On Wednesday my wife and I are going to Europe, so I will be absent from this space for several weeks.
Readers sometimes complain that I take too many vacations, but in fact, except for a recent week in Baja, I haven't taken a real vacation in more than two years.
My other absences were occasioned by sojourns in the hospital, or in recuperation at home, after suffering some indignity visited on me either by God or the medical profession.
From Los Angeles we will fly to Frankfurt, and then to Ruse, in Bulgaria, from where we will sail on the MS Sofia up the Danube to Passau, Germany, passing Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Austria. We will spend my wife's birthday in Vienna.
Then we will take a 10-day motor coach tour of "Romantic Germany," including Heidelberg, Lindau, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Munich, Rothenburg, Augsburg and Frankfurt.
It will be our first sight of Germany, Central Europe and the Balkans, though we have been to Moscow, Leningrad and Helsinki.
Though I realize the past is past, it has taken me a long time to sign my separate peace with Germany.
My wife now owns a Nissan Maxima, which is a rather expensive car, so we are at peace, finally, with Japan. However, I still believe in buying American.
Already we have been warned to expect disappointment. The Danube, I am told, is no longer the Blue Danube of Johann Strauss. It is brown. Oh, well, when you have grown up beside the Los Angeles River, you don't expect too much of rivers.
Herbert O. Schwarz, a fellow small-boat owner, writes to report that on his recent cruise up the Danube the commander of the border guards at Kostolac, on the Romanian-Yugoslavian frontier, sent his guards aboard to inspect passengers' passports at exactly 2 o'clock in the morning, "when we would be most inconvenienced."
But he adds: "This was about the only unpleasant interlude during our weeklong cruise on the Danube."
I wonder if that commander looked like Akim Tamiroff.
In Paris we will stay at a small hotel near the opera, and we hope to see all the famous places in Paris that we've missed. I for one am hoping to catch the Folies Bergere, and also to see the city from the Eiffel Tower, which I have never been in.
A reader recently suggested in a letter to the editor that the paper reprint old columns of mine when I'm absent. While I am gratified that any reader would want to reread old columns, I am in principal against this plan.
A newspaper by definition should be fresh, and while I write a lot about the past, and am always writing about things I've written about before, at least every column is a new look. I am not the same person I was a year ago, or even a day ago. The reader is not the same person he was. Everything changes, including my attitude toward cats.
Besides, I think readers deserve a vacation from me, just as I deserve a vacation from writing a column. Perhaps they will like me better when I come back.
It isn't easy to leave a domicile for a month. We have to find someone to feed our two wild cats, and we have to find someone to feed our dogs. Yes, we now have two. The puppy someone placed in our dog pen a week or two ago is still with us. Somehow she has worked her way into the affections of my wife, and I am not cruel enough to take her to the pound.
My French daughter-in-law has offered to keep her, but I'm afraid it would be a disaster to put that puppy in with her two Dalmatians. They are not merely sensitive and high-spirited; they are mad. I mean it. They are psychopathic dogs. It is more probable that we will leave her with our Italian daughter-in-law, who also loves dogs and has recently lost one. She still has one dog that is fairly rational.
We also have to ask a neighbor to pick up our daily newspaper and bring in the mail. My wife alone is good for two mail-order catalogues a day. I don't like to have the paper canceled because I always go through the entire pile when we come home. All you can do is read the top stories, to give you a sense of the flow of events, but you can never really catch up. The scene changes too fast.
I am always finding out that someone has died, or some other calamity has occurred of which I have no knowledge, because I was out of the country at the time. Mary Worth will probably have taken in an orphan and got her married off before we get back. I don't know how I am going to get along for a month without the paper.
I suppose I can keep up with the top of the international news through English-language newspapers, if any are allowed behind the Iron Curtain. But at best the only coverage I can expect on football will be the scores. What does it mean to a football fan to read, at the bottom of a sports page filled with news of soccer, that the Los Angeles Raiders beat the Seattle Seahawks, 21-20? I want to read all about it.
It's shocking to think that half of Western civilization doesn't know what's happening in the NFL.
God knows who's going to feed my wife's birds.