Sunday, February 26, 2012


Luckily Gene noticed, because I hadn't.  In our various travels over the last eight years our passports had been collecting stamps and visas and the 24 pages supplied were nearly filled.  It's interesting to note that the most space was taken by the smallest countries.  The visas for Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam each take a full page and look formidable, with lots of color and curlicues.

With only a page or two to go, I learned that some countries will turn you away if you have fewer than two empty pages left when you arrive at the frontier.  The passports themselves had another two years to go before expiration; what to do?

The US Passport Service will add additional pages to your existing passport if you need them.  All you have to do is fill out the form, send it and a check along with the passport to an office in Pennsylvania, and sit back to wait.  The website will even tell you the amount of time it currently takes to complete the process and get the passport back. You can check the status of the application online. Easy.

But for some reason I was reluctant to send it away.  I've had a passport in my possession for the last 40 years; it felt odd not to have one at hand, just in case.  Yes, I'm sure there were times I'd had to send it off to be renewed, but I couldn't remember those clearly.  I kept thinking, what if I need to go somewhere suddenly?  Where, I had no idea.  Nor could I recall a single instance when I had less than a few weeks notice of an overseas trip.

Nonetheless, I was really relieved when I got that little blue book back in my hot little hand less than three weeks later.  It was noticeably fatter, having had 12 new pages stapled into the middle.  Nice clean pages, just waiting for stamps.  The next one's due at the end of March.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Flea Markets and Food Markets

Mauve pink clouds of blossoms are lining the streets as I drive down the hill; the plum trees are in bloom again.  Every February they light up the neighborhood with the realization that spring will in fact return, and that this month, typically the rainiest of the year, has its upside.

This year of course we've had very little rain and the usual talk of drought is beginning, less worrisome so far than other dry winters because 2011 was a wetter than usual year and the reservoirs are not yet at dangerous levels.  The skiers aren't happy though.

We went last weekend to the flea market at the closed Alameda Naval Air Station where the hangars and docks have become home to various businesses and organizations, including Hangar One Vodka and a monthly flea market.

It's been several years since we were here and it's grown enormously.  The parking lot takes 15 minutes to walk through before you even reach the sales stalls, and they go on as far as the eye can see, much farther than the foot can walk, at least mine.

The rules of the market require that everything sold must be at least 20 years old.  I think I had one of these staplers about 30 years ago myself.

I notice that a lot of the items for sale have at least a passing connection to France; clearly I'm not the only one drawn to French-ness.

We spent an hour or so wandering the aisles and at least that much time trying to leave Alameda; the traffic moved at a snail's pace and I swore I'd never do that again.

Unlike the last time we were there, when the food options for weary shoppers consisted of a couple of greasy fast food trucks, there were half a dozen choices that looked and even smelled interesting.  And then there was the French thing again.

Since I won't be going back to the flea market barring a helicopter ride in and out, I was pleased to find a food truck buffet one afternoon last week in Berkeley itself.

Food trucks have become quite popular in the Bay Area and a group called Off the Grid has started sponsoring collections of trucks in various locations on specific days.  Somewhat like Paris's street markets, regulars know where to go when to find their favorites.

And on Wednesday evenings Berkeley is now allowing food trucks to park on a blocked off section of Shattuck Avenue where chairs are set out on the grassy street median and people go wandering from truck to truck deciding on their meal.

From Korean barbecue to felafel to Japanese specialties, these are "gourmet" options, worthy of a site only a block away from world-famous foodie heaven Chez Panisse.  

Here's at least one area in which Berkeley surpasses Paris; the big news in the City of Light has been the burger truck Le Camion Qui Fume, which has Parisians lining up for hours for a real American burger.  We've got them beat for sure.