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2014: a great vacation in Europe, and then some!

Another year done, as Charlie delicately reminded me recently. I was trying to help him recognize a girl he knew whom I had met, and told him that her hair color was similar to mine. “What, grey and receding?” he asked. Receding is not a color, kiddo!

Alex and some of his Thunder teammates on the Real Madrid bench at the Bernabeu, their famous home stadium in Madrid.

Alex and some of his Thunder teammates on the Real Madrid bench at the Bernabeu, their famous home stadium in Madrid.

Our summer vacations were this year’s headlines.

I hadn’t wanted to return to Europe until I could afford to take the boys too – neither Charlie nor Alex has been over there since 2010 – and this year decided a little irrationally that I could do so. A little irrationality can be a good thing!

Alex’s soccer team, the Scotts Valley / San Lorenzo Valley Thunder, had a tournament in July in San Sebastian, Spain.

This was obviously not a common or garden event: it was a reward for the boys after years of hard work playing together and developing their considerable skills as a team. They are a delightful group of teenagers, with good chemistry on and off the field. Alex spends a lot of time with his teammates, both virtually playing video games together online and at school.

Overlooking San Sebastian, Alex is with his big brother and some of his teammates.

Overlooking San Sebastian, a beautiful surfing town, Alex is with his big brother and some of his teammates.

That’s where the additional advantage for the parents shows up: these boys all work hard at school too! Alex applies himself to his schoolwork the same way that I did in England way back when, consistently and hard. He doesn’t flinch from the most stringent teachers or the most difficult courses, which is no mean feat in his International Baccalaureate curriculum. He’s in the middle of his junior year, the difficult high school year, and with the soccer and his internship is working his butt off.

Yours truly napping jet-lagged on a beach near San Sebastian. Courtesy of Olivier Béraut: a token of his esteem, don’t you think?

Yours truly napping jet-lagged on a beach near San Sebastian. Courtesy of Olivier Béraut: a token of his esteem, don’t you think?

Perhaps not unrelated to our appreciation of that schoolwork, this family (mostly his maman) came up with the immodest amount of money needed to participate in the tournament, as did a bunch of other happy parents, and the whole team flew to Madrid, the first step.

I joined up with them there, and we visited the Bernabeu, home of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid, before our bus trip to the Basque country. This tournament, called the Donosti Cup, had teams participating from all over, including quite a few from the US, and our boys had a fabulous time.

Okay, admittedly, the parents accompanying them did not suffer!

It’s a beautiful area, the World Cup coincided with the tournament (and who can forget the Brazil-Germany game, which we watched live in total astonishment in a local bar), and ten of us had an incredible meal at a restaurant called Bodegon Alejandro in San Sebastian. The restaurant was originally owned by the parents of Martín Berasategui, who has taken it over and whose eponymous restaurant nearby holds three Michelin stars. He uses Bodegon to train and experiment for his three-star neighbor.

I never knew that food could taste so good.

Charlie in his room with friends. All the boys played soccer for his high school team. This was right around their graduation, a fun time for all!

Charlie in his room with friends. All the boys played soccer for his high school team. This was right around their graduation, a fun time for all!

Then Charlie dropped in, with his friend Cameron. A bit of background here: I gave Charlie four weeks in Europe as a High School graduation present. This was affordable principally because Nick and Charlotte, his very patient and long-suffering girlfriend, made a very significant contribution to the trip. When Charlie and Cameron were not gallivanting around to London, Amsterdam or San Sebastian, they both stayed with Nick and Charlotte in Paris. I say that Charlotte is long-suffering because for a portion of the week that I too was staying there, she had Charlie, Cameron, Alex and me, as well as Nick. At least she chose Nick!

Charlie had a rough year with his soccer, the love of his life. He was scoring in every game in his last high school season back in January when he hurt his foot in a training accident. He still made offensive player of the year in the local high school league, but the foot caused him a lot of pain and slowed him down for the rest of the season. That was rough, turning his last high school season into a serious disappointment.

Alex and Tom during our guided tour of the sights of Paris. According to Tom, through the arch and in alignment are the obelisk at Concorde, the Arc de Triomphe and the Grande Arche de la Défense. We are standing here at the boundary between thee Jardin des Tuiléries and the Louvre

Alex and Tom during our guided tour of the sights of Paris. According to Tom, through the arch and in alignment are the obelisk at Concorde, the Arc de Triomphe and the Grande Arche de la Défense. We are standing here at the boundary between thee Jardin des Tuiléries and the Louvre.

Then, after the excitement of graduation and his Europe trip, the same thing happened in his first Cabrillo College season this fall. Not exactly the same thing, but he started out the season playing like a master, and then in the third or fourth game suffered a concussion when his own keeper kneed him in the eye after an opposing team corner. Again, a complete accident, but one that kept Charlie out of the team for the rest of the season.

He’s understandably a bit discouraged, although he will still have four more seasons to play in college. More good news is that he’s found himself a role helping out the coach of his old high school team, which Alex still plays for.

Of course, life is not all vacation: there is also work. Here are Kirstin, NextSpace’s accounts wrangler, and Jeremy, its executive chairman, dancing on our shared desk in our shared office. Fortunately, it's a big desk. Go CoWorking!

Of course, life is not all vacation: there is also work. Here are Kirstin, NextSpace’s accounts wrangler, and Jeremy, its executive chairman, dancing on our shared desk in our shared office. Fortunately, it’s a big desk. Go CoWorking!

Back to San Sebastian.

In keeping with the spirit of young people reducing their traveling costs as much as possible, Charlie and Cameron made their way to Spain with a French ride sharing service. Their driver was continuing on to Portugal, and did not want to dawdle or go far from the freeway to drop our boys off. We spent a fascinating couple of hours trying to guide the driver to the right freeway off ramp in San Sebastian for the game that the Thunder were scheduled to play.

Then, right at the last minute, Thunder’s stadium changed, and we had to redirect the driver in a slightly different direction. The boys’ arrival at the new stadium just before the Thunder game started was a triumph of coordination and modern technology: i.e. smart phones and GPS!

Paris followed San Sebastian: not a bad vacation, was it!

We bade farewell to the Thunder families and made our separate ways north from the Basque country. Charlie and Cameron took the TGV first class from Biarritz, a cut above the ride sharing but somehow at the same price through a Spanish SNCF website, and Alex and I rented a car. That’s a long story, which I’m sure that you can happily live without! The amusing part of the trip was blocking autoroute toll booths for five to ten minutes on several occasions because the automatic machines sometimes refused all US credit cards. Now that is bureaucratic planning: who wants American money anyway?!

Me and the boys, all together again for the first time in three years, July 13, 2014, the Blues Bar, rue Ordener, Paris.

Me and the boys, all together again for the first time in three years, July 13, 2014, the Blues Bar, rue Ordener, Paris.

We all got together, Tom included, for the World Cup third place game at a bar close to Charlotte and Nick’s place near Montmartre. That was the first time in three years that the four boys and I had sat down to eat together! It felt so good. As they each spread their wings, finding that feeling is not going to get any easier.

Tom left home seven years ago already: a foretaste of the emptying nest.  I keep in touch mostly by listening to his songs on the iPhone and watching his YouTube videos. Here’s one:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8cDlEkH9CM.

He was spending his summer break from studying French literature at the University of Paris as a bicycle guide helping tourists explore the city’s gorgeous tourist attractions. I lived there for ten years, and still don’t know half of what Tom knew. He took me along on one of these bicycle tours, a nerve wracking snake of tourists straddling busy taxi lanes on bikes, and I learned a lot. He walked with Alex and me around the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuiléries, and we both learned a lot.

Adapting to the new city wasn't easy, but within weeks Tom was finding gigs in Athens. This was at one posted on his Facebook page.

Adapting to the new city wasn’t easy, but within weeks Tom was finding gigs in Athens. This was at one posted on his Facebook page.

About three months later, I called him to ask him what he wanted for his birthday, to be informed that he had moved to Athens. What!! “And how about your literature studies?” “I got out of them what I could, dad. And they respect my music so much more here.” Really? And what did Tom want for his birthday? The broker’s fee on the studio that he was moving into for 170 Euros a month. Done. He’s already finding gigs and paying restaurant work. In Athens.

Back in July, Alex and Charlie wandered off, separately and both by TGV, to visit their maman and grandfather in Brittany. I explored Paris, beautiful Paris, with its echoes of our lives all together, when the children were young and ran around uncontrollably every which way in every park and on every street, so many wonderful memories. This time, I hung out with Charlotte and Nick.

I've always enjoyed amusing advertising, and this provocative thought caught my eye on the Métro. I sent it to a French-speaking friend, but did not hear back form her!

I’ve always enjoyed amusing advertising, and this provocative thought caught my eye on the Métro. I sent it to a French-speaking friend, but did not hear back from her!

The high spot was the pleasure of an evening in the gardens of the Chateau de Versailles watching an outdoor “son et lumière” performance, where Charlotte was responsible for the sound. Wow. You can sort of imagine, right? Choreographed flames erupted as high as the trees, with fireworks exploding around them and in the sky, all played out against a royal chateau backdrop complete with fountains and ponds, accompanied by symphonies playing in time with the flames and fireworks.

Nick and Charlotte are still in Paris, still together. They jointly took Charlie and Cameron to Amsterdam in Charlotte’s car before I made it to Paris, staying in an Air B’n’B apartment. Wonder what that was about: no I don’t! All had a great time, of course, and the younger boys had the time of their lives. That’s what a high school graduation trip is for.

Thank you Charlotte and Nick!

Charlotte's charming parents invited Nick and me for dinner in the garden of their home in Rambouillet, southwest of Paris. Marie-Helene and I spent our first three years with Nick, Daphne, Alban and Tom (and first two years with Charlie) in the forest of Rambouillet. Merci beaucoup Rosaline et Philippe: à la prochaine!

Charlotte’s charming parents invited Nick and me for dinner in the garden of their home in Rambouillet, southwest of Paris. Marie-Helene and I spent our first three years with Nick, Daphne, Alban and Tom (and first two years with Charlie) in the forest of Rambouillet. Merci beaucoup Rosaline et Philippe: à la prochaine!

The latter continues his part-time degree program in software engineering at the CNAM, where they give him credit for his years of self-taught coding. Not on a one-for-one basis, of course, but it’s encouraging to receive any academic recognition for his years of hard work. He still works full-time coding, for a start-up. That company even brought him to the Bay Area for a week or two this fall, and so we had the pleasure of hosting Charlotte and him here too.

Alex and Charlie flew back home from Paris, and I moved on. I took the Eurostar to London, jumped on the sleeper train to the Highlands at Euston, and finally changed trains again in Inverness the next morning for Thurso.

Now that’s my part of the vacation!  I love the Highlands, and trains, and South Devon, and the friends I still have in the UK, and spent a whole week indulging each of those loves, courtesy of a Britrailpass and online reservations. If I didn’t make it to see you this time, don’t worry, I’ll be back! If I did, sorry, I’ll probably be back!

Dunrobin Castle, ancestral home of the Dukes of Sutherland, with its own train station on the line from Inverness to Wick and Thurso. My kind of castle!

Dunrobin Castle, ancestral home of the Dukes of Sutherland, with its own train station on the line from Inverness to Wick and Thurso. My kind of castle!

I’ve avoided dwelling on the divorce up until now, and will continue to do so this year.  Overall, the bad news tends to stay where it belongs, in the background.

The tube gave me this useful tip on how not to date!

The tube gave me this useful tip on how not to date!

In part, that is because being a bachelor again is a blast. I’ve had relationships in the almost five years since moving out, not a lot of them, but dating is so rich and rejuvenating, so much more rewarding than the ingrained bitterness of a marriage gone wrong.

It’s not just the dating which goes well. Charlie and Alex stay at my place more and more, Charlie full time and Alex half plus. They have a bedroom each, small but their own rooms. We’ve been getting closer again. They both have a great sense of humor, not forgetting a wide streak of kindness which makes me very proud.  In response to my admission that cooking is not my strong point, unlike soccer and work, Alex added, “and unlike self-pity!” Haha! They do okay out of my culinary failings, because to compensate I’ve developed a specialty of providing a healthy supply of adolescent snack food for them and their buddies.

James and Charlie approaching the stage to receive their diplomas at their High School graduation. Alec and Noah are behind them looking the other way. The ceremony was held on the field which was the site of most of thier home soccer games, and the boys talked about their memories of those games as they waited in line.

James and Charlie approaching the stage to receive their diplomas at their High School graduation. Alec and Noah are behind them looking the other way. The ceremony was held on the field which was the site of most of their home soccer games, and the boys talked about their memories of those games as they waited in line.

And as the fog of misery disperses, I’m starting to look ahead. Where will I live in the future if there are still two boys in Europe and two in California? How will I keep in regular touch with all of them in person? I’ve had a few ideas, made and unmade a few plans, and relish thinking them all through.  Whoever would have thunk it, dating and dreams at the tender age of 62!

 *      *      *      *

Here’s a holiday anecdote. A friend at NextSpace, a single thirty-something woman, recently attended a Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show viewing party with a group of her friends, some of whom had been to high school together. They do this every year, watching the fashion video together: some of them wore pyjamas and some angel wings. Think Tupperware with lingerie.

Another shot taken on West Cliff Drive during one of my regular bicycle rides, this one at Natural Bridges State Beach. Greetings from Santa Cruz!

Another shot taken on West Cliff Drive during one of my regular bicycle rides, this one at Natural Bridges State Beach. Greetings from Santa Cruz!

Only somebody brought a guy to this party, which was admittedly unusual. She said that Sergio was allowed to stay, meaning no-one there raised the question, because he was very quiet and charming and carried a kick-ass camera. The latter gave him immediate cachet, because every year at this party they take pix in front of the Christmas tree, and the better quality, the better.

The party was held in a small condo in Capitola, a couple of miles down the coast from Santa Cruz. Come Monday morning, my friend is texting her friends and fellow lingerie viewers looking for her Christmas pix. She got them, through the party’s host, who got them from the photographer. Turns out that his name wasn’t Sergio; it was Sergey. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show party photographer was Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, a guy like any other at a Victoria’s Secret party.

May you have as much fun over this Holiday Season as Sergey!