Monthly Archives: September 2011





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Futbol Americano

Just got through watching a pretty exciting game between Los Santos de Nuevo Orleans y Los Tejanos de Houston in the Superdome. Los Santos won 40 to 33. It’s a little weird watching a game with Spanish narration, but not as strange as watching a game over in France. There they used to have a game of the week on the television on Mondays. Americans found it nearly impossible to watch it. Theoretically, a football game is 60 minutes long. Theoretically. But we all know it takes at least 90 minutes what with all the time outs and clock stoppages for incomplete passes, runners stepping out of bounds, etc. But not on French television. There, after an incomplete pass the picture is right back with the quarterback under center and time outs are axed for the audience, too, so an American football game on television in France takes exactly 60 minutes to broadcast. But in spite of the Spanish narration here even someone who doesn’t speak the language can understand “yardas,” “completo,” “incompleto” and “TOUCHDOWN!!!” So practically anyone can catch the drift of the game.

The whole world became acquainted with the Superdome when Hurricane Katrina screamed in from the Gulf of Mexico and literally destroyed the City of New Orleans.  Some 26,000 fled to the “Dome” as a “refuge of last resort” for citizens who couldn’t leave the city” for whatever reason. Seating capacity for the Superdome in football configuration is 76,468 but in 1981 more than 87,500 attended a Rolling Stones concert in the “Dome.”

While the world might know what the Superdome is if you’re not from New Orleans or at least have lived there, you really don’t know why it’s as big as it is. There’s a quirky reason for it.

Sports visionary Dave Dixon dreamed up the idea when he was trying to convince the NFL to give The Big Sleazy a team and he looked westward towards Houston that had built the Astrodome which opened to the public in 1965. It was billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” The following year Dixon and Louisiana Governor John McKeithen, who desperately wanted a huge project that would revitalize downtown New Orleans, Toured the Astrodome. Houstonians laughed at the men’s dream saying that Louisiana was so corrupt that such a project could never be successfully completed. Then and there McKeithen said that was bull shit and “I’m going to build a dome so big you can put this one inside of mine.” And when the Superdome was completed in August 1975 you could have put the Astrodome inside it, hence the name “Superdome.”

Maybe some day I’ll tell y’awl (N’Awlins expression) about my first visit to the dome which was to see the second Muhammad Ali-Leon Spinks fight but right now we’re talking about the Saints playing football there. When I see a game on television being played there I know that actual perspective. It’s right where I used to watch the home games when I lived in New Orleans.

Back in 1981 I went to work as captain of this yacht:

As you can see it was owned by a company called New Orleans Tours (years later they added a large paddlewheeler gambling boat on the Mississippi). New Orleans Tours also had about a dozen buses for touring the area and they also had the contract to bring all of the visiting football teams who were going to play the Saints from the airport to their hotels and then to the Superdome on game day.

The drivers of those buses were given free entry into the Dome for the game but they had to watch standing up in the “wheelchair” section which was just to the right of where the television cameras and press boxes are located at mid-field and about 20 seat rows up from the field itself.

Well, it took the rest of us who worked for New Orleans Tours exactly one game to figure this out. We’d don our New Orleans Tours shirts with the company name embroidered over the right breast pocket and mine had “Captain Richard” over the left pocket. On game day I, along with others with the N.O.T shirts, would purchase the cheapest ticket available. It was probably somewhere in the end zone and so high that you couldn’t even stand behind the seat you were assigned but that’s just a guess because I never tried to find the seat. Instead we’d immediately go to the wheelchair section. The “rent a cop” who was stationed there to keep unauthorized people out knew that the New Orleans Tour drivers were allowed in that section, so we’d quietly pocket our cheapo tickets go to the “rent a cop” and point at the “New Orleans Tours” on our shirts and say we were with the company and implying though not actually saying we were drivers and gain admission to the restricted area. Then, to really seal the deal, we’d go to one of the people who were in a wheelchair, introduce ourselves and tell them if there was anything at all they wanted during the game to just let us know…drinks, nachos, whatever. That we we could claim were we not only with the tour company but we were personal friends with one of the handicapped.

So, that’s where I watched the games for several years. With a $15 ticket in my pocket I’d stand in the middle of the $50 seats and one of the nice things was that when things got really exciting nobody ever stood up in front of you to block your view.


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You Have GOT To Be Kidding Me

There is a small group of gringos here around David who meet weekly to practice speaking our Spanish. I enjoy going because we’re all a bit hesitant in our use of the language so we aren’t overwhelmed with the rapidity with which the Panamanians speak. There are times when I hear them on their cell phones and I think to myself “there’s no way the person on the other end can understand what’s being said it’s going so fast.” Then I think, too, that it has something to do with the cost of making a cell phone call. It’s well known that people here will often call a number and hang up as soon as it starts to ring on the other end. That way their phone number shows up on the other person’s phone and they aren’t charged for a call and they expect the other person to call back on their dime. Therefore, when they are actually talking on on the phone they do it as fast as they can so they can hang up without spending too much on the call.

Anyway, the group starts at 10:30. I can’t really take the ten o’clock bus. It takes about 45 minutes to get down to the “lavamatico” (laundromat) where I need to get off and then there’s a bit of a walk to the meeting place. Taking the ten o’clock would mean showing up at least a half hour late. So, I have to catch the nine o’clock bus which means I’ve got to hang out somewhere for about three quarters of an hour before the meeting starts.

Yesterday I went to the little “fonda” across from where the bus stops. A “fonda” is a kind of restaurant. I figured I’d have a cup of coffee and read my Kindle for a while.

I’ve written about how good the coffee is here in Panama. Much of it is grown within arms reach of where I live. I enjoy Finca Ruiz Italian roast and every now and then I go to their store in Boquete to get some of the other beans they offer but which aren’t available in the super markets. They’re also about double in price to what you can buy at El Rey or Super Barú but every once in a while I like to treat myself to a special cup. I buy the whole bean coffee and grind each batch fresh though I do have about four pots- worth pre-ground and sitting in the fridge in case I wake up and the electricity is off and I can’t use the grinder. The stove is gas.

So, I order my coffee, knowing it’s not going to be freshly ground beans or Italian, French or Espresso roast, but can you imagine my horror, here in the heart of coffee-land, when the lady behind the counter tossed a heaping tablespoon full of INSTANT coffee into a Styrofoam cup and added hot water? What a sacrilege! Why didn’t the coffee police swoop down on this little fonda and instantly haul this woman away to some dank, dark dungeon and punish her severely? Surely this had to be some serious breach of the penal code, no?

Obviously I won’t be going there again. There is, however, a few blocks away, another little fonda that I’m going to get to some day and I want to get a picture of the place. The name of it is ¿Dónde está José? Where’s Joe? Gotta love it.

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Thinking of a move to Panama? Read This First

There is a feature for WordPress bloggers called “Tag Surfer.” It hones in on what other bloggers have written that you have expressed an interest in. Today I found a post by an unknown (there’s no”About” section attached to the blog so I don’t know who wrote it. It’s called:

And the title of the post was: “So, You Want To Move To Europe? Part Two I have to admit I didn’t see Part One.

Anyway, the unknown author presented an article from and the post:

Now, is a humor site, but there’s a lot of truth in this post. Here are the six reasons given and I’ll add my own notes but you need to read the article for yourself if you’ve ever thought about moving to Panama or any other country that’s not your own…

#6. The People There Probably Don’t Want You

Personally I haven’t met anyone here in Panama like that, but I know they exist. My lawyer told me once that she has friends who don’t like gringos. Hey, I understand. I don’t like most of them either.That isn’t to say I don’t have some gringo friends here, but for the most part I avoid gringos. I went to the Tuesday Market in Boquete once and I shudder to think of ever having to go back again. I bought what I came to get and left as soon as possible. But then again, I do that with shopping in general. That may have something to do with sex. (No, not THAT kind of sex. Sex as in which one you were born into.) Most women go love to go “shopping.” That doesn’t mean they’re going to buy anything when they go, but that’s the term most women use. Men, on the other hand when they have something they want or need to get, they go to the store, find the item or items, pay for them and leave.

#5. Their Governments Don’t Want You, Either

Panama is a little bit different. They are actually trying to make it easy for people, retired people that is, to move to this small country where they will voluntarily spend their retirement income.

#4. Other Countries Treat Illegal Immigrants Worse Than America

Who knows about Panama? I do know, that despite having a Pensionado Visa, and am “legal,” I am perpetually a guest in this country and can be told to leave at any time for any reason or no reason at all. I hope I never have to find out how their extradition process works.

#3. What You Hate About America, You Find Everywhere

Now this is spot on. Don’t think moving somewhere else is going to change a lot of things. I never went to McDoo Doo’s in the States and I’m NOT going to go to one here. But I hate having to go all the way to Panama City for some tasty, spicy fried chicken. LOVE that chicken from Popeyes. Pio Pio just doesn’t cut it and KFC which is here in David, gets the same treatment as Mc Doo Doo’s. Didn’t eat it there won’t here, either. Same thing goes for Domino’s, Pizza Hut and TGIF,, all of which have a presence here in David.

#2. Adapting Will Be Harder Than You Can Imagine

I think this is something most new expats never really expect. Good old CULTURE SHOCK. It’s GOING to happen to you. There’s no way you can avoid it. You’re not in Kansas anymore. Again, personally, I haven’t been hit with culture shock here even though I’ve been “in country” for a year and a half. And I think I know why. About six months into my three year stay in France culture shock punched me in the gut. I wanted to leave. But I had a job that I said I’d do and I stuck it out. Things got better. Then, about six months after I got back to the States I experienced culture shock again. I wanted to go back to France so bad you can’t believe how much. But I didn’t have the money to do so, so I stuck it out and things got better, sort of. Now, I think having gone through two bouts of culture shock before I’ve simply learned to take things as they come. Things aren’t going they way you want them to? Well, TOUGH TITTY! That’s the way things are…DEAL WITH IT!

#1. You Will Likely Just Hang Out With Other Americans

This is definitely true for WAY TOO MANY GRINGOS who move here and settle around Boquete and Volcan. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that but it’s just not how I want to live here. Yes, as I said, I do have gringo friends here but, by and large, I avoid most gringos as if they had some kind of infectious disease. But that’s just me. Your mileage may differ.

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New Orleans Music Is World Music

As my regular readers know, I lived in New Orleans for nearly 10 years from the mid ’70s to mid ’80s and, of course, fell in love with the music. I mean who wouldn’t? In my travels since leaving the Big Sleazy, I mean Big Easy, I’ve run across New Orleans music many places.

When I was living on the French Riviera the Neville Brothers, who were once upon a time a $5 cover charge at Tipitina’s on a Saturday night, were featured at the Juan les Pins Jazz Festival. Unfortunately for the Nevilles an acapella group of young girls from London opened the show and blew the audience away. They were called the Mint Juleps and though I posted a couple of videos of the group before I’ll post one to either jog your memory or introduce you to them. This was the song they opened their set with…

Now you understand why the Nevilles didn’t stand a chance after the girls left the stage.

A few years later when I was on my single-handed trip through Mexico, Belize and up into the Rio Dulce in Guatemala, I pulled into the small town of Placencia, Belize. After getting anchored and securing everything on board I hopped into the dinghy and headed to a funky bar built out over the water, and who should be wafting out over the water from the juke box? One of my all-time favorites, Marcia Ball.

A few days later as I was walking down the sidewalk in Placencia (there was no road or streets in Placencia when I was there, just this half mile-long “sidewalk” down the center of town) I heard another New Orleans music legend coming out of someone’s house.  It stopped me dead in my tracks and I just had to stand there in the broiling afternoon sun until Johnny Adams, also known as the “Tan Canary,” finished singing this famous song…

I only saw Johnny Adams live once, but it was something I’ll never forget. Now, hearing Marcia Ball and Johnny Adams, each within a week, tells you that Placencia, Belize is one VERY cool little town.

Last Friday I was down the hill a little way helping a gringo friend saw up some lumber. David, who also lived in New Orleans for a while, streams music into his shop from some feed in the States and there was an “I can name that tune in three notes” moment when this famous piano pounder from the Ninth Ward started to drift over the sound of the circular saw.

I sort of give that one a pass since I know it was beamed in from north of the Rio Grande and shouldn’t count but it’s MY blog and I LOVE the good Doctor.

But this next selection DOES count. I got onto my bus at the terminal in downtown David to head back up the hill this morning. People like to get on it as soon as the bus pulls into its berth because the air conditioning is on in the bus and it’s HOT in David this time of the year at noon. The buses all play music, mostly the “Tipica” rhytms of Panama which I really love, but you could have knocked me over with a feather when the local “Tipica” station aired THIS song…

You can travel all over the world, but if I keep my ears open New Orleans music will creep up on me and say, “Hey, Richard, WHERE Y’AT?”


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PDR Ocean Explorer Weekender

You all know I have a soft spot for the PDR (Puddle Duck Racer). Eleven months ago I wrote a post about how a Finn, Perttu Korhonen, modified the standard 8’X4′ PDR into a cool, but tiny, weekender. In today’s issue of Duckworks (if you haven’t bookmarked this great blog, do it now) there was this video of Perttu taking a cruise on Lake Konnevesi. The lake is located in the middle of the country and the whole area seems to be covered with lakes.,26.559448&spn=0.721399,1.774292&z=9&vpsrc=6&output=embed
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I love the Ocean Explorer but I’m not sure I’d want to have one in Finland. I understand that summers are great there. They had it on a Thursday last year. Take a ride with Perttu in this YouTube video…

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Filed under cruising, Living Small, Microcruising, Minimalist Cruising, PDR Racer, Puddle Duck Racer, sailboats, sailing, Small Sailboats

e-Book Covers

It’s said you “can’t tell a book by its cover” but every book needs a cover that will “hook” the prospective reader so they’ll pick it up and look inside.

I’ve just finished editing and rewriting A Pirate of the Caribbees by Harry Collingwood. When I say rewriting I mean I converted a 100 year-old text with such archaic writing as:

“For pity’s sake,” I ejaculated, “give me something to drink!”

“Ten thousand pounds?” I ejaculated.

“Thanks,” answered I, with alacrity.

I spent the last four months working to turn the book into something that reads as if it were written in the 21st Century. I pared out nearly 9,000 words from the original text that were just unnecessary but left the basic story line intact.

Next I had to come up with a cover for the book.

Getting cover art isn’t easy. Most writers hire an artist to do this for them. Fortunately I’m working in a genre where there are plenty of images in the public domain. That is they aren’t covered by copyright and can be used by anyone.  In my search I came across a fantastic illustrator named Howard Pyle. Pyle even opened his own art school and one of his students was N. C. Wyeth who did the illustrations for Treasure Island that those of us of a “certain” age surely remember.

I loved Pyle’s pirate illustrations and it was a tough job picking the one to use for the cover of my latest effort.

There are certain things you have to look for in a picture when you’re choosing cover art. Your first consideration is, where are you going to put the text so that it doesn’t interfere with the picture. There has to be enough blank, or empty space for you to do this. Next, you have to go to some sort of photo tampering program and create the cover.

For my first four efforts I used the Microsoft program. It was fairly easy to use,”user friendly” and quite intuitive. But then I got hit with an incredibly vicious virus that forced me to reformat my hard drive back to the original factory settings. Fortunately I’m pretty good at saving my work as I go along so I didn’t lose a whole lot of stuff when I reformatted. However, no matter what I tried I couldn’t get to reinstall.

I searched all over for another program to use and believe me there are a ton of programs out there. I needed simple and I needed FREE. I downloaded several that just didn’t meet my needs. One that kept popping up and that I loaded is called GIMP. It’s a great program, so I’m told, but the learning curve would challenge a PhD candidate at MIT. I downloaded YouTube videos showing how to “work with layers,” resize photos and everything you need to monkey around with a picture to get a cover you wanted. I couldn’t figure out how to make the damned thing do what I wanted. The frustration kept building. I didn’t want to spend days learning how to make the program work.

Then I found something called Photo Pad Image Editor. It’s WAY better than in what it does and within less than an hour I got it to do what I wanted. Talk about “intuitive” and “user friendly.” This is the program to have.

So this is what I came up with:

What do you think?


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The Saddest Day Of The Year

When I was a kid this was the saddest day of every year. No, not September 6th. Some times the saddest day could come as early as the 2nd of September. It didn’t really matter. It was the dreaded Day After Labor Day. (For those who don’t live in the States, Labor Day there is the first Monday in September, so, like Mardi Gras and Easter, it’s a movable feast.) Summer was officially over and it had nothing to do with solstices. The Day After Labor Day was the day we literally packed up our tent, left Nickerson State Park in Brewster, Massachusettes, on Cape Cod and headed back “home” and  school. Since I went to five different schools in my first seven years there was a special dread of leaving the park.

As the last day of school approached each day seemed to be a week long filled with the anticipation of returning to the park and the summer seemed as though it would last forever. Labor Day was so far away. On that last day of school my mom and dad would be waiting outside. My mom would be driving the Ford station wagon, a woodie, and my dad would be in the old Chevy panel truck with Philbrick’s Catering in big gold letters on the side and the family coat of arms on the driver’s side door. Hitched up behind the truck was the trailer my mom and dad would stay in. My brothers and I would live in a tent. And perched proudly on top of the truck would be the 8′ pram my dad had built in the basement with a shiny coat of white paint each year waiting to join the small flotilla made up of our boat and those of the Brenners and Cullums.

In those days, the late 40s and early 50s, you could reserve your spot each year and stay the whole summer. You can’t do that now: no reservations and two weeks max. While each Fall was a new school and fighting for a place in the pecking order, summer was always the same in Area Five. Just above our camp site were the Bolducs with their daughters Suzanne and Julie and then the Larabees with their son Don and across from them the Taylors and their son Tony who was only one hour older than me.  Down the slope a ways were the Brenners and their daughter Susan and the Cullums with their son Fran and daughter Jan who had had polio and was confined to a wheel chair. Up from them were the Morrises and their daughters Sara Ann and Jeniffer (oh did I ever have a crush on Jeniffer, completely unrequited). My uncle Bill and aunt Stephanie with their daughters Helen and Lois pitched their tent across from the Morrises. I always knew where I fit in in the summer.

Back then it took about three hours to drive from Watertown, just outside of Boston and where, I found out a half century later, both the Philbricks and the Eatons had settled in the 1630s, to Nickerson. As we drew closer to Bourne and the Cape Cod Canal you knew you’d left the city far behind and the wonderful scent of the pine woods would start filtering in through the car windows.

Our tent was literally just steps away from Flax Pond.

There was great fishing in that pond. There was bass, pickerel, perch and catfish, but we called them hornpout, and were they great coated with cornmeal and fried up for breakfast with blueberry muffins with the blueberries picked off of bushes just a few feet away from the camp site.

Eventually, and inevitably, the day would arrive when there were only two weeks left of summer. The last two weeks of school dragged on for an eternity, but those last two weeks of summer flew by in the blink of an eye and then it was all done.

The day after Labor Day was always the saddest day of the year.


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Getting Use To My Kindle

Okay, I’ve had my Kindle for a couple of weeks now and here’s what I think of it.

I like it a lot but it’s definitely NOT like reading a dead tree book and in some ways that’s a shame. The tactile experience is missing. You don’t get to actually turn the pages, and while playing with font size makes the page you’re reading about the same size and word count of a paperback book it’s just not the same thing.

Since I got the Kindle I’ve been doing a LOT of reading. I actually wander away from the computer, dig out the Kindle and read a book. I read Teddy Roosevelt’s account of the Rough Riders. Not only was it an interesting story but so well written that you’d never guess it was penned a century ago. Reading the Roman histories by Tacitus and Caesar’s Commentaries, books I’ve wanted to read for years but just didn’t want to spend the money on to buy even in paperback.

While my literary tastes may run towards detective stories like the Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke and the Prey series by John Sandford or the complete Butch Karp saga by Robert K. Tanenbaum I’ve been absolutely delighted with a couple of free books I downloaded by some female authors: Talk of the Town by Lisa Wingate (when it was available free) and Charlotte Figg Takes Over Paradise by Joyce Magnin. I enjoyed Charlotte Figg so much I had a hard time putting it down the first night so I could get some sleep and finished it off the next day.

One thing I like about the Kindle is the included Oxford Dictionary of English. Occasionally I come across a word I’m not sure of and you simply scroll down to it and it’s defined for you. A great feature.

I naturally bought a cover for the Kindle to protect it from getting scratched up just through the process of daily reading and carrying it around in my knapsack for my trips down the mountain to do my shopping. Holding it open with the unit on the right hand side and the cover to the left it’s almost like reading a real book except you only have a right-hand page.

My only real objection to the unit is that the little thing-a-ma-doodles that you press to “turn” the pages happen to be right under your thumb as you hold it and the slightest pressure flips you to the next page. However, you can configure the screen in several different ways but I’m just too lazy to do that.

I’d give it 4-1/2 stars and am glad I finally caved in and bought one.



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