Thursday, March 30, 2017

We're moving!

This blog will now be part of Joe's Outdoor Store. Besides random thoughts on trying to fit into a strange world, wherever that might be, there will also be posts there on outdoor product reviews, hiking and camping, and safety and survival. You can find Joe's here, http://joesoutdoorstore.com/

Hope to see you there!
DeMar

Friday, January 20, 2017

Review of Azon Authority

Joe's Outdoor Store isn't quite ready to open yet, but here's a review of a software package I tried valiantly to use to build it.

http://joesoutdoorstore.com/a-fool-and-his-money/

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Tempus fugit

Time flies when you’re having fun. I’ve found as you grow older, it flies when you’re not having fun. It’s a difficult thing to hold onto. It’s my understanding that if you climb into a space capsule and somehow get it going faster than the speed of light you can get a few more minutes of life. Other than that, I haven’t found a way of slowing down Ol' Man Time.

All that is to say, please excuse my extended absence. I began this blog with good intentions; I had planned to remain in Spain permanently and report my experiences to anyone who might pass by and want to spend a few moments with me. But then, as with all those best-laid plans that we and mice might make, all for the humor of God it would seem, things go awry.

I found myself not even a year into my European experience, and only eight months in my adopted homeland of Spain, needing to return yet again to the familiar environs of the U.S.A.

Money is a cruel taskmaster.

Yet, I still feel like an outsider. 

In today's United States, I find the man who has just been elected president of this fair land has put his daughter (a female, in the parlance of days gone by) in charge of his world-encompassing businesses. Another daughter married a Jewish gentleman and converted to his religion. The president (as of 1/20/17) was previously a democrat and holds many views on economic policies that were the lifeblood of the Democratic Party. Concerning sexual practices of consenting adults, he has said he has no opinion. He wants to enforce the laws of the land (the constitutional purview of his office, by the way) and ask Congress to consider revising some, especially with respect to immigration and how those laws affect the safety of American citizens. He wants to deal with a nuclear-armed country not as an enemy, but with respect as an equal on the world stage. He understands business—the lifeblood of the economy—from decades of experience as no other president in modern history has. Yet in spite of all this, he is pilloried as a misogynist, a homophobe, a racist, and a buffoon. I myself am not a supporter of Mr. Trump. (Nor am I, heaven forbid, a supporter by any means of his principal challenger in the late presidential race.) He holds many economic and foreign policy opinions with which I strongly disagree. But the discussion of Mr. Trump's personality and personal peccadillos centers around a false narrative that only serves to distract the populace from important issues. 

In today's United States, I find the current tide of social and political correctness flows toward a collective manner of thinking that has resulted in the belief that the sex of a person is nothing more than a social construct, that we may compare the concept of the incorrectness of wearing white shoes between Labor and Memorial Days as somehow equivalent to believing one’s chromosomes determine whether one is male or female. We are to believe that a male pedophile who claims he feels himself to be female should be allowed into restrooms and locker rooms with young girls.

In today's United States, I find we are not to desire respect of any semblance of an American culture, that because this country was born of immigration we should, no, we must accept even at this point in our national development any person from any culture with or without skills, wealthy or penniless. Anyone and everyone is welcome here and has no obligation to assimilate into any semblance of what might be called “American Culture.” This, even though some of those people feel bound by their god to force all others to assimilate into their culture, even to the point of a belief in the maxim convert or die.

In today's United States, I find we are in a state of cultural chaos. While some people may enjoy that environment, may be energized by it, I do not and am not. I feel engulfed in a fog. Not only is there no east, west, north, or south, but there is not even an up or down. I'm a VFR pilot in IFR conditions. 

I am not ashamed of my European heritage. Quite the opposite, I'd say if I were allowed. I enjoy the feeling of being grounded in a culture whose history is one of progress in human rights and economic advancement. I enjoy knowing my ancestors reach back to England and Germany and that we have carried on traditions for centuries. And I appreciate that it was my ancestors who brought those traditions to this country even before its founding and that those traditions resulted in the building of the greatest economy and culture of liberty and equality that has ever existed at any time in the history of the world.

But it’s politically incorrect to express pride in a European heritage. It’s politically incorrect to note that it was the people of Europe that led the fight against the institution of slavery and the fight for equality of opportunity. It’s politically incorrect to point out that Capitalism has resulted in greater advancement of physical comfort and security for more people than any other economic system in history.

And it's more than politically incorrectit is forbidden—to believe that a country founded on a Judeo-Christian heritage should be allowed to embrace and continue that tradition not only in private homes but also in public.

So I am still a stranger in a strange land.


Sunday, September 4, 2016

A Godsend from Bishop John Shelby Spong

This kind of fits in the category of "stranger in a strange land." I just completed a book by Bishop John Shelby Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die and found I'm a "believer in exile." I had known that for some decades, but I wasn't aware of the term. Here's a short review I posted at Amazon.com.
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To paraphrase Tony Curtis’ character in “Some Like it Hot,” John Shelby Spong is a genius—his opinions exactly coincide with mine. For years, decades in fact, I have been a "believer in exile," but didn’t know it until reading Why Christianity Must Change or Die. This book is a godsend (possibly literally) for people who have grown up in the Christian tradition and desperately believe in the holiness of the spirit and person of Jesus, but have found it impossible to reconcile contemporary rationality with a confusing and myth-filled explanation of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs of a group of believers of two-thousand years ago.

Bishop Spong lays out the difficulties with the Christian religion in the modern era, the sources of conflict and confusion, and suggests ways in which we believers can reconcile ourselves with the original intention of Jesus and still call ourselves Christians. Finally, we can know we are still following the faith even though we recognize mythology and allegory in the foundational writing and traditions of the faith.

So far, I have only read one other book by Bishop Spong, Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes; Freeing Jesus from 2,000 years of Misunderstanding, and I highly recommend it also to help the “believer in exile” understand the beliefs and traditions of the authors of the Bible. Only by understanding the society and worldview of the authors can one understand the intention behind their words.

Both books are written with the knowledge of a scholar and the craftsmanship of an artist of the English language. They are compelling, to the point, and beautifully written. Ideas are presented clearly, logically, and explained in a way that flows naturally and organically from one to the next.

If you’re a fundamentalist, one who needs to understand the Bible literally, you will not find comfort in Bishop Spong’s ideas. But anyone else, whether “believer in exile,” Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or any other faith, even atheist, will find these two books compelling and eye opening.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Mold, names, and bars

Mold

(Editor's note: I had forgotten that I talked about the mole problem in my last post. You can skip this first paragraph is you've read that one. Sorry. Guess I'm getting old.)

Not much has been happening in Granada these days, at least not in my little corner here in mold central. Yes, my tiny apartment sits out of direct sunlight and is half below ground level. Having been constructed some hundreds of years ago before Visqueen and other vapor barrier materials were invented, the walls stay pretty damp. Mold was growing on the dishes in the kitchen cabinet, so now I leave the doors open. Mold grew inside the armoire which was against the bedroom wall, which was always damp. The moisture transferred to the armoire which grew a nice crop of mold inside which then jumped to my clothes. All the clothes in the bottom drawer of my dresser, those I don't wear in the winter, grew moldy. I've washed everything since discovering the problem, but some of the clothes are stained. Such is life.

Interesting names.

Until 1975, with the death of General Franco, Dictator of Spain, it was the law that all babies be given a Saint's name. I suppose that's at least one of the reasons for the preponderance of nickname usage here. (This country was more Catholic than Italy until '75, and tax money still goes to the Catholic Church.)  I have friend in the cathedral choir whose name is Juan de Dios -- after St. John of God, a saint who lived right here in Spain. And no, my friend doesn't go by a nickname or even Juan -- it's Juan de Dios all the way.

(I've toured the house Juan de Dios died in which is a museum today. If you ever get to Granada it should be on your list of places to see.)
The patio in the St. John of God Museum
It's common knowledge that Jesus is a common name in Hispanic culture. Still after a year here, I'm not used to seeing signs like "Jesus' Appliance Repair." That will take a while.

Also, I learned why Pepe is a nickname for Jose. Jose, of course, is Joseph. Where do they get Pepe from Jose? This is interesting: Joseph, of course, was Mary's husband, but only the step-father of Jesus. So, he was Jesus' putative father. In Spanish, that's Padre Putativo, or PP, which is pronounced Pepe. How cool is that?

Bars

Inside the Tabernacle Bar, Granada
There are some nice, old bars in Spain. I've visited more than my share in my travels from Barcelona to the Atlantic coast, and in Madrid and Sevilla. Granada is no exception. The city has its share of boring, characterless bars, but then there are the ones like this one on the left. There is hardly a square inch of wall that is not covered with some kind of representation of the Virgin Mary or Jesus, but Mary is the superstar. She's everywhere. I particularly like this bar because it's one of the few that plays flamenco music. Mary and flamenco music: You wouldn't think it, but they go together in Spain like two peas in a pod. (It used to be Mary, flamenco, and bull fights, but bull fighting is having a hard go of it these days. It's been outlawed in Catalunya. It's only a matter of time before that's the case in the rest of Spain.)

Another bar I like is in a neighboring bario. It's about ten minutes' walk from mold central.
Sometimes I catch them playing flamenco, but once the tourists start arriving they switch to pop crap. Still, you can't beat the "tapas." I went there one Sunday and ordered a small beer. Some minutes later they placed a breakfast of home fries, toast, and a fried egg in front of me. That was a "tapa." You never know what you'll get. Another time I had a nice little snack of fish and whatever they call fried bread crumbs. Another day I got a decent sized paella and bread snack. And this comes with a beer for 1 Euro 80. I think the bottle was 2.50.
And another nice thing -- when they tell you the beer is 1.80, that's what you pay. I used to leave small tips, but my Granaino friends told me that made me look like a guiri, a foreigner. People leave between 5 and 10 percent in fine dining establishments sometimes, but in bars like the above, it's pretty much unheard of. But because tipping is not customary, waiters are paid a normal salary. Or, I suppose it's the other way around; waiters are paid a normal salary so people don't feel obliged to tip. I'll have to admit, that makes service pretty bad, normally. Waiters make the same whether they provide good service or not, so customers are somewhat of a bother it seems. You have to learn to be assertive here. Not my forte. That's another thing that will take a while to get accustomed to.



Saturday, February 21, 2015

Winter

You wouldn't think that a dry, desert environment that habitually reaches 100 degrees and more in the summer would be so cold and damp in the winter. I didn't think so until this year, when I spent the winter in an apartment at least a few hundred years old, half of which is below ground level and obviously has no vapor barrier between its outside walls and the terra firma.

We're at about 2300 feet above sea level here, so it gets chilly in winter. I suppose the moist air
coming from the Mediterranean Sea has something to do with the humidity. I'm no weather man. All I know is it's cold and damp.

I have no idea how old the apartment is. It's been remodeled so I have electricity and plumbing, but the two hot-water radiators for heat are powered by 11-liter propane tanks that I have to buy frequently if I want to enjoy central heating. I don't.

Most people who live in the ancient part of town and who don't want to buy propane gas on a weekly basis do without central heat if possible. Instead, they use this "One weird trick that the utility companies hate!" (That's an internet joke.) I have a small dining table in my living/dining/music room that I've covered with a cheap blanket. Under the table I have a small, inexpensive, 1200-watt electric heater. When I'm in the apartment the heater is on and I'm normally working at the computer at the dining table with the blanket over my legs. When my hands get too cold I put them under the table where the electric heater keeps the temperature in the high 80s. I always wear a sweater so, with that and warm feet and legs, I'm pretty comfortable. The propane powers the stove and hot water, but since I joined a health club and shower there, I use very little hot water so only have to buy propane about every six weeks.

That problem was solved pretty easily, but there's another that won't go away until summer: mold. Yep, without a vapor barrier which, I suppose wasn't too common several hundred years ago when the building was built, the walls, being mostly below ground level are always damp. Sometimes they're plain old wet. The back splash for the kitchen sink and stove is tile. Water condenses on it and drips down to the counter top. Every morning I have to mop up the water on the counter. The cabinet where I keep dishes is against a wall that's below ground level, so it's always damp inside from condensation. Any dish that's not used and washed daily has to be washed before I use it because of the mold. I've started leaving the cabinet doors open, which helps.

Then there's the armoire in the bedroom, thoughtfully provided by the owner because there's no closet. The back of the armoire was against a wall that of course is below ground level and always damp. It was damp enough to seep through the back of the armoire. I discovered one day, to my chagrin, that inside on the center of the back was a very healthy crop of mold. Any clothing that was touching the back wall was happily participating in the science experiment, and even the clothing that was not in direct contact with the mold was beginning to join the party. Everything in it smelled of mold, whether it was visible or not. I suppose I needed an excuse to wash all my clothes anyway. I cleaned the armoire with bleach and moved it away from the wall. That gives me even less room in the tiny bedroom, but since I live alone and have no "social life," no one is too inconvenienced.

Maybe it's just my circumstances, living in a cold apartment and all, but I'm longing for the days of
HEAT. There's no place to go to get warm. I mentioned that I joined a health club, but they don't seem to spend any money on heat. I suppose they figure the body heat of their exercising clientele is plenty. It's not. I can't go to a bar to warm up because they're all cold also. People here are used to sitting outside at restaurants and bars, especially since it's illegal to smoke inside any public building in Spain. And since 99.9% of everyone in Spain smokes (that's a rough estimate, but based on a lot of observation) lots of people sit outside even in the cold. So, the doors are always open for the waiters to go in and out. It's as cold inside as out.

I don't know if I've mentioned, but I sing in the cathedral choir. The cathedral is 500 years old. Do you think it's heated? Not on your life. Even the rehearsal space is unheated. We practice in coats. We perform in coats and most people wear scarves. I'd wear gloves but that makes it difficult to turn the page of the music.

Such is life in Granada, Spain in winter. Sitting in the shade of a dry 100-degree afternoon with a cold beer sounds like heaven.

P.S. I live just a few minutes walk from a tiny grocery store where I buy a lot of necessities -- bread, coffee, fruits, vegetables, and wine. Having been here several months, the owners know me as a regular. They're a couple in their sixties, I'm guessing. The store doesn't have a cash register -- they just total what you buy with paper and pencil. Money is kept in a metal box under the counter. Strange thing though -- the wife of the couple doesn't know the price of things in the store and many of the products are not labeled. I've gone there a few times when the husband, who either knows the prices of everything or makes them up as he goes along (I haven't figured out which) isn't there. Since I'm a regular, the wife tells me to just take what I need. I stop by another day when the husband is there, tell him what I took, and pay up.

Granada is a nice place to live.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Loudness

Just a few random thoughts on noise and personal space...

Here in Granada, life is LOUD. Granada is known for being the noisiest city in Spain, and Spain is known for being a noisy country, so I don't think I can be far off the mark by assuming that I'm in the noisiest location on the planet. It's not just the unmuffled mopeds buzzing about everywhere, but there is construction and renovation in every street. The sound of manual and air hammers and other implements of mass construction is everywhere, all the time.

And then there are the celebrations that happen like clockwork, each one seemingly accompanied by the firing of cannons or fireworks or both and the ringing of church bells.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not complaining. First of all, I came here voluntarily knowing it was a noisy country. And mopeds are a very practical means of transportation in a city where most of the streets, at least in the old part of town, were laid for horses. Many of those streets are barely wide enough for two horses. There are some streets where even two horses would have to get awfully chummy to pass each other.

Renovation is pretty much a given when you have a stock of buildings that's centuries old. Thank heavens the building I live in has been retrofitted with plumbing and electricity. I'm in an old area -- I don't know the age of my building, but just up the street from me are two wells; one dates from the fourteenth century, the other from the twelfth. Many of the houses have been here that long and longer. So, thank you, noisy construction workers, for heat, electricity, and a flush toilet.

As for the frequent celebrations and fireworks, this is exactly the kind of thing that drew me to Spain in the first place. Spanish culture takes the time and trouble to show appreciation and gratitude for their history and religious beliefs. It hasn't taken any time at all to become accustomed to the festivals here, and I, for one, am completely in favor of taking every opportunity to enjoy life.

One thing I'm not yet accustomed to, though, is the volume of voices. Not that it's an all-the-time thing, but it's common enough to be able to call it the norm. People talk loudly. Even in situations where you'd think they'd want to keep their conversations to themselves, in restaurants, bars, and most recently, in the health club locker room. They speak as if they're on stage and want to ensure that the little old lady in the back row with a hearing problem doesn't miss a word.

Just yesterday I was in the locker room of the health club, a tiny space, barely large enough for half a dozen men to fit into. Two of the three other guys in there were talking. I suppose "yelling" would be a better word; when I left my ears were ringing. The idea of "inside voices" seemed to be as foreign to them as I was. It's that way in any public space. With a voice that barely carries beyond my nose and a barely middling faculty with the language, sometimes I feel completely unable to communicate here.

Another mannerism common to southern Europeans -- Italians and Spaniards as far as I know, although I'm inclined to think it would be the same among Greeks -- is the "reduced personal space," for lack of a better term, that they allow when talking to you. We of a Northern European heritage are used to an imaginary bubble around ourselves extending out at least arm's length, and we don't like others inside it, unless there might be some romantic designs in the near future. A Spaniard will be twelve inches away from your face as he talks with you. I have to force myself to not back away. This will take some getting used to.

But at least I had (had) a peaceful place to come home to. In the Albaycin, the oldest part of Granada, you'll hear all types of music playing through the narrow streets, but only on occasion and usually it's kind of nice, especially when the music is flamenco. But it's winter and I can shut my windows and all is peaceful. Even when it was warm, the volume wasn't so high that anyone's music was distracting or annoying.

I have no idea if this is what she looks like,
but she expresses what I've been
listening to the last several days very well.
All that changed last week when someone new moved into the building just across the hall from me. He is apparently an aspiring rock guitarist and singer, and, being serious about his art he practices daily for hours. I suppose with rock music you don't get the full effect without the volume, so he turns his amplifier all the way up to "11." (If you haven't seen "This is Spinal Tap," it's still not too late.) If that weren't enough, his Italian girlfriend seems to have come for a visit. Either that or she moved in with him - I'm not inclined to try to find out which. At any rate. she fulfills the stereotype of an emotional Italian woman because it seems every day she's yelling at him about something. They yell in Italian, so I have no idea what the arguments are about. Suffice it to say, that she, or rather, they don't seem to care that the entire Albaycin knows of their relationship struggles. Today's argument was complete with much anguished crying and gnashing of teeth on the part of the poor girl. Actually, it's continuing as I write. If she's so unhappy, there are plenty of rooms for rent in the area.

I met the guy when he moved in. Many of the apartments in this building are rented out to long-term vacationers. He said he didn't know how long he was staying. I can only hope it's not much longer.