Thursday, March 29, 2007

Learning the Language

Things couldn’t be better.

There was a time in my life when I was bored with Magic, bored with video games, bored with writing and didn’t know what to do with myself. Well, those days have passed. I have way too much to do, and not enough time to do it in.

Writing is going well. At Wendy’s urging, I let my hands and consciousness fly when working on the novel. Free writing without correcting or worrying and it became much easier. It started to flow better and become much less painful. I expected it to be garbage, but it came out all right. It’s still not as easy as just reporting and rambling, but it is a lot easier now.

Magic is going pretty much awful. I haven’t made a top 8 online in… months? Writing about it, and the response on the forums when I submit an article is very good though. I’m up to my eleventh article for Star City and it feels great to be writing about Magic again.

Thanks to my loyal readers, I asked for and received directions to Magic shops in Madrid. There’s a very nice one about a three minute walk away. Wendy and I were both amazed it wasn’t a comic/sports/video game/Magic shop like most are in the states. Nope, this one is just a Magic shop. Nothing but cards and tournaments. Clean, well lit, lots of space, colorful, perfect. Haven’t played any games there yet as we haven’t had time. Might go down for Friday night Magic tomorrow if I get my column in though. The language barrier hasn’t been too bad in playing when I faced people from other countries in the pro tour.

Working out has slowed to a crawl. Wendy pulled a muscle in her calf that has kept us from running. I’d like to blame it all on this, but in fact, I haven’t been doing stairs, push ups or Pal Dan gum this week. I know why, but I should make some time for working out.

Learning Spanish is my main goal right now. I have set writing, working out, MMA, Magic and any other goals on the back burner until I know Spanish better. It’s frustrating not knowing what’s going on. Each day I used to do some exercise, do some Magic, work on my column for Star City, work on the novel, and do some lessons on the web at The Rosetta Stone. This week has been play enough Magic so I can write a column, and everything else is Spanish. Taking notes on Spanish phrases, doing lessons and Wendy tutoring me as we walk or wait for our food in cafe’s. Watching Spanish movies with English sub titles. That sort of thing. Once I can communicate in the culture I now live in, I’ll get back to the other stuff.

Monday, March 19, 2007

I'm a Norseman!

It’s interesting being from Vermont and moving to Madrid.

I feel like a norseman here. I still can’t get over people wearing winter jackets when it’s 70 degrees out. I have yet to wear a jacket and everyone on the street is in a winter jacket and scarves. When I first typed this, my little desktop widgets from Vista told me Madrid today is 55 degrees. In Middlebury Vermont its minus 12.

Just got off the phone, Doug tells me they just got another 22-24 inches of snow this week.
Yesterday, it was 70 degrees out. Wendy heard a woman tell her child “Hurry up, I’m freezing out here.”

Moving right along… We’re settling in. There’s a lot to be done both with someone moving in with you, and someone moving to another country. You find you need things. You go out and get those things. You have people to meet and parties to go to. You have a schedule that is constantly interrupted for the first ten days.

Last week we started to settle down. I got my column in to Star City days early instead of just barely. We went running twice. (OMG does Wendy run farther than me. I can barely make it to the end. I’m used to going shorter distances at a greater speed. So twenty five percent of the way in, I am boundless energy. Wendy tells me I can lap her if I want. I decline. I’d prefer to run with her but feel very confidant half way through the run that this is going to be a little too easy for me. Which is good, because I don’t want her thinking I’m a girly man. Three quarters of the way through the run sweat is dripping in my eyes. The last ten percent of the run I’m stumbling like I’m on a death march. Good thing I didn’t get cocky and lap her.) This weekend, we actually spent an entire day home without leaving the house for some necessity we didn’t plan. Sunday, we actually lay in bed reading. This might not seem like much to some, but for us it was bliss. It’s been a busy two weeks.

On Thursday and Friday I started working on “The Novel” for the first time in three years and remembered “Wow is writing hard. Fixing computers is way easier than this!” See, a great deal of my writing is, well, this. Reporting. Rambling. Telling about things that have happened. My mind only needs to remember them and hopefully write them in an amusing and entertaining way. Simple.

Writing a novel is pain.

I can do ten pages a day reporting. I have managed to do two pages a day on the novel and found myself exhausted by the effort. Thankfully, I have a few wonderful books on the subject and I am refreshing my memory on how to do just such a thing.

Friday night we go out to dinner. We’ve decided that three Fridays a month is “Go to dinner at one of the dozens of neat little places near our apartement that looks interesting. One Friday a month is eat at our favorite place.” Friday’s dinner was held at Casa Lucas. Wendy has been there before, but it was so good she wanted me to experience it. I’m glad too, the food was phenomenal.

After that was ice cream. We’re a sucker for ice cream. I haven’t had a candy bar in six months but I’ve had an ice cream cone four times this week. This place was very chic and had large easy chairs to relax in while our order came. I ordered an espresso and a Tiramisu ice cream that was some of the best I’ve ever had. I recline in my big comfy easy chair and smile. The place starts to get packed and a mother and her twenty something daughter ask to sit with us and get a six pack of ice cream cones. I’m not kidding, they had six cones come in a little pack and not only did they finish them, they were licking the bottom of the pack when the cones were gone! They are speaking in a language I don’t recognize. I whisper in Wendy’s ear -

“That’s not Spanish, is it?”

“It’s Nordic. Not sure which one.”

A few minutes later the mother leans over to me “Where in America are you from?”

“How did you know I was American?”

“It wasn’t hard.”

“I’m from Vermont.”

“Vermont is beautiful. We’re from Norway.”

She tells us about Norway and how its similar to Vermont and asks our advice on Madrid. Wendy gives them some suggestions on what they should see. I suggest Plaza de Espana and the Egyptian Temple.

Tonight Wendy is making us Salmon in a blackberry merlot sauce with grilled mushrooms, onions and asparagus. I help out by cutting things and stirring. Tomorrow I’m cooking Cigala (Norway Lobster). The rest of the week is just plain work and writing. April 8th is the first Bullfight of the season. April 27th is Berlin. I can’t rember why we’re going. I think its to see “The Hoff” perform. Oh yeah, and because it’s Berlin and we’ve never been.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Marilyn's Tournament

Rodney Sheldon wrote this -

Hil and Michele held a release tournament for Planar Chaos in February. It was dedicated to Mare’s memory, due to the fact her card, the Timbermare, is part of the set. There were 52 people that played in the tournament… this is quite a large number for the small state of Vermont. People came from all over the state and even other states and a few from Canada.

There were another 30 plus that filter in during the day. All of the procceeds are going to the American Cancer society. People that did not even know her and were there to pick up comics or a game… just donated to American Cancer Society.This is not a tournament report… because I did not play… Mick and I helped Hil and Michele out running the tournament, the raffle, the bake sale, the drafts and anything else that need doing during the day. It was great fun!! I don’t even know who won the tournament… and in the end it really did not matter as that is not what the day was really about.

Just a few thoughts…. many of the people there were there not just to play magic, but to honor Mare’s memory. A couple from St. Johnsbury VT who I had never met before…(rare in a small magic community) came over because they had heard of Jamie and Mare…read some of his writings off the net and just felt that they wanted to play in a tournament in her memory. They play out of a friend’s house as there no longer is a store in that area of VT. They came just to meet people that knew Jamie and Mare… to feel connected.Michele gave a quick “speech” before the tournament started… about Mare and why the tournament was being played… which brought a round of applause from the crowd. There were stories being told… and memories being shared by many who were there. Some who only knew her casually thru Jamie and Magic… had kind words, and fond memories of there brief encounters with Mare. There was laughter and an occasional tear…but never for long…

One person in particular that was there late in the evening… knew her only thru magic. I have known him for many years, again only thru magic…. he and I have sat across the table from one another many times in the last 15 years. I did not even realize that he knew Mare or the effect she had on him until we were talking late last night in the back of a gaming store, while a magic draft was going on around us….

“Rod, I had dinner with her, Jamie, Michele and Hilary once after a tournament. We had chinese. You know what she said to me… ‘that I was charming. ‘ ” At this point tears filled his eyes. He went on…”I did not really know her…but she was a beautiful person just for telling me that. I would have thrown myself in front of a truck for her.”

She really was that kind of a person. She touched so many people that we don’t even realize. The store was filled with people that had similar experiences with Mare…and she touched each of them… if not in her lifetime… yesterday with her memory.

The Narnia Chapter

February 16th was my last day with gainful employment.

What a scary thing to type.

The plan was to take a week off and relax before I started the next chapter of my life. Life is always about chapters. The High School chapter. The college chapter. The eight years at the Middlebury Inn chapter. The married chapter. The cancer chapter. Ugh. That chapter Sucked with a capital Suck.

The plan for the week off would be to play some Magic, zone out in front of the TV, play Poker with my friends. It was going to be great. Instead I spent the next week running around like a madman taking care of things that I had no idea I would need to manage before I left. But then it was off for a relaxing week in Florida with my new love.

Florida was amazing. We had this little cabin in Jensen’s Marina that had Manatees floating around the docks. There were dozens of Manatees, sometimes within arms reach. Pelicans wandering around the docks, some of them as tall as my mid thigh. A dozen or more of them would gather each afternoon for naptime at the end of the dock. One morning, I looked out my window to see a dolphin jump out of the water.

This must be the Narnia chapter because it’s so far away from my old world. – Bull fighting, submission wrestling, Egyptian Temples, gigantic statues, Manatees, Dolphins, margaritas and sunsets on the beach.

The differences between Madrid and Florida are starker than those of Vermont and Madrid.
Madrid is a dry heat Bath towels and hair dry in minutes. Florida is remarkably humid. Bath towels never dry. Sunglasses steam up. Clothes feel damp that have never been worn. While everything in Madrid is open late into the night, the general store on the island closes at 6 p.m. They roll the streets up at 9. Wendy and I had a rough time staying awake past 10 pm since everyone and everything gets up at 7 am, us included. Where Madrid has cobblestones, statues and the occasional dog, Florid is beach, Manatees, Dolphins, Alligators and a billion species of birds.

One major difference between Florida and Vermont is the work ethic. In Florida, I constantly felt like I was annoying anyone that served me in any way. The pace of work from waiting tables to checking out at the grocery store was glacial and sullen. It once took us twenty minutes to get an ice cream cone with 4 people ahead of us. I just about went insane.

That said, Florida is the relaxation I was looking for the previous week. Almost no Magic and no TV. No working out. No running. No writing. No phone calls. Instead it was long walks through nature preserves with my folks narrating and Sammy and John fishing when they find water. Afternoons and sunsets on the beach. Margaritas and Mojitos. Fishing on the dock or even on a boat day trip and chatting with the family. Lying in bed watching movies. Lunch and dinner at different restaurants around the island with the family. (The Island Cow, The Bubble Room, RCOtters, The Green Flash, Key Lime CafĂ©, The Timbers.) Just movies out or movies on Wendy’s laptop in bed. Reading a bit. Very calming and soothing.

After a week of that, I was as relaxed as if I’d just had a massage.

We went on one walk through the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife refuge specifically so my folks could show us some alligators.

Me – “So, where are these alligators?”
Dad – “Just off the path up here.”
Me – “You know Alligators eat people right?”
Mom and Dad shrug.
Dad – “The biggest alligator we saw in here was lying across the path. We turned the corner and there it was. John turned and began to run the other way and I grabbed his arm - “Wait, let’s get a picture first.”
Jamie – “That’s awesome. Where are we going next, the Tiger Park?”
We meet a nice couple along the path.
Dad – “Afternoon, how are you?”
Man – Good, good. You?”
Dad – “Very good. Any alligators up ahead?”
Man – “Yes, there are two of them off to the side.”
Wendy whispers in my ear “Of course they’re good. There were six in their group when they started walking.”

We end up having a very nice relaxing walk through alligator infested lands but no one dies. And we see some nice birds and a turtle orgy.

In research for this entry, I wanted to see how dangerous alligators really are. How many people do they kill a year? Well, in 2006 they only killed three people. So, not too many. Here’s something interesting I found though.

“Robert Steele - Attacked by an alligator while walking his dog on a trail between two wetland areas in the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge near Sanibel, Florida. Steele bled to death after his leg was bitten off below the knee.”

Dear Mom and Dad,

On Saturday, John and his family left for home, and Wendy and I rented a car to drive across the state and visit her friend Laura from law school and her husband. They were an absolute delight and we went out to the world famous “Joe’s Stone Crab” for dinner. The wait to get in was two hours long, so we sat by a small fountain in the waiting area, had drinks, appetizers and fine conversation. When we did get to eat, the crab was one of the sweetest most succulent things I have ever had the pleasure to devour.

The next day we drove to the Miami airport and got there two hours ahead of time. We immediately jumped in a line that was a hundred yards long just to get boarding passes and drop off luggage. Then there was a 300 yard line to get through security. We had to be pulled out of the line and rushed through security by an AA representative to make our flight. But we made it.

8 hours later and I had moved to Madrid.

Let the adventure begin.