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*written by my rock & roll hero, the late, great Tom Petty.

For the past 6 months, I have been “running down a dream*.  Or jogging. Or plodding. I attribute the plodding, not to my age of course, but to the advice of my wonderful  physiotherapist. She is the young woman who saved my life by telling me, after months of her pushing and pulling my muscles, that my right side ailments were likely not physical in nature,  and that I should get to hospital immediately, and get my brain checked out. So when Sharan tells me that, if I want to keep running into my eighties,  I have to shorten my stride to a geriatic cadence now, I listen.

So, the point being, is that when I plod along the street called Lakeshore, in the beautiful golden community of Oakville, I have lots of time to think.  My companions are varmits like coyotes and squirrels, and charming little chipmunks and grey bunnies.   Every day, a red fox trots up the sidewalk from the Lake, and disappears into the undergrowth, looking for breakfast.  Most days, he proudly trots back to the den with a furry evidence of a successful hunt hanging in his jaws.  I don’t look too closely but sadly, I have not seen my bunny friends lately.

My plodding track is Lakeshore, the “Gold Coast” of Lake Ontario. It is an avenue lined with multimillion dollar faux Tuscan villas, where 5 bedroom 3 bathroom homes are routinely torn down to build 5 bedroom, 8 bathroom homes.  One pissoir for everyday and an extra just for the guests.  These are homes that have an attraction that have always eluded me:  why would anyone, except Martha Stewart perhaps, that doyenne of domestic excess, need a gift wrapping room?  A gigantic, stylish laundry room for people who have people to wash their clothes?  Stunning “chef’s kitchens”   with appliances that are never turned on? I imagine in a town where a Maserati is the weekend runabout that these type of trappings of wealth are normal.  I admit to envy of the kitchen (I already take most of our clothes to the cleaners). When I see, horrors, an empty water bottle lying on the meridian, I am surprised that the ground has not opened up  beneath it before the Mercedes SLK leaves the driveway.

But what is not normal, at least to me, is the lack of civility. I plod along in what I refer to, tongue firmly in my cheek, as my “running burka”.  Not to be guilty of cultural appropriation here, (and again, with the tongue) but I always go outdoors fully covered.  Long tights, long sleeved windbreaker, hat, and sun glasses. When I was crewing on my brother’s J24 race boat, 10 years ago, there was little shade, so I dressed  the same way. And always in black.  Hence, the moniker, “the sailing burka” was born. My husband has had melanoma and I am not taking any chances.

So perhaps I do look like the unibomber, but really, would it kill some of my fellow outdoor exercisers to raise their hand in acknowledgment? They need not even say “good morning.”  Just twitch the fingers of the right hand.

But perhaps they don’t know that “the twitch”  is part of the universal runner’s etiquette. It’s the unwritten code. So I have made it my personal mission to enlighten them.  I have taken to giving everyone that I encounter a little wave of the hand and  a cheerful “good morning”, louder if they have ear buds in.   As any friend of mine  will tell you, this is not normal  behavior for me, to be so resolutely chipper, especially in the morning, before coffee, and to strangers.

I have lived most of my life in the comforting coccoon of anonymity of the city.  Where you barely make eye contact, ever. But this behavior has really irked me.

I am hoping its not because all of that wealth has made them insufferable snobs.  But I am going to try a little behavorial experiment  tomorrow:  rather than wear my usual cap which has a barely visible but respectable BVI Divers Tortola badge on it, I am going to don the cap emblazoned with a large USA-76 Oracle BMW Racing logo.  Ben picked it up in San Francisco when he was at that race. And we shall see how many more waves I get.

Now you may ask what am I doing jogging when I am recovering from 7 weeks of radiation therapy.  Fatigue is one of the side effects of this treatment and I am really feeling it now.  Only a month ago, I would wake up at 5 and wait impatiently for sunrise,  so I could go outside without worrying about running into those stinky black & white varmits.

Now, when I see the last block, I really  have to dig deep to give it my usual sprint.  But as my Spanish speaking friends would say “poco a poco”, or  “Little by Little.”

I have put some photos of the beautiful gardens and wrought iron gates from my morning outings.  A coincidence:  when Ben and I were scouting out sources in San Miguel for some additional wrought iron work, we found an agreeable American man who was designing large pieces for homes.  And for gates in Oakville, Ontario.   Really.  He told us Oakville was a big part of their business.  Every time I plod on Lakeshore East, I can think fondly of San Miguel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those Mel Brooks fans among you will recognize the voice of young Dr. Victor Frankenstein (played by comic genius Gene Wilder) commanding his servant, the hunchback Igor, (another comic genius, Marty Feldman)  to bring him the brain of a prominent & brilliant dead scientist, a brain which will complete his creation and redeem his family name. (Igor famously brings him another brain, from a specimen jar labelled “Abby…normal”. Yuk yuk) 

Now following 19 days of radiation therapy to my skull, I cannot decide if I look more like Igor with my cute head wraps or perhaps, with the scar tissue, it’s The Monster (Peter Boyle), that is my doppelgänger.  

No, I think that one have to conclude that the movie star most likely to play me, being me right now,  is Richard O’Brien as Riff Raff in the Rocky Horror Picture Show (Of course, I would have preferred Susan Sarandon:  I read somewhere that she has the best rack in Hollywood.  Really.)  Richard wrote all of the music for the RHPS, and the signature song “Time Warp”, was actually an afterthought because they were running short and needed filler. Really.   

It is an odd feeling, waking up one morning and literally, not recognizing yourself in the mirror:  huge chunks of hair fell out overnight, leaving me with wispy bits around the crown and long straggly bits to the shoulders.  It exposed my 14” of scar tissue in all of its pink and ropey glory.  I was really hoping to have that evidence hidden for a long time.  I have big issues around personal privacy (as in, I need a lot) and having to wear a head scarf that screams cancer patient makes me cringe.  I see young girls and women in the treatment room who proudly show off their shaved bald heads:  but for me, I never want to be defined by my condition.  

And so, well you might ask, why was I not mentally prepared for the hair loss?  The radiologist told me it was coming and so did the genuinely sweet young technicians in Treatment Room 16, my daily destination for 5 minutes, 35 days in June and July.  You can see in the photo the huge machine that they roll me into:  first, they put me in my personalized mask, affix the mask to the table, start the tunes (I have heard everything from Louis Armstrong to Guns n Roses) and then quickly scoot out.  The machine starts moving around me, delivering green radiation beams from 3 directions, and before the chorus to “Sweet Child of Mine” is finished, they are back to release you.  The custom mask is made of a plastic mesh material, and it is snapped down and in so tightly that I sometimes have mesh tracks on my forehead and nose.  Nice. 

So again, why was I not prepared? Well, I do believe that the good Dr. underestimated the area required to ensure complete treatment.  The regrowth is only 6 cm long and 1 cm wide. The thickness of a piece of paper.   And because it is growing flat on the top left side, they need to target the beams from an angle that skims the skull all around the area.  Picture shooting beams at the top of an orange to target just the surface peel, and that is pretty close.  

So much larger than the regrowth area is perfectly reasonable, but I am stunned to have lost more than half of the hair on my scalp. Not to mention that there is hair everywhere, in the toothpaste, in the hand cream, in the mascara, and for awhile there,  it was reminiscent of being up north in mosquito season, except that instead of bugs, I was breathing in strands of fine hair through my nose and mouth!

In the interests of making lemonade from life’s lemons, last week I visited Lora, the lovely and compassionate owner of the medical wig store here on Oakville.  I bought a variety of pretty head coverings:   a few of them are definitely channelling the whole Woodstock ‘70’s thing, which is cool, since I missed being a flower child the first time through.  (Ironically, we just watched the opening sequence of the brilliant 70’s movie, American Hustle, in which Christian Bale carefully pastes down his combover and hairpiece.  Too close to home!)  I  will likely order a stylish hairpiece through her as well:  the only downside of the easy care synthetic variety, is that you cannot BBQ or even open a hot oven with it on! Melt Down Madness!

Will my hair ever grow back?  The answers range from maybe to not completely to not likely.  We will give it a good 6 months before I order an expensive piece of natural hair.  Chemo patients have a better history of regrowth:  radiation is so hard on the skin.  

So again, why so unprepared? And why so upset? I was and still am.  Getting past it, but of course, it is well known that women have a fundamental attachment to their hair.  Crowning glory.  Defines and expresses one’s feminity.  A tool of seduction when tossed in the right direction.  Why else so many products, salons and appointments? You may have gained a few pounds, but your hair can always look good.  You may need a morale boost, so get a new cut or colour. Only compliments will ensue.   Do you remember the old song, “I’m going to wash that man right out of my hair”.  A bit before my time actually, but I always appreciated the sentiment. And of course, nothing says “still young” like a full head of bouncy, shiny hair.  Pale blond wispy bits floating across a pink scarred scalp says “frankly darling, its a head only Ben could love”.  And that is a darn good thing too.

Most of you will allready know about this development, but since this morning is the first day of my radiation treatment, I thought that I would update you all. Here is the email that I sent out shortly after I knew about the regrowth.

In the interests of not having you look at me strangely when next we meet, and of course,  because I consider you to be a friend, I wanted to let you know that my menginioma has resurfaced, and that i will have to go in for targetted radiation treatment this summer. The treatments are quick and painless:  15 minutes a day,  M to F, in Toronto, for 7 weeks.  
 
The most painful part will be getting there and back, but traffic does slow down during the summer.  
There is a high probability  that I will experience fatigue as well, so forgive me if I am not my usual bouncy bubbly self.  (I have no idea how “fatigue” differs from just just needing a nap in the afternoon, which I do so enjoy) 
 
The strange looking part is that the hair on my head in the radiated area will fall out about 3 or 4 weeks into it. Regrowth may take a year or more, or if ever.  So if anynone has any good ideas or sources for weaves, partial wigs, even comb overs, bring it on! I left my wig from post- surgery in SMA, but a wig can get hot in the summer. 
 
Other than hair loss and fatigue, the doctor expects no other side effects and the progonsis is good. Our hope is that this treatment will finally stop the little bitch from creeping further across my poor knobby scarred skull.  
So the Update:
Since we have been considering replacing Ben’s almost 10 year old car for a few years now, we decided to accelerate the decision (an almost pun):  last night we bought a low mileage grey Lexus 350 RX to make the drive into Toronto easier.  I am not really a car person,  but this is one sweet ride (custom interior, best sound system, shiny sparkly wheels, oh my.)    I will spend the drive into Toronto with my head in the manual, trying to figure out how the audio system works.
I have already had a consultation with Lora, the warm and friendly owner of Medical Wigs here in Oakville.  I saw Lora almost 2 years ago when I bought a wig* to cover my head which had been completely shaved off before my tumor surgery. (See my blog from the summer of 2016 for the photos. I have a happy but strange smile.  The photo below, taken at my brother’s wedding, is with about 2 months growth).
She is still dispensing wig wisdom, and has assured me that I can have a hair piece made to cover the roughly 12x10cm blank spot and that it will enhance my overall look by adding height, readimade curls, and beautiful bouncy shine.  There you go, we have made lemonade.
Onward! 
CherylB376FCC9-5572-443B-A705-377E890628B5
The Road Travelled Well” blog
* The “Miley Cyrus” model at the height of her twerking nonsense – women with greater sensibilities than mine refused to buy it based on the name. I thought it was mildly amusing.

This posting is adapted from an article that I am writing for the Atencion, the weekly Bilingual newspaper in our adopted winter home of San Miguel de Allende.  Patronato pro Niños, a well respected charity in that town, has a 47 year history of providing medical and dental assistance to disadvantaged children.  They have done me the honour of allowing me to talk, for 2.5 hours, to a captive audience, about the history of this wonderful town!  And here is why “I love it”. 

About 6 months ago, I decided to stop using the expression, “I love this”, or “ I love that”. It felt like lazy thinking:  there are so many more precise ways to express an appreciation or admiration for something.  As a writer, I felt that I should do better. 

But when I started this very personal article, the only thing that would do, was to say that I just love being a PPN Tour Guide! 

Why? 

 

Instant Gratification.   You make people smile. History does not have to be dry and boring and if I am delivering the information in an engaging way, I know immediately if my group is enjoying themselves.  And when I make them laugh, (and I am no comedian) it‘s so much fun!   I know now why comedians never retire! 

You Test Yourself with Every Tour.  Not only do you have to know the major spots on the Tour and the minor ones too, these folks are trusting you with the next 2.5 hours of their holiday.  They want to be entertained as well as informed.  And they will ask questions.  Some answers come easily, some have to wait for more research.  Every Tour is a challenge. 

Interaction with Interesting People: our Tour attracts an eclectic group of well educated, curious tourists from everywhere and we encourage them to share their knowledge.

It’s Great Exercise.  We walk for 2.5 hours on an average Tour.  I get over 15,000 steps on my tracker without even changing into gym clothes! 

You Get “Gold Stars!”  Or, at least, the opportunity to get them.  I encourage our guests to use TripAdvisor.   Almost all PPN Tours get rave reviews.   And some of them actually use my name! I know, at 60,  I should not care about getting applause on my performance at anything.   Silly, really.   But secretly, I am thrilled. 

It’s a Wonderful Community.  I did not know any other Guides, aside from my good friend, Peggy Jones, Tour Co-ordinator and leader of the troops, when I made the commitment to volunteer.   I began to appreciate the brain power involved when I was prepping for my first Tour:  there was a world of material to cover.  Not just to read,  but to commit to long term memory, the kind that needs to stick in your hippocampus. And at my first monthly planning meeting, I discovered that these smart folks were warm and friendly too.  Dedicated to making our Tours more interesting, engaging and fun. 

Of course, by giving Tours, something that I love to do, I make a positive contribution to the lives of disadvantaged children.  I will never know their names, nor them mine. 

Their present and pressing needs, service my need to be of service. 

In an ideal world, they would not require funding of dental and medical vans and clinics to provide compassionate care.   But since we are in the real world, there will always be a need for passionate volunteers who love their work, like I do. 

 

 

Well,  of course it is!  Ben and I left our “5 star bubble” late last week to return to “TreeTown”.  Gasp, I have to learn how to make my own bed again. Horrors!

So at dinner last night, (I know, how can I possibly eat again? Ask Ben:  I can always sleep and always eat. Charming in its own way, I have always thought.) I was asked what country I preferred:  Japan or Vietnam. So let me frame the answer in this way:   When I was in the marketing  business, one of the ways in which we measured customer loyalty, was by asking clients these three questions:  “ how likely are you to repurchase, how likely are you to buy more, and lastly, and most telling, how likely are you to recommend our product to a friend?”.

So, with respect to the first two questions, I only turn 60 once, and so my next big travel trip will be somewhere new.   On the second question,  neither my wallet or my waistline can afford to buy more! Question three is an interesting one:  all other factors being equal, such as age and stage and means, where would I send friends to, Japan or Vietnam?

For me, the answer is Japan.

We were chatting to a well travelled older man over breakfast in Saigon, who firmly disagreed with that preference.  He said, with some vehemence actually, that “Japan was sterile, fixed in place, no future.” He may have something there:   the birthrate in Japan is one of the lowest in the world, and the population is aging quickly.  I read a novel last year by famous author Haruki Murakami: one of the themes has precocious  girls  growing into successful women who no longer needed or even wanted men in their lives, except for, delicately put, “their equipment”, and even that was optional. In a very over simplfied equation:  no men + no marriage, equals no babies. This is how a culture dies.

So yes. Vietnam is a country with a huge future. (Conditional on the formula of “Communist Capitalism” and Globalism meets huge personal ambition and desire for progress is not derailed by some other external force).  And since I cannot foretell the future, I cannot predict how it will turn out.  However, it may involve lots of cars.

Our guide in Hanoi said that only students use bicycles, because they cannot afford scooters.  And people only use scooters because they cannot afford cars. You can see where this is going.  Saigon is constructing its first subway, so I can predict fewer scooters. Which will be replaced by cars. Cars remain aspirational here, the ultimate mobile symbol of personal and family progress. However, subway says communal good:  car says individual wealth.  We will see how the one Party rules.

Japan is a living museum.  Many of its traditions are dying.  And not being replaced or renewed.  So get there literally before its gone.

So we return to the streets of Saigon:  we had the obligatory (and sad) tour of the “AmericanWar” museum, a culinary evening via vintage Vespas, and a wilder daytime tour of the many street markets. The last two were highlights of our time in Vietnam.  Funny how you can quickly learn to trust a teenager with kind eyes when she says “let me help you”, when she clicks your helmet  into place and says “ready” before she plunges her bike again into the mayhem of Saigon traffic, whispering are  you ready for “The Wild Ride”? *

 

* Actually, that’s a lie.  “Wild Ride” is an infectious mid-nineties honky tonk song by country singer, Dwight Yokum.  It is highly improbable that a teenager born a minute ago, half way around the world, would know that song.  But I liked how it fit with the rhythm of the paragraph as a closing sentence.  And you know, she could have known it, possibly might have heard it, you know, if pigs were purple.  And that my friends, is how “fake news” starts. End transmission.

And now  that I have that song from Robin William’s brilliant comedic  turn in the movie “Good Morning, Vietnam” relentlessly playing in your head, * I will move to our actual destination: Hoi  An.  We flew from Hanoi into Danang Airport, formerly the US Air Force Airport.   Hoi An was part of the region operated by the US during the American War, (their term for what we call the Vietnam War.  They won:  they can call it whatever they like), and so the area was protected from the heaviest aerial bombardment in US history: almost 7 million tons of ordenance fell on North Vietnam, more than was dropped on Europe in World War II.  They are still “finding”  live bombs in farmer fields.  Hell of a way to lose a cow.  Or a leg.

This small ancient town was a world apart from the frenzy of Hanoi but still we were relieved to be in the sanctuary of our Four Season’s Villa.  (Remember, 60th birthday and my only rule towards spending on hotels is that I had no rules) We could have stayed all 3 days in the villa, which I discovered was like a summer camp for affluent adults:   there were classes on lanternmaking and memorial candle lighting and group activities like sunrise yoga or bonfires on the beach.  Albeit private bonfires for 6 with starched linen napkins, billowing curtains, liveried servants scurrying about serving French champagne.  Definitely not Camp Mini-Ha-Ha in the wilds of Northern Ontario.

But the beauty of Hoi An got us out of our tranquil bubble  for a couple of special events. Yes, there are many tourists, buying bespoke clothes, enjoying the many restaurants, checking out the galleries, but it did not feel as frenetic as Kyoto. (Or San Miguel.)     Perhaps because there are no cars allowed in the confined area of Old Town, and you must have a ticket to enter it. Rules on building heights look to be strictly enforced.  A private cooking class for two with a market tour, an art gallery visit, and a really delicious dinner overlooking the spectacular lights of the beautiful Thu BonRiver. So this is less of a blog and more of a photo essay.  Enjoy.

 

Cooking Class & Market Tour with the charming Chef Instructor Bo.

 

You know when you are taking casual “happy snaps”, and when you get them back to the hotel, you see a photo that is so perfectly composed and lit that you cannot believe that it came from your little iPhone 6?  I think that the photo of the school girls on their graduation day, dressed in the traditional white ao dai, might be the best photo that I have ever taken. Unedited.

* Good Morning Vietnam, 1987, was loosely based  on the real life story of Armed Forces radio disk jockey, Adrian Cronauer.   “Loosely based” since  I gather the dialog consisted mostly of  putting Robin Williams in front of a microphone and letting him go.  “Danang me, Danang me, they ought to take a rope and hang me” has stayed with me for over 30 years – so now over to you.

Almost a week ago, we left the carefully controlled, cool, precise world of Japan, for the erratic, messy, hot world of Vietnam.  Worlds apart.  Confession: I spent so much time sorting out our trip to Japan, that I ignored the Vietnamese portion of the journey.  I just knew we going to Hanoi & Halong Bay (the subject of this post) and then HoiAn and finishing in Saigon.  (And yes, everyone here calls it Saigon, not the Ho Chi Min City, despite of how much  “Uncle Ho” is revered here).

When I told Ben that I wanted to go to Japan for my upcoming special birthday (60th) he suggested that if we were going to go that far, why not add another country?  I immediately said Vietnam, without checking first what the weather would be.  And it’s the double whammy for Ben of heat (34) & humidity (60%+). I had gone to South East Asia ten years ago, but in our winter.  So we find ourselves at the Four Seasons, and every night, rinsing out sweaty underwear to hang in the very elegant outdoor shower.   I am sure that the maids had a chuckle at the Canadians who are so cheap that they won’t use the laundry service.

Did I mention that my handsome husband Ben was a frugal Scot?

So Vietnam.  How to capture in words or even photos, the frenetic energy, the  tangible dynamism, the passion for growth?  Hanoi, the capital, is overrun with scooters, nimbly moving in and out of lanes, carrying full families (and dogs on occasion) or elegant women covered completely in colourful “scooter burkas.” ( I just made that up, but truly, the fabrics are pretty, but under the helmets, only the focused black eyes show)

While I make no claim to be an expert on comparative religions, something of the difference in cultures may be found there.  In Japan, Shintoism & Buddahism coexist quite comfortably:  as our guide said, “Shintoism is a form of animism, so we can worship spirits in nature and ask them for help during our life.  Buddahism deals with the afterlife & reincarnation, so we revere and ask the ancestors for help in the next life”. So as Ben observed, you’ve got it covered both ways.  Practical.

Here in Vietnam,  some people are Buddhists,  a smaller number are Christian, and the majority, well, the guide said with a shrug, nothing.  Based on the rate of entrepreneurial activity, the welcome given to foreign investment, and the aggressive property development that we observed in our week in  Vietnam, you might come to the conclusion that all that matters is growth. Communist capitalism if you will.

But ancestors matter too:  in fact they have  one day a year where they celebrate the lives of their dead family members, with food, music and parties.  Sounded like Mexico and the Day of the Dead to us.  In fact, we saw a lot of parallels between the people of  Vietnam and Mexico:  both nations have endured centuries of colonization and the devastating affects of imperialism.  And yet they remain hard working, positive, warm, friendly, accepting of others.

How did we spend our three days in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi?  Well, we ate.  (Ben and I are putting on weight like the Titanic took on water. Sigh)  We spent a sobering hour in the “Hanoi Hilton”, so nicknamed by downed American flyers, including John  McCain during the American War.   That prison has a more gruesome past, as the place where the French imprisoned, tortured and sometimes guillotined the Vietnamese who tried to over throw their 100 years of brutal French domination.  The notion of French Indochina no longer has romance for me.

 

We spent a fascinating hour with an American expat & veteran who became involved in the anti-war movement after his discharge. As a result, his parents refused to talk to him for years:  the pain of that remembrance brought all three of us to tears.   Another expat of the same generation took us through her fabulous art gallery home:  the moment I walked in, I thought of San Miguel de Allende.   As it happens, she has good friends who have just moved there, and she is planning a trip soon.

 

 

 

So, in the interests of saving time, and frankly, just having a lark, I chose a seaplane transfer from Hanoi airport to Ha Long Bay, one of the most beautiful places on earth. (And how else can you meet an investment banker from Istanbul with multiple passports, including Canadian, who keeps a pied a terre in Dubai for tax purposes.  He was so handsome that 2 giggling Chinese girls had their photo taken with him. He drew the line at a kiss, however. )

Legends say that in ancient times, dragons appeared to fight off the invaders from the north (mmmh, I wonder what country that would be) and when they vanquished them, they dropped emeralds in the sea that became the beautiful islands we see now.

We only spent one night at sea, and while it was nice to be sleeping on a boat again, but I am not sure that I converted Ben to cruising.  Might be because they made us wear these silly outfits.