Monday, 24 December 2012

Seven Months, One Week: 25 for the 25th

Catmus cat also finds today a success.
Catmus cat also finds today a success.
                                                  Calista Jasmine Fleming, Christmas Day 2011.
 This world is such a peculiar place. Here in Powell River, on a clear winter morning, as the sun just peeks over the Eastern mountains and lights fire to the fresh snow on the distant Comox glacier with Courtenay lying below, nestled on the shores of the deep blue Salish Sea, it is easy to forget that death and tragedy never take a holiday here on Earth. The Earth is truly a paradise that we tend to take for granted, but it still has sharp teeth that come out to bite just when we think we are safe and sound. To Roni and I, and unfortunately so many other grieving parents elsewhere, it is now just a paradise-lost. Fortunately the Earth is old and patient and will wait to be found again.

There is some humour and irony in today's journal entry.  Originally it was meant to be  "Calista's Top Ten", a collection of our top ten favourite pictures of our princess.  I spent several nights surveying all the photographs Roni and I have digitally stored on several full flash drives and selected about fifty pictures I really liked.  Then, seated cozily on our leather couch in the living room, where Calista used to camp out long weekends watching entire seasons (or several seasons in some cases) of  popular network television shows, Roni and I winnowed out the chaff slowly to leave the few shining kernels of grain. Each edit was heart wrenching, as if we were denying our Calista, something we never really could do when she was alive. We finally came down to 25 photos that we both agreed were nearly perfect; beyond that point we could not go. Finally,with a smile on my face, I found a compromise. I changed the name of the journal entry to "25 for the 25th". It has a sweet ring to it, doesn't it?

Today, in honour of Christmas and the promise of hope it holds, I turn my back on the darkness and see only the light and love that was my Calista.  Enjoy.

You know she was probably laughing at
Roni and I rather than with us, but nevertheless
she was laughing. She laughed at the world.

Sure, she probably was just passing gas, but damn she makes
it look fun.
You would think that orange would become her favourite colour,
but really it was just the hot, new colour for the spring of '92.

Her first introduction to the lazy-boy lifestyle.
And check out that fashionable "Please Mom"
ensemble. Durable and versatile enough
to last until she was three.

Try to keep a smile on your face as you pass
through life. If nothing else, it allows you to
get away with a whole lot of hell raising.

 Stay balanced in your life: find a career that you have fun
working at rather than a career that you work at so you can have fun.
Travel. See this beautiful world. Don't wait until it is easy or convenient. Just go. Go now when you are young enough
and tough enough you can do it on the cheap. It won't get easier as the chains of adulthood anchor you down.

Create your own image,
regardless of what society
tells you you "should be".

And then recreate your image as often as
you see fit. Never be limited by the views and
opinions of others.

Surround yourself with friends. No one ever died complaining
of having too many friends.

Have one great love. Have many great loves.
Never stop falling in love. Try to stay in love always.

Embrace Change. Embrace adventure. Just embrace life.

Always really smile; everyone can spot the fake
smile. Just remember that dogs think you are
bearing your teeth.
Get educated, but remember that there are all sorts of ways to learn.
Sometimes you need to look outside the box to find the treasure.
Smile? Hell, Laugh. Laugh loud,
laugh long, laugh frequently.
Make direct eye contact when you are making a sincere point.
Just remember that dogs and some people take this as a challenge.
Dress with your own sense of fashion
and flair. If you feel good in your own clothes
then everything is good.
Art is in the eye of the beholder. Jack Cowin tells us that if
the work holds our attention longer than we are comfortable, then
the art is good. Even if it is just graffiti.
Sometimes you have to let yourself be bigger than
life, even if it means becoming a comic-book
Take care of your body and be proud of it.
Its the only one you get this time around.
Stay focused and observant of the world around you. There is a huge difference between just seeing things and
actually perceiving reality.

Sometimes you need to just sit back
and detatch yourself from life, catch your
breath and cold your ass is.

And sometimes you need to just stop taking yourself so darn
seriously because your ass is still cold, but now its wet.
And sometimes you will just have to turn away and move
on to other adventures. Say goodbye every time you leave
your friends and family like you really mean it. Sometimes
you will have to leave without a chance to say farewell.
I deem Catmus a success!
I deem Catmas a success!!
Calista Jasmine Fleming, Catmas 2011.
We wish everybody who sees this journal entry a wonderful Christmas holiday regardless of why you personally celebrate this time of year. Treasure your family and enjoy your friends.  Take the time to really live your life absolutely because in the end the only thing of real value that any of us has is time. Roni and I would give anything for just a little more time with Calista, but we appreciate that the time we did have with that girl was the absolute best time of our life. 

And yes I know there is actually 26 Calista pictures here.  We just could not limit ourselves to 25. We were weak.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Almost Seven Months: "Twas the Night before Catmas"

computer MOUSE? Did I hear there was a MOUSE involved?
Dougie supervises from atop a warm back-side.

Getting ready for catmas. By the end I predict cats winning against ornaments.
The beginning of my two week catmas countdown. 14 days!

Calista Jasmine Fleming, Dec. 11, 2012. Exactly one year ago today.

I am on a deadline for this journal entry.  I realized, as I published Calista's European travelogue, that we were approaching Christmas quickly and that I really should do something special for my girl. She loved Christmas and, as you will see, the new, far more fun holiday called Catmas. Catmas celebrates the destructive kitten hidden in all of us. Broken expensive antique glass ornaments, toppled trees and dissected gift wrapping are some of the most popular traditions for Catmas.  Fortunately the cats have dispensed with human traditions such as fruit cake since they just lead to weight gain and huge hair balls.

Ok, so this is definitely not a pet cat. Roni did try to convince
me to bring it home from the clinic...until the flea jumped onto her.
This lynx was sleeping off an anaesthetic at that moment. I think it
ended up in New York State eventually.

One would assume that, since I am a veterinarian, our household is all about animals and pets. Certainly we have had a virtual menagerie of animals march through our house: hamsters, guinea pigs, ferrets, a bad-ass chinchilla for eleven years, two neurotic (but very cute) Pomeranian dogs, and an overlapping series of cats. The one constant in our house has been the cats; always at least one but usually two. Calista liked all of the animals to a greater or lesser degree. Ferrets were cute but not so much fun when they bit her nose, the dogs were fun but a little scared of her when she was a toddler, and the "pocket pets" just stayed inside their cages. The cats, on the other hand, were always an integral part of her life: first Old Terry, the one eyed pirate, then Wascal who was rescued from a dumpster, then Dougie McDougal the tamest cat on Earth, and finally Hermes, the red devil. 

I was enamoured with B+W photography
when she was ten. This is actually a good
photo for me. There was a bunch of bad
photos back then. She got all the talent.
Solr, our second Pom loved belly rubs.

As a veterinarian it is actually hard to admit that I personally do not "love" all animals. I certainly like many animals and, over the years there have been a few animals I truly "loved" ("Reba" Pontikas, owned by the nicest little Greek lady anywhere, will always be warmly remembered. That dog knew how to celebrate Christmas). On the other hand, truthfully, there have been a few pets along the way that I would have preferred to refer to my worst enemy. I deal with animals all day, six days a week and I can tell you for a fact that animals are more like people than anyone cares to admit. Each pet is an individual and as such, there are pets that are wonderful and a joy to be around and there are pets that the veterinarian is glad to send home with its owner. In our family menagerie, while the dogs and all of the caged critters were Roni's pets (neither of the Pomeranian dogs could abide me for a moment; one peed on me and the other would bite me at every opportunity), the cats all adopted me and Calista preferentially. Calista especially seemed to be able to do anything with those cats and they would tolerate her.

Ferrets love tunnels and the camera lens fit perfectly inside
the plastic pipe. The ferret slid down the pipe and slobbered
the camera lens a moment after I snapped this.

Of  course, the pets in our household predated Calista.  In 1991 Roni and I owned just two pets (the ferrets were semi-feral, so they don't really count): a young Pomeranian called "Pogo" and an already elderly cat called "Terry". Pogo was the first dog Roni and I acquired as a married couple, purchased a scant month before our epic move to Whitehorse, Yukon Territories.  I always accused the dog of being a few bricks short of a load, but really, he never had a chance to be properly trained between the move to Whitehorse and the fact that Roni and I worked 12 to 14 hours a day running the veterinary clinic there.  Terry, on the other hand, was a farm cat Roni had adopted while she was still teen-aged and he was actually getting on in years by the time Calista was born. Terry had not quite become a pirate in those days, so he still had two eyes (one of which, even then, was developing early glaucoma).

The first year of Calista's life neither pet had much good to say about the baby. The dog was intrigued by the baby bottles and the sweet white goo that could be squeezed out of them if he got the chance to steal one. He really enjoyed the diaper pail and the treasures that were stored within. The diaper-pail wars between Pogo and Roni were epic in our house.  I frequently came home to find Roni chasing a little red blur, screaming bloody murder while simultaneously trying to clean up the strewn remains of shredded dirty diaper. I finally cured the problem by booby trapping the diaper pail with a plastic device called a "Scat Mat". The Scat Mat was designed to discharge a harmless static electric charge if an animal stepped across any two of the numerous wire coils embedded in the mat. I tested out the mat myself and while moderately unpleasant, the shock was far from painful. It was more startling than anything else.  One afternoon during  Calista's nap-time, while Roni was in the next room balancing the clinic books, Pogo decided to make one last sneak-attack on the diaper pail. Roni did not see the result, but she heard the indignant bark and instantaneously had a furry red friend huddling and growling next to her feet under the desk. We never had to defend the diaper-pail again; we left the Scat Mat in place in front of the pail, but never actually turned it back on.

Terry, on the other hand, pretty much steered clear of Calista altogether.  He would explore her nursery given the chance, but, by and large, he acted like the new addition to the family was just a passing fad that his owner's would discard like last weeks kitty litter. Calista was likely five or six before Terry (by this time quite elderly and fully a pirate by then, having lost his left eye to severe glaucoma) would have much to do with her, and even then I am pretty sure she was just another warm body to share a bed with on a cold winter's night.
Not one of our ferrets, but one we were babysitting. This particular
ferret was preternaturally tame and so large I actually suspect it
was a weasel. Calista had forgiven the nose bite of her youth obviously.

Through the Whitehorse years, the combination of babies and pets taught me one thing (beyond how to defend a disgusting pail full of dirty diapers): if you put pets and babies together, both are going to be hurt if you don't supervise closely.  Babies just cannot resist grabbing ears and tails and if that happens scratches and bites will usually ensue.  Roni and I learnt early: when teeth flash and tears flow, your best strategy is to give everyone heck.  The dog (and periodically the cat) had to learn that biting the baby was definitely not acceptable and the baby had to learn that groping and grabbing any part of the dog was nothing short of foolish.  We also learnt that you can't teach ferrets anything, so you should just keep the baby away from those critters altogether.  Calista sported the scars from a deep ferret bite across the tip of her nose for months after she decided one of Roni's small, toothy charges needed a kiss.

Calista never really took interest in the cats until Wascal, the feline dumpster-diver came to us courtesy of Roni.  By the time Wascal (as in  Elmer Fudd's "Wascally Wabbit") came to us, Roni was working full time at Balgonie Veterinary Clinic as the receptionist. 

Thumper, the Balgonie clinic cat. Calista grew up around one veterinary
clinic after another and adopted animals in each one. Thumper just wandered
into the clinic one day and never left. It was warm and he was well fed.

After Whitehorse Roni had sworn off working for veterinarians forever; the emotional stress of working the front desk at a veterinary clinic tends to wear a person down very quickly. Unfortunately, as so often happens, the owner of the Balgonie clinic had his receptionist up and quit without notice one weekend. Roni's experience and immediate availability earned her the job sight-unseen. The benefits of the job, besides a regular paycheck and a twenty mile daily commute, was unlimited access to stray cats abandoned behind the butcher shop next door to the veterinary clinic (now there is a little piece of irony). It was not too long after she started at Balgonie that Roni came home with five little balls of fur that had been retrieved from the garbage bins next door.

Roni assured me that it was just a temporary situation; she was going to find homes for all of them. I was not terribly optimistic; stray cats in the prairies are only slightly outnumbered by stray rats and thus finding homes for week-old kittens was never easy. Terry was far from pleased with the new arrangement.  Terry had assumed supreme dominance of the house by outliving Pogo (by nearly 7 years at the end) after the little red dog had died suddenly of a acute heart failure while  at a grooming salon the preceding summer.  The old cat, by this time, was past tolerating kitten hijinks and we spent much of our family time during that week the kittens lived with us just trying to keep Terry from killing them. Roni outperformed my expectations and found homes for all of the kittens save one; a long-haired tabby with a lethal set of claws. That kitten stayed with us for three weeks until I finally found him a good home. He was going to stay with us where he clearly belonged. Terry was just going to have to suck it up and live with the grey little Tasmanian devil.

Wascal became the feline love of my life. I had bonded with Terry and I dreaded the day he would have to find the next world, but Terry was always Roni's cat, even if he slept on my side of the bed (or maybe because he chose to displace me in favour of Roni?). From the time he was a kitten Wascal would follow me around the house, meet me at the door after work and curl up with me on the couch on cold winter nights. Roni was pretty sure that if the house was burning I would save the Calista first, the cat second and let Roni save herself.  Of course, I doubt it would come to that because Calista would save the cat and leave Roni and I to save ourselves. I am kidding myself if I want to believe that anyone shined so bright as Calista did for that cat Wascal. He slept with her most nights and cuddled with her any time she settled for a moment on the large sectional couch that filled our living room during those years.

Calista could carry that cat around the house like a stuffed teddy-bear,  hanging hooked over one arm, his hind end swinging unceremoniously like a furry pendulum. Calista could cushion her head on his ever-expanding belly like a heated pillow while she watched television and he would purr as if God himself was his companion. Calista could do anything to Wascal and she would be forgiven simply because he thought she was Divine. Wascal was the original Catmas Cat bringing kitty destruction to the season since the late nineties. Roni found it infuriating, I found it entertaining while Calista outright promoted his incorrigible behaviour.

The first year Wascal lived with our family, Christmas was a relatively peaceful affair. We still had to run interference between Terry and the little one-pound terror. The old man was intent on recovering his own little Serenissima by killing the kitten while it was still small and relatively defenceless. The kitten found refuge a few times by climbing the Christmas tree. Eventually the tree became a favourite perch and at less than two pounds his new habit was little more than simply amusing. He barely ruffled the plastic needles or bowed the wire branches of the old and venerable artificial tree Roni and I had carted all over the country during our many moves. At the time we did not foresee how large a cat Wascal was eventually going to become.

By the turn of the century, Terry was getting to be a very elderly cat, sixteen by a conservative count, and his kidneys were failing, arthritis limited his mobility and he was seeing poorly out of his one remaining eye as periodic bouts of virus-induced iritis threatened secondary glaucoma. Terry often just did not eat dependably and Wascal took full advantage of this deficiency.  Wascal would eat his ration quickly, then wait for the old man to back off for a moment to catch his breath, at which point he pounced on the unguarded food bowl like a turkey vulture on a crippled prospector. Wascal's hind end expanded only slightly slower than Terry's shrunk; by his second Christmas with us Wascal was over 8 kilograms and he would eventually top out at over ten kilograms. Twenty-two pounds of fat, flesh and fur. Gravity was his enemy. Unfortunately it was also the enemy of the Christmas Tree.

Wascal, saved from the dumpster at one week of age.
Calista submitted this portrait to a local photo-contest.
Wascal and Terry were practically twins over ten years
apart in age. Wascal came to us just as Terry was really failing.

In early December of 2001 or '02 our family returned from an evening out to dinner to find several of the glass tree ornaments shattered on the ground and several of the artificial tree boughs near the top of the seven foot marvel of wire and plastic were bent low and completely clear of ornaments.  Roni had a good idea about what happened, but it was not until the following day that she confirmed her suspicions when she found the immense Wascal spread out and sleeping on the, by now, permanently-bent branches. I heard Roni's outraged exclamation all the way up in the bedroom. Wascal slept through it, unconcerned.

We had to decorate the tree strategically from that point on; expensive ornaments were put high or low while only cheap ornaments could be put on or near the "bedding boughs".  Wascal has been gone for three years now; we got a new tree when we moved to Powell River, assuming that it was safe from the cat who mistook a tree for a bed.

Wascal was a great loss to me when he had to follow Terry to the "Land of Slow and Stupid Mice". To me he was taken suddenly from my family, but in truth, if I had listened to Roni and my own gut feelings, there had been warning signs for weeks before he died. His body condition was off, he developed a bit of a pot belly and, for the first time in his life, he started getting a bit picky about eating.  When I finally found the pancreatic cancer that was eating away at him, he had only been truly sick for less than two days, so he did not really suffer. In the end, it was Calista that made the decision to let him go; I asked for her opinion and she just told me that she did not want her boy to suffer with an untreatable cancer if there was no hope for a cure.  Calista always was tougher and more pragmatic under stress than either me or Roni.

Dougie came into our life about a year before we lost Wascal. Dougie was originally a stray cat that matured into a clinic cat and eventually was unceremoniously evicted from the veterinary clinic I worked at for "incorrigible behaviour".  Dougie liked to visit the staff lounge, grab the receptionists' lunch and make a run for his private kennel where he could savage the sandwiches in private.  He eventually graduated to self-feeding on expensive pet food from the clinic inventory, at which point the owner invited any of his staff to adopt the feline thief to save his life.  Calista, who visited me at work at least once weekly, had fallen in love with Dougie (to know Dougie is to love Dougie; he is the most coveted cat I know) and the moment he came up for adoption the hard sell was applied to dear old dad.  I warned Roni that Dougie was really more like a Black Labrador Retriever, complete with the ravenous appetite that breed can have, than anything else. I felt it was my duty to have full disclosure.  Our house has never been the same since. 

At her grandmother's farm in Etzicom AB. She wanted to
adopt a piglet until she saw a full grown pig. Soon after
this she started bringing home stray boys which were
much more trouble than any full grown pig.

To this day Roni and I cannot leave any food unattended or Dougie will make a run at stealing it. He will make off with entire loafs of bread and was once caught red handed by Calista with an entire half dozen of New York style bagels secreted under a desk.  Roni had thought she had left the bag of bagels back in the car or maybe forgotten them at the grocery store. It never occurred to her the cat would pick through the grocery bags while her back was turned and make off with bagels (chicken breasts maybe, but not bagels).  Dougie made his permanent mark in our house by stealing my entire dinner one night, leaving me just cold left-overs and beer for dinner. Roni had played the "good wife" and called me at work to find out when I would be home for dinner. Once she had a good idea of my arrival time, she cooked up  a perfect cheese-burger using some buffalo-burgers we had and my favourite old-cheddar cheese. She set my place at the table and made the mistake of turning her back to get me a cold beer.  One moment of laxity led to a lifetime of infamy. Calista caught the action as it played out: Dougie jumped up onto my seat at the table, popped his head up for just a moment and grabbed the cheese-burger patty. The little cat then just ran, a grey blur with a burger half as big as his body flopping up and down in his mouth. He crossed the kitchen in two jumps, dodging by Roni who was just realizing what had happened and headed for the basement. Calista just sat there and laughed the entire time.  Roni tracked the little furry thief to the ancient couch we kept in the basement; he was huddled down behind it where Roni darn near had to herniate a disc to retrieve the well gnawed buffalo patty. By the time I actually got through the door that evening it was all over except the laughing coming from my irreverent daughter. Dougie's terrible food allergies were nearly overwhelming for two weeks after that incident; I am pretty sure he thought all the itching was well worth it.

Dougie has adjusted to the Powell River experience well. He was a little lost when he arrived here without his mistress Calista, but quickly adjusted by just crawling into bed with Roni and I for the four weeks prior to Calista's arrival here in PR.  Once Calista turned up, our bed was vacated soon after as he returned to worship her royal highness (That is actually unfair. Dougie would return to our bed about 4 am; by that time he would be usually feeling "a might peckish" and from the foot of my bed he happily waited for me to get up and feed him. If I try to sleep in, he just wakes me up by breaking one of my prize possessions or tearing whatever book I am reading to wake me up. Calista was not a safe person to wake-up that way....ever.). Once again, Calista proved to be a natural "cat whisperer".

Soon after Calista's arrival in Powell River she started to work for me as a receptionist.  I make no excuses; I am a firm believer in nepotism. Supporting your own family first is a time honoured tradition. As far as receptionists go, Calista was pretty decent. Sometimes she was a bit full of herself and more than a bit overbearing to the rest of the staff.  The mature, experienced women I have working for me were very understanding; they recognised her youth and the fact she had grown up around veterinary medicine so she might think she "knew it all".   Over the ten months Calista worked for me she eventually matured into a very capable employee with one special edge on the rest of the staff; it was her family business and she had a personal stake in it. Calista was always very proud that Powell River Veterinary Hospital was a family owned and run business. She was a little old-fashioned that way. Unfortunately, she had one huge, glaring weakness; she kept on falling in love with the animals that passed through our doors.

Solr playing in the snow. This portrait
hangs in my lobby now.

Calista especially loved "snort and snuffle' dogs; those poor devils we humans breed with short, practically useless noses.  The flatter the face the more that girl loved the dog.  "Puggy Sue" and her sister "Sophie-Ray", two of five Chinese Pugs owned by one of my clients had a special place in her heart and she would always try to be "in clinic" if they were due for a visit, even if she was booked off for the day or the afternoon.  She just could not get enough of "Ralphie" , a particularly robust English Bulldog that spent a fair bit of time at out clinic; on the days that Ralphie was visiting Calista would get practically nothing useful done, but Ralphie got the most intensive care of any of our patients. Roni dreaded the day Calista would come home with one of the "snufflers" in tow.  It would have happened eventually if Calista had lived.

Snort, Snuffle and Slobber. The beloved
Ralphie. Proof that the iPhone camera
really kicks ass.

My clinic does a fair bit of low-cost SPCA work. For the most part the work consists of simple cat spays and neuters of abandoned and feral kittens. I remember one particular kitten especially. The SPCA foster-mom brought this little homeless fur-ball into my clinic one cool fall afternoon, wrapped loosely in her worn and ragged woollen toque. The kitten was little more than a week old; his eyes were barely open and a wizened umbilical cord still dangled from his belly. His nose was crusted shut with mucous and snot, he was malnourished and had ear-mites. I did not hold out much hope for the little guy, but I assessed that the SPCA volunteer was dedicated and willing to hand rear the little orphaned kitten. I set her up with some antibiotics, some kitten formula and some instructions on how to raise her foundling. No good deed goes unpunished.

In the early spring of 2011 Calista was working the morning shift at the clinic, opening up, receiving the surgical patients of the day, and booking afternoon appointments. One day the SPCA dropped off a couple of kittens to be neutered before they were to be fostered out to homes that afternoon. One of the kittens was a small, strawberry-red medium haired tom that I thought looked familiar.  Sure enough, still sporting some pretty crusty eyes due to chronic recurrent viral infections, it was the little foundling I had seen four months earlier. I hardly believed he had survived much less found a home. He had been adopted by a local amateur mechanic that needed a shop cat to control the mice.  I was not sure he had made the best choice; the little red cat looked pretty spindly and I knew he had been hand reared so his hunting skills might be suspect.
"They just want him to be a shop cat, Daddy"
Hermes about two days after she adopted him.

Half-way through the morning I noticed that Calista was spending a inordinate amount of time fawning over the wee kitten. Every chance she could get she was back playing and cuddling with the little guy. Extra care was taken to swaddle him post-operatively to make sure he was warm and recovered safely. She kept on remarking how good the little guy was and just how cute he was; often looking my way while doing so.  I realized I was being played by my daughter who was obviously determined to adopt the kitten.  I told her that he already had a home, to which she indignantly replied that "He is not going to a home! They just want him to be a shop cat!" as the tears trickled down her cheek. Somebody got the bright idea of calling the local SPCA director to see if, perhaps, the adoptive family could be convinced to adopt some other kitty. I cringed, realising I was about to have a new cat in my barely established home in Powell River. To this day I can hear the joy in Calista's voice as she finally convinced me to bring "the Little Red Devil" home.

Hermes, as she called the little red devil, has grown into quite a cat. He will never be very large and he will always require constant treatment for his chronic upper respiratory tract inflammation.  Sadly, some of these little kittens who suffered a rough start never really thrive. Hermes is a little feral; he is one of those extremely independent cats who will never like being handled but will condescend to sit on your lap on their terms. On the other hand, Hermes is the only cat I know that actually plays "fetch", chasing after thrown toy mice and retrieving them happily, throw after throw every evening before bed. He really is very loving on his own terms and has become much more so since Calista died. From the day she died Hermes seemed to sense his owner had moved on without him and has become much more loving and attentive to both Roni and me.  It almost makes a person believe in the mystical. I know I want to.

The adoption of Hermes kind of took me off guard; it was not finalised until late in the afternoon. Too late to get some simple screening blood tests done to make sure I was not bringing home a feline "Typhoid Mary" to my Dougie cat.  I silently cursed my short-sightedness but kept my concerns to myself as I let my daughter enjoy her new charge.  I resolved to let the little red devil settle in for a few weeks and then bring him back to the clinic to run a few simple screening tests. I realized that once he came home he was ours to keep regardless what the tests showed, but at least I would have some idea of the Pandora's box I had opened.

Four weeks later and nearly a kilogram heavier (home life agreed with Hermes despite the fact he was not entirely welcomed by Dougie) I managed to get him back to the clinic for a check up and blood tests. Calista hovered over me, fussing like an expectant mother, while I examined him and drew some blood samples.  The first test I ran was a simple "Snap" test for Feline Leukaemia Virus, since that was my greatest concern; it was negative. I then turned the rest of the blood sample over to Lori, my assistant, to run it on the computerized analyser my clinic owns. I really did not have any other concerns and it never occurred to me that there was someone else in the building who might be worried about the outcome of the blood screens.  I turned my back and settled back into my office to get some paper work cleared. Ten minutes later I had the results thrown down on my desk by a very teary-eyed Calista.  "Hermes has anaemia, Daddy" she choked out between despondent sobs.  I looked at the freshly completed blood count and, sure enough, the kitten did have a slightly deficient red blood cell count. It was just slightly low....just like every other kitten that has ever graced the halls of a veterinary clinic.  It took me several minutes to convince my Calista that Hermes' blood tests were within expected parameters for a young cat barely five months of age. To this day I don't think she really believed me, though why a kid who had never taken a single class in biology much less haematology, would think she really understood a complete blood count I will never understand. It did teach me to make sure I always see the blood tests and add my own interpretation to all results before they are released to the owner.  Even when she was wrong, my Calista had something to teach me.

The Catmas tree just before he noticed shiny golden bobbles.
He is mesmerized and the tail was flicking as his hunting instinct
was arroused. Merry Catmas and may your personal
destructive kitten be overjoyed.

Last Christmas was the first official "Catmas" declared by Calista.  Probably the most painful thing about leaving home for Calista was having to leave her beloved Hermes and Dougie behind. Heck, she even continued checking in on favoured clinic patients during her daily calls to Roni and me; she was starved for animal contacts.  Calista had taken to wooing the pets of her college friends by always turning up at their homes with pet treats in hand. Jesse was sure Calista's goal was to make "Lucky", Jesse's well-behaved and quiet Border Collie switch her loyalties from home and hearth to Calista. It took me a couple of months to figure out why the clinic's consumption of hypoallergenic pet treats was so high; it seems I was supplying a veritable herd of pets over in Comox and Courtenay. It wasn't just her friend's pets either.  There were several pictures on Calista's iPhone of a stray cat from her apartment complex who apparently had free access to Calista's small loft.  It was just some random, flea-bitten tabby cat, but she took the time to give it a meal and a warm hearth upon which to take refuge from the cold.  I hope the cat wasn't lactose intolerant because I am sure she gave it yogurt or ice-cream since those are the two things Hermes just goes crazy for to this day. She trained him to be bad; it made her laugh.

Jesse, her college friend, likes to take what I call "silly pet pictures".  To most people this might appear to be a pretty frivolous interest for a serious landscape photographer, but as a veterinarian I know the market potential for pet photography. Pets have a life expectancy of less than twenty years (kind of like someone we all know) and dedicated owner's love having quality memorials to those short, glorious lives.Furthermore, there is a real skill involved in getting a well composed photograph of a nervous animal with no patience or understanding of what is going on.  I don't begrudge pet photographers their due credit; good pet shots are few and far between.

While looking at photographs from my friend and fellow classmate Jessie, I came across funny cat photos of her cats decorated for Christmas. When showing my father the awesomeness of Christmas cats he commented that his cats were too dignified to let themselves be photographed in silly costumes. Needless to say challenge accepted. I can say approximately 1 out of 2 cats will put up with Santa hats and bell collars. The red devil felt like hunting the hat was a better option.

Calista Jasmine Fleming. December 21 2011

The tamest cat on Earth. If there was food
involved he was up for the challenge.

Calista snuck into the office one night and loaded this photo
onto the hard drive of the clinic server to act as my screen
background. It remains there today. She wanted me to have it and
I will keep it.

 Last December Calista showed me some pictures of Jesse's pets dressed and posed in seasonal costume. I commented that they were good pictures but my cat Dougie would had too much pride to sit for such an indignity.  I was smiling when I said it since Dougie is so tame he probably would sit for anything as long as there might be food involved. Calista took it as a challenge. She raced down to the mall to buy some props (remember that finding cheap props for photo shoots was one of Calista's special skills) and spent an afternoon dressing and posing my cat for Catmas.  Dougie, of course, sat like a trooper with a mission while Hermes, the red devil, thought the entire exercise was just an invitation for hunting play. The tassells on the end of the red felt elf-toque were much worse for wear after Hermes was finished with them.

Hermes' non-stop hunting behaviour nearly derailed Catmas and Christmas last year.  Calista became the little elf that saved Catmas.

Roni takes special pride in her Christmas decorating. She has several very full large Rubbermaid totes full of Christmas decorations, some of which are very expensive. We purchased a new artificial Christmas tree (we aren't Scrooge; Roni is terrified of the fire hazard posed by real trees) with lights already attached (now that is just wrong to me, but progress is inevitable) to replace the old, bent tree which had been a bed for Wascal for so many years. Roni spent most of day decorating and re-decorating the tree so it had that perfect "feng-shui" she demands of everything in her house. When she was done it was nearly perfect as far as she was concerned.  I don't really know since I never really saw the tree in one piece. Hermes had gone hunting.

When I finally made it home the day the tree was decorated there was a conspicuous hole in the decorations across the front of the tree and some suspicious gold glass shards on the hard-wood floor below.  After looking at the tree for a few moments, trying to decide if I would tell Roni or not, I realized there was a pair of golden eyes staring up at me from a hiding spot behind the tree. It was not Lewis Carol's proverbial "Cheshire Cat"; it was Hermes plotting out how he could access the shiny bobbles farther up the tree.  In the name of family peace I shooed the cat out of the living room and moved some ornaments to cover the decoration gap, hoping Roni would not miss the two or three bobbles that were MIA. Unfortunately  I had given Hermes too much credit for covering his crime properly; one of the wayward gold bobbles was hidden in plain view just under the sofa. Roni found it the moment she entered the living room.

No costumes for the Little Red Devil. It was nearly impossible
to separate him from his Catmas tree. Often all you could see
was his Cheshire Cat eyes peering between the plastic boughs.

Both cats, even the relatively innocent Dougie, were instantly banished to the veterinary clinic for the duration of the Christmas holiday. There was no way Roni was going to have any of her expensive decorations put at risk by the hijinx of that little red devil.  No amount of grumping and whining by either Calista or me was going to change her mind. I kept my mouth shut for the most part since I live by the rule of "Happy wife, Happy life", but there was no way Calista was going to give up her Catmas celebrations.  A cold war of attrition was declared between Calista and Roni, the loser being the first to break the silence and apologize.

Roni lasted about six hours. The treasured decorations were removed from the tree the following morning; leaving the bare tree and built-in lights. As a joke I hung a bunch of small stuffed mice Roni had around the house as cat toys. (My joke was not well received and, unfortunately, the dangling tails of the felt mice just proved to be irresistible "catnip" for Hermes and inevitably led to more Christmas tree carnage.)  Roni took the time the next day to call our favourite carpenter Randy to see if he could install some French doors at the entrance to the living room so we could actually have a cat-safe Christmas.  His reply was that it could be done, but not for that Christmas since the doors would have to be special ordered The cats came home the following day after less than eighteen hours in lock-up. Hermes appeared to be truly disappointed that his shiny, golden play toys had been removed, but the packages under the tree that had appeared overnight were nearly as entertaining, especially since Roni got so excited for him every time he started shredding the colourful wrapping.  Calista had saved "Catmas" by standing up to her mother. 

I never thought I would find a woman more determined and stubborn than my Roni, but Calista apparently was an apple who fell directly under the tree that grew her.

He is very loving and harmless. I call
him the red devil, but he is really quite
angelic. And he really has changed since
she has been gone. He is far more "with" us.

We won't celebrate Christmas this year. Or probably next.  The treasured decorations will remain in their plastic totes in a dark corner of the basement.  Roni and I are vacating Powell River for the four days surrounding Christmas and will play a wealthy couple just past middle-age while eating room service at the Empress Hotel in Victoria.  To remain here in the River, alone and isolated, staring out our front window across the wide blue straights that took our daughter from us would just emphasize her absence.  Even retreating to the venerable old Empress is a nod to Calista; she and Roni had stayed there last Spring while visiting to see a rock band Calista liked. Roni and her had intended to return to Victoria on a shopping safari once Calista had finished her college diploma program. It's hard to find things that don't remind both of us of Calista because she was such an integral part of our life. Catmas without Calista is just another sad day of the week for us.

Christmas is a strange holiday.  For Christians it is accepted as the day their prophet and saviour was born approximately two thousand years ago.  While historical evidence cannot even prove the existence of any one person who might have been Jesus, we know that December 25th was definitely not his true birthday.  Christmas, as a holiday, was stolen from the much older pagan religions simply because it is easier to bend ancient traditions than it is to eradicate them. With the upcoming Christian celebrations just on the horizon and having spent much of last week looking at Calista's pictures of ancient temples dedicated to Greek and Roman gods, it makes a person ponder religion during those idle sleepless moments in the dead of the night.

The ancient gods were vengeful, selfish and heartless gods.  Zeus lusted after mortal women and left them pregnant with his illegitimate children (Heracles). Hera, his wife, learnt of his transgressions, killed the women and cursed the children. The wars of the gods frequently brought death and destruction to the world of men in the form of earthquakes, raging ocean storms and wayward lightning bolts from the sky. Every bad thing that happened in the world could be easily attributed to a momentary pique of anger from a disgruntled god. If your beautiful twenty year old daughter was struck dead one sunny morning in May, the clear explanation was that she was too beautiful and you took too much pride in her leading a jealous goddess  to carelessly tip her jaded hand her way.  It's an easy and simple explanation for something that can only be described as "smote by god".  Unfortunately, we live in a world supposedly run by a loving and merciful God.

Its just not working for me anymore.

A last kiss goodbye. She saved him.
Perhaps he will save us.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Six Months, Sixteen Days: Life is the Journey

Ponte S Angelo crossing the Tiber. Done in Panoramic and converted to black and white digitally.
I'm not sure when she took this; it must have been early in the morning when it was quiet.

For those sleepless nights spent worrying about what to do with my life, what sort of career to attempt; those nights during which no number of inspirational articles or ``follow your passion`` videos will help sooth the anxiety I feel........for those nights I have no remedy.  I just lay there awake.

a young  friend of Calista posting from Maissons-Laffitte, Ile de France, France.

When I read the above angst filled note scavenged from the digital graffiti-wall of Facebook, I miss being a parent so much it actually hurts. If this young woman were Calista I would tell her to just stop worrying about yesterday and tomorrow and just live the best way you can today. Certainly we should all learn from past mistakes and have ambitions for tomorrow, but none of us should spend even a moment worrying about either. The past is done and immutable and future possibilities are limitless; all any of us really has is the present. Do the best you can with every moment you are given and the future will take care of itself.

The young lady, a twenty year old prairie girl from Canada, is posting dispatches from France while the rest of us sit home here in Canada and dream of similar adventures. We dream while she goes out and lives her dream. I would say she is doing a great job of living and that is all any of us can do. In the end, everyone has the same destination, so all that counts is the journey. Life is the journey.

Most parents have a number of favourite memories of their children`s youth: baptisms and confirmations, commencements and graduations, celebrations and competitions, engagements and marriages. Today`s journal entry is going to be all about favourite memories that I don`t have: Calista`s trip to Italy and Greece in 2009 was her first great adventure away from Mom and Dad. The only memories Roni and I have of that trip come from stories half told and half remembered mumbled to us upon her return and hundreds of photographs.  Her friends from school need not worry about any secrets about their adventures while living ``La Dolce Vita`` being divulged here. Calista would put 007 to shame when it came to being secretive.

JT and Calista on the jet: I don't know if it is outward bound or
returning home. I wonder if they knew if they were coming or going,
 they were so exhausted both ways
Good Friday of 2009 might have dawned sunny and beautiful, but my family had no way of knowing since we were at the Regina International Airport by 5 am sending Calista off with her classmates. The high school students had started arriving long before us;  I had the impression that some of her friends had basically camped out at the airport overnight. None of the kids appeared to have slept much; I know Calista had been up until 2 am or later packing and repacking as she tried to fit the kitchen sink into her carry-on luggage. Starbuck's coffee was free flowing that morning as the teen-agers tried to keep sharp for what was the first intercontinental flight for most of them. The plan was that the group would fly over-night to Rome via Toronto and Frankfurt, Germany and arrive ready to start their adventure in the morning hours of  April 11th well rested, having slept on the trans-Atlantic flight.

What were we all thinking of anyway?  Take a group of hormone-charged co-eds from the bleak Canadian prairies and crowd them into a jet spiriting them to the mysterious and exotic backside of the planet for ten days of non-stop adventure and we expected them to settle down and sleep. Really?

 Needless to say, the majority of the group arrived in Rome looking like something the cat dragged in; half of them were physically sick while the other half were nearly comatose. As Calista told the story, the only student that survived the trip unscathed was her, living up to her childhood nick-name "The Road Warrior". Calista wanted to get out and see everything she could that first day and was audibly upset when she called us to announce that they had arrived. She had nobody to play "wing man" with her on any touring adventures and was going to have to relax and allow her classmates to recover. They settled on taking a quiet afternoon in the Piazza Navona. I remember thinking how I wish I could spend a quiet afternoon sipping coffee with the company of my daughter in the vibrant and historical Piazza Navona of Rome. Now that would have been a memory.

Piazza Navona has been a cultural centre of Rome since the first century of the Empire. At that time it had been an amphitheatre for athletic events, sometimes hosting the famous chariot races. The buildings that surround the large public square retain the oval arc of the original sporting grounds. In the middle ages the square had been flooded periodically to host mock naval battles for the entertainment of the masses. The actual name Piazza Navona is thought by some to spring from those ancient marine warfare re-enactments. The three famous fountains that line the centre of the Piazza mark the central axis of the original chariot track. At one end is the Fontana del Moro, designed by Giacomo della Porta, in the middle is Bernini's Fontana dei Quatro Fiumi, and at the far end is the Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune), also by della Porta. Calista spent much of the afternoon photographing the entire Piazza.

Overlooking Piazza Navona: a little piece of Roman heaven.  I dreamt of returning with Calista and Roni and renting a
small walk-up on a classic Piazza and living the Roman life for just a little while.

Bernini's fountain with my
heaven behind.
S Agnese in Agone: classic Baroque commissioned
by Pope Innocent X.  I'm sure he was innocent of something.

Obelisk commissioned by
Domitian but included into
the Baroque fountain by Bernini
nearly 1500 years later.
Fontana del Nettuna (Neptune) by della
Porta. See a knock-off combo with the Quattro Fiumi
in Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas NV.
Thought to be the original model for the
Lazy-Boy Recliner.

EF Tours had the school group bedded down in a modern hotel in the suburbs of Rome.  Calista said is was relatively good, but then she added "but who cares; I just need a place to sleep and shower". Her mother translated that as "Mom wouldn't like it".  Typical of Calista, she woke every morning with the sun, beating the majority of her class-mates out of bed. She used her "free time" to track down elusive suburban photography subjects. Between the hotel grounds and a few choice opportunities while in transport on the bus, Calista managed to pop-off a few shots that were quite worthwhile, even if they were not "touristy".
This grove of trees is so
typical of Italy. I don't
know if they grow this way
or if they are groomed this way.

One of the comments Calista made to us in one of the two phone calls she managed to make (I guess phoning Mom and Dad was nearly as complicated as formulating the Theory of Relativity) was that every place she went and everywhere she looked history surrounded her. It amazed her that a building was considered relatively new if it was anything less than 200 years old. She said it gave her chills up her spine to climb the worn stone steps of an ancient church or temple and realise that the steps were actually bowed by the shuffling feet of untold numbers of pilgrims over two millenia of Roman occupation.
She felt truly humbled.

It was the statue that caught her eye. I used the close up of
this photo in my "Evolution" entry. It was a google search to
figure out what this building was: It's the Supreme Court.

Old building on the grounds of the modern
hotel; antiquity surrounded Calista in Rome.
When the European tour was first brought up to Roni and me by Calista, there was some discussion about me going along with the group.  I had always dreamt of visiting Venice and over the course of several years I had accumulated a small library on the art and architecture of Venice. Roni thought I might accept Rome and Athens as a pale second choice.  I declined the suggestion, but I now regret that choice for obvious reasons.  Calista always told me I would hate this type of tour; I am the type that likes to just settle in a city, immerse myself in the culture and ambiance and spend a little time enjoying being "a local". Two countries and five cities in 8 days hardly sounded like my kind of tour. The second day of the tour illustrated that fact perfectly. EF Tours, having missed several high points due to the ragged state of the travel weary students on the first day, stepped up the pace by covering just about everything left over on the second day.
I have no idea how that group covered as much ground as they did in one day; fast bus drivers and constant running probably was the essence of a very long April 12th.

It was quite a challenge mapping out Calista's day and adding captions to her photographs. Calista herself had added no captions to any of her pictures; they were just grouped into general folders and filed away on a disc.  With the arrogance of youth, she assumed her memory would always suffice to fill in the blanks years later and, of course, it never occurred to her that she would die, leaving her mom and dad to fill in the blanks. I spent the better part of three days sleuthing through the photographs, adding titles to scenes I recognised and then applying principles of deduction to identify the rest.

I had some advantages that others may not have had in figuring out the where, when and how of her tour.  First off, Rome is one of the premier tour destinations of the world, so there is an abundance of photographs of every notable building, fountain and monument from nearly every angle imaginable. Many of Calista's photographs mirrored or echoed published photographs and I was able to match them against references I have. Secondly, from the moment our family committed to sending our baby to the other side of the Earth, I dedicated myself to learning everything I could about her destination as only an obsessive-compulsive bibliophile like me can. I bought so many books on Italy, Rome and Greece that Roni finally forbade me to buy even one more book, even if it was a comic book. By the time Calista returned from Athens I was able to identify most of the famous tourist sites just on sight alone (and spout of a few pieces of useless trivia) from my reading. Finally there were a few choice locations that I had no hope of identifying on sight alone, so I had to apply pure deduction to pinpoint their location. The great Raymond Chandler, king of the penny-dreadful detective novel, would have been impressed.

The mystery church with a gate full of locks.
One location in particular illustrates well my method for tracking my daughter.  One of the photos showed a Baroque period church with a large black metal gate festooned with hundreds of locks randomly placed across its wrought-iron pickets.  Calista had told me some story about the locks, but over the last three years I have completely forgotten the point.  I had no idea where or what the building was, but she had several good pictures of it and I desperately wanted to place it for this journal entry.  I started off by trying to identify it by brute force: I basically pulled up all my references on Rome and started leafing through their pages hoping to trip over a picture of the mystery building. That effort lasted about ten minutes until common sense kicked in.  I passed over that photo series and started labelling the rest of the pictures in that particular file.  After a few moments I noticed that the majority of the photos were time and date stamped; photos taken in the same geographic location were going to taken within moments of each other.  I returned to my mystery building and realised that Calista had photographed it's facade within moments of visiting the famous Trevi Fountain which sits in Piazza di Trevi in front of Palazzo Poli.  After studying the photograph series I saw that there were two pictures shot less than a minute apart: one showing the lock covered gate while the other showed crowds thronging in front of the popular Trevi Fountain. Calista must have shot a last photo of the fountain and then turned to study the old church at her back. Once I had found the location of the church all I had to do was check a tourist map and voila, there was the answer. It was the church of Santi Vicenzo e Anastasio.  The locks have been left there for years by local lovers who bind themselves for eternity by writing there names  on the lock, attaching it to the hapless gate and then throwing the key into the Trevi fountain. I'm not sure if combination locks apply; maybe they only work for lovers with poor memories.

The crowds at Trevi square on Easter Sunday in 2009. Taken seconds
before the picture of Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio

The pace for Easter Sunday for the group was breathtaking. Going back to the time dating on the photographs, I was able to sketch out a very basic tour plan for that day: it appears to be nothing short of miraculous how much those kids actually covered.  Calista was right I would have hated it with a passion. But I would have been there with her, and that would have made it alright.

Trevi Fountain. Legend has it is that if a traveller want to return
to Rome, the need only throw a coin into this fountain. I can only
hope that there is a "loonie" in that fountain that says Calista is
coming back to us to return to Rome

As far as I can see, the EF Tour group started in the early morning at the Coliseum, sitting at the eastern end of the ruins of the Roman Forum. After a fair bit of time touring and photographing the famous sporting theatre, Calista and her friends looped up through the Roman Forum. From the time stamps I see they spent perhaps only fifteen to twenty minutes there. They toured the ruins of perhaps the single most pivotal civilization in the last 3 thousand years in less than half an hour. How tragic. Continuing  west by northwest, the students then mounted the Capatoline Hill to see the square that Michelangelo designed. From there I am pretty sure they just walked over to my favourite Roman building, the Pantheon, possibly the best preserved of the Roman buildings left from the days of the Empire. It was the one building I asked her to get photographs of and she did me proud.

The Arch of Septimius Severus and
Santi Lucae Martina.  Septimius Severus
was an African who became Emperor by
being a great general. He didn't last long.
Very few emperors died naturally.
the remains of the Basilica Aemelia,
possibly the most ancient part of the Forum.
Note how she used the columns to frame the arch.
classic photography technique

Temple of Antoninus Pius
and Faustina. This ancient
building was converted into
an active church.Note how she
used perspective to increase the
visual effect of the ancient building.

Her version of a classic photo. She appears to have spent nearly
two hours here and got an inordinate number of "cat pictures".
I guess there are all sorts of feral cats at the Coliseum and she
was feeling a bit homesick for her Dougie-cat.

The roof of Palazzo Senatario with the statues of Castor and Pollux
which flank the top of the cordonata that leads to the Piazza Campidoglio,
designed by the great Michelangelo.
From the bottom of the cordonata
you may instead choose to mount the
124 marble stairs to S Maria in Aracoeli.

The entrance to the great Pantheon. The
interior dome with it's oculi for light was my
special request. I shared that in my last journal
entry. She was the best daughter.

After a very short visit to the Pantheon, the tour whisked the kids away to Piazza S Pietro to see the Pope's Easter Address to the faithful. I asked Calista if she actually saw the Pope and her sarcastic reply was that there certainly was some guy dressed in white up on that balcony in front of St. Peter's Basilica, but from her vantage, looking across a sea of Easter Pilgrims from nearly 300 yards away, it could have been a monkey in a mitre hat for all she knew. ( She was quite resentful because the whole Easter business had precluded a visit to the Sistine Chapel, which happens to be the Pope's own church. Calista was never very tolerant of "pomp and circumstance")

St. Peter's Basilica from across the Piazza Oblique. That might
be the pope in the window. Or a monkey in a mitre
according to my little iconoclast.

The kids had been told they would not have time to tour St. Peter's Basilica by the time the Easter crowds had dispersed, so they did not bother dressing appropriately for a visit to any holy shrine, much less the high holy of the Roman Catholic faith.  They had all worn shorts and no woman (or man for that matter) is entering that church flashing high thigh skin.  Unfortunately, they were all caught short in that the pilgrim hoards dispersed from the Piazza S Pietro Oblique in record time and Calista and her friends suddenly had time to tour. Calista was not about to miss out on seeing works of art such as Michelangelo's Pieta, so she and three friends tracked down a street vendor who sold large scarfs that could be wrapped into a modest and reverential knee-covering skirts. My girl got to see that church in the end; she crowed her triumph against adversity on her return. She also told me I 
would have hated the tour since they were never allowed to stop walking for even a moment; they were essentially herded like cattle through perhaps the most impressive religious building in the world. Her photographs suffered as a result of the movement.
Michelangelo's Pieta. I purposely
made it small to cover the blurring from
her walking and shooting in the subdued light.

When scarfs become skirts. I'm not sure they are all that
sheepish and I doubt this is the first time tourists have improvised.
That street vendor probably sold many of these large scarfs.

The "Holy Door" is only
opened once every 25 years. I
doubt she knew the significance.

The obelisk at the centre of St. Peter's
Square. Legend has it that Caesar's ashes
are buried at it's base and a relic of the
one true cross is embedded in it's tip.
Want to buy some ocean-front property
in Florida? Cheap?

The tours adventure in the Eternal City finished with a trip to the Trevi Fountain, presumably to cast coins in hopes of a return engagement. A classic author of the Victorian Era quipped that a person could spend a lifetime in Rome and still be surprised every day and Calista only had two short days to catch the scent of the city.  We hoped to rectify that, but life is what you get and you rarely get what you want. Early the next morning the high school class piled onto their tour bus and headed south, past Naples and under the shadow of volcanic Vesuvius to tour the ruins of Pompeii.

Calista had very little to say about Pompeii; it's not that she didn't enjoy the tour so much as she was overwhelmed by the tour.  Walking in a city uninhabited for thousands of years yet still practically pristine, the remains of active lives interrupted suddenly made her feel like she was intruding in some stranger's home. I can only remember two comments she made; both of them typical of Calista.

She had to show me the first "Beware of Dog" sign: a  perfectly preserved mosaic placed at the entrance to a private courtyard. Calista could never pass up any reference to a pet. She also took great humour in the discomfort of the Italian tour guide as she searched desperately for a politically correct word for "brothel" as she discussed Pompeii's version of the "red-light district" with the teen-aged co-eds from the Canadian Catholic school. Most of Calista's mirth came from the fact she still had to fill in the blanks to one of her male class-mates with the term "whore-house" when it was clear that the heavily accented term "male pleasure house" was still flying over his head.

She always had to find the stray dog
or cat everywhere she went, even if it
was 2000 years old.

Sunrise over Vesuvius, probably much as it appeared 2000 years
ago by Pliny the Elder, without the volcanic plume no doubt.


Maybe she did spend too much time
looking at fashion magazines.
Just maybe.

When surrounded by 2000
years of history, what do you do?
Well you do "The Vogue" of course.
I wonder how the tour-guide felt about
them jacking around on ancient artifacts.
I doubt Calista cared; she lived in the moment.


The Pompeii day ended with a fast transit of the southern end of the boot of Italy, down to the ancient port of Brindisi, situated at what would be the tip of a boot heel. They caught the ferry to make the night crossing of the Ionian Sea to Patras, Greece. Ferries became a big part of Calista's life when we moved west to BC, but this was the first time she had ever "been to sea".  It turned out to be a bit more of an adventure than "the Road Warrior" wanted. In her classic understated, cynical way she summed the crossing up with the statement "You know you are in trouble when you see the ship's Captain praying over his rosary!"

Adam and her hamming it up at the stern.
Obviously late afternoon, before the clouds
rolled in and the wind picked up.

The idea of the night-crossing was that the tour-group would sleep on the ferry and arrive rested and ready to see the cradle of civilized democracy the following morning. Again, I wonder about the wisdom of crowding teen-agers into mass transportation and expecting them to sleep, but then, the way it played out, nobody slept that crossing, not even the sea-weary boat rats.  A storm blew up out of the Mediterranean suddenly just at dusk and raged for most of the night. Either the crew of the ferry were taken unawares or they were incompetent because nothing was battened down in time and Calista found the remains of broken glasses, plates and cutlery strewn all over the mess hall the following morning. The students had all been assigned personal sleeping births, but those proved unusable since the tossing of the ship tended to launch the students unceremoniously out of their bunks and onto the floor without warning. Calista and and her cabin-mates finally settled for sleeping on the floor of a neighbouring cabin which was just the right size for them all to pile in like cord wood and brace each other from rolling too far. Calista made light of the crossing, but the fact that it was one of the few detailed accounts of the trip to make it home means that she was more than a little shook up by the marine version of a protracted earth-quake.

As the wind built. This was the only
decent picture of a long series; it's
hard to look good in gale-force winds.

Before this becomes just a running travelogue of a European Spring Break (quite different from a Spring Break in Florida), I will encapsulate the tour's two-day race across the Peloponnese, taking pit-stops to view the roots of our civilisation. They ran foot races at the original Olympia, stood in the crypt of Agamemnon, who launched the Trojan war, quoted from Shakespeare in the Greek Theatre at Epidaurus and dipped their toes into the cool winter Mediterranean while dreaming of the distant Greek Islands at Tolo. Two days after making landfall,  they crossed the now obsolete Corinth Canal (started by decree of the mad Roman Emperor Nero but not completed for nearly 2000 years) and they had covered hundreds of miles across the rugged Peloponnese peninsula and witnessed thousands of years of antiquity. It was an exhausted bunch of teen-agers aching for a couple of days lodging in one hotel by the time they reached Athens.
They ran foot races in the original Olympic
Stadium after walking down this narrow lane that
once sported a vaulted stone roof.

The temple of Zeus in ruins.
I guess that destroys his credibility
as an all-powerful deity.


The Palaestra: leave it to Calista to find the only gymnasium
in the area and this one is decorated in purple, one of her colours.
Mycenae: the Treasury of Atreus, aka:
The Tomb of Agamemnon. The lintel stone
weighed 120 tonnes.

The Lion Gate: erected 1300 BC or over 3000 years ago.
Mycenae was one of the first sophisticated tactical citadels;
it still fell to attack eventually. Everything is eventual.

Hamlet in Epidaurus (or maybe
just a ribald limerick). Dates
from 4th century BC.

And in the distance lie the fabled Greek Islands. They overnighted
beach-side in Tolo before crossing onto the mainland on their way to

Corinth Canal: started by Emperor
Nero but not completed until !886. Some
things were beyond even Roman engineers.

In the not-so-immortal words of Calista, Athens is a "bit sketchy". By the time the Leboldus group made it to the cradle of western democracy, the sun had settled beyond the horizon and the streets of Athens were looking dark and ominous. Stray dogs, flea-bitten, half starved and likely mangy, roamed the streets looking for easy hand-outs and litter drifted everywhere in the evening breezes. The hotel they had reservations at lay at the end of a block-long lane-way too narrow for their full sized stage-coach, so they had to dismount and navigate the last 200 yards on foot, dragging their travel-distressed luggage behind with weary arms. The hotel itself proved to be quite nice if you could overlook the fact it had the smallest, slowest elevator ever built (though the antique elevator I rode in Nelson BC three years back was definitely in the running according to Calista). The kids were just happy to be settled for two consecutive days at the end of what had been a very busy trip.

The Parthenon seen over the wall of
the Acropolis. In Athens, birthplace of
democracy and the end of their tour.
It was Easter again since the Greeks
celebrate Greek Orthodox Easter.

Athens turned out to be Calista's favourite part of the entire tour. She managed to overlook the fact that it was dirty, crowded and for the most part in poor repair. To her the Greek section of the trip was insufficient and Calista felt that there was so much more to see in Greece that would pique her interest.  In truth, her intention was always to repeat her European tour but to emphasise the Greek segment to a much greater degree. Of course that might have something to do with her very friendly reception by the Athenians.

Very quickly after landing in Rome, Calista realised that her dark complexion and exotic features endeared her to the Mediterranean citizens. Out in public, if the vendors did not see her EF Tours back pack or notice her painfully white compatriots, they often mistook her for a local. This mistaken assumption was a huge benefit in the crowded markets of Plaka, just north of the Parthenon.  Calista quickly realised that if she went out shopping in the market with her friend JT Papandreos,  who actually was Greek and looked it, she would not be bothered by the street vendors hawking for a sale. They just looked at the two distinctly Mediterranean looking kids and assumed they were local teen-agers out on a tear.

JT and Calista: just "homies" hanging in the hood as far
as the street vendors were concerned.
Of course, this looking like a local can cut both ways. Sometimes Calista found it nearly impossible to get service in English because the merchants were so sure she was Greek. In one store an old crone accosted her in Greek. Calista replied with the only Greek phrase she could pronounce "I don't speak Greek".  The crone switched to Italian. Once Calista realised she was hearing Italian, she threw out the only Italian phrase she knew "I don't speak Italian". Finally, after Calista pulled out her pass-port showing that she was Canadian, the crone tracked down a girl who was presumably her grand-daughter to translate.  The crone asked if Calista's parents were Greek? No. Then the crone was sure her grand-parents must have been Greek? No. In fact, as far as I know, there are no Greeks in our family tree; maybe some First Nations Canadian (from way before there was a Canada), but no Greeks.  The crone shot at Calista, as she left the store, that she was Greek, she just didn't know it....perhaps my girl was Greek in spirit.

Just goofing in the market in Plaka, a small shopping district
just north and east of the Acropolis.
The situation came to a head when Calista was cornered by an amorous young Greek gentleman who was intent on taking her home to Momma. He reassured Calista that he came from a very good family and would make a very good husband. Calista finally discouraged our Grecian Romeo by pointing out that she was not in fact Greek (requiring yet another retrieval of her pass-port to prove her Canadian citizenship) and that she was still just seventeen.  The mention of seventeen discouraged Romeo immediately, but he did tell her to come back to Athens when she was 21.  As things turned out, her Greek suitor will be waiting for a very long time for her return.

The last day in Greece Calista decided to take the optional tour of Delphi, home of the ancient oracles of Greece. North and west of Athens in the hills above the Gulf of Corinth, Calista enjoyed Delphi the most of all the places she visited in Greece.  She took many pictures, but again, since she labelled so few I was left filling in the blanks by sifting through a tour book on Greece.  Thank goodness the "Eyewitness Travel" books are so detailed and well illustrated.  I just hope they are accurate. I guess its kind of like the oracles at Delphi: we won't know how correct they may be until we see for ourselves. 
Above the valley at Delphi. The Saskatchewan
kids were all comfortable in summer clothes while
the locals thought it had been a cool spring.
The stadium at Delphi. It hosted the Pythian
Games and is considered exceptionally well preserved
The Greeks seemed to be all about sports and theatre.

The theatre at Delphi.Seated 5000 people
and it is 2500 years old.

I had other pictures of classic Greek ruins, but this picture
was classic Calista: flowers amid the ruins of Delphi.

Roni and I received our second and last long distance call from Europe as Calista waited in Athens International Airport to board the jet that would bring her home to us. It was a short call and, truthfully, my thrifty young daughter just could not bear to leave an outstanding amount on her calling card. In retrospect, I doubt she even threw any money in Trevi Fountain because that would be just wasteful.  The tour group popped over the Alps into Frankfurt, then overnighted to Toronto and hopped that last jump into Regina running on nothing more than fumes in their teen-aged gas tanks.  Calista managed a hug for her mom and me at the airport but saved her war stories until after a much needed nap in her home bed with her own Dougie-cat. 

Calista brought home lots of keep sakes, but there is one special keep sake I want to tell you about. It is a silver pendant in the shape of a Greek column and has "Calista" written in Greek letters vertically.  Of course, Calista is a Greek name selected because it means "most beautiful" and she was always the most beautiful thing in the world to Roni and I. That necklace was the first talisman that Roni attached herself to after the police finally left our house that horrible day. It hangs on Roni's neck most days even now, paired with her small silver pendant carrying a few grains of Calista. That small, inexpensive pendant purchased at a street kiosk in Athens will always be a treasure to Roni.

Now there is a suspicious pair. She kept Adam close
by for shade and reaching top shelves.

Not hard to have a good laugh when you are with a good friend.
There are many things I regret in my life. Perhaps my greatest regret now, having spent so many days retracing my girl's adventure in Europe, is that I passed up the opportunity to share that time with her. I say that with mixed feelings; if I had been there I doubt Calista would have had as much fun or bonded so closely with her high-school friends. She probably would have felt obliged to include "the old man" in most of her day trips and I would have tagged along happily, oblivious to how I was affecting her experience.  Friends were always an extremely important part of Calista's life and, truthfully, I am just so thankful that she had such a special time with so many great kids.  Sometimes a parent just has to let go and remember that life is all about the journey, not the destination.

Adam to her left, JT to her right, there she is stuck in the
middle of her friends. And oh, so happy. Thanks to everyone
that shared that time with her. It was her great adventure of her short life.