Grief Is The Price We Pay For Love

This is going to a sad entry and a very long one as well.  I’m just warning everyone.

I’m starting this entry with a quote from Queen Elizabeth, which I guess is appropriate given the excitement about Prince Harry getting married recently.  Its also not appropriate because this is an entry about a person who disliked royalty!!!!

I’m here to write about my friend Allan Martinsen, who passed away a couple of weeks ago.  Even writing that is still a bit surreal for me.  Allan had cancer for a long time and passed away from it, but this entry is going to be about his life, not his death.

In August 2017, I wrote about the 20th anniversary of my time in Denmark and that’s when I first wrote about Allan.  Here I’m going to talk about how we got to know each other and how our friendship progressed.  I’m also going to talk about what he meant to me.

So with many friendships, people meet and its like love and first sight.  Psychologists even talk about how you have friendship at first sight and I’ve definitely experienced that, but that wasn’t the case with Allan.  That part always made me laugh.

In 2017, I talked about the incredibly terrifying experience of going to Denmark and how it all affected me.  In the first few weeks of being in Denmark, I met the people I would live with in the dormitory.  Then there was a group of people that just didn’t speak to me.  One of those people was Allan.  If someone had told me that I’d still be talking about Allan over twenty years after we’d met, I would have said you were crazy.

In the first two months of living in Denmark, in the famous Albertslund, in the equally famous 7V bloc, I became friends with many people in the dorm.  Well, more accurately I left my room long enough to stop crying to talk to the residents.

The interactions with Allan during this time were minimal and in retrospect very funny.  One time Allan asked me to give him the remote in the TV room.  I gave him the remote and the conversation was closed.  I honestly can’t remember another conversation besides that one.

Then at the end of October, something happened.  Allan suddenly started talking to me.  The something that happened was a kind of romantic drama I was involved in at the dorm.

This is the part where I should address that romantic entanglement.  Here its going to be addressed quickly because this entry is not about that, but it really wasn’t that way.  I’m not going to go into exactly what happened, but I’ll just put in here that normal people don’t go around destroying other people.

So here I am in this deeply emotional situation with no one to turn to and there was Allan, who had seemingly watching everything that was going on.  Then suddenly, Allan started talking to me.  I didn’t understand what was happening to me with this “relationship” and Allan helped me.  I remember one of the first things he ever said to me was “we always hurt the one we love,” and somehow that gave me comfort.

It also turned out that Allan was in his own complex romantic entanglement at the time, so in a way we were there comforting each other.  We started talking and spending time together.  One night we were sitting around having some warm beer.  I was the only person in the group who wasn’t Danish.  I was surrounded by people speaking a language I didn’t understand or speak.  I turned to Allan and remarked on this and he said “you aren’t one of them.  You are one of us.”

I wish I had told Allan how much this meant to me.  He had no way or knowing or maybe it was obvious, but I had never been part of anything, one of anything.  I was always on the outside.  I’m an immigrant and when I was 12, I went to the single worst place on planet earth.  Its called Valhalla, New York, a place that education and knowledge of the outside world had forgotten.  Allan didn’t know that either, but it was probably obvious.  I obviously did not belong in Valhalla.  I was definitely not one of them, but here, thousands of miles away from that horrible place, I was finally one of something.  The impact of that was hard to overstate.

And then suddenly I had to return to the United States.  This was also very difficult for me.  Allan gave me his email address when I left and this started the next phase of our friendship.

I’d not really used email up until this point.  Communicating with Allan was really fun.  Allan would fill me on life in the block.  Who was dating who.  That the television was broken and how upset the residents were about that.  The correspondence was really funny.  I read a book by Bill Bryson a while ago about a kind of pen pal relationship he had with a friend in Australia and how fascinated he was with her life.  This was kind of like the correspondence with Allan.  I could still be part of the life of the block, even though I wasn’t there anymore.

The correspondence with Allan continued until I had moved to Washington DC and started my first job.  Then I went to graduate school in Washington DC and I had this professor from Sweden.  I used to describe this person for Allan and he thought this person looked like:


Yes, that is the Swedish chef of the Muppet show fame.  And for those who don’t know, the Danes and Swedes have a long standing insane rivalry.  Its not a hatred.  Its more like siblings that really know each other who know exactly how to tease each other.  I also realized at that moment that Allan and I were mutual fans of the muppet show.  He told me his favorite characters were those guys who sat in the audience and made fun of everything.  Here they are, in case you don’t know who they are:


I can see how Allan would like these guys.  He was really good at making really witty comments while things happened in front of him.

This was demonstrated for me on a trip I took to Denmark before I started graduate school in 2003.  I went to see Allan and we went for a walk around Assistens, a very Danish place.  Assistens is a full functional cemetery that is also a park.  I had wanted to see the graves of Niels Bohr and Hans Christian Andersen.  Allan wanted me to see something different.

We walked around Assistens and we saw the grave of a very young Danish Hell’s Angel.  He told me the story about the fellow who was buried there, who had either been murdered or had fallen off his bike.  This guy’s grave was a black, vertically placed rune stone that the Hell’s Angel had specially asked for.  We stood there looking at this grave and Allan turns to me and says “yes.  It is meant to be phallic.”  I had thought this and I hadn’t wanted to say it.  Laughing at the cemetery would have been really unseemly.  I think we both laughed at that moment.

The next year, Allan got some life changing news.  He was going to become a father.  The correspondence continued, with his typical humor surrounding it.  He sent me suggestions for his new child’s name.  Most of them including Icelandic thorns and were hilarious.  I was glad when his daughter was born with the relatively normal name of Joanna!!!!

I saw Joanna when she was newly born.  Here’s a picture of that:


You can see from Allan’s face how in love he was with this new arrival.  This was a new chapter for him.  A son arrived a few years later to complete the family.

Our correspondence went through a period when we didn’t speak that much but Facebook came along and our correspondence picked up again.  Allan started a new chapter for him and for me, it was also a time for me to start a new chapter of my own.

Interestingly, Allan and I both became teachers.  In one of the early messages he sent me, he revealed to me his cancer diagnosis.  I remember just saying to myself that he was going to be OK, that he just had to be OK.

To be completely honest, I did not know how to talk to him about the cancer.  I felt like I couldn’t do anything for him and that I had to rely on him to let me know how he was doing.

In 2012, on a whim, I signed up for the Jimmy Fund Marathon Walk.  Jimmy Fund is an organization in Boston that raises money for cancer research.  I knew this was something I had to do for Allan.  I walked 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston, thinking of Allan the whole way.  I felt like this was something I had to do for him.  Since then, I’ve done the half marathon every year, raising a couple of hundred dollars for Allan.

About a month ago, Allan let everyone know that his health had taken a turn for the worse.  He messaged me and let me know that things were not great.  I told him that I was going to pray for him and that my friends at my church were also going to pray for him.  We had a little back and forth about God and beliefs.  Allan told me not to give the people in the church any money and that studying religion had ruined it for him!!!!!  It was vintage Allan, sitting in the audience, laughing as the world goes by.

And then a few weeks ago, came the news I was dreading.  Allan had passed.  To be honest, I’m still processing all of this.

What I can say is that going to Denmark and meeting Allan, helped me find the job that was right for me and to find what I really loved to do in life.  I work with international students, just like I was in Denmark, making people who feel like they are on the outside to become a part of something.

This entry is long and there are a lot of details in here.  I wrote it because I want his daughter Joanna and his son Elias to know that their father was a very special person who was loved by many people.  Part of me wishes I had told Allan just how much of an impact he had on me.  For someone who probably felt like he also didn’t fit in and probably sometimes felt unloved, a lot of people did love him.

10401070_39732925578_9727_n (1)

How Crazy Was This Marathon????

I always made fun of people who started sentences with “how crazy” as if it were insane that we’d run into each other at the supermarket and how crazy that was.

Well, now I’m using this line because this marathon was actually crazy.  It was an entire day of gale force winds and driving rain like running through a hurricane.  A freezing hurricane.  I knew that the winners were going to be big surprises.

And they were.  An American woman named Desiree Linden won, as did a journeyman marathoner from Japan named Yuki Kawauchi.  Kawauchi has a day job and does marathons on the side.  WOW.

The race was insane.  One of the top marathoners just stopped, probably suffering from hypothermia.  There was a lot of people like that today.

I had my own marathon today too.  For some reason that I can’t really figure out I walked from Kenmore Square to Cleveland Circle.  I thought I was going to walk and get some great photos along the way.  I did get some great photos but the focus on my camera, which got completely soaked, just stopped working after a while.  I was also absolutely soaked when I finally got to Cleveland Circle.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the geography of Boston, that’s a three mile walk.  ANYTHING for a good photo, I always say.

I walked down Beacon street and there was this drum beat of these sneakers on pavement.  Well, soaked sneakers on pavement.  Those brave people.  God love you.

Congratulations to these marathon warriors.  You guys are extraordinary, especially this marathon Monday:

And We’re Back

Sorry for the delay in posting.  I haven’t been that busy.  Just kinda lazy.  But I’m back now!!!!

I know its been a while and I’m still going to be posting about what I posted about a couple of months ago — skiing.

Today was the end of my ski season for 2018.  It was a really great ski season.  I feel like I’ve finally gotten the hang of everything with the sport and that I can really ski well now.  Sometimes just going skiing calms my mind so much that it lasts me an entire week afterward.

After a season of serious ski trips that started at 4am and ended at almost 10pm, after which I had to go to work, I decided to make my last one an easy one.  I slept in today (for ski season).  I didn’t get up until 8:45am and I went to good old Wachusett with a friend.  She’s learning to ski, getting into the sport slowly.

Oh and it was pond skimming day, which meant people wearing costumes doing crazy things, which is something I love.  Oh and they were skiing???  Even better.

The event had all the trappings of a vintage New England event.  There were sarcastic commentators.  There was a bear in the audience — not pond skimming.  There were tons of dogs around.  Oh and people dressed up in all sorts of outlandish ways.  At one point, one of the commentators for pond skimming said “hold on.  We have a bear head floating in the pond.”  GENIUS.

Anyway, I was on hand to get my last ski season runs in and to photograph the mayhem.  And photograph it I did:

The Bombogensis Barty

Ski season is well underway now and the word “barty” has finally made it to my blog!!!!

Well anyway, here goes another one of my long blog entries about how much I love to ski.  Skip the prose and go straight to the photography if you find that boring.

Yesterday I went to Cannon Mountain in Franconia, New Hampshire.  That place should be called “Beginners Stay Home.”  What an insane mountain.

I skied Cannon Mountain once before but I took a kind of hard spill on one of their piles of snow or “whales” as they call them.  I knew it demanded a second shot.

So yesterday as I do every weekend in winter, I arrived at Back Bay station at 5:30am to board a bus to New Hampshire with something like three hours of sleep.  Usually I get on the bus and fall blissfully asleep, awakening to snow capped mountains.

Yesterday, no such luck.  Two guys behind me spent the ENTIRE three hour ride discussing jobs in IT and trips to Canada while I blocked my ears and shot them dirty looks.  I thought it was going to be a ruined ski day.

I grabbed some breakfast and headed out to explore Cannon Mountain.  Now most ski resorts have little base areas for beginners with little green runs for everyone.  I usually do one or two runs on those to warm up and to see what the days conditions are like.  No such luck yesterday.  The bottom of the mountain is crowded and narrow and only has blues.  I mean I do fine on blue trails too.  The ones I skied though yesterday at the bottom were pretty narrow.  I kinda felt like if I just took one wrong step, I’d be off that mountain.

So I searched for better places to ski.  I took the lift up higher in the mountain and found what I was looking for.  Near the Mittersell Peak (featured below) I found some really nice blue and black trails.  I saw a trail that looks all right and I went down it, realizing about halfway down that it was MUCH steeper than I had suspected it would be.  But as always it was fine.

A ski day is always good.  I talk to the people on the lifts, which is great fun.  Everyone is in a good mood, full of endorphins and fun.  One new thing I’ve started doing is praying on the ski lift.  I’ve recently taken a more spiritual outlook into my life and I use the lift time I say a few prayer, privately.  It feels really good.

As I always say, skiing has taught me more than anything else I have ever done.  It has taught me discipline, fight, how to be humble and so much more.  Sometimes when I ski, I think of a person I used to work with who told me that he went skiing in Montana and he skied a black trail his first time on skis.  I told him that he was full of crap and that he was lucky he was alive because he was skiing on loaner, unsharpened skis that were probably too short to be on that terrain anyway.  Yeah.  I’m savage.  Ok little dude.  If you are so good at skiing, come ski on Cannon Mountain with me sometime.

Anyway, here are some photos from Cannon and a bunch of other places I went this season.  Missing from these photos — my first ski trip of the season with one patch of snow, 30 ski patrol and DIRT.  I love you Wachusett!!!!

Enough talking.  Time for some ski photos:



Upstairs, Downstairs

While in Florida, I went to the Downton Abbey exhibit at the Lightener museum in St. Augustine.  The exhibit, which I will write about in this entry was beautiful, but it also got me thinking about how my family kinda resembled the Crawleys of Downton Abbey.

Obviously, no, I’m not descended from landed English aristocracy.  Actually many Poles believe themselves to be related to some long ago lost aristocracy.  My uncle did a genealogy on at least his side of the family and we’re definitely not aristocratic, which doesn’t bother me one bit.

Anyway, so I wanted to write a bit about my mother’s side of the family, the Badzian/Pietraszkiewicz/Kobos side.  If I missed a letter in the alphabet, let me know.

Here’s my grandmother Zosia with her sister, the Dowager Countess of Grantham (more on her in a little while):


My grandmother is the one in the ruffled shirt.  Her sister, Krysia (the aforementioned Dowager Countess) is there looking chic in her sweater and skirt.

My mother and I like to say that my grandmother’s life story kinda follows that of Lady Sybil and Branson, the politically agitating chauffeur.  My grandfather Ferdinand (or Fema as he was known his entire life) was a chauffeur for a wealthy Jewish family in my and my grandparents home city of Lodz in between the wars.  My grandfather Fema had emigrated to Poland when he was 12 from Siberia.  His first language was Russian and he learned Polish when he came to Poland.  He told me stories about life in Lodz with open sewers and when the tram cost one grosz (a cent).

My grandparents met when my grandmother was 12 and my grandfather was 18.  By all accounts, it was love at first sight, but an interesting match to say the least.  My grandmother wasn’t aristocratic but she came from an intellectual family.  She’d been educated in French and finished high school, which wasn’t as common as it is now.  I’m not even sure how much schooling my grandfather had, but I do know that when he was in his 40s, he went back to finish elementary school.

I see a lot of parallels between my grandparents and Sybil and Branson.  I’m sure my grandparents faced a lot of opposition to their match.  My grandmother worked in a bank for her career.  She was a liberated kind of a career woman, when this wasn’t as accepted as it is now.  My grandfather moved from chauffeur to auto mechanic.  I still remember his collection of spare auto parts.  He had a crazy boxer dog that had to be chained up in the house.  To keep the animal from jumping on people, he fashioned a kind of indoor leash that was attached to the door to the balcony.  The indoor leash was from a brake line he had saved.  I always remember the sheer hilarity of the dog getting tangled up in the drapes all the time.

Here’s my grandfather with his two favorite things in the world — his granddaughter and his boxer:

My grandfather was a simple man.  He loved his pipe, his boxer, his sports, his job and his darling grandchild!!!!  I spent a lot of time with him when I was a small child.  One day I’ll write a blog entry about our relationship.

In this blog entry though, I wanted to focus on how the family kind of followed the way the of the Crawley clan.  From my mother’s telling, there was always a tension in the family between my educated grandmother and my simpler grandfather.  Downstairs and upstairs had mixed, like Lady Sybil and Branson and like on the show, it wasn’t the easiest of matches.

Then there was the Dowager Countess of Grantham, my great aunt Krysia.  Maggie Smith and her sarcastic quips always reminded my mother of her aunt Krysia.  For my part, I was also on the receiving end of some quips from my great aunt Krysia.  For some reason, she didn’t enjoy the fact that I wanted to show all of my cousins how to do cartwheels and handstands.  I was kind of a wild kid with a lot of energy and this didn’t exactly sit well with the Dowager Countess…

Well going back to the Downton exhibit, as I walked through it, I thought of my grandmother.  The exhibit featured all the famous outfits from the show.  I saw the beautiful coat with the fur collar that Mrs. Levinson wore on her visit to Highclere.  There was the Dowager Countess’s suit with the bustle on it and Lord Grantham’s army uniform.  There was Branson’s chauffeur outfit and many of the stunning evening gowns worn by the Crawley sisters.

As I walked through the exhibit, I could not believe the workmanship on the clothes.  They were made to measure and perfect for all the characters.  These did not seem like outfits anyone had bought at a local GAP.

You could see the differences in social class in the clothes that the characters wore.  Lord and Lady Grantham wore things that were made of the finest fabrics and made to measure.  Branson’s chauffeur’s outfit was made from twill, a fairly common fabric now but back them most definitely not something worn by an English lord.  There was a section in the exhibit with military uniforms made from fabrics that are very commonly used now to make cargo pants.  In the exhibit, its even pointed out that military uniforms were some of the first mass produced garments and that the production methods used to make them are still in use now.

My grandmother was too young to be part of the generation of young people on Downton Abbey but her attitudes were of that time.  I remember how horrified she was when I showed up to visit her wearing my t-shirt from my summer YMCA gymnastics camp along with my jeans.  Here I was wearing something made from men’s undershirt material, paired with pants that were made of the fabric used to make farmer’s clothing.  I didn’t really understand why my grandmother was so taken aback by what I was wearing but looking at the Downton clothes, I fully understand.    I think to my grandmother, I was wearing downstairs clothes when she fully believed herself to be upstairs.  I wonder sometimes what she would make of people like Jeff Bezos, who is worth approximately a gazillion and a half dollars wearing jeans and a fleece all the time, not to mention her granddaughter who wears ski pants and leggings!!!

Anyway, let’s see what the Downton people wore, upstairs and downstairs:


So I made my annual southern migration during the holidays to enjoy the Floridian delights.  Heat, weird animals, Waffle Houses and Florida fun to be had.  What could possibly go wrong???

OK so yeah.  EVERYTHING.  But worry not dear blog reading public.  It was all OK in the end.

Let’s get into the time machine and go way back.  Way way way way back to December 27th 2017.  I know.  It feels like two years ago at this point.  So I depart the relative comfort of Massachusetts for the yet many splendored comfort of Florida.  Get to Orlando, drive to St. Augustine and luxuriate in a condo for seven days.  Heaven.

Except we get to Florida and…. it starts raining buckets.  And then it got bad.  We arrived at the La Terra Condo complex, located at 955 Registry Blvd in St. Augustine, FL to find…. nobody.  Nobody at all.  I mean there was a kind security guard at the gate to the whole thing and inside there was NOBODY.  It was dark and rainy and we were instructed to go to some kind of lock boxes where there were supposed to be instructions.  Spoiler alert — there were no instructions.  NOTHING.

We sat in the car.  We made phone calls.  We called every number available and NOBODY picked up the phone.  The hours wore on and it became clear that NOBODY was going to help us.  We called Expedia, who kinda helped us, but really should not have listed this non-sense condo on their website in the first place.  Finally at about 3am, we checked into a hotel.

The next day we went to some kind of a store front where there was supposed to be a planter with keys in it and THERE WERE NO KEYS.  NOBODY WAS THERE.  We went back to the La Terra to see if anyone was over there to help us.  Turns out the staff at the complex actually refers to them as “La Terrible.”  WOW.  This was not getting off to the best start.

Expedia finally rebooked us into the next available option — a Days Inn next to not one but two sex shops and an outlet mall complex.  All right.

Honestly, I hope people find this entry if they search La Terra St. Augustine.  What a scam that is.  What a scummy scam that is.

Anyway, the visit though continued in pretty nice fashion after the accommodation fiasco.

St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest city in America and has this sort of Florida/Southern charm about it.  It looked like New Orleans, where I haven’t been yet.  It had some Florida oddities which I will detail in an upcoming entry, but most of all it had this colonial, historical charm.

I thought it was going to be really Spanish, like a little Spain but it was just kinda Spain-ish.  Cute, charming but not the odd, animal filled Florida I was accustomed to.

Let’s have a look see at the town itself:

st augustine historic district 1st augustine historic district 2st augustine historic district 3st augustine historic district 5st augustine historic district 6st augustine historical district 6st augustine historical district cadillacst augustine historical district candy shop applesst augustine historical district candy shopst augustine historical district caramel chocolatesst augustine historical district greek churchst augustine historical district greek church shadowsst augustine historical district hat shopst augustine historical district house pathst augustine city hallst augustine historical district macaron shopst augustine historical district mannequin

Bombogenesis and the Book of Revelations

Warning.  I’m going to mention things that usually don’t make it onto this blog.  First, politics.  Second, Jersey Shore.  Oh and also the bible and God, but that’s gotten more and more popular around these parts lately.

A few days ago I was in relatively less arctic Florida.  I say relatively less arctic because it was still kind of cold over there but like an early summer, June kind of cold in New England.  It wasn’t the sunny, wonderful Florida I’d become accustomed to but it also wasn’t the North Pole.  Well, until my last day there Jacksonville was actually colder than Alaska.  LOLOLOL!!!!!  I saw a news story today that iguanas are falling out of trees because its so cold in Florida right now.  Considering the bomb cyclone we got hit with today in Boston, those problems are kind of cute.

Of course people are asking where all of this is coming from.  Al Gore, noted inventor of the internet started sounding off on all of this years ago, even before he was the Vice President.  I saw an interview with him recently and he said that the evening news is starting look like a nature hike through the Book of Revelations.  I didn’t exactly what that was and rather than Google it, I asked my friend who I consult on ecumenical matters he told me referring to the Book of Revelations was nothing good.  Nice.  Is there a bomb cyclone in there somewhere?

Anyway, people seek answers from their leaders for all of this and our leader sure provided it:

Screen Shot 2018-01-04 at 7.48.08 PM

…and shit like that.  Yeah.  We’re living in a live action version of The Simpsons now.

Well, anyway, we can’t actually blame that orange toddler for this latest crap.  He didn’t cause it but he’s also not doing anything to make the situation better.

Oh and today.  A bomb cyclone of snow that brought bombogenesis with it.  Yesterday I didn’t know any of those words.  I mean I had never heard of a bomb cyclone until today and I didn’t know what bombogenesis is.  I’m still not exactly sure what it is, but it doesn’t sound friendly.

I elected to stay inside today.  Now I’m not afraid of snow and storms being that I’m out of door with enthusiasm when it comes to skiing in temperatures that would drive a normal person insane but for me today was too cold and kind of scary so I got some photos from the safety of my parents house.  No pictures of Kelton today.  Bombogenesis:

westborough bomb cyclone january 4 2018 1westborough bomb cyclone january 4 2018 2westborough bomb cyclone january 4 2018 3westborough bomb cyclone january 4 2018 4