December 9, 2010
The Lotus Eaters were a people who spent their days – and, to the point, months and years – in a swoon induced by their consumption of the lotus plants that were the main food staple where they lived. It was a narcotic, and it made them worthless lay-abouts. Any who ate the plant likewise ceased to care about anything. Odysseus is said to have had his crewmen who ate the fruit tied to benches on deck to keep them from returning to eat more. It's good stuff. But, you know, it steals your life out from under you.
There are lots of things for which I could use the Lotus as an archetype. Marx said religion was the opiate of the people. I and others have nominated television for that honor. Some have mentioned consumerism. Any addiction qualifies: alcohol, heroin, cigarettes, whatever. I'm going to talk about mine, but I hope you will take an opportunity to ask yourself if you are eating a Lotus of some type, and if so, what it is doing to you.
I'm lucky. My Lotus is maybe the most socially acceptable Lotus ever. There are probably genetic and environmental reasons why it has had such a hold on me for half a century. I had alcoholics on both sides of my family tree, and I am lucky as hell that alcohol is not my Lotus. But sugar is, and I have read that it is a common occurrence for the children of alcoholics to have "problems" with sugar.
I quit sugar a year or so ago. I had noticed, when I had whooping cough, that my arthritis no longer troubled me. I attributed that to either a lack of caloric intake or a lack of sugar, especially. (I lost 25 pounds in one month. You need a pertussis booster as an adult if you want to refresh your immunity to whooping cough. I recommend it.) So on September 27, 2009, I gave it up.
I decided not to be a "Sugar Nazi." I would accept 2 grams of sugar per serving of whatever I was buying, but no more. And I decided I would let myself indulge over the holidays. I did really, really well for two months before Thanksgiving. I'd say I eliminated 85-90% of the sugar from my daily diet. I even cut out coffee for a while, since I so often had it with a biscotti. It was not nearly so hard as I thought.
Then the holidays came, and went, and I never got back on the wagon. Recently, since my return from Germany, the effects of my sugar- and carbohydrate-heavy diet have become pronounced. My allergies were horrible when I got back. My arthritis has been a bit more insistent in its request for ibuprofen. My scalp is getting . . . well, crusty is probably the right word. But the most pronounced effect is this: I sleep like a 90 year old, all through the day. And my head is in a nearly constant haze. And, from time to time, I feel my blood pressure doing acrobatics, one time taking me to the brink of passing out. Also, what I have taken before to be back pain (since the pain was, actually, in my back) I have decided is more likely to be some internal organ protesting at the crud it is expected to process.
Tuesday, except for the time I spent at the Bosque del Apache and eating breakfast and dinner, I slept nearly the entire day. I also slept much of this afternoon.
But then angels appeared to warn me that I was on the wrong path, heading for the big sleep. (Ya like melodrama? I do. This is mundane stuff; it needs a little spicing up.)
My friend Andrea mentioned her ongoing battle with sugar a couple of days ago. And my friend Lauren, who is soon to visit, told me what she eats, in answer to my e-mail asking her how I should provision for her visit. She is gluten-free, and eats well, if idiosyncratically.
All of a sudden, I got the urge to go back on the wagon. Crackers went to the compost (sleep, little earthworms. Sleeeep.), and I went to Trader Joe's, where I bought soup, and fish, and veggies and nuts. I am so glad I didn't have to throw out any Klondike bars. I'm not sure I could have. Tonight I am going to go through my previous notes on sugar, the glycemic index, carbs, and nutrition. I will construct a shopping list of food that will feed me, energize me, and make my body go ahhhh. I expect to stay awake through the days until I am in my 80's. I expect I will lose some weight (I'm about 220 now). And I expect my arthritis and allergies will calm WAY down. I will probably lose some weight, too – especially since I will have more energy for exercise.
So, I'm marking my calendar. December 9, 2010: the day I grew up, took charge of my diet, and didn't look back. One day, as they say, at a time. Dinner tonight was butternut squash soup with herbs and spices added in, and edamame for fiber and protein.
Maybe tomorrow I can get some work done.
If you think sugar or carbs may be a problem for you, check out this web site. It may give you some ideas about what the symptoms are of someone who is sugar sensitive. Then, you know: do your own research or talk to your doctor or nutritionist. Also, if you are interested in any other dietary or weight-related issues, I recommend The Philosopher's Diet. It is about dieting the same way Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is about motorcycle maintenance.
Got a Lotus? Or does a Lotus have you?
I went to the Bosque del Apache on Monday and Tuesday of this week. It was warmer than usual, about 30º F just before sunrise. It is one of my favorite places in the world. Saw bald eagles, a pheasant, a skunk, and lots of deer, in addition to the usual, and magnificent, cranes and geese. If you live in New Mexico, I recommend visiting. If you live elsewhere, I recommend visiting, too: I'll be happy to be your driver and tour guide.
October 7, 2010
But the statement is WHAT I miss. I miss America's breakfast culture. I haven't had what I think of as a real breakfast since July. I look forward to going to Harry's Roadhouse and Real Food Nation almost as soon as I return.
I miss riding my bikes. On the quiet roads of Eldorado and Old Las Vegas Highway. And I pledge to do more of it, not because I should (but as an environmentalist and old fat white guy, I should) but because absence has made the heart grow fonder.
I miss wrastling with Boz, and visiting the dog park and touching the other dogs (and talking with my friends there, but I covered that in paragraph 1). And wrastling with Boz. I hear my house sitter has taken exemplary care of him, so I expect my homecoming to be met with a shrug from Boz, which is as I would hope.
Berlin has most of what I love about life, and I have sought it out here. You know, beer . . . Also, it has what I've come to think of as the scarf culture. Once the weather turned cold, everyone with any style began wearing big scarves, diaphonous scarves, bright scarves, serious scarves. Also, women's shoes here . . . I never notice women's shoes at home. And men's shoes here are nothing special, either. But women's shoes and boots are - pardon the expression - fabulous. Not to mention their stockings, which are richly patterned with the clear intention (or so it seemed to me) of demanding that you notice the legs. And so I have. Love Berlin. Hamburg, too.
Berlin is not green Mecca. They still wrap their fruit in globes of plastic. But they take recycling seriously, and do little things like stop the escalators if no one is near; when you approach, it starts right up again. Same with the lights in some, but not all, hotels. Hallways are dark if there is no movement. Enter the hallway and the lights near you come on, and precede you down the hallway. And their bike-friendly traffic rules, bike lanes, and bike-friendly mass transit all make it silly for most people to own cars, much like in New York.
And then there is Berlin's Leute, the people. Stern of mien at the outset, but accessible. They resent Americans' too-easy vapid excuse for friendliness, that asks "How aer you" without making eye contact or waiting for an answer, but they are ready and willing to talk about serious things and to make friends, if you really want to. I'll return to Berlin. Soon. But first, I need to get some breakfast.
September 21, 2010
You really can't understand a lack of enthusiasm for the Democratic Party? Really? Explaining it feels like having to explain a joke: once it's explained, it won't be funny anyway, so maybe it's not worth explaining. But I'll try.
Getting excited - not just doing my (dubious) duty and voting, but getting UP for it, fired up, ready to go and all that - for the Democratic Party is a lot like getting excited at the news that there will be a Matrix 4 movie.
It's like trying to get it up for a date who just told you she'd do you in spite of the fact that you smell kinda funny and the dinner you bought her is making her a little sick.
It's like learning you won a free trip to California, and then finding out it's for a Trekkie Convention in Modesto.
It's like learning you inherited property . . . in Española.
It's like getting excited about being on hold for only 20 minutes. Or like being excited about going to the dentist because you don't have to have ALL of your teeth pulled.
It's like Rosemary being excited about having a baby.
You can make a case for all of those things having upsides. (Hey, Matrix 4 means someone is working!) And you can say that these developments are better than bad news (say, a new Paris Hilton movie.) But getting excited about them requires a level of compartmentalization that seems unnatural - or maybe supernatural.
So, I've almost never missed voting in an election. I will probably, if only by force of habit, vote in this one. Unless, you know, it's cloudy or something. But no, I don't think I'll be putting streamers on my car and honking through the city at night. But if you feel differently, go for it.
September 15, 2010
The Christmas Holstein. I had a picture of it on ny iPad. But that's not all. It was the Jewish Christmas Holstein. Not Hanukah. Not Jewish New Year. Jewish Christmas. And the Holstein was collapsed on the brick hearth, next to the Jewish Christmas tree, as if it had had too much kosher egg nog. This was taken at . . . Megan Sisco's house (sorry to drag you into this Megan. I've never even seen your house.).
Where was I looking at this picture of the Jewish Christmas Holstein in Megan's house? Why, funny you should ask.
Me and a groupa guys were hanging out at the top of a ladder going down into this pit, you see. This was, near as I can tell, somewhere in the Four Corners: New Mexico, Arizona or Utah, I'd guess. Just hanging out there at the mouth of the pit. One guy pointed out the name of one of the peaks, which I don't recall (that's another thing: I NEVER remember my dreams. Maybe once a year I do.).
And just before I awoke, there was a discussion about not holding the iPad over the pit - which we then did because guys fool around like that. So, of course, the iPad gets bobbled, and one guy falls into the pit, so we lose, not just the iPad, but one of the guys. Nope! REWIND! He's back! The iPad gets bobbled, the guy gets bobbled, all of us get bobbled, and everything holds.
September 6, 2010
It was really, really hot down there. The same level of heat - high 90's, low 100's - that contributed to Russia's tragic fires. My reluctantly aging body reacted with repeated attacks of heat rash. I had to respond. Some ideas on the table were 1) to come home, 2) to continue as planned, but to upgrade my accommodations - ergo, the cost - to hotels and hostels with air conditioning, and 3) do what animals and plants do when the weather changes on them: head to more pleasant climes. I wanted to go with the second option, but the idea of traveling to these places, only to stay in a hotel room most of the day, seemed like a waste of time and money. The only reason to do it was to be able to check those places off of my list.
So I looked north. Far north. Denmark, Sweden, Finland north. Arctic Frigging Circle north, and no, I am not kidding. As I looked that way, I saw Berlin. I wanted to visit my former neighbor, John, who lives and works in Berlin almost half the year. But I was still thinking of covering a lot of territory. I had heard good things about Poland, especially Warsaw and Krakow. I had made a friend from Copenhagen. I'd have loved to see the parts of Norway I missed seeing when I was there ten years ago. And then there were the Baltic states, which are blossoming since coming out from under Soviet domination. And lots of other parts of Germany, too, like Lake Constance, the Black Forest, Hamburg, and on and on.
You can see how I'd basically just like to travel for the rest of my life. There is a lot to see and learn.
But then I began to consider spending some extra time wherever I landed in Germany, maybe taking some classes, trying to resurrect my high school German. I was in touch with John, trying to coordinate my visit with the time when he would be in Berlin rather than Berkeley. I had planned on just visiting for a couple of days (you know the old saying about house guests and fish), but when I told him I was thinking of staying longer, taking classes, he offered me the use of his flat while he was away.
How could I resist? Berlin is one of those cities - like Paris, New York, Istanbul - that are world cities, not just representative of their home country. To be able to stay for a while, take classes, maybe even for a month, and make weekend excursions to surrounding towns - it seemed ideal. So I hitched a ride with a hostel friend to Bucharest from Bulgaria and caught a flight to Berlin.
John was here for the first few days and helped me to settle in. I rested up from the stresses of the heat, did a little sightseeing, and placed an ad in Craig's List Berlin for a German teacher. I met Olga and interviewed her, and a few days later signed on to have her teach me German. We've been meeting three hours a day, three days a week. It's slow going, but es geht, as they say.
As I have class in another hour or so, I must go. I am also moving out of John's place in the next day or two, into a flat I have rented while its owner - a German bureaucrat and rock star who spends much of her year working in Hanoi - is away. Later, I will catch you up on my neighborhoods, my trip to Hamburg and its repercussions, and what the bicycling culture is like here.
Oh, and I should tell you, too: my original itinerary had me returning home in late September. My plans, such as they are, are now for me to come back to Santa Fe in late October. My flexibility is thanks to Rick Lass, who is sitting Boz and my house while I am gone. Thanks, Rick!
August 15, 2010
One of the first things I have noticed and liked is that a LOT of Berliners ride bicycles here - a fact that is best substantiated by being on a sidewalk around 5 PM when work gets out. The other thing I like is that I have yet to see a single bicyclist wearing anything other than street clothes. No special equipment or clothing is necessary. Makes me a little embarrassed by my biking wardrobe.
Another thing I like is how well-organized the mass transit systems are. In contrast to every other city I have visited on this trip, in Berlin you never have to guess at which stop you are arriving. If it is not announced verbally or on a lightboard on the train or bus, there are large signs at every station. There are also color-coded maps listing every stop and connection for the train system, and the maps of Berlin that are for sale do a good job of showing the same. In short, whether you are a visitor coming here for the first time or a Berliner going to a new part of the city, the uncertainties are kept to a minimum. And if you ARE unsure of something, Berliners are happy - happy! - to be of help if they can.
My only minor complaint is the difficulty in finding a place to log on. My Lonely Planet guide said WiFi is everywhere, but I have not found that to be the case. When I DO find it, it is either not free or requires a code, which means sitting at the coffee shop or restaurant, ordering something, and then asking for the code. That gets expensive, so I am going to investigate the cost of a mini SIM card and a monthlong subscription so my iPad and I are always connected.
The church bell ringing goes on forever here on Sunday morning! The weather has been cool and fresh since I arrived, and I have slept with the window open every night, only reaching for a blanket the last two nights.whether rain or church bells, everything sounds good coming with fresh air through an open window.
August 1, 2010
There are exceptions, of course. The young folks at Daily Fresh this morning were quite pleasant and seemed to have good senses of humor. But as I was walking down the avenue, from the main square (trg in Croatian - take THAT, spell check!) to the train station, I walked past one woman whose look translated as, "what are YOU doing here, you fuckin' fuck?", and another who pressed her lips togeher and shook her head as I walked by, as if she KNEW there were times when I returned my library book late and forgiveness of the debt - indeed, even payment of the debt - would never remove the blight I had visited on the world just by being here.
These encounters are common here in Croatia, and even more common in Bosnia. Perhaps Balkan folks are just kind of . . . curdled. Perhaps it is the result of the troubles they have endured in the last three decades. It isn't only a generational thing: I was sneered at by a clerk in a bakery in Sarajevo.
Regardless, these encounters make the good encounters much more satisfying, like working up a serious thirst before slaking it. The van driver who took me from Plitvice back to Zagreb - who resembled George Clooney in profile, by the way - was great fun as he explained places we were passing and complained about other drivers in his rudimentary English. He showed me a picture of his family, and as he referred to his wife or girlfriend he called her, with unself-conscious sincerity, his "darling."
The architecture oozes Zagreb's long and difficult history, the cafes are comfortable aeries to watch people move through their lives. But I cant say that I'm getting much in the way of warm fuzzies. And let's not even start with the weirdness at the Catholic cathedral yesterday (Jesus is apparently deeply offended by the appearance of womens' deltoids.). But the grilled calamari with marigolds made it all mostly worthwhile, except for this morning's sourpusses. Tomorrow, off to Belgrade, Serbia.
Location:Pavla Radića,City of Zagreb,Croatia
July 31, 2010
But then, in Sarajevo, who should spy me on the street? I was so pleased to see them. We went to a Turkish coffee house and talked for a long time. They were going home the next day, so I was thrilled to see them. Travel is all about encounters just like this. I wish they lived next door.
July 30, 2010
Then it rained. No drouth-breaking rain in Santa Fe was ever more welcome. I was in Mostar, Bosnia. But the damage to my original itinerary - tentative in form as it was - was already done. I began to research other itineraries. I jotted down some notes on my options:
Do whirlwind tour of most favored destinations, go home early
Go everywhere I was planning to go, just go with AC...but will that mean going to Delphi or Athens, for instance, and only going from air conditioned facility to facility, or staying in and doing nothing?
Travel elsewhere. It makes no sense for me to stay in this heat if I can't be out, meeting people and learning new things. After Sarajevo, make a plan that includes taking in Athens, Delphi, and Istanbul.
Go north after Sarajevo or Sofia.
I considered adding some or all of the following destinations
Warsaw (I met a couple from Poland who are teaching ESL, and they made some suggestions about visiting their country)
My next step was to decide where I wanted to go, and why: university towns, national parks, inexpensive locations, zen monasteries, hamlets conducive to writing and WiFi?
Then I met a Columbia University student in Sarajevo as we were both heading to the train station, both heading toward Zagreb - me to it, her through it - and she loaned me her Lonely Planet guide to Europe on a Shoestring for the 10 hour ride. During that time I decided that I will abandon the Balkans for the Baltics. So I will be going to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. That means I will probably also go to Poland, Budapest, Hungary, and might even make it to Berlin. This means missing out on Albania, Macedonia, Romania and, most likely, even Greece. It may also mean that, in order to get to Istanbul, I will probably have to fly there. Either that or go there directly after Sofia and then fly north from there.
As you can see, there are still decisions to be made. I need to sit down with a map and a calendar and sort out what works best.
For the moment, I will say this: Zagreb looks like love at first sight. I would love to live within weekend getaway distance of Plitvice Lakes. I can really do without all the cigarette smoke in the Balkans. I'm immensely relieved that the heat wave has broken, and am a bit bemused that I now need a sweater to go out, even in midday. I hate that Europeans eat songbirds. And I miss my friends and Boz. Will you visit me if I decide to stay?
July 20, 2010
Sometimes, though certainly not always, the world rewards a risk. It certainly rewarded my impulsive decision to end my time on the sailboat and set off on a Friday night in search of a place to stay in Dubrovnik. On a weekend, let me emphasize, in high tourist season. My friends, Marina and Carmela, went in search of a taxi while I waited at the bus stop in an effort to make sure I found a way into town to look for a place.
In a country that is strange to me, where I don't know the customs or the clues to knowing whether someone is shooting straight or taking advantage of a rube from America, three people at the bus stop, traveling together, began to chat with me. I mentioned that I was going to town to look for a room, planning to stop at the travel agency mentioned in my tour book. Steve, the husband of Tea (two syllables), said that agency was closed, and anyway, no agency would be open at 9 PM on a Friday night. Tea, clearly perceiving that I was adrift, made a phone call to a friend who just happened to have a room available, even though I only wanted it for two nights (3 nights is the usual minimum). It was 70 Euros per night, about $90, but it had AC, which my heat rash made a necessity. I protested that the price was high, but Tea informed me that I was lucky it was available, that I would like it, and the price, it seemed, was not open to discussion.
About that time, Marina and Carmela came by in a taxi, offering me a lift. I let them know that it appeared I had a room, so they could go on into town and I would connect with them later.
But I really wasn't sure. I didn't know these folks at all, and had no idea if they were setting me up to take my money, put me up in their sister's boss's cousin's hovel at triple the usual price, or if they were on the level.
So I got on the bus with them, and got off where they did, outside Pile Gate into Old Town. They said the proprietress's son was coming to take me to the house. And there was Alberto. He looked alright. He and Tea and Steve (the third person at the bus stop was Marc, from France) greeted each other warmly, and Alberto led me away.
Through dark, winding alleys. Late at night, in a strange town. And me without my brass knuckles. We walked a few blocks, all uphill, me sweating buckets, mostly from the heat. He finally put his key into a large metal door set into a stone wall that was two stories high if it was a foot. And opened it onto a well-tended garden that smelled of lavender and rosemary. He led me up still more steps, and opened the door into an impossibly neat, divinely cool room with herringbone wood or parquet floors. He came back shortly with a large bottle of water for me, and wished me a good night without even asking for a deposit.
I dropped my packs, stripped off my sweat-soaked clothes, drank a bunch of water and fell gratefully into bed.
Travel magic makes me believe all is not lost.
My hostess turned out to be very gracious and accommodating. Her dog, a little terrier named Moki, barks and snaps at people as they leave, never having become accustomed to new friends leaving week in, week out.
The couple I met at the bus stop own five galleries in town, and Tea is a local celebrity who authored a book on Dubrovnik for visitors, complete with charming illustrations by a famous Italian illustrator. I ran into her and Steve the next day at two separate times (it's a small town). Tea showed me their atelier, told me I mustn't leave town on Monday, as I planned, so I could come to the opening exhibit of Marc, from France, who turns out to be a very fine artist (who I ran into the following day). Tea enjoyed showing me around, teasing me that I distrusted this "old woman" at the bus stop who turned out to be my benefactress. We had a good time teasing each other for a bit, until she dropped me in a chair at Dolce Vita, the locals' favorite gelateria, with instructions to make myself fat there. The next day I found a way to extend my stay until Thursday morning in order to accept Tea's invitation to attend Marc's opening Wednesday night.
What a pleasure to be here. The main question I have now is this:
How does a city, that was pretty much obliterated in a civil war (ludicrous term) fewer than twenty years ago, rebuild not only their city but their sense of hospitality so they can be, not just welcoming, but playful and artful? I'm enchanted.
June 30, 2010
"The most common ego identifications have to do with possessions, the work you do, social status and recognition, knowledge and education, physical appearance, special abilities, relationships, personal and family history, belief systems, and often political, nationalistic, racial, religious, and other collective identifications. None of these is you." ~Eckhart Tolle
On Inauguration Day, Barack Obama will stand as proxy for every American: as he takes the oath of office, every one of us must renew our dedication to the work that gave our nation its life. President Obama will face challenges that he will only be able to meet if Americans continue and build on the work begun by our forefathers.
June 29, 2010
My friend Tom got me started on this when he said, apropos my letter to Obama about torture, that "I only wish we had done to them what they did to Nick Berg and Daniel Pearl." You may recall that both of these men were beheaded.
Before I get to torture, let me take a short digression to fanaticism.
How are you not treated equal? [. . .] Why do you gay and lesbians think you're owed something different. Marriage for last time is between a man and woman. get it through that thick skull of yours. (sic throughout)
I've been a part of three discussions on FB with the same basic theme: bombing the moon is not only a boondoggle, it is profoundly, epically immoral. I'd like to summarize the two points of view which oppose this mission, and then invite discussion.
1) Whenever a politician or media person appears in public, they must wear patches, a la NASCAR drivers, identifying their top 5 corporate "sponsors". In print or on TV they must be identified as follows: "Rep. Smith (D-NM; BAC, GS, XOM)" or "Glenn Beck (Fox; AIG, C, PFE)" citing the stock symbol for each major contributor/advertiser. On radio, this information should be read by way of introduction. This should include major contributors by industry, e.g., pharmaceuticals, carbon-based energy, churches, etc.
January 19, 2009
Dear Mr. President,
I’ve often said that, when we were remembering September 11, we were remembering the wrong day. September 12, 2001, was the day we all stood united in compassion for each other. While September 11th was the day when so many loved ones died, September 12th was the day when we showed how resilient are our hearts – a greater tribute to our dead than all the fretting over tributes and monuments and security strategies.
I am writing this on the observance of Martin Luther King’s birthday, which you have made a day of national service this year in anticipation of your inauguration. Today I feel that America is returning to the heart we showed on September 12th. Today I feel hope that we might meet the challenges that face us as a nation and a species.
Fascinating, seeing Ric O’Barry’s film, The Cove, as a kind of hero’s journey. I have chosen not to see the film, as I have difficulty processing scenes of graphic violence. I felt like I had seen all I needed or wanted to when I saw the trailer.
What strikes me, though, is how complex it all is, this living and making sense of living – especially for those who attempt to live mindfully and do good in the world.
June 28, 2010
- Americans spend $1 billion every single day on imported fuel.
- Much of this money goes to regimes with which we are at war.
- So we finance armies, and then spend more money (and lives) fighting them . . .
- while they control our fuel lines.
- Sending this kind of money abroad costs us about 2 million jobs at home . . .
- and buries us under massive trade deficits and debt . . .
- while our fuel and our money literally go up in smoke.
The following is a response to an article bemoaning the fact that this country, a majority of whose citizens are Christian, is not defined as a Christian nation. His column is at http://www.nmpolitics.net/index/2009/12/the-majority-of-americans-overruled-by-a-minority/#comment-9481.
The author's line of inquiry is utterly befuddling, because it leaves so many obvious questions unasked, as well as unanswered. Are not Christians free to practice their Christianity, whichever form they practice, here? Yes, unequivocally. So what is missing? Is there a point to defining this as a Christian nation? Is it not enough to know that one can practice and believe as one wants, and to know that more of our citizens are Christians of some kind than any of the minority faiths? Doesn't the author's desire to ask candidates if they would uphold this as a Christian nation go against the spirit, if not the letter, of Article VI of the Constitution?