city still did a pretty nice job restoring the area to look a little like during the heyday of the fishing canneries. Our highlight was seeing the Monterey Bay Aquarium, pretty amazing to see. My favorite exhibition was the so-called "Floaters." These are invertebrate sea creatures who cannot propel themselves and are thus prone to the random ocean currents to take them everywhere all over the world. Beings whose soul purpose is merely to drift and hopefully get some place where they will survive in an unpredictable climate. Kind of reminded me alot of my existence, so to speak. When we left, I made the kids buy caramel apples because it was so American and they had to experience this (unhealthy) cuisine. But after two bites it made them all feel sick to their stomachs (Dutch kids have never had anything like that before), so I ended up eating all the leftovers. I have to admit that although it tasted great at first and I had to prove myself a worthy American father by consuming the three encapsulated fruit treats, I did feel slightly nauseous for the rest of the afternoon. Tomorrow it's up north to the San Francisco Bay area. That should be alot of fun seeing the relatives again after all these years.
There is this old blue rusting chest in my mother's garage covered with years of dust. It contains a bunch of my old stuff when I used to live here many years ago. The usual teenage items of sentimental value which I have never had the heart to throw away. Long diaries, old letters, tickets from the World Series, my third place award at the Monterey County Athletics Association, souvenirs from the Big Game, golfing paraphernalia, my Stanford graduation tassel, high school awards, ad infinitum. I have left it all here to age in silence and darkness, because I just have not found the time nor the energy to go through it all when visiting during those short and frantic sojourns. This in order to see what I want to throw away for good and what I want to save and take back with me. The time has come to do this once and for all, decide what to have destroyed forever and ever, and randomly pick out those items which will survive with me to the grave. While rummaging through my many old things, I discovered a collection of poems I had written back in the days when I thought I was a future famous philosopher poet. Just for fun, here is one of my favorites. It is untitled and goes like this:
Whenever I have money
I always waste it
So today I bought a
- Kiffin, (way back in) 1978
Isn't it funny how some things never seem to change? Too bad I gave up the lucrative path as a future famous philosopher poet.
Here are a number of general observations I have made about the American way of life while I have been here on vacation. Today is my fifth day back. Remember that I am a returning ex-patriot with one foot on the European continent and the other foot still firmly placed on the North American continent.
- The people here are very pleasant and friendly, especially in the stores.
- Quantities of foodstuff which you purchase in snack bars or whatever are enough for two people, eg. I easily shared a roast beef sandwich with my daughter Marlies and we were still both stuffed to the hilt.
- Gas is unbelievably inexpensive, about a third of the cost in Holland.
- There are alot of fat people, not just kind of fat but unbelievably obese. How do they possibly get so fat in the first place?
- The lifestyle and pace of events is fast and there is little time left over for relaxing. What limited free time is available is used efficiently by doing as much goal-oriented activities as possible.
- There is so much of everything, like going to the supermarket one sees an endless supply of goods which seem enough to feed have of the starving kids in Uganda.
- Commercialism is everywhere, advertisements are splashed on walls and signs and whatever, wherever and however. Television programs are interrupted about every five to ten minutes. Everything is a sale or deal or a way to save money.
- Wealth and happiness is perhaps taken for granted.
- Video films are available in the Blockbuster even before the movies have come out in Europe.
- Everything has to sound really really great, amazing, or the best in the world. For example, Gilroy claims to be the onion capital of the world, Watsonville claims to be the lettuce capital of the world, and Carmel the most beautiful coastline in the world. Do people actually believe this, that there is no other spot in the whole wide world worthy of comparison?
- Everyone is so nice and helpful, even when they talk there is often laughter and patting on the shoulders, that kind of thing. Even when purchase groceries at the cash register, eg. they carry your bags to the car for you. In Holland they don't even look at you and grumble the amount to pay.
- Everywhere you look there are American flags flying from buildings, cars, walls and fences. Such patriotism. It is good to love one's country, but I am against believing that only America is right, the best, etc.
- You can watch baseball on the boob tube all day and all evening long.
- Unlike in Europe where all the traffic signs are universal pictographs that everyone can understand, here everything is written text, meaning that for non-English speakers it could be a hassle driving around and figuring out what is what without getting a ticket.
- McDonald's is exactly the same all over the world. We were hoping that the Big Macs here were really big but they are the same size and taste.
- There are police cars everywhere so as a driver you have to adhere to the rules exactly, coming to a complete halt at every stop sign before continuing.
- There is a hunger for heroes and amazing achievements. Someone who overcomes leukemia, getting good grades, winning a trophy, a person from the ghetto becoming a movie star.
- The stoplights are on the opposite side of the intersections, unlike in Europe where they are on the same side, often causing the driver to have to peer straight up awkwardly to strain a look.
- The music on the radio is very different, alot of hip-hop and yelling stuff which I hate (but the kids love).
- There is very little if any international news in the newspapers or on the evening news.
- There are regularly murders and kidnappings in California, and though the chances are slight, everyone panics and gets into the hype of the situation.
- There are not that many Mexicans though I hear alot from family and friends that they are taking over the state of California. At least they can speak some English.
- There is alot of violence in films, so much so that you can only laugh sometimes.
- The bookstores have a lousy selection, mostly boring so-called bestsellers which all look the same. My impression is that people here read to escape and not have to think. I miss the more readable pieces of good literature I can get in Europe, where thinking along with the ongoing chapters is a cause in itself, eg. from England or translated from other countries.
- Not much has really changed in the twenty odd years of have lived abroad. The essence and spirit is still there, and the good is balanced with the less good like every where else in the world..
We made it to California all in one piece, and we are having a truly great time. Considering that the complete journey took a little over twenty-two hours from doorstep to doorstep (from Gouda, The Netherlands all the way to Monterey, California), and that the time difference is nine hours (from GMT+1 all the way backwards in time to GMT-8), we are doing pretty well. Jet-lag has become only a slight inconvenience all but drowned away underneath the soothing events of this fun time, as as long as we go to bed it is alright (between 8-9 for now). Of course, for me it is great fun being back in familiar surroundings, but for my kids it has become a true adventure. It really gives me a good feeling inside watching the kids become familiar with the world in which I grew up. Hoping that they see certain things which are memorable to me, but at the same time being patient enough to let their little minds absorb what is meaningful for them. Interesting are the "other" less obvious aspects of the surroundings that they notice that I would otherwise not even think about. Yesterday Lennart said that California is not exactly what he expected it to be but much much better. Much better. Grandma is the same as ever, happy to see her grandchildren (and Thea and me). Today is day number three, and already we have seen alot of the area: Fisherman's Wharf, Pacific Grove, Big Sur, saw David Wilsey, the Del Monte Shopping Center, a big grocery store or other, the video store, etc. The kids really like the open tennis courts down the hill from Grandma's house, and they go there every afternoon. Maarten climbed atop the high (and steep) hill behind the house, and he hollered his little lungs out down to us to have us look up at him (he as just a tiny waving speck of a Maarten way up there, a dot). Sabien was thrilled to death when at the bank I asked for a complete collection of American coins for her (even a one dollar silver coin). Marlies is super excited, very patient with it all and absorbing the environment etc. And of course the parents are always doing fine as long as it is going alright with the kids. This is the first in a series of my "on the road" blogging which I hope to continue on a regular basis. Depends of course when and where Internet access is available. Grandma's computer is my pen and paper for now. Today we go to the Carmel Beach for a fun picnic in front of the crashing waves and white sand.
Well, it's now almost official, less than twenty-four hours to go. Tomorrow morning it is off to good old sunny California. Most everything is packed already, and it is high time for the Gish family to shove off and get out of here. It will be a grand escape and a fine adventure for all of us. Especially the kids cannot wait. For all of them it will be the first time in a plane (Lennart was ten months old the last time, so that does not really count). More than likely, my attention to blogging will decrease dramatically, but that does not matter. Having a fun and relaxing vacation takes priority over blogging. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but nonetheless feeling the urge to blog all over the place will be less, much less. Don't want to let you guys down, but that's the way it has to go. Need to recharge the blog batteries. Once in a while maybe, I can surprise the reader with an occasional blob of text, that is when I get the opportunity to connect to the Internet. You never know, but do not get your hopes up too much. The tentative travel plans for the time being are to stay the first two weeks in California: at my mother's house in Monterey, then going to Pacific Grove, Carmel, Big Sur, Santa Cruz, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Oakland, and if there is enough time left over Bear Valley. On the flight back, we stop a week on the East Coast by landing at Dulles Airport. There we will be visiting my two sisters: Martine in Fairfax, Virginia and then to Kathleen's house in Annapolis, Maryland. See you in a little over three weeks, and enjoy life please.
Spent my days with a woman unkind, Smoked my stuff and drank all my wine. Made up my mind to make a new start, Going To California with an aching in my heart. Someone told me there's a girl out there with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair. Took my chances on a big jet plane, never let them tell you that they're all the same. The sea was red and the sky was grey, wondered how tomorrow could ever follow today. The mountains and the canyons started to tremble and shake as the children of the sun began to awake.
- Led Zeppelin, Going To California.