Raise your hand if you enjoy taking a COVID test.
While I can't see what's beyond my computer screen, I seriously doubt many hands went up. But if you want to travel, or have to travel, taking a COVID test has been the price of admission, especially for taking a cruise.
We know first hand about the latter. In the last year alone, Pam and I have had to take almost a dozen tests before boarding ships or staying on a ship longer than a week. While not particularly painful, having a piece of cotton on a stick pushed into your nostrils isn't anybody's idea of fun. Not to mention the anxiety of "what if it's positive?" The fear you may have it is almost as bad as having it.
But that's changing. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is now leaving it up to the cruise lines to implement their own health policies and procedures. Last week, Virgin Voyages announced it was dropping pre-cruise testing, and allowing some unvaccinated guests onboard as well. Small cruise lines Azamara and Palm Beach based-Margaritaville have done the same, as well as Norwegian for some of its sailings.
In the months ahead, it's expected many if not most of the major cruise lines will follow suit. And while we certainly won't miss getting tested, COVID is still with us and not going away any time soon, if ever.
Reactions, as you might expect, have been varied. Many are happy and relieved; others are more fearful that suddenly what seemed to be the safest way to travel isn't anymore.
While you can make the case either way, here are a few points to ponder:
-- A negative test result reflects just a moment in time. Once onboard, you are mixing and mingling with hundreds of strangers, not to mention all the interactions when you leave the ship at a port of call. And just how reliable are test results, anyway?
-- Cruise lines have done a yeoman job of dealing the pandemic, providing extra sanitation procedures, mask mandates, 100 percent crew vaccinations, eliminating self-serve buffets and other measures. When's the last time you read about a norovirus outbreak on a ship? The extra precautions have seemed to stem that tide as well.
-- Testing aside, the best thing any of us can do is get vaccinated and boosted as necessary. I would be a thousand percent okay if that remained a requirement.
Health professionals say everyone at one time or another will have COVID. Like the common cold, it's here to stay. But unlike a cold, getting it on a cruise means your vacation is effectively over, as you are forced into quarantine. That's the new reality travelers have to deal with, and the thought of being stranded in a foreign country or anywhere for an extended period is unsettling to say the least.
What's a person to do? Pretty much what we've been doing for the past two years: Avoid crowds when you can, sanitize and wash your hands often, mask up if the situation calls for it and keep your vaccination current. In short, be accountable for your own health regimens.
Yet even as we try to get comfortable living with COVID, the new virus making headlines is Monkeypox. When does it end?
PALM BEACH_The last time Pam and I were at Lola 41 in Palm Beach, we weren't able to take advantage of the restaurant's inviting outdoor patio, which was closed as workers completed the adjacent White Elephant Hotel (you can read about it HERE) .
On a return trip this week, it was available, and the ideal place to enjoy the end of another perfect Florida day amid lush landscaping and striped umbrellas. Since that first visit, Lola 41 has established itself as the place to go for globally-inspired cuisine, sushi and friendly service in a setting that is both glamorous and casual.
As the summer "off season" settles in, Lola 41 has brought back "Sushi Sundays," where from 5-10 pm diners can get "buy-one-get-one free" sushi rolls (equal or lesser value), including classic, traditional and specialty rolls.
Also new, they have added a daily Happy Hour, and who doesn't like that? It's from 4-6 pm, and features 50 per cent off house liquor, beer, wines by the glass and signature cocktails, along with $10 sushi rolls and small plate selections -- such as Spicy Edamame, Skirt Steak Tacos, Duck Buns and Cantonese Style Pork Pot Sticks.
'This could be the meteor shower of the century!"
"Don't miss tonight's once-in-a-lifetime Chartreuse Moon."
"Look to the east to see the ultra-rare, Six Planet Alignment around the crescent moon -- it only happens every 100,000 years!"
Really -- is anything more hyped than astronomical events? And talk about over-promise and under-deliver. Just speaking for myself, they never seem to pan out, for a variety of reasons.
More often than not, it's cloud cover. If could be clear as a bell for weeks, but the mere mention of a spectacular sky event will generate a thick wave of clouds that usually dissipate after said event concludes.
Such was the case this week for the tau Herculids meteor shower, featuring the shattered remains of Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (doesn't roll off the tongue, does it?), which some pundits predicted could generate as many as 1,000 fireballs an hour.
While it didn't deliver to nearly that scale, it didn't matter. As Judy Collins sang in "Both Sides Now": 'Clouds got in my way."
While we're picking nits, what's the deal with when these things occur? "Optimal viewing will be from 2-3 a.m."
Let's see. Set an alarm and hope not only the skies will be clear but also the promised spectacle actually happens.
It's particularly painful for me since I have been a wanna-be astronomer since I coerced my parents into buying me a telescope at age nine. Many nights were spent in my backyard trying to zero in on the rings of Saturn and examining craters on the moon.
But aside from moving to the deserts of Chile or a hut atop a Hawaii volcanic peak, I'll have to be content with enjoying the images from Hubble or the new James Webb observatory.
Of course, Halley's Comet is set to make a return in 2061. Is it too early to check the long-range forecast?
I'm sure you're all been on tenterhooks, pins and needles or just plain curious about how the Barbecue Spaghetti came out (see previous post). Based on my own expert opinion (Pam still hasn't tried it), I would give it a solid 8 on a scale of 1-10. Honestly, the pulled pork blendly nicely with the angel hair pasta and spicy marinara sauce. It was very tasty indeed.
Would I make it again? Absolutely. If you decide to give it a try, send me a nolte. If I ever appear on "Beat Bobby Flay," this just may be my signature dish!
Well kids, this is it. The big kahuna of football games, the Super Bowl.
Over the past two weeks, the National Football League, TV and cable shows and Madison Avenue have squeezed every last drop of promotional hype they possibly can from the game, analyzing and dissecting every player, coach and official, down to their shirt size.
Me? I'm borderline ho-hum. My team didn't make it, so per tradition, I'll probably root for the underdog. In this case, the Bengals.
But football aside, a major part of the hoopla are the parties and get-togethers, where food takes centerstage. With the pandemic still in effect, that's not happening here. But it doesn't stop me from whipping up something special for the Big Game.
This year I'm going full-on gonzo. No wings, no dips, no chips, no pigs snuggled in blankets. Nope --I'm going for the full monty (foodwise) and making... are you ready? ... Barbecue Spaghetti.
Maybe it does border on oxymoronic, but hey, it combines two of my favorite things: BBQ and pasta.
The idea stems from a recipe I ran across on the web headlined, "BBQ Spaghetti: A True Memphis Original." According to the author, Robert Moss, it was invented by a former railroad cook named Brady Vincent, and remains a Memphis favorite.
Preparation couldn't be easier. You simply combine pasta sauce, barbeque sauce and pulled pork. Let that cook and add the spaghetti. Voila!
Despite my enthusiasm, Pam is skeptical. So are our friends. But ye of little faith, I think you'll change your minds once you give it a taste.
So stick around. I'll post an update and reveal the results. It just could be more interesting than the game.
In these trying times, our elected leaders have plenty to concern themselves with. And among those weighty issues -- at least in Florida -- is what will be named the official state dessert. No, really.
Since 2006, the official State Dessert of Florida is Key Lime Pie. Now Senator Danny Burgess, who represents the heart of the strawberry growing region, has introduced a bill to recognize Strawberry Shortcake as the new official dessert of the Sunshine State.
As you might expect, the folks in Key West haven't taken this affront kindly, and a group known as the Conch Republic Key Lime Council has created a Change.org petition to keep key lime pie as the official state dessert.
Quoting from the petition:
"WHEREAS: Key Lime Pie is a native Floridian dessert that originated in the Florida Keys, and Strawberry Shortcake is a non-native dessert that originated in Europe.
"WHEREAS: Key Lime Pie was designated the Official State Pie of Florida in 2006 and has served proudly as the de facto State Dessert for 16 years, and Strawberry Shortcake has never received a state designation."
For me, it's a no-brainer. While I enjoy them both, Key Lime Pie is way more Florida than Strawberry Shortcake. In Pam's "Gigi in the 561" podcast, she entertains a possible solution: Instead of designating one dessert, have an official pie as well as an official cake.
Whatever, can we just get on with the really important stuff, like whether Tampa should rename their football stadium after Tom Brady? I can already see the petitions that would bring out.
Florida has to be one of the few places in the world where, when temps fall into the 40s and below, the National Weather Service issues an advisory to "look out for falling iguanas." It's true. Those tree-hugging, tropical lizards that grow up to six feet in length hate the cold as much as we do.
When it gets as cold as we just experienced in the last few days, they literally "freeze" and go into a coma-like state. If they happen to be in a tree at the time, plop!
The good news, at least for them, is that they return to their normal, plant-munching selves when it warms back up. In the meantime, experts say don't wrap them in swaddling clothes or bring them inside. They could wake up suddenly and bite you. We also hear it's against the law.
While the video brlow has nothing to do with iguanas, it does feature a lizard, and is pretty funny. I take every opportunity I get to post it. It's from a live TV newscast from Fort Worth, Texas-based KXAS. Pam and i were actually working for one of their competitors when this happened. Enjoy!
Pam -- aka "Gigi in the 561" -- did a podcast today about languishing, and how that describes the current state of the world in 2022.
It made me stop and think. What exactly does "languish" mean? According to Webster, to languish is to become "dispirited" or "suffer neglect;" to "live in a state of depression or decreasing vitality;" to become "feeble, weak or enervated (lacking vigor)."
Two years into a worldwide pandemic, "languishing" seems to fit the situation to a "T."
Health impact aside -- and we all know that's taken a terrible toll -- just about everyone has felt the mental impact. Namely:
Of course, the pandemic's impact to the world's economies is immeasurable. As travel writers, we felt it right away when cruises were stopped in their tracks and flying for fun turned into a nightmare of unruly passengers duking it out at 30,000 feet. We have ventured out during the last two years, but our trips have been few and far between.
So here we are, languishing in 2022. Not depressed -- that's not our style. Dispirited? Sometimes. Downhearted? Desperate? All those emotions come and go from time to time. But still, above all, very grateful to be vertical and given another day to fight.
The one thing we do know for sure: Whatever the state of the world, this too shall pass.
"is it real, or is it Memorex?"
That was a line from an Eighties ad for recording tape. But in its own way, it has relevance today, as scientists, philosophers and academics hotly debate the age-old question, "What is reality?"
Fueled by movies like "The Matrix" and an explosion of interest in virtual reality (VR), coupled with new technologies that probe ever deeper into the fabric of space, time and the quantum bits that form the basis for everything, we are attacking that vexing question on all fronts.
My own interest in the subject was peaked when Pam gifted me a copy of David Ewalt's book, "Defying Reality -- The Inside Story of the Virtual Reality Revolution." Its focus is mostly on the consumer electronics side, tracing the development of Oculus and other players in the space.
As a latecomer to the VR scene (I jettisoned my early adopter status long ago), I got the Sony Playstation 4/VR console, mostly for our granddaughter's visits. Having said that, I quickly got pulled into the magic of moving in a 360-degree virtual environment -- piloting a spaceship from planet to planet, shooting down zombies on a fun house rollercoaster or barely surviving a shark attack on an ocean descent.
It really is amazing to think you can put on a headset and be transported to worlds where anything is possible. Suddenly, science fiction concepts like the Star Trek Holodeck seem tantilizingly close at hand. And after saving the world from the zombie apocalypse, we can turn off the headset and return to reality. Or did we ever leave?
A new book by philosopher David Chalmers, "Reality+," argues virtual reality is as real as "real" reality -- the ultimate affirmation that perception is reality. I'm only on chapter two, but if you want to really go down the rabbit hole, Chalmers takes a swing at ALL the BIG questions around reality, God and is what we call reality just a computer simulation?
Is your head hurting yet?
It's only human to wonder about these things. Plato went there in his cave allegory, Edgar Allan Poe wrote, "Is all that we see or seem, But a dream within a dream?" Even Shakespeare weighed in: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
No one would doubt the pace of technology will make our virtual future more and more real. Facebook is betting the farm that we'll want to move into their Metaverse. Some predict we'll ditch clunky headsets for computer implants that will allow us to engage all our senses in the experience. With newfound power to inhabit any world or become any avatar we can imagine, will we reach a point of never wanting to leave? Maybe we'll see virtual reality as a Godsend if it helps us cope with a future climate- or war-ravaged world.
Central to all of this is that three-pound lump of gray matter called the brain, which gives rise to the mind, consciousness and our sense of self. And that opens up a whole new can of philosophical worms. Quoting from the 1956 movie, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers":
"The mind is a strange and wonderful thing. I'm not sure it will ever be able to figure itself out. Everything else maybe, from the atom to the universe. Everything except itself."
To further cloud the water, I just read where researchers have determined what we experience is actually on a 15-second delay as our brain "mashes up" the millions of sensory inputs it receives every second and does its best to approximate the results to protect us from being overwhelmed.
But does all of this really matter if we are just part of some computer game played by our descendants in a far-flung future or alien whiz kids looking for a diversion? The answer is, we just don't know, and probably can never know. The fact is, we just can't know any of the Big Question answers with any certainty.
Of course, that doesn't keep us from trying, and wondering, and questioning our existence or place in the cosmos. Knowledge is both a blessing and a curse, depending on what we find in those rabbit holes. But that won't stop us from chasing those rabbits, virtual or otherwise.
During every lifetime there are those days you just know will go down in history, for good and bad. Just in our lifetime, November 22, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated and September 11, the Twin Towers go down -- both evoking painful memories.
But then there's today, July 20, forever remembered as the day Mankind first set foot on the moon. And now, also the day Jeff Bezos successfully ventured to space as a private citizen, one week after Richard Branson did the same thing.
A new Space Age has dawned, and we are witness to what could be every bit as momentous as the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, almost 120 years previous.
It's an especially thrilling event, not only for the world, but also for our eight-year-old granddaughter, Cate, and all the kids of her generation. They have a real chance to take that "road to space" that Bezos referenced, dreaming new dreams and expanding their horizons beyond our imaginations.
Predictably, there are the naysayers who want to rain on the parade. Just like there were when JFK pledged to land a man on the moon, and NASA was created. Why go to space at all? Don't we have enough problems here to worry about? Can't that money be better spent on Earth? It's just billionaires playing with their toys and trying to one-up the other.
Putting aside for a moment the literally hundreds of new products and innovations that have come out of the space program, which have improved everyday life for all of us, are we really ready to stop trying to reach for the stars?
Ask yourself, are you ready to give up your cell phone and go back to rotary dial handsets? The Model T got you around, do we need better, safer cars? Sure, progress in any field brings its own new set of problems. But if makes life easier, or better, or points the way to brighter tomorrows, it's worth our investment.
It would be wonderful if we could solve our earthly problems with money. But sadly, no amount of money is likely to end homelessness, solve hunger or stop global conflicts. People don't even have enough common sense to get vaccinated against a potentially deadly virus, when the vaccines are readily available, and free.
Visionaries like Bezos, Branson and Elon Musk are always looking at the bigger picture, realizing space holds the key for Mankind's long-term survival as an ever-growing population strains finite resources and climate change pushes our planet to the brink. Will their efforts benefit them financially? Sure, and they should. Just like the industrial titans of the last century spun up the oil industry, railroads and electricity. Government oversight, both then and now, is also required. That's a given.
As a species, the instinct to survive is deeply imprinted in our DNA. Nature made sure of that. The commercial utilization of space is one more way we hope to ensure humans stick around for the next chapter of our millions-of-years-old story. Thank God for the Bezos's and Bransons of the world. They may not have left footprints in the lunar dust, but their accomplishments this week will have a lasting imprint on our futures.
Cate, I can only imagine what's ahead in your lifetime. Reach for the stars. They are there for the taking.
Yes, I know it's spelled like "Jerry." No, I don't know why it's pronounced "Gary."