Sunday Natterings: strange foreign entanglements

George Washington warned us against foreign entanglements. Yet I have to say, sometimes they can be funny, scary, strange, crazy, or beautiful. Watching the Olympics, I thought of a few entanglements out of my past.

  • While hitchhiking from London to Harwich to catch the ferry to Holland, I was relieved when a man driving a spotless Jaguar sedan gave me a ride. I told him where I was headed and said I was worried about missing the boat. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m their chef. They won’t leave without me.”
  • The moment I stepped inside a French street urinal to use the facilities, a group of women walked into it chattering away as though I were invisible. Or maybe I was just another ugly American. I think they were trying to use the fully visible urinal on the other side, but “sacre bleu!” it seemed impolite to see how they were accomplishing that. I thought of humming a memorable song from “Casablaca” and saying, “We’ll always have Paris.”
  • Another American and I stopped in a London pub, found seats at the bar and ordered whatever was on tap. Presently, a working man came up and kept saying in a Cockney accent I couldn’t decypher, something like “Lor’ luv a duck! A John’s walle’ is cushy ‘o nick ou’ ov a back pocke’.” I had no clue. After the bartender translated that I was being warned that a man’s wallet is easy to steal if he keeps it in his back pocket, I bought the man a pint, we toasted goodness knows what, and I put my wallet in another pocket.
  • Our restoration project alongside a northern canal in the Netherlands

    After a crash course in Dutch, my volunteer group in the Netherlands followed the sailboat races selling lottery tickets to raise money for our project. I saw a couple of college girls and asked if they’d buy a lottery ticket. “Spreekt u Engels?” they asked hopefully. “Sure,” I said. Turned out they were tourists from Florida and were stunned to find out I was also from Florida. Small world. They didn’t buy a ticket. Later, our group worked at the ship yard to help restore a ship to be re-used as a school. Always wearing old clothes, I was amazed by the number of times tourists came up to me at railway stations, bus stops, and random street corners and said, “Spreekt u Engels?” because they wanted directions to some place or other. I’m sure looking like a local kept me out of more trouble than I’ll ever know.

  • While flying over Vietnam in 1969 between the aircraft carrier and Da Nang with nine other men in a small, unarmed Navy plane I was, like everyone else, curious about the view. As we approached the airport, the pilot said, “Gentlemen, there’s been a bit of mortar activity from those hills lately, so I’d advise backing away from the windows.” An ancient chief petty officer said, “If they shoot us down, the last thing I’m worrying about is a shower of broken glass.”
  • Not our hotel.

    After a long day of group sightseeing in Rome, Bob and I decided we weren’t ready to call it quits, so we walked around after dark, enjoying the sights and glasses of wine at various places along the way. When we got lost, Bob suggested we ask a couple of seductive women leaning against a lamp post (how trite!) if they could give us directions to our hotel. “Bad idea,” I said, but it was too late. They grabbed us as though we were old friends (with benefits) and offered to take us to their hotel for the night. After a lot of swearing, they finally agreed to lead us back to our pensione. When we were asked what happened to us, it was hard to live down Bob’s explanation to the group that we got so turned around we needed a couple of hookers to help us find our way in the dark.

  • When a snitty sales lady in a London shop told me “You Americans talk funny,” I said in the thickest Southern accent I could manage, “Bless your heart, Shug, y’all talk funny around here, too.” She didn’t think that was funny. Later, in one of those Berlin restaurants with long communal tables, a clueless American at our table from North Carolina with an accent so thick I had a hard time understanding him blurted out, “Ain’t it a kick, a few years back, all these people here would have been Nazis.” You could have heard a pin drop. I said, “Ich kenne diesen Mann nicht,” and got the hell out of there.
  • While riding a small steam locomotive train across East Germany to Berlin long before the wall came down, we were annoyed when guards boarded at almost every stop and demanded more “visa money.” I gave them what they wanted. When an angry American shouted at them in profanity filled English, informing them that they were a bunch of thieves, they hauled him off the train. When the guards looked at me, I said, “Ich kenne diesen bösen Mann [bad man] nicht,” and they actually smiled before they got the hell out of there.
  • Hong Kong was my favorite liberty port. Fortunately, a family friend who was a missionary and fluent in Cantonese gave me a tour of off-the-beaten-track sites. Every time kids passed on the street, they scowled at me and shouted, “Gweilo, gweilo.” “They’re calling you a foreign devil,” she said. I guess my Navy uniform gave me away.
  • During a memorable horseback ride in the Alberta mountains, we rode up toward the summit on a sunny day and were surprised to find falling snow. Better yet, we were within a snowbow, the first and last one I’ve ever seen. My horse’s name as “Flame,” and that seemed appropriate.
  • Not my ship, but I remember these docks.

    While walking back to the ship during liberty call in Yokosuka, Japan, I got caught in a late night rain storm. Much to my surprise, a bar girl stepped out of nowhere with a red umbrella that matched her sexy red dress and offered to escort me to the pier. When I said I was broke, she said, “No matter, slow night anyway.” She grabbed my arm and stayed so close she provoked catcalls from the flight deck when we reached the ship. She gave me a kiss and said, “Tell your friends we hot lovers.” I think that was a defining moment, but I’m not sure what it defined. It would have made an iconic photograph…the rain, the street lights, the sailor, the girl…

  • Most people who have been there, don’t believe me when I say that a bunch of us went swimming in the oily, heavily polluted Amsterdam harbor. That might have been the same day we enjoyed free samples at the Heineken Brewery. The local hosts on our motor barge who told us not to do it, jumped in, too, when they saw us pretending to drink the water. “If you end up in the hospital, Hank and Truus, we don’t know you anymore.”
  • Wikipedia Photo

    When my wife and I were driving our rental car in Waterton Park, Alberta, we stopped along the shoulder of the road where bighorn sheep were panhandling for food. One of them stuck his head in the driver’s side window and got his horns caught. It took both of us to twist his head enough to set him free.

  • Wearing bright yellow wooden Dutch shoes on the Champs-Élysées attracts more attention than one might expect. The fact that the group had wine for lunch and dared me to do it might have been at fault because people who know me could testify that normally I would never do such a thing.
  • Back when people still took passenger ships from New York to England, I saw the Statue of Liberty from the ship as we left port. It’s a sight I’ll never forget and more memorable than everything else from Hong Kong to Paris to infinity and beyond.


Review: ‘Curva Peligrosa’ by Lily Iona MacKenzie

Curva PeligrosaCurva Peligrosa by Lily Iona MacKenzie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mexican Curva Peligrosa follows America’s first “superhighway,” the Old North Trail that has seen many hooves, bare feet and moccasins traveling between Southern Mexico and Canada over the past 12,500 years, and after 20 years of dreams and exuberant experiences, she settles in the small town of Weed, Alberta.

Magic follows her, to hovers around her and her mysterious green house, her herbal cures, her skills as a midwife, her sharpshooting, her otherworldly dandelion wine, her lusty appreciation of sex, and her larger-than-life approach to living that astounds and intrigues the residents of her adopted town. They are scared of her but can’t stay away.

Time and reality blur in this well-written and carefully researched novel, in part because the chapters are–in a sense–a series of slices life and mini-stories that are not exactly presented in chronological order. Along the trail, Curva writes letters to her dead brother Xavier who will become a frequent visitor to her spread near Weed. The prostitute and fortune teller Suelita and Billie, the Blackfoot chief from the nearby reservation, are also frequent visitors. Everyone drinks the wine. Lots of it.

And then there’s the man named Shirley from Sweet Grass, Montana who wants to drill for oil throughout the region. Shirley thinks he can tame Curva’s strange ideas, alluring body, and potentially oil-rich land.

Kadeem, the leader of a traveling troupe of acrobats and other performers tells Curva, “Nothing is what it seems. Carpets fly. Plants give birth to animals. Characters escape from novels. All this is normal.” Such things occur as regularly as the rising and setting of the sun and moon throughout the inventive magical realism, addictive plot, and exotic character development of Lily Iona MacKenzie’s “Curva Peligrosa.”

Chances are good that Curva, Sabina (her daughter of unclear origins), Xavier (who dislikes being called dead, much less a corpse), Billie (who talks to old bones), Suelita (who longs for wings), and even Shirley (who thinks material riches are everything) will ultimately escape from from this novel. If so, they will visit you during storms, fog, and dreams. This is normal.

View all my reviews

Crown of the Continent Resources

The ‘Crown of the Continent’ ecosystem is one of North America’s most ecologically diverse and jurisdictionally fragmented ecosystems. Encompassing the shared Rocky Mountain region of Montana, British Columbia and Alberta, this 28,000 square mile / 72,000 square kilometre ecological complex spreads across two nations; across one state and two provinces; and across numerous aboriginal lands, municipal authorities, public land blocks, private properties, working and protected landscapes. — Crown Managers Partnership

As national headlines focus on whether a potential lack of funding at the federal level will jeopardize national parks and water quality standards, I thought I would focus on the positive work being one throughout the Alberta/Montana/British Columbia Crown of the Continent Ecosystem by listing a few of the organizations you can turn to for information, programs and advocacy.

Alberta Wilderness AssociationAlberta Wilderness Association (AWA) is the oldest wilderness conservation group in Alberta dedicated to the completion of a protected areas network and the conservation of wilderness throughout the province.

Bob Marshall Wilderness ComplexTogether, the Great Bear Wilderness, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Scapegoat Wilderness form the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, an area of more than 1.5 million acres.

Crown of the Continent EcosystemEncourage and support coordination and cooperation among individuals, organizations, and agencies whose purpose is to educate and inform people of all ages and backgrounds about the human and natural resources of the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem.

Citizens for a Better FlatheadTo inform and empower citizens in cooperative community development that respects and encourages stewardship of the Flathead Valley’s natural beauty and resources.

Flathead National ForestStretching along the west side of the continental divide from the US Canadian border south approximately 120 miles lies the 2.3 million acre Flathead National Forest. The landscape is built from block fault mountain ranges sculpted by glaciers, and covered with a rich thick forest.

Headwaters MontanaWe are working to secure the highest level of protection possible for pristine public lands, such as watersheds in the Swan, Mission, Whitefish and Yaak ranges and untouched Crown lands across our border with Canada.

National Park Service, Glacier National ParkCome and experience Glacier’s pristine forests, alpine meadows, rugged mountains, and spectacular lakes. With over 700 miles of trails, Glacier is a hiker’s paradise for adventurous visitors seeking wilderness and solitude.

Nature Conservancy – MontanaOur mountains, rivers, grasslands and forests make Montana a natural paradise.

Waterton Lakes National ParkRugged, windswept mountains rise abruptly out of gentle prairie grassland in spectacular Waterton Lakes National Park.

While there’s much to be done on behalf of our environment, we can, I think, make better progress by making commitments to positive change as individuals and groups rather than standing on the sidelines and preaching to the choir about what we don’t like. We know what we need to do–or, we can learn.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two novels set partially within the Crown of the Continent ecosystem, “The Sun Singer” and “Garden of Heaven.” The e-book edition of his comedy/satire, “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire,” is currently on sale for only 99 cents at Smashwords and on Kindle.

Expanded Waterton-Glacier Watershed Protections Needed

from National Parks and Conservation Assn:

Former National Park Superintendents Call for Waterton-Glacier Expansion, Watershed Protections

Waterton Lakes - Chris Phan photo

Whitefish, MT — An international coalition of retired superintendents from Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada and Glacier National Park in the United States has voiced their concern for the future of those parks and the need for immediate actions by both countries to complete park protection measures begun earlier this year.

“Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is a treasure that we all share as North Americans,” said former Glacier Superintendent Mick Holm.  “In joining our voice with our Canadian counterparts, we’re hoping public officials in both countries will view our communication as a call to action on behalf of this globally significant World Heritage site.”

Waterton Lakes - Lesa Campbell photo

The letter, signed by nearly all of the parks’ former superintendents, comes in the closing days of Glacier’s centennial year, as Congress considers a bi-partisan public-lands omnibus bill (America’s Great Outdoors Act of 2010) that includes several key park-protection measures. The package legislation encompasses more than 110 individual bills, aimed at protecting the country’s land, water and wildlife resources. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he would like to see passage before Congress adjourns early in the New Year.

In their letter, the former superintendents endorse a long-standing proposal for Canada to expand Waterton Lakes National Park westward, into one-third of the British Columbian Flathead.  They also call for Canada to establish a wildlife management area connecting Waterton-Glacier to other Canadian Rocky Mountain parks, including Banff.

Glacier - St. Mary's Lake - NPS

The former superintendents noted the historic nature of recent steps taken by both countries to prohibit coal strip-mines, hard-rock mining, and oil and gas leases on public lands upstream from Waterton-Glacier, including action to protect 400,000 acres in Canada and the voluntary relinquishment of 200,000 acres of oil and gas leases by energy companies in the United States. They note, however, that legislation to finalize the mining and drilling ban has yet to become law in the United States, and urge prompt action on that front.

They also call for expanded environmental cooperation across the border, and a formal international agreement between both countries to protect Waterton-Glacier and the surrounding Crown of the Continent ecosystem in Montana, British Columbia, and Alberta.

“To have nearly every retired superintendent from Waterton and Glacier calling for these measures is beyond significant,” said Tim Stevens, Northern Rockies regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association.  “These individuals spent their entire careers managing protected areas.  They understand better than anyone what steps are needed to ensure the ecological integrity and clean headwaters of Waterton-Glacier.”

In 2009, proposed mining activities in the Canadian Flathead Valley gained the attention of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which voted unanimously to send an international team of scientists to investigate whether the negative impacts of proposed coal strip mines warranted listing Waterton-Glacier as a “World Heritage site in Danger.”  The UNESCO report concluded that the proposed strip-mine would result in environmental harm to the World Heritage site.

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Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton

Those of us working at the Hotels in Glacier National Park, Montana, enjoyed trips across the border into Alberta for shopping, boating, horseback riding and hiking in Waterton Lakes Park. Our trip wasn’t complete without a visit to the Prince of Wales Hotel that sits above the town of Waterton with a superb view of the lake, and the mountains of Glacier Park beyond.

Early this year, author Ray Djuff (“View with a Room,” “Waterton and Glacier in a Snap”) released a thoroughly researched book about the hotel called “High on a Windy Hill: The Story of the Prince of Wales Hotel” via Rocky Mountain Books.

The title is certainly apt. On that hill, the wind seldom stops. Like the major hotels in Glacier, “The Prince” (or “PW”) as we called it, was built by the Great Northern Railway. The 90-room, 1927, Swiss-style structure is now a historic site. As a hotel employee during the 1970s, the Calgary-based Djuff knows the area well.

The descriptions, historical information and photographs are a nice addition to any Montana/Alberta tourist’s collection.



December 1 (on Writer’s Notebook): – A Tuesday Teaser for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”
December 3: Guest article by author Chelle Cordero
December 8: Interview with author Helen Macie Osterman