Monday, July 18, 2011

URI LXA Reunion

Giving Credit and A Tribute to My Own Ones

Yesterday, Duang and I enjoyed a very special day; a day spent with some of my fraternity brothers, their wives, and some of our special friends from our days at the University of Rhode Island.  I had not seen many of the people since 1971.  Through the technology of the Internet I have reestablished contact with some of them through FaceBook but such interactions are rather restrictive as well as limited.

It was through FaceBook that I discovered that many of my fraternity brothers were reuniting for the weekend.  Yesterday I received the details and drove over to Rhode Island to become reacquainted with people with whom I share a common experience.

This morning as I reflect upon the friendship of yesterday and the bonds established 44 years ago, I am reminded of similar feelings from a previous visit back to America a couple years ago.  Just as then ...
I would like to share one of my favorite (I have many) songs that seems to summarize my emotions and thoughts so well regarding this reunion. Although I am not Irish, the words and thoughts of this song are meaningful and applicable to me and I believe to everyone. I found the lyrics on tp://

Artist: Van Morrison

Album: Irish Heartbeat

Title: Irish Heartbeat

"Oh won't you stay

Stay a while with your own ones

Don't ever stray

Stray so far from your own ones

'cause the world is so cold

Dont care nothing for your soul

That you share with your own ones

Don't rush away

Rush away from your own ones

Just one more day

One more day with your own ones

'cause the world is so cold

Don't care nothing bout your soul

That you share with your own ones

There's a stranger

And he's standing at your door

Might be your best friend, might be your brother

You may never know

I'm going back

Going back to my own ones

Come back to talk

Talk a while with my own ones

'cause the world is so cold

Don't care nothing 'bout your soul

You share with your own ones

Oh won't you stay

One more day with your own ones

Don't rush away

Rush away from your own ones

This old world is so cold,

Don't care nothing for your soul

You share with your own ones"

I came back this time to be with my own ones - some of my friends from a distant past and a far away land of my youth.  More importantly, Duang was able to meet some of the people that influenced me and we had shared our youth together.

I was surprised and very pleased with the caring and camaraderie that I shared with some of my old friends yesterday. Some friends, I had last seen and spoke with during my last year of college back in Rhode Island in 1971.

Despite the lengthy physical separation, the bonds of our shared experiences during the four years at the university survived the years and tribulations of our individual lives. Although we physically changed a great deal, spiritually it was as if we were reunited after only a short semester break. Some people say or perhaps they wrote that making friends in New England is very difficult but that when you do make a friend, you have a friend for life.  Yesterday was truly a testimony to that fact.
I am not so sure that it true that New Englanders are not friendly - it just might be that they are suspicious!  However I know it to be true that a New England friend is a friend for life. There is no need to call, write, or visit often. The friendship is kept and maintained in the heart as well as in the soul.

Life is surprising and can not always be explained. Often it is best to accept and enjoy its richness for what it is. Yesterday was such a time for all of us - a time to celebrate and share our individual lives and the common experience of living.

"Oh won't you stay

One more day with your own ones

Don't rush away

Rush away from your own ones ..."

Duang and I stayed late into the evening as if trying to make the day last even longer, or to bask in the warmth of the day's camaraderie a while longer.  But duties and responsibilities remain so we had to leave.

However, it is through this blog and the Internet that I hope to continue to talk to and to be with my own ones.

I leave proud and happy to have seen and talked with my own ones once again.  Although the world in America has grown old and is experiencing serious economic hardships, their friendship as well as camaraderie survives and prevails. I am a richer person for the friendship, affection, and love of my own ones. I give them credit and I pay them tribute - "Thank You".

I am sure that you too share the wealth of your "own ones".  It is one of the treasures of life.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sailfest 2011 Fireworks

Fireworks Over the Thames River
 The past two weekends have been busy here in Groton.  There have been two celebrations which provided Duang a little more flavor of American culture.

On July 4th, we attended the annual Groton Fourth of July parade.  The parade had a small town flavor to it and the highlight actually was watching the small children around us.  I was able to explain the Revolutionary War and Groton's role in the rebellion fairly well to Duang.  However I was not able to explain very well the large women roller skating down the street as part of the parade - they were representatives of a women's roller derby league.  Duang was just as much at a loss of understanding of the concept of "roller derby" as to why large women in unflattering clothing would be roller skating down the middle of a street in full public view.  I don't always succeed in explaining the idiosyncrasies of American culture but I always try.  As Duang often says "Thailand not same America".  I have seen women walking down the street in Thailand but they were always wearing their best clothing and behaving demurely and acting dignified - often part of a religious procession or celebration.

The big highlight of early July was the fireworks display on July 9 as part of Sailfest Celebration in New London across the river from Groton.  The fireworks display this year was sponsored for the 19th year by the Mashantucket Indian Tribe.  My parents had often told me how nice the fireworks were so I was determined to see them with Duang this year.  The Mashantucket Tribe own and operate Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard.  As I posted on FaceBook "Thank you to all those who gambled and lost (I guess that means just about everyone) for making this spectacular show possible."

I had been told that approximately 300,000 people could be attending the fireworks celebration so I knew that Duang and I needed a plan.  My first decision was that our plan would exclude driving our car to the event.  Fortunately the fireworks are fired from barges in the Thames River just upstream from Electric Boat - an area that I had walked to many times as a young boy.  I figured that the best place would be in the parking lot of Garbo's Lobsters.  Saturday afternoon just after lunch Duang and I drove down to the area to scout out optimum viewing locations.

As we drove, I was shocked to see how many streets were going to be closed to parking for the event.  This only reaffirmed my decision that we would be walking that night.  We made it down to Garbo's and the entrance to the parking lot was roped off.  Some people were lined up at 12:50 PM to enter the parking lot.  I spoke with some people and they said the the street along the river was going to be closed to traffic at 3:00 P.M.  Just before 1:00 PM a couple of men showed up to remove the barrier to the parking lot.  I spoke to one of the men, obviously the "Boss" since he was carrying a clipboard, about being able to walk onto the parking lot later for the show.  From our conversation I determined that it was possible but whether I had a car or not the fee for a space was $30.  I informed me that there were only a couple of spaces remaining.  It didn't matter to me because I had no intention of paying that amount!  Upon leaving the property I spoke with a family waiting to enter, the husband informed me that he had spent $90 to view the fireworks that night.  He also told me how crowded that it got in the Garbo lot and surrounding area.  He suggested that we walk down and place lawn chairs on the sidewalk across the street.  That sounded like a pretty good alternative to me and definitely a great deal cheaper.

Duang and I returned to our car and drove down Thames Street reconnoitering vantage points.  Everywhere along the river bank barriers had been set up to restrict access.  Property owners were either denying access to the river for their own use or were charging $20 to $30 a car for parking.  I remembered many fond days at Fort Griswold State Park overlooking the river, so I turned the car right to climb the heights to get to the Fort.  Just as our drive along the river vantage points were roped off and parking was severely restricted along the streets - either no parking along one side or no street parking allowed at all.  However when we got to the Fort, I could see people already entering the park carrying blankets, ice chests, and blankets.  From the sights it was obvious to me that this would be our site to view the fireworks.

Since the afternoon was still young and we had our plan, we drove over to New London to attend Sailfest.  Once we arrived in new London, I could not find any available parking for less than $20.  Undeterred I had an idea; we would drive to Shaw Cove, park the car, and walk to the festival.  Shaw Cove is an office development which houses government offices such as Social Security and Veterans Administration along with many doctor's facilities.  Since it was a Saturday afternoon, I thought that there would be plenty of parking,; free parking.   Well I was partially right there was plenty of parking but it was $20 a vehicle.  I found an empty lot that had a sign stating "Event Parking" with no barrier tape or attendants.  As I pulled in, the attendant from the lot across the street walked over to me.  I asked if I had to pay for parking and he confirmed that it was $20.  I told him that it was not personal and had nothing to do with him and inquired if he had a boss.  He confirmed that he had a boss after which I responded "Tell your boss, he can go ... himself"  The guy laughed and we returned to our home in Groton.

I had lived for a time in California where we also had festivals.  At those festivals the city persuaded or perhaps strong armed the local developments to allow the use of their vacant parking lots for festival use.  I suspect that the city provided police surveillance as well as clean-up services for the lots while they were being used.  The businesses contributed to the festival at no cost to themselves - a good deal for everyone.  The city also provided free shuttle service between the parking lots and the festival site.  I believe that New London is missing out on an effective and economical way to encourage festival attendance by not doing something similar.  However New London is the city that a few years ago made international notoriety by refusing to hire a policeman candidate because he scored too highly on an aptitude test.  They informed the applicant that he was too smart to be a policeman in New London.  I will write no more on that matter.

Part of the Gucci Fireworks Show

After returning to Groton, commencing at 6:00 P.M. we walked from my parent's house to Fort Griswold with our car conveniently parked in the driveway.  It was a beautiful night for a walk and most importantly - fireworks show.  The sky was clear.  There was no wind and the temperature was just right for sitting outside without a jacket.

I selected a scenic as well as nostalgic route to get to the Fort, showing Duang the way and building that I attended elementary school, pointing out where long gone restaurants, movie theatre, and friend's homes were located.  It was interesting how much the area had and had not changed over the past 4 decades.  Of course it was all new to Duang which made it exciting for her.

We had not travelled far when the wisdom of not driving a car was readily apparent.  The roads around the park and leading to the park were all closed to traffic other than pedestrians.  Police were at the intersections maintaining control.  We like so many other people walked up the center of the streets past the homes where residents were grilling as they enjoyed ice cold beverages.  All in all it was a very relaxing and festive atmosphere on our way to Fort Griswold.

We arrived at the east side of the park and walked leisurely towards the monument and Bill Memorial Library.  It was very impressive.  There was a mobile Connecticut State Police command center set up along with some ambulances staffed with several EMTs.  The area was well organized and under control.  The control was not oppressive or intimidating but just sufficient to keep thousands of people from getting out of control.  There were vendors booths set up along the road as well as booths where you could buy food and non-alcoholic beverages.  There were also plenty of Porta-Cans available should the need arise.  All in all I was very impressed with the planning and organization apparent along the viewing venues.

I stopped and asked a Policeman if the Fort it self would remain open for the duration of the show.  I believed that the park typically closed at sunset.  He replied that it would remain open for the show.  That was good enough for me.  Duang and I entered the fort and soon found a nice spot on the slope to set our beach blanket.  As it turned out we were actually almost directly behind and about 150 feet above my original planned destination of Garbo's Lobsters. After seeing all the closed roads, I knew that this location was superior for getting out at the end of the show.  It was also cheaper - $0.00 each.

There were a great deal of people watching the fireworks.  Many of the people were drinking.  We were out for 4-1/2 hours and did not see one incident of bad or threatening behavior.  It was, unlike many events in Isaan, a very peaceful as well as relaxing celebration.  Back in Isaan we attend many outdoor shows and we have only stayed from beginning to end at about 4 shows out of about 35.  There is drinking at those shows too but Duang always makes me leave when the fights start and the fights almost always start.  In Isaan it seems like the people get drunk, sloppy drunk; the kind of drunk where the person loves everybody and wants to be every body's best friend.  At some point this aggressive friendliness crosses the boundary of acceptance and becomes a perceived slight or affront.  A push or a punch is made and the fight is on.  Once a fight starts the night is fairly well ruined.  The initial combatants are usually separated but ancillary skirmishes break out between the people trying to break up the inital combatants.  "Face" is often lost which requires combat until "Face" is somehow believed to have been restored.  In general people are not afraid of the Police so running skirmishes continue until the concert is completed or shutdown by the Police.  Duang is afraid that somehow I will get involved in the middle of all this so she has me leave.  The funniest thing was the closest that I got to being involved was at the last show.  I had been dancing at the front of the stage in the "Mosh Pit" area.  Duang became fearful and walked up and brought me back to sit on a chair in front of the police.  While I was cooling off, she went off to buy me a soft drink.  While she was away, the first fight broke out followed quickly by a couple more.  The crowd ran in panic down the center of the viewing area.  The combatant ran along the edge of the viewing area right where Duang had placed me for "safety".  I dodged a couple empty beer bottles that had been thrown not directly at me but in the general vicinity of some "bad guys" that happened to run near me.  I went over to Duang's mother and hovered over her as I told her to go back to our truck.  She was impressed that I was concerned with her safety to the point that I am still in her good graces almost 9 months later.  Needless to say the excellent behavior of the crowd at the fireworks show made a very big impression on Duang as she told me "Amerika not same Isaan"  For me, this was an occasion that I was glad that "Amerika not same as Isaan".


The fireworks lasted about thirty minutes but it was a very intensive thirty minutes.  Tandem fireworks were constantly being fired into the sky.  There were all kinds of colors, sounds, and sights from the exploding fireworks.  There were special fireworks that when they exploded created star patterns and even "Smiley" faces.  Some fireworks exploded to create bi-colored hemispheres.  By chance we had watched a show on cable two weeks before about how fireworks were manufactured or more appropriately "created".  For us it was even more enjoyable to see the melding of science and art to create such an enjoyable art performance.

Our surprises for the night were not over.  The police kept the roads closed until most of the pedestrians had cleared the area.  Duang and I were home 30 minutes later and in bed and I am convinced - before many people in their cars had even got on the feeder roads out of the area.

The night had been very enjoyable and a tribute to the organizers of the event.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Blue Angels Air Show, +40 As Good As Ever

Last weekend, June 25 and 26, was the annual Rhode Island Air National Guard Air Show at Quonset Point.  I try to show things that are typical American cultural events and experiences so that Duang can get a better understanding and experience of what life in America is like.  I knew that she had never been to an Air Show before so taking her to Quonset Point was a high priority ... dependent upon the weather.  The weather did not seem too promising during the prior days but the forecast for Sunday seemed the better of the two days.  We woke of Sunday and found the weather to be promising for the air show.  The flying events were scheduled to start at 10:00 AM so we left Groton around 8:30.

I have seen many Blue Angels shows over the years.  The last show that I attended at Quonset Point was exactly 40 years ago when it was still an operating Navy base.  I had just graduated from nearby University of Rhode Island.  At that time the Blue Angels were flying the McDonald Douglas F4J Phantom and the war in Vietnam was on going.  The Blue Angels today fly the Boeing F-18 Hornet, a newer version of a plane that they have been demonstrating for 24 years.  Today war in Afghanistan is on going with additional involvement in conflicts in Iraq and Libya.

This year also marks the 100th Anniversary of U. S. Naval Aviation.

I have always been impressed with the ritual of the Blue Angels team preparing to commence their flight demonstration as well as their ritual at the completion of their flight.  I consider the prologue and epilogue to be integral parts of the overall Blue Angel performance.  I wanted Duang to see the complete Blue Angels performance.

Unlike 40 years ago, the Blue Angels were not set up on the main flight line of the Air Show.  The Blue Angels F-18s were parked behind the crowd that was was facing the water where the flying was taking place.  Duang and I set up our chairs right at the barrier separating the public area from the runway and facilities being used for the Blue Angels.  Since we arrived at 10:00 AM we were the first ones in position there for the Blue Angels scheduled 3:00 PM performance.  We were situated in front of Blue Angel #1 and about 20 feet from a large concrete block that anchored the cables used in the barrier to keep people away from the planes.  We turned our chairs to face the water and enjoyed the other performers in the air show.

Blue Angel #4 Arriving After Checkout Flight
I had read in the newspaper that during Saturday's performance there was an engine problem with Blue Angel #4.  On the way to Quonset I had mentioned to Duang that I thought that the air crews would have worked through the night to repair the plane.

I don't know if they crews had worked through the night, but the engine had been repaired.  Although Blue Angel #4 is piloted by Lt. Rob Kurrle, the morning checkout flight was piloted by Lt. David Tickle, Blue Angel #7 and the narrator for the show.  I suppose he was flying to maintain flight hours and to give Lt. Kurrle a break.

Blue Angel Pilot Communicating With Crew After Checkout Flight
Lt. Tickle took off with a roar, made a pass over the flight line and disappeared to less crowded skies to put the F-18 through its paces to ensure that it was fully prepared for the afternoon show.  It seemed like he was gone for around an hour when the plane returned.  The flight was a success for Blue Angel #4 was returned to its designation on the flight line between Blue Angel #3 and Blue Angel #5.  The flight line was aligned perfectly from Blue Angel #1, Flight Leader, through Blue Angel #6, Opposing Solo.  Far to the right of the flight line where some of the other show performers were staged, Blue Angel #7 the Narrator's plane was positioned.

The Job Is Nor Complete Until the Paperwork Is Complete
When I worked in construction, we had a saying that the job was not completed until the paperwork was completed.  I guess the same also applies to flying for the Blue Angels.  After the checkout flight, Lt. Tickle sought the relative comfort and shade of the back of a support van to fill out his paperwork along with the flight crew for Blue Angel #4.

It was interesting to observe a different aspect of the Blue Angels show.  Duang was intrigued by the discipline and formality associated with all aspects of the team.  Throughout the day she would say "Ohhh very nice.  Good.  America up up Thailand.  Thailand not have.  America up up Thailand money"  Later in the day I was told that a Blue Angels performance costs around $1,200,000.  For me, that price is well worth it and I consider it to be taxpayer's money well spent.

Duang and I held our positions at the barrier all afternoon long.  Occasionally one of us would leave to get a closer look at the other performances, to get water, or to just get a change of scenery.  It was in no ways boring and there always seemed to be something interesting to watch, if not interesting to photograph.  We were in it for the duration and committed to enjoy the time.

This looks serious, very serious.  Did I do something wrong?
Around 2:30, one-half hour before the scheduled start of the Blue Angels flight demonstration, things became ominous.  Three security men carrying guns started walking directly towards me.  They seemed very serious.  We had seen security personnel throughout the day but they were more like somebody's young brother parked or driving around in a pickup truck and they appeared to be unarmed.  The guards approaching in the late afternoon seemed to be professionals and were walking and riding in open military vehicles carrying some serious rifles.  Knowing that I had done nothing wrong, I continued to photograph them.  About 20 feet from Duang and I, they finally broke to the left and stopped.  They were looking at the concrete block that anchored the barrier cables.  I then realized what it was all about.  Behind the concrete block was a unattended cardboard package!  I shouted out to them and they came over to me.  I informed them that the box had been delivered by a young woman on their side of the barrier from a beige "Blue Angels Support" van.  I gave a description of the woman to them.  They asked me when was it that she placed the block there and I told them about an hour earlier.  The leader of the team, an apparent civilian, said to the others that it was about right.  There were several walkie-talkie conversations and they seemed to relax - just a little.  With my story seemingly checking out they focused on the package rather than me.  After a while, one man cautiously approached the box and looked at it very carefully.  He shook his head "Yes" and backed off.  The package remained there and the men still seemed concerned about it.  After about 10 minutes, I called the civilian leader over and told him that if they needed someone to go over and open the box, I would do it but it would cost them ... as I pointed over the the Blue Angels flight line and said "I wanted a ride on any one of those planes"  He smiled and said that he had been working security for the Blue Angels for six years and had not gotten a ride yet.  I knew then my best chance to get a ride was not going to be good enough.  Interestingly, when the Blue Angels were performing he was walking the barrier along the flight paths on the other side of the show so I suspect he was the head of Blue Angel security.  As for the box, it remained there behind the concrete block until just before the planes arrived after performing.   Several Navy enlisted people arrived opened up the box and passed out souvenir brochures to the spectators along the barrier.  The Blue Angel pilots then autographed the brochures for people - including Duang.

Once the security threat was resolved the Blue Angel flight demonstration began.  The show starts with the Blue Angels support C-130 plane, "Fat Albert" taking off and performing.

"Fat Albert" In Flight Over Quonset Point

With "Fat Albert" entertaining the 55,000 people in attendance, the Blue Angel pilots and ground crews commenced their ritual to get the F/A-18s airborne.

Lead by Capt.McWherter the Blue Angel Pilots March Down Flight Line to Their Craft.

The six performing pilots lead by Capt. Greg McWherter, Blue Angel Flight Lead, marched in unison along the flight line from Blue Angel #6 towards Blue Angel #1.  As they approached Blue Angel 6, all the pilots in unison returned the salute of the Crew Chief.  Lt. Simonsen, Opposing Solo pilot, broke off from the marching pilots to mount his F/A-18.  As each of the remaining pilots approached his jet, he returned his Crew Chief's salute, broke from the pilot's formation and made his way to the awaiting ladder to mount his plane.  The last pilot to climb aboard his jet was Capt. McWherter; as the team's leader he is the last to mount, first to take off, and first to land.

Capt. McWherter and His Crew Chief Saluting

Flight Leader/Commander McWherter Climbs Aboard His F/A-18

Blue Angel #1 Commencing Roll Down Flight Line

Once the Flight Leader/Commander was aboard his craft the team went through a synchronized ritual of closing their canopies, starting their engines, completing preflight inspections and checkouts, before Blue Angel #1 broke from ground formation to commence his roll down the flight line past the other craft.  Unlike 40 years ago, the planes did not need external auxiliary equipment to start their engines.  After a few seconds of high pitched whining, the engines burst into a throaty roar. Just after being passed by Blue Angel #1, LCDR Tomaszeski taxied Blue Angel #2 behind his leader.  This ballet of aircraft continued until all six Blue Angels were following their leader down the runway.

Capt McWherter Leading the Way
The Show is On!

Part way into the flight demonstration there was a mechanical problem with Blue Angel #1.  I did not hear exactly what the problem was other than it was a "minor mechanical" problem.  later while editing some of the 706 photographs that I took during the day, I noticed that Blue Angel #1 had not deployed the arresting hook while the other planes in formation had.  I suspect that this may have been the problem.

Blue Angel #1 Returns With "Mechanical " Problem
Capt. McWherter returned to the base.  While he was away, the remainder of the pilots continued the demonstration for a while and then flew holding patterns off in the distance.  About twenty minutes later after landing, Capt McWherter roared back into the air ... flying Blue Angel #7.

The Show Must Go On!  Capt McWherter Roars Back Flying Blue Angel #7
The flight demonstration resumed and was everything that I expected and had hoped for.  Duang was in a constant state of excitement with frequent exclamations of "Ohhh!"  "Awhhh!"  "Very Good, Very Nice!"

Flying Blue Angel #7, Flight Leader/Commander Lands At Flying Demonstration Conclusion

At the conclusion of the flight demonstration, Capt McWherter lead his team in landing and taxiing to the original staging area for the Blue Angels.  Although the flight demonstration was over, the show was not over.  Just as there are a series of choreographed movements and ritual for the Blue Angels to take off there are similar movements and rituals for the Blue Angels upon landing. Once again Duang and I relocated; this time from the main air show flight line to our original location at the Blue Angel flight line.

Capt McWherter About Ready to Turn into Formation

The Count On Deck Is Six; All Present and Accounted For ...

Flight Leader/Commander Exits His Jet
 Starting from Blue Angel #6 the pilots form up and march in unison towards Flight Leader/Commander Capt McWherter.  The flight crews having completed they work of securing and chocking the plane's wheels stand at attention.

LCDR Tomaszeski Congratulates His Crew For A Job Well Done

Blue Angel Pilots March Towards Their Flight Leader/Commander

It had been a great day.  Ye. s the sky could have been bluer.  The skies could have been higher.  The Blue Angels did perform an abbreviated show.  I could have been rewarded with a ride in a F/A-18 but was not.  It took us two hours to exit the base at the conclusion of the show.  But it is like life, happiness is not to be found in "What could have been" or "What should have been".  Happiness is found in taking pleasure of what there is and what you have.  Duang and I returned to Groton; both very happy.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Gregg Stradiotto, Artist

It has been a while since I last posted.  It is not to say that we have not been busy.  Caring for my elderly parents is a pretty much full time job which leaves little time for trying to be creative.  The combination of Connecticut climate and social attitudes here have presented few opportunities to use my camera so I have been focused on developing a greater knowledge and attempting to develop post processing skills utilizing Adobe Photoshop Elements software.

Last week I received an email from an artist who had come across my blog and photography galleries on the Internet.  I am always amazed at the power of the Internet to connect people from various backgrounds and from distant locations.

Gregg Stradiotto is an artist who carves "netsuke", an article used in traditional Japanese costume.  As is typical of Eastern culture, there is more than what just meets the eye with "netsuke".  There is a great deal of symbolism as well as tradition involved in the subject matter and depiction in each "netsuke".  Gregg also takes it further in some of his works by infusing some Summi (Lapland) motives.

I was very impressed with his work and in correspondence with him, I found him to be a supporter of multi-culturalism which I am also an advocate of.

I am sharing the link to Gregg's website because I believe that you will find it interesting and informative - another part of the world that we all share but may not be aware of.


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