• James Eric Fristad

Bumpy Ride

Lisbon. While walking to the grocery store, not too far from our four-nights apartment, I happened to stop to chat with a TUK TUK (pronounced "took-took") driver. His was an interesting looking vehicle: one wheel in front with motorcycle handlebar steering, two wheels in back, electric powered. Two facing bench seats back there behind the driver, freshly upholstered. Hmm, looks promising for a non-walking walkabout—Michele's hip and all. So I got his business card, and called him later to pick us up down there below our windows. It was 70 Euros for several hours, okay.

And off we went flying up the coast, as it seemed, sitting more or less side by side facing frontwards and watching the Portuguese world go by. Actually a little more accurate narrative would have us watching the world bump and jiggle past.

And it was interesting, the succession of rebuilt, post-earthquake walls and churches and houses and apartment buildings. Colors, endless windows, red tiled roof-lines. Generally smiling people, or at least appearing unharried. At least one modern sculpted tower, an amazing bridge across the vast river to our left side, tempting shops inviting us inside to browse and yield a great many Euros in pursuit of wanting to continue enjoying their stuff after we returned home. We resisted. And this wonderful structure, a treasured survivor of Portugal's era of empire. The Belem Tower, below, is about five miles from our rental.

There were statues along the way, and impressive new construction sites here and there.... A workers' strike was underway near a university we walked past later with mostly students, I think, showing indignation over some issue or other. Cops at hand just in case. But truly the best part was the walk itself, back to our lodgings. Trolleys passed us, taxis, relatively few private cars. And of course many other walkers (the difference being that they actually knew where they were going, whereas we had only a vague inclination of where we might be, and possessed no ability even to ask directions).

One thing that made the trudge back a pleasure, though, was traversing an incredible number of hand-laid cobblestones. Our footsteps touched only tens of thousands, among the millions there must be in that city. Every one of them put into its proper place by some guy's hands. There were whole regions of different sizes and colors, each appropriate there among its own hue: white ones, grey and black ones, tan ones here and there. Each placed at some time past, upon a smoothed bed of sand which surely overlaid a layer of carefully graded gravel. It's what you do in the ancient tradition of paving a road or sidewalk. Except that this particular pavement moves—a heavy truck's wheel will push this block down, or maybe a skidding wheel will knock it sideways against its also-moveable neighbor. Very likely both will happen. maybe slightly each time, but over the centuries these little shifts add up.

And so you have a road surface guaranteed to yield a kinda bouncy experience, even with the most cushy ride. Let alone with our un-cushioned little electric flivver. It jarred, surprised, hurt our bodies. And it kept doing it until we clambered out at the end. The experience was part of the charm of the place, I think, certainly a memorable few hours. But I must admit, at the end it was a tussle between the "We Did It" realization and our abiding sense of "OUCH."

It all really happened in our little sphere, as narrated above. Other, unseen stuff was unfolding, however, which the above events may illustrate. This second, parallel story, took the guise of blood-work.

To explain. While eastbound from Miami, Florida, but not yet arrived at Bermuda (which at any rate had become an unpleasant odor in the nostrils of those aboard, due to that little nation's ever-shifting Covid-19 requirements and prohibitions ... happily the Bahamas were not too far distant, and were, au contraire, glad to see us) we checked email and, behold, something was there from Michele's Rheumatologist M.D. Puzzled by certain symptoms observed before we left on that, um, Grand Day Out, this particular Specialist had ordered a whole range of educated-guess blood tests. I believe the samples were drawn a good 10 days before we flew to Florida. Apparently exacting lab work of this sort, is time consuming.

Thus while we were at sea the test results came back, a whole column of serum-nudging variations for all to see—but surely written in Etruscan which, you realize, nobody understands, nowadays. Those pre-Romans were saying something by means of those glyphs, but nobody knows just what anymore ... and in the same way, to the medically uninitiated it was all obscure vocabulary indeed. But the gist of the results pointed strongly to Sjogren's Syndrome. It's an incurable genetic thing which, to capsulize a lot of jargon, willfully exacerbates pain. If there is inflammation or misalighment anywhere in the afflicted body, this little remora (attached to our San Diego girl's metabolism, seemingly just to inflict misery) condition ramps it up to intolerable levels.

Much like our Mister Toad's Wild Ride in the TUK-TUK, it brought surprises at every corner. Incredibly slow walks to the dining room; the need to have somebody hold the elevator doors from shutting too soon; more time spent in comfortable chairs and no time swimming. The biggest re-focus we discovered, however, was the stark realization that our Super-trip would never be, that we would almost certainly never ride bicycles through Bordeaux vineyards; never enjoy a picnic by a shaded Italian stream somewhere in Umbria; never look across Venice rooftops, eyes searching for reflections off the gilt features of St Mark's.

And yet, and yet.

A new plan is afoot, which I've hinted at to several friends, which I will be glad to explain as the next three months tick past. Approaching too slowly, as you might expect a kid to think, and yet in another way too quickly. Please write me with questions you may have had. Next time I want to talk about next things.

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