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Closing Time

The boys had a forced parting with long-ago organized trips to the East (Ian with Gill to the Galápagos) and West (Garret and Sir Keith Peters to Singapore via San Francisco).  The less erudite one (after numerous requests) decided to record his impressions of eight internet-free days in Darwin’s waiting room.  A year ago when Pete and Lynne the wonderful couple from Florida asked us (with some prompting from Gill’s brother and sister-in-law – David and Anita Bailey) to join a group of 14 Floridians on a cruise to the Galápagos, we accepted in an unusual moment of clarity.  Who would have thought a year could pass so quickly!  Gill and I departed for a few days of acclimatization in Jupiter on the golf course (David and I) and spa (Gill and Anita) before heading to the 9,000 feet of Quito. We also had a fabulous dinner with the Swedish artist Marianne Bergengren and her Swedish friend Michael Massalsky as well as dinner at the fabulous Chez L’Épicier Montreal-style restaurant in Palm Beach. The trip to the hotel in Quito included a memorable short-cut up the side of a mountain on a road that at times did not seem to exist. After arriving at the hotel at 2 am the four lunatics after only 12-hours if acclimatization took the Teleferiquo (gondolas) up to 13,400 feet.  Great photos taken breathlessly – never again!  Up early the next morning back to Quito airport this time on roads that were not so scary, for the flight first to Guayquil then on to San Christobal Island in the Galápagos – 700 miles from Quito.  Unused to the concept of a tour group, we found the organization totally incredible. Whisked from airport by bus to Zodiac boat and on to our home for the next eight days on to the “Natural Paradise” (real name!) boat.  Fortunately, Gill and I (barely recovered from the altitude) allowed sense to prevail and passed on the deep-sea snorkeling for photographer’s heaven. What a place!  The next few days of internet- deprivation passed in blur of swimming, snorkeling, mineralogy, sea-lion watching Booby photography, tortoises, pelicans, penguins, sharks, dolphins, walkers, and amazing food served by Riccardo and Tanya.  The company was excellent, and the crew fantastic.  Somehow, they even managed to install Gill and I into a sea kayak without me tipping it over. The last hundred yards to Natural Paradise was beyond my feeble efforts and they kindly and expertly towed us in.  We both loved the Santa Cruz Island and hope to drag Garret there one day to re-live our experiences.  The end turned out to be just a bit too hectic with an NIH U01 proposal to finish. My Einstein-derived approach of not remembering anything that I could look up was sorely tested we no internet to fall back on. Somehow everything got finished by the time we arrived back in Philly and hopefully the creative surge from being in such an amazing place will be reflected in the score.  Thanks so much to Anita and David for including us., Lynne and Pete for organizing such a vibrant experience, and Jay & Debra Cannava; Lynne Gibbons; Jeff & Sabra Ingeman; Joe & Ellen Lawless; Jeff & Mimi Vaughan Carl Stearns for making us feel so welcome.  Two life-changing trips taken in one year when there was no time for either! There must be a lesson here – hopefully I have learned it.  The boys are briefly reunited again for a trip to the Philadelphia Orchestra and Ravel this weekend before one of us heads west again – “every new beginning comes from a new beginnings end.”  Japan next?

1. Lynne and Pete2. Quito Airport4. Quito3. David and Anita4. Gill and Ian Q8. Girls10. Boys8. Natural Paradise11. Bar13. Blue Booby15A. Red Booby14. Nazcar15B. Frigates20. Heron18. Pelican16. Iguana17. Sea lionIMG_0132IMG_015020. Lava26. Pete Gill Anita11A. Dave and Ian11c. Dave and Gill25. Ian and Gill24. GillGill, Anita, DaveIMG_0129IMG_0128Galapagos Gull 2109Sunset Galapagos 210927. Kayak

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A Happy Ending

I am writing this addendum in Rome where Garret has just been inducted into the Italian National Academy of Sciences (Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei). The Academy was founded in 1603 and is the oldest honorific scientific academy in the world. It is located across the river Tiber from the Vatican in the Palazzo Corsini. Garret will be joining the Academy’s illustrious members including, Carlo Patrono, Galileo Galilei, Louis Pasteur, Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi.

1 Rome

4 Ian3 Garret

Lara Marlowe, the eminent Irish Times correspondent, was Garret’s elegant escort and he was surrounded by his family – John and Missy, Genevieve and Andrew, and Hugo and friends. The South African artist William Kentridge who received the International Prize for Plastic Arts, gave a wonderful talk about how he made murals on the embankments along the Tiber in Rome. He is a delightful character who by chance invited Lara and I to the private ceremony where the President of the Society welcomed all of the inductees.  The subsequent simple public ceremony sparked some serious fun before and after the event, culminating in Garret’s cousin James giving all of the friends and family chocolates with their initial – apparently, a Dutch Christmas tradition. I never cease to be amazed at the beauty of Rome – it is such a joy to be able to come here with Garret and to meet up with all our Italian friends – particularly Carlo, Angela, Livia, Matteo, Bianca, and Antonello.

52 Group6 Corsini7 Hugo8 Bianca

My manuscript describing the discovery of a new form of frataxin (isoform E) in human red cells was finally accepted for publication in Scientific Reports on November 2nd after 6 months and 6 days and 5 revisions!  Deficiency in the protein frataxin causes the neurodegenerative disease of Friedreich’s ataxia, which results in patients dying from heart disease around age 36.  Paradoxically, there is a small group of patients with mutations in the start region of the FXNgene who can make isoform E but not the full-length form that is processed in mitochondria.  It will be fascinating to determine whether expression of isoform E confers protection for this small group compared with regular Friedreich ataxia patients who make reduced amounts of both red cell and mitochondrial frataxin protein. Calico, where Garret did his sabbatical is trying to discover new drugs that can prolong healthier life.

Blair SR Final

As I discovered (when visiting Garret) Calico works on naked mole rats as their model because they live five times longer than they should and do not suffer from cancer or heart disease.  As mentioned in our blog “The Evening of the Day” when we were in the Portland wine bar, I was astonished to learn from Uniprot that the mRNA for naked mole rat frataxin codes for an almost identical protein to frataxin isoform E we discovered in human red cells.  This raises many questions about the etiology of Friedreich’s ataxia – perhaps it is a disease of aging not just mitochondria.  I look forward to working with naked mole rats and other long-lived species such as the Brandt’s bat to determine whether frataxin isoform E is involved in DNA repair and telomere length control.  Perhaps the morals from our incredible trip is that perseverance is everything and never underestimate the value of informed luck.

10 Naked molerat sequnece and picture









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Epilogue II

After many requests, we decided to report the final statistics for views of our blog pages.  I was gratified that “You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you” was # 1 on the Northern Trip with Garret’s “73 Candles, Barolo, and Birthday, and Butte” a close second.  Garret’s spectacular “Reflection and Distillation” remains # 1 from the Southern Trip with “Save the Last Dance” from me second.  Honors are even – of course we are not competitive!     Surprisingly, in view of our Anglo-Irish heritage, Japan came in as # 2 for overall visits to the blog pages.  This must be a testament to our former Japanese fellows and postodcs, who must have faithfuly followed our torturous jounrey across the USA (thanks Seon Hwa and Tomo!).  Ireland came third followed closely by Romania (thanks to Clementima, her Mother, and Sister).  There were an astonishing 20,207 views from 48-countries (as of October 20) including the European Union, wherever that is.  Welcome Paraguay and Aruba! Thanks to all of you for following along – we will be dining out on our adventures for many years to come.

Ian and Garret


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This could be the last time (I don’t know)

  • I thought a title that did not require an encyclopedic knowledge of modern music, poetry, and literature was fitting for some final comments. Hard to believe we spent almost 140 hours in the car together traveling over 8,000 Miles. Even more amazing that we are still great (if not greater) friends after our almost 4 weeks together. Although, the separate rooms in Oklahoma City (thanks Prescott’s) and Salt Lake City (thanks John and Missy) were very timely. There is not much left to say – the car is slowly healing from my first aid treatment (at great cost!), Tracey’s mother (Linda) and Gill’s friend Trudi have connected in Beaufort SC, I heard from Geraldine who had a wonderful English accent in spite of being born in the Italian part of Switzerland and living in Rochester MN, ah and what about Susannah in Toronto. This last encounter must have been filmed as some weird art movie. I am sure you are all agog to know that we had 19,513 views from 46 countries so if nothing else we have brought our strange brand of intellectual irreverence to many cultures. I did learn about naked mole rats along the way and re-connected with the Irish bat community so the trip also had its creative side. I went with Garret as my boss and returned with him as just a regular faculty member like me. We can now jostle for raises instead of me groveling to him for them. My enduring memories are of my Irish friend protecting me in a bar, reasoning with me about the potential qualities of royalty, even praising the English rugby team – what a man! Not many of us could have endured what he has been through these last few years. This trip was humbling to see him at his most vulnerable and at his most eloquent. I sort of hope that this will not “be the last time.” One final poignant picture of him with Grand-daughter Kate heading into the blue yonder + some stats for those who might want to follow in our footsteps.
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    You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you

    Gill and I first heard Dylan sing this song at the Albert Hall in London in 1965 when half the audience walked out. We looked a little different then (photo by David Bailey)!

    Who would have thought that 53-years later I would be trying to follow an incredibly moving piece of writing by Garret in a blog in Philadelphia! Garret and I spent endless hours over the last two weeks chatting, rarely arguing (except when my navigation skills failed), trying to save the world, and reflecting in our long and unusual lives. It is easy to be a fatalist and to accept that what happened was meant to be. How in earth did we end up in Philadelphia together – a classically trained Jesuit scholar from Ireland and an Englishman who was sort of educated in more schools than he cares to remember in four different countries. It was all set in motion by one person – a Scotsman from Glasgow named Tom Baillie. When he vacated his position at the Hammersmith Hospital, London in 1979, I was recruited from Australia to fill it. Meanwhile, Tom’s wife had convinced Kate that she and Garret should move from the Hammersmith in London (where Garret and I worked briefly together) to Nashville, TN instead of Sweden. This was obviously fate at work. However, when Garret suggested I join him in Nashville in 1983, fate was superseded by my”boyish enthusiasm.” Long suffering Gill together with our children (Ester and Emma) then moved to their fourth continent in 11-years.

    After a brief sojourn by Garret and Kate in Ireland the “unlikely lads” were re-united at the University of Pennsylvania in 1997. Fate also played a part in bringing Garret from Ireland to Philadelphia. However, it it was not involved in my leaving Vanderbilt – the excitement of moving to the University of Pennsylvania remains with me today. I marvel at the joys of being able to combine modern methods of molecular biology with the cutting edge tools provided by mass spectrometry. This was unimaginable when I graduated in 1971. As everyone knows, I am a man of simple tastes – I only like the best! Fortunately, I have the incomparable Clementina to reduce my ideas to practice and wonderful people in the lab to conduct the complex studies – Liwei, Kevin, Ross, and Raj with Qingqing still there in spirit. Hopefully, our summer students Carina and Tim (our grandson) will be inspired to find their way forward as a result of their time in the lab. Gratifyingly, I just heard from Trisha Arora (a former summer student) to let me know she is about to enter medical school. I believe her time in our lab helped her decide on this career path.

    Sadly, Gill and I lost our close friend and Garret’s wife Kate (below) four years ago today. We try and celebrate her life every day but there are days like this when it is difficult to be upbeat. If I was a religious person, I would hope that she is following this blog. Perhaps she is in one way- her memory certainly inspires us both to live for the moment and to not accept anything at face value – most of all ourselves!


    A long table in a roof garden,

    platters of tomatoes, meats, cheeses,

    then bowls of fruit, berries, cookies with jam,

    and glasses everywhere, a glassy forest of wine bottles,

    all enclosed in latticed sunlight,

    a geometry of other roofs spread across the view.

    But the deeper reason the six of us

    stretched lunch into early evening

    was the six of us, one disappearing

    every now and then down the narrow stairs

    to hoist more bottles of red and white

    so we could keep toasting life under the sun.

    Kate, who just stepped away,

    an empty chair under a Roman sky,

    you who encouraged us to carpe that long diem,

    who knew then that you would lead the way?

    Forgive us now for staying so long,

    and we will forgive you for leaving too soon.”

    Billy Collins

    Our trip from Philadelphia to San Francisco in December was quite remarkable. Therefore, I was concerned that the trip back would be something of an anti-climax. However, it has had quite a different vibe and there have been more challenges. Garret’s astonishing humor and love of life sustained us through the difficult parts of the journey. His ability to connect with everyone (even Republicans) is truly remarkable. What a friend! I did say that friends are precious and I think our journey has proved that. He has described this in his blogs in ways that I could even begin to emulate. Thanks to everyone for following along, we will both treasure the experience for many years to come. Thanks also to all the interesting people we met along the way. We had a fabulous start at the world rugby sevens in San Francisco with Nick and Alastair, followed by dinner with them and Kate. Tracy has set new standards for our assessment of good wine! We will treasure our unexpected wonderful evening in Missoula in Ciao Mambo with our fabulous server Claire. Thanks to John and Missy for putting up with us in Salt Lake City. Happy memories of our evening with Geraldine and Mark in Omaha and our astonishing evening with Anisha and Keith in the Adelaide Hotel in Toronto. Thanks also to Linda and Eric for a fabulous dinner at the strangely named Hugo’s Frog and Fish House and totally unexpected early morning coffee with Kevin at Loews in Chicago.

    What a companion Garret has been – incredible to think we are still talking to each other after spending the best part of 4-weeks together. The trip could not have taken place without the encouragement and help of Gill – she is an amazing person who has travelled through four continents with me over these past 52-years. What a fantastic woman – I am so lucky!

    Cheers – until the next time?

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    Lean on Me

    Back in States, a short shot down to Philly? Not for this pair. Stan Getz, Lucinda Williams, Lenka and Lake Street Drive helped us through the backroads of upstate New York as dictated by Waze, although she was temperamental. The windmills were turning but the skies look ominous.The rain starts falling heavily as we cross into Pa.: incredible sylvan beauty that an iPhone can’t capture. Even if life’s a riddle and you are caught in the middle, just enjoy the show.

    Suddenly our reverie is shattered by a loud scraping sound that is uncomfortably familiar. They boys pull off the road. The undercarriage has collapsed again requiring them to get prone and pull it back twisting it under the front panel.No phone calls this time. Blair has been complaining of the ineffectiveness of his recently purchased USB chord . He suspects an Apple led conspiracy .However, recognizing the potential dual use of his hardware he attempts a patch up job. A mere chemist. he demonstrates his engineering skills.

    It works for 30 miles but by the time they reach Danville they are wordless and speechless as the undercarriage collapses again. Here Blair has his Apollo 13 moment , burrowing a hole in the damaged undercarriage , threading the needle. better to secure it to the frame:amazingly, it holds for the next 120 miles as the boys sing along – from Bette Davis Eyes to Biko, from Drunk in High Heels to Despacito, arriving in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, to the warm welcome of Gill.One last meal then, to conclude The Trip and anticipate the upcoming celebrations of the birthdays of the Blairs. Off to a favorite, Serpico for dinner and debrief, a sigh , a cry, a hungry kiss…Yes, it’s closing time for the blog. Before some final reflections from Blair, my few thoughts.

    As on the way out , we were humbled and in awe of the ever changing natural beauty of this country. The pictures barely do it justice. But even more so this time, the widespread fires , the arid browns, the brief contrasting deluges remind us of how fragile is this beauty. This, as it’s protection is undermined by a renegade leadership of the EPA. There are windmills, old and new , but mostly of the mind as the energy politics of the 1950s are pursued. The price of this neglect, measured also in lives lost over these weeks, is even starker than half a year ago.

    The urban rural divide in America was even more apparent on the northern route. The millennial prosperity of the cities – San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Denver, Chicago and our favorite , Toronto – contrasted with adjacent rural deprivation often in the most pristine of settings.

    This is currently our central domestic challenge . It underlies the politics of angry nostalgia for an imagined prosperity and an all too real racial discrimination of the past. Investment in education, communication and transportation massively and strategically is needed to narrow this gap. The cities, for all their wealth, are scarred by homelessness. Starting with the yawning divide in wealth that is most striking in San Francisco, how can we hope to sustain an economy as we increase the number of us who have no investment in things as they are?

    Compared to the costs of our wars, how much investment is needed to address this problem? A failure to do this is a bigger threat to our social cohesion than Russian hackers with or without collusion. There IS such a thing as society and it’s worth fighting for. This solution lies within ourselves.

    This is a beautiful, mainly empty country. This empty beauty has more than enough room for the vigor and hard work of new Americans. Our strength is our diversity, emigrants are the lifeblood of our renewal. The absurdity of the political rhetoric on this topic is as disturbing as the abandonment of the rural poor and the denial of climate change.

    I’ll close by some words about my fellow migrant compadre, Ian. On this day of all days, I know how much he and Gill have sustained me through loss and illness. In his words ‘friends are precious’. These trips are products of that generous friendship; Ian to take the weeks out of his busy life, Gill to let him go. He works harder as he gets older and with increased purpose – from revealing and addressing environmental threats to the public health to finding a cure for Friedrich’s Ataxia. Through all sorts of challenges, he sustains a boyish enthusiasm for science, a wicked sense of humor and a loyalty for his family and friends. What a guy! His zany engagement with people of all backgrounds, political persuasions, colors and creeds were an inspiration. I am so lucky to have him as my friend.

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    Astral Weeks

    It’s been quite the time. We’ve synchronized our bladders, done changeovers like an FI pit stop crew and harmonized hotel check ins and parking like U2’s roadies.

    It’s been a blast but even in a prosperous place like Toronto, you can see that for many it’s a bitter sweet symphony and to believe in this living is a hard thing to do. Fixin’ up the car to drive in it again, the Verve and Coldplay ease us out of Toronto through Hamilton to St Catharines where Hugo rowed and where they should have a blue plaque for the grand Funk.

    For us, exhaustion is taking its toll, so Montreal postponed to give us that day of rest in Toronto and more sadly we bypassed Colin not to take the long road home.

    Close to the edge, a hollowed out town trying its best with a few unusual features that remind Blair of his favorite day – in Seaside, Oregon.After the financial outlays of the past two weeks he may needFor me there is Jay Cochrane, who when my age did thisAmazingly he died later of natural causes! Moving round the bend the travelers did the uncommercial swift but sufficient view of the falls.Thence over the bridge and into static traffic – Funk’s revenge. Ian behind the wheel is pacified by Rory Gallagher live from the other PRC – the People’s Republic of Cork.Getting closer to the end. This could be the last time, but I don’t know.

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    Like a drunk in a midnight choir

    We like Toronto , we like Canadians .We started the day with a dip in the pool. This required us to ascend from the penultimate floor in the elevator, a darkly mirrored steel box that reminded us of the famous skit of voice recognition and two Scots in an elevator ( cf YouTube).The elevator ascended , we calmed down and checked out the waters of Babylon. Blair went into Pasha mode, I surveyed the pool.Next Ian submitted to overdue fealty to GSK while I went to the Apple store to try to sort out why my iPhone X couldn’t sync with WiFi. As Hugo said to me about IKEA, who would have known that hell was colored blue and yellow? But Apple have conceived a twilight zone where the mad go and people go mad.It started well enough. I was registered and delayed for an expected hour and met a charming Croatian. We discussed the phone but also the similarities and distinctions of our small countries. Ireland has a great economy but is lousy at football …..

    Croatia is presently a nice place to visit but is no country for young men. He stripped the iPhone as a prelude to rebirth from the cloud and handed me over to an apparently disinterested and distracted Calbrian as my Apps slowly reappeared. Except not all of them, including this platform. Opposite me a clearly disturbed man who had come there only to eat his bagged lunch screamed into a cell phone in Vietnamese.

    Probably too many users on the network, the Calbrian helpfully explained.

    Blair was now on the backside of ecstasy having finished his reports and demanded my presence at the Richmond Grill. Plenty of health food but a dysfunctional internet and a further stalled download.

    A postprandial snooze and back to Apple. I established that the Calabrian descendent also had an Irish granny so, based in our common heritage, we joined forces to seal the deal.

    Deleting everything was followed by a slow but comprehensive recovery from the cloud. Give me that old time religion. Faith in Apple to some degree restored. Well maybe. As I burned time akin to an outpatient appointment in dealing with something that shouldn’t occur with a $1000 phone , the first restored message descending on the screen was of Apple crossing the $trillion threshold, testing my sense of irony. We like Toronto because of its weather, the diversity and elegance of the people on the street, the restaurants and bars filled with chatting , the vigor of youth betraying some style. It’s a place that’s relaxedbut also temperedsomething for everyone.We took a pause. For me I needed recovery time from iPhone hell and turned to replace my ancient scratched and scraped sports glasses. Service from Wellsley was restorative – informed, funny and efficient.Wellesley is my kinda guy.

    The boys had a preprandial post purchasing apperetivo at Pseuds corner,

    well, pretty close, where we discussed ponderous issues like Goldenballs and Jemimah Khan – still keeping an eye. Nice Italian ambience and a barman called Titziano! That paints the picture.Slipping into the penultimate clean T , I joined Blair in the final stroll for dinner: it’s not only Uber that has problems with directions.

    Modus, the selection of our charming concierge, Toni, suited Blair’s relaxed sartorial option, selected for this evening. We quickly chose a red headed woman from the Abruzzo. A simply wonderful Cat, as was the food

    even if there was a touch of the Omaha in the ambience.Plenty of home truths exchanged as the two old friends contemplated the eternal verities, the excitement of work and the need for time to stand and stare.

    Those thoughts in mind we headed home, humming secular songs on the empty highway. Joan and James, like Janis and Leonard.Is this all that matters or do we need emotional rescue?Adjourning to the bar we anticipated a quiet conclusion to our evening but we hadn’t counted on Susannah, one of the guests, whose grandad was the hit man for Haillie Selassie. This fitted nicely with the ambience that had some trappings of Fellini’s Roma (all those obelisks ). Susannah was exotically beautiful, loudly outspoken and a touch erratic.Transfixed, were Anisha and Keith, both, now like us, bit parts in Susannah’s performance art

    During a soliloquy from S, Anisha and Blair, discovered in a side conversation, that they were both Kenyan touched migrants from Lincolnshire. I swear it happened just like this.

    Although it was a bit of a midnight special we sat through the final act, full of angels and demons. Looked like freedom but it felt like death, it’s something in between I guess. It’s closing time.

    Adieu Leonard, adieu Canada: we’re heading home.

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    Heart like a Wheel

    To create our first impression of Canada the guy at the border seemed unphased by all the clothing (mostly Blair’s ) in our car , given the 2 night duration of our stay, but was confused by our plans to ‘have fun’ in Toronto and perplexed by our idea of going to Kingston at all.

    A bit after that we pulled off the highway and threaded our way through a picturesque township close to East London, to the filling station to gas up. We were culturally dislocated, surprised and touched that you were supposed to fill your tank and then pay later! Try that in the US without encountering buckshot! This trusting openness was exemplified by the gracious Karim, snatched from behind the counter and all up for a future cross country trip.So we pushed east through the flatlands doing the old Australian crawl, encouraged by the McGarrigles, but intimidated by all those speeding signs, including vehicle seizure, a $10000 fine and potentially jail time. While this chastened me into the mpg / kpl conversion, it seemed to offer a challenge to Canadians, similar in their speed to Americans, except with less lane discipline.

    At last, Toronto spread out along the lake. In order to avoid attention they stayed in a down market hotel.Glad to spend two nights here, I realize I erred in Chicago: THIS is the defrocked Trump Hotel. At least the shower is unpretentious . Slipping into an ever diminishing supply of clean t shirts and my evening jeans while Blair draws on the limitless sartorial supplies of Big Bertha, we prepare to glide ( after a few Uber screw ups ) to Byblos. Well, a restaurant called Byblos.This place is hopping . Our server Andrew is a bit of a clone of son John. A snowboarder, he’s hung out in Queenstown and done the comparative shopping between Whistler and some of the crazily priced resorts in Colorado. Utah is in his dreams. The eastern Mediterranean food, tapas style, is excellent.I direct our choice of wine to the Bekka. First sampled this one with Kate decades ago in Kuai. A touch of emerging Amarone. Tracy approves and, of course, had once lunched with the late Serge.What an evening. We contemplated the fundamentals of existence. Blair’s desire to find a cure for Friedrich’s and the necessity to temper that urge with a lifestyle that allows time to do it; how we humans cope with loss and it’s prospect – of those closest to us and of ourselves; how Canadians have stricter speed limits , frequent signs warning of doom if they exceed them and yet drive faster than Americans and of course, what a wonderful life it has been. Those children ( mostly ), those grandchildren, cats and dogs ( always) our treasured partners, our precious friends.Andrew gave us some great recommendations for tomorrow. We slipped into the night and, after another Uber screw up, when it seemed there was no direction (their GPS is confused by Toronto’s building boom), home.

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    Pennies from Heaven

    It’s a wild world out there on a perfect day. A text revealed that Philadelphia friend, blog follower, aficionado of Limerick hurling and ultimate connector of dots, Kevin was in town: of course he was, alive and kicking.The boys saddled up, weaved there way through Chicago traffic and observed the irony of the few remaining letters of the Trump Hotel sign, soon to be dismantled by popular demand: yes, it’s a perfect day.Chicago has a fine tradition of Irish corruption and it was heartening to see that Rahm E is sustaining it as we were gouged $5.20 for a half mile toll road: the .20 was a nice touch, designed to afford the opportunity for dropping change and reflective contemplation in the consequent tailback.

    A variation on the theme was delivered by Pence’s Indiana. This time a round $5, but no sign of how much until you reached the unmanned barrier. This delivered up the most uneven crumpled interstate yet. Maybe he’s diverting Pence’s pence to conversion therapy – his road to salvation. The first cut is the deepest.

    The boys moved on, serenaded by Roseanne, Dolly and the Lumineers, singing of classy flapper girls like Angela, with flowers in their hair. And then a lighthouse guided us into Michigan.Blair saw the opportunity to foster my diversity training and all seemed well.On we went. Perhaps listening to Slow it Down did it, but suddenly we had a signal that we had lost some pressure in a front tire. We limped into a truck stop and Blair paid up to pump up in the hope that we could sustain the trip with intermittent positive pressure. If it works we can try CPAP for his snoring.

    Back on the interstate we revealed the essential difference between the English and the Irish. I wanted continuously to monitor the tire pressure: as the theoretician I optimistically assumed our strategy would work. Blair, pessimistic yet practical, didn’t want to look and figured that when the lights started flashing, he would deal with it.We needed that optimism to deal with 800 years of oppression. Turned out, fortunately, I was right, but stopping at a McDonalds we observed Mr T speaking to his supporters. However, we first heard part of our undercarriage descend again. The boys were up to fixing it (yes I pulled it back from the other sidebut unlike Blair I didn’t simultaneously discuss a grant submission. What a multi tasker.After all this trauma, passing by the delights of Kalamazoo, Paw Paw and the sadly neglected Flint, the boys decided it was time to flee the country for the People’s Republic of Canada.Oh Canada! Home of Justin Trudeau, Leonard Cohen, the McGarrigles, Yannick, Jesus of Montreal and Colin Funk. All kinds of Roses. Taxes, public services and a foreign policy.