Saturday, December 26, 2015

My First Week!

 “MY TEXAS ADVENTURE” Saturday December 26, 2015
Cloudy w/Thundershowers later 73°F/23°C in Cedar Park
  So, here we are, a week into the new adventure! The Christmas tree is - miraculously – still
MikeBo & Jordan, Jaydan
standing, and so am I. But, what a whirlwind week! Last Christmas Dana and the family were still in California, but I was scheduled for my shoulder surgery and the kids were all down with the “Holiday Grelb,” so I kept my distance lest I be stricken by their plague! (PS: I got sick anyway and had to postpone the operation). But, this year, it was full-court Christmas celebration with the grandkids. Combining a holiday celebration with a month of frenetic moving activity has left me, quite frankly, exhausted and somewhat shell-shocked, but still able to sit up and take nourishment.

  When push finally came to shove, Dana and I decided that the most expeditious way to get me moved was to do the exact opposite of what she and Jason had done. Where they rented their own truck from Jason’s company, loaded it themselves, and, enlisting the help of Jason’s brother in driving, caravanned with the family SUV and the truck from Lake Forest, California to Leander, Texas across 1400 miles of desert with four kids strapped tightly in their car seats with only one overnight motel stopover. After completing that Odyssey, Dana and her brother decided they were not going to allow their elderly patriarch to drive that route by himself. (They both conjured up visions of old gringo bones bleached by the sun scattered around the New Mexico desert). So, in quick order, I made reservations on Jet Blue for Lola and I, hired a moving company and a car hauler, and set off for Texas. Joe the Car Hauler gave me a two day estimate on moving my truck, so I loaded it up with my computer, printer, TV set and some other essentials, locked the tonneau cover on the cargo compartment, and waved good bye. I’m still waiting for my furniture and the rest of my belongings.
    Thanks to the stuff I brought with me on the plane or followed me on the car hauler, I am able to get a head start on setting up housekeeping. Also, the fact that I’m moving from a one-bedroom-one bath apartment into a two-bedroom-two bath place means I still have some shopping to do. So I installed my coffee pot in my new kitchen and headed for the nearby department stores, for some added necessities.  But, the end result of this effort is that I can move in as soon as my bed is brought in and start living there while I finished the unpacking. My computer is in with the internet hooked up and working. My TV is hooked up to cable TV and working. I’ve even done a couple of loads of laundry with the new washer and dryer which are in a compartment just off my kitchen. Which brings me to another “thank you,” I’d like to make before I go any further.
   Doctor Jeff Sodl, the master mechanic in the Orthopedics division at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center didn’t just fix my shoulder. He changed my life. Before the operation, I was literally a pain-wracked cripple. The role model for a contemporary One-armed Man in an upcoming sequel to The Fugitive!  I had very explicit instructions about how to use my newly reconstructed wing, and I followed  his instructions to the letter. But when all was said and done, I was amazed at what I was able to do in the way of packing and moving boxes. So, credit where credit is due! Mille grazie! Dr. Sodl!
  The initial tour of my apartment and all the lease negotiations were all done on line. Just as she had two years ago when I was in Italy, Dana scouted out the locations and the deal was finally done on line after Devon, the apartment manager took me on a video tour with his IPhone. My Texas move-in date was the same as my move-out day in Rancho Santa Margarita. So easy does the new property company make moving in that Devon tells me that sometimes months go by before he even meets some of his new residents.
  Austin is a modern day “boom town” that reminds me of my experiences back in the 60s, first in Arizona and a few years later in California. People from all over the known universe sensed that good things were happening, and were streaming in from the four corners of the world to grab a piece of the dream. My own reasons are narrower – the geographic location is not as important as being close to my family. And, I am living proof that age need not stand in the way of beginning a new life’s adventure. I plan on slowing down in a few weeks long enough to join the kids in celebrating my 75th birthday!
Now, where the hell is that moving van?
©Mike Botula 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

So, Here I am in TEXAS! How'd That Happen?

“MikeBo’s Texas Adventure-Chapter 1” Tuesday December 22, 2015
Mostly Sunny 77°F/25°C in Cedar Park, Texas
   Yea verily, gentle reader – Texas! And, I’ll give you a “heads up” on this whole deal by saying that
MikeBo Hisself!
there is no quick answer as to why I am in the Lone Star State. So I won’t even try at this point. And for my friends who have been following my exploits up and down the Italian peninsula, news about MikeBo in Texas must come as somewhat of a surprise. On the plus side, I am 1,600 miles closer to Rome and two time zones more in synch, so it could be said that I am closer to my ultimate goal….actually living in Rome. Actually, my move started out as nothing more than planning for a Christmas holiday with my daughter and her husband and my four grandchildren. Along the way, my month-long holiday turned into a one way trip. The family had moved to the Austin area four months previously for all the reasons a lot of folks are looking at California in their rear-view mirrors: jobs, prices, traffic, and, all of the other “usual suspects.”

  The kids’ move from California to Austin didn’t really sink in for me until I got back from Italy in September. While I was taking in the sights in Rome, tagging along with my tour guide son from Pompeii to Venice, and striking out on my own to Amsterdam for a visit with an old flame, not to mention night clubbing through the boites of the Eternal City, following Mike’s hot, new band No Funny Stuff, big changes were taking place back home in California! 
  The little retirement community I had settled into after thirteen years in Northern California, and more than two months of living in Rome had changed its complexion. I had moved into an apartment complex billed as a residence for “active adults – 55 years plus.”  And, indeed it was … when I first moved in. But, over time, the median age of my neighbors began to shift ever upward. The word active disappeared from the promotional materials. Activities like the daily exercise classes and swimming pool events, the monthly movies in the rec center, the weekly Saturday kaffeeklatsch and the regular bus excursions to places like museums and art festivals or Indian casinos gradually went away. The view from my third floor patio of the nearby Modjeska and Santiago Peaks became more frequently marred by the arrival of the fire trucks and van that carry the paramedics.  After a while, the occasional visit by the paramedics became an almost daily occurrence, and more and more of my neighbors arrived and departed in vehicles with wheelchair lifts. I noticed the changes more and more as I regained my own health and mobility following my shoulder surgery.
  A few weeks after the kids headed to Texas, I left Lola with Liliana, my housekeeper, and flew off for another Roman Holiday. (Exploits thereof finely detailed in my Diario di Roma Dué: Rome Diary 2). While I holidayed in hot, muggy Roma, Michael and I Skyped regularly with his sister in Texas. All the reports were good. Everybody loved the big, new house, Jason and Dana both had good new jobs; in fact Jason had quickly earned a promotion. Jake and Jessica were doing well in school. The twins, Jaydan and Jordan, were thriving and happy. Texans were friendly and very helpful to the newcomers. Both Dana and Michael suggested that maybe Dear Old Dad should consider a move to Texas. All three of us also took note of the fact that my apartment lease would be up for renewal in January. So, when, I got back from Italy, I picked up Lola from Liliana, went home and made reservations for a Christmas visit to Texas. That was Step 1.
   Back at my “55-plus,” the aging neighbor trend upward had continued. There were actual traffic jams of walkers and wheel chairs at the central elevators and several times Lola was nearly clipped by a careening oldster in a speeding scooter chair. Sometime around Columbus Day I asked Dana to check out some apartments near her that were definitely NOT “55-plus!” I wanted to check them out over Christmas. She called me back the next day with three prospects and their web addresses, two in Cedar Park and one in Leander. All three offered virtual video tours, all of them real eye openers. After taking the video tours, I checked out the area on Google Earth, looking at both the satellite views and the Google Street View. I was able to tour the area from more than a thousand miles away. I printed off floor plans, crunched the numbers and discussed the pros and cons with Dana and Michael via Skype. The following week Dana called me to coordinate a time and date for me to meet the manager of the hottest prospect for a personal virtual walkthrough of a two bedroom apartment that had caught my eye. That’s how I met Devon Shults. In the days that followed I found myself moving closer to making the decision to move, but not until after the holidays when I’d had a chance to eyeball the location for myself.
   Around then, I received the property management company’s formal notice that my lease was up for renewal. It asked for my answer prior to the 30 day notice period. Then we started getting bids from moving companies and car haulers. As Thanksgiving approached, I wired Devon my deposit on the two bedroom I had spotted. The wheels were in motion, but, I was still stuck on the idea of returning to California after my holiday trip. After a few more conversations with Dana, Michael and Laura and, now, Devon, I had made the decision to still go to Texas for the holidays….but not return to California. I’d make my move now, and not later.
©Mike Botula 2015



Sunday, December 13, 2015

You Know the Song, Willie. Time to Sing it Again!

Last of the “Lost Musket” Journals
Sunday December 13, 2015
Sunny with rain likely later today 59°F/15°C in Rancho Santa Margarita
Howdy, Pardner!
  On the road again! It’s time to get on the road, again! Good ol’ Willie Nelson. And every few years,
Two Reasons to Move!
it seems, I start hearing that song in the open space between my ears, and, first thing you know, I’m packin’ up and movin’ on. If my life were an old western movie instead of a soap opera, I’d get screen credit as The Drifter! After almost 50 years in the Golden State, I’m catching an east-bound stage coach and heading for Texas, so I can be  close to my four young grandchildren. Dana tells me that Jacob, Jessica, Jaydan and Jordan are pretty excited about having their grandpa close by again, and, for that matter, so am I.

  Right after I got back from my latest trip to Rome in September, I accepted Dana’s invitation to spend the holidays with the family in Texas, so I used a bunch of frequent flyer points and booked a roundtrip on Jet Blue from Long Beach to Austin for me and Lola. (Can’t leave your poodle in a kennel over Christmas, for cryin’ out loud). My original plan was to arrive a few days before Christmas and stay through my birthday in January (My 75th!) After that, I would come back to California and plan my next trip to Rome and the other side of the family. While I was there, I would check things out for a possible move for me and Lola. And, you know how it works with the Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men? They change. So, now, when I board the flight this Friday, that’s it! I will get to see the entire State of California in my rear view mirror, not just Stockton (which is a city best viewed in a rear-view mirror).
  When the kids first announced late last  year that they were pulling up stakes and moving to Austin, Texas, I had the same feeling the guy in that old Borscht Belt joke about the guy who watches his mother-in-law drive off the cliff in his new Cadillac. Very mixed emotions! Dana and Jason would be moving their family from a one-thousand-square-foot cottage into a 4,000 square foot McMansion in an Austin suburb. They both would have better jobs. The kids’ schools were not testing centers for the latest education brainstorm. What’s more the overall cost of living is lower than California’s. Jeez! Two-dollar-a-gallon gasoline!? Fuhgeddaboudit!
   As for me, while the economic differences between California and Texas are very appealing to me since I’m on a retirement income and the politically primeval in Washington, DC want to rob me of my hard-earned Social Security and Medicare and take away all the other public services that us seniors depend on for  our very existence, I am approaching my move with some trepidation. But, I will quickly register to vote in Texas. So maybe a can act as a small counterweight. And, I definitely don’t like the idea of having to change Senators or Governors either. I mean, like, Ted Cruz for Dianne Feinstein or a Rick Perry Clone for Jerry Brown? Fuhgeddaboudit! I will say that the Texans I’ve dealt with so far just to make arrangements for the move and my new home have been very warm, friendly and helpful. Being the optimist that I basically am, I have high hopes. And, yes, some of my very best friends over many years are Texans. Dana has given me a “heads-up” about some hazards in Texas that might, just might cause problems for my poodle, Lola. After all, in California, we don’t have fire ants, too many tornadoes, rattlesnakes that eat alligators, or killer Armadillos. So we will obviously have to do some adjusting.
  My blogging started with some Facebook postings about three  years ago when I went to Italy to visit my son in Rome as I started my comeback from the rubble of my second divorce along with some fairly serious health issues. Facebook led to Blogspot, led to the original Rome Diary, and to Lost Musket Journal on my return to the states. Along the way, I dug back into my research about my dad’s Navy career in World War 2 and the fun and games he had playing Whack-a-Mole with the U 667, and started working on a book which I hope to have in publication early in 2016. So, I plan to continue writing. The blog will continue, although the name will change. Los Trabucos or The Muskets have uniquely California origins, so a change of scene to Texas will dictate a title change. But, the blog and Facebook and all my other social media output will still lead  you to the website where I preside as Mastermind. And, I’ll gradually be updating everybody on my whereabouts. This is but the initial release. News services call a note like this an Advisory!
   I mentioned at the top that I am leaving California after a nearly 50 year stay. If you do the math…..I was 25 when Donna and I moved here from Arizona. She was from Illinois originally. I am a native New Yorker – Manhattan to be precise. After I turned 50, I turned to my wife one day and remarked, its official! I’ve lived in California longer than I was alive. So, I guess that makes me a California native! Now, lots of Californians will say that after they’ve lived there a long time. A little differently, maybe, but after a while, you become more of a Californian than whatever you were before: Puerto Rican, Polish, New Yorker, Pennsyltuckian, and Republican, whatever. California is a smaller scale reflection of America as a whole. Nearly every Californian now in the state came from somewhere else. My grandparents came from Central Europe. Their progeny scattered from Pennsylvania to the far corners of the U.S. Some of us Botula’s wound up in California. Dana’s family is now in Texas and I’m right behind them. Mike has found a new life in Rome, just a two hour flight from where his great-grandfather was born. The Earth revolves at a pretty good speed. If you jump high enough in your lifetime, you never know where you will come back down to Terra Firma. My next leap will take me across three states. When I land, I will be in Austin, Texas. And, who knows where the four winds will take me after that.
PS: Check me out on  Facebook, Google+ or
© By Mike Botula 2015


Monday, December 7, 2015

Harry Schultz' "Day of Infamy!" December 7th 1941

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” December 7, 2015: 74 Years to the Date
Fair, Sunny with Clouds 74°F/23°C in Rancho Santa Margarita
[Today's blog originally posted on the anniversary Sunday in 2014 of the December 7th 1941 Japanese attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. I post this annually to honor those who were at Pearl Harbor on that fateful Sunday, and to say "Thank You For Your Service" to all veterans who have so faithfully served this nation in peacetime and wartime.]
Sunday Morning! Sunny. Just like it was on that other Sunday December 7th, the day that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called, “A Day That Will Live in Infamy.”
In their all-out attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the key targets for the Japanese were the battleships. They sank Arizona, Virginia and Utah., the USS Arizona still rests on the bottom, a war grave with more than a thousand valiant souls still aboard. In the midst of all of this flame and carnage, one scrappy destroyer escaped to fight another day, and took her fair measure of vengeance on the attackers. She was the destroyer USS Jarvis (DD 393) and on board was a young Quartermaster named Harry Schulz who would one day follow the lead of his ship’s namesake and disobey a direct order during the heat of battle to become one of the true heroes of World War II.
   Lest his name be completely lost to history, let me introduce you to Midshipman James C. Jarvis. Three U.S. Destroyers have carried his memory into battle: Jarvis I DD 38 which saw combat in World War I, Jarvis II DD 393 which escaped the Pearl Harbor attack, and Jarvis III, DD 799, which saw service from the end of World War 2 through the Vietnam War before it was decommissioned and given to the Spanish Navy. Midshipman Jarvis was born in 1787 and appointed as a Midshipman from the State of New York in 1799. As was the custom of the day, Midshipman Jarvis went to sea aboard the famed frigate Constellation. During its battle with the French frigate La Vengeance Deux in February 1800 young Jarvis was sent aloft to secure the ship’s mainmast. At one point he was ordered down for fear the mast might topple. He yelled down, “My post is here. I can’t leave it.” The mast crashed down and Jarvis went over the side with the rigging and was drowned. He was 13 years old.
  On the Sunday morning of December 7, 1941, the second destroyer Jarvis was moored next to another
destroyer, the USS Mugford DD 389 and their tender, USS Sacramento, 1914 vintage gun boat. The “after action” reports of all three ships show the Japanese attack beginning at 0758 on that Sunday morning. General Quarters was immediately sounded and all three destroyers opened fire on the attacking aircraft with anti-aircraft machine guns and their five inch guns. The ship’s log notes that the machine guns commenced firing at 0804 hrs., with the five inch gun firing the first shot of any five inch gun in the harbor 60 seconds later. The USS Jarvis was credited with shooting down four enemy aircraft during its escape from Ford Island to the open sea. It is believed that Jarvis was the first to draw enemy blood on that bloody Sunday. Among the seamen receiving
special commendation for their action during the attack was Quartermaster First Class Harry Niel Schultz, who had been with the Jarvis since it was commissioned in 1937. 
    Schultz was later given a commission and eventually commanded the LST that my dad sailed on in WW2. But, on December 7th, Schultz, a career peacetime Navy enlisted man, was aboard the Jarvis. The Jarvis fought its way to the open sea and safety. Its gunners shot down four enemy warplanes and evaded the attackers’ efforts to sink it and block the harbor entrance.
    Schultz and the Jarvis survived Pearl Harbor, and about two weeks later Jarvis left Pearl Harbor with the carrier Saratoga to join the Task Force assigned to relieve the Japanese attack on Wake Island, but, in a controversy that resounds to this day, that mission was scuttled and the Japanese took the island on December 23rd. In January 1942, while on an anti-submarine patrol the Jarvis rescued 182 survivors of a Japanese torpedo attack on the fleet oiler Neces. By July, 1942, Schultz and the Jarvis were on their way to the Solomon Islands to take part in the invasion of Guadalcanal on August 7th. The transport ships that Jarvis was escorting came under a heavy attack and the destroyer was torpedoed in spite of the fact that only 9 of the 26 attacking Japanese planes were able to penetrate the American defenses. After the battle the ship moved to Tulagi where seven wounded crewmen were transferred to a hospital on shore. Quartermaster Harry Schultz went ashore with them to make sure they were cared for. That assignment saved his life.
 The Jarvis’ skipper, Lt. Comdr. William Graham, Jr. ordered the ship to steam for Sydney Australia for repairs. Shortly after, she steamed across “Iron Bottom Sound” and ran into the approaching fleet of Japanese Admiral Mikawa’s heavy cruisers, which had mistaken the destroyer for an American heavy cruiser. As she continued to steam westward, the Japanese again attacked her with a force of 31 planes, raking her with machine gun fire and torpedoes. USS Jarvis went to the bottom of Iron Bottom sound at 1 o’clock in the afternoon on August 9th with all hands. Brothers Billy and Lans Wilson were among the 233 crew members who died that day. Quartermaster Harry Schultz went on to a new assignment.
Rising from the ranks Schultz earned his commission in 1944, and took command of US LST 920, a landing ship that saw action from the beaches of Normandy to the invasion of Okinawa back in the Pacific.  He was one of only three members of the crew of 110 or so who had ever been to sea. Schultz’ executive officer was my father, Lt. Charles Botula, Jr. But unlike my dad, Harry Schultz didn’t talk about his wartime experiences.
On August 14, 1944, the LST 920 and its sister ship the LST 921 were sailing in a convoy across Bristol Channel about 70 miles from Lands’ End, England. At 4 p.m. the LST 921 was struck by a torpedo and broke in two, the aft portion sinking.   Half the crew was lost. A second torpedo launched by the attacking U667 was aimed at the 920. My dad recalls seeing the torpedo’s wake, but a British escort vessel came between the attacker and
Radioman Fred Benck
his ship and was blown out of the water. Standing orders were for all ships to remain with the convoy if attacked. Captain Schultz ordered Radioman Fred Benck to send a message to the convoy commander.  "WHO IS PICKING UP SURVIVORS?” The reply was an order, “DO NOT BREAK CONVOY!" This message was delivered to the captain. In about two minutes, he came into the Radio Room and ordered Benck to send the message again. This time he waited for the answer which was "DO NOT BREAK CONVOY!" As Benck told me years later, “H N SCHULTZ then used these words, ‘TO HELL WITH HIM’ and we pulled out of convoy to turn back and pick up Survivors! A message came from the Commander of the convoy to get back in the convoy. The message was never answered!”
   Like the Wilson brothers on the Jarvis at Guadalcanal two brothers were serving on the two LSTs in the convoy. One of the Forty-seven crewmembers of the LST 921 pulled on board the 920 was Seaman Gerald F. Hendrixson, the twin brother of LST 920 crew member Harold Hendrixson. Thanks to Harry Schultz, the Hendrixson brothers both made it through their ordeal.  A few days later Captain Schultz was called before a court martial but later cleared of any charges. Many years later I learned from Schultz’ family and friends that
Attacking U-boat U 667
he had never gotten over the loss of his shipmates at Guadalcanal, and he was not going to let any more good sailors die if he could help them even if it meant disobeying orders. Shultz’ left his command of the LST 920 in 1946, stayed in the Navy after the war, and eventually retired as a Commander. Two of the officers from the 920 that I talked with in researching this story told me that Schultz always “kept a certain distance” from his officers and crewmembers. Knowing about his earlier career as I did, I realized that he had already lost one shipboard “family” in the war, and he probably didn’t want to form any close personal ties with his new one. And, my dad, who was on the bridge at the time of the U-boat attack, never knew why his “Skipper” disobeyed orders that August afternoon. He said he was “stunned” when Captain Schultz broke that convoy rule and gave the order to and come about.
    A few months later, Captain Harry Schultz and LST 920  sailed through the Panama Canal and on into the Pacific Ocean. Next stop? Pearl Harbor on route to the invasion of Okinawa and the end of World War 2.
Ciao, MikeBo

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Life and Times of “No Funny Stuff!”

Diario di Roma II (Rome Diary 2)
Tuesday November 17, 2015
Partly Cloudy 63°F/17°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia
Mostly Sunny  70°F/21°C in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA USA
Michael Botula of NFS
   My expatriate son Michael - musician/performer/teacher/tour guide and entrepreneur extraordinaire has been blessed with a lifelong love of music and a craving to play his music in public, a trait that is traceable to his mother’s gene pool. Donna’s early family life seemed to be one continuous jam session. In fact, she continued to sing and dance into her fifties. One of my memories of Michael’s early musical career centers around a picture of the little guy with his toy guitar accompanying his grandmother Mitzi at our old upright piano. My own musical career centered on playing a hand-me-down trumpet for a couple of years in my high school band, and spinning polka records as a teen age disk jockey at my hometown radio station. Not, that I always admired the music that Michael made as he grew up! I mean, having a resident garage band made up of eager teenage rock star
Grandma and Star-to-be!
wannabe’s can be excruciating at times. So, no! His mom and I were not always big fans of Junior’s musical talents. Some of the southern California bands he played in were Blue Dye Fire and Deep Shag! (which had nothing to do with carpets). After high school he went to London to help his buddy Jason set up a recording studio and to polish his own musical craft. Along the way he became a skilled studio and concert audio technician to boot. And, it should be noted here, that Junior, from a very early age displayed his greatest talent – promotion and public relations. His buddy Jason, eventually put on a top hat, painted his face a bright green, took on the stage name The Late J. Roni Moe and started a pop band called The Urban VooDoo Machine!
   In a classic Boy Meets Girl story, Michael met Laura, fell completely under her spell and followed her to Rome, where they are living 
Laura and Michael

happily ever after. Who says that fairy tales can’t come true! Rome! The Eternal City! About 700 years ago, Giotto di Bondone, the Italian painter and architect, said "Roma è la città di echi, la città delle illusioni e la città di desiderio". (“Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of desire).” And out of the mists of time, illusion and a desire for fame and glory there sprang Michael’s new band: Inbred Knucklehead, known far and wide to the politically correct as I. K. H! Inbred played a mix of Hardcore Rock, Country, Funk and Ska (I dunno from “Ska!” You tell me.) Michael, Kristian, Dario and Marco rocked Roma and other European cities for several years and rose to a fair level of fame at music festivals from
Inbred Knucklehead
Scandinavia to the Balkans.
  Over time, Michael demonstrated another skill quite necessary to be a success in the music biz: promotion. His groups have pages on Facebook and an enviable presence on all the social media. He tirelessly promotes his projects to venue operators, agents, record companies and shamelessly markets his projects to radio stations, where he is comfortable doing TV and radio interviews in English and Italian. A big plus in Italy. And the band produces its key songs on music videos, which are uploaded and given wide circulation on You Tube and other media outlets. In
Promoting No Funny Stuff!
addition to working with his own groups, he stays wired into the overall music scene through his work as a music producer and concert sound engineer for other bands. So he is not limited to being a guy who plays guitar and sings in a band.

  In the time leading up to the moment my Alitalia flight lifted off  from LAX bound for Roma on my most recent trip to Italy, Michael fell in with Giuseppe ”Beppe” Cassa, Gabbo Hintermann and Giuseppe “Seppe” Petti, to form a new band – No Funny Stuff.  The ex-pat and the Italians! They gathered up a motley collection of novel instruments: ukelele, kazoos, a washboard, a bass fiddle, mandolin, electric guitar, keyboard and drum set, a musical saw played with a violin bow and some other makeshift musical instruments. Beppe contributed his guitar, Mandoline, Dobro, carpenter’s saw, Watering Can-o-Fone - a reed-type contraption made from a plastic garden watering can with a clarinet body and mouthpiece, a Glock and a small electrified guitar made from an an empty gallon olive oil can. Gabbo plays double bass and cello and is the designated hat-passer/CD vendor at concerts. Seppe handles the wash board, bells and whistles!  Voila! No Funny
No Funny Stuff Busking!
was born. An oxymoron through and through, because, these guys are hilarious!
  No Funny Stuff’s early gigs were literally on the streets of Rome among the throng of Buskers, the street musicians who literally sing for their supper, performing in the piazzas and on the streets of Rome.
   My first opportunity to hear them came the night after I arrived in Rome when Laura drove me up to a medieval castle village north of Rome  to the Tolfa Busker’s Festa, a big summer outdoor art show and musical festival featuring street musicians from all over Italy. It was my first time at one of these community events and it was quite an evening….dinner with the band in the piazza at a fun local outdoor restaurant followed by a walk up
Al Fresco With NFS
the steep, fortified streets to one of the piazzas where an outdoor stage was set up for the bands who would be playing until just before daybreak the next morning.  For this performance, Rachel Mascetta was filling in on washboard, cymbals and slide whistle for the absent “Seppe” Petti, who had gotten waylaid by a flash flood in northern Italy. The Festa was running way behind schedule, and it was after midnight before the fearless foursome took the stage. But, in spite of the late hour, No Funny Stuff played to a packed piazza….and the crowd was still there for the act that followed them….and the act after that. And so on and so on! These buskers are a hearty breed, and I could not remember when I had been out listening to a jam like that until that late hour.
  So, in the weeks that followed the Tolfa Busker Festa, my travels were interspersed with bursts of music and fun with No Funny Stuff. In
No Funny Stuff at Tolfa Festa!
between Michael’s tours of Rome and visits to places like Pompeii, Amsterdam, Venice and the Sabina countryside, there were the band rehearsals at Mike and Laura’s house and visits to the Rome night spots where NFS plays regularly. Hanging out with the band introduced me to a side of Rome that I had missed on my previous visits to the Eternal City. No Funny Stuff is a fairly new band on the very active Italian music scene. NFS has progressed from  their occasional gigs on the streets of Rome up to playing at some of the venues once visiting by Michael's old Band IKH (which still plays occasional reunion concerts). These days the number of pubs and bistros hosting No Funny Stuff is growing in number. It's to the point where NFS is playing every weekend this month at one club or another. And who knows how far their "rocket to stardom" will take them.  They've already been on the Italy's Got Talent! TV variety show and gotten through the first round of the talent competition. So who knows what the future will bring? Here's a sample from You Tube!
Paraphrasing Confucius, as Mike frequently does to his many tour customers, Find a job that you love, and, you’ll never work another day in your life. With his workload as a teacher, tour guide and musician, I get the distinct impression that my son is living his dream.
© By Mike Botula 2015

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Day of the Dead: My Family's Story!

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” Sunday November 1, 2015
Sunny 84°F/29°C in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA
[This story first appeared on the day following Halloween in 2014. This is an updated version]
 Buenas Dias,
   Today is the first day of November…the day after Halloween….All Saints Day. It is also El Día de los
Botula Family Gravestone
Muertos, or
The Day of the Dead. It’s a national holiday throughout Mexico, and it’s widely observed in California as well, particularly among our Hispanic population. It’s a time to honor and pray for family members who have died. The celebration takes place on the first day of November, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. Traditions include putting up private altars honoring the deceased and decorating them with sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed. Families of the departed also visit their relatives’ graves with these as gifts. They also leave possessions of the deceased.

September 27, 2013 - Roanoke Avenue Cemetery, Riverhead, New York
I had been gone from my home town most of my adult life. While I had been born in New York City, I had grown up in Riverhead and went all the way through high school here. I had come here one sunny day in April of 1961 with my brother Packy, and our father Charles to bury our mother, Mary. On another sad day in November of 1965 my brother and I returned to bury our father, Charles.
Charles and Mary Botula
Following their funerals, my brother Packy and I set to the task of closing up the home where we had grown up and get it ready to be sold. An unseen gate slammed shut on our idyllic childhood, and we both moved on with our lives. Now, on this sunny day in September forty eight years later, “Skip” and Charlie Botula are still resting in their quiet place marked by two granite headstones, their repose shaded by an old oak tree. It’s not quite November 1st, but this is now my own personal
Día de los Muertos. After visiting my parents’ graves, I walk along the path through the cemetery.  My stroll takes me on a tour of my childhood. Across the way from mom and dad is “Papa Nick” Meras, the smiling Greek man whose family still runs the confectionary where we used to gather after school. Down the way is my third grade teacher, Ramsey Walters. Around the bend is my old scoutmaster, Alton Medsger. Across the way, in a plot marked by a tall granite monument are my parents’ best friends, Fred and Beverly Alexander. Glancing down at the headstones as I walk along, I see so many family friends.

Saturday April 29, 1995-Calvary Cemetery Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
   I had come to this gravesite for the first time in 1947 with my father when I was six years old. It was the first time that death had touched our family, and I was overwhelmed by my grief. My dad’s brother, Adolf had died suddenly at the family homestead on Ward Street. Forty eight years later I
Johana and Karel Botula
had returned to say farewell to my dad’s other brother, my beloved Uncle Ted. My own dad was not here – he and my mother had passed away thirty years before, and were buried back in my home town. For me, the two gravesite visits were like placing bookends on either side of important volumes of my family’s history. I viewed the moment as a flashback with the scene beginning in a chaotic drama in black and white and quickly flashing forward in time to a similar but continuing as a contemporary drama in full color. As is the custom in many Roman Catholic cemeteries, we said goodbye to Uncle Ted at a short service in the cemetery chapel and then we left to let the graves crew do its job. There were no graveside goodbyes. After the chapel farewells, my cousins, my brother and I among them, decided on our own to visit the family gravesite. There are three generations of Botula’s buried at this plot, starting with my grandparents, Karel and Johana, and there are other family members resting nearby. It wasn’t a Dia de los Muertos visit, that’s not part of my Czech heritage, but the sentiment was the same. For the cousins, Packy, Anna Marie, Richard and Frank
The Cousins
and me, this became our own brief reunion. We were a close-knit group of cousins, and, we hadn’t been together in many years. Uncle Ted’s passing was a signal moment in the story of our family.

   Maybe it’s because of my own love of history, but I love to visit old cemeteries. There are so many stories there. The catacombs, church crypts and necropoli of Rome, colonial era cemeteries along the eastern seaboard of the United States, Gold Rush and Frontier cemeteries in California, Nevada and Arizona. Our own Arlington National Cemetery. There is the small family gravesite behind an old Victorian home in Mariposa, California. The people that own the house acquired the small family burial ground when they acquired the property and now care for it with the same loving care as if it sheltered members of their own family. I think as I walk along that the history of any society lives in its cemeteries. After all my adventures in life, I now understand that this is where I must return some day, even as a symbolic gram or two of ash. Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem comes to my mind.
''This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.''

October 31, 1992 Halloween
   Now, let’s go back to a sunny Saturday afternoon on Halloween weekend 21 years before. My wife, Donna and I are on a guided walk through the old, historic cemetery in Santa Ana, California. Our walk takes us past the graves of many notable local historical figures. There are mayors, prominent members of the clergy; a famous Sheriff, Theo Lacy, is buried here, too. The headstones read like a “Who’s Who” of our county. As we walk along, we notice something else. Here and there, people have gathered for what appears to be a picnic. They’ve spread blankets at the gravesites and set down their picnic baskets. Most of them have placed bouquets of flowers at the headstones with lighted candles. I see them praying, saying grace and then lifting glasses in their toasts. Curious, I approach a family gathered around one of the graves. “Good afternoon,” I greet them. Nice day for a picnic, isn’t it? They smile and nod. But, why have a picnic in a cemetery? I ask.
El Dia de los Muertos,” the woman said in a soft, accented voice. It is El Día de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead.  Today, we come to the cemetery to honor members of our families who have passed on and to pray for them. She continued. We want to let them know that even though they have left this life, they are still part of our family. I had never heard of such a custom. The woman went on to explain to me that it is a holiday in Mexico and more important to Mexican culture than Halloween itself. I was quite moved.
   In our society, visits to loved one’s graves can be infrequent and generally very brief. Flowers can be placed at the headstone and a prayer said. But, long spans of time can pass before a return visit is made, if ever. Gone forever and easily forgotten. At that moment, I realized that I had not visited my parents resting place in more than 30 years. Our cemetery walk this day took place on Halloween. The next day would be the first day of November, All Saints Day and El Dia de los Muertos. I could feel the connection here. I could almost hear the grandmother talking to her family as they picnicked six feet above her. I could feel the love and respect these family members were showing their loved ones. Later, as we continued along our walk, I thought of my own parents who were buried far away from where I lived now and made a promise to myself to honor them one day in the tradition of El Dia de los Muertos.
   Eleven years later I kept that promise during a reunion of my high school graduating class. I had
taken my new fiancée and my son back to my home town to join me in reconnecting with old friends and classmates that I hadn’t seen in 45 years. For my son, the trip gave him a chance to connect with a family that he had only heard about, or seen snapshots of, or read about. My wife-to-be said it gave her a chance to know me a little better. It took about forty five minutes to find the gravesite and then, we placed a bouquet of roses between the headstones. I put my arm around my son’s shoulder as my lady hung back a few paces and together we bowed our heads. “Mom. Dad.” I said, “I’d like you to meet your grandson. I’d also like to introduce your new daughter.” We stood in silence for a few moments and then I said, “We’ll be back.”
   In that moment, I truly understood what the Mexican woman had told me in the Santa Ana Cemetery years earlier. Five years later when I returned for our next reunion, I went to the cemetery with a blanket, a bottle of wine, three glasses and two rose  bouquets. I brought some family pictures and spent an hour trying to tell them everything important in my life since they had left me. I poured each of us a glass of California Zinfandel, set a glass at each of their headstones next to the rose bouquets and splashed a bit of my wine on each of their graves, toasting them as I did. This has now become part of my own family’s tradition, although my trips back to my home town usually don’t coincide with El Dia de los Muertos on the first of November. But, it has more meaning for me than the Halloween celebration.
Hasta la vista,





Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Memories Linger On!

Diario di Roma Dué (Rome Diary 2)
Tuesday October 27, 2015
Partly Sunny 70°F/21°C in Roma
Partly Sunny 82°F/ 28°C in Rancho Santa Margarita
  To borrow a Mark Twain quote from the home page of my website “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” 
   I heartily second that motion, Sam! Travel has definitely changed for the better my personal

Bridge of Sighs Venezia

outlook on the world. I’ve also watched changes in the outlooks of my fellow landsmen after they’ve been on the road to destinations far away. Travel has certainly broadened my son’s outlook. Michael went to London in his twenties, met a pretty girl from Rome, and not only is still there, but applying for citizenship. Laura and her family made him feel welcome, taught him Italian, and a few days ago he called me and asked “dear old dad” to FedEx him his birth certificate to complete his Italian citizenship application. (I kind of figured this might happen when he came home from his “holiday” showed his mom and I a picture of Laura, packed the rest of his clothes and went right back to Rome). Now I see more of him when I travel to Rome myself.
Michael, Laura, MikeBo in Selci
   The first time I landed at Fiumicino International, a whole new world was waiting for me. Now, on each succeeding touchdown I feel more like I’m coming home again. The city has really grown on me, especially after my last visit, when I moved into my own little studio apartment and became part of a new neighborhood. In August when Michael and I drove past my old apartment building in Mostacciano, I asked him to check with my former landlord on any vacancies when I come back the next time. With each visit, Michael and Laura introduce me to new places and new people all over Italy. On the last trip, in 2013, we went to Pompeii, Napoli and Firenze (Florence). The trip to Florence introduced me to the wonderful world of high speed train service. Roma to Firenze in an hour-and-a half, then to walk the streets where the Medici’s presided at the dawn of the Renaissance. We toured the Uffizzi, the stupendous art gallery that was once the corporate world headquarters of La Famiglia de Medici  and walked across il Ponte Vecchio, a 14th century Florentine slaughterhouse that is now one of Europe’s most famous
Ponte Vecchio Firenze
market places for gold and silver artifacts and jewelry. We toured il Duomo, the famous cathedral, where I bought several watercolors to adorn the walls of my home back in California.
  I learned to get around town on Rome’s modern Metro, and unscrambled the mysteries of the Atac transit system’s network of bus lines. I went to the market on my own, weighed and tagged my produce for the checker, and bagged my own groceries while transacting all of my business in Euros. ATM’s in Rome work just like the ones in San Francisco, and so do our credit cards. Travelers checks are almost a mere curiosity these days. And spending Euros has long ended the madness of changing your money into a different currency each time you cross a national boundary. Among my souvenirs is a collection of Deutschemarks, Francs, Austrian Schillings, Guilders and Lira, a reminder of post war European travels.
   My first overseas adventure was in 1975 when my wife and I went to Germany for a month. We stayed with my Air Force pilot kid brother Packy and his then-fiancé Sue. It was the first overseas journey for both Donna and I – LAX to Frankfurt in a Lufthansa Boeing 707 with an hour stopover in Amsterdam. It was in Germany that I learned my first lesson in overseas travel – wherever you go on your first trip, if at all possible, make sure you have a good friend who lives there to be  your guide.   Packy and Sue were terrific hosts and tour guides. We started in Frankfurt and spent ten days on the road all through Austria and Bavaria, including a weekend in Mϋnchen for Oktoberfest,  and
Kehlstein Haus in the Day!
where we hiked and visited Hitler’s retreat and the teahouse he built for his first lady, Eva Braun. (Everytime I see shots of Der Fϋhrer strutting along at his mountaintop lair on The History Channel, I tell everyone within earshot that Hey!  I had a couple of beers right where Hitler’s walking!) By the end of our second week, I was ready to move there. As we traveled with Packy and Sue, we found our hotels at random. Around 3 in the afternoon we’d start looking at the front windows of the gӓsthausen or pensionen along the highway. If we saw a sign that read zimmer frei, and it looked OK to us, we’d pull in and check it out. The rooms were always clean and cozy and frϋstϋck was always served first thing in der stϋbe.
  The following year, I was sent on assignment to Guatemala…just a few weeks after the catastrophic 1976 earthquake, that dwarfed LA’s Big One, the 1971 Sylmar quake. That’s where I learned to pay attention to the local advice for staying healthy in a strange land, and became famous on our return flight for being the only journalist on the press plane not to become a victim
Guatemala 1976
of the traveler’s Green Apple Quickstep. (Jimmy Carter called it Montezuma’s Revenge). A few years after that, I went back to Germany as a guest of the U.S. Air Force to cover Reforger, one of the annual Fall NATO war games. That trip gave me the opportunity to visit East Berlin while it was still firmly behind the Iron Curtain, and, I got to go because I was the only person in the newsroom with a passport. That is my second bit of travel advice. You gotta have a passport. If all goes well my son will have two, US and Italian.
  In between my last trip to Germany and my first trip to Rome, all of my adventures were domestic. That is if you call traveling all over California and the rest of the United States on assignments, business trips and vacations with side trips to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. In all, I have made four trips to Rome, staying longer each time. My love affair with the Eternal City got its start way back in high school in Morris Diamond’s Latin class. We spent the first year translating Julius Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico, his account of his campaigns in Gaul from Latin into English.  It was Mr. Diamond who inadvertently taught me my own first rule of foreign travel – learn to understand at least a little of the language in the country you are traveling to. The second rule is at least teach yourself to count in the language of the country you are going to. Since my third  rule, and  my son the tour guide’s first bit of advice to his tour customers is if your waiter gives you a menu that is translated into four languages beside English, get up and run for the exit. It’s a tourist trap!
Inside the Coliseum
Its hard to believe that I made my first trip to Rome in 2005. Looking back now we worked hard to get ready for the trip.  I checked my passport to make sure it was current, and Monica applied for hers in plenty of time before liftoff. I signed up for an Italian language class through the Italian Cultural Center in Sacramento. Our teacher, Patrizia Cinquini Cerruti, is a native Italian who operates a successful travel service specializing in tours to Italy. Her textbook Buon Viaggio, A Travelers Guide to Italian Language and Culture is a great primer for travelers. If you live in the Sacramento area, I heartily recommend it. One huge difference in the travel landscape between my first trip to Europe and my first trip to Italy is the currency. Italy is now one of 28 members of the European Union. No more fumbling with deutschemarks, Austrian schillings, lira, guilders or francs. No sir! Sole currency for just about every nation in Europe is the Euro! Britain and the Pound Sterling being the sole holdout!
   On the trip I just came back from, Michael and Laura once again took me on new adventures, one of which was another high speed train trip on Italo to Venezia, fabled Venice, the longest surviving
Morning Traffic in Venezia
republic in history – over a thousand years. We spent two long holiday weeks at Laura’s family’s mountain retreat in Selci in Sabina… and explored a number of Medieval fortress villages nearby: Tolfa, Bagnoregio, Rochettine and a host of others. We returned to one of my particular favorites, the 12th century Benedictine abbey at Farfa, also in Sabina. I went to work with my tour guide son and revisited Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius, joined a group going through the catacombs and toured the crypts of the Dominican Church in Rome where the monks of old decorated several of the crypts with the bones of other monks who had predeceased the artists. That’s where I was welcomed back to Roma by the lovely Alba, the manager of the museum gift shop. We also took a short Metro trip to Ostia Antica, Imperial Rome’s ancient seaport. And, when we  returned to Galleria Borghese, Michael was leading our tour. He amazed me yet again with his knowledge of art and his grasp of Italian history. He’s on a first name basis with just about all of the ancient Roman emperors. Then, just before I left Rome to come back to the states, I flew to Amsterdam on a very sentimental journey.
   Joan and I had been steadies right after we both graduated from high school. I was from Riverhead. She was from Westhampton. Our romance lasted until she trundled off to New York
2 BR w/canal view Amsterdam
University on a full scholarship and it wasn’t too long after that, we went our separate ways. But we managed to stay in touch over the years, and now, in both our Golden Years, she was living in Amsterdam and I had moved from New York ultimately settling in California. So, as I made plans for my latest Rome trip, I called Joan and made a date to fly up to Amsterdam and take her to dinner for old time’s sakes. An Easy Jet non-stop put me practically on her doorstep. At her suggestion, I booked into the Wilhelmina and was given the keys to a fourth floor room, which I found at the top of an excruciatingly long, winding stairwell.
  After a short walk to Joan’s apartment, and a reunion chat over coffee, we decided that since neither one of us could walk around like we used to, she called a cab and we headed off for a boat tour of the canals of Amsterdam. It was a preview for me of our upcoming trip to Venice.
  Amsterdam, especially the older sections on the canals is quite charming, and there is a lot of history there. After all, my birthplace, New York was once Nieu Amsterdam almost 400 years ago. And I could just visualize the early Dutch governer of Nieu Amsterdam, Pieter Stuyvesant clomping around Manhattan on his wooden leg growling out his distress that the British had just told him he was being evicted. But, the canal boat ride gave Joan and I the perfect opportunity to catch up on old times. At one point, we reminisced about the different directions our lives had taken us and we realized that we had six marriages between us. (At the end of seven innings, the score is 4 to 2 with Joan leading Mike by two!) We had already passed the Van Gogh Museum and the national treasure, The Rijksmuseum.
Joan and Mike Again!
But Amsterdam also has a lot of other museums which might interest you: Museum of Bags and Purses, popularly referred to as the Coach Museum; Foam Photography Museum; Diamond Museum; Bijbels Museum which boasts the oldest Bible printed in the Netherlands-the 1477 Delftse Bijbel; The KattenKabinet, an art museum devoted to works depicting cats; Verzetsmuseum, the Dutch Resistance Museum, tells the story of the Dutch people between 1940 and 1945 in World War II. The city also boasts the Cheese Museum and the everpopular Marijuana Museum. There is also the Anne Frank Museum which radiates a certain solemnity which could be felt even at a distance as our tour boat passed by. As our boat pulled back into its pier we agreed that a boat tour was a great way to spend a first-date-in-over-a-half-century kind of afternoon. And, it reminded us of another boat ride we took long ago as we explored New York City together – our 25 cent ride on the Staten Island Ferry past the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor and back to Battery Park.
  After another day of catching up, Joan called a cab for me and I headed back to Schipol to catch my Easy Jet return flight to Rome and our next adventure – our Italo high speed train ride to Venezia. But that is a tale to be told another time. Halloween is right around the corner and I have a story of my own to tell about that before we travel to Venice.
© By Mike Botula 2015