Friday, July 28, 2017

I've been back to reality almost two weeks, and it seems like there is nothing to write about. My kitchen is clean, bills paid, coffee in hand, and a blank mind.

I was going to write the backstory of how I came to stay at the US Ambassador's residence in Malta, and barring no other topics today, I will proceed. My sister went to college at the University of Denver back in the 80's, and I followed her out right after I got married the first time in 1985. She had met a nice group of friends in her dorm, and they remained friends throughout their time there. Kristin was her first roommate and continued to be her roommate for several years. She was Adam's first babysitter. Claudia was a viola major from Colorado who later landed in the Chicago area after attending Northwestern for her Masters and works as a professional musician. Kathleen was also from Colorado, and she continued to grad school at Columbia and joined the State Department in 1994. She has been working her way up the ranks since then, working with John Kerry when he was Secretary of State. She was recommended for the Ambassadorship sometime in 2015, and was confirmed in January 2016. Betsy and Claudia attended the hearing and swearing ceremony in Washington, DC. Correct me if I'm wrong, Betsy.

Betsy has always been a loyal friend and family member and makes efforts to sustain and nurture relationships. It's one of her many great qualities. I was lucky enough to tag along on her trip to Malta and was made to feel very welcome, safe and relaxed on this vacation of a lifetime- MY JACKIE O. HOLIDAY, as my friend Sharon called it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Day 8

It was sad to get up this morning (Saturday July 15) and know that I am leaving Malta. Betsy, Ethan and Claudia are staying until Monday. I will be traveling international by myself for the first time. To say I was nervous is a slight exaggeration...suffice it say I barely slept the night before and all my clogged digestion problems were resolved.

I snapped this shot on my way out of the armored Surburban, good-bye safety and security (jk).

My taxi arrived early before 10 a.m. Only took 20-25 minutes to get to the airport. I ended up two hours early in the tiny airport waiting. Flight was on time, and landed successfully in Frankfurt. I passed Frankfurt passport control without incident or 'meanness' by the German guard. I got to my gate in plenty of time (2 hours layover) to spend the last of my Euros on trinkets.

The 747-8 jet was fully booked and they asked for volunteers to check carry-ons, and I was trying to be helpful and went for it. It was pretty heavy and large anyway. At check in I asked for aisle seats so I could get up without bothering somebody. I was in the next to last row, but on the aisle, so I was greatly relieved. Also, close to the bathroom. Lufthansa serves some pretty good meals (two per 8 hour flight). Since it was 5:15 pm when we boarded, I thought dinner would be served pretty soon, and I was ravenous having only eaten a small yogurt and two small peanut butter cookies our housekeeper provided. No such luck, we had a snack and a late dinner, but it was delicious- chicken breast, creamed spinach, potatoes, salad, roll, and dessert.

I watched "A Single Man" without the volume which was really a beautiful cinematic movie I had seen previously. I then watched and listened to the History of Chicago Transit Authority band. This helped drown out the intermittent child screaming and the Zika virus coughing, sneezing and nose blowing that was incessant. I then put on "Kong: Skull Island" with very low volume and dosed maybe 45 minutes.

I was beginning to wonder if I would regret not having my carry-on when we got to Chicago and had to clear customs, with only a two hour layover. The lines were long, and I mean ridiculous, to get to the self serve kiosks where you scan your passport and declare any hazardous items. I quickly was checked through customs finally, grabbed my carry-on off the carousel, and re-checked my bag to Springfield. I was told Terminal 2, gate F4. I knew about the train to the terminals and it was pretty convenient, but I was starting to worry about the time. When I got off at Terminal 2, and tried to enter  security, the lines were all closed and one lady was luckily packing up her stuff. I asked how do I get into Terminal 2. She told me to go over to Terminal 1, and walk back. GREAT! Now I am starting to sweat and run back to the train.

Guess what? I was outside security and had to wait and go through the whole process of being scanned and checked. Now the time is getting short...but the lines were moving and at least my plane wasn't set to take off for about 25 more minutes (unlike another nerd like me who went to Terminal 2 and had to go back on the train-  everyone else must have gotten the secret message).

As I start running back to the other terminal, I glance quickly at the board and my flight is already boarding. I make it to gate F4 and straight onto the plane. No air conditioning but hey, I've made all my connections by the skin of my teeth. We arrive in Springfield at 10:15 pm, but it is 4 am or past to me. I got my bag and headed towards what I thought was a hotel, but since there wasn't one on my way our of the airport, I headed home, listening to the oldies again and thinking about getting a smoothie at Beardstown McDonalds.

Once I consumed the smoothie, the driving got pretty tough. I was struggling to focus and keep my head lights from blinding oncoming cars. But I made it safely and into the shower and my bed.

It was a trip for the ages. Thank you for listening!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Day Seven in Paradise

I totally lost blog steam on Friday and was consumed with my digestive tract, not upset just extremely lethargic. I just invented the term Poop Lag (as opposed to Jet Lag). Kathleen took us on a fun day to Sliema for some shopping. This included the armored Suburban, two body guards and the tail car with two guards. I don't know why I am so fascinated with this? At the mall, two guards, one who was actually Malta police, followed her everywhere. I didn't see if they inspected the bathrooms before they let her enter. I'll try to remember to ask.

You can see Darren in the white shirt and unnamed police in the blue (click on picture
to enlarge) waiting for 
Kathleen outside a store. (I was kind of afraid to take their picture too close).

We walked the Strand with one of the guys in front and one behind Kathleen at all times.

At first we thought he was strategically placed behind a rock or wearing a thong but when he flipped over one of his balls got caught for a moment between his legs. Argh I hate when that happens.
I thought these rocks were really neat. They were cut to help trap salt.

Sliema Strand

It sure is nice when your Subrban drops you off at point A and picks you up at point B! We had a nice lunch at Mama Mia where the guards ate pizzas at a nearby table. The Suburban then dropped us tourists off at Mdina,  Mdina...Malta's oldest city, completely walled, situated inland and high above Valletta. It was surprisingly breezy and cool here.

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St. Paul's Cathedral (built 1697-1702)

Mdina is one of Europe's finest examples of an ancient walled city and extraordinary in its mix of medieval and baroque architecture. The history of Mdina traces back more than 4000 years. According to tradition it was here that in 60 A.D. that the Apostle St. Paul is said to have lived after being shipwrecked on the Islands. Furthermore it is said that St. Paul resided inside the grotto know as Fuori le Mura (outside the city walls) now known as St. Paul's Grotto in Rabat. Lamp lit by night and referred to as "the silent city", Mdina is fascinating to visit for its timeless atmosphere as well as its cultural and religious treasures.
This photo is of St. Paul's Cathedral, and was actually built after St. John's (hence the moniker "Co-Cathedral) in Valletta, however I think that is due to having to rebuild.

We ended the day in residence having a sing along of show tunes with Claudia at the baby grand piano. Our singing was reminiscent of Florence Foster Jenkins, but we had fun.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The real club Med Day Six

So this happened: today was boat day and Kathleen's first day off. The Ambassador goes Nowhere without security so five of us and two guards piled into a black Suburban. But first it took all the security plus military guard with AK 47 to open the gate. Claudia took a series of hilarious pictures from inside the Suburban that made it look like they were all flogging someone on the ground. It was really a scream...

We were tailed by another black car with security who then stood at attention on the dock while others carried our coolers. We boarded the boat and only Joseph had to actually accompany us. I guess you get used to this when you are the Ambassador??

Here is where Joseph sat for 8+ hours, except when jumped in after Kathleen.

Our boat took off from the marina at Kalkara. We took a harbor cruise, then headed out to sea, forgoing the Blue Lagoon as the wind was not right to go that direction, and too many tourists swimming there anyway. I love old buildings and here is one on the waterfront that is slated to be renovated into shops on the lower level and flats up above.

Wouldn't this be a grand place to live?!

Our captain was the competent, kind and accommodating Alec, an ex-pat Brit who studied film and cinematography before the call of the sea became too strong. We saw many sites on our harbor tour, before reaching our private swimming cove. We got to help raise the sails, and I got to steer the boat. It was much more difficult than it looks. I got us pretty tippy a couple times before voluntarily relinquishing control. Before taking control back Alec goes, "you can turn the autopilot on now" and flipped a switch. Good learning experience.

The cove was not really private but was nearly deserted. I was first to jump off the boat into 6 meters of water you could see to the bottom of. I was surprised to see what looked like waving grass. I floated over to the nearby rocky area and was freaked out by the cushiony matter when I touched down on the rock. I slipped climbing up and broke my string of days without bruising my legs. Got a nasty one. I rescued a broken diving mask from littering the ocean then paddled back on my noodle.

Kathleen and Ethan were next out to explore what we dubbed the Azure porthole or portal if you prefer. Shortly after they swam off we see Joseph dash below deck then dive in after Kathleen. Apparently you can't let the Ambassador drown. When they got back, Ethan and I took off for another cove since Alec had now jumped in and we seemed to have plenty of time. This time I took goggles, and it was fascinating to explore the sea floor and underwater rocks. I also saved the ocean from a wooden clothespin. Just doing my part for the environment.

We took a leisurely cruise back and discovered more rocky swimming areas and one tiny beach. It's so unique how the Maltese mostly swim off the rocks, cliffs, and ledges. We saw a large shipping operation, and I napped and sunned on the deck and it was truly divine.

Back at the marina, we were met by our "team." BTW, security is local Maltese.We returned our cargo to the trunk where I noticed bullet proof vests and felt even more Bourne or Salt. I thought I was going to have to stop the brigade to hurl, but I made it without incident. Betsy and I stayed up late talking, and I felt my bed pitching all night, which was a pleasant sensation. I do love the rocking and everything about a boat.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Club Med Day Five


Today we went for a small boat ride to the Blue Grotto. This is what I've been missing- the clear blue Mediterranean Sea. We are staying and touring mostly inland, so this was thrilling to get out on the water. The only problem being, I didn't know we could swim there. People are climbing and jumping off the cliffs everywhere or just lounging on the rocks or in the sea. Then again maybe it was a good thing. Most all of them had hot little bodies. Ethan jumped and somersaulted in in his shorts. Good for him! Claudia and I thought he was in the porta potty with gastric distress for that half hour or so.

Here we are getting ready for our boat ride.

The porta potties are attended, too, just to keep you abreast of local toileting issues. So the Blue Grrotto has a perfect view of the islet of Filfla, jutting out of the Med and used for target practice by the Brits until 1970 when it was declared a nature sanctuary. Our driver claimed white sharks have their babies there and then travel on. Did not see any shark tank rentals for my sister and me to dive in, 47 Meters Down-style.

Our little boat to the grottos held about 8 people. The water and the cave structures were stunning. The pictures just can't do it justice, like most things. It was only about a half hour ride or less. Ate on the terrace above, an early lunch. I thought our Serbian waiter was tastier than the food.

The Blue Grotto 

Betsy and I entering the ephemeral light.

Our e-taxi arrived early to carry us to the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples built ca 3600 BC. The 4D movie offered the comfiest seat in all of Malta with cold air conditioning, cushions, wind, rain (mist) and surround sound. Didn't tell much about the temples. We walked the covered temples, contemplating the enormity and significance of it all, and Ethan and I hoofed it back up the hill. As we have come to say, "If Ruth can do it, so can I." Kathleen told us about Ruth Bader Ginsburg's (heretofore RBG) itinerary, at 85 after two bouts of cancer, and it put us all to shame. The temples were surely built on a stunning location.

Model of the Temples

The infamous hill between the two temple sites.

Back at the ranch, I took a dip then walked up to the market for provisions. Our chef Rodrigo is preparing us a Mexican feast with chorizo. I don't think that is commonly found here. It smells divine. And with that I am going to hop back in the moment and enjoy he rest of my day. Ciao xoxo

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Travelblog Day Four

We all got up to Rodrigo's fabulous mini-quiches before departing on the bus for Valletta. A two dollar 45 minutes bus ride was better than any carnival or amusement park ride I've ever been on. Our lady driver was amazing. I believe the rule in Malta is drive down the middle of the narrow street until you meet an oncoming car then swerve left at the last possible second. It feels a little like a constant game of chicken. Park at your peril because these buses can only barely squeeze down the lane, and when we encountered a delivery truck blocking the street, my seatmate nearly blew a gasket. The bus driver was honking and a girl on a mobile was looking very stressed in the street. I assume it was her delivery. Anyway, they eventually moved and our capable driver safely delivered us to the walls of the city of Valletta, Malta's capital. The Triton fountain was under refurbishment so we missed that.

This is what the street of Valletta look like.

Our first mission was to find a battery for Ethan's camera which died at a most unfortunate time. We asked in shop after shop and were led to several different camera shops, but no luck finding the right battery. Our big destination after viewing the Grand Harbour from Upper Barrakka Gardens was St. John's Co-Cathedral. I did not realize I would come face to face with Caravaggio's breathtaking painting Beheading of St John the Baptist in the Oratory of the church. No photography allowed and could not do it justice anyway. Caravaggio was imprisoned for time in Malta, that cad, and completed this in 1608 two years before his untimely death. The raking light and the realism of his work, particularly the anatomy of his figures is un-be-lievable. It's incredible how this art holds up 400 plus years later, physically and emotionally.

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We walked some more and chose a quaint indoor trattoria and we were all pleased with our Italian fare, especially the pillowy four cheese gnocchi that I can't stop thinking about. We then headed back to the bus, picking up gelato (found the advisably brown pistachio) and blended coffee drinks. Can you believe I passed?

Back to the villa for a nap and a long poolside swim and social time. Another wonderful day in Malta!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Travelblog Day 3

After getting lost on the way to the bank, made it back to the embassy residence in a little over an hour. It should have been 10-15 minutes. I was feeling a little nervous, even knowing the Ambassador personally. Maybe more like foolish. The streets didn't seem to match the map, and the folks I asked for help were of no use.  To boot, when I got back, I thought I only got 150 Euros for 300 Ameican. Checked my wallet and it was actually 252 Euro.

Betsy was kind of mad I ran off by myself while she was sleeping so we walked up to the San Anton Gardens, a public park on the president's palace grounds. By now my feet already getting tired and it's hot as blazes. You will have to check Facebook for pictures as I can't figure out how to add photos on the tablet. We got a cold drink across the way at a public area of the Villa Bologna. BTW, the embassy residence is known as Villa Apap Bologna and is literally across the street (Tiq).

Villa Apap Bolgna (now Queen Elizabeth stayed here with Prince Phillip, and possibly conceived Charles here (according to legend).

After Claudia arrived and we lunched on fresh bread, fruit, meat and cheese, we took our e-taxi to Ta'Quali Arts Village, a repurposed WWII British barracks. There was a bit of a fuss about reserving a return ride for 5:15 because none of us had a cell phone, "no mobile no ride" even though they had agreed earlier by house telephone. Four of us all too cheap to get an international plan. They finally grudgingly agreed, but when we learned all of the shops closed at 4:00, we were somewhat nervous about whether we might be stranded in this rather desolate area.

Here is Claudia and Betsy goofy in front an ironworks shop.

The arts were cool, especially Mdina Glass works, the largest operation. We had to walk up a harrowing road to get there. Did I mention the drivers are kind of crazy and the sidewalks sketchy, if at all. We got back to the village, made some purchases after all these were handmade crafts. And still had over an hour to kill. The toilets were manned by unauthorized attendants whom Betsy paid a dollar to show us where the toilet paper was. This was a man, mind you. After we peed a woman came in to show us which one faucet worked.

We watched everyone close up shop, clear out, and drive away. The Hop On Hop Off bus worriedly made a pass and we waved them on. One lone backpacker walked through as we waited. It seemed longer but our cab got there within five minutes of our requested time and except for his interest in buying 'tactical arms' was a just fine ride.

We dined al fresco on the veranda this evening and it was simply lovely.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Travels blog day two

We lost six hours over the Atlantic over night so we left Chicago at 4 pm and passed through the night very quickly (dark), and 8 long hours later arrived in Frankfurt at 7am. Barely napped, had the window seat which you don't want because every time I want to pee or stretch I have to ask the poor German boy to get up. Had restless legs, hip aching, and The Great Wall for a movie. What was Matt Damon thinking? This aircraft was humongous, 10 seats across and a second floor.

We got through Frankfurt just fine and Betsy bought still water (distilled) and medium water (kinda bubbly). Then 2.5 more hours to Malta. When the flight attendant announced we had arrived the passengers actually applauded. Betsy had reserved a cab online and sure enough our guy was waiting at the exit with her name on a sign. 10 minutes to the Ambassador's residence, and armed guards at the locked gate. We basically have the lower level to ourselves and can walk right out to the pool.

The parlor upstairs on our first day.

This was on the front page of the newspaper when we got up one morning:

Our Ambassador and host Kathleen! 

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Travelblog Day One

I left for Springfield Capital Airport at 7 am. I listened to Spingfield's oldies on the way - things like ELO's Telephone and Easy Like Sunday mo o o o o orn ing. I'm not gonna lie I missed Adam on the drive and just being in Springfield. I met a nice lady at the airport, she was actually younger than me but retiring from the Sangamon sheriff's department next year. I remembered my last (only) encounter with them being over Adam's death...

I saw a first this morning, a crop dusting helicopter!

Now I am waiting for Betsy and Ethan in O'Hare. I forgot how many damn people there are in Chicago. I found a quiet space and 30 minutes of free wifi. And when did dogs in airports become a thing? Okay there's a tattoo guy sleeping in front of me but at least he doesn't snore.

Not knowing what else to bring our host Kathleen, I picked up some of Chicago's favorite Garrrett's popcorn (cheese and caramel mix) and a Rocky Mountain English toffee apple. And I still have 2.5 hours until our flight to Frankfurt. Trump better not mess this up.

PS when did the 70 and 80's become oldies? I thought music of the 60's and maybe 70's was old...

Here is us waiting for our flight to Malta in the Frankfurt Airport:

Friday, July 07, 2017

Dreams and such

Adam did come to me again, this time in a dream about Little Saigon Restaurant. It wasn't as personal, but at least he was there. This morning in the mail Adam got a letter from Film Streams. I don't know how he got on this mailing list, or why he used his home address, and I don't remember these things coming before he died. Oh the wonders...

Thursday, July 06, 2017

2 a.m.

I woke up and went downstairs. I thought I heard Adam crying on the couch, but he was talking on a cell phone, mumbling to someone. I tried to be all casual and went to eat some cereal. Then he was talking on a house phone to our great Uncle Lawrence or somebody like that. He was in the old TV room on the couch, and I sat down and we were talking and I'm trying to figure this out so I go, "Are you really here?" He goes, "Yeah." I asked how and he said he flashed a flashlight on the bed spread design. I was confused so he said, "You know when I was in the hospital in Camp Point and there was a portal there? I came through that."

I was trying to figure out how I was going to explain this to everyone when we had funeral and everything. He was real happy and comfortable, like it was no big deal and people would understand portals...and then I woke up.

Adam, please come back to me!

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

5th of July

I don't know why I am getting this sinking feeling, like something is wrong. While doing yoga this morning, I began trying to imagine how it felt when Adam was alive, I was the mother of his adult self, and he was living life in Springfield, working at Little Saigon, fairly satisfied with his life, or so I thought. Maybe it was me that felt satisfied. He was independent, never asked for a thing, answered his phone 'usually,' answered texts and emails regularly, visited often enough. Never gave a clue when something was wrong, always a stoic and impermeable emotional front.

I also began obsessing about when I found out he was gone: 2:30, Tuesday, 2-2-2016.  A lot of twos and T's... that takes me to the place of thinking about how many days he lay there, when he shot himself, why he did it.

This is not a place I like to go.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

July 4th

Good morning! Up at 5:00 a.m. on a holiday, what's the deal?

Maybe it's because of my upcoming vacation to Malta, or maybe the 4th today, but I have been thinking more than usual about Adam, popping up little thoughts, images and memories in my mind. It's still hard to believe he won't be celebrating today.

Fourth of July has never been my holiday, but whenever possible, Adam would spend it with his grandparents and dad at Riverside Lakes in Nebraska. Bill and I were never big on fireworks, but Riverside Lakes and the rest of the Tuttle clan take homemade fireworks displays to a new level. I think the Tuttles probably kept me shielded from what was really taking place. I saw (and heard) it for myself one year when Cal and I stopped over on our way home from a trip to North Dakota.

I was tired from driving and had a terrific headache and the banging was going on all day and night. I remember hiding in a back room of the basement trying to get some sleep and hoping no one would get hurt. Adam was at ease sitting on the retaining wall above the beach lighting off bottle rockets, M-80's, Roman candles, and lady fingers. He was around 17, and I guess he was well-schooled over the years by his uncles and Grandpa Tuttle.

I can't remember if we drove Adam back to Illinois, or were just stopping in because we were in the neighborhood. Anyway, this holiday will always remind me of Adam enjoying his time with his dad's side of the family. A piece of him will always be there.