surfing the stardust

Archive for the month “December, 2011”

new year jan 2010

stumbled across these thouhgts from a couple of years ago:

I cannot or could not envision when I was young that I would live a life so interesting and exciting as I have led.

But in the grand scheme of things life, while full of the grand complexity of the universe, has for my friends and me seemed to resolve itself into the drive for a good, cold beer and a bit of fun and games.

There are 2 things that have been consistent in my observation of my friends like Russ, and John, and Mike, and Frank, and  Tim Sweeney, and Pete Borelli, and Dan, and Greg, and  since I was 12 – we men love you women and we like to party.

In a sense “ we were young once..and never really grew old”

There has been one thing in my life that has made me most happy – that is unconditional love from 3 people: Nick, Jenny and Margo.

Beyond that I have at least once every day felt the cool wind or the warmth of the sun, or the moist touch of a spring rain on my face.

Rivers to love – Zambezi, Deschutes, Columbia from Lake Invermeer to the Cannery Pier Hotel,  Mekong, Roanoke, Warwick, James, roaring fork of the Clackamas, Moldau, Main,  Rio Pacuare, Salzach on Christmas morning…

Walks to cherish – down from the Chola pass with AmaDablam up above, the saddle of the ridge at Kleine Scheidigge, the park from Bellagio on the shore of Lake Como, from Cannon Beach to Haystack Rock and back, morning walk along the Atlantic at Nags Head NC., hike into Jefferson Park under Mt Jefferson, around the point in the medieval city of Spoleto…

the end of a road


WHEN IN ROME: Part #2 – The Pagan cemetery under St. Peter’s

In 2008 on our 9th trip to Rome, Jenny found out about a very special, unique, and exclusive tour which turned out to be probably the most interesting thing we’ve ever done (in a city where virtually everything you can do is interesting).

In 100 A.D. Emperor Constantine cut into Vatican Hill and moved half of it to cover  a pagan cemetery and Caligula’s racetrack.  After leveling it all out, he then proceeded to build the first of several St. Peter’s Basilicas on the site, the original of which (Constantine’s) is where many claim St. Peter is in fact buried.  Now, after 70 years of excavation, if you do it right, you can go on a fabulous underground tour of the ancient family mausoleums which are more than 3 levels below the floor of the current St. Peter’s.   It must not be confused with the other Vatican tombs where all the popes are buried (those are often called the Necropolis) nor some other excavations that are above ground.  Then as you climb up you encounter the ruins of Constantine’s church and the site of St. Peter’s tomb.

There is only one way to see this place and that is through applying weeks, if not months in advance, to the Vatican Excavations Office.  Below are some sites with instructions and insights.  Note:  this info is hard to find…the ONLY place to get access to these is through the Vatican excavations office – this is the key to figuring out how to do it.  The first 2 websites talk about how to do this.  there are only about 120 people per day allowed and in groups of 15 people.  The last 2 web sites talk about the opening up of the pagan tombs 5 years ago.,2933,358641,00.html

WHEN IN ROME: part #1

Greeve’s 6 hot tips for eats when in ROME..(suitable for kids and moms on a budget)…all but the last are in the old city within 10 minutes walk of the Piazza Navona

1) worlds best gelato..wonderful on a hot afternoon at 3 pm..if you don’t do anything else you must go here at least 3 times –SERIOUSLY!!!!!!..airconditioned inside or grab a cone and stroll:

Gelateria Giolitti Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40, 00186 Roma, Italy,+39 06 699 1243

2) believe it or not GREAT pasta! with a name like this its got to be good .. simple fare and not glamourous but good good:

Maccheroni Piazza delle Coppelle, 44, 00186 Roma, Italy, +39 06 6830 7895 ‎

3) the greatest chocolate covered icecream dessert in the universe: go to Piazza the tre scalini at Tre Scalini..expensive BUT well worth it..there is a great fountain of the 4 rivers..Laura can use her geography skills to test Dad on which continent each river lies..ask about the story of Bernini (the sculpture of the fountain) and how he liked or didn’t like Borromini’s church…and how he expressed his opinion by carving a figure on the fountain (!!!)

Tre Scalini, Piazza Navona – can’t miss it..lunch dinners and evening desserts

4) a hidden square with two great bathtubs and eat wonderful simple food underneath a Michelangelo facade: go to Piazza Farnese admire the 2nd century celadon bathtubs and the palace that Michelangelo designed is through the market square Campo di Fiori (morning flower market) to Al Galletto (call for dinner reservations outside on the square) good chicken and lasagna. (by the way if over there in the morning Bar Farnese is not a bad cafe too on the Farnese square good croissants) … see if the crazy lady is taking a swim

Al Galletto Piazza Farnese, 102, 00186 Roma, Italy+39 06 686 1714

5) the worlds most expensive cappuchino but worth it because it is in the square in front of the Pantheon…get a table in the shade and let Jack figure out how they built it!!

6) finally….for my favorite view of the Roman roof tops have a lunch in the 19th century villa at Casina Valadier..up above the Piazza Popolo is a wonderful park for strolling in the shaded lanes..on the cliff is this restaurant..good food but a bit of a splurge but sit out on the decks and enjoy the view..perhaps a prosecco if at evening as the sun hits the gilded horses. Then walk down the park to the Spanish Steps and decend back to the hustle and bustle of the best town in Europe..

Casina Valadier Piazza Bucarest, 00187 Roma, Italy +39 06 6992 2090

Pleiku Road: An Khe Pass, 1966

We passed out at about 11 pm, laid out across the seats of the gun jeep, halfway up the AnKhe pass – just short of the Korean strong point.  We had been smoking dope pretty steady for one or two hours.  On a rescue mission to retrieve the driver of a convoy truck which had broken down on its run to Pleiku.

The pass is a twisting, steep, dirt mess that runs between the lush rice paddies of the costal plain and the first plateau of the Central Highlands.  Technically it was in the Tiger Division secure area but the First Cav was close by and they provided the fire mission support for this part of the road.

Not a good place to be after dark – the strong point is only a squad or so – maybe 12 guys.

We always drew fire down the hill about 1-2 miles down from where we slept – that’s at night when we’d be late on the fast run down from Pleiku – trucks pretty much empty would haul ass past that spot.  Maybe my gun jeep would lay down protective fire from our M-60, not able to aim but just shooting ‘em up to make them go back to the village.

But the weed was too good to overcome, besides we really didn’t give a shit.

We woke up from our little nap about 0200 and decided we were pretty fucking stupid…the cold night had woken us.

I remember seeing a couple of the Koreans dragging a big long lizard down the hill a few weeks before – the big guy was six feet long at least – that’s with his thick tail – good chow for the boys with that lonely scary duty sitting on the pass night after night…

The pass was a swamp when it rained.  I’d stand in mud up to my knees as the monsoon downpour turned the deeply cut curves into swimming pools where the local buses and trucks would bog down.  My job was to clear the pass when that happened.

For 6 weeks I lived with the First Cav. in the village about 10 miles up, west of the top.  I’d head out soon after light with a big old 5 ton wrecker and winch the buses and trucks through the deep sludge.

The pass got dusty and stinking hot when the rains stopped.  Sometimes 3 or 5 trucks would link up bumper to bumper with the faster trucks pushing hard to help the slower ones and heavily loaded ones to make it.  The heat and the dust and the exhaust made it a nasty and sweaty deal…

The trick was to shift without breaking contact with the truck you were pushing…of course I mean double shifting the transfer case and the gear shift at the same time.  You’d grab the long gear shift with your left hand and then bend down to the transfer case lever on the floor with the right hand and double clutch the mother and drop down or push up depending on what the guy in front was doing.  And your head was down below the dash and you weren’t looking at the road or the truck in front or any  other damned thing.  But there was hardly ever any problem because you were only going maybe 5 miles an hour loaded down with pallets of beer or napalm.

A few times it was really, really hot and my driver and gunner and I stopped and loaded a jeep trailer with big 3 foot long blocks of ice in sawdust and cans of Korean beer – I drove by each truck crawling up in the diesel fumes and passed a cold can or 2 to the driver and shotgun.

One spring morning with clear blue skies and fresh 70 degree mountain air I came over the top of the pass and pulled up behind a 40’ tractor-trailer loaded with cigarettes.  The driver and shotgun were up under the canvas tarp throwing cartons of smokes down to a dozen girls who were loading up buffalo carts and 3 wheelers.  I kicked their butts and shut it down.  There was no reason to do more since the guys were selling everything up and down the road.  If you got a load of beer, lumber or Marlboro’s you could make a months pay.  They’d also trade it to other outfits like the 101st Airborne who would come in to the road ever once in a while for a tough operation.

We had a professional scrounger named Hoss Caruthers who excelled in trading beer and smokes hijacked from our trucks for lumber and pancho liners…that’s how our 2nd Trans. Co. got the wood and sheetmetal to make a beer hall for the enlisted men.  When the club was finished we had a big party; I played guitar but we only knew 3 songs and played them over and over all night.  I’d been to some great frat parties in school but never ever saw guys get drunk like that night.

In the ‘50s the French got massacred here on Highway 19.  They were running for the coast from north of Kontum and the NVA was dealing with them via death by a thousand cuts.  They finally got trapped between the top of the AnKhe pass and the next pass 15 miles west.  It is scrubby jungle, nothing majestic; no double canopy.  The big convoy was cut to pieces and over 1000 french soldiers and allies were killed or captured.  You can read about it in the episode called “Death of a Convoy” in Bernard Fall’s great book Street Without Joy.

So I never liked to stop on the road – fire could always come from anywhere, anytime.  With a truck or a jeep you could always “get your hat” and “didi”…if you were hauling ass you were “hatting”.  So we were idiots for passing out and sleeping on the pass but like I said the dope was too good.

Jumping off point, Rome 1968

My first trip to Rome was in December 1968.  I rode my beat up Suzuki 250cc motorcycle down from Frankfurt, thru the snowy alps – put it on a train from Lucerne, cause the snow was too wicked, to the border town of Chiasso.  Waited there for 2 nights until finally I snuck into the customs storage barn and found it and pushed the tricky-pain-in-the-ass Italian customs guys to let me have it.  As I rode out of the frozen mountains I reveled in breathing  the rich, earthy, farm smells of the road down to Genoa and soon skirted the Mediterranean shore to find a beachfront room in one of the Ligurian sea towns near Sori.

In Rome we stayed in the youth hostel in the Olympic Village, having met up there with Pete.  He and I had stayed with Meg’s friend Massimo in his family’s Florence apartment but traveled down to Rome separately since he was fed up with my blown head gasket beater and my habit of running out of gas.  Pete was working in the leather market in Florence – his Italian was perfect and the America tourist gals all believed he was local.  When they found out he was from San Francisco they couldn’t wait to have him show them the town.

The scene in the Rome hostel was unique.  Since this was the main jumping off point for the exotic lands of India, Kathmandu, Lebanon, or North Africa, there were dozens of mainly english speaking 18-25 year old kids, (“Don’t trust anyone over 30”) who would show up in couples and triplets and meld into the pack.  The conversation was Where? and How?.  We were learning about buses and hitching and riding on roofs.  Long rap sessions describing brown and green Lebanon, and black Afghani.  How to cross North Africa from Gibraltar to Morocco, through Algeria to Tunisia and then catch the cheap ferry to Sicily.  Kathmandu was at the time still kind of a mystery, and unknown – very few people had come back from there yet – so there was little discussion about what was there.  Pete and I had run into a guy named Don Beasley who had traveled overland from South East Asia – but he was one of the very, very few.  He was adamant that we needed to go back with him.  All we really knew for sure was that the best hashish in the world came from there, that the trip was awesomely exciting and through the fabled countries of Turkey, Persia, and Afghanistan, and then down into India and Pakistan, and that there were a bunch of hipster cats and surfer chicks living there on almost nothing.

Rome was the jumping off point because you could catch the ferry from Brindisi to Greece, including a stop on Corfu, and then move down to Lebanon or hit Turkey and start the long road trip to India. Or you could head to North Africa either through Southern France and Spain and across the straits or the other way down to Palermo, directly to Tunisia.

Pete ended up staying in Italy and meeting his wife Linda there – I wouldn’t see him again for over two years.  I left my Suzuki with Meg and started out after New Years towards Morocco.

Marrakech Express – January, 1969

We were about 3 hours out of Casablanca when we killed the man.  The late afternoon winter sun was hazed in the southwest, casting shadows that reached out to the road.  I had slept the night before in a corn field; huddled in my old army down sleeping bag, thinking about rats or getting knifed.  The dirt clods were annoying and I wondered about bugs.

I had left Florence Italy, where Pete from school and my sister Meg were staying. I had the sleeping bag and $15; on my way to hitchhike across Europe and down to “Casa-Casa”.  I was going to buy $10 of hashish and take it up to Frankfurt where I’d sell it out of the Club Voltaire.  I figured I could get half a kilo for that.  I had left Ital two days after New Years.  It was winter and cold across France and Spain; even Morocco was cool.  All the fields in the flat plains lay fallow and as we drove south in the high cab of the freight truck we looked out on nothing but an occasional bare tree and the grey-brown horizon; a scrubby place really.

I had started thumbing in mid-morning and it wasn’t until mid-afternoon that the large lorry pulled over.  As I climbed up the 3 steps I saw that it was a man with his teenage son.  They might have been hauling feed or food or lumber in the back of the 10 wheeler – they never really said.  I climbed over the boy and settled back in the middle of the wide bench seat.  As we pulled back into the two lane tarmac road we began to chat a bit in broken french.

The thing was that, for what seemed like hours, we had seen no one; or what seemed like no one.  Empty fields of stubble, an occasional donkey, rough contours – ugly land, and every once in a longish while a person in the distance.  That part of the country is called the Labrikiyne – part desert – part scrawny bush fodder for goats – thorn scrub – empty.  The road from Casa-Casa to Marrakech runs through this for about 150 miles or so.

The driving man and his boy had picked me up around Settat.  The young fellow began peeling oranges and passing the wedges to his father and me.  It was warm in the cab and the lorry seats comfortable.  I think about the father and son sharing this job; how they both must have looked forward to the day when the son would first climb behind the wheel to drive down a real road on a job.  The dad asked where I was from, what I was doing in Maroc, what America was like, where I was going.  He was warm to me and gentle.  I think he was proud in front of his boy that he was clever enough to pick up an American no less!  We were relaxed and enjoying the ride.

The bleak land rolled by.  As we passed an hour or two the mid-winter sun sank in the western steppe.  I was happy they were going to Marrakech – there were very few cars on the road and it could have taken another two days at the rate I’d been going.  It was the type of late afternoon light that could have produced swirls of birds flying in the middle distance – I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw such but I don’t really remember.

The next day I recalled distinctly that at just about that moment I thought to myself: “It’s starting to get dark now.  He’ll have to put on his lights soon.”

Immediately as that thought flashed through my head I recognized in my peripheral vision that he was pulling the light switch on.

As if a movie screen suddenly blazed into light we realized that walking down the middle of our side of the road, and no more than 20 feet in front of our hurtling truck, was a man.  In that instant we seemed to recognize several things:  it had indeed gotten dark and night had fallen; that the peasants of this land yet lived in a world where trucks and paved roads and running lights and road noise were in a different universe; that by his drab jellahbah this was such a peasant; and that he was about to die.

The father yanked the steering wheel hard to the left.  We slammed into the man anyway at 50 mile an hour.  As our truck lunged to the left we realized there was a van coming towards us in the other lane.  As it desperately tried to escape by heading for the eastern shoulder, we slammed into its rear panels, sending it sliding over into a low ditch.  We left the road and went ourselves into the ditch and came to an other-worldly stop.

It is often said that life was cheap in these far off places in those days, but regardless, the three of us knew that our lives had changed.  We sat immobilized by shock for some time.  Dad checked boy, me; we were OK, no physical damage.  I climbed over the kid and climbed down his side of the truck.  I looked behind us.  The van, about the size of a VW bus, had run through the ditch and crashed head on into a tree.  In the dim twilight two or three men wobbled and stumbled out of the van.  They must have been hurt somewhat, but they all were walking, even though it was with lurching, halting, side to side staggers.

The six of us slowly gathered around the body lying alone and un-bloody on the road.  The boy had come over too.  The father told him to get back in the truck.  Everyone was talking in Arabic – I had no idea what was being said.

After not a long time I noticed that instead of just five or six of us that now there were twelve or fifteen people milling around.  The father was pacing up and down by his lorry; he was very upset and swung his arms in frustration and anger.  The guys from the van kept walking back and forth between the dead body and their vehicle.  Soon I realized that a small crowd had built:  men, women, in twos and threes and alone – they were emerging from the dark background of the empty land.  Soon here were 20 or more…I was amazed.  In my dim memory forty-plus years later it seems that the women were ululating in the night – I imagine they were not, but maybe they were.

I noticed a car pull up, coming from the Casablanca direction.  About then the father and the driver of the wrecked van, who had been intensely talking in a heated way, began to yell at each other.  The torrent of guttural Arabic syllables spread out and up into the tree limbs.  The van guy was pulling on the father’s shirtsleeve, turning him around and pointing to the wrecked van.

The father kept his composure as long as he could and then finally, in wretched anger, turned to the dead man and, opening his arms, palms upward, to where he lay, screamed in arabic: “You damned and heartless animal! All you care about is your fucking car?  Look, look, look what I have done!  I have killed this poor man.  Don’t you care a whit about him??”

By this point my brain was working again. I became aware that, bizarrely, out of the empty, blank desert night several dozen people had now appeared.  Where had they been?  Where had they come from? The angry arguments went on in the center of the growing crowd.  Of course I didn’t speak Arabic.  But there was little doubt what was being said.

A man in a dark western suit, with an open collared white shirt, moved to my side.

He asked in French, “What are you doing here?”

It was one of the men who had gotten out of the sedan from Casablanca.

I said I was thumbing a ride with the man who was driving the truck.

He said “You shouldn’t be here.  It’s no good.  You need to get out of here. Anything might happen.  It will get crazy – fou!”

I told him I agreed, imagining how the blame could easily be pointed at me.  I said I needed to go towards Marrakech.  As he looked around at the restless crowd, partially lighted in the headlights from a couple of other vehicles, at his 2 companions, at the arguing men, out into the dark beyond, he said to go quietly and slowly back to the edge of the crowd and then over to his car, whose doors had been left ajar.  He told me to lie down on the floor of the back seat and to wait.

I had at some point gotten my small pack and sleeping bag from the truck cab and I retreated gradually into the dark and slid over into the car, crawling into the rear.

Within a few minutes the 3 businessmen returned and climbed in – one in the back – his legs pressed somewhat over me.  I felt a great exhale of fear as the doors closed and the interior went dark.  The car slowly pulled away through the shepherds and farmers and women and youngsters who had mysteriously assumed human shape out of the scrawny, scrubby plain.  After five or ten minutes I sat up.  Their drive continued; questions; answers; “strangers and wayfarers together”.

It took about an hour to get to the next town, where they let me off near some trees along the railroad tracks.  I didn’t want to leave but there was no choice.  I pulled out the sleeping bag after picking a spot with some shelter from the highway.  Sleeping was hard – I kept waiting for the police search which never came.  I got up the next morning and made my way to the train station where I paid 20 cents and caught the third class morning train down to Marrakech.

Post Navigation