An interpreting assignment in Bogotá was offered so I jumped on it. I flew to Medellín on Saturday, and today my wife and I came to the capital. It’s great to be back in Colombia even if it’s just a week.

Following are some curiosities that I found worthy of a picture.

Yesterday’s menu referred to chicken wing drumsticks as “colombinas de pollo” (chicken lollipops).


On our way to the airport today we passed this load of bricks. They tend to be hollow here and are used for structure rather than siding, although they may be exposed and varnished.


This itinerant vendor was offering pineapples for CP$2500 (90 cents US) apiece.


Colombia, Food, Language, My life, Spanish, Travel

A week in Colombia

Blogging, My life, Travel

Look, a post!

Okay, that was lame.

Hi. I’m back, at least today. Since last summer I have been working primarily at my agency’s Tampa office. The computers here are configured such that I can’t use my WordPress reader, posting is more difficult, and I’m not allowed to upload photos, so WP is a frustrating experience that I tend to avoid. At home I’m too busy working or being with my wife to post or read.

This has been a busy and expensive Christmas season. I bought our tickets for Colombia late in the season, which meant premium prices, and then Alicia had a medical emergency after she got there, so I hastened my trip to Medellín, which meant buying another ticket (I had been booked to join her in Panama). My insurance covers treatment outside the country, but it’s a tedious process and not all hospitals will do direct billing, so I paid for a lot of her tests and visits out-of-pocket and filed for reimbursement after we returned. We had planned a week in Panama, so I had to buy another ticket to get there, had to pay a penalty to reactivate my unused ticket for the rest of my travel, and then there was the cost of a rental car, hotel, meals, etc.

Since our return to the US, Alicia has had two more health crises necessitating trips to the ER. She’s doing fine now. The issues have been caused by low potassium and her thyroid, apparently. Our trip to Dallas had to be postponed, which meant more expense. We did eventually make it, for four lovely days, and fortunately she had no problems there.

It was wonderful to see my kids and my good friends in Texas. Two years was too long to be away. I was pleased that my friends were delighted with Alicia, as she was with them. She loved Dallas, too. It is a clean, orderly, and prosperous place, and the trees have no Spanish moss, as she pointed out.

We visited the neighborhoods where I used to live. I was glad to see that both my old houses are in good shape. My former next-door neighbor told me my last house has been extensively remodeled inside. I could see that the windows and roof had been replaced and a large concrete patio dug out from under the ivy in the back yard. The little house I lived in before has been painted outside and inside, and the carpet replaced with laminate flooring.

My wife notices clothing, jewelry, and housekeeping. I notice the condition of houses.

Now we’re back home and starting on 2015. My goal is to get the house finished inside in time for some friends’ visit in March. I have one bedroom and the staircase to paint and install flooring. Then outside I need to re-side the back wall, replace some screen and rotted wood around the lanai, and paint.

Alicia’s goal is to sell the house this year, at a good price. I’m going to let her handle that. She’s a wizard at sales.

I hope you all are fine. Maybe I’ll get around and look at your blogs one of these days. I have missed you.

Colombia, My life, Travel

One day…

I will post again.

Hang tight.

I’m in Colombia for Christmas and New Year. It has been a good time. Pictures and posts are forthcoming, one of these days. In the meantime, here is a beach picture from Panama, where we spent a week.


Take care, and have a happy New Year.

My life, Travel

Shirts and a Florida resort

Why do these shirts make me think of Charlie Sheen? Especially the one on the right.


I would honestly rather not have to think about him.

JC Penney had summer shirts on clearance. I now have enough nice shirts to last the rest of my life. My girls will be glad to know I passed on the silk Hawaiian with the parrots and the bamboo. It looked cool on the rack but not in the mirror. Nor did I get either of the Charlie Sheen shirts.

We were at the mall in Bradenton last night. I don’t know the name of the place, but it’s dying. Apparently they built a new mall close to the freeway, and this older place in the heart of Bradenton, across the street from the Manatee County Sheriff, is withering away.

There’s a dollar-and-up place in the mall where I found a cable for my phone for $2.99. The original cable has to be bent just so to make contact, so I needed a new one. I had my choice of pink and blue. The one advantage of a colored cable is that I won’t mix it up with any other cable in the house.

I chose blue, which should be needless to say, but I feel compelled to say it.

For the past two weeks we have been staying at Cedar Cove Resort on Holmes Beach, just west of Bradenton. It’s a pleasant place. There are autographs from James Taylor, Brian Wilson, and other celebrities in the office.  I’m working in Bradenton so my employer pays for the hotel. We’re enjoying it, except for the lousy cell phone reception and slow wifi.

This is our unit. I think it’s the cheapest one in the place.



Language, My life, Translation, Travel

“So you’re also from Chihuahua?”

I had an intepreting gig in Miami last week. I drove down instead of flying so Alicia could come with me. We stayed in a ritzy hotel on the waterfront. The event was held at another ritzy hotel around the corner.

I’ve interpreted for a few high-level people before, but this time one of the speakers was a political figure all of you would recognize. That was pretty cool.

It was an international conference, and the Spanish speakers came from all over Latin America and Spain. I always wonder how much gets lost in translation; while Spanish speakers can usually understand each other, there are differences in terms and accent from one country to another just as there is between English-speaking countries. You don’t realize how much you don’t understand until you have to translate it, as I discovered the first time I did simultaneous interpretation back in 2006; I had to interpret presentations given by an English woman and by a Spaniard, and some of their terms left me completely baffled.

The other two Spanish interpreters in Miami were considerably better than I, from what I could tell. They have better vocabularies and are more fluent in Spanish. The one time I got to be a hero was when a New Zealander was speaking; they couldn’t understand his accent, and I could catch most of it.

Possibly the weirdest moment in the conference was when one of the Mexicans came up to me and said, “So you’re from Chihuahua too?” I have no idea how he came to that conclusion; I used to have a Mexican accent, as the result of twelve years translating for Mexicans in Dallas, but since I got reacquainted with Alicia in 2010, I’ve resumed the Colombian accent and vocabulary I grew up with.

While we were in Miami, we had a brief visit from Doña Herlinda and her daughter Doris, who lived down the street from me in San Cristóbal (just outside of Medellín) back in the 1970s. Doris now lives near Palm Beach and Herlinda is in the US for a visit. Doris’s brothers Uriel and Chicho (real name Hildebrando, I found out decades later) used to play Kick the Can, soccer, or whatever else was in vogue (tops, kites, slingshots, yoyos) with me and my brother Danny.

Doña Herlinda and her husband once owned a well-known scenic restaurant, Los Pinos, overlooking Medellín. After her husband died, Uriel took it over and ran it for several years, until a local gang started charging him ‘vacuna’ (“vaccination”, what the Mafia called “protection”). He shut it down and turned it into a house. Herlinda now lives there, and Alicia and I visit her nearly every time we go to Colombia. Back in November 2010, when we were just getting reacquainted, we spent a lovely evening together on her balcony, so it’s a pleasant pilgrimage to remember the beginnings of a great love story.

And now we’re back in Tampa. It looks like we finally have a buyer for the Texas lake house I co-own with my ex. Getting rid of it will be an enormous relief; it has been a crippling burden for the past year and a half since the renters moved out and I had to change the septic tank and put it on the market.

Movie review, My life, Travel

Brief reviews and opinionated comments

When my Dodge Grand Caravan gave up the ghost a couple of months ago, we bought a brand-new Toyota Corolla. I like nearly everything about it: roomy for a compact car, great gas mileage (34 mpg), Bluetooth, backup camera, spacious trunk. There are only two features that annoy me.

One is the location of the Mode button on the left spoke of the steering wheel. I steer with my left hand, and when I’m making a sharp turn, tend to rest the heel of my hand precisely there to spin the wheel. This can kick me out of a phone call or interrupt my favorite song. I wish they had placed the button at least half an inch to the right.

The other annoying feature is the hard plastic of the inside door handle. I hadn’t realized how much comfort I was sacrificing when I gave up the Caravan. Since I’m 6’4″, in a small car I either have to stretch my left leg out or sit grasshopper-like with my knee up and leaning against the door. The leg-extended position puts pressure on my heel. The grasshopper position puts pressure on the side of my knee at the point where it rests on the hard plastic. I think I’m going to tie a cushion to the door handle.


For our trip to Panama City, we rented a Chevrolet Caprice. It was somewhat roomier than our Corolla, and my knee didn’t get as sore from leaning on the door. But it had a couple of stupid design features.

The steering wheel has metal trim, just like the Corolla, but the Chevy’s is shiny, ready to catch the sun and reflect it into the driver’s eyes at any opportunity. The rear edge of the hood has a bevel that also sends sunset glare right into your eyes.


The dash has this display with blue lights that remind me of a cheap boombox.



Alicia and I watched Frozen last week. We enjoyed it, but there were some flaws in the writing that bugged us:

1) Not just one, but two cutesy mascots! The reindeer was okay. The snowman was annoying, but at least the writers realized it and were mean to him.

2) Some really bad parenting. Horribly bad.

3) No foreshadowing of the prince’s betrayal. The only thing resembling a hint is that Elsa was opposed to Anna’s engagement because it happened after spending just four hours with him. The prince’s behavior was exemplary up until it suddenly wasn’t.


If you speak Spanish, you may enjoy the India María movies from Mexico. Alicia and I discovered them a couple of weeks ago. They are wonderfully funny, with gentle humor that is much cleaner than that of Cantinflas. Unfortunately, some of the movies available on Youtube appear to be heavily edited, leading to gaps in the narrative.

The last one we watched was a bit disappointing both in writing and editing; María goes to Mexico City to talk to her congressman about her village’s lands being expropriated and her brother taken away by the government. She suffers a number of indignities trying to find the congressman’s office, isn’t allowed to see him, gets thrown into jail, and then the story heads off into María’s promise to help a fellow prisoner whose children are in the care of an unscrupulous couple that sell contraband, neglect the children, and are squandering the prisoner’s last remaining assets. María goes to live with the couple and has various adventures in their neighborhood. She participates in a professional wrestling match to raise funds to help her friend. At the end of the movie the bad people are arrested, the children will be okay, and their mother will finally be able to bond out of jail. But there is no more mention of the expropriated lands or her missing brother.


While we were in Panama City, FL last week, we drove out to Panama City Beach. It was much too chilly for the beach, so we visited the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, which is shaped like half the Titanic. The museum was fascinating. There is also a 3-D Moving Theatre, for which we had to stand in line for about 40 minutes. The two short 3-D movies were pathetic in comparison to movies I’ve seen in similar theaters at amusement parks. The smudged and flimsy 3-D glasses didn’t provide a 3-D effect at all. I was very glad I hadn’t paid the full price of admission. (The show is a $5 add-on if you buy a museum ticket.)

* I sent the above comments to the museum’s Contact Us form, and immediately got this response back from the manager: “I apologize for the inconvenience that you and your wife went through. We are currently upgrading our theater into a more interactive shooting 7D experience. We should be re-opening the theater on May 12. Please allow me to make-up for the experience by sending you two complimentary tickets to come back after the new theater is in place. Thank your for visiting and sorry for the inconvenience.”


Panama City and Panama City Beach are beautiful places. The people who attended us at the hotel and in stores were extremely polite. Streets are clean, houses tend to be attractive and well-maintained, the beaches are excellent.

We arrived at the Marriott suites only to find that I had no reservation. Apparently I hadn’t finalized the online process. But they gave us a room at a rate my agency would cover, and took good care of us all week. Our only gripe was that the free breakfast is a little boring. There is: yogurt, milk, waffles, hard-boiled eggs, cereal, instant oatmeal, instant grits, bagels, muffins, Granny Smith apples, bananas, apple and orange “juice”, coffee, hot chocolate, tea. It’s not bad for a day or two, but gets old over the course of a week.


That’s my two cents for today.


My life, Travel

My wife, masterful in her assertiveness

Alicia flew in from Medellín yesterday. I drove over to Orlando after work to pick her up.

She had to get up very early to catch a 7:30 a.m. flight to Bogotá on LAN, claim her bags and turn them in at Delta, take a five-hour flight to Atlanta, go through Immigration and Customs, recheck her bags, and fly to Orlando.

Everything went well until her last flight. At the gate in Atlanta, she was in group 3 and was the last to board. The Delta rep grabbed her carry-on, tagged it, and gave it to a baggage handler at the door to the plane. “No!” said Alicia. “I’m carrying that on. It’s fragile.” (It contained several buildings from a Christmas set, and after the fiasco with my carry-on that got sent to the wrong country, we had made sure it wasn’t overfilled so it would fit in the test rack.)

The baggage handler hesitated, looking at Alicia and the Delta rep as they argued. The rep insisted it had to be gate-checked, and ordered her to board the plane. Alicia refused. “I’m not moving until I get my bag back,” she said.

No one within earshot spoke Spanish, but it was obvious what she was saying. The rep got more and more furious, finally yelling, “Get out!”

“You get out!” Alicia responded in accented English.

Finally one of the pilots came out to see what was going on. “Do you speak English? Italian?” he asked Alicia.

“No English. Español,” she said.

The pilot said something, and the rep, clearly irate, took the bag from the baggage handler and gave it to Alicia, while the baggage handler grinned ear to ear. It appeared to Alicia that he was delighted to see the pushy rep get her comeuppance.

Colombia, Travel

Cerro El Volador

Alicia’s son Juan Manuel had soccer practice in a park at the top of this mountain in the middle of Medellín, not far from the apartment where we were staying. He invited us to come watch him, so we crossed the street and a university campus and started up the trails. The trails were way too muddy, so we backtracked and went around to the left where there is a road into the park.


It took us an hour and a half to get there. We stopped at a little store for a drink, then trudged up a trail to the very top of the hill, from which you can see most of the city.

Somewhere in this photo is the apartment where we were staying, the house I lived in during the 1960s, and the school I attended through 9th grade.


This photo looks toward the west. Somewhere toward the right center, behind all  the apartment buildings, is the house where Doña Herlinda lives. Alicia and I shared some pleasant moments on her balcony at the beginning of our courtship, and a few more on this trip. The house my family owned in San Cristóbal is over the hill just beyond the dark spot of vegetation in the middle of the photo. A friend and I hiked to the top of the mountain on the horizon about 40 years ago, accompanied by our little dog Bambuco.




Colombia, Multiculturality, Music, My life, Travel

Traveling today / Concert logistics woes

My flight leaves this afternoon at 1:40, so I’m in the office for a few hours this morning. A coworker will drive me to the airport, which is just a couple miles away. Tonight I’ll see Alicia in Medellín. Yay!

Tomorrow evening is her farewell concert at the university where she used to teach. It’s also the farewell for the symphonic band  director, who is also retiring.

Alicia has three television appearances today to promote the concert. The posters were only put up on Monday. It’s kind of short notice. Preparations have been a comedy of errors and delays. When Alicia worked at the university, she was the logistics expert for her department and organized all the big events. Now that she’s gone, no one has stepped into the gap. Things just don’t get done, or they get thrown together at the last minute.

We had studio portraits taken of Alicia a month ago, and e-mailed them to the university band directors and the head of Alicia’s department. It turned out that the band director’s e-mail address was wrong, the corrected one he gave us was wrong, and we finally had to route stuff through his wife’s address! Even at that, the first draft of the concert poster was produced using an older photo of Alicia that neither of us liked, so late last week I e-mailed the studio portraits to the graphics department at the university—over and over again, because I was again given a series of incorrect addresses. I think it was Thursday evening when they finally sent me another draft of the poster to proof, and then they rushed it off to the printer on Friday.

Similar problems have besieged the production of her CD, which was supposed to be launched at this concert but isn’t ready. I still haven’t seen a draft of the cover art or the liner notes. I have no idea when it will come out. It was supposed to be the education department’s Christmas gift.

For that matter, the concert may not happen at all. I’ve written before about the typical turmoil at the university: the students rarely miss an opportunity to protest against the government or the university administration. I can’t remember how many times Alicia had to rush out of her office because there were papa-bombas (“potato” bombs) going off and the riot police were coming in. When my dad taught there, they rarely completed more than one semester  a year because of all the interruptions. Right now the students are on strike, so the campus has been calm, thank God. Tomorrow morning, though, of all days, a student assembly is scheduled. If it results in violence, the concert could be called off, since it’s to take place in the university theater.

There was also supposed to be an outdoor Christmas concert December 6. That one was canceled for security reasons. I wish they had moved it off campus instead of canceling it; the botanical gardens are just up the street and would make a great venue. Alicia is checking on whether they can throw together another performance at the Teatro Pablo Tobón Uribe, Medellín’s concert hall. If anyone can pull it off, she can.

You guys have a great Thanksgiving. I’m grateful for you.