Fighting with Perfection in Paris

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(Hang in there, this blog all comes together eventually. Plus there are photos of lovers, redheads, and dogs at the end. See example to left.)


Fighting with Perfection in Paris

Perfection does a hatchet job on Good. She’s a diva that tolerates no supporting cast, and She has been riding roughshod over my ability to write a blog since I arrived in Paris 12 days ago.

In addition to not writing blogs, I have not been to two of my neighborhood restaurants, Laduree and Mariage Freres. They are my usual haunts and I believed they were essential to my settling into the City of Lights.

I have been taking long walks and hundreds of photographs with a focus on lovers, redheads, dogs, children, art, and the homeless that I post on Facebook every day, but no writing.

What is going on?

Let me tell you as best I understand.

For one thing the Israeli killing of 2100 Gazans and then claiming more land in the West Bank ad nauseum not only depressed me but has shown me definitively that there are people who are not only far more expert on the subject than I am but who write much better. (Un-huh, I know Israelis were targeted by Gazans firing missiles and that 50 some Israelis were killed – all except six in the military – but this blog is not about politics and I’m not in the mood to equate 50 some Israelis to 2100 Gazans and call it a draw.)

For another, I have been taken over by an internal son et lumiere show in which a cacophony of characters bide with each other for the spotlight. Inside me is a mélange of languid sexy women wearing silk lavender, clowns in cone hats with red pom-poms on top, the child I was on the farm in Iowa, an overly-sensitive female who is subject to Stendhal Syndrome, and a hawk-eyed hunter-photographer who preys on and captures the innards of innocent people.

Over it all sits the Perfectionist Judge (she’s a female, dammit!) who says that if I write something it has to have a deep and meaningful impact in addition to good grammar. Otherwise, it isn’t worth bothering with and clutters the landscape.

Also, I’m in an apartment I once co-owned with a husband we don’t need to mention except that I don’t want you to think I could ever have bought an apartment in Paris on my own. The apartment is exactly as I left it except the floor-to-ceiling silk curtains are shredding on the window side and there is a humidor on the desk and new sheets on the bed – oh, and an updated master bathroom. This is a special kind of déjà vu made possible by the new owner.

Thus, a sonne et lumiere and cast of characters goes with me through the streets, into the cafes, across Luxembourg Gardens, and into the Louvre to view 17th and 18th century French paintings. It is a pleasant but timeless experience that is not very solid, wobbly even. Writing a blog requires concrete sentences in real time.

However a deep and impactful truth (at least for me) has finally taken form. I believe that having our moorings loosened and our time sense scrambled – and losing people, gaining people, and experiencing our self as multiple people is imperative to becoming more aware of the miracle that we are here at all. We cannot know more until we give up old beliefs that we know what is what. We need to be tumbled.

Often this happens by trauma. Breakage and loss undo our world, and in undoing our world they make us look again, experience again, change. We are forced to be flexible.

We are forced to be flexible in what we thought was existence – large and small – and who we are in it. It is easiest to do this if we accept the unmooring and the cast of interior personalities and float.

The Perfection Judge says, “This is not adequate. It’s too airy-fairy. You need to say something helpful when our world is in such crisis.”

You see, the Perfection Judge tolerates that I post photographs of redheads and lovers on Facebook, but she wants my blogs to have more depth, which means the only way I can write is to stand up to Her and say, “Half-ass and mediocre are just fine, thank you, anyway.”

Even so, I will now make an attempt at depth, or perhaps just at loosening your moorings: There are as many stars in the universe as there are grains of sand on planet earth. Odds are beyond all reckoning that we are not the only thinking creatures in infinity.

We don’t know much of anything but we experience that we exist. That is a place to start.

Two days ago I bought a work of art titled “Paradise Lost.” (See photo. Xavier Somers, Flemish, is the artist.)

In the beginning were Adam and Eve and they discovered the pleasurable things that men and women can do together. Behold, Eve laid an egg in the nest of temporal life and free Paradise lost 010 (2)will. Alongside it in the nest is the devoured apple of self-knowledge. The beginning was the awareness that we existed. It might not be much, but it is a start.

Everything my knowledge and experience tell me is that bliss is the natural state and it is humans who f**k it up. We all know the second part of that sentence. I believe the first part is true also. We “fell” out of grace into self-knowledge. It was the only way to know we are here. Now the task is to climb back up and join self-awareness with bliss. (. . . which raises all sort of questions such as which came first the bird or the egg.)

In “Paradise Lost” the golden male has a large key that inserts in the keyhole of the golden female. It joins them into one creature, a larger egg with legs. I’m just letting you know that without further comment.

And this Adam and Eve devoured the apple. Of course! If we’re going for self-awareness, we need to get as much as possible.

And the nest is made of barbed wire. And so it is. Look around.

And because our self-awareness is still so miniscule, such a grain of sand in infinity, we harm each other and call it justified and self-protection and rational.

And I look around this apartment where loss has occurred and where beauty and blessing pour in the windows, and I cart my mélange of characters around with me and tell the Perfection Judge, “Bugger off.”

I say, “Bugger off. You, Perfection, are the scourge, thinking you know what is right or good. You, who wants life in perfect grammar and manners and brilliance. Look around, Perfection, next to the lovers are the homeless. Look, Perfection, look well, and tell me that you have a right to judge. We rejected you when we began to become aware and to care for all that fails your false standards. Bugger off.”

Photos of Parisians below, being their essential selves, even when dogs:

kiss 20 kiss11 dog19 dog18 dog15 cafe1 red head8 red hair3 homeless8 homeless3 cafe2




. . . then someone took my balloons

Approximately 12:15 pm yesterday I locked my Lexus hybrid in the underground parking garage of the Giant food store at Van Ness center in Washington, DC. I then opened the trunk with the “power door” button on my key to get my recycle bags, remembered I didn’t need them, and closed the door. After all, I was only getting helium balloons for my grandson’s 7th birthday party today. My daughter said this was the place.

She was right. The balloon selection, immediately inside the door, was great. I bought five in solid colors – red, blue, orange, purple, yellow – with large white polka dots and the words “Happy Birthday” on them. I also bought two large metallic balloons in multi-colors, one of which was 3’ long and shaped like a trumpet.

I went directly to the checkout counter and back to my car. This is where the trouble began. My keys were not in my small purse. The car was locked with my smartphone sitting on the passenger’s seat.

I tied the balloons to my car door and retraced my steps to search where I’d been – with two clerks, the checkout person, and a couple customers. Then I went to the “Solution” counter, i.e. customer service. By the end of the day I made four more trips to that counter to see if keys – a large clump of keys – had been turned in.

The first taxi driver

Around 1:15 I hailed a taxi to take me home to get my emergency key – a flat key that snaps into a plastic form about the thickness of three credit cards. I had had this key for five years without needing it.

It was the worst taxi ever. Filthy and smelly with a 5”-wide swatch of exposed electrical wires at my feet, banana peels between the front seats (amidst who knows what else), no a.c., and the little passenger television that has continuous loops of inane quizzes with plastic-looking t.v. hosts was on full blast. I interrupted the driver who was doing his own loud unending loop into his ear phone to turn it off or down. He said it was broken and could not be turned down or off. I told myself this is heaven compared to Gaza.

Once home I got my emergency key and we returned to the car. (I would have taken another taxi except there are no taxis right where I live.)

Back to the car

The emergency key did not work. Even though it was labeled with my name, it belonged to a Lexus I sold five years before. Presumably the owners have the emergency key I needed.

I went outside to catch a second taxi to take me home again to find a spare key that I have been vaguely aware that I hadn’t seen in a few weeks, but it had to be somewhere, right?

Arjuna, or the second taxi driver

Arjuna drove the second taxi. Arjuna, named I presume after the converser with Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, was my angel. His cab was spotless, air conditioned, and we said “How are you?” at the same moment and laughed. This, I thought, is the opposite of Gaza.

Arjuna also had surround sound phone speakers that I ended up using a lot. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Arjuna started praying for me that I would find my spare “regular” key. I ran into the house and went through every little box and pencil cup I had, plus several purses. His prayers were not enough. There was no key.

I sat in front of my house in Arjuna’s cool crisp taxi and tried to collect myself. The numbers of the people I needed to call were, of course, in the memory of my iphone locked inside my car.

But, smarty under stress that I am, I remembered my daughter’s number and called her on skype from my ipad. No answer. She was at her aerial class. My daughter does acrobatics while hanging from large ribbons. I texted my plight. She texted back with the 800 telephone number of the “help me whenever wherever” desk at Lexus, and Arjuna called them on his surround sound phone. So nice.

The “help me whenever wherever” desk couldn’t locate me or my car – common name, various moves, no vin number –  but let me know that my regular roadside assistance with them would have expired after four years.

Arjuna dialed my friend Mike for me (number supplied by my daughter down once again from the ribbons), who called Tony my accountant and then called me back. No, I did not have roadside assistance coverage with my car insurer.

Arjuna drove me back to my car and assured me that God was watching out for me: “Think of all the real suffering in the world. This is just a bad day.”

He then called two locksmiths to compare prices. Who knew that locksmith companies use the same free-roaming people to unlock locks? They network, and they get angry if you call more than one place. They call you and ask “How many locksmiths did you call?” and if you don’t give the right answer, i.e.“Only one other and I want you, and you alone” they hang up on you in surround sound.

Yvan drove up around 4:30. Arjuna handed me off to him with tenderness and care.

Yvan, the locksmith

I jumped in the passenger seat of Yvan’s van with “Locksmith” written on the side and we turned into the parking garage. First step: push the button to get the ticket that will lift the arm so you can enter. Instead Yvan turned to me and said, as closely as I remember: “Hello, I’m Yvan, I’m Israeli, we’re not going to pay this.” He argued with the man in the cubicle but eventually took a ticket.

His next words to me were “What do you do?”

I felt myself flinch slightly and edge to the door, “I started a peace organization.”

Yvan: Oh, so we’re on different sides. . . . he smiled.

(How, how, how is this happening?)

Me: I don’t know.

Yvan, as we turned the first corner going down: Are you Jewish?

Me: No, but I marry Jewish.

Yvan: You marry Jews?

Me: Yes. My car is over there.The one with the balloons tied to the door.

At the point where Yvan set off the car alarm in the unsuccessful attempt to open the driver’s door, he shouted, “This is nothing compared with the noise in Israel right now.”

(I tell myself I will say nothing about Gaza until he gets my car unlocked.)

Me: I guess not.

Yvan: I was in the Israeli military for three years.

Me: Oh. (Anyone with experience with the Israeli military would already know this – the shaved head, posture, health, and strength. It’s a look. The abruptness. It’s a style.)

Yvan – Hebrew for “John” – did get the passenger door open. I retrieved my phone, which had 12% battery on it. There were, as I was 95% certain, no keys in the car.

Yvan was about to leave me standing, after I paid an exorbitant amount, by my dead car with the passenger door open (he said if we shut it, it would lock again) when he said, “Where do you want to go?”

Me: I don’t know. I need a moment to think.

He looked closer at me: I don’t have any other jobs in line, I could take you home.

Me: Oh, so now you’re the nice Jew? (Yes, I really said that.)

He laughed. He took me home, though not without arguing with the man in the cubicle and somehow distracting him on a related subject, and when we drove out without paying he said – I swear – it works if you just distract them.

Yvan called towing services. The first company hung up because he wouldn’t tell them what kind of car I had on the theory that they would charge more for a Lexus. With the second company he told them it was a Toyota. They said they would be there in an hour.

One hour gave me time to get home, get 20 minutes of recharge on both my iphone and ipad (taking no chances), quickly walk my dog, call the Lexus drop off place, and get a list of food items for the birthday party to my daughter since I was failing miserably at this responsibility.

It also gave me time to challenge Yvan who was intent on convincing me how compassionate the Israeli Defense Force is, and how all of Hamas wanted all Israelis dead, and how Hamas targeted civilians but Israel warns people before bombing.

I said: You are missing information. Do you know 10 or so Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military in the month or two before the three settler youth were kidnapped and killed?

Yvan: That’s not true.

Me: Yes, it is. There are videos of two Palestine young men just walking by Ofer prison – you know, where the prisoners are on hunger strike – who were killed by snipers. It’s all on the video, they were just walking by, no one else around. Killed, dead, down.

Yvan: We don’t have snipers.

Me: Okay, prison guards then, the guys in the towers at Ofer.

Yvan: So what were these guys doing before then? What were they throwing? They must have done something.

Me: Nope, want me to send you the video? They were just walking by, not even looking up. You see them hit. They’re not talking to anyone. No one else was around. They’re walking next to the prison wall at about the distance from where you’re sitting to that tree.

Yvan: Sure, send me the video.

Me: Okay, you let me know what you know and I’ll let you know what I know.

Giving him credit, he did bring up that he understood that Israel had taken “their” land and that resentment was justified. He also seemed to like Fatah in the West Bank and made sure I understood his father’s very best friend lived in Jenin. His father is a mechanical engineer and they had some business together. (I did not bring up the ongoing weekly nonviolent protests against the occupation in Jenin, but did say “business together is the fastest road to peace.” He shook his head yes.)

I ran into the house and returned to give him a copy of the book “Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women” in English, Hebrew and Arabic. (Get it at Amazon.) I tell him, “I was the editor, photographer, and primary interviewer.”

Yvan: Wow, this is a real book.

Me: That it is.

Back to the garage

At 6:25 my daughter and son-in-law took me back to the Giant grocery store, before going on to a party. She went in with me, to the Solutions desk, then the garage.

I said: Someone took my balloons! Someone took the balloons! They were tied right here, right here on the door. Someone took them!


At 6:45 Lee pulled up in front from District Towing. I rode with him pass the man in the cubicle. He took the ticket with no hesitation.

Lee: Where is your car?

Me: One level down. It had balloons tied to the door, but someone took them.

Lee, seeing the car: My boss said it would be a Toyota.

Me: The call was placed by the locksmith. He might have been confused. (Yeah, right.) Are you going to be able to get it out of here?

Lee: No problem.

I adore Lee. We talked about the amazing technology of modern day towing, how the little towing wheels go under the car’s back wheels and pump them up, and how it all clicks into place.

Me: Any chance you’re going through town?

Lee: Sure, need a ride?

Me: Would love it.

(I contemplated asking him to wait while I ran inside and bought more balloons, but figured he was being too nice for me to ask for anything more.)

7:15, walking home

Lee let me out a few blocks from my home. Such a beautiful summer night. My car would be going around Dupont Circle as couples strolled hand in hand and ate at outside cafes.

I let the balm soak into me. And, once home, I went out again with my dog who like me was slightly crazed, and I thought of the bombing and killing of people far away and so very close.

The birthday party

We had 15 children and 14 adults here this morning. There were no balloons, but my grandson didn’t notice. He was happy and surrounded by his best friends – I didn’t know he had that many, and he taught me how to play “Ghost in the Graveyard” where if the chosen “ghost” looks at you, you can only breath, sneeze, cough, or blink, or you become a ghost’s helper.

Twelve miles away my Lexus has a note on it with my name, telephone number, and the words “NO!!! Keys.” I expect to hear from them tomorrow morning.

The pain in the world right now, the violence, the imbecilic belief that there are reasons to kill other people . . . I am haunted. All those people praying to stay alive, to keep breathing, sneezing, coughing, and blinking, and not become ghost’s helpers. All those people.

Re-seeing Masterpieces: Chicago Art Institute

On my first day to the Art Institute of Chicago last week I was waylaid and overwhelmed by the talking heads in their great Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Byzantium rooms. We had great conversations. They had much to say. (See blog “The Eyes Have It” from six days ago.)

On my second visit, I focused on paintings by the greatest in more recent history, and I formed two tenets.


Durer’s Eve knees

Tenet #1 is on beauty: paintings that are masterpieces can be apportioned into sections of themselves that are small masterpieces that retain the ability to wow your socks off. The strokes, colors, and lines that make up the whole can be “reframed,” say by a camera, into miniatures that are in themselves transcending.

I am not sure this applies to minimalist paintings but I have convinced myself that it applies to representational and abstract paintings. It certainly held true for the best works of Durer, Cezanne, Monet, Renoir, and – interestingly – Georgia O’Keefe and Arthur Dove. Are there any works by Durer or Cezanne that are not “best works”? Surely, the artists among my readers can add more painters who never fail.


Eve’s leaves

Tenet #2 is on how to best navigate galleries not filled with masterpieces: when in a room of paintings that are not masterpieces you have two ways to bring more life and joy to the experience – study the evolution of a painter, marveling that they too could have a bad day, OR find sections of, ah, “lesser” paintings that are nonetheless thrilling. It’s usually in there somewhere.

Best is to look through your camera so that you see only what the camera sees, move it about, and wait for that moment when you feel a little brain “ping.” That’s it! You will have participated in the creative process by framing (finding) the marvelous something that exists inside the larger something that is less than transcending. You have become your own artist. (Think of it as a form of “cut and paste.”)

Below are moments, dim sum of pleasure, facets that I captured. To identify them all is tedious on WordPress, and really I just want you to look, to see, to feel without thinking about the where and when and by whom they were painted. Some you will recognize. Others perhaps not. Relish!

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Memorial Day in Real Time . . . oh, dear

You have to get this setting. I’m in the upscale restaurant on the ground level of my hotel at the corner of State Street and Washington Street, Chicago, trying to find the mildest thing on the menu.

No, they don’t have chicken soup. No, they have no side dish of steamed spinach to substitute for a salad. Yes, they can make the veggie burger, substituting the Boursin for a chèvre, and leaving off the creme fraiche. Yes, they do have mint tea.

Outside, people are gathering for the Memorial Day parade due to arrive momentarily. I can see nothing from my seat in the restaurant. It is a window seat but on the wrong side. I look across the restaurant out the far windows and see the backs of standing people. Chicago seems to be a patriotic town, we need northern patriotic towns, I think.

I am here for the wedding of a dear friend. His first, her first. He is 64, I don’t know how old she is but it’s reasonable. He is the oldest of a brood of Irish Catholic siblings. She is the oldest of Japanese-American siblings. They are being married in a United Methodist church across from Daley Plaza and the Picasso statue. The church has magnificent stained class windows. I cried, though no one knew, at the rehearsal last night. Oh my, people with faith in each other and life.

I hear drums, masses of drums, and see the tops of flags, lots of flags. I see the top of a float of the Illinois state seal.

I have a tummy ache. Hence, the mint tea. This is my first meal in 24 hours.

No one in the restaurant looks out even though many hundreds came to line the street and the television station scaffolding is right outside. Theoretically we are at the apex. I hear trumpets.

Let’s talk about war. My veggie burger has arrived. Thick, predominantly brown rice and mushrooms, a limited thing.

War sucks. War would not be necessary if humans were more clever, particularly if Americans, the people with money, were more clever, and kind, and far thinking, and not, in sum, ridiculous in our choices and closing of our hearts. We cheat our own, so I guess it makes sense that we believe people who aren’t us are “outsiders” better left alone until they attack us.

I’m not saying all war is avoidable. There are people who do evil in the world. I have dear friends who believe in strands and stains of evil. Mostly I say there are humans who try to avoid being “merely” human, who want to feel they are so much stronger than others that they are safe despite the dumbbell they see reflected in the mirror – the dumbbell they think they are because they didn’t discover the Grand Unified Theory, or can’t sing like Pavoratti, or run a three-minute mile.

More drums, more flags.

Or they aren’t rich or . . . Oh, I see the tops of rifles going by.

Or they aren’t . . . whatever.  So they go rigid and fundamental. (All extremists are fundamentalists in one way or another.)

And then the rest of us (we do like to think we are on the good side and God really does prefer us) have to fight back, to protect ourselves, or whatever.

I am the only soul in this restaurant who is looking up and out the window. Oh, mimosas, salmon, Eggs Benedict, and salade nicoise, how privileged you are!

People die in wars.

More flags, a gap in the crowd, I see the American Legion.

People die in wars, mangled, cut short, leaving children and spouses, and futures. And that’s just the fighters. And now more civilians die in wars than fighters. Women crouched down to protect their children and standing up and running to get water. Children who play with spent shells.

More flags. A float. Was that the mayor?

I don’t believe in war. I do believe in marriage between people who love each other. I believe in mint tea. I believe in mint tea for tummy aches and heart aches.

I believe in the nations with substance acting in ways that prevent war in the first place. But that depends on people caring about others in real time, seeing the needs, and tending each other early.

I am proud of the people who serve. I can’t bear that we need to fight because we didn’t tend.

More drums, more flags.

Rifles and berets.

The wedding is in an hour, I must leave here and get ready.

A marching bane, white tubas, red uniforms, flags twirled by majorettes.

. . .


I stepped outside, went to the corner to get you a photo of flags, and inside of three minutes I am interviewed on t.v. (complete with my name) as to what I see as the most crucial question facing Chicago today. “I’ve only been here three days but from what I see Chicago is a vibrant robust city.”

imageAnd an Indian woman waving an American flag then introduced herself as a commentator for 17 years, now a doctor, and the great-granddaughter of Gandhi, “the great freedom fighter for India.” “Yes, I know of Gandhi.”

Gandhi, the icon of non-violence. You cannot make this stuff up even if you don’t know what to make of it.

I now look out from my hotel window on the 9th floor, a float is going by of paralyzed veterans.

Easter in NYC: costumes

imageEaster Sunday, frivolity in front of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. A flowered cross, and two tired grandchildren. Oh well, I had fun. Adults at play. I’ve been thinking about camouflage and masks and this Easter in NYC fit right in.

Masks are presumed to hid identities but don’t they also give the opportunity to reveal our inner essence or a wannabe self? A fox? A devil? A swanlike beauty? A pirate? A lone ranger?



We wear the daily masks and costumes of the entrepreneur, intellectual, nice person, young Turk, teacher, artist, elder states-person, sexy grandmother. We cover ourselves with the masks of our preferred persona. We do it for protection and for advancement and even subterfuge. And as denial against hard times.



If costumes and hats are masks, fanciful or daily mundane, aren’t make up and plastic surgery also? They deflect the viewers’ perceptions from the naked you in the direction you prefer: I am a person of style, I am a person with money, I am superior, I am gifted, I am eccentric, I am open and loving, I am clergy, I’m cool, I’m hot.

Or instead of deflecting, do they reveal the true you? The beautiful you?  What if we all gave full bent to dressing as the creature we feel we are? A daily mardi gras? Could we wear rabbit ears daily? Tiaras?


Only the truly poor are deprived of the ability to mislead through what they wear and how they wear it. The man in front of the church was already dressed as a character, the homeless man. What would he have chosen to wear if given a choice to be not poor? What clothes would be his inner essence? A philosopher? A traveler? A visionary?

Yet, it was a lovely day. So many people smiling as though we were on the inside of a communal joke. A day when clothing is meant consciously as play, as celebration of rebirth and resurrection – resurrection of self, which seems to depend upon a time of dormancy and returning to the ground, of gathering strength to rise in full bloom, the miracle of being human and sacred.imageimage

Room with a View: NYC sunsets


I was in NYC last week. I stayed high up in an apartment in the mid-60’s on the West Side.

I took photos every evening between 5:00 and 6:30 of the city, Hudson River, New Jersey, and the setting sun.

It was magnificent every time.DSCN3694


(Click on any photo to enlarge for better viewing.)



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A million lights, a million lives.





Every day a reminder . . .







. . . every day beyond words.








Galapagos birds: by land, sea, and air

pelican with marine iguana, pelican, marine iguana, Galapagos

Pelican with marine iguana.

The birds of the Galapagos were far beyond my ability to comprehend in a week. There are nineteen species, five of which exist only (are “endemic”) to the islands. They vary from the brown long-necked flightless cormorants to blue-footed boobies, miniaturized penguins, and the varieties of Darwin finches from island to island that led the good man to contemplate “survival of the fittest.”

How did any of them get there? The Galapagos are a thousand miles from anywhere. Fly, glide, ride vegetation rafts, swim up the Humboldt Current?

And what were the odds of a male and female bird of the same species getting there at the same time? What does that mean in terms of all the other birds that launched off deliberately or by accident and perished mid-Pacific Ocean? The Galapagos are small, the Pacific Ocean is large. Sighting land, eden ahead? Let’s go there and evolve into a new species!

Given the magnitude of questions, I am simply going to show you some of my bird photos in the hopes you can catch the wonder without the scientific data. Enjoy!

Immediately below are a lava heron and the famous blue-footed booby:

lava heron, bird, Galapagos

blue booby, Galapagos, birds






Here, the flightless, swimming birds, little penguins and cormorants:

penguin, Galapagos penguins, Galapagos

cormorant, Galapagos, bird

cormorants, Galapagos, birds

Darwin’s finches: yes, beautiful

finch, Darwin's finches, Galapagos, birds finch, Darwin's finches, Galapagos, birds,

And, signing off, with a couple of brown pelicans:

pelican, Galapagos pelican, Galapagos


Galapagos: turtle and tortoise (lack of) romance

She was young and he was old, a mere toddler when President James Garfield was shot in 1881. To be specific, according to our guide, the male giant land tortoise was between 130 and 140 years old and approximately 800 pounds while the female was one-sixth his size and 30 years old at most.


To be more specific, male giant land tortoises do not lose virility or impulse with age. Nor do they care if humans surround them and take photos. Male giant land tortoises, when in the mood, have only one thing in mind. ( . . .  and they achieve this by a sex organ in their tails. Don’t ask.)



The female, however, wasn’t on with the same plan. Escape under his fore flipper was her only chance. We women silently encouraged her despite our mutual concern for land tortoises as an vulnerable species.

(They arrived 2-3 million years ago by drifting 600 miles from the South American coast on vegetation rafts or by floating and swimming. Once numbering between 100,000 and 200,000, now 20,000-25,000 tortoises live on the islands, up from a low of 3,000 in the 1970s.)

If impregnated, our female would spend 3 months walking across the island to dig a deep hole in the beach sand, lay her dozen or more eggs in it, and then spend 3 months returning to the center of the island. And then she repeats this for a hundred years.

Tortoises don’t do much else. DSCN3452DSCN3468They hang out in shallow ponds or stroll and nibble cactus pads, grass, and low-hanging fruit. They don’t have to eat or drink for up to a year.

Actually, not needing food or drink worked horribly against them when whalers, fur sealers, and buccaneers realized they could chuck live giant tortoises in the holds of their ships to kill whenever they wanted fresh meat – though the tortoises did have distinction of having the islands named after them. Galapagos means “saddle” in Spanish. The giant land tortoises come in two main groups: the smaller saddleback with a shell that curves downward in the middle, and the domed back with a shell that is domed. Our May-December couple was domed.



Sea turtles, on the other hand, have their own mating issues. An adult male, about 2/3rds the size of an adult female, climbs on top of the female at sea while his buddies or rivals push in. The female holds both herself and the mating male up, trying not to drown. Below you see the male on a free ride while another male is coming in from the side. The female? … well, she’s under water.


Turtles are reptiles, they have lungs, they need oxygen. Not much, but if they are active, they need a good intake every few minutes. Each mating season there are drowned females at the bottom of the coves.

I was, by chance, on site for each mating session. Like the other women, I identified  with the females and their plight. The men mostly went silent.

There was not a speck of pruning, preening, giving of gifts or flowers, no dances, no “aren’t I the cat’s meow?” Nothing. Turtles have existed for 200 to 300 million years. Evidently the need for spectacle and seduction evolved later, was only needed later. Maybe style entered in with species complexity, i.e. awareness of difference and self. My feathers are brighter than yours, my mane is bushier than yours, my Armani outdoes your L.L. Bean. I like seduction, I like gentleness. Yet . . .DSCN2452

All said, the sea turtles and giant tortoises were marvelous. Snorkeling with 12 sea turtles at one time was thrilling. They swan six inches under our bellies and slept below us. (At rest, they can go without breathing for a couple hours.)

Yes, tortoises by day, and a great chablis by night. Each to his own species.

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More tortoise and turtle photos: they pretty much all look alike.



DSCN3443 DSCN3206


Galapagos: Sea lions, oh my ….

sea lions, Galapagos, beach, lava

Enlarge all photos for greater impact.

An endangered species, Galapagos sea lions breed exclusively in the Galapagos – or on little Isla de la Plata off the coast of Ecuador. There are 20,000 to 50,000 of them, down about 50% from 30 years ago.

They are threatened by el Ninos, which are expected to increase with global warming, and sharks and killer whales when they venture far out in search of, yum yum, sardines.  . . . not to mention fisherman nets and poachers looking for a profit on bull penises sold as aphrodisiacs.

sea lions, Galapagos, beach, sea lion group


Otherwise, their lives consist of swimming, sleeping in the daytime sun, lolling on and over each other, mating, mothering, and being cute or elegant (take your choice) furry bags of blubber.

sea lion, Galapagos, lava beach, lava, sleeping mammal


sea lion, Galapagos, lava beach, sleeping mammal

sea lion, sleeping sea lion, sleeping mammal, Galapagos, face of sea lion, baby sea lion, baby mammal

Why they are called sea lions, or sea wolves (“lobos marino” in Spanish) instead of sea dogs or sea bears makes no sense.

Look at this face. Their faces convince you they are safe even when you are warned to stay 12 feet from the bulls.

sea lion, bull sea lion, Galapagos


(Bull to right, not quite as cute.)




But what’s important is: I SWAM WITH A SEA LION!

Sammy, the guide, ever vigilant to my happiness, tapped my flippered foot and pointed. Fifteen feet away, among the rocky crevices, was my new dance partner. As I approached, she came towards me and began to whirl, twirl, and make loops and circles with her body. It was I who backed off. Less than three feet between us crossed my comfort zone.

She broke away once to chase off two smallish sharks 12 feet below (oh, yeah), then swam back, looked me in the eye, and we danced again. Later she danced with others, and that was okay because we danced longer, and she loved me more than she loved them, and I think of her every day. And I miss her, and I hope she thinks of me, and . . . and . . . .

Reality: the mothering aspect of sea lions is peculiar. Once a baby is a week old, its mother returns to the sea in her daily (nightly) food search. Things happen. She might not return, in which case the baby is doomed. It will not be adopted by another mother.

sea lion, sea lion mother, sea lion cub, nursing sea lion, Galapagos


Mothers identify their babies by the sound of their “bark” and their smell. It works both ways. Babies sniff their way across piles of sleeping seals to their mothers where they attach themselves to a teat and suck loudly as they too fall asleep.


sea lions family, sea lion, Galapagos


In sum: sea lions are sculptures in fur, varying in color from gray to gold. They cannot be awkward, though . . .

sea lions, Galapagos, sleeping sea lions

young sea lion, Galapagos, running sea lion, sea lion, beach

. . . the sight of a sea lion scrambling across sand has cognitive dissonance to it. How does that work?

They flipper to everywhere – to a pier bench, a tubular slide of a children’s playground, to the top of the stairs of the first leg of the climb to Darwin’s Lake.

sea lion, Galapagos, sleeping sea lion, sea lion on park benchsea lion asleep, Galapagos, sea lion in child's slide, sea lion




sea lion at top of stairs, Galapagos, sea lion




Sea lions just are. They have no appointments and not much to say. You want them to be here forever, to loll, sleep, mate, and swim in loops and whirls, and circle 8’s for flabbergasted tourists.

You want, actually, to lie down next to them in the sand, to see their dreams and just be.

Galapagos, sea lions on beach, Patricia Smith, Patricia Smith Melton, beach, sea lions

Galapagos: iguana ravings

marine iguana, galapagos, iguanaIF THERE ARE PEOPLE who can talk rationally about the iguanas, especially the marine iguanas, of the Galapagos Islands, I am not among them. Neither was Darwin, nice polite young rich guy that he was.

marine iguana, Galapagos, lava rock

I encourage you to enlarge all photos for close up inspection.



The iguanas are too freaking weird. Jurassic weird. A thousand-minds-working-as-one weird. Stare you down weird. My great-great-grandmother was a dragon weird – and she flamed people like you for dinner.

marine iguanas, Galapagos, iguanas


There are two major groups of iguanas in the Galapagos. See photos (right, above, and throughout) of marine iguanas finding you only mildly interesting.

Land iguanas tend to be somewhat larger and more colorful than the marine iguanas, which are unique (“endemic” is the word) to the Galapagos and swim in the ocean next to your rubber panga (dinghy) alongside sea turtles, miniature penguins, sea lions, pelicans and other birds, and various fish, and the occasional shark.

Land iguana, which stay high and dry, are in two photos below only.

Galapagos land iguana, iguana, Galapagos

galapagos land iguana, iguana, Galapagos






How iguanas got to Galapagos is also beyond my rational thought. Land iguanas on a floating tree trunk traversing more than 500 miles of open sea from the coast of what is now Ecuador? Then, over thousands of years the low-life, early-adaptor cousins branched off to get fish from the sea while the patriarchs held command of the high ground of lava and ashy sand? And it would have had to be more than one iguana on that log. Life is two by two, after all.

I mean, it must be possible. It had to have been. The penguins had to have arrived via the Humboldt Current from Antarctica. This is 6000 miles, shortest route. Were they looking for better prospects? Escaping religious persecution? Or did a couple just go out for a romantic evening swim and get carried away for, like, forever?

galapagos penguin, Galapagos, penguin

Then, once to the barren lava islands, their offspring became smaller and smaller until they are now only 50% larger than a football. I’d guess it has to do with keeping cool at the equator, which is why they are in the water a lot and why when on land they tend to hold their flippers out to protect their feet and why they pant.


Returning to iguanas: marine iguanas are charcoal color for the most part and  camouflaged on the lava rock and sand. They hang out together. See photos, and squirm.

marine iguanas, Galapagosmarine iguanas in groups, marine iguanas, Galapagos




marine iguanas in sun, Galapagos, marine iguanas, sun worship



And they are cold blooded – but you knew that – so they like the sun. Sammy, one of our guides, calls them the original Aztecs, sun worshippers. And who wouldn’t be, waking up on cold volcanic rock at the equator where you would have assumed, wouldn’t you, it would be warmer?

See photos, and imagine basking, surviving the cold.

Marine iguana males are vaguely territorial, probably heightened by it being mating season for reptiles and amphibians in the islands. See photos, but do not replicate.

fighting marine iguanas, galapagos, mating, reptiles

fighting marine iguanas, Galapagos, mating ritualsI

I saw mating sea turtles, giant land tortoises, and Galapagos lizards. None of it romantic. Galapagos male lizards try to eat the females while mating and sea turtle males don’t care if the females drown. See my comments on that and photos at blog titled “First Thoughts on Millennia of Lava.”

Marine iguanas hang out with their own, but have a symbiotic relationship with birds that can clean ’em up, are benignly curious about sea lions, and can’t avoid the ubiquitous red crabs. See photos, but do not imagine warm fuzzy friendships. (Look closely for black bird on back of iguana.)

marine iguana with bird, marine iguana, galapagos Galapagos, marine iguana, sea lion

marine iguanas, red crabs, Galapagos, lava rock

I saw a 1000 marine iguanas, surely. They are everywhere, ignoring you while submerging you in primal recollections. I envied their communal life, lack of responsibilities and of guilt, and their sense of being present where they are – and their fearlessness even if not because they are courageous but because it doesn’t enter their group mind that anything would harm them.

marine iguanas, Galapagos

galapagos, marine iguanas


That said, probably better to see one than be one. They can’t read and they can’t laugh. They cuddle, but do they love?

Galapagos, marine iguanasmarine iguana, Galapagosmarine iguanas, Galapagos, lava sand

(See photos below. Enter the silence.)