Tuesday, July 29, 2008

100th Post!

Today (meaning, the day we started this trip last tuesday) we are doing something I have always wanted to do. Inspired by two movies, North by Northwest and Risky Business, I am eagerly anticipating our overnight train ride to Santiago.

Wendy told me the sleeping compartments were small, but I literally laughed when I opened the door and stepped inside. I have closets bigger than this! Luckily the ceilings are high and there’s space up top for the bags. I folded one of the beds away (which you need a key from one of the train attendants to open again) and that gave us a little more upper body space.

“You’re going to sleep with me?”
“I always sleep with you.”
“Beds are kind of small.”
“They were small in college too, did that stop you?”
“Just saying.”

Sadly there wasn’t much to see out the train. It was just getting dark as we got there and the windows showed nothing but blackness. But we found the dining car (it was in a straight line, imagine that) ordered a bottle of wine and mulled over what to share for dinner. We eventually settled on a bowl of seafood soup, a rare steak and pork medallions.

Train food is definitely not plane food, yet again something the railways in Europe have over flying. All three of our dishes tasted like distilled essence of their original parts. Our seafood soup tasted like the bottom of the ocean. In a good way. It tasted like the sea and the best creatures in it. Our pork was succulent and rich in a pure flavor of pork like I hadn’t experienced in a long time, if ever. The steak tasted like a starving man would imagine it. It was almost better than real, tasting like someone had slain a free range cow that morning and slow roasted it all day. And they just served the choicest, best part to us.

We hoped it was a sign of things to come, since one of the goals of this trip was to gorge ourselves on fine food all along the coast. And relax, which we both desperately needed.

A bottle of wine in us and my Risky Business fantasy fulfilled we quickly fall into a deep sleep.

Tip – The beds in a college dorm room are bigger than the beds on a train. My belly is also bigger than it was when I was in college. There’s no air conditioning on this train so within an hour of Wendy being held by a 98.6 degree blanket we’re both sweltering, cramped and awake. And with no key, we have no way to get the other bed down. I sleep a lot better than Wendy does on the ride, but we’re both still exhausted when the train pulls into the station just as the sun is coming up at 7:35.

We take a taxi to our Parador (Paradors are old Spanish castles that have been transformed into beautiful hotels) and thankfully, yes, we can check in this early. We make our way through the gardens and courtyards and passages of the castle and eventually to our room. I am disappointed to find that we have two twin beds pushed together but make no attempt to climb in with Wendy. We get into the softest beds I have felt since leaving my pillow top mattress in Vermont. The sheets are soft, the pillows are clouds, the air in the room is cool. Soon, we are both lying in a puddle of drool and snoring.

Three hours later finds us refreshed and ready to really start our day.

One of the very great things about Europe is they don’t conserve water. I’ve never even seen a plunger because the tank dumps three gallons of water into the toilets when you flush. And the showers, like the one today, are not the stingy little drippings that we get in the States but more a of warm fire hose combined with a massage. You have to lean into it to maintain your balance. After sweating all night on the train, I feel like a new man. A man that has been scrubbed and massaged by a bristle brush.

Wendy climbs in after me.

“Oh my God, this shower is great!”

Everything here is of the finest quality. We have enormous multi-layered curtains over the window that will completely block out the sun if we so desire. The sheets’ thread count must be in the thousands, the bathroom is enormous and modern, and just getting to the room is a walk through history. Our window looks out into a courtyard with elegantly manicured hedges and a cupola in the center.

I am truly blessed.

We both need caffeine and head out into the street to look around and find a nice little bar “Maria Castana” with a nice wooden bar, wooden tables, stone walls and some patrons dressed in period pieces. Wendy explains they are Gaiteros. One of them has a small bagpipe called a Gaita and soon he starts to play. The music has a wonderful Celtic sound to it and a man joins him on a flute and a woman joins him with a tambourine and the bar erupts in music. The drunkest of the gaiteros (at noon, on Wednesday) claps and shouts encouragement.

We have arrived.

Now that we’ve had coffee, it’s time to sample some of the local fare. We’ve been advised by a friend to try a restaurant called “Los Caracoles” (The Snails) so we head there first. We get a couple glasses of the local favorite wine, a white called Alberino, look over the menu and decide to try both versions they have for sale. Soon a dozen snails have been drowned in a mixture of water, red wine, cheese, parsley and a slice of bacon.

1. The bacon was crap.
2. The sauce was crap.
3. The snails were crap.

Soon a second platter comes but this time in white wine. It doesn’t help things. No Christmas card for the friend who recommended that place.

We decide to leave most of them and head off in search of better fare. It’s clear we are near the coast and that’s why we’re here. Every restaurant’s front face is an aquarium which has two different kinds of crab and two different kinds of lobster in it. In the window above the tank, shelves contain cockles, Cigala, clams and platters of huge fish.

Lobster in Spain usually comes in three varieties. There is Bogavante which looks similar to Maine Lobster, there’s also Langosta which is similar to the Spiny Lobster you get in Florida and the south, and there’s Cigala which is also called Norway lobster and is the smallest of the three by far, usually looking like a large shrimp with thin lobster claws. I don’t know why, but I am fascinated by seafood. When I go to the market, I have to gaze at all the seafood stands. Whenever we go in a supermarket, I have to make my way over to the seafood section and just gaze at the bounty of the sea. Today, I am in heaven as it is restaurant after restaurant of aquariums and shelves of seafood.

Risking another bad experience we follow our friend’s advice to another restaurant and as she always does, Wendy asks for the waiter’s recommendation.

“What is best here?”
He thinks for a minute “The waiter.”
We laugh. So friendly here!
“Well, considering I don’t see him on the menu and I don’t know how much he costs, what’s next best?”

He points to the berberechos and tells us they are excellent. As we will find out soon, berberechos are cockles, which taste like a cross between a clam and a scallop. He also suggests zamborinos which is a small scallop. This time, the friend’s recommendation is spot on. The food here is excellent and soon we’ve finished two plates and order another plate of berberechos.

We head back out into the street and see more people in period pieces and others dressed as Saint James with the traditional robe, scallop shell, gourde for water and a walking stick. The streets are just packed. Wall to wall humanity. As well as the festival going on, there is an endless parade of pilgrims/hikers moving towards their final destination, the cathedral.

We find a nice restaurant with tables on the street and decide to take up our favorite sport – people watching. I order us a bottle of Alberino for our table rent and we watch the hikers pass us by. Some of them look they’ve been out on a day trip (probably true) and the others have the muscled legs and tanned, weathered skin of someone who walked the entire eight hundred kilometers.

Soon a tiny little old man sits down next to us. He pulls out an enormous cigar, starts to chomp on it and orders coffee and big snifter of brandy. We sit side by side for about an hour and then he gets up and takes his leave. Soon, a couple comes to sit next to us and they ask Wendy if she can move her bag. Only it’s not Wendy’s bag, it’s the little old man’s who left five minutes ago. I grab the bag and go rushing off in the direction I thought he went. Luckily, he’s still window shopping and had only got about fifty yards up the hill when I caught up to him. I hand him the bag, he thanks me, I return to my table. Only now, we find out he’s also left a picture of a woman, who we guess is his wife. Once again I go running up the street after him, and again, he’s not much farther than the last place. I tap him on the shoulder and tell him “also” and hand him the picture.

Shock on his face. Apparently the picture is important to him. He tells me thank you again and goes for his wallet. I decline and he yels after me something along the lines of hey, come back here. I keep walking and go back to the table. A few minutes later he comes ambling back and he and Wendy start chatting. The picture was more important than the shirt. The picture is of his sister and is very important to him. He insists on buying us something, but we still have wine so I’m at a loss as to what to do. He insists on buying us something again. Wendy finally allows him to buy her a piece of Santiago cake, but he won’t be happy until I have something as well. I tell him I’ll have a glass of the brandy he had earlier in hopes that will please him. It does and he thanks us again and resumes his path home.

The brandy is awful.

I go back to my wine.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Santiago de Compostela

It’s been a crazy two weeks.

Whenever Wendy and I go on a trip, I bring along a little voice recorder I bought for the staggering price of thirty nine dollars before I came here. The thing has been invaluable. It is a little scary though. If I go too long leaving notes on the recorder, I’m deathly afraid of losing it and all the great material I dictated.

Yesterday I finished a two week stretch of transcribing seventy-one notes from voice to text. Thirty-seven pages of single spaced prose is now safely ensconced on my computer.

Just in time to make more.

This weekend Wendy and I are heading to Santiago de Compostela for the July 25 Festival, Día de la Patria Galega y Día del Apóstol Santiago (Galicia Day and the Apostle St. James’s Day). Santiago is in the very north-west corner of Spain, right on the coast. The best seafood in Spain is on this corner of the map. And we do love our seafood.

Even the seafood in Spain is different, and one more reason I love the variety of living on two continents. Here, the primary seafoods are Pulpo (octopus, usually served on top of boiled potatos and sprinkled with paprika) mussles served both hot or cold, calamari (squid rings usually lightly battered and fried) and percebes (barnacles.)

When we return to the states next week we'll be gorging ourselves on lobster, blue crab and fried clams with a ton of tartar sauce. None of which they serve here.

Variety truely is the spice of life.

Santiago (somehow Spanish for Saint James the Apostle) was named after the belief that Saint James was buried there. It is believed he came to the spot in the last years of his life and preached there until he died. Other legends suggest his body was shipped to the town after his death. Regardless of the way, the nine hundred kilometer route to Santiago has been a major Christian Pilgramige for over a thousand years.

John Adams tells the story better than I.

“We were informed, ... that the Original of this Shrine and Temple of St. Iago was this. A certain Shepherd saw a bright Light there in the night. Afterwards it was revealed to an Archbishop that St. James was buried there. This laid the Foundation of a Church, and they have built an Altar on the Spot where the Shepherd saw the Light. In the time of the Moors, the People made a Vow, that if the Moors should be driven from this Country, they would give a certain portion of the Income of their Lands to Saint James. The Moors were defeated and expelled and it was reported and believed, that Saint James was in the Battle and fought with a drawn Sword at the head of the Spanish Troops, on Horseback. The People, believing that they owed the Victory to the Saint, very chearfully fulfilled their Vows by paying the Tribute. ...Upon the Supposition that this is the place of the Sepulture of Saint James, there are great numbers of Pilgrims, who visit it, every Year, from France, Spain, Italy and other parts of Europe, many of them on foot. ”

—Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society,

We leave tonight on an overnight train and we are very excited. Wendy has been buried at work and just finished a major project. I have been writing my ass off and struggling a little bit with anxiety this month and we both need the break. It’s going to be day after day of seafood, historic buildings, wine and beach. Tons and tons of voice notes. I think I‘ve actually got enough material for the book that I can start putting together all the disparate pieces.

I will not be bringing my computer so will be out of contact until Monday morning.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Public Healthcare

My friend Doug came down with Cancer a few months back. Luckily, he had a good job with full health insurance. He’s been on leave while he battles Cancer and the treatment is going well.

What follows is why I feel we need National Public Health Care.

Colin the business manager, called me on Monday and we set up an appointment for Wednesday morning so "we could talk business." I suspected it was about the upcoming end of my short-term disability (STD--not to be confused with STD=Sexually Transmitted Disease!).

Long story short: Colin basically said, "Your STD runs out on July 23rd (ironically, this is the date of my last treatment) and you must then go onto long-term disability. At this point, your employment is terminated and, should you wish to return to work here, you must reapply and your job IS NOT guaranteed."

Needless to say, I was pissed. First of all, Frank told me my job was secure and I had nothing to worry about. I was led to believe that Frank was the interim CEO until the new CEO was trained and fully installed. I explained this to Colin who told me that Frank had overstepped his bounds and was not, in fact, the interim CEO but was the head of Marketing and Products.
No matter what my argument, Coin kept the hard line: If I go on LTD, my employment is terminated, I must reapply and there's no guarantee I would get rehired. After I explained my last treatment was July 23rd and I could, in all probability, return to work within the two weeks following, he said, "Well, now that we know that, perhaps there is something we can do."

Shouldn't he have asked me this before shoving the paperwork in my face for LTD and threatening my job? He didn't even bother to find out any information from me before laying down the law. It was like: "This is the way it is. Tough shit if you don't like it, just deal with it and don't hate me, I'm just doing my job. Some things I have to do are distasteful and I don't like it anymore than you do. What? Another argument? Blah, blah, blah, if you go on LTD your employment is terminated, you have to reapply and your job isn't guaranteed." After all was said and done, he finally said, "Well, I can approach Maria (new CEO) and ask her for a two week extension on you STD and, if your final follow-up PET scan is normal (to be done within the two weeks following my last treatment) you can return to work and everything will be hunkey-dorey." So, here are my options:

1: The two week extension for my STD is approved. I have my last treatment on July 23rd, my follow-up PET scan at some point during the following two weeks which will, hopefully, be normal and I'm cleared to return to work and have a job to return to.

2: STD extension is denied. I've left a message for Dr. Unger to see if we can do the PET scan between treatments 11 and 12. If we can, and it's normal, I would return to work on July 24th--the day after my last treatment. Hey, if I puke at work, tough shit. I wasn't given many options and this was the best I could come up with. If I were to hork at work, I think I'd seek out Colin and puke on his shoes. I understand Colin's position, I worked in management for 5 years, but he definitely should have handled it differently. I'm not pissed about him saying what he said. I'm pissed because, instead of gathering all available info first, he went by the book, took the hard line and wouldn't budge until he had all the info. So, he gets puke on his shoes.

3: STD is denied and it's not a good idea to have the PET scan until after my final treatment. I go on LTD for two weeks, have the follow-up PET scan and, if it's normal, reapply for my job and pray that they rehire me, but no guarantees.

Regardless of which option comes to pass, I would still have all the paperwork filled out and ready to file if, God forbid, the PET scan came back positive and I needed further treatment.
Here's another kicker: If my employment is terminated so is my insurance. I could still pick it up myself, under Vermont law, for 18 months at the cost of around $100 per week, with my income being at 66+2/3% of my gross income or roughly $250 per week. So, I would earn about $1000 per month with $400 going towards insurance.

God bless the American health care system.

Needless to say, I don't feel much loyalty to My company anymore and I told Colin this. Corporations are always bringing up employee loyalty and how important it is and then they go and pull a stunt like this? WTF!!! Yeah, a great way to instill employee loyalty. I told Colin that my loyalty had to be earned and this situation certainly didn't give them any points towards helping them earn mine.

The pharmacist managers, on the other hand, are very supportive towards me and have both gone to bat on my behalf. They want me back and are doing all in their power to see that it happens. Glad someone, besides myself, is in my corner at the workplace.

Well, I'll wrap up this book now. Needless to say, I'm disgruntled and waiting to see if the two week STD extension is approved. But, after Colin's approach, I'm not holding my breath and I'm anticipating having to use option two (and puking on Colin's shoes...). Option three sucks but I'd take it if it was all that was left to me. Need the job, don't cha know.

If you are against public health care, what is Doug supposed to do if his Cancer isn’t gone yet?

If he loses this insurance, I am pretty sure he can never get insurance that covers CANCER ever again as it will be a “pre existing condition.” What good is health care that doesn’t cover something that often comes back?

This is a case (one of thousands) of someone who did everything right. They had a job, they had health insurance and now he could lose it. Why? Because he got sick? Are you kidding me?

And furthermore, anytime you are debating with someone and they say “Socialized Healthcare!” ask them how they feel about our socialized police force. Or our socialized schools. Ask them if they think it would be better if we all had to pay a fee to some for profit company for protection. Or ask them how come I, with no kids, have to pay for schools.

And lastly, this fear that countries with public health care have it worse than us is a load of bullshit. I’ve seen first-hand the health care system over here and it seems identical to what I’ve experienced in the states. Never worse, sometimes better.

And, doctors still make house calls.

On Sunday.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A little bit about everything

Also known as mad misc rambles.

Let’s start off with the crap so we can get it out of the way and then move on to the other things that will hopefully be more amusing.

The human body is the most poorly designed piece of shit on the planet. I want a refund.

1. Last week sucked for me, hence no update. Anxiety hit me like a freight train. Wendy was amazing.
2. Doug, a friend who is taking care of my house got cancer a few months ago.
3. Fellow Magic writer/friend Dave’s wife got cancer.
4. Former girlfriend’s partner suffering from depression/anxiety.
5. Other former girlfriend ’s husband suffering from depression/anxiety unable to work.
6. Went to class yesterday spoke with Pilar. Pilar is a former teacher who seems to like me as much as I like her. Always cheerful, always asks how I am, hugs me, etc. Yesterday – “How are you Pilar?”
“Bad. Many problems in my head. Sad. “
“Really? Me to.”
“Getting better. Little by little.”
“Me too.”

What the fuck?

And I’m sure I’m forgetting people but I don’t have time this week to think hard on this. I have to get this done and move on to the eleventy billion other things on my list. I feel this is important though. Writing is therapy and the comments really help me out. Which brings me to the next thing.

Please keep the comments coming. I need them. I know I don’t do a good job responding and I’m sorry, but I need the feedback from my writing to keep doing it. To the people who say nice things – Thanks! To the questions – Spain was insane the day of the Eurocup. They haven’t made it past the quarterfinals in twenty years and this year they win it. Wendy and I stayed safely inside. Yes, all of this is being catalogued for the book. You guys see only a small part of the writing that is going into the book, but this will all be in it. I have not had a chance to practice any form of MMA here. Wendy found me a great English speaking Muay Thai coach and I contacted him but then decided I had too much going on and decided not to. More on that later.

Wait, according to my list that comes now.

The Plan.

1. Revise all the errors in Quest for the Pro Tour. These involve tons of grammatical and consistency errors. Right now Chris McMahon (my friend/editor) and I are working on numbers. There are actually rules for when you write “We get up at 7:15 a.m.” and when you write, “we got up around seven.” Writing “we got up around 7” is incorrect. In this book, there are a staggering number of numbers to check and correct. Do you write “the deck is 62 cards” or do you write “The deck is sixty-two cards.” “My record is 5-2” or my record is five and two.” “The deck contains four Sengirs? Or 4?

2. Work continues on turning Marilyn’s Story from a blog into a novel. How we met, what we did, how she supported me and how I supported her. Daily blog updates of “Everything still good!” for a week of updates eliminated. Making it more a novel than a series of updates and thank you to certain people is a lot of work.

3. Transcribe eleventy billion voice notes on Spain into my computer for the book “I’m not an alcoholic I’m just European.”

4. Publish books on Lulu, sell on this website, purchase those books and send them to agents and publishing companies and hope someone thinks I’m great.

5. Get back into MMA and write next part of my adventures describing what it’s like to get punched in the face by a massive twenty year old and try to remain conscious and win.

6. Collect underpants.

7. ?

8. Profit!

(The underpants joke has nothing to do with women. It's a Southpark reference.)

On top of that – remain sane (always a challenge for me), take more notes on my adventures with the amazing and beautiful Wendy for the next book, become fluent in Spanish and lose 15 lbs.

So… so much to do. This is why I need the comments. I think that part of my anxiety comes from all these goals that will all take so long.

I have gone from being the well respected computer tech at the High School, daily people telling me how great I am at my job, and being a popular internet writer sometimes receiving as many as 75 letters of praise after a Magic column went up, guild leader of a respected guild in AC, and being hero and protector to a woman with cancer to where I am now. I am at the bottom again. I am not guild leader. I do not write columns on Magic anymore. I don't have people come up and ask me to sign cards for them at tournaments, I don't have people daily telling me how great I am at work.

Now, I am struggling to become a writer, one of the riskiest professions in the world. I don't understand the language here and Wendy orders for us when we go to a restaurant. I used to have to explain some things to Marilyn. I was a little smarter in general knowledge than her. Wendy on the other hand knows EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING. (Actually, I just remembered, I usually know more about animals than her. So, I got that going for me.) Smartest person I have ever met. I'm bad at learning languages and feel like a dumb shit a lot of the time in class no matter how hard I study. Sometimes, I think it might break me and I go to a bad place. Could be other factors though. Not sure.

On the other hand, after I achieved my goals (house, wife, book, success at Magic, appreciated at work) I was bored. Before Mare got cancer, after the book, the Magic, the house I started to get bored. Magic didn’t intrigue me. WoW bored me. For two years I was like this. I had no desire (or so I thought) to travel and had nothing to do with myself. I was like -

"Is this all there is? Do I just do this until I die? Cause if so, I'm ready to go now."

And that was after I was medicated.

So now I'm not the thing I was before but I have a ton of goals. I never, ever think "Is this all there is?"

And Wendy is fucking wonderful. When I'm down. When I'm up. All the time. Always exciting. Always vibrant. Always so full of life. As well as the adventures, the new life, the same bad taste in TV shows, we can talk for hours. And do. And she likes to drink wine with me. I like my wine with my sunsets. And we have a lot sunsets. There is this little park we run through that is very popular. Next to it is a beautiful little café. We will walk up after a hard day of work, people and dog watch and sit and talk until the sun goes down. We never run out of things to discuss.

Never. I find that amazing.

Life is grand. Just need to remain focused on the goals and continue to stride towards them.

(Hey, I warned you this was therapy for me.)

In other news –

Capea - Bullfights have started up for the festival of San Fermin in Pamplona. I can’t tell you how great it feels to have been in a Capea and then watch a bullfight. I am so happy I got the chance to do it and can’t wait to do it again next year.

Hancock – So sad it’s getting only mediocre reviews. I have watched the trailer a hundred times and can’t wait to see it. It’s not open here but the day it is I’m dragging Wendy. I don’t care. I’ll go in with low expectations and hope for the best.

First Superhero – Maybe instead of getting back into MMA I’ll try to become the first superhero. Like, Batman or Captain America. Because, you know, we haven’t had one yet. Wouldn’t you like to go down in history as the world’s first superhero? Punisher might be possible. I know how to shoot…

Class – A few weeks ago Wendy asked if I had time to help her research on her latest project. Since I had three of the most idiotic ill mannered fast speaking Italians in class, I said “sure” and stopped going and helped her out. A perfect situation. Help the Beautiful Wendy; have a great excuse for not going to class. I returned to class this week. The teachers in the afternoon conversation class I attend changes. This week is Eva. A voluptuous Madrilena with an Italian father. She speaks very fast. I am the first student in the class. She starts speaking to me and I ask her

“Please, Eva, way too fast.”

“Oh, sorry Jamie. We have four Italians in class this week and I always speak too fast after speaking with Italians.”

And in file four Italians. The only other people in class this week.


Three times in class yesterday I had to ask her to slow down. Wendy speaks very fast. Eva speaks about double that. Luckily, she is very good about making sure I am not embarrassed and these Italian students are very nice. I will attempt another day.

Congrats to Forrest Griffon on winning the Light Heavy weight belt from Rampage Jackson at UFC86. Great fight.

Some very deep ramblings at my friend Doug’s blog. Check it out.

And lastly, some amusement.

Wendy walks down the hall. “Hey, there’s a business conference in Rome I think I should go to. Want to visit Rome with me?”

“Sure. You’ve always wanted to show me Rome.”

“The question is, do we take the girl?” motioning with her head down the hallway to where her beautiful young intern sits.

“Sure, we’ll get a king sized bed and have a blast.”

“You are awful.”