Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

Kathryn Daugherty, RIP

24 February 2012

I heard earlier this afternoon that science fiction fan and convention runner, Kathryn Daugherty, passed away. She’d had a reoccurrence of colorectal cancer and had recently had surgery and started a second round of chemo. She’s been married to James Stanley Daugherty for almost 40 years.
She was a friend and a mentor, and I’ll really miss her presence.
She had been the programming head for ConJosé, the World Science Fiction convention in 2002, and I worked for her as her staff, then as her second for BayCon the following year. I also worked as her autographing staff at a later Worldcon.
She loved to read, and kept her Goodreads list up to date, though some of the side effects of cancer had slowed her reading down at times. She loved to collect autographs and literally had a room full of autographed hardbacks. I think she kept afloat in the early years with her love of British SF imports.
Like Rick and me, she had a great love of travel, having lived in several places around the world, including New Zealand and St. Croix. I’d turned her on to the Traveler’s Century Club and she and her husband James had planned their trips around attaining membership on the list. I know she passed Rick and I in country count some years ago, but I’m not sure if she ever got to 100. She did get to Million Mile status on United, which is a bit easier when you have multiple houses near United hubs.
Her hobby of love, apart from building or renovating houses, was needlework, and she had a needlework blog.
I’ll miss her, and I know others will as well. I know she was also a mentor to Seanan McGuire, who wrote one of Kathryn’s favorite books of recent years.

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When Coerced Abortion Is a Sacrament

18 February 2012

I keep hearing about people who want to have religious exemptions for contraception in medical policies. Few people realize there’s another side to that coin: a religious exemption for coerced abortions.
Well, right, but who would do such a thing you ask?
The Church of Scientology, of course.
I’d previously mentioned Claire Headley’s case, but she wasn’t speaking at the Human Trafficking in Scientology Press Conference I went to two years ago because of that case. There was, however, a similar story.
Laura Decrescenzo talks about joining the Sea Org at 12, being coerced into an abortion despite wanting kids, and how she attempted suicide to get out of the Sea Org:

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Maureen Bolstad was camera crew for Gold, here’s some of her story (including some of the conditions she did camera work under). Note that she did what some of the other Gold crew have done for Writers of the Future. Note in particular the circumstances in the second video when she talks about some of the conditions she worked under while severely injured. She is a representative sample of the Gold camera crew filming the Writers of the Future events.

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Here’s part of the ruling (currently under appeal) in Claire Headley’s case:

Even so, she [Claire Headley] argues that she is a victim under the TVPA [Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act] because: (1) Defendants coerced her into having two abortions; (2) Defendants placed restrictions on Sea Org members’ ability to leave; (3) Defendants pursue Sea Org members who leave without routing out and attempt to dissuade them from their decision; (4) Defendants discipline Sea Org members who even express a desire to leave; (5) Defendants censor Sea Org members’ communications; (6) Defendants’ discipline of Sea Org members includes sleep and eating deprivation and heavy manual labor; and (7) Defendants attempted to force Plaintiff to divorce her husband. (Pl.’s Opp’n 17-18.)
In contrast to Bollard and Elvig, Defendants here represent that the challenged conduct was doctrinally motivated. (E.g., Defs.’ Reply 10-11, 15-18.) Therefore, inquiry into these allegations would entangle the Court in the religious doctrine of Scientology and the doctrinally-motivated practices of the Sea Org. It would also require the Court to analyze the criteria Defendants use to choose their ministers and the reasonableness of the methods used to enforce church policy and encourage members to remain with the organization and the religion itself. For example, inquiry concerning the pressure Plaintiff allegedly faced after becoming pregnant would require review of Scientology’s doctrine prohibiting Sea Org members from raising children. In order to determine whether Defendants’ means of persuading members to remain with the Sea Org, etc. fall within the purview of the TVPA, a trier of fact must inquire into Scientology’s policies,practices, and scriptures.
The Court rejects Plaintiff’s argument that the challenged conduct was not doctrinally motivated.

The judge is, essentially, full of it. In fact, L. Ron Hubbard’s writings are very much anti-abortion, so you could argue that the theology of Scn is anti-abortion but the current practice, at least for Sea Org members is exactly the opposite, and therefore it is a triable matter of fact as it can’t possibly be doctrinally motivated.
Here’s the background for how Scn prevented Sea Org members from leaving Gold base, including coercion and motion sensors. Here’s the judge’s statement in a hearing (pacer link, which requires a fee):

You submitted evidence that they did believe that the Church did not want them to leave the property, and if they did, that they couldn’t be members of the Church anymore. That’s an entirely different thing from being held against one’s will and being forced to work.

I can’t lather up enough rage for the judge’s complete inability to consider testimony.
A longer history of Scientology and abortion can be found in the Wikipedia article. Possibly the best reference on the change from anti-abortion to the coerced abortion situation, though, is this post about the institution of the “no kids” in the Sea Org when one of L. Ron Hubbard’s kids, Suzette, was pregnant. However, it should be noted that there were coerced abortions before, too, including time in the 60s on the ships with L. Ron Hubbard at the head of the church, but it was not as widespread or among as many people as it later became. So, really, the implied policy has always been more about serving the church’s goals and needs than about the actual theoretical doctrine.

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Brinker's First Class Flights

18 February 2012

A lot of people have focused on senior Komen execs’ compensation. I’m not sure if $400,000 is out of line for similar non-profit execs or not, but my first thought was: it’s probably not.
However, there is the issue of Brinker’s expense report.

At the Komen foundation, as the chief executive officer and founder, Brinker is approved for first-class travel, according to the foundation’s tax records.
Cohen of Nonprofit Quarterly points out that first-class travel at a nonprofit organization not only is unusual, but also can create the perception that donors’ dollars aren’t reaching the intended beneficiaries. “For most nonprofits, they wouldn’t think of first-class travel,” he says. “There is the issue of perception.”
Says one former employee: “How many mammograms could you buy for those first-class tickets?”

For an exec like Brinker, business class airfare, if available for discount, may be typical. First class isn’t, but that’s what Brinker flies.
Let’s look at the cost, shall we? These prices are for San Francisco to New York on United:
Price I paid a couple of weeks ago: $299.60 (S class)
Current cheapest coach: $318.60 (W class)
Refundable coach: $1,489.60 (B class, which is not the most expensive coach fare)
Cheapest business: $3,383.60 (Z class)
Refundable business: $4,597.60 (D class)
Cheapest first class: $4651.20 (No non-stop on the return, mix of F and A fares with one Y segment, so we know she wouldn’t have booked this one!)
Refundable first class: $6,385.60 (F class all the way)
So while it might be defensible for Brinker to book the cheapest business class fare at a bit over 11 times the coach fare costs, if she’s typically flying first class, she’d probably have booked the first class at 21.3 times the price of the coach ticket. That delta could have paid for mammograms and research.
Some of you might say: but why business at all? The simple answer on a transcon is better sleep, food (important if you spend a lot of time on a plane), and lounge access (always including food, frequently including showers) at the end of your journey. It’s probably warranted on a longer trip (especially an overnight), but not on a short one.

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On the Alleged Separateness of Writers of the Future and Scientology

14 February 2012

I have been following the contest (and some of the people involved in its administration) since 1984 when I first worked the combined Battlefield Earth / Writers of the Future booth at the World Science Fiction convention in Anaheim.
All Scientology organizations are legally separate from one another. This is a manifestation of L. Ron Hubbard’s paranoia about Scientology being taken over (by your paranoid theory of choice). Nevertheless, all things are micromanaged from the top down.

  • At the start, WotF was administered by Author Services, which is apparently completely controlled by the Church of Spiritual Technology, both of which are part of Scientology.
  • Author Services is also the corporation David Miscavige (current leader of the church) came up through the ranks out of (his wikipedia page is a little bit out of order here; Author Services existed before L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986 and Miscavige overthrew the Broekers around 1987 and took over; before then, Miscavige was the head of Author Services). If there were no relationship between Scientology and Author Services, how could that possibly happen?
  • There is very little money separate in Scientology. It’s always an upward pull week-by-week. I was on the financial planning committee of Tustin for several years. We’d send $5,000 up even when we couldn’t afford toilet paper. I’ve been science fiction convention staff at several conventions involving WotF and I see the same Scientology fingerprints all over: not having the budget to buy a dealer’s table until the end, pleading with the staff, and wanting programming to accommodate them at the last minute. There was a commitment to Westercon last year — and then, nothing. If their money was *really* separate, I’d think they’d be more consistent with their planning and not act like everything’s a last-minute emergency the way Scientology does every frakkin’ week. As for budget specifics, obviously none of us have seen them.
  • When I went to the Athenaeum at CalTech in 2007 for the WotF event, they checked the column marked “Wog.” The other column was marked, “Scn.” I said, “Oh, I’m a Scientologist.” (partly to see what they’d do) They changed what box they checked. Why use a racist slur (also commonly used to mean non-Scn) if they were not affiliated? Why track Scientologists separately?
  • The camera crew at the events are Gold Sea Org (Scn’s religious order) members. This means they normally reside and work at the same location where Debbie Cook was tortured and Marc Headley was run off the road trying to leave. I’ve actually point-blank asked a few of them, “Oh, are you from Gold base? I always thought that would be so cool!” (Because of my film background, people were pressuring me to go there when I was in, but now I’m super-glad I did not.)
  • In 2008, the event was held at the Author Services building in Hollywood. Canapes were served by Sea Org staff.
  • I’ve never met a WotF staffer who wasn’t a Scientologist (more specifically, a Sea Org member). Galaxy Press is a secular organization, so in theory they can’t discriminate on the basis of religion, disability, color, and (most especially in California) sexual orientation. So where are the people of color? The disabled? The queer? The people of other faiths? If the contest administration is truly separate, is it also a secular organization? If so, same question.
  • I seem to recall Will Fry talking about some of the aspects of fiction publishing when WotF books were still published by Bridge Publications (where he was Sea Org), but I will need to look that up. He did talk specifically about gaming the NY Times bestseller list, though.

Regardless of the nitty-gritty details of any separation between WotF and the church, you’ve still got the problem of putting the name of a guy who put kids in chain lockers on the cover. This should not be forgotten about.

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Why I No Longer Support the Writers of the Future Contest

09 February 2012

Trigger warning for those of you who need such, especially about bullying.
For a long time, I supported Scientology’s “Writers of the Future” contest. A couple of years ago, I quietly dropped my support for it as my views on the current state of the organization changed. (Note: I am a former CofS member and staff member.)
There have been tales going on for years about some of the bad stuff the Church of Scientology has been into, including the largest known infiltration of the US Government in history, and a secret IRS agreement that gives Scientology preferential tax treatment over all other faiths despite having lost a US Supreme Court case.
But that’s old news.
Why I’m posting about this now? On Feb 9, 2012, for the first time, a senior insider to the organization documented inhuman behavior at the highest levels under oath.

Cook: We were made to do these confessions…one time in front of 100 people, yelling at you. I was put in a trash can, cold water poured over me, slapped. One time it went on for 12 hours…There were times I was accused of being a homosexual, a lesbian.

The same story from another POV:

For the next twelve hours Debbie was made to stand in a large garbage can and face one hundred people screaming at her demanding a confession as to her “homosexual tendancies”. While this was going on water was poured over her head. Signs were put around Debbie’s neck, one marked in magic marker “LESBO” while this torture proceeded. Debbie was repeatedly slapped across the face by other women in the room during the interrogation. Debbie never did break. And fittingly she was rewarded with what turned out to be a break in another sense of the word.

Debbie Cook is also saying that she would have been unable to leave, and that is why she signed the document she did. Some people find that difficult to believe, but I challenge any of you to read the first chapter of Marc Headley’s book Blown for Good, where Scientology staffers from the same base came after him in an SUV to run his motorcycle off the road so he could not escape. You can read the opening on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or download a sample from iBooks. There is contemporary evidence; here’s the sheriff’s report. Here are spikes that would have kept both Debbie and Marc from escaping, along with inward-facing motion sensors, cameras, and guards (some of which are documented here).
It’s all very nice to dangle a few dollars in front of talented sf/f writers and illustrators so new blood can give new cred to L. Ron Hubbard, but please remember there are people’s lives being destroyed by the surrounding organization.
If that’s okay with you, feel free to continue to support the contest. (Look, past winners are past as far as I’m concerned. I’m more interested in people’s actions from this point forward.)
If it’s not, I ask that you link to or repost this (but please include the trigger warning at the top).
I have never spoken out in this context about my own harassment. In February, 1995, Scientology goons came to visit me in rural Vermont. However, I lived on a rural route and they couldn’t find me, so they harassed my friends they could find, sending private investigators around. I was the first ex-member to have a personal bully on the ‘net. One of the things I was accused of (to give you an idea of the truth level): marrying a post-op transsexual. At that point, I’d never been married. I do have an ex who transitioned, but our romantic relationship was before, not after.
Not even that was enough to make me speak out against the contest (having rationalized that the contest was good and only tenuously connected to the organization at large). In the larger sense of things, my own experience was small potatoes. Thankfully.

Cook said she was held there seven weeks with more than 100 other Scientology executives. They spent their nights in sleeping bags on ant-infested floors, ate a soupy “slop” of reheated leftovers and screamed at each other in confessionals that often turned violent. For two weeks, she said, Miscavige had the electricity turned off as daytime temperatures in the desert east of Los Angeles topped 100 degrees.
Cook testified Thursday that the experience in the summer of 2007 gave her nightmares and was part of the reason she was so eager to leave the Scientology staff later that year and sign a severance agreement never to speak ill of the church. (source)

Just keep that in mind.

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Blowing Out the Airline Miles

04 February 2012

I cleared the pipes on my airline miles accounts Thursday and Friday, booking an around-the-world ticket mostly in business class. Except, you know, the single longest flight, which happens to be fourteen hours. Ugh.
Normal coach airfares for round-the-world trips are pretty hideous, far more so than doing the same mileage as a round-trip. They typically cost somewhere between $4200 and $4700 for the lower-end fares. Business class is another matter entirely; on OneWorld, it’s around $11,400 (which is actually less than I expected). I am too cheap for either kind of fare.
I don’t fly often enough (or on high enough fares or with enough status or spend enough on credit cards) to really gather lots of points, nor have I really tried to game the system. So I’ve carefully spent several months pooling my miles into two large heaps: British Airways and United (well, okay, most of the pooling was done on Continental, some via trades, but there’s currently no fee to transfer between Continental and United). Some of the latter were Continental (and Eastern Airlines) miles I earned in the 80s.
I told a friend what I’d done and how many miles it had cost me (about 200,000 miles and about $400 in taxes) and she just was gobsmacked at the amount of miles. Upon reflection, she realized that she’d been using 50,000 a year for a trip to the midwest and had 80,000 in her account, so we just used our points differently over the last few years.
That’s fine, of course, but if you do fly frequently, ask yourself the question: is this the trip I want to spend all these on? If not, save them until it is, and read blogs like The Points Guy to improve your strategy in getting what you really want. Of course, coach domestic redemptions are fine if that’s what floats your boat, but they aren’t the best bang for the buck one can make.
Many coach redemptions are on the order of 1 cent/mile. Experienced travelers look for redemptions that are up to 10 cents/mile. Mine worked out to 6 cents/mile, so I feel I got a really good value out of my points.
After five years of benign neglect (and a British Airways credit card), I was pretty convinced I had a useless amount of points, but TPG gave me some ideas. Weirdly, it was looking up award travel to Dubai [1] that put the thought in my head, as BA suggested themselves inbound and Cathay Pacific (via Hong Kong) on the return. I didn’t like going eastbound, but it did put the round-the-world idea in my head. Unfortunately, the itinerary I was looking at ran something like 280,000 miles, which wasn’t going to happen.
I started looking at alternatives while my miles were still coalescing, and once they hit 100,000 on United, I knew I had enough to make the trip work. British Airways is part of One World, and United’s part of Star Alliance, but there are no Star Alliance flights from Southeast Asia to Dubai on Star Alliance. Thus, for my plan to work, I had to go westbound on OneWorld.
Beyond that, since the dates I wanted to be in Dubai were set in wet cement, that meant that I had to work around award availability. Since BA’s Avios pricing is segment-based, I booked each segment separately. Then I waited a day to figure out the return. My return was far more open: there were lots of Star Alliance carriers who could take me from Dubai westward (and I could still wrangle something else if that didn’t work out), but the bigger problem was winding up in a city where it was useful to fly back home from, so I thought I should sleep on it.
TPG posted the next morning about Swiss opening up award availability. Sure enough, I was able to book a saver business award back home and a business award from Dubai, and I still had over 20k United miles left over when all was said and done.
So I’m taking a ten-day trip to Hong Kong, Dubai, and Zurich.

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Some Thoughts on Cruising

17 January 2012

I’m incredibly saddened by what’s been happening with the Costa Concordia, and, as a former cruise ship crew member, I thought I’d write some points from that perspective.
First, I’m shocked that the captain left the ship. I’m more shocked that the staff captain did also; the staff captain is responsible for crew discipline and should have been assisting with rescue efforts. Eight people waiting near muster stations didn’t need to die.
I want to give a personal shout-out of appreciation to Manrico Giampedroni, the ship’s purser, who did what the bosses should have done and tried to, you know, rescue people. He nearly lost his life doing so, and he broke a leg and spent 36 hours waiting for rescue.
I’m also horrified for the South Korean couple on their honeymoon who were stuck inside their cabin for 24 hours. Can you imagine starting off your married life that way?
Here’s a survivor account on cruisecritic, about copies and swimming (and how horribly the US Embassy treated stranded American passengers), no lifeboat drop signal given to crew, and summation of their trip prior to the crash.
When the family returned home, they did an interview with Australian news here.
What to consider for future cruises:
1) I’d strongly suggest you only go on cruises where the safety drills are done first thing (they are required to do them within 24 hours, but in this case, the crash was only a few hours into the cruise). If they’re not and there’s some reason you want to be on that cruise, then I suggest that you not only go to look where your muster station is, you get to know 2-3 routes to it before sailing in case you need to know them. You look at the safety card in airline pockets and look where your nearest exit is, right? Same thing.
2) Whenever practical, carry at least copies of documentation with you. Obviously, having these in a water-tight pouch is ideal. Come to think of it, a flash drive wouldn’t hurt, either. A survivor points out that copies may not help if you have to swim. Point, but if you’re in the habit of a security wallet on your person, they might if they’re in a water-tight pouch. Worst case, upload them to some trusted site (iCloud, Dropbox) so you can print them later.
3) If you sense that anything has happened, as many of the people onboard did, make sure you have your passport, cash, and so forth on you in case you need to bail. Sure, you may not get time to get these things, but it’s never a bad idea to have them ready in case you have the opportunity to grab them. Also, when it’s cold, like it was, change into warmer clothes, even if it’s just adding a couple of extra layers. Make sure you don’t wear anything that would interfere unduly with swimming, though.
4) If you’re in a position to bail, don’t jump into the ocean without a) a floatation device, b) warm water, and c) a clear and safe route down. Hypothermia is no joke and you can die in minutes. The water in this particular case was cold enough to be lethal. Learn the 50-50 rule.
Also, most cruise ships are really, really tall. Most jumps would be 6-10 stories; unless you’re an experienced high diver, it’s really not safe (even then, it’s still not safe). I have climbed those ladders from the water line to the lifeboat deck on multiple ships. You don’t want to do it the other way; it’s a good way to drown. It’s also fairly well known that sharks follow cruise ships for castoff food, though probably this is less true now that cruise lines have more modern policies about waste management. As if that weren’t enough, the suction created by a ship that’s sinking is enough to pull you down with it.
5) Jim Keller has some good points about ship registry. I’d add that ships of Caribbean registry that regularly sail to US ports are subject to US Coast Guard regulations and are generally safer than those Caribbean ships that do not. In particular, ships that sail out of south Florida are well-trained.

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One. Billion. Dollars.

03 January 2012

Just as the year changed, Debbie Cook sent an email to 12,000 people that rocked their world.
It was a letter to active Scientologists. Debbie was the head of the largest public-facing Scientology church in the world (in Clearwater Florida) for 17 years. In the four years she’s been off their staff, she’s been busy accumulating information.
Here’s a layman’s translation of her letter:

  1. She’s highly trained, and spent 29 years in Scientology’s religious order, and isn’t connected with anyone who is a critic of Scientology. She’s a dedicated Scientologist in good standing (as of the time she wrote this letter; that has undoubtedly changed). ALl of the above is basically “why you should listen to me,” even though most Scientologists are such sheep that they probably won’t.
  2. She’s trying to use the words of L. Ron Hubbard to point out that the organization has gone off the rails in several areas, specifically:
    1. You know the organization’s supposed to follow LRH’s policies.
    2. Despite this, current leadership created the International Association of Scientologists (IAS), Scientology’s membership organization, in 1984, and has since pressured Scientologists to fund a ton of money into it. As of the time she had the information, the IAS controlled one billion dollars in reserves. (As an example, Nancy Cartwright donated $10 million. Per Hubbard, a lifetime membership should cost $75, and the money should be made available to local organizations instead of sucked into the black hole center.)
    3. There is no advertising of Scientology or Dianetics. (There used to be, in a campaign designed by Jefferson Hawkins.) In other words, money gathered to help expand Scientology — isn’t being used for that purpose.
    4. There has been a multi-year campaign to buy new buildings for Scientology churches, and this has meant hundreds of millions of dollars. The money has been raised by direct fundraising for that purpose, including bingo nights and so on, which is in direct conflict with Hubbard’s policies prohibiting fundraising. Hubbard’s philosophy was, “Solve it with Scientology.” In other words, Scientology services alone should be able to fund the buildings said services are delivered in. Instead, currently, Scientology organizations are focused on money raising for new buildings and for the IAS and are not focused on Scientology services.
    5. When services are delivered, they are being mis-delivered. Specifically, upper-level Scientologists keep getting kicked down to below the middle grade of Clear (originally mentioned in the first book, Dianetics), (and some have been forced to re-do the level more than once). Then there are the people who’ve been kicked all the way back down to the bottom, forced to start over from the beginning. Why? Money. Specifically, “many millions of dollars.”
    6. Hubbard left a team of people at the head to run the organization. They have all been disappeared over the years, occasionally trotted out at events. (One in particular, Heber Jentzsch, the ostensible President of the church, has not been seen in public in years.)
  3. Debbie suggests that Scientologists refuse to donate for anything other than their services, in particular, to stop donating for the IAS war chest and for the buildings.

So here’s my take on this: the fallout’s going to be interesting. For the most part, Debbie’s email has reached “new blood,” people who were so far in they don’t know about the Internet, Anonymous, the various blogs and sites full of ex-members — or any such thing. They still think Scientology’s expanding like gangbusters (present evidence to the contrary).
There will be pressure to pull in each of the 12,000 people for debriefing and forced loyalty testing (no doubt in the form of pushing them to donate to the things that are against Hubbard’s policies). That will push some people who hadn’t considered Debbie’s email to realize that it really is a problem, and then they’ll have to figure out how to respond.
Right now, though, there’s a lot of disavowal of Debbie, so it’ll be interesting to see how many waves she’s actually caused.

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12/25 Quiet Christmas, With Bells

26 December 2011

Bridges crossed: 0.
Maybe because I heard it a lot in Liverpool, I can only think of the John Lennon song: “So this is Christmas.”
(I also heard more than one’s fair share of “Wonderful Christmastime,” but as Scalzi points out, at least it doesn’t have Yoko on it.)
Truth is, I’m kind of wrung out from yesterday’s adventures. I take non-stop flights when I can for a simple reason: the stress of pressurization and depressurization is wearing on the bod, not to mention the stress of rushing through airports.
Worse, I didn’t just take one connecting flight yesterday, I took two, and, of the four airports I visited in four different countries, the two in the middle were two of the five largest in Europe. Worse, they felt like it.
So, rubber legs that I had, I decided on a different strategy: I was going to walk around and not cross any bridges unless I felt like it. Given that my legs were sore and tired, I didn’t feel like it, so I simply stayed in my little part of Cannaregio for the evening.
Most restaurants here charge a cover charge for bread service, and many of them add gratuities, etc. The night before, I went to a self-serve place that avoided all that, plus I got to see the food before I ordered and felt better informed that I’d make a good choice for a celiac. Dining here isn’t as difficult as I feared; there is high celiac awareness in Italy generally, far more so than in the US. Unlike the UK, most of the breakfast cereals in my hotel turned out to be gluten free, and there were rice cakes available for those of us who can’t have regular bread. I’m going to have to hunt down the cornetti senza glutine that supposedly exist. I haven’t seen them in windows; everything looks pretty bog standard wheat-enabled, but I’ll try to find some before I go.
It’s nice to have a magic phrase: sono celiaco.
Tonight, I just didn’t see any place open that looked like it’d be good for celiacs, so I opted for dining from my stash brought from the UK and US. It wasn’t the healthiest of dinners, but if you can’t have jam-filled gluten-free cookies for most of your holiday meal on Christmas, when can you have it?
Because I was so tired, I slept most of the evening, woke up and stayed up part of the night, then got more sleep before breakfast. All told, I probably had about 14 hours of sleep. Not the most exciting Christmas, but I really needed the rest.

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12/24 Paris by Accident, Venice by Intent

25 December 2011

Bridges crossed: 1 (Guglie across the Cannaegio canal)
Travel-wise (and obviously excluding the death of my mother-in-law), everything was going entirely too well, right? Well, all that was about to change. Today, I’d wind up in France by accident.
I woke up at 3:30 to finish packing my luggage, am downstairs a hair after 4, and check out of my room (which seems to take an eternity, but they were training someone new). They called a cab who didn’t show up, so they had to call again.
I’m supposed to check my bags in 150 minutes early, but the counter opens at 5am and my flight’s at 6:10am, so I am relieved to get there at 5:02. They reprint my boarding passes as their computer for reading the online-printed ones is down.
We’re all waiting at the gate (which is pretty shabby, fwiw), but at 5:30, no crew’s at the gate. There’s an announcement: the flight’s delayed; the inbound crew were delayed and there are strict rest requirements. I have no problem with that, but I do have a problem with missing an hour’s sleep that the airline knew about the night before. I also have a problem with them not having known to re-book me at the desk when I arrived, but kicking the rebooking over to Amsterdam’s transit desks (which was probably the better plan, though). I had 90 minutes of stopover in Amsterdam, and I have to transit from a non-Schengen area (silly UK) to the Schengen one, which means security. That means I’m almost certain to miss my flight.
For those of you who don’t travel enough to know: essentially, the Schengen area is a border agreement. For practical purposes, it’s like crossing a state line in the US to go from one Schengen country to another. No passport control, no customs control, and no passport stamps.
We land on the ground at 9:22 Amsterdam time, and my flight’s at 9:50. I’m in tears just from the stress of the whole thing: cumulative lack of sleep catching up with me. I ask the first transfer desk, they say to talk to the Schengen transfer desk, which requires going through the Schengen security checkpoint first.
At the security checkpoint, they want everything out. I had six bins with the entrails of my carry-on on the conveyor belt, but that wasn’t out enough. I asked if they wanted cameras out too, they said no. They lied. They looked inside every lens. My non-underwire bra made the metal detector beep, so I got checked thoroughly by a security agent who smelled slightly of pot (this is how you know you’re in a different country; pot is legal in Amsterdam).
Naturally, after that, there was zero chance I’d make my flight. I was trying for it, but I knew it was hopeless. On the bright side, I really had wanted to spend more time in Schiphol, and I wouldn’t be too put out about it.
But: stress. I was crying because of the failure and my frustration with my even much-improved mobility.
I go to the transfer desk, and they were very nice and efficient. The lady listens to my issue with mobility (which is why I missed my flight, really), and looks at several re-routings, including one through Geneva. I’d asked about Schengen area, but I’d forgotten (probably because it wasn’t implemented last time I was in Switzerland) that Switzerland isn’t part of the EU, but it is a Schengen country.
Anyhow, a better routing that got me there earlier was through Paris, which turns out to be on strike. This worked somewhat in my favor, actually.
Additionally, they gave me a €10 voucher for food, a €50 voucher for a future trip, and a phone card voucher that I didn’t use.
I did use the food voucher. The nearest place to eat, Bubbles, was a seafood bar. I was so exhausted (and hungry, since I’d only had a banana, some water, and some orange juice) that I really needed to eat. I was too tired to parse the descriptions, so I pointed at a fish plate that was €15.95 and gave them my voucher. I paid the difference and got some water as well, and make it to the gate 20 minutes before boarding time. Win!
So I hop on my flight to Paris.
When we arrived, there was a woman helping people who gave me directions to my gate, but I forgot to ask if my luggage was checked through. In case someone screwed up, I waited at baggage claim just in case, but that proved unnecessary. Still, better to be prepared, right?
The sign on the baggage claim said that the security agents were on strike, and they apologized. I had to laugh at that, though later I saw military walking through the airport with rifles and it didn’t seem so funny then.
I then hurried to the gate, which turned out to be a long hike from 2F to 2D. The closer entrance to the D gates was closed, so it was exhausting for me, especially since this was my third airport trek today. Enroute, I bought a Pepsi, and was asked, “Pepsi normal?” Which I said “oui,” and now I had something to take with my meds. Despite all the walking, I make it to the gate 30 minutes before boarding. I’m eternally thankful to the nice transfer desk woman in Amsterdam.
Nothing edible for me on this flight, either, so I just had some water and slept as much as possible. I woke up over the Alps, snapped a couple of pictures, then fell back asleep. Thankfully, I had the entire row to myself, so I was able to move my purse to underneath the next seat and put the armrest up so I could be more comfortable.
I’m not the fastest person off the plane, so I follow everyone to the baggage carousel and wait for my bag.
No bag. I break out into tears again. Great, just great. Am I turning into Mary Robinette Kowal? Did I miss seeing my bag in Paris? Did it even get to Paris? This is how baggage gets lost. While I’ve packed my typical extra underwear in my bag, I forgot to re-pack a change of top. I’ve always considered this secret duo my talisman against luggage mishaps.
Another family’s bags are lost too, so we head over to the helpful desk. Their bag seems to have genuinely disappeared. My issue turns out to be funnier.
It turns out there were two flights from Paris coming in at the same time, and I was looking at the EasyJet baggage carousel. I flew in on Air France, though. Lady suggests I look on the other baggage carousel and, miracle of miracles, there is my lovely Tumi bag all ready.
“Mille grazie!” I say to the nice helpful lady who had told me that it had scanned as being on the flight. Good to know these things.
Now onto differently-complicated things. For example, getting to Venice (the islands) from Marco Polo airport. There are three ways: train, bus, or water taxi. For the last, there are private transfers (current advertised price was €110), shared transfers, or the (semi-?)public water bus, Allilaguna (€15). Getting to any of the above is a bit tricky, but I’d read the detailed instructions (with pictures) on Venice for Visitors. The water bus can be really crowded, but I happened to be the only person on my boat, at least until I got off at the Guglie station. There’s a large bridge between me and my hotel, but it has mini-steps on one side for the disabled and isn’t as high as the Scalzi bridge (one of four that crosses the grand canal) that would take me to the bus station. Therefore, I’m able to wrestle my luggage with me without much difficulty other than the occasional balking as the wheels hit some surface irregularity.
Sure, the train would have been the most practical, but I have a travel rule: if you’re going to a place that’s got something particularly unique or interesting about it, it’s always a good idea to travel there by the most traditional means possible. For Venice, that means travel by water.
As I have an early morning departure, I’m staying on the mainland for my final night, so I will probably take the train on my way out as it is the most direct and practical route.
One thing I noticed while walking to my hotel: there are a lot more places open than I’d expected. Not just places to eat, but also shops. I note a few where it looks like there’s something I can eat. The Guglie stop is (think about the word for a minute) in the Ghetto. By “ghetto,” I don’t mean the American word for slum, but in fact the original Venetian word for the Jewish quarter. As I’m passing the various shops and restaurants, one of them is a Hasidic place, the only Kosher restaurant in Venice. I will likely be eating there (the name of the place is Gam Gam) just because it’s such a part of the history that’s Venice.
I have stayed in my hotel before when I was on a Globus tour in 1992. It’s near the train station, and I remember it as being right in a place where the street opens up before the Scalzi bridge.
In general, it’s a good idea to stay fairly close to a vaporetto stop or a major bridge (the latter assuming you can navigate the larger bridges, which can be problematic for the mobility impaired). The closer you stay to St. Mark’s square, the more expensive it is. Fortunately, there are vaporettos, and two of the lines are fully accessible for those who need that (though one of those lines is seasonal).
I check into my hotel, and they upgrade me to a nicer room. I don’t particularly care about the nicer part, but there is a hidden benefit. Venice has for-fee wifi along the grand canal, and that generally doesn’t extend to the hotels. However, because my hotel is facing the canal and I’m in the front of the hotel (in a side room, though, no canal view), my hotel room has wifi. This is a good thing because I really don’t like having to have all my computer doo-dads out in public view unless I’m sitting inside a café. Catch is, I’ve forgotten that the site is having problems processing payments via Visa, so it takes me until morning to figure out that I need to pay with Mastercard. Voila, problem solved.
I peer out the small window of my room and see that there’s a shorter building next door, and I can see into one room at an angle. The family has a Christmas tree with only blue lights and a white couch.
It’s time to forage for dinner, and I have at least half a dozen serious possibilities. I opt for the first place, a café with a self-serve restaurant in the back that advertises no cover charge, so I can explore what they have and leave without guilt if I’m not comfortable with my options. They have paella though, which is an easy choice for me. It’s got clams, mussels, and small bits of salami, which seems like a truly weird addition to me, but hey, life’s an adventure. Too many green peppers (I’m sensitive to them) to be great Deirdre food, but it’s at least something I can eat without having to think about it too much. I’m still on wifi withdrawal, and, even though I’ve emailed some details to Rick, they are links and not full page text, so I can’t retrieve the magic phrases I was looking for.
I get the first full night’s sleep of my entire trip, which is extremely welcome.

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