Monday, May 31, 2010

Times, They Are a Changin'

We had lunch at this wonderful little restaurant in Lake City. We met the entire staff, because strangely, the place was empty. The owner was an Italian, married to a Brazilian woman and he wisely spends his winters in the Southern Hemisphere about an hour from Rio de Janeiro. We didn't catch his name but he was a very friendly guy and he'd been an entrepreneur in Lake City for going on 25 years. His waitstaff and cooks were hired from abroad. Below, is a young lady from, of all places, Macedonia. She told us her name and it was a real mouthful. We stumbled over it a couple of times and eventually got it right, but now I can't remember it. It was nothing I'd ever heard before. Another young lady was also from Macedonia and they were both disappointed to be in Lake City and not Chicago or "Vegas". The owner, the Italian, told us he employs kids from all over the world, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Ukraine, China, Pakistan....anywhere and everywhere.

Our waiter was from the Czech Republic, and I didn't catch his name either. He was overjoyed when I ordered a Pilsner Urquel, from guess where? The Czech Republic. We learned that they are legal workers with permission from the U.S. government to work for around 90 days on the guest worker program. I'm sure they make minimum wage so we tried to tip nicely, and they all deserved it, for sure. The came out to practice their English and learn a little about us. They were really great kids and we enjoyed talking with them and learning about their experiences, and a little about the Czech Republic and Macedonia, birthplace of Alexander the Great.
We've run into this phenomenon before in Yellowstone Park. Many of the vendors in Yellowstone that needed lots of maids, bartenders, and waiters began using kids from Eastern Europe or Asia. After talking with a lot of the kids and the folks doing the hiring, we learned the employers began to prefer the Europeans over American kids, even with their lack of perfect English. Why? A common theme began to develop. The kids from Serbia, the Ukraine, Poland, Japan and elsewhere showed up on time, worked the entire season, were unfailingly polite, didn't complain, didn't use drugs, didn't show up drunk or hungover and were quick to learn. They were also willing to work far away from home in a small podunk town. Apparently, everything American kids were failing to do. It still galls me that the employers couldn't find quality kids to work in Yellowstone. Times have changed and it is a very sad commentary on our culture.

A Visit to Lake City, Colorado

We took a day off from construction work and made a day trip to Lake City, Colorado, just over a few hills from Montrose. Nancy and I went to college many years ago just down the road in Gunnison, where folks from Lake City go to get groceries, just 75 short miles away. Lake City is famous, or maybe infamous, because of Alferd Packer, the only convicted cannibal in the United States. It's quite a story and I trust you can google the subject and get all the information you want. But to make a long story short, (and this is from my memory) he and his mining buddies were trapped in the mountains above Lake City over a bad winter in the late 1800's. Alferd got hungry and 'he done killed and et the five fellas mentioned above.' Apparently, Alfred was first hailed as a hero before folks got suspicious. The rest, as they say is history. If my memory serves, the judge convicted Alferd with something like these words. "Alferd, there were seven Democrats in this here county, and you done ate four of em. I sentence you to hang until you're dead, dead, dead."I don't think there are that many Democrats residing in Hinsdale County today. Hinsdale County is the least populated county in Colorado and one of the least populated in the U.S. (Texas and Hawaii each have some pretty sparsely populated counties.) The population of Lake City, at least in the past, tended to be wealthy, middle aged Texans who spent only the summers in town. White, rich Texans are not known to be Democrats. Lake City is the county seat of Hinsdale County, mainly because there are no other settlements in Hinsdale County. The population of the county was around 790 in the 2000 census, and I reckon there's a few more living there today, at least in the summer. Well, you are probably asking yourself "What does Lake City look like on a goregeous day in summer?"

Well, it's beautiful, if somewhat quiet. This is the Hinsdale County Courthouse. I'm sure you can imagine the high level wheeling and dealing that goes on behind those handsome doors. Our visit took place on a Sunday, so it was quiet and peaceful on this particular day. But back in Mr. Packer's day there were probably large numbers of citizens carrying flaming torches and pistols, standing around this very courthouse, screaming for his hide.

Here's the city park. They don't allow dogs in the park so I couldn't take Fergus over there. But it seemed beautiful and tranquil from across the street.

This is one of the major buildings in town. It has a historical plaque affixed to it, as does the building pictured below.

I know your next question. No, you don't have to be a miner or a merchant to patronize this bank, but it doesn't hurt either.

We saw an individual ride by on a bicycle, so it's not quite the sleepy little town you probably imagined it to be.

Here's another picture of the Miners and Merchant's Bank Building. It was a Sunday, so there wasn't much going on. Most residents of Lake City probably went to the bank on Friday.
And here's the Hinsdale County sign on the only paved road into town. If you want to leave town on another road, you'd better have a four-wheel drive vehicle and it had better be summer because the only roads out of Lake City are high and rocky and generally covered with snow. We'll probably make another visit to Lake City and Hinsdale County very soon. We'd like to drive over Engineer Pass, some 12,000 feet high, sometime this summer after the snow is gone.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I Swear, This is the Last Time

I swear this is the last time I will ever besmirch North of Andorra with words and pictures about a bathroom remodel. For two reasons; first because I know you could probably care less, and second, because I will never remodel another one. Now, on with the show. First, the old bathroom in all it's glory.

I must ask you to notice the pink sink and pink tile, the saloon doors and the most beautiful wallpaper you could ever imagine. I particularly like the way the sink jutted out from the counter top. Very stylish. The counter top itself was about 12 inches wide, just enough to fool you into thinking you could put something on it. A most exquisite detail is the switch plate with wallpaper to match the walls.
You can barely see the toilet here and you will have to imagine the toilet space itself, which was just about the same width as my shoulders. Admittedly, that's wide enough for most folks but it was claustrophobic for me. When we hauled out the tub and took down the wall we found the the whole shower stall arrangement leaked and the studs were rotting away.
We pondered the problems for a month or two trying to find another spot to put a new, larger bathroom, but it would have been too expensive to construct in another place. We debated knocking out a wall to enlarge the room, but again, it wasn't worth it. So we crammed the new bathroom into the old space.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, I present the new bathroom.

Voila! Feast your eyes on the new shower stall made of travertine tile with an Italian pebble floor. Behold the bead board ceiling painted a crisp white and the loveliness of the crown moulding. Revel in the glory of the light fixture shedding it's light in the shower stall.

Behold a sink that's not pink. Rejoice in counter top that's wide enough to contain the sink, the whole sink and nothing but the sink. Notice the new pine six panel door.
But most of all, glory in the fact that it's done.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Things are beginning to fall into place for our summer travel plans. We made our flight reservations some time ago and told several interested parties of our plans. They are now making their travel reservations and giving us some idea when they will be in Leran.

John and Eileen, friends here in Montrose are arriving in Carcassonne on September 9th and staying a week or so. Ursula and Didi, old friends from Montana arrive around October 1st. The time between the departure of J&E and the arrival of U&D is reserved for Nancy's cousin Bruce and his partner. And therein lies an interesting story.

Several years back Nancy begin to do some research on her family history. This was based mainly on the idea that her paternal grandmother was born in Ireland. Ireland was granting citizenship to grandchildren of its citizens even if they had never set foot there. If Nancy could get Irish citizenship, she would also be an EU citizen. This provides the great advantage of having the privilege to live freely throughout any of the EU countries, even permanently, without a visa. I could only hope that it would then be easier for me, and I would find the path to obtaining a visa much less traumatic.

So, Nancy dove into with a vengeance, but could not find her grandmother's birthplace in Ireland. She began to question that her grandmother was actually born on the old sod, as was the family rumour. She has since found out that, alas, the dear old woman was born in Chicago. It burst the bubble that was her dream of Irish citizenship and her chance to get European citizenship the easy way. But that was many years ago, and Nancy continued to wonder about her ancestors.

More recently, after becoming immersed in the PBS TV programs about celebrities searching for their 'roots', Nancy resumed her search, this time delving into the maternal grandparents side. However, all she knew about them were their first names. The only concrete knowledge at hand were the names of her mom's siblings. Several weeks ago, through correspondence with her brother Jim and cousin Cynthia, she began to piece together a few little snippets of information. Jim had unearthed the grandmother's death certificate and mother's birth and baptismal certificates, all sporting variations on the spelling of the family name. 1910, 1920, 1930 Census records recorded the family surname spelled another three different ways. The country of origin was variously listed as Austria, then Hungary, and again Austria. The response for mother tongue had been crossed out and written above was what looked like "Slo". Could that mean Slovak? All Nancy could remember was her mother saying she was Russian, or was it Ukrainian? The Austrian and Hungarian responses didn't fit with her mother's "Russian" roots. Nancy began to believe her family was running from the law.

The Austria, Hungary, Austria information was puzzling. Where were her grandparents from? Why don't we pay more attention when we are younger? Both Jim and Cynthia remembered a village somewhere in the Old World that had been mentioned, but only produced a phonetic spelling---something akin to 'Hostabisca Vandege'. The location remained a mystery. Trustworthy Google rendered nothing. But, the boundaries of Austria and/or Hungary today are nowhere near where they were around 1900, when her grandparents emigrated. Empires came and went, new governments sprung up and fizzled, and international boundaries shifted like sand.

Coincidentally, both Jim and Cynthia mentioned that yet another cousin, Bruce, had once visited this mysterious village where the maternal grandparents had been born with Nancy's Uncle Mick, but neither knew little more. And they only knew that Bruce lived somewhere around Atlanta. If Bruce held the key to finding the home village, now Bruce had to be found. Bruce has one of the other six spellings of the family name (which was not the same as her mother's), and Nancy was pretty sure he hadn't changed it.

Google to the rescue, but this time it produced a connection to someone with her cousin's name who was partners in a business in the Slovak Republic. Remember 'Slo'? So, Nancy penned off one of those inviting emails beginning "If you are the same Bruce K. who lived down the street from me on Wicker Avenue, then this is your cousin writing....." Who could resist?

Well, folks, the rest as they say, is history....literally. The contacted Bruce is the cousin, he has been the 'village' in question---not once, but many times. He is partners with a distant cousin in a business in Bratislavia (the capital of the Slovak Republic).

To make an already long story a little bit shorter, the village is in present day Slovak Republic, once part of the Austrian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then part of Czechoslovakia. There were a few other landlords before and in between. From 1863 - 1902 it was called Hosztovica, and from 1907 - 1913 the Hungarians re-named it Vendegi (pretty close to the phonetic Hostabisca Vandege, no?). By 1920, after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it was given its present name Hostovice. The village hadn't moved but the international borders certainly had. Nancy's maternal grandparents were Carpatho-Rusyn, or Ruthenian, an ethnicity, not a nationality; a people without a country. Cousin Bruce confirmed that his father Mick always identified himself as a "Ruthenian---not a Russian." Somewhere along the line someone had mixed up Rusyn and Russian.

In the late 1800's, upwards of 900,000 Ruthenians emigrated to the US, primarily to Pennsylvania and eastern seaboard states, lured by the steel companies. Unknowingly, they were 'imported' to be strike breakers. Ironic, to leave a country for a better life only to end up being treated once again as a second-class citizen. Nancy's grandparents' first child, Anne, was born in Pennsylvania in 1906. That area of Pennsylvania was also home to the Pullman-Standard Co., manufacturer of railroad cars, who then opened up a big plant in Hammond Indiana. That's where the family shows up in the 1910 Census, and by 1920 the Census lists their street as "Company Housing" for Pullman-Standard.

Nancy and Bruce continued to correspond, and the result is Bruce and his partner are planning a visit to Leran. We have a standing invitation to visit Hostovice to meet Nancy's 'people'. It may happen this September. Amazing.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I Don't Know Vic, but I'd Like To

I'm going to follow Vic's Big Walk. He's walking from Puivert about, France to Blackpool, England and he's keeping a blog about it. Check it out at

Don't be surprised if it looks familiar. He's using the same template on Blogger that North of Andorra uses.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Deja Vu All Over Again

There was a time when we were building our cabin in Montana, that we used to fantasize about having the time to sit on the front porch for an entire morning or afternoon, with no work that tugged at our conscience. Eventually, that time came, but at times, it seemed that it would never arrive. Deja vu, to borrow a French term. We are looking forward to finishing the upstairs bathroom, and not a little bit of the anxiety is because we have to trudge downstairs at night to use the toilet. But at least we have another bathroom. We've been busy not having too much fun. This is the upstairs bathroom that has been gutted. The pink sink, pink tile and pink bathtub have been removed and hauled away. Down came the plaster, up came the floorboards and they all went to the dump, except for the bathtub, which will get melted down and made into cars or something. You can see the plumber has spent some time here (at $88 an hour), and run new PEX red and blue water lines and some black ABS waste lines. Little remains except the old floor joist.
This is after the new sub-floor has been put down. You can see the toilet waste line in the corner and the shower drain line in the left center, and a few of the new water lines, copper and PEX blue.
This is the wall where the pink sink was attached. You can see a bit of the old wallpaper, which we don't miss at all, and a few electrical lines, some new water lines. What you can't see are the tools and tile and wire and lumber scattered around the upstairs bedrooms. Everything is in turmoil, with cardboard on the floors along with new tile, buckets of drywall mud and tubes of caulk. At times, the beds had tools and stuff scattered around on them. Oh, woe.

This is a picture of the first few pieces of beadboard going up on the ceiling. Shortly after we finished the ceiling, we put up drywall on the walls and cement board on the shower walls. To make room for the shower stall, we had to rip out the old door (which opened like shutters, hinged on each side, kind of like an old saloon door) and move it a half a foot over. Rest assured, we threw away the old doors and installed a handsome six panel pine door.
This is a picture peeking into the shower stall while Nancy is laying out the new tile, which is natural stone, or more correctly, natural pebbles. They come glued to a square foot of plastic mesh, but they are still difficult to handle.
And here are the pebbles set into place and grouted. We are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. The drywall is being finished when Nancy has time between laying tile and grouting tile. I don't have a good picture of the new tile floor because it is always covered with cardboard during the construction. But soon, we will have pictures of the finished bathroom, and if we can find it, a picture of the "before" with the pink sink and tub. I know I can't wait. Stand by.