Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Work continues on the travel memoir and despite some truly heroic efforts on some days, ending in mind numbing exhaustion, I still have not finished editing it, so work on that continues.
Yesterday Wendy and I quit work early (4:00) to relax just because we’re so jazzed for this trip we can’t concentrate on work this week. We spent a good portion of time after that cooking and watching “Lie to Me” one of our favorite shows on television right now. Watch it, it’s awesome.
One of the things that stuck out to Wendy was how two episodes focused problems we have in America that don't exist in other countries.
1) A guy hoping to die in a mine shaft that has collapsed because he has recently found out he has MS and no health insurance and doesn’t want to leave his wife with nothing.
2)Another focused on a man broke and desperate because of the collapsed housing market and crushing student loans.
Most civilized countries in the world allow their citizens to go to college for free.
In most civilized countries in the world, people aren’t hoping to die in a mine shaft because they have no health care.
And they dither and futz and call names and give pretty speeches and shout “You lie!” in the middle of the President’s speech. I have lost all faith in Washington. Wendy and I can’t even enjoy the Daily Show anymore because no matter how many jokes Jon Stewart makes or how much he points out the crazies, the news is just so depressing it can’t be made funny.
Wait, did I just go off on a massive tangent there? I think I did. Wasn’t I talking about Santorini?
In preparation for that we have watched “Shirley Valentine” and tonight we are watching “Mama Mia” for the fourth time. Wendy has been reading guidebooks and the historical fiction series about Greece from Mary Renault that starts with “The King Must Die.” She has another six books about Greece, but sadly, I am not captivated by them, but maybe that’s because I am only thirty pages into “The King Must Die.”
You know what does captivate me (that I have set down for the moment) is a series by Robin Hobb called the Liveship trilogy. Robin Hobb was recommended to me by my friend John Telford. He has a Kindle and recommended “Assassin’s Apprentice” because it was a free download and which he (and I eventually) absolutely loved.
The book is like “crack.” You can’t put it down and the first hit is free. It is essentially a trilogy and then another trilogy. Not quite a six book series, as the focus on who is the main character shifts, but I had to quit on the second. I couldn’t take it; there is a long story what I mean by that; I won’t get into it. Wendy forged onward and completed all six and then started on another of Robin’s series the Liveship trilogy.
I like having things to talk about with Wendy. Usually our travels, American politics, books, movies and TV are enough but we had nothing new to watch on TV, haven’t seen a good movie that wasn’t a repeat and can no longer stand to discuss American politics for the time being. So, I started the new series and I can’t recommend it highly enough; a complete departure from the Assassin’s series with many more interesting characters and events. I am halfway through the second book right now and can’t wait to find out what happens.
Pick it up. You won’t regret it.
Oh, did I mention we went to Oktoberfest this weekend?
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
So, a couple of interesting things. Five years ago I was working at my local high school and had become friends with a lot of the teachers. One of them comes in to have lunch with Len and I. He works with “troubled” kids and tells this lovely story.
“So I saw “kid I used to work with a few years ago” this weekend.”
“Yeah, how’s he doing?”
“Just got back from Iraq. Said he served three tours there and was signing up for a fourth.”
‘What? Why would he do that?”
“I asked him the same thing. He sighed and looked at me and replied “You know… I just like to shoot people.”
I can’t seem to find a way to tell the story about the lesbians in the park in the way I want it to come out so I’m going to have leave off that for now. Sorry guys.
Magic Online – Well, I’ve been trying to play it, but I can’t figure out how to trade with the bots I used to trade with all the time, can’t figure out how to replay premium tournament matches to see what’s winning these days and I find the interface just frustrating and awful. I’ve seen some practice matches and looked over my cards and that’s about it so far.
Wendy and I head to Greece on the first of October and we have both been dieting hard so we look good in the pictures I hope to post. Yes, I’m very vain in pictures these days. I’m down about five lbs, same with Wendy. My braces are finally off, now I just have retainers unlike any I have seen before. They are like a clear plastic athletic mouth guard, molded just for my teeth. The first three days I had them, it took me ten minutes to get them off they were so tight. I was sure I was going to pull a tooth or my bridge out. They fit in and come out much smoother now just as the dentist said they would after a few days. Getting my teeth whitened again tomorrow to remove the stains the braces left. Then I think my transformation into the ultimate metrosexual will be complete! Wait, scratch that, need to get back to my push-ups so I actually have a chest again. Ah, the never ending goals.
We have been watching a few things and are anxious for the fall TV season to start. We love “Top Chef” and that has been amazing this season. Never before do I think there has been a season where you already know whom is going to be in the finale. Jennifer, the two brothers and Kevin. Betcha anything. The Ultimate Fighter Season 10 has also started and I look forward to an exciting season. All the guys on the show are giants and men. Adults. Most of them are mature so I look forward to a season without childish idiot kids looking for their ten minutes of fame by being an asshole on the show. No, these are grown men, four of whom have been in the NFL.
We anxiously await “Dollhouse”, “Desperate Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Lie to me” and have already seen “Bones” and “Fringe.”
Oh yeah, we started “Mad Men” and are watching the first season of that. Was it really like that in those days; men drinking all day, smoking and laughing in offices while huge rooms full of secretaries diligently worked away?
For movies we saw “State of Play” and that was okay. Not great but worth the rental.
Wendy and I have watched “Coraline” twice now. It is an animated film but definitely not for kids. The beginning with the fingers made of needles, as the credits flash on screen is stunning and grabs your interest immediately. As with all things Neil Gaiman, it didn’t disappoint. It was fascinating, terrifying, unique and bizarre. Not too bizarre, just bizarre enough. Quirky. As Chris said in the comments section – “I don't know about you but Coraline scared the bejeezus out of me. That is NOT a kid’s movie! Mom turns into… (spoiler deleted). I have seen stuff that would turn grown men white but that movie literally gave me nightmares.”
The movie is pretty intense, filled with little Easter eggs and inside jokes. It was a massive risk and the production was insane as well as the trivia to the movie. I thought it was very sophisticated animation but it is in fact stop motion and hundreds of dolls mixed with computer effects. You can check out what I’m talking about here at IMDB and Wikipedia.
I wouldn’t show it to my kids but I’d recommend it to almost anyone else
Is “Zach and Mirri make a Porno” the worst Kevin Smith movie ever made, or does such humor just no longer appeal to me? It got mediocre review but I have yet to see a Kevin Smith movie I didn’t like. This one I couldn’t even finish. I turned it off a half an hour into it.
Wendy is making me wonder why I watch the UFC. I watch the PPV’s; she asks me how the fights went and more often than not I say “Everyone I wanted to win lost.”
“Isn’t that always the way it is?”
Hmmm. Why am I watching this again?
I still have a lot of favorites that win (Nate Quarry, Shane Carwin, Diego Sanchez, GSP, Mike Swick) but it blows when everyone you cheered for at an event loses. Which happens sometimes; like, say, this weekend.
Someone pointed out on the forums I read that we may have entered an era where the champs remain the champs for a long time. The champions dominate everyone these days.
Who can beat Penn at 155? Possibly no one (although I hope Diego tools him.)
Who can beat GSP at 170 ? No one. Ever.
Who can beat Anderson Silva – No one.
Who can beat Lyoto Machida? Again, no one I can think of.
Who can beat Brock Lesnar? Possibly Shane Carwin, possibly not. If he can’t, no one can.
Below are some predictions I wrote last week to a friend of mine –
I’m not that thrilled with this weekend’s show but some matches intrigue me. I haven’t seen Vitor Belfort fight in 10 years. He used to have amazing hand speed and be able to knock people out in seconds. As always, I think Rich takes this, but don’t know as honestly, I have no idea how good Vitor is these days.
Cro Cop has had some amazing fights. I always look forward to seeing him fight. I still think he loses this one though. He’s just not the Cro Cop of old that used to left high kick people’s heads into the upper rows.
I love Frank Trigg. I always hope he wins. I think Koscheck will just do another lay and pray victory. I just hate that guy and no matter how much Rogan tells me his stand-up has improved, I don’t see it. I see it with Diego. I see it with Florian. I see it with other fighters. Koscheck looks like the same overhand looping sloppy punches he’s been throwing since he started the game and doesn’t even know how to throw a kick. God I hope Trigg wins, but he won’t. Koscheck will try a stand up war, get tooled, and go back to his explosive takedowns and lay and pray. Trigg is a great wrestler but he’s not on Koscheck’s level.
Hermes Franca has massively heavy hands. If Griffon wants a stand up war, he’s gonna go to sleep. But when in trouble, I think he will revert to his wrestling background and go for takedowns and lay and pray. Honestly, I have only seen one Tyson Griffon fight and I was bored. That was a long time ago and maybe he’s different now. I do know if he stands with Franca he’ll be asleep in the first round.
I always cheer for Cole Miller. He’s such a very nice guy with amazing JJ. I know nothing about his opponent but he’s 12-0. I expect he’ll get his first loss this weekend. Cole Miller is just too slick on the ground.
In reality it went exactly the opposite of almost everything I predicted.
My boy Rich Franklin lost.
Cro Cop looked like a scared kid. Worse even than I imagined.
Trigg lost to Koscheck (FUCK!) Not only that but he was knocked out in the first round with those sloppy punches I was dissing earlier.
Franca lost to Griffon. Again, due to punches. He stood with Franca and the exact opposite result of what I thought would happen, happened.
Cole Miller lost too.
So I'm 0 for everything in UFC predictions this week.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
It will not be unique.
How many times have you heard this statement in your life : “I’d like to write a book someday.” Or “I think I could be a writer.” Maybe you’ve even said it yourself.
There are just over three hundred million people in the United States alone. Of those, just under three hundred million of them think they can write a book someday. When they are moved by a tragedy like cancer, I am betting they will try. And when they try to sell that book, they will find out that the market is already clogged with books about
1. Surviving the experience.
2. A retelling of their loved one (parent, sibling, spouse) dying.
3. A guide to what you should know and what the author wishes they knew before the disease hit.
4. How to face cancer with humor.
Why am I telling you this? Well, I have spent the last three weeks working on what I should have been working on all along: my travel memoir about moving to Madrid and traveling around Europe. Do you know how many American’s have done that?
Far less than have been affected by cancer.
I am very proud of it so far. I spent from 9:30 this morning until 5:15 working on it with only a short break to heat up some lasagna. And it feels right. It feels like something that I can sell. It feels like what I should have been working on for a long time so that I can actually, you know, get published again. First revision was done at three o’clock this afternoon. I immediately started second revision, cutting out stories that didn’t come out as funny as I would have liked, remembering blog posts that I wrote that should have been included, writing the second part of “Spaniards” (first part is posted here, link to the right on this page) which is a chapter on things you can expect from Madrilenos and observations about the cultural differences we experienced.
“Night Mare” a.k.a. Marilyn’s Story will still be published but I imagine it will have to be self-published, sold and advertised independently. I’ll make it work. But heed my advice if you or someone you know is affected by cancer: I would keep a blog like I did so you can keep everyone updated on what is happening during the cancer process, but don’t then try to turn it into a book. It’s not unique enough, and most likely, people won’t want to read it anyway since who wants to relive that hell once you’ve been through it? I’m very proud of the book and it is on its last revision, but I doubt an agent is going to make an offer on it. Seventy-five rejections so far sort of hints at that... Don't get me wrong : I think it came out great, I think it's a great story and I think my writing sets it apart from many others (sorry, I know that sounds conceited, but I do.)
I expect to be done with the travel memoir and approaching agents by the end of the month.
I had planned on talking about the above, then adding in my story about watching young lesbians making out in the park, the actual quote “I just like to shoot people” my review of the movie “Coraline” and Magic : Online 3.0 but really, I’m exhausted and that stuff just doesn’t really follow what I’ve already written. So, maybe tomorrow.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
In late May we fly to Provence to visit Colette and Mathieu.
We fly to Marseilles and rent a car for the hour long drive to Provence. As we drive along, I look out at the beautiful greenery, the coastline, the fields filled with vineyards and I come to a startling revelation: I have finally found a place on Earth more beautiful than Vermont. That place is Provence. I never thought I would type those words or feel that way, ever, but Provence is as green and unspoiled as Vermont and then, on top of that, has vineyards, and coastline.
We have a Hertz "Never Lost," which is actually a licensed Magellan GPS and it is a wonder. Do you appreciate the magical age we live in? A woman's voice directs us to the tiny town of Auron. Satellites, miles above us, are tracking our location to within the meter. Side streets no bigger than a loaf of bread are mapped and tracked by a box no bigger than my fist.
Female voice from the Magellan box: “In 40 meters, turn left on Baguette 4.”
I can't get over the countryside. It's like Vermont with an ocean view. It is like Vermont with fortified towns on the tops of large bluffs. It is like Vermont with ancient European buildings, large fields of wild poppies, and rows of grapes instead of corn and hundreds of kilometers of two-foot high stone walls. It is staggeringly beautiful.
Soon we are driving, in the dark, up a mountain pass barely large enough for the Renault Elf (our tiny car) to travel. It is a goat pass or possibly a hiking trail. I have no idea what we will do if another car shows up going in the opposite direction. This cannot possibly be the right way. And yet, it is.
Soon we arrive at the B&B that Wendy has found for us. The proprietor greets us at the gate, opening it for the Elf to drive through. He leads us out around the back to our room, and automatic lights turn on as we advance until we are at our door. Inside is a small apartment furnished with unique pictures, a large dresser, a bed with heavy comforters, a large bathroom, and a sitting room with a centuries-old couch. We walk outside to chat with our proprietor and look over a deep valley. There is a small courtyard with a couple of tables for sitting and drinking wine, or having a light lunch. There are dozens of strategically-placed flowers and plants around the yard and a full moon shining down on us. A light wind blows in from the north.
I'm not a sensitive guy. I have killed a living thing, gutted it in the woods and then fried-up its heart in deer camp mere hours later. I have tried to choke a man unconscious in a submission wrestling tournament. I watch Ultimate Fighting every chance I get and cheer like a drunken European soccer fan. But tonight is almost too much to take. I am overwhelmed by this place. Wendy is clearly confused by my attitude. I am meditative and quiet and trying to explain what I feel, but I don't feel I have the words. I do my best to allay her confusion.
“A part of me is sad that Marilyn will never have the revelations that I am having. That she never got a chance to see this. To be awed by this. To understand the beauty we never knew existed outside of the games we played. Another part of me is overwhelmed that I have led such a sheltered existence, and at one time would have happily died at home, never knowing such sights existed in this world. Still another part of me is thankful and overjoyed that I have found such a passionate, amazing, intense, intelligent, beautiful woman with whom to share these things. A woman who expands my horizons to areas I never knew existed. To show me things I never would have seen. To push me, and make me never ask again ‘Is this all there is?’”
She hugs me and tears stream down my face.
We open a bottle of wine and sit outside looking out over the valley until it is too cold then go inside and hide under the voluminous comforters of the extremely comfortable bed.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Lorelei, you on the other hand should read it immediatly since it is by Joe Rogan and I laughed until I cried. For those of you with a strong stomach and who are not offended easily, this is pure comedy gold. It inspires me to be a better, funnier writer. I can't even finish reading it because I'm laughing so hard I have to keep stopping.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
This is the back of the house. The dormer in the middle is the bathroom, separating two half floor bedrooms. The skylights are nice, but old, open into the rooms, and not being vacuum sealed, the panes have moisture and fog in them obstructing the view to the outside. (All pictures can be clicked on to be enlarged and show a more detailed view.)
This is the stairs leading up to the two upstairs bedrooms. When the house was rebuilt in the seventies, this was the style of carpet that was in style.
This is Doug's bedroom. Notice the slanting ceiling showing that the house is really one and a half floors, not two. Notice how a queen sized bed takes up almost the entire room. Notice the in-style 1970's wallpaper.
This is Wendy and my room. It is filled with junk from the eves that we are cleaning out. Sorry I don't have a better picture. Notice the slanting ceiling and how you have to bend over to get to the other side of the bed. It does have a nice skylight. Which opens into the room, further limiting space and causing concusions when I get up in the middle of the night to pee.
This is what the house looks like now from the back. Full dormers, making the back of the house, i.e. the bedrooms, much more spacious, with new skylights that don't open into the room and many more windows to the outside.
Bigger nothing! This room is enormous! And look at the new windows!
Wendy has always wanted a porch to sit on. A rounded, circular porch with plenty of room for chairs, dinner, people watching, relaxing. This is the outline.
This is the porch almost completed. This view shows the new steps as compared to the old on the far right side. They were made out of pressurized lumber so they wouldn't rot, but that also meant they wouldn't accept paint very well and had to be repainted every year. Expanding the image by clicking on it will show you the steps on the right need to be repainted - badly.
This is a good image of the curve of the porch. The wraparound. Actually, we don't have an excellent view of the entire porch finished yet. It has Adirondack chairs and no construction material and no steps next to it right now. It also has arcs at the top of the ceiling, and the railing is a bit lower for better people watching. Those pictures will be up at Christmas. This is the best one we have so far below.
At the moment I am reading many things when Wendy and I finally retire to bed at night.
“Earth Abides” which was recommended to me in the comments section after I bitched about “The Road." This is another post-apocalyptic novel. Spoiler Alert : I am going to talk briefly about events that happen in the book. If you haven’t picked it up yet, skip this next paragraph.
Ultimate Spiderman – Can’t get enough of this. Bendis’ work on this title has been nothing short of amazing. One of the best, longest run on a series ever. Always great art, great dialogue, “realistic” situations and a perfect grasp on recapturing the Peter Parker I read as a youth. Pick up the trades, you won’t regret it. If only I could get comics for the Kindle/iPhone.
Eat, Pray, Love – Yes again. Wendy got me the Kindle/iPhone version for my birthday and when it’s handy, I read that. (Lines in the grocery store, subway, waiting in the dentist’s office. etc)
We are addicted to seafood at the moment. We grill salmon at home, only order seafood when we go out to eat and yesterday Wendy came home from the gym with a bag of shrimp, percebes and necora. (Percebes are like a goose barnacles, a delicacy here in Spain, and Necora are a small crab that you eat the entire inside of the body and the tiny claws.)
We are settling back into the routine here in Spain. The routine in Vermont is so different than the one here. I have been running a few times again, writing about fifty times more than when I am home in Vermont, walking everywhere, eating better and less, and most nights Wendy and I quit work around seven and watch The Daily Show, or some American series we love, or a movie and snuggle on the couch. Once the heat drops down a little more at night we’ll be on the terrace doing the same thing or playing “Magic” or Quandary or some other game. Around eleven we head to bed and read until we fall asleep.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
"TODD BYERS was among more than 20,000 people running the San Francisco Marathon last month. Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, he might have blended in with the other runners, except for one glaring difference: he was barefoot.
Vibram, with its FiveFingers line, is challenging the traditional idea of a running shoe.
Tony Post, chief of Vibram North America, in the company's thin rubber running shoes. He says the industry is due for a shake-up.
Even in anything-goes San Francisco, his lack of footwear prompted curious stares. His photo was snapped, and he heard one runner grumble, “I just don’t want the guy without shoes to beat me.”
Mr. Byers, 46, a running coach and event manager from Long Beach, Calif., who clocked in at 4 hours 48 minutes, has run 75 marathons since 2004 in bare feet. “People are kind of weird about it,” he shrugs.
Maybe they shouldn’t be. Recent research suggests that for all their high-tech features, modern running shoes may not actually do much to improve a runner’s performance or prevent injuries. Some runners are convinced that they are better off with shoes that are little more than thin gloves for the feet — or with no shoes at all."
The whole article is excellent.
The house looks amazing and I am eager to show you before and after pics. Sadly, combing my backup pictures of “before” comes up with little if any that illustrate what I want to show you. Luckily, the contractor took a bunch of before pictures and promises to send them to me.
We put in Skylights in the bedrooms and the front of the house to let more light in, a wrap-around porch and dormers on the back of the house to expand the upstairs bedrooms. I just uploaded a few pictures but they really don't show what I want to show so I have removed them. Most of them show the house still under construction and with tools and crap all over everything. I'd rather wait for the right pictures to really show you how beautiful it came out.
We put Adirondack chairs on our new porch and watched people, traffic and Top Chef on my laptop while sipping chilled white wine. After a hard sweaty day of cleaning out fifteen years of accumulated junk out of the cellar, that was a fine end to a hard day.
Rodney, Hilary, Dan and I used to play tennis every day for months at a time when we were in college. Wendy and I had so much fun the two times we played this summer I bought a racket and hauled it back to Spain with me. Wendy and I plan on many games in the future; just as soon as the temperature in Madrid drops below a hundred degrees.
Saw “District Nine” with Wendy’s brother when we went down to visit them for a weekend and I found it very disappointing. Aliens come to Earth and the only thing you can think to do with it is make Apartheid and Indian reservation analogies? Yeah, and that giant robot that catches the missile in the trailer? That robot suit was in the movie for all of 45 seconds. And let’s not forget it’s filmed in hand-held nausea-inducing shaky cam to give it 1) that “real” feeling and 2) a guarantee that Wendy can never watch it. Not that I would inflict it on her anyway. Needless to say, I just didn’t get it.
My friend, housemate and dog care-taker Doug has given his ninety day notice, wanting to find a place of his own and pursue his own path. I totally understand and will miss him in the house. Luckily, and sadly, two of the three dogs look like they won’t be around much longer. They are twelve, which is old for a sheltie. They have bad arthritis and sometimes Merlin struggles to get up and when his back end won’t rise for him he just gives up and lays back down. Morganna can no longer use the doggie door and falls over at the bottom of the ramp sometimes because her legs are so stiff they are like stilts. They don’t appear to be in any pain, just… old. We can open up the front door after a few hours away and they remain sleeping a few feet away from it on the floor, never waking from their old dog slumber even as we walk by them. I am looking for a good home for Nikki who, while also twelve, still acts like a puppy and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
We continue to be pleased with our choice of renting a car, driving down to Boston and taking a direct flight to Madrid. In the past the plan was to catch a ride with either my folks or a friend to the Burlington airport and then fly to JFK or Newark, go through security again and hope we didn’t miss our connecting flight. Or, if the flight from Burlington was on time, sit in the terminal for the next five hours waiting for the flight to Madrid. Going through security once sucks, doing it twice in one day where the second line can be hundreds of people long is a nightmare. Sitting in an airport terminal for five hours is no picnic either. This time we hit a small snag as Kennedy’s procession clogged Boston’s roads at three-thirty in the afternoon and the last five miles of our journey took forty minutes. Luckily, we had built in an extra hour so it all worked out fine. On the trip home I watched “Wolverine: Origins” and since the reviews let me know it wasn’t great, I watched it expecting nothing. I enjoyed it, mostly due to low expectations. I then choose to watch “Monsters vs. Aliens” but had to quit that movie at the hour mark and get some sleep.
And now we are back on the surface of the sun. Wow is Madrid hot.
Our first weekend back Lena and Stefan invited us over for brunch and pool time. I was greeted at the door by the Spanish rendition of “Happy Birthday to you” and this :
Stefan makes his own beer and this was a special batch called “El Jamie” with an awesome label. The present was a DVD all about bullfighting and if you can’t see the picture, it’s a turtle screwing a hamburger. How can you not love that?
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