Accustomed to buying a plane ticket and figuring out what to do when I got to, say, Bahia in Brazil, it was quite a U-turn to plan in detail a three week trip to France.
I was trying to set up a trip in three legs, Paris for roughly one week, Brittany for a few days and then Provence in the South for a final week. So I tackled each leg in order.
Paris was tough. A host of websites cater to the American dream of spending some time in an apartment in Paris.
I tried a few French-run sites that acted as agents for individual owners. The French are tight on the information they provide and refuse to list the actual address of a rental.
On a number of them, you were also required to separately obtain insurance to indemnify the owner.
But the websites did provide the street and neighborhood of a prospective apartment. And they posted pictures of the apartment and the view onto the street.
With the streetview, it was easy to virtually walk down the street and figure out the address for the apartments, by comparing the view from streetview and the view from the photos posted on the apartment rental site.
It was bit like the game Where's Waldo. You looked at a street sign, tree, church steeple - the various details in a posted photo - and tried to spot them as you walked down the street through streetview.
It turned out to be pretty easy. With the address thus found, I could telescope down onto the exact apartment from Google's satellite view.
I found an apartment that looked great and was, according to the rental agency's online calendar, free at the end of May, I emailed to say I was interested.
The next day, I received a reply saying in short, "Too bad, it just got taken. But here are some other nice apartments you might want to look at."
It happened with three different apartments with two different agencies. Once was understandable, but three times felt like a bait and switch.
With the departure date bearing down, we turned to one of the few links we had not yet checked, despite a pretty obviously on-point name, VacationinParis.com.
It turned out be an American agency based in New Jersey.
With a phone call, the agency suggested an apartment on the Left Bank, address included, that is two blocks from the Seine, with Invalides nearby and a view of the Eiffel Tower. It cost roughly $2,000 which was well in the range of the places I was looking at.
With the American agency, the process was easy, painless, straight-ahead, and a relief. Included was a bottle of wine upon arrival.
After the details were ironed out, including a ride from the airport, the agent's final command was, "Now go and enjoy Paris!"
On to Brittany. I would be staying with family friends from childhood but taking side trips. I had a vague memory from youth of seeing the giant stone dolmens and menhirs, but never realized they were in Brittany.
My host and her family live in Rennes, the old capital of Brittany. When I said I wanted to see the dolmens, she said, "They are all over the place. We can just drive around here."
Renting a car ahead of time, I was asked if I wanted to pay a hundred bucks extra for a car with GPS. I have never needed a navigator, knowing the byways of Los Angeles pretty well after decades of reporting.
But I thought that it might just be worth not winding up lost in Bretagne on some dark night.
The third leg, Provence, went pretty quickly with decisions forced by the countdown to departure. The big choice was between beautiful settings in the Louberon area or the more ordinary but central St. Remy de Provence.
I opted for the central location, an easy drive to cities set around it, Arles, Nimes, Avignon, Aix-en-Provence and Marseilles. St. Remy was founded by Celts who around 260 AD fled the nearby village of Glanum, a site I wanted to see again.
Glanum dated back to the sixth century BC, a trading crossroads set at the base of hills opening onto a huge and fertile valley. In the stones are remnants of a Greek temple and a monument dedicated to Roman general Mark Antony, testaments to the village's ability to deal with its changing conquerors.
But not with the German Alemanni.
When they came, they killed, pillaged, raised the village to rubble and left.
The Allemani in turn were conquered by the first French king Clovis who had arrived at his position by eliminating lesser Frankish kings such as Sigobert the Lame and his son Chloridic the Parricide.
With a rough itinerary in mind and preparations for France at last settled, it was time to relax and get away.
It is not my custom or preference to discuss anyone's religion, or God, but because Republican officeholders have so often, and so obtrusively, brought it to the forefront of national discussions of policy of all sorts, I shall address the subject this one time. Then, perhaps, we can return the subject to our closets, where it belongs.
Religion, like poetic justice, is supposed to supply us with a justice which is not available, or which we rarely receive, on Earth.
We may ask whether religion and god belong in our national policy debates at all. I believe they do not - no more than poetry belongs there.
But if one major player in the debate, that is, one of our two officially sanctioned parties, insists upon making religion and God central to their crusades, to their attempts to persuade us to adopt their policies - on science, on education, on foreign policy, on everything under God - we are left with two choices. We may ask whether they are using the subject merely for self-seeking ends; or whether they actually believe in the religious motivations they espouse, and actually mean to rule by them.
Let us begin by considering the first alternative.
For a true believer to use God and religion for self-seeking ends would be hypocrisy.
I believe that for the main part, Republicans do use the subject of God and religion for self-seeking ends: for pursuit of office, for appeal for votes.
To say this, is to say that today's Republican Party is a party of hypocrites and liars. I believe that is the case, and that it is amply borne out by facts.
The proof is found by considering the second alternative: by considering the religious principles the Republican Party professes to espouse, and whether its officeholders actually implement these principles, by exercise of the powers they have now, and had in the past, when, for instance, they controlled not just one or both houses of Congress, but the White House too.
Do Republican presidents, senators and congressmen, in their official acts, exemplify the philosophy that Jesus expounded in the Sermon on the Mount?
Don't make me laugh.
I am not speaking of what Republicans profess to believe, or may actually believe. I am speaking of what they have done, and are doing, and promise to do.
History shows that the Republican Party's ideals have nothing to do with the values so lucidly explained in the Sermon on the Mount. Today's headlines, and yesterday's and tomorrow's, show that Republicans do not operate that way, never have ruled that way, and do not intend to rule by those principles.
We are left, then, with the question of whether the Republicans simply fall short of their high goals, as all humans must; or whether they do not actually have the goals they profess, but have other ones.
In other words, whether the Republicans actually have the God they profess to have, or whether they have another one.
History shows that the God of the Republican Party, for the totality of this millennium anyway, for the past 40 years, in fact, has not been the God of the Sermon on the Mount. It has been some other God.
That leaves us with a final question: whether the God the Republicans actually do have, the one that actually motivates their actions, is worth worshiping.
Don't you just hate it when someone gives you a perfectly sensible answer that has nothing to do with the question?
This occurred to me last week after browsing a " Party Talk " section of the Texas Bar Journal.
It's not the gossip section. I was hoping it would be, but it wasn't. It's a series of answers to questions that might come up at parties.
Parties must be very strange in Texas.
The lengthy question (on page 3) that really got me wondering began like this: "Recently cows have been entering my backyard through the woods behind our house at night, then are gone in the morning."
The questioner wonders whether it's legal to pen those cows. The answer is about corralling: "(I)t's time for urban/suburban Texans to educate themselves on what to do when they find a cow eating their petunias."
OK. I guess that's good advice. I know I'd be at a loss in that situation.
But the author is missing the real issue here: WHERE ARE THE COWS GOING IN THE MORNING?
Isn't this a little disturbing?
Cows suddenly appear at night in the backyard and then disappear! We don't know why they were there in the first place, either.
What is it about this man's yard that attracts nocturnal cows?
The obvious answer is that they're vampire cows. An attorney at this party should recommend searching nearby dairies with basements. And advise garlic and crosses for the back yard.
Next fascinating Texas party question: "Can people sit in the bed of a truck if we aren't on a paved road?"
I won't tell you the Bar Journal answer. The correct answer should be: Why would you want to? Do not do this unless there's no room in the cab and you're fleeing vampire cows.
Then there's this question which may come up a lot in Texas: "I am 29 years old and recently married a 79-year-old oil tycoon. He has five children by his ex-wives. His children told me he doesn't need a will because I get everything since Texas is a 'community property' state. Are they telling me the truth?"
Correct answer: It doesn't matter. Just make sure you get a good agent before signing that reality series deal.
First, a spoiler alert.
If you're watching the TV series "Orphan Black" and you haven't reached the season finale yet, stop reading now.
The rest of you (probably all of you) can breathe a sigh of relief - you can't be patented. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics that human genes you're born with can't be patented.
No longer can a scientist attempt to take ownership of part of your body just because he or she figured out what it's made out of.
But - and this is important - the court also said that if the scientist creates something new - e.g. Frankenstein's monster - he or she can own that. They can't own you, but they can own your genetically altered clone.
(Am I right, "Orphan Black" fans?)
Fair enough. But I do wonder about a few things related to this ruling.
First off, where did Justice Clarence Thomas - and, for that matter, the rest of the unanimous court - get all this scientific knowledge?
Go read the opinion if you haven't already done so.
It begins with a lengthy description of DNA and how it works.
Check out the beginning of footnote 8: "Some viruses rely on an enzyme called reverse transcriptase to reproduce by copying RNA into cDNA. In rare instances, a side effect of a viral infection of a cell can be the random incorporation of fragments of the resulting cDNA, known as a pseudogene, into the genome."
Now picture the justices discussing this and nodding their heads.
I'm being cynical here, I know, but I think I smell the work of a geeky clerk.
Which brings us to Justice Antonin Scalia's weird but probably honest partly concurring but not partly dissenting one-paragraph opinion in which he declines to concur on the "fine details of molecular biology. I am unable to affirm those details on my own knowledge or even my own belief."
In other words, I have no idea what these guys are talking about, but it's probably right.
This opinion should be cited as precedent in all technology-related rulings.