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small white square I pull back on the steering yoke, and the Cessna 152 II angles up, heading directly into the sun. Ascent is fine, but whenever I try a descent, my inner ear sends panicky signals to the brain and I start screaming and shout "We're crashing!" and T resumes control. After months of training he's received his license, and this is the first time he's taken me up, a round-trip flight to Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco - beautiful sunny day, very photogenic. On the ground, at his home-base airstrip, I admired a restored Stinson biplane, originally used as a training aircraft by the Army Air Force at the start of WWII; and a four seat, for-sale Cessna from the Fabulous Fifties - only $68,000. T's Cessna was smaller than those two, only a two-seater with control surfaces which felt downright flimsy, but since you can't fly it faster than about 200 knots the structure is adequate. Unlike some, this first exposure to really flying hasn't smitten me, I won't be taking on the expensive hobby of learning to fly (which was actually an idle whim of mine a dozen years ago, but I never acted upon it and instead dealt with that restless "what-should-I-do-now" feeling by moving to California).

small violet square Dinner afterwards at "il Davide", the Italian restaurant in San Raphael which T, his wife and I favor, that's partially owned by D's brother. I had the Penne Con Pollo Affumicato - delicious, like everything we've ever had there. This time we were seated back in the corner, surrounded by photos of Florence, one of which was the Duomo there, which prompted my telling of the following anecdote.

small orange square My first trip to Europe occurred in 1977 - it was my longest and most extensive so far; I was abroad for two months and traveled between Wales and Greece. Shortly after I arrived, I linked up with L in Germany, where his older sister had been living for a year. She was winding down her stay with some final travels - L and I met up with her in Venice. Then we went to Florence, where we discovered the quite famous and appealing central cathedral with its huge orange dome: el Duomo. (L's sister was traveling with her boyfriend, a guy named Wayne whom she eventually married - I called him el Dwayne-o.) L had acquired a large switchblade in Germany with a handle made of deer antler - for expressive punctuation during conversation he'd produce this knife, look tough and touch the stud which popped open the blade. One evening, we were inside el Duomo, checking it out. He and I paused to rest, sitting in a pew. It was almost Easter and a service of some kind was being held off somewhere within that vast space, and there was an ambient, musical, religious background sound - vespers, or a choir, or monks chanting - it was hard to describe, but quite apparent. As we talked, sitting there, L pulled out this knife, as had become his custom, held it up alongside his head, and snapped it open - and the sound stopped - the abrupt silence was shocking. Had God been watching us?

small cyan square Today I endured one the common summertime street fairs they have in California towns, where the main drag is closed off and filled with food stalls and the booths of crafts sellers. It's fun the first time, but after a few the sun, the crowds and the grilling smoke combine to make the scene oppressive. However, a well-timed phone call to KFJC yesterday meant I had a free ticket waiting at the Stanford Theater, so I braved the Palo Alto "Festival of the Arts" to see Pip, Estella and Miss Havisham in the 1946 "Great Expectations". (That was Alec Guiness? Obi-wan Kenobi as a Very Young Man.)

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small gray square At work, getting on-base has become tedious - weird signage has appeared at all the guard-shack/entry points:

At the direction of NASA Headquarters, Ames Research Center will assume Threat Condition (THREATCON) Bravo. These precautionary measures are being taken in response to the actions taken on Thursday, August 20,1998 in Sudan and Afghanistan. While no specific threats have been made against Ames Research Center or Moffett Federal Airfield facilities or personnel, the U.S. Government has ordered a heightened state of alert at all U.S. facilities throughout the world.
- from an email broadcast center-wide.

small purple square Late last night, finally, at home and bathing, the radio is describing the effect of the heightened security measures. Many interviews with tourists in Washington DC happy about seeing more police - I'm sure somebody they pointed a microphone at complained that terrorism was being used as an excuse to tighten things up, but naturally such subversive, dissenting voices weren't given airplay. They've installed a double ring of Jersey barriers around the Washington Monument - the national phallic symbol must be protected from those hordes of suicide bombers! An interesting fact about the monument is that it's the tallest freestanding masonry tower in the world. In other words, it's just a stack of blocks - no iron skeleton gives it internal support, like skyscrapers have. And how tall is it? As a DC native, who was taught this trivia in elementary school, I can reply without hesitation: 555 feet. The tippy-top is a small pyramid of solid aluminum - a very precious metal at the time it was installed. Unlike many, I know what the inside stairway is like - it's been closed for a long time , all must use the small elevator. But way back when (late 60's), there was a brief period of time when my older brother H and his chums were getting their athletic jollies by driving downtown and running up those stairs - and once they let me tag along. Set in to the interior walls are all manner of stone gifts from other states - chiseled mementos with dates from long ago. Somebody had a heart attack walking up, so for a while you could only walk down, then due to vandalism they closed the steps completely, except to the rare VIP tour.

small yellow square Y2K Spotlight:

... American and British officials are now worried about how Japan, Germany and especially France see Y2K as an "Anglo-Saxon obsession".

The most cynical NATO governments (but not their major multinational corporations) see the issue as an attempt to distract Europe from meeting the computer modernisation challenge involved in the conversion to the new single European currency. from an article by Gerald Segal in the "Straits Times" (Singapore's big daily newspaper) dated August 10.

DC - District of Columbia
KFJC - 89.7 FM, Los Altos Hills
NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NATO - North American Treaty Organization
VIP - Very Important Person
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