Uncommon Ground
Volume 4 Book 3 of
Living in the Bonus Round
(Part 12)
A Barbary ape of Gibraltar.
A picture I shot on top of Gibraltar of a "Barbary ape."

[ Book 4-2 ] --  [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ]  [ Pt 5 ] [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ]
[ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Pt 11 ] [ Pt 12 ] [ Pt 13 ] [ Pt 14 ] -- [ Book 4-4 ]

April 22-May 19, 2005.
Long Day Home.
As before, I will catch you all up on our trip as soon as I've had a chance to process all the pictures, video and etceteras. We got home from Rome on Monday late and I tried to sleep in order to set my clock back to normal but it was no go. I was up all night. Tuesday morning was an appointment with my eye surgeon to see what we could do.

Unfortunately, I got caught in a massive traffic jam, took a wrong freeway and found myself in Downey before I called Jimmy. Much winding and twisting later I arrived an hour late for my appointment. I like Dr. Quiroz. The clinic is a teaching clinic so he always comes in with students in tow. As he checks upon me, they're all hovering and looking at me, trying to get a better view.

His opinion was that my eye was still in good shape as far as vision was concerned but that it was jammed so far in the "up" position, that in order give me stereoscopic vision of any kind, he'd probably have to do surgery on both eyes. One to roll the right one down and one to make the left one not move so much when it looks down.

I was so tired, so exhausted by the time he pronounced all this, with everyone looking at me, I just kind of sat there uncomprehending and wondering if I had to make this decision, like, NOW. Right this moment. After all, these are my eyes we're talking about. Surgery on the bad one I could deal with, but surgery on both? Yikes. Touch the good one? Oy.

He could see my distress and told me that I didn't have to decide right then and there. The lady would call me to schedule the procedure and then I could decide. He seemed to think it was no big deal and he assured me this was an easy procedure, not major.

Fine for him, I thought.

I then fought traffic to get to the drug store to pick up some meds and then back into traffic -- and over the blocked-off Laurel Canyon Blvd. -- still partly blocked off from the rains and landslides, to arrive home in a catatonic state. My goal was to stay awake as long as possible so that I could sleep at night.

I managed to achieve that goal but I still woke up at 3am. It is now 5am as I write this. I did a little photo processing, caught up on some emails and worked on a music arrangement for a man who caught me on MCC-LA TV. I was singing one of my newer songs, "Lazarus Come Out." The man was a soon to be ordained minister who wants to use the song as part of his ordination service during gay pride. How's that for a nice welcome home? The sheet music is almost finished, so I was working on that.

Oh, that's another thing. Jimmy and I sang for the church just before we left for Europe. You can stream it here: http://mcclatv.org/183_April_3_2005_MCCLA.htm. We sang the "God's Hands" section of Big Voice.

There is one photo accompanying this diary entry at the top. It's of one of the famed "Barbary apes" of Gibraltar. They run wild and free on Gibraltar and even attacked a couple while we were there. But people go up there anyway, as we did. I was taping Jimmy when suddenly he told me to look behind me. I snapped that photo with the tip of the Rock just behind it, bathed in mist. I look forward to sharing the whole trip with you.

Meanwhile, tonight we rehearse and tomorrow we open. The question is whether anyone will be there. The press release had the wrong phone number and the theatre forgot to list us at Theatremania where people could buy tickets.

I love show biz.

(April 22-May 2, 2005.)
The Crossing.
[This is my shipboard diary.]

I'm sitting in the piano bar aboard this ship. It's May 2nd. 5am.

I got up about an hour ago. As I was walking down the hall, I heard a lot of voices coming from this direction. Now, usually on this ship, everyone is long asleep by 2am, so I rarely run into others. Around the bar, however, I walk into about ten people all smoking and drinking. Most of them are guys and I immediately recognize them as musicians who are onboard as part of the Tommy Dorsey band. They are mostly young horn players in their early 20s and they have been playing these fabulous old Tommy Dorsey charts. Most of them look like they're either still in college or just out.

We've been on the ship for about a week crossing from Florida to Lisbon and though I've thoroughly enjoyed myself, the one thing I have not done is get any songs written. When you sail eastward, you end up crossing back across five time zones. So every single night for five nights we have rolled the clocks back an hour.

This has prevented me from waking up early, which is when my brain is alive. No matter how early I wake up, it's an hour later than I intended, and then the next night I lose yet another hour.

Someone asked me, "What time did you wake up this morning?"

I answered, "I woke up at 7, which is really 6, which is really 5, which really 4..." which is really even earlier than that because it's three hours earlier via L.A. time. So my body clock doesn't have a CLUE what time it is right now.

The other morning I managed to make it up at 5am and, like this morning, I walked into company -- except it was only one guy, the pianist who was sitting here drinking a beer listening to Dinah Washington, totally plastered. Unlike the others, he was an older veteran of big bands. A really great musician.

When I told him I was a composer and that I had come up early to work, he brightened up and asked me to play something. I played "How Do You Fall Back In Love."

He immediately asked for another and then another. He said to me, "You should always sing your own songs. You really sing from the heart. Thank you."

I was really taken aback by his compliments and encouraged, especially since I had been feeling down about not having new songs.

This cruise has been eventful, only if you consider eating and sleeping eventful. The motion of the ship has been strong. For a couple of nights we were really rocking. A passenger came up to me and said, "Did the Captain say when we'd be getting back to normal?"

I said, "Lady, we're in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. This is normal."

Tomorrow we arrive in Lisbon, a city I know nothing about. I feel terribly guilty when I cruise into a place without having read a single word about about it. How American. Nothing exists but us.

This time around, we're shooting another vacation "movie." I have absolutely no idea what the plot is yet, but that hasn't stopped us from shooting scenes and making up dialogue.

I can't believe how quickly these nine days have passed.

May 8, 2005.
Lisbon was interesting. We found our way to the old medieval part of town and walked through the narrow, staircased steps. This entire section of town is being restored. It was populated by local folks and chickens and little non-touristy shops and restaurants. But there was still a big sign on the outside of the area so tourists could find their way there -- and lots of them did.

We found a special altar and glass coffin of Saint Filomena in the first church we went into. This was cool because Jim features her in his play "The Lucky O'Learys." We had no idea she was in Lisbon -- or Lisboa, as it's spelled here in Portuguese.

There is a big, ancient center square with statue and arch that reminds me of the one we saw in St. Peterburg, Russia. On this one, however, there is a frieze of an elephant trampling someone over.

The next day we were at sea. Then we arrived in Barcelona for an overnight stay with an old friend of Jimmy's, Chuck Murawski who used to design all the sets for the Norman Lear comedies (along with lots of other stuff). Chuck is now retired and living parttime in Barcelona with his partner, Jorge, a Cuban expatriot, and their three big dogs. They live in Citges, which is a resort town north of Barcelona.

Barcelona is another city I have never really thought about much. All I knew was that it hosted an Olympics. Well, this city! What a beautiful place this is. The main streets are wide, with buildings cut back on the corners so that you never feel overwhelmed. The sun was shining, there were trees down all the boulevards -- and the old architecture is being restored.

Chuck said, "Spain, ever since it joined the EU, has seen tons of money being poured into it. There is a huge housing boom. It's very free here. 500 cable channels from all over Europe in many languages, modern infrastructure upgrades, better highways than in the United States. It's like the US in the 30s and 40s. Free, growing, optimistic, modern, young. Young people everywhere. A growing middle class."

Indeed, the streets were packed with young people. The stores were full of high fashion, the streets were lined with street performers, markets, salespeople, displays, art, museums and theatre.

"And gay people can get married here!" He continued. "I can tell you this. In America we always say how free we are, but you don't get half the news in the US as we do here. When I go back home to Florida, I realize how there's no news on the networks. War? There's a war on? The media is freer here. In the US, censorship might not be government-imposed, but it's controlled by a few, tight corporations. The companies make it less free."

For him, Spain is what America used to be.

It was interesting to hear all this because when I got back to the ship and read the news digest we get delivered every days, the top story was how the Republican Senate is joining up with the religious fundamentalists. Dr. James Dobson railing on about how the judgeships are the "last refuge" of the liberals.

Meanwhile, another state is passing laws making it illegal for gay people to even have civil unions, never mind marriage. Suddenly, the US feels like it's falling under a dark cloud of religious theocracy and conservative media control. The America I always thought I was living in seems to be moving out of the US and into Europe.

Not to go on a rant or anything. Just conveying what it feels like to be HERE while the U.S. is over THERE.

Chuck also said, "The people here love Americans, by the way. They just hate our government."

Doesn't everyone?

May 9-11, 2005.

We went straight from Barcelona to Gibraltar. Gibraltar provided our most dramatic photographs of the cruise so far. Up on the peak, they told us that there were these free-roaming "apes." But they're actually macaques, a type of monkey. We were warned to be careful of them because the government protects them. They even have their own medical clinic.

We were standing up on top. Jim was telling me his story of having been bitten by the monkey when he was there 40 years ago. We are standing near a railing overlooking the entire city and sea below us when suddenly he stops mid-sentence and says, "There's one right behind you. Slowly turn to the right."

I turned to my right, which was toward the railing, and right behind me was one of the macaques. But what made the sighting so breathtaking was the fact that this misty peak right behind him. It was an image of mystical beauty.

May 12-13, 2005.

It's the last day of our cruise. I've been gone from the ship so I didn't finish up yesterday's log. We were just on a walking tour of Firenze, also known as Florence. Funny how much I don't know about Italy. Have I said that a lot? I have.

It was incredibly moving in some weird way to see the hills where Leonardo da Vinci grew up. To see the rolling evergreen landscape with those tall cypress trees -- the ones that turn up in the background in most of his paintings. I stood there imagining what it must have felt like to be understanding perspective for the first time, the idea of a three dimensional image, something we take for granted. It must have been like seeing the world for the first time.

Firenze/Florence was it's own city-state at one point, having seceded from both the German Empire AND the Vatican. What must it have felt like to be truly free of the grip of theocrats, for the first time, I can only imagine. And then to promote beauty as a way of touching God.

And look what it created. The greatest art imaginable.

I like the idea of all these people competing to create the most beautiful things imaginable. There's something really right about it.

Monte Carlo. And frankly, though Monte Carlo is really beautiful from the ship, it's not exactly my favorite spot to travel to. It's designed for the mega-rich and they're the only people who can afford to do anything there. Stop in a cafe and have four beers: $60.

We basically bussed to the center of town, walked around a little, and then went back to the ship. Jim is having feet problems and it's just too painful for him to do much walking, which is not a good thing when you're touring around.

[ Book 4-2 ] --  [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ]  [ Pt 5 ] [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ]
[ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Pt 11 ] [ Pt 12 ] [ Pt 13 ] [ Pt 14 ] -- [ Book 4-4 ]
© 1996-2005 by Steve Schalchlin.
You have permission to print from this diary and distribute for use in support groups, schools, or to just give to a friend. You do not have permission to sell it.