Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sharing rides, languages, music, soap

Scene from the front seat of the Philippemobile (fellow Montréal-Boston rideshare peeps will know to which car this refers), heading south, approaching the mountains of Vermont, two weeks ago.  Thanks to people like Philippe, for giving us an alternative to long, boring, expensive bus rides, for less than half the cost, with great music, lively conversation, and we get there 2 hours quicker (even with 4 stops and an unexpected 20-minute delay at the border).

Saw recently that the city of Burlington, VT (which is an hour from the border with Québec), in an effort to welcome tourists from la belle province (and encourage bilingualism) has passed a resolution recommending that 'everything from highway signs to restaurant menus' be in both English and French. [1].  There are, unfortunately, no funds to support this symbolic gesture but it does indicate a stated openness toward publicly acknowledging and warmly welcoming languages other than one's own.

Would that the greeters at the U.S./Québec border at Highgate Springs take the hint and make available some border agents who at least understand a bit of French.  I've been traveling this particular border for 15 years and it's downright embarrassing that an agent checking the documentation of incoming bus passengers traveling to the U.S. from Québec has to publicly ask the assembled group "Does anybody here speak French? Can anyone translate?"   Yes, that actually happened, and a young bi-lingual Québecker cheerfully unslung her backpack and stepped forward to assist.   (Over on the Canadian side, practically everyone at their border station is bi-lingual.)  I once heard a U.S. border agent scold an elderly foreign passenger whose accent he could not understand, "Why are you coming to the U.S. when you can't speak the language?!"  Never once have I encountered that attitude at the opposite border; or in Québec in general, where they go out of their way to accommodate you if you're struggling with, or have no knowledge of, their language.  This is not just my experience--ask any several dozen other travelers who've traversed this particular border, about each side's 'attitude' toward incoming visitors.)  It occurs to me there are plenty of French-speakers in Vermont--one wonders why this border station hasn't tapped into this resource, rather than having to ask travelers themselves to perform translation duties because no one on staff seems available who understands French.  Maybe they lack the funds for a full-time bi-lingual person.  Who knows.  But it's a frequent topic that comes up in border-crossing stories (along with examples, of course, about  "attitudes".)   Speaking of attitudes, you would do well to not bring this up while actually crossing the border, by the way.  It may be perceived as antagonistic.  BDO'S (Behavior Detection Officers) and Homeland Security personnel are trained to spot facial expressions registering discontent, which may be misinterpreted.  I'm just saying.

While  in Cambridge, I got a chance to go to a Boston Chamber Music Society concert at Longy with a 94-year-old friend, where we heard these particular pieces by Beethoven, Dvořák, and Walter Piston.  It's been a very (very) long time since I've been to a concert. This was a much appreciated, unexpected delight. (Thank you, S.)

Standing on a small wooden bridge in a neighborhood park
watching the brook (and rabbits, squirrels and birds) while
walking with the youngest little granddaughter

And guess what I found!  The pine tar soap I searched for but couldn't locate on the Pennsylvania trip. (You can buy it at Cambridge Naturals in Porter Square.)

[click on pic to enlarge]

Okay, this dark, brown-colored, strong-smelling bar might not be everyone's idea of a favorite bath product, but it is, by far, the best shampoo-soap you will ever find (in my humble opinion) [even better than Dr. Bronner's soap (with which you can also brush your teeth--the Peppermint one's the best for that)].   Grandpa's pine tar soap wins hands down over Dr. Bronner's for me in this respect: it leaves your hair squeaky clean and fresh.  (No, I am not getting paid to say this.)

A bit of a warning:  Its smell has been likened to a lumberyard, a campfire, "wet-wood charcoal and railroad ties", and   "burned wood juice", to name but a few.   This soap has been around since 1876 and people still like and use it.   It has stood, so to speak, the test of time.  Read the glowing accolades from sufferers of acne, eczema, rashes, itching, fungus, etc.   I just assumed I'd find it in my hometown again when I visited (no longer true); but apparently Amazon carries it.   A tad expensive ($5.50 plus postage).  I'm starting to sound like all the other people over on the Amazon review page praising this soap, ha ha.  "I'd do a commercial for pine tar soap ... in a heartbeat," says one.  (I think I just did one without intending to.)
What a happy surprise, in my absence the garden has multiplied, and then some! Tomatoes, especially.  A handful of fresh raspberries at breakfast time;   bigger, bushier kale & chard waving from the back-garden, a few new cucumbers begging to be picked and eaten--what a thing.  I now know what it means to "jump for joy".  (If you could call the excited little running around the veggie plots to see what's transpired, "jumping".)

Back to work . . .  Good to be back.

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