Historic Cordoba

by Bob Sparrow


We head inland to Cordoba, the second oldest city in the world, which once had a population of over one million people, but now has about 325,000.  This city, like much of the surrounding area, was first populated by the Romans (for about two centuries from 200 BC), then it was taken over by the Visigoths (a Germanic state), then occupied by the Muslims from 711 to 1492, then finally taken from the Muslims, in the Reconquista, by the Christians lead by forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.   Lots of history in this city!


But prior to getting to Cordoba, we visit the ancient city of Ronda, which sits on two spectacular cliffs connected by the visually spectacular Puente Vuevo (New Bridge).  After a stroll through the town, it has been arranged with a local family, that we would have lunch at their house.  The husband, who is a professional chef prepares our meal and his wife tells us about the town and how she grew up there.  Of course, the first order taken was for beer or wine, then a magnificent array of food was presented in about 4-5 courses – I can’t even discribe the food, but it all were very tasty!  Then back on the bus, Gus and off to Cordoba.

Lunch at Ronda home

On the outskirts of Cordoba we stop and visit a horse ranch and get a tour of the facilities and a training demonstration.  The horses are magnificent and range in breed from Arabians, French and Spanish Andalusians.  These horses are bred for show not for racing and they are beautiful, well-disciplined animals.  We thought we might get to see one of of the Andalusians give birth, but she wasn’t quite ready, and those things cannot be rushed.  One of the other really cool things to see at work were the Border Collie dogs that worked with the trainers to keep the horses in line – amazing!  We had another great dinner – maybe at the end of this trip I’ll try to sum up the variety of food we’ve been treated to – it’s different than what we get at home and excellent!


The highlight of any tour to Cordoba is the magnificent Mezquita, which was a Muslim Mosque turned into a Catholic Cathedral when the Christians defeated the Moors to take over the city.  At the time we arrive in Cordoba the ‘Annual Fair’ was going on this week, which helps clear the city streets, as everyone is on the outskirts of town at the fair, well, most everyone, there’s still a lot of people roaming around and we see a lot of pretty ladies dress in full-length, colorful flamenco dresses going through town.  The other event that just took place here is the ‘patio judging’, where anyone who wants to participate can fill their typical four-walled patio with flowers and other decorations to win prize money.  We get a chance to see some of the top patios – very cool.  We are told that watering all the plants in one of these patios typically takes between 2.5 – 3 hours a day!  Dinner on our own is schedule at a great restaurant in the Jewish section of town.  Fortunately, they put us in our own room as we tend to get quite noisy, which we did this night.  Well, bottomless wine was included with the dinner, so we didn’t want to make them feel bad about not drinking their wine, so we made sure we had plenty.  As I’m getting ready to start talking about going to Seville, I forgot that, in Malaga, we ate at Antonio Banderas’ restaurant,  El Pimpi; he wasn’t there, but the food was very good!  Back to Cordoba so we can head to Seville – I think that Spanish wine is affecting my memory.

Next is Spain’s ‘Cultural Center’ – Seville . . . I think!


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This annual Memorial Day post is written in remembrance of the soldiers from my high school who died in the Vietnam war.  I first published this in 2014, and each year since then I hear from people who relate similar stories about the losses suffered in their hometowns or, worse, their families. This weekend, as you commemorate the holiday, please take a moment to remember all of the brave young men and women we’ve lost in conflict. 

Five boys from my high school were killed in the Vietnam War. For a small town like Novato, that was an enormous number. We were such a close-knit community that even if we didn’t know one of them personally, we knew a sibling or friend. So when I planned my trip to Washington D.C. last month, I scheduled time to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to see their names on “The Wall”.

To refresh my memory, I pulled out my high school yearbooks and found them all – smiling for a formal portrait or posing for a team picture. Each image reflected a boy, fresh-faced and full of hope, his life stretching out before him. I looked at those young faces and found it hard to believe that their lives ended so soon after the bucolic days captured in the photos. None of them reached the age of 22, their dreams extinguished on the battlefield. While we, their classmates, lived long enough to enjoy the internet, smart phones and streaming movies, most of them didn’t live long enough to see color television.

I reflected on the stories I’ve read of WWII vets who speak so reverently of the “boys who didn’t come home”. As I perused the yearbooks, I finally understood their sentiment. It is only when looking back through a 50-year lens that one can appreciate just how young these soldiers were and how many of life’s milestones they missed. So, on this Memorial Day, I’d like to pay tribute to “The Boys from Novato”.

Robert Johnson
Bob Johnson joined the Army in the fall of 1965, in what would have been his Senior year in high school. I remember him as a very nice, quiet guy. Before he enlisted, he asked his high school sweetheart to marry him – they wanted something to hang on to while he was gone. His entry into the service occurred just as the war was escalating. He was sent to Vietnam in March of 1966 and three weeks later he was killed by enemy gunfire during “Operation Abilene” in Phuoc Tuy Province. As his former classmates excitedly anticipated their Senior prom and graduation, Robert had already made the ultimate sacrifice. In the 1966 yearbook, where his senior portrait would have been, his mother placed this photo of him in uniform along with a tribute. He was the first Vietnam casualty from Novato.

Mike Tandy

Mike Tandy graduated from NHS in 1965. His sisters, Sue and Sarah also attended NHS. Mike was a good student, who participated in the first swim team our high school fielded. He was an Eagle Scout and according to his friend Neil Cuzner, “he was highly intelligent, a great guy and an excellent scout. He was in the Senior Patrol and a young leader of our troop. He led by example”. After graduation Mike joined the Marine reserves and was called up in January 1966. He was sent to Vietnam shortly after that. On September 8th he was on patrol in Quang Nam with another soldier when his footfall detonated a landmine. He was killed instantly. He had celebrated his 19th birthday just five days prior. His classmates had moved on – either to college or working – but the Tandy family was left to grieve the loss of their son and brother. In 2005 Sarah posted to the virtual Vietnam Wall: “Thanks to all of you who come here and remember Mike. All of our lives were changed, and I thank you for not forgetting.”

Allan Nelson

Allan Nelson played football at College of Marin with my brother, Bob. Allan’s sister, Joanne, was in Bob’s class in high school and his brother, Steve, was in mine. So we were well aware when Allan was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam in July 1966 at the age of 20. Five months later, on December 1, we were devastated to learn he had been killed by gunfire during a battle in Binh Dinh Province. I still remember the day Steve came to school after Allan’s death; red-faced with tears streaming down his cheeks. He had always been such a happy guy but was now changed in ways that were hard for his fellow 16-year-old friends to understand. As I look back now, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him to go home from school each day, to face parents who were shattered by grief. Joanne posted the following on a memorial page and perhaps sums it up the best: “Allan was my brother, not just a brother, he was my best friend. All I know is December 1, 1966, was the saddest time for me and my family. My family loved each other so much, but when Al was killed the joy died in my family. Allan had his whole life planned. He had just turned 21 on Oct. 20th. When we were young, he couldn’t wait to be 21. I am so sorry for all the families that lost a son and a brother. It will be 33 years in Dec. The everyday sad feelings of loss are gone but on special days it still hurts.”

Jim Gribbin
Jim Gribbin graduated from NHS in 1966. He was on the football team, very active in school clubs and was well-liked by everyone he met. He joined the Army Reserves and when called up, became part of the Special Forces, where he rose to the rank of Captain. He served two tours of duty in an elite MIKE unit. In March 1970 his unit was on a night defensive mission in Kontum Province when they were ambushed by enemy troops. Jim sacrificed his own safety by running into open territory – twice – to aid and retrieve wounded soldiers under his command. He was shot both times and taken to a rear medical facility where he died from his wounds. Ironically, for this affable Irishman, he succumbed on St. Patrick’s Day. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for Valor. Jim’s dad was a veteran of WWII. When he died in 2011, he requested that he be buried in Jim’s grave, with his name and vitals carved on the back of Jim’s headstone. One can only imagine the grief that he carried all those years. Hopefully he is at peace now that they are forever reunited.

In 2018 I was contacted by a woman in New York who signed up for a grueling physical event that honors Vietnam veterans.  She chose Jim as her person to represent and wanted to know more about him. You can read my post about her and the event here: https://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=7111

Wayne Bethards

Wayne “Ed” Bethards was in my graduating class, but I didn’t know him well. His family moved to Novato just before the start of our senior year. His mother, Betty Bethards, was the author of the international best-seller, “The Dream Book”. Again, Neil Cuzner has provided a bit more insight: “Wayne was a good person. He had a great love of baseball and had actually started a small league while over in Nam. He was sharing his love of baseball with the Vietnamese children.” Cuzner went on to say that Wayne was a religious person and did not want to kill anyone; he struggled greatly with his deployment. He was drafted into the Army and was sent to Vietnam in October of 1970. In January 1971, he was killed while on patrol by the accidental detonation of a mechanical device in Quang Tin Province. He was the last boy from Novato High School to die in the war.

Jerry Sims

In April 2017, I heard from a former schoolmate, Dennis Welsh, about Jerry Sims, a boy who died in the conflict whose hometown was listed as Novato. I found in my research that sometimes the Novato “hometown” designation were for those affiliated with Hamilton Air Force Base, not graduates of Novato High School. Since there were no records of Jerry at NHS, I assumed he was from Hamilton, but that was not the case. Dennis told me that Jerry moved to Novato from Texas in the Spring of 1966 to live with his sister. He tried out for the football team during spring training and made the squad. But despite that automatic inclusion into a social group, he was unhappy living in California and being the “new kid” going into his Senior year. Dennis said that he never saw him again after football tryouts and didn’t learn of his fate until he spotted Jerry’s name on “The Wall”. After some research I learned that after Jerry left Novato in June 1966, he joined the Army and was sent to Vietnam in November. On February 6, 1968, he and several others in his unit were killed by small arms fire in Gia Dinh province. Jerry was 19 years old. His former platoon leader said this on his memorial page: “I was Jerry’s platoon leader on the day he died. He didn’t have to be there, since he had a job elsewhere in Vietnam, but he requested a transfer. He had already spent a year with the Wolfhounds, but for reasons all his own, he wanted to come back to this unit. He died doing his job as a squad leader in my platoon.” It would seem Jerry finally found his home – and some peace – with his Army brethren.

Jim Wright

Update May 2022: Each year this annual tribute receives a lot of viewings around Memorial Day.  This year I was fortunate to hear from Bill Sauber, a 1966 graduate of NHS, who told me of another NHS connection: Jim Wright.

Jim celebrated his 18th birthday in January 1966 and was drafted into the Army shortly thereafter. I suspect that he had dropped out of school, as he was in his sophomore year in the spring of 1966, so would not otherwise be eligible for the draft.  After basic training he was sent to Vietnam in May of that year as part of the 27th Infantry, known as the Wolfhounds. On November 5, 1966, he was killed by enemy gunfire in Darlac province. He posthumously received a Silver Star. His official records indicate that by the time Jim died, his father was not living in Novato, his mother could not be located, and he had married a woman named Linda.  It is hard to imagine that in the space of one year Jim celebrated his 18th birthday, was drafted, married, and ultimately, killed.  As with Bob Johnson and Jim Gribbin, he lies at rest in Golden Gate National Cemetery. I am hopeful that someone reading this post knew him and can provide more insight into his time at Novato High School.

When I visited “The Wall” I found the boys from Novato, each name etched on that long expanse of granite. I thought about their families and the sorrow they endured. It was overwhelming to realize that sorrow had been replicated 58,286 times. Each of the names on that black, shiny surface represent a family forever destroyed. As I walked along the pathway, I looked at all of the mementos that were left as tributes to the fallen – notes, flowers and flags mostly. But then I spotted something different – a tribute from Jim Dart to his brother, Larry. It was a Kingston Trio album, along with a note about the good times they shared learning the guitar and singing songs together. I was overcome with emotion reading Jim’s note. My brother, Bob, owned that same album. He and his best friend, Don, often entertained our family playing their guitars and singing songs from that record. Bob was a Naval officer in Japan during the Vietnam war and was safely returned to us. I wept as I stood looking at the album, realizing that but for the grace of God – and military orders – how easily it could have been Bob’s name on that wall and me leaving a Kingston Trio album in his memory. I can’t imagine our family without his presence all of these years. I ached for Sue and Sarah and Joanne and Steve and all the other siblings who never got to see gray hair on their brothers’ heads; their family gatherings forever marred by a gaping hole where their brothers should have been. When I stooped down to take the photo, I noticed that several other visitors had stopped to look at it too. As I glanced at those who were of a certain age, I could see my own feelings reflected in their eyes. We know how much of life these boys missed. We mourn their loss – and ours.

An Andalusian Adventure

by Bob Sparrow

Here Comes the Sun – on sale this week!

My Spanish isn’t that good, but I do know that Costa del Sol, which is the area we’re going to, means something like ‘sunny coast’, but we are greeted in Malaga (pronounced MAL-a-ga) by a rainstorm.  But it’s a light shower that goes away shortly after we get there, so we decide to stretch our legs and go for a walk down to the marina, as Malaga sits on the Mediterranean Sea.  It is a Sunday with lots of people out strolling, but very few shops are open.  The marina holds one particular boat that gets our attention, named Here Comes the Sun after the Beatles song, written by George Harrison; it’s simply spectacular AND we discovered that it’s for sale – only $195,000,000!

Coast line of Malaga

We’re back at our hotel by 5:00 to meet up with our guide and the 10 other people, some from the U.S. some from other parts of the world, who will be joining us on the rest of our journey.  At our meeting we enjoy several tapas dishes and some beer, wine or sangria as our guide, Daniel, who is very entertaining, introduces himself and goes through the travel agenda and some rules for the group.  The first rule he mentions is, we are not going to be on ‘Spanish time’, which is, if you’re supposed to be somewhere at 7:00, you can show up at 7:30 and not be ‘late’, and you can even show up at 7:45 and you’re still ‘on time’.  He says we’re going to be more like Germans on this tour, SHOW UP ON TIME, or you will be left behind!

After our ‘Meet and Greet’, we head across the ‘No River’ – that’s not the real name, but rather what our guide called it, because there is very seldom any water in it – to a hotel that has a rooftop bar 10 stories up.  And so we get an excellent view of the city and harbor as we have a nightcap or two, share some stories and watch the sun go down.  A great ending to what started out as a rainy day.

One of Picasso’s last paintings

Monday morning, we met our ‘local guide’, a delightful, well-informed woman named Lourdes, who knows her way through the narrow, maze-like streets of this city like the back of her hand, while pointing out historical and other interesting sites, with a great sense of humor.  Our first stop was a giant food market – it’s fairly quiet because it was Sunday and fishermen do not work on Sunday, but the market was still full of all kinds of fruits, vegetables and meats (mostly pig) and we had a chance to taste some delicious olives and nuts as well as watching a carving craftsman cut razor-thin slices of pork and package them for sale.  We also got to see the special carriages created for Holy Week, one holding the Virgin Mary and the other holding the coffin of Jesus.  The city’s architecture reflects the interesting history of Andalucía with its influence of Roman, Arabic and Catholic culture.  The food here is different and amazing; we usually ate small plates of a variety of food – tapas.  Yes, there were times when I hankered for a nice steak or some good pasta, but the food was amazing.

Our afternoon tour was highlighted by the Picasso Museum; as famous, Spanish painter Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga. Our tour guide, Lourdes, was an expert on Picasso’s life and art, so the museum really came alive for us with her as our guide.  We finished the evening with another creative, tapas dinner and then at another rooftop bar, just across the river from our hotel, where stories of the days’ activities were shared.

All white Frigiliana

The next morning, after breakfast, we were on a bus for a day-trip to Frigiliana and Nerja.  Frigiliana is one of the most beautiful ‘white villages’ of Andalusia; no it’s not made up of only white people, but rather every building in this village overlooking the Mediterranean, is painted white as it gets quite hot here and the white color helps deflect the sun’s heat.  We see homes and shops stacked together on this hillside as we walk through the narrow cobblestone streets of this picturesque village.

Nerja caves

Our next stop on this day-trip is the town of Nerja, while this city is called the ‘Balcony of Europe, as it sits on a cliff with a spectacular view of the Mediterranean, the main attraction in the town are the caves.  Huge caves that now have stairs in them so that you can go down several hundred feet, but the ceilings are high, in fact this is the home to the world’s largest stalactites.  Awesome!!  I’ll insert a photo here, but I’m sure it won’t do the place justice.

Back to Malaga for our last dinner in town on our own, then get lost in the maze that is Malaga on our way home.  But we made it.  Malaga has moved into contention as one of my favorite cities in the world.  Great food, great wine, great people!

More to come after Memorial Day week



Off to Madrid

by Bob Sparrow


One typically doesn’t look forward to 13 hours in the air plus another three or four sitting around an airport waiting, and I certainly wasn’t looking forward to the ‘getting there’ part of this journey to Madrid, but I have to say, this trip was pretty painless.  Two reasons: 1) our group of ten travelers was always entertaining, typically grabbing the attention of those around us with our laughter, either in the airport or on the plane, and 2) British Airways, which has now become my favorite airline.  From Los Angeles to London, we were in ‘Economy Plus’, which had the benefits of a little more legroom and unlimited free alcohol.  And it seemed that the more unlimited alcohol we had the more unlimited fun we had.  Since our seats were not together, but rather spread throughout the Economy Plus area, our conversations with each other were spread across the entire section and seemed to get the rest of the passengers involved in our good time.  Making it even better was that the flight attendants handling our section were good, fun and funny.   Love British Airways!

Rooftop bar at Puerta de Alcala

Once landing in Madrid and met by our bus driver, we walked what seemed several miles to get to the bus as buses are not allowed to pick up outside of where the luggage is picked up.  Not sure why.  We get to our beautiful hotel, Puerta de Alcala in Madrid, around 6:00 pm local time, which is 9 hours ahead of California.  We all had varying amounts of sleep on our redeye flight, so we decided to catch a quick nap, change the clothes that we’d been wearing for the last 24 hours, and were now a bit ‘gamey’, and meet at the hotel’s rooftop bar at 7:30 for dinner.

The rooftop bar at sunset was spectacular as was our server.  We had our first introduction to tapas as we ordered 10-12 different dishes ranging from Peruvian chicken to octopus – complemented by various drinks including some very nice Spanish Rioja wine, all very delicious.  A night cap in the downstairs bar and our body’s said, “I don’t know what time you think it is, but I need some rest!”

Madrid’s finest

After a good night’s sleep and a great buffet breakfast at the hotel, we met our tour guide, Eva, who would be taking us on a walking tour of Madrid.  We walked through all parts of the city (six hours worth), seeing the palace, the world-famous museum, the park, the opera house, all the major sites in Madrid, with Eva giving us great detail on the history of this magnificent city.  It’s really hard to imagine the amazing architecture and relate it to America, where something in the US is an antique if it’s one to two hundred years old; here, there are things that are thousands of years old.

Before we head out to dinner at a restaurant just a few blocks away, we meet at the hotel bar and have each person tell the group what their favorite part of the day was.  While the guys listed things like the palace, the museum, a great deli, the girls were most interested in the young, studly, local police officers who were guarding the congressional building.  OK, maybe it wasn’t their favorite, but it was close!

Dinner in Madrid

We walked to our restaurant for our 7:30 reservation; the place was empty except for one other couple.  Again, another great dinner of salmon, veal, Ox tail, along with some great olives and bread.  By the time we left at 9:30, the place was packed and people were still coming in for dinner.  After dinner we wandered the streets for a bit, stopped to have a drink and discovered a Michelin three-star restaurant and made a reservation for tomorrow night.

Our last day in Madrid is ‘on our own’, so the group scatters to all part of the city; with everyone hitting the Prada Museum, as it holds one the world’s greatest collection of art; works from Raphael, Ruben, Velazquez, El Greco, Goya, Rembrandt, just to name a few.  I was amazed at the size of the paintings; many of them were 8-10 feet wide and 12-14 feet high, some bigger.  After the museum we walked another couple of miles through the city to eat lunch at the ‘World’s Oldest Restaurant’ – it’s been open since 1725, but we needed to make a reservation as it was Saturday and the city was buzzing with activity, so we never got in, but the Warrens and the Webbs made it, as we saw them dining there when we arrived.  Then back to the hotel for a little rest before we topped off the evening with dinner at a Michelin 3-star restaurant within walking distance from our hotel.  After tapas for two days, a nice steak tasted mighty good!

Malaga without the rain

Sunday is ‘moving day, so it’s up early for breakfast then a bus to the train station and a two-and-a-half-hour train ride to Malaga, where our ‘official Collette ‘Spain coast/Portuguese Riviera Tour’ starts.   We arrived around 1:00 pm in a fairly heavy rainstorm, check into our hotel and meet up with the other travelers at the ‘Welcome Meeting’.

Next report is on Thursday


I. Magnin and The City of Paris – 1950’s

As a young child, and through high school, a trip from my small hometown into downtown San Francisco was a special treat.  I’m old enough to remember that in the very early days I had to wear my “Sunday best”, including gloves, and my mother always wore a hat.  The twenty-two-mile trip to The City landed us in a foreign land of glamour and sophistication. We would wander by the storefronts, my mother drooling over the dresses in the windows at I. Magnin and the City of Paris, while I patiently waited for the moment we could go to Blum’s.  Blum’s was a restaurant adjacent to I. Magnin, famous for its confectionery.  A sundae from Blum’s was a sight to behold.  Portending my future relationship with desserts, my eyes were never bigger than my stomach.  Not a drop of ice cream or fudge ever went to waste.

The Nordstrom escalators

In 1978 I began working in the financial district of The City.  When time permitted, I would walk up to Union Square at lunch, and found myself as mesmerized by the shop windows as when I was a child.  This was especially true at Christmas, when the City of Paris erected their giant Christmas tree under their rotunda and Gump’s was a treasure trove of exotic (and expensive) gifts from around the world.  I loved working in The City, and considered myself lucky to work in an environment that was both professionally and personally rewarding.  In 1988 a new shopping experience was added to downtown San Francisco when Nordstrom opened a five-story, flagship store on Market Street.  To enter the store, one had to navigate a series of escalators that wound through the center of the building.  If you were going to the top floor, you were treated the whole way up to lavish displays on each floor, designed to make you stop and buy.  Or at least gawk.  I worked for a woman who was obsessed by Nordstrom – it was not unusual on any given day to see her wander back into the office clutching one of their signature silver boxes.  She performed more than one of my performance reviews in the Nordstrom Cafe, which was fine with me except there was no wine.

People camped out on Market Street

So, with this backdrop I hope you can appreciate how disappointed I was to read of Nordstrom’s decision to close their Market Street location.  They cited the “dynamics of the downtown San Francisco market” as factors that contributed to the decision.  In other words, there is too much crime and not enough foot traffic to justify keeping the store open.  Nordstrom is not alone.  In April, Whole Foods announced the closure of its downtown San Francisco location – a location that it opened just last year.  But it isn’t only Whole Foods and Nordstrom that are closing shop. A slew of other big brand stores are closing due to the street conditions and rampant crime.  In fact, 20 retailers have announced closures in the Union Square area just since 2020.  The companies that have chosen to stay (for now) have taken almost absurd precautions to protect staff and inventory.  The Target store in the Mission District has locked down entire sections due to rampant shoplifting.  Imagine having to find a store clerk to unlock the toothpaste.  I read an observation that I fear may come true – that the hassle of having to get everyday items unlocked before you can purchase them may lead to more store closures, as people will find it easier to have items delivered by Amazon.

I believe this is a problem that will not go away soon, as there is no simple answer.  The tech exodus certainly has hurt the downtown area, as has the trend toward online shopping.  San Francisco also enacted a law that allows minor crimes to go unpunished, which has led to an escalating level of more serious offenses.  Add in the homeless and drug problems, which have garnered so much publicity of late, and the result is the average visitor is reluctant to stroll downtown.

Many of the people who work in the financial district don’t remember when the heart of The City was glorious and safe.  They now see walking downtown, maybe from Montgomery Street up to Union Square, as an obstacle course to be endured, with a destination that has been decimated.  I feel sorry for them, for there was a time when that walk, and the city itself, was truly magical.  I hope it can regain its former glory.

Spain, Portugal and Topless Bars

by Bob Sparrow

Spain & Portugal

In my next missive, I’ll be coming to you from somewhere in Spain or Portugal and as I’ve prepared for this six-couple, 16-day trip, I have, of course, researched the major cities we will be visiting – Madrid, Malaga, Ronda (Help me!!), Seville, Lisbon, Cascais, Sintra and Fatima.  You’ll be hearing highlights from each of these burgs as we visit them.  But what has really kept me busy these last few weeks is learning the amazing history of the ‘Iberian Peninsula’.  To wit:

  • Spain was once THE most powerful country in the world; it had spread its influence to North, Central and South America as well as taking over the Philippines for over 300 years. It has left a whole lot of people, all over the world, speaking Spanish.  While this phrase is more commonly attributed to the English, the Spanish Empire was the first where the sun never set.
  • The modern world’s first novel, Don Quixote, was written by Spanish author, Miguel de Cervantes
  • The Moors (Muslims), from northern Africa, invaded what is now Spain and Portugal and ruled the area for 800 years, from the early 8th century to the late 15th century, when they were ultimately defeated by Christian invaders.
  • Spain has over 600 ‘Blue Flag’ beaches (meets environmental standards), more than another other country in the

    Friendly & Fuzzy Franco

    Northern Hemisphere.

  • Although they met only days before their ‘arranged’ marriage in 1467, the wedding of Ferdinand of Aragon, who was 19, and Isabella of Castile, who was 18, unified Spain as they ruled for the next 30 years.
  • The Spanish Inquisition was intended primarily to identify heretics among those who converted from Judaism and Islam to Catholicism. According to modern estimates, around 150,000 people were prosecuted for various offences during its three-century duration
  • Spain has more bars than any other European country. However, I’m sure you can appreciate my disappointment when I finally realized they were talking about ‘tapas bars’, not topless bars!
  • The famous or infamous, Generalissimo Franco, was a dictator of Spain from 1938 – 1973. Yes, Spain was under a dictatorship in the ‘70s!!  During World War II, Spain remained neutral, but supported Hitler, because he supported Franco during the Spanish Civil War.  Franco’s use of forced labor, concentration camps, executions and wartime killings created a death toll in the range of 420,000!

    “It’s a tapas bar, NOT a topless bar, you idiot!”

  • Portugal was the first country to practice ‘colonialism’; from the 15th century on for the next 600 years, they started creating colonies in Africa, South America, North America, Oceania, and South Asia.
  • Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan was the first to find a route to East Asia through the Americas in 1519.
  • Vasco da Gama, another Portuguese explorer, was the first European to reach India by sea, thus linking Europe to Asia.
  • Fatima is the Portugal city where, as the story goes, three shepherds allegedly spotted the Virgin Mary in their fields in 1917. Since then, the number of pilgrims to Fatima run from about six to eight million every year.
  • Porto, Portugal houses the world’s most stunningly beautiful MacDonald’s restaurant  complete  with  an  elegant  chandelier.

    Portugal McDonald’s

  • There is at least one of our travel companions who wants to take a serious look at Portugal real estate – its climate is very similar to Southern California, it has great people, great beaches and great food – lots of ex-Pats there! So, if I’m not back by June 1st, you’ll know where to look for me.

OK, it’s difficult to try and summarize the historical highlights of these two ancient and amazing countries in a 600-word blog, so just plan to come along with us and see for yourself, without the hassle of delayed flights, luggage being lost or trying to figure out what not to wear to a topless bar.



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This is quite a big week for us unabashed Anglophiles.  The coronation of King Charles will take place on Saturday, with all the pomp and circumstance of…well, a royal coronation.  Realistically, this may be the only coronation I witness, although Charles doesn’t look all that healthy. Then again, I’m not so hot some days myself.  So, although I would love to live long enough to see William crowned (and observe whatever high jinks Prince Louis might provide), I’ve decided to immerse myself in this coronation.  I’ve read about people in the U.S. who are throwing coronation watch parties, where attendees are required to dress for the occasion, including an appropriately outrageous hat.  I don’t think I could attend one of those parties – I don’t have a pair of sweatpants or baseball cap fit for the occasion.

According to my Ancestry DNA profile, I am 70% English, with another 20% of my make-up from the other UK countries.  Even Dash the Wonder Dog has British lineage and clearly, he is the real King Charles, so I’m all in for the spectacle of the coronation.  These are my people.  Of course, “my people” may very well have been horse thieves or scoundrels of some other ilk who were barred from attending any coronation in their day.  But still, there is something in my blood that stirs at the very notion of a royal event.

For those of you who are also interested, or at least mildly entertained, I’ve dug up some fun facts about the event.

  • King Charles will be the 40th sovereign crowned at Westminster Abbey, where every sovereign has been crowned since 1066.  In fact, before the Abbey, coronations were held at whichever location was most convenient, including Bath, Oxford and Canterbury. However, the religious ceremony has remained largely unchanged for more than 1,000 years.
  • More than 2,000 guests will attend the coronation, which is just slightly under the total seating capacity.  In contrast, more than 8,000 people attended Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, many of them in special (read “uncomfortable”) specially built grandstands. A small railway track had to be built through the church to transport the scaffolding needed to build them – which, laid end to end, would have reached from London to Paris.

  • Charles and Camilla will have a tricked-out ride – the Gold State Coach. Since it was built in 1762, the Gold State Coach has been used at every coronation since that of George IV in 1821.  Actually, it is not really gold, but wood painted gold.  Still, it weighs four tons, and is so heavy that the horses can only go at a walking pace when pulling it.  Queen Elizabeth was not a fan of it.  She said it was quite uncomfortable due to its lack of suspension and cushioning.
  • The coronation ceremony includes the anointing of the new monarch. The anointing oil has been perfumed with the essential oils of sesame, rose, jasmine, cinnamon, neroli, benzoin and amber and orange blossom.  Wow – sounds like something you’d find at Bath and Body Works.  There is a royal family connection to the oil.  It was consecrated in Jerusalem, produced from olives that grew from groves on the Mount of Olives, at the Monastery of the Ascension and the Monastery of Mary Magdalene, the burial place of Charles’ grandmother Princess Alice of Greece.

  • The King will be wearing St. Edward’s Crown. The crown weighs 4 pounds and 12 ounces and is made of solid gold. That’s heavy.  To see just how heavy, I put a five-pound sack of flour on my head and marched around the house.  Let’s just say I won’t be trusted with valuable jewels anytime soon. The crown was quietly removed from the Tower of London in December to be resized for the King. It was initially made for Charles II’s coronation to replace the medieval crown parliamentarians melted in 1649 after King Charles I was executed.  Fact is that the history of kings named Charles is mixed. While Charles I was beheaded, his son, Charles II (the king who the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is named after) was by all accounts an effective ruler.  I’m hoping Charles III ends up with dogs named after him, not with his head perched on Tower Bridge.

It’s going to be a fun weekend watching all of the festivities.  I’ve taped hours of coverage and plan to watch with my King Charles, who, undoubtedly, is cuddlier than the real king.


Cranial Constipation

by Bob Sparrow

It’s another blog about nothing!

I think most of our readers know by now that both Suzanne and I love to write.  This proclivity can have a downside, in fact, a disease called ‘writer’s block’, with which I seem to be afflicted this week.  So, I’ve been pondering all facets of my life to come up with something intelligent and interesting.  OK, intelligence has never been a criterion for getting into this blog.  I did just return from a golf outing in Las Vegas last week where I completed the trifecta: I lost money at every game I played, I played three rounds of horrendous golf, and went way off my diet.  So, forgive me for not wanting to revisit that memory.

I had another idea.  A few weeks ago, I blogged about ChatGPT, an advancement in Artificial Intelligence that can write for you, among other things, an original Shakespearian sonnet to your loved one, which I saw demonstrated first hand.  So, being desperate, I asked ChatGPT to write a ‘Bob Sparrow blog’.  Chat GPT went on line, read all of my blogs and gleaned that I enjoyed travel, astronomy and music, so wrote a blog about me singing the song, ‘Fly Me to the Moon’.  Like me, it tried to be funny, but mostly wasn’t.  A Shakespearian sonnet it was not,

3.1 million followers on Twitter!!

Then I thought about doing a ‘Subscription Drive’ blog – to see if I could get more people to sign up for our fee-free blog.  I see people like Harvey Weinstein, Derek Chauvin, Bill Cosby and Grand Wizard David Duke, with millions of followers, and we have less than 200 subscribers!!!  One would think that after 13 years of never missing a Monday morning deadline to delight the public, that that number would be a lot higher, OK, maybe a little higher.  I do know people who regularly read the blog, and make a positive comment to me in person, that are not subscribers.  I sometimes casually mention to them that in the right-hand column in every blog there is a place to subscribe, but they are not sitting at their computer at the time, so it’s an easy thing to forget.  I don’t take it personally; I’m thinking they just don’t want any more ‘junk mail’ cluttering up their ‘in box’, I get it!

I could do a follow-up to my last blog, which showed our backyard in shambles, but it’s still in shambles, but has progressed to the point where we are now second-guessing some of our decisions about pavers, stacked stone, coping, etc., but I’ll wait until it’s all done for a final judgement and a possible blog revisit.

“If the universe was created from nothing . . .”

With elections coming up either sooner than we’d like, or not soon enough, we see a variety of sombreros being thrown into various proverbial rings.  And while political rhetoric can sometimes be interesting, the ‘bull shit meter’ usually goes bonkers during these times, thus we here at ‘From A Birdseye View’ find something else to write about.  So rather than thinking of this blog as a Seinfeld episode about nothing, think of it as an abstention from opining on the current political climate.

One of the common refrains that Suzanne and I share with each other when we post a blog like this one is, “What did they pay?”  inferring that they got what they paid for – nothing! Having reread this post prior to publishing on Monday, I think I’m beginning to understand why we haven’t broken that 200 subscribers’ mark.  Thanks for occasionally looking at our blog.



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Last week I watched a television show that took me back 60 years, to the joy of languishing on the beach, slathering Coppertone on my body, and listening to “surf” music.  The show was “A Grammy Salute to the Beach Boys” and it generated a fun, sometimes tearful, walk down memory lane.  I have always loved the Beach Boys and to this day, I have their “Endless Summer” album on my car’s hard drive.  I marvel at how I can forget why I’ve walked into a room, but when I hear one of their old songs, I can tell you exactly where I was when I first heard it.  The Grammy show featured many of today’s top performers singing the Beach Boys’ hits, including John Legend, Brandi Carlisle, Hanson, Andy Grammer, Leann Rimes, and many others.  Honestly, I didn’t recognize a lot of the groups, but I appreciated that they appreciated music from almost 60 years ago.

I spent two hours singing along with the performers and reveling in memories that can only be tied to the dual teenage emotions of fun and angst. I used to know a lot about the Beach Boys, but these days I only retain water, so I decided to re-familiarize myself with their backstories.  For those of you who also grew up during this period, I thought you might appreciate the following fun, and some not so fun, facts about them.

  • Brian Wilson was left to watch his two brothers one weekend when his parents took a trip to Mexico. They left him some allowance money to feed himself and his brothers, but Brian decided to use that money to buy musical instruments and recruited his brother Carl and his cousin, Mike Love, to help him recreate the harmonies of his favorite songs.  Childhood friend Al Jardine and Brian’s other brother, Dennis, soon joined these efforts and thus began one of the most famous groups in American music.
  • The Wilson brothers’ father, Murry, decided to involve himself in their endeavors as their manager. This was both a blessing and a curse for the boys. Murry helped get the group into the public eye, but he also had a chilling dark side. For much of the boys’ childhood, Murry was physically abusive towards his sons. He would beat and spank them for even the smallest infraction of his rules.  In one of the strangest punishments, he removed his own glass eye and forced his sons to stare into his empty eye socket.
  • Murry’s abuse of his sons not only had an emotional impact on them, but it also had a physical impact as well. Brian ended up mostly deaf in one of his ears as a result of his father hitting him so hard over the years. That makes the fact that he could compose such complex harmonies and instrumentations all the more impressive.

  • Despite their reputation as the “surfer band”, Dennis Wilson was the only member of the group who surfed.  In fact, Brian Wilson has an extreme fear of water and stays as far away from the beach as possible.
  • Dennis was also the only member who initially had no musical training.  They ended up assigning him to be the group’s drummer, thinking he could pick the skill up as he went along. Because of this, the group often hired professional drummers to fill in for him on many of its early recordings.
  • One of the first songs that Brian wrote was called “Surf City.” In a gesture of friendship, he gave the song to the group Jan & Dean, instead of having the Beach Boys record it.  Jan & Dean’s recording of the song ended up reaching number one on the charts.  Needless to say, Murry was not happy.
  • One of the group’s first big hits, and still one of their most popular songs, is the classic summer anthem “Surfin’ USA.” However, rock ‘n roll pioneer Chuck Berry noticed that the melody sounded suspiciously like an old song of his called “Sweet Little Sixteen.” Although Brian has never denied that the song’s melody was a reworking of the Berry tune, a back-and-forth copyright dispute between Murry Wilson and Chuck Berry’s record company resulted in the courts crediting the song solely to Wilson, then to both Wilson and Berry. Ironically, the song’s lead singer, Mike Love, received no formal credit at all despite his claim that he wrote the lyrics.
  • During a tour in 1964, Brian Wilson suffered a full-blown nervous breakdown while on an airplane traveling between concert sites. His bandmates rushed to his aid as he began shrieking uncontrollably and shouting into his pillow. For the sake of his mental health, the group decided that he would retire from touring and instead would stay home and focus solely on songwriting and recording from that point on. The person who replaced him on that tour?  None other than Glen Campbell.

  • Although staying home gave Brian the time he needed to focus on creating more incredible music, it quickly took a dark twist. Around this time, a friend introduced Brian to psychedelic drugs, and they changed his life forever. At first, they opened up new avenues of creativity for him that would take the Beach Boys’ music to new and fascinating places, such as the Pet Sounds album, but their effects also added tremendously to the mental health struggles that he was already facing.  Soon Mike Love and Brian Wilson began to fight about the direction of their music.  In addition to the discord, they also suffered the tragic death of Dennis Wilson, who drowned in Marina Del Ray in 1983.
  • After Brian regained his mental health, the group re-formed and in 1988 they released the song “Kokomo”, an instant classic that became their first Number One hit since “Good Vibrations” in 1966. The 22-year separation between these two tracks marked the longest-ever span between two Number One hits by any single band.
  • In 2023 Mike Love and Brian Wilson are still feuding.  Love and Bruce Johnston (who joined in 1965), have put together a “new” Beach Boys band and will begin a nation-wide tour in May, featuring all of the classic songs from the 60’s.

I don’t know if I would go see the “new” band, even if it was playing across the street.  I guess I’d rather listen to my old CD and remember the original group, when they were in perfect vocal harmony, when we were all young and tan, and the summers were indeed, endless.

The Storm Before the Calm

by Bob Sparrow

After recent trips to Hawaii and Palm Desert, and getting ready for a trip to Spain and Portugal next month, I should be content with just relaxing in our backyard for a few weeks, however . . . the backyard is anything but relaxing.  Those who have been to our backyard might be wondering why I couldn’t relax in our ‘Hawaii-transported-to-California’ atmosphere. Well, late last month we decided that things were looking a little tired out there, Hawaii was looking more like Hawaiian Gardens, a city in the suburbs of Los Angels, next to a freeway, known for its gambling casino and not the least bit tropical.  OK, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but it was 30 years old and in need of a facelift. As those who may have gone down this path before, know that a facelift can often turn into a complete body makeover – and so it did.  I have to say, it pained me to see the crew come in and demolish our pool and yard, eliminating our large planter and three beautiful palm trees that I planted 30+ years ago.

Deciding what to put in after all was demolished was not easy.  We visited several tile and pool places and got samples and were expected to pick a paver that’s going to cover most of our backyard, from a sample six inches square!  We get to look at one piece of stacked stone to ‘imagine’ it covering all the areas it’s supposed to cover.  We looked a lot of photos of pebble tech, but photos and real-life colors aren’t EXACTLY the same.  Other issues included the breakage of existing sprinkler lines during the demo process and, of course, rain.  We needed the rain, I get it, but enough already!

Linda and I didn’t agree on everything, but we were finally able to find middle ground when choosing pavers, stacked stone, pool tile, pebble tech, coping and stucco color.  Yet to be agreed upon are things like new furniture, umbrellas, fire-features and whatever else is going to end up back there.  I did come to realize that I needed to acquiesce a bit, as Linda’s love for negotiation helped get us the best deal – although she reminded me, ‘best’ is a relative term and not to quit my day job!!

One of the benefits we really didn’t count on, was having a Port-O-Potty in our driveway for the first half of this year – it’s really handy when I’m working in the front yard and need a bathroom break – we might just leave it there!

I’ve included a couple of photos of the wreckage, which look akin to the ravages left by Hurricane Iniki, the worst hurricane to ever hit Hawaii – winds of 145 mph, with gusts up to 225 mph.  OK, maybe I’ve taken a little liberty with the truth here, but it’s a mess, a wet, muddy, rocky mess.  But sometime, hopefully by summer, we’ll be sipping Margaritas and Mai Tais by the pool and second-guessing our choice of . . . just about everything!