Monday, May 31, 2010

Travel tips and Paige's birthday

 Hittin' the road back in '99
I had an email conversation with a friend recently who will be traveling to Spain soon with his wife. He wrote me to ask if I had any tips about traveling in Europe.  Well, I'm sure my friend knew (or if he didn't, he soon learned) that I'm always willing to tell people what I think. (wink)

Hangin' in Ireland with Mahatma Candy
Europe is safe

The first time I traveled to Europe was when my brother, Calee, and I went for a quick five-day jaunt to London in February, 1997.  In my pre-trip research, nearly everything I read warned me to be on my toes against pickpockets and tourist scams.  When we arrived I half-expected to be stripped of all my belongings before we even reached our hotel.  Now, after having traveled extensively throughout western (and a little bit of central) Europe, I can state definitively that the stories you hear about thieves and scams are exaggerated.

The key to avoiding trouble is to not invite it.  Keep your passport, your ATM card, and your money in a travel pouch, inside your clothes, right next to your skin.  Be sure to keep them in a plastic bag so that they don't get wet if you sweat.  Leave your expensive jewelry at home.  Ladies, I recommend that you forgo carrying a purse.

Always count your change.  Once, in Paris, a bartender deliberately short-changed me and flatly denied it when I pointed it out to him.  In the end he got my money (it was about 50 cents), but I hope I at least shamed him to one degree or another.  Another time, a barrista at La Escorial outside Madrid tried to rip me off, but one of my travel companions, a Mexican woman, let fly with a string of invective that took a strip of hide off of him.  He meekly handed me the rest of my money.

Regarding violent crime, the most violence I ever saw was in Ireland, where I witnessed a couple fistfights in the pubs on weekend nights.  (I was present at said establishments only for purposes of objective observation, you understand.)

Um belo dia em Lisboa
Don't be afraid of the so-called "language barrier"

The truth is, in any major city in western Europe, from Lisbon to Stockholm to Berlin to Naples, you can easily get by speaking nothing but English.  There is no language barrier.  It is good manners, though, to at least learn one or two words in the local language.  Especially, "thank you."  You will find that the response you get from people is much, much better if you at least try to say something in their language. 

When speaking to someone for whom English is a second (or third, fourth, or fifth) language, keep your sentences short, clear and simple.  Pronounce each word.  Don't use slang. 

When my sister, Mia, and I were in Lisbon in spring of 1999, I witnessed a young woman organizing a tour of the city, directing tourists to various buses.  She was being peppered with questions from dozens of people in five or six languages.  She deftly fielded each question and replied in the language in which it was asked, effortlessly.  I asked her "How many languages do you speak?"  She looked at me and guffawed, "I tried to count once..."

In smaller towns, you may at times find yourself in a place where no one speaks English.  When that happens, you will quickly learn how easy it is to communicate with gestures and facial expressions.  Above all, don't worry.

Las paredes blancas de Grenada
Dealing with money

Don't worry about converting money before you go.  The exchange counters in the airports and train stations are rip-offs.  Go straight to any bank machine and use your ATM card to draw your money directly out of your bank account.  Doing it this way guarantees that you will get the best exchange rate available.  You will have to pay the ATM fee, which could be anywhere from $1 to $5.  But don't worry:  there are ATMs everywhere in Europe.  I've used them in Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa.

As I gained travel experience, I found that the way it worked best for me was to go to the ATM upon arrival at a city and withdraw all the money that I thought I would need while at that city.  That way, I never had too much cash on me at any time, but I minimized the number of ATM fees.

Now that the European Union has converted to the Euro, things will be much simpler.  No need to run conversions in your head as you cross borders.

Grubbin' at the youth hostel in Copenhagen (Jason, Nelson, and Martín)

Youth hostels are a great way to go, regardless of your age. As a matter of fact, they are an excellent way to go. You will meet lots of fellow travelers from all over, and they can give you tips about things to see and good places to eat. Plus, you can often make friends. It happened to me many times when I traveled. Some hostels have private rooms, but most are dormitory sleeping. They have lockers where you can store your valuables.

The big advantage of youth hostels is that you are immersed in the travel life.  You learn much.  You get a much more immediate and intimate experience than you do staying in a hotel.  Hotel rooms can often turn into prisons from which it is hard to emerge.  My belief is that, if you're going to travel, get out there and mix with the people and the country as much as possible.  If you only come out of your hotel room to do a quick tour of a museum and eat at some tourist-elegant restaurant, you might as well stay home and watch it on teevee.

Pensiones also make for good accommodations. A pensione is a house with rooms that the owner lets out to travelers. Often, when you get off a train or bus, there will be people greeting you as you disembark, offering rooms. I've rented rooms that way several times and I've never had a bad experience. In San Sebastian, I rented a room from a matronly Spanish doña, who paid me the compliment of looking at me lasciviously.  I hadn't even noticed, but after she had handed us the key to the room and gone on about her business Jay, my Australian travel companion told me "She was checking you out pretty heavily."  Nice little ego boost.

Parisian cityscape
Get information!

The surest, best way to get up-to-date information is to contact the Tourist Information office.

Just about every city and town has a tourist information center where you can get great tips about what to see and do during your visit. You can count on them to be honest, too. They can even find you accommodations and sometimes sell you passes for the various tourist attractions.

Happy Birthday, Payee!

Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday, dear...
...little girl who would suck her thumb,
...and clutch her "manky" in her little fist,
...little Payee,
Happy birthday to you!

Friday, May 28, 2010

A benediction of sorts

 Me and Dad in 1962, in the apartment that he and Mom rented in Corvallis while Dad earned his bachelor's degree at Oregon State University.

Wisdom?  How's this?  If I live long enough, whatever I write today will one day seem painfully naive to my future self.  Because life is like a fire hose.  It doesn't "shut off."  And things come at you so fast that you scarcely get a chance to look around before everything has changed. 

So let that be my little courage:  the fact that I put it out here, for everyone to see, with the expectation that I will one day be embarrassed by it.

Ross Cariaga, Jr. passed in his home, in the house he built with his own two hands on the southeastern shore of Upper Klamath Lake, surrounded by his family, on June 9th, 2001.  He was 59 years old.  The end came at 8:00 a.m. in the recliner chair in the expansive front hall of his house.  The recliner sat in the corner nearest the sliding door that opened onto the kitchen.  From that recliner, he could look out through the vast tall windows on the south side of the house, across the great expanse of the lake.  In springtime, the surface of the lake would be dotted with pelicans, grebes, mergansers, ducks and Canadian geese.  My sister Mia, my Uncle Don, and Dad's wife, Tami, were at his side at the very moment of his death.

The last year of his life had been a real fight.  He'd been suffering from complications due to Lupus for several years, and in that last year, his health deteriorated precipitously.  His circulation became so weak that he developed gangrene on his finger tips.  He was in constant pain.  It was a trial for him and for all of us.  

I was the only one of the seven children my father had from his three wives that was not present at his death.  It was a more or less conscious decision.  I had been to Klamath Falls the week before.

"Well, Dad," I said, "you've had a good life."

He was lying back in the recliner.  He had a blanket pulled up to his chin.  "A good life," he said.  "A hell of a life, son."  He nodded once, emphatically.

"Seven kids.  Three wives.  All of them good women."

"That's right, son.  All three of them good women,"  Dad said.  Speaking emphatically, the way he always did. My brother Calee was nearby and overheard what Dad had said.  Calee half-grinned, seemingly abashed.  But Calee and Dad had their own relationship to resolve; I didn't expect that Calee would understand.

I was glad Dad said that.  All my life I had resented the way he had treated his wives; the way he had treated all of them, but especially my mother.  And he knew I resented it and that I didn't understand it.  He knew that to me his behavior was pointless and cruel.  He knew I resented it, and so when he said that, he let me know that he understood that I resented it, and that he was sorry for it, if for no other reason than for what it had done to me. 

And he understood that when I said "Dad, you've had a good life," I was really asking him a question:  "Dad, have you had a good life?"  He knew that I was asking him what I should look forward to when my time came; I was asking him if I should be afraid and he didn't want me to be afraid, and so he said "A hell of a life, son."  He was always like that:  emotionally two steps ahead of everyone.

It was the last time I ever spoke with Dad.  And I knew, at the time, that it was probably going to be the last time I spoke to him, and I spoke with that knowledge.  So, I felt we had said what needed to be said between us.  It was enough for me.  I feared that if we talked any more, we would only complicate matters.  That's why I wasn't there at the very end.

Dad and his kids, May 2001

There have been times, since then, when I've thought of other things that we might have said, perhaps should have said, but I suppose that's the nature of death.  Isn't it?

I was talking with my Uncle Don about it several years ago.  "You know, Uncle Don," I said, "when Dad died, I didn't really want to face it.  I couldn't face it.  I worry about that sometimes."

Uncle Don said, "Son, don't.  I know your Dad, and I know what he'd tell you.  And I'm telling you... just don't!"

Thursday, May 27, 2010

President Obama, take down British Petroleum!

Make them pay, Mr. President! 

I think it would behoove us all to come to some stark realizations fairly quickly:  the Mississippi Delta, the Gulf Coast that we have known all our lives is gone forever.  It will never return.  No one alive today will ever again know it as it has been before now.

Thank you, British Petroleum.

BP is in the process of poisoning the entire Gulf Coast of the United States.  The results of their negligence will cause grievous and long-lasting damage.  Damage far greater than any conceivable terrorist attack. More devastating to this nation than any military attack throughout her history.

Right now, thirty-some days into the crisis, BP is marshaling all its vast resources.  But not to stop the catastrophe in the gulf waters.  They have no idea what to do, all this talk about a "top-kill" notwithstanding.  No, BP is even now bringing all of its formidable empire in line in order to stave off the repercussions of its negligence.  That's the way these corporate mobsters work:  take, take, take and when something goes wrong, when you destroy the Gulf Coast, have the lawyers get to work.

It is hard to understand why British Petroleum is not being treated as a declared enemy of the United States.

The Gulf Oil spill is not an accident; it is the result of criminal negligence.  Negligence committed with the complete security that the billions of dollars of profits BP has been raking in, would dwarf any petty punitive damages meted out by the federal government.

Let me postulate, for a moment:  what would be my fate, were I to exhibit similar reckless behavior on an individual scale?  What if my own negligence in pursuit of profit caused a destructive fire in my neighborhood?  Would I be left in control of my own resources and allowed to deal with the problem as I saw fit?  Or would I be arrested and thrown in jail? 

I have a great deal of respect for Barack Obama.  The man has been gracious in the face of base and degrading insults from boorish, ignorant people.  But unlike the tea-baggers, these capitalist mobsters that run Big Oil are serious, deadly men.  And they will stop at nothing; Dick Cheney has proved that.

I believe that the BP Oil Spill has the potential to fundamentally change political realities. We could be at a real crossroads in the history of this country.  This is certainly not the first time in American history when the federal government has come into conflict with Big Business.  But the stakes are higher than ever before.

So, Mr. President, the time has come.  At this point, British Petroleum is a threat to this nation.  Seize its assets.  Arrest its executives.  And don't stop there.  We need a crackdown, Mr. President.  Take down British Petroleum.

Update:  The ANSWER Coalition has a website at which you can sign a petition to advocate the seizure of British Petroleum assets.   If we, the people, nationalize BP watch and see how fast the other Big Oil pirates start falling into line!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

So long, Evalina

Evalina on her 90th birthday (Cousin Maryann in the back)

Just a note today, to say goodbye to my Aunt Evalina, who passed on May 15th.  Maty and I attended her memorial yesterday.

Evalina was my mom's aunt, the wife of my grandfather's brother, Dick.  I'm sad to see her go, but I'm sure she would have no complaints.  She had ninety-five years of life and she had lots of family and friends around her.  I'm mostly sad for her two children, my cousins Maryann and Rick, and their families. 

 Evalina and Maty

One of the last times I saw Evalina was when Maty and I, newly-married, stopped by to visit her when she was living at an assisted-living home in Keizer.  We walked into her apartment, and the first thing she said to Maty was "Welcome to the family."  I'm so very grateful to her for that.

A short while after that visit, cousin Maryann showed up at our door with a beautiful table center piece, fashioned from glass into the shape of a leaping dolphin.  It was a wedding gift from Aunt Evalina. Maryann told us that Evalina had chosen it because she wanted to give us a unique gift that we would always have to remember her by.

 Evalina's wedding gift to Maty and me

So long, Evalina.  I'll miss ya!

(Here's the poem printed in her memorial card...)

While Waiting for Thee
by Sharon A. Bryington

Don't weep at my grave
For I am not there,
I've a date with a butterfly
To dance on the air.
If I'm missed, find a flower,
I'll be there, too,
Sniffing its fragrance
Right next to you.
Don't be sad
When you remember me,
For I'm singing in the sunshine, 
Wild and free,
Flirting with the lightning, 
Playing tag with the wind,
Chasing the thunder
Time and time again
Soaring with the eagle, 
Swimming in the sea,
Enjoying all nature
While I'm waiting for thee.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Who needs terrorists? We've got Big Oil!

Al Qaeda got nothin' on these guys!
 As the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico unfolds, it is now apparent that the threat posed to these United States --indeed, to all of humanity! --by multi-national resource-extraction industries is far greater and far more lethal than is any threat posed by a relative handful of Muslim extremists.

That's right, people.  British Petroleum, Exxon, Shell Oil, Halliburton, and so on are the biggest political threat to the world in existence.  They are terrorist organizations.  The prima facie evidence cannot be denied.

British Petroleum, which made $5.6 billion dollars in profit in the first quarter of 2010, is even now inflicting economic and environmental damage on this nation that will far out scale what was done to us on September 11, 2001. Let me repeat that:  this Gulf spill is a greater disaster to the United States than was the attack inflicted by al Qaeda, when they knocked down the Twin Towers. 

BP failed to follow federal regulations (as reported by Scott Pelley on 60 minutes) and now, due to its criminal negligence, we are suffering this disaster, which is still unfolding, a full month after it began.  No progress has been made toward stopping the oil from gushing into the Gulf.  There has been no slowdown in the flow.  They have no solution.

Meanwhile, BP's chief executive Tony Hayward is muttering soothing placations, telling us we don't need to worry.  It's a "relatively tiny" spill, he says!  The environmental impact will be "very, very modest," he says! He has no idea what is going to happen!  No one does!

British Petroleum is so powerful that their attitude toward the federal government of the United States is nothing short of contemptuous. And why not?  Our government is being exposed as impotent.  The Obama administration is doing nothing.  The oil continues to gush into the sea.  The feds don't know what to do about it.

And something else, something much more frightening, is becoming apparent.

Ask yourself:  Why isn't Eric Holder issuing indictments?  Why aren't British Petroleum assets being seized?

The truth is terrifying:  Because Obama fears Big Oil!  Because Big Oil has either bought off or intimidated our federal government!

In 1991, we were told that it was imperative that we go to war to take down an Iraqi strongman who had gotten too big for his britches.  But now, US Senators urge us not to be too hasty, not to overreact.  We don't want to hurt BP, they say.  They say this even though, unlike Saddam Hussein, BP has inflicted real and terrible devastation on our homeland.

They would kill us all.  They will kill us all.
If the Bush administration taught us anything it is this:  until the people rise up and put a stop to them, these huge international corporations will grind us all under their heels.  That is the lesson of the Bush administration.  The Bush administration, which consisted of men who made obscene fortunes in the energy industry.  The Bush administration, with front man Junior Bush, CEO of Harken Energy, and Arbusto.  The Bush administration, led by Dick Cheney, CEO of Halliburton, who received a deferred Halliburton salary while he was sitting vice-president!

Terrorists?  Who needs terrorists?  Big Oil will kill us all faster than any hopeless, skinny kids from Pakistan.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Faces in the trees

I wonder, do you also see the faces in the trees?
Does it seem to you they frown or do they smile?

Rooted in wood-knotted heart;
Through bark and flesh they see;
Past all tomfoolery;

Deafened, will not hear your part;
Aloof to verse and rhyme,
Entreaty, wasted time;

Immune to all rankness and reek;
Insult can never reach,
Nor dignity be breached;

Fibrous lignin forbids them to speak;
No praise to spare for us,
Nor cluck-cluck of disgust;

I wonder, do you also see the faces in the trees?
Does it seem to you they frown...

...or do they smile?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Steak dinner with Mitch McConnell

SceneWednesday night.  The day after the primary election.  An elegant, linen-tablecloth steak house within the Washington DC beltway.  Waiters hustle between tables.  The din of clinking glasses and dinnerware fill the air.  Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sits in a booth to one side of the large dining room.  A cloth napkin rests in his lap.  He primly slices a small morsel from the rib-eye steak on the plate before him, lays the steak knife across the lip, then raises the fork to his mouth.  He chews deliberately, places the fork on his plate, then raises the napkin to dab at the corners of his mouth.  Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner emerges from the crowd milling in the dining room, apple martini in hand, and slides down into the seat across from McConnell.

Boehner:  Hell of a week, eh, Mitch?

McConnell:  I don't recall inviting you to sit.

Boehner: Tough break, about Grayson, Mitch.  Your own protégé.  Trey Grayson was the guy you were gonna hand it all over to when you called it quits.  And they rejected him like a bad kidney.  [He shakes his head, takes a pull off his martini, winks, and raises his glass to McConnell.]  You'll get 'em next time.

[McConnell picks up knife and fork and undertakes to slice another bite off his steak.  He keeps his eyes on his plate.]

Boehner:  I mean, talk about ingratitude!  After all you've done for Kentucky, a bunch o' tea-party hicks go and choose Ron Paul's boy.  Rand Paul instead of a good, solid McConnell Republican like Trey Grayson!  How's that for appreciation?  All those years you spent kissing Bill Frist's ass and this is the thanks you get?  I tell ya, if I were you, I'd hold a press conference. I'd have a thing or two to say about some people.

[McConnell chews silently.  He doesn't look up.]

Boehner [singing]:  Blue moon of Kentucky, keep on shining; Shine on the one that's gone and left me blue...

McConnell [slamming his fist on the table]:  Listen to me, you glorified golf caddy!  You shut your trap, do you hear me?  You blew a slam dunk in Pennsylvania twelve!  You and Michael Steele squawking about how that race was going to send a signal to the White House.  You had Cantor out there shooting his mouth off about a GOP House in November!  Well let me tell you something, you inebriated jack-o-lantern:  While you were getting railroaded by Nancy Pelosi on health care reform, I was holding my caucus together.  I took all the heat for that!  I don't whine!  I fight!

[He holds Boehner's eye for a moment, then drops his gaze back to his plate.  He picks up his utensils and cuts daintily at his steak.]

Boehner [wryly]:  But you still lost, didn't you?  

[Enter Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown.]

Brown:  Oh, hello, Mitch, John.  I didn't see you sitting here.

Boehner:  That's alright, Scott.  Mitch and I were just remembering the good old days.  Isn't that right, Mitch?

McConnell [ignoring Boehner]:  Scott, sit down, will you?  I'd like to talk to you about our strategy for blocking Chris Dodd's financial reform bill.

[A din arises, near the entrance to the dining room.  Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak has entered and is being warmly congratulated by the clientele for his primary victory over Arlen Specter.]

Boehner:  Get a load of those jokers!  If there's anything worse than a poor loser, it's a poor winner, eh, Mitch?  Say, isn't that Harry Reid over there? 

Brown:  Yeah.  Yeah, that's Harry alright.  Say, listen, Mitch, have your chief call my office and we'll set up a meeting.  I've gotta go talk to Harry for a minute.  [He hurries away, toward the crowd of partying Democrats.]

[McConnell drops his eyes to his plate and goes back to eating his steak.  He takes small bites, chews deliberatelyBoehner smiles, loosely.  He takes a long slow pull from his drink.  Over the rim of his glass, he watches McConnell chew.]

Boehner:  Anyway, Mitch, don't take it so hard.  You've been in this game long enough to know that it goes in cycles.  Wheel spins, you're on top; spins again, you're underneath. 

McConnell:  ... 

Boehner:  What was that?

McConnell [softly]:  I said kiss my ass, you son of a bitch.

Boehner  [standing up to leave]:  You know what your problem is, Mitch?  [He throws his head back, empties his glass and smacks it down on the table.]  You don't know when to laugh.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Death in the slug trap

 Contents of a slug trap in my vegetable bed
Came out, this morning, and glanced into the beer-filled cups in the planter bed.  Oh, hideous death! 

Whatever it may reveal, I'm afraid I can't even muster any regret for what I've done. 

Yes, your very form disgusts me.  Yes, in those instances when I become aware of your kind, of your existence, my gut level response is loathing, revulsion.  But, believe it or not, that is not reason enough to kill you.

As Pilar said of Don Guillermo Martín, "He had a rude way of speaking and he was undoubtedly a fascist and a member of their club and he sat at noon and at evening in the cane chairs of their club to read El Debate, to have his shoes shined, and to drink vermouth and seltzer and eat roasted almonds, dried shrimps, and anchovies.  But one does not kill for that..."  (Thank you, Ernest Hemingway.)

You're incapable of even conceiving a reality beyond the here and now.  Whether that makes you more or less enlightened, puts you closer to or further from Truth, is irrelevant.

It just doesn't matter.

You drove me to it.  You were killing my cabbage.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Senators in the doghouse

 You guys suck!

In the old days, the pagan priests would kill a goat or a pig or a fatted calf and study its entrails.  From the pattern of the blood spattered on the altar, or from the contents of the intestines, or from the condition of some other of the grizzly components, they would proclaim omens, would forecast good or bad times.  Did they really have some channel to the supernatural that allowed them to see the future?  Or was it a lot of hooey?

Who knows?  Who cares?

The media punditry are all obsessing over the results of yesterday's primary election results in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Arkansas.

Lots of things happened yesterday.  In Arkansas, incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln, a "conservative" Democrat, failed to win 50% of the vote and so faces a run-off with her primary challenger, Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter.  In Pennsylvania, Senator Arlen Specter was defeated in that primary election by Representative Joe Sestak, a retired admiral of the US Navy.  Then, in Kentucky, Republican primary voters nominated tea-bagger favorite, Rand Paul, passing over Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson.

The punditry has not yet developed a conventional wisdom about the portentive significance of these results.  Some say it is a rebuke of President Obama, who supported Senators Lincoln and Specter.  Some say it is a rebuke of national Republicans, since Rand Paul defeated the hand-picked golden boy of everybody's favorite cadaver, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Well, as I take a gander at the election results, I see something different.  Incumbent senators and their hand-picked drones are being rejected at the polls.  Don't forget that Utah Republicans also rejected Senator Robert Bennett a week earlier.  Don't forget that Mad Johnny McCain is having to actually break a sweat in his primary.  In Nevada, Senator Harry Reid is fighting for his own political life!

Hearken back to the interminable, agonizing health care reform debate that recently concluded with the passage of (supposedly) landmark legislation.  That debate highlighted the workings of the US Senate in all their obscene detail:  filibusters, sweetheart deals, threats and bullying, betrayal, false promises.  Every prima donna senator had his or her moment to shine, offering or threatening to withhold support for the legislation, exacting as much power, leverage, and pork as possible.  It was a disgusting display.

Or consider the nomination process currently underway for Elena Kagan in her quest to replace Justice John Paul Stevens.  She is even now dutifully paying homage to those senators who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Why?  Her confirmation is a foregone conclusion.  Her confirmation hearings will merely provide national attention for the preening, self-important clowns who love nothing so much as to hear themselves talk.  Shameless grandstanding, people.  Shameless grandstanding.

I think people are expressing disgust, not specifically at Democrats, nor Republicans, nor President Obama, but at the US Senate!  Blanche Lincoln and Arlen Specter were challenged from the political left.  Grayson, Bennett, and McCain were (and are) being challenged from the political right.  I think the behavior of the US Senate may have forged a national unity of sorts!

On the other hand, maybe I'm full of sh*t.  It wouldn't be the first time.  But, what the hell?  I'm just as likely to guess correctly as any of those schmoes on the cable news channels. 

(Oregon, looks like we're being slighted again.  Nobody seems to care the we had a primary yesterday.  I guess all those pundits need their sleep, and covering Oregon would require that they stay up past their bedtimes.  We're better off for it, in my opinion.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Puerto Montt, Chile: Alps, churches, and brawlers

In the late fall of 2004, my feet was itchin', as the saying goes.  I was winding down an 18-month, more-or-less self-imposed (unpaid) sabbatical.  Financial resources at that point were close to exhausted, and the necessity of returning to productive employment was becoming more and more imperative.  So, as my "last hurrah" before submitting to the corporate lash, I took a trip to Chile

My travel window fell in December, which worked out nicely because it allowed me to cheat Old Man Winter by flying south, over the Equator, to get a second helping of summer solstice and miss out on the darkest, shortest days of the northern hemisphere in that year.

I was especially eager to go to Chile because I had been studying Spanish at Portland State University and I wanted to put my learning to the test.  Boy, was I in for a rude awakening!  Chilenos speak with a unique accent that is very difficult for non-native Spanish speakers to understand.  Within 30 minutes of landing at Santiago International Airport I was wandering around thoroughly dazed and discouraged.

I spent nearly a month in Chile (with a quick jaunt into Argentina), traveling south from Santiago.  On Christmas Eve, 2004, I rolled into Puerto Montt, a port town surrounded by snow-capped Andean peaks to the east, temperate lowland country to the west and north, and the Seno de Reloncaví to the south.  Puerto Montt is sited in the Región de Los Lagos (Lake District) of Chile, about midway between the northernmost and southernmost points of that country.  As I suppose one might expect of a seaport, Puerto Montt had a bit of a rough edge to it.

Anti-Bush graffiti in Puerto Montt  (Junior Bush had been to Chile three weeks ahead of me on one of his diplomatic boondoggles.  Chilenos were not impressed.) 
My first day there, I stopped in for lunch at a local eatery. Two weather-worn chaps sat at the table next to me, arguing rather loudly. They were lean, whiskered men.  Each had skin the color of old leather; had cheeks covered with salt-and-pepper stubble.  One fellow, with light hair and a sharp-cornered mouth framed by vertical lines, seemed to be growing angry.  He slapped the table surface with his open hand as he spoke.  His voice grew ever-louder, his gestures ever more animated.  From across the room, the waiter frowned at him as if to say "¡Calmate!"

The recipient of the diatribe was an older, smaller man with short black curls jutting from under a white short-billed cap.  His eyelids were heavy, his eyes half-closed, as if he were drowsing.

Just as I settled into my sopa de pollo, the loud, light-haired fellow reached over and slapped the other man under the chin, and both rose to their feet, swearing. The fellow that had been slapped grabbed a beer bottle and raised it above his head, beer pouring out the bottle mouth and down his arm. They grappled for a while in a semi-drunken dance. I kept my eyes on the upraised beer bottle, waiting with dread for it to come crashing down. But before anything too serious could happen, the waiter and several other patrons intervened, separating the two combatants. More harsh words and some half-hearted shoves were exchanged as the instigator of the donnybrook was eighty-sixed.  I just kept slurping my chicken soup, since I didn't really know what else to do......sigh.

Saltos del Petrohué
The next day, Christmas Day, I went on an excursion to a nearby national park, the spectacular Saltos del Petrohué.  The falls and rapids of Petrohué were far too swift to be negotiated by any human conveyance.  They are classifed as "non-negotiable" in white-water rafting parlance.  I stood on a bridge above the roaring rapids with one of my tour companions, a Dutchmen. I said, "Man, if you were to fall in there, write it off, ´cause it´s all over." Although my companion´s command of English was far from comprehensive, he knew what I meant.  He considered, then nodded. "Yes, I think you are right," he said.

Más de los saltos
 The Christmas Day tour culminated with a visit to Lago Llanquihue, an alpine lake surrounded by the omnipresent snow-capped Andean peaks.  A warm, dry wind whipped across the lake and buffeted us as we stood on the stony shore, admiring the blue of the water set against the majestic purple and white mountains.

Lago Llanquihue
Back in Puerto Montt that night, I wandered around the town trying to call home to wish my family a Merry Christmas.  I didn't have much luck.  I spent a lonely Christmas evening in my hotel room, eating food I had purchased earlier that day at a grocery. If you've never spent Christmas alone in a foreign land, let me tell you, it is a spiritual experience. 

La Catedral de Puerto Montt
Next day, I was up early. I was to catch a ferry that would take me out to the sinking island of Chiloé, south across the Seno de Reloncaví.  I wandered down to the Plaza de Armas and viewed the Iglesia Catedral, with her wooden facade. She looked very peaceful, resting complacently in the clear, blue morning of early summer:  Catholic mother sitting benevolently among her flock.  The streets were mostly empty.  People were in their homes, celebrating the Nativity.
I spent a good leisurely while wandering around the streets of that strange, proud seaport so far from my home.  As I walked along the waterfront, my mind riffed on a single incomprehensible notion:  "Puerto Montt.  Who'd have ever imagined I'd be in Puerto Montt?"

Monday, May 17, 2010

Maty Bombay: Becoming an American

 The many faces of Maty Bombay Cariaga
The first thing I did this morning, after the cell phone alarm had completed its nightmarish, faux-cheerful, electronic xylophone squawk, was to sing "Happy Birthday" to Maty Bombay.  She's not a morning person, but she did manage to look over at me and whisper "Tank you."  (She has trouble pronouncing the soft "th.")

She's been seven years in the United States now.  That's nearly a quarter of her life.  (She was born in 1979.)  As a lifelong Oregonian with no plans to ever leave, I find it hard to imagine how it must be for her, living in a world so completely different from the one she knew in Burkina Faso.  The lessons of America have, I know, been both inspirational and disillusioning for her.

On the one hand, this is the land of opportunity, especially when set against the bleak poverty of Burkina Faso.  Although, from the perspective of her left-wing husband, these United States are unjustly geared toward preserving the plutocracy, to Maty, even considering our nation's current job woes, we're still doing pretty well.

On the other hand, this middle-class perch on which we rest can be mighty precarious.  And it's a long fall from the heights of relative economic comfort to the stony floor of poverty and destitution.  Maty certainly knows that.

She hasn't forgotten her homeland and her people.  Part of her weekend routine is to spend several hours on the phone, catching up with her parents, her siblings, and her friends who are still in Africa.  She regularly sends gifts for birthdays and other occasions. And she does what she can for them when they need help.

But Maty is charging ahead in her quest to integrate herself into American culture.  She is now working as a Certified Nursing Assistant, licensed by the State of Oregon.  She has her Permanent Resident (Green) card.  Next, she plans to attain an Oregon Driver's License and her US Citizenship.

Well, here she is, settled in America for better or worse, as the saying goes. And, dear reader, let me just tell you:  I am so very proud of my wife.  Whenever I find myself bogged down in some morally-ambiguous predicament, I count on her to help me find the virtuous path.  Her Muslim faith, the upbringing she received from her parents, and her kindly, honorable nature evoke in me a trust and gratitude that makes every day a blessing.  (Even when we're having one of "those" days.)  She provides me with a validation that I can't adequately express.  Suffice it to say that if someone as noble as Maty can see the good in me, I can't be all that bad.

Happy Birthday, Maty, my love.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Garden is in!

Thai pepper and Early Girl tomato
Such a great feeling when the garden is in!  In a burst of climatological optimism, Maty and I completed our spring planting today.  On our back deck, we put in 2 habañero peppers, which we had good success with last year, as well as a Thai pepper, 2 varieties of basil, and a variety of tomato called "Early Girl" which is said to mature in 60 days.  (We'll see about that.)

¡Habañero llameante!
Habañeros are a must for us, because we love food that is hot, hot, HOT!  I always used to think that I could eat anything spicy, but once I married this African woman, I quickly learned that we Americans are pretty lightweight when it comes to spicy food.  Maty doesn't even bother with jalapeños; they don't have enough kick.

We added a cucumber to our plot out front.  I put a tomato cage over it to see if I can get it to trellis upward rather than spreading all over.  We have a zebra tomato going in the main bed.  It should give us some fruit around mid-August.  Also we've got beets and garlic growing nearby. 

We've had red leaf lettuce, cabbage, and spinach in the ground for a few weeks now,  I plucked enough lettuce and spinach today to make a very big salad.  There will be more to come.  The cabbage hasn't fared as well.  We had some rather promising looking plants, but the bed has been invaded by slugs, which demolished four of our cabbages.  I killed perhaps a half-dozen long olive-brown slugs over the last day or two, but I'm sure there are more.

Death awaits thee, Master Slug!
Fortunately, slugs (like tea-baggers) are prone to drinking themselves to death with cheap beer.  I bought a single can of Hamm's beer at Fred Meyer and poured it into two paper cups.  Then I put each cup into the soil, so that its lip is flush with the ground.  I've used this trick before and it works like a charm.  The slugs are drawn to the yeast smell, crawl into the cup to investigate, and then, repeating a tragedy known to humans from all walks of life, succumb to demon drink.  I expect in the next day or so, both cups will be full of stale beer and thoroughly pickled slugs.  More's the pity.  But maybe I can save the last of my cabbage!

I think this year just might be the year when my blueberries start producing.  I've had two of them for a good five years, but they haven't done much.  Well, this year, I moved them both to a sunnier spot in the yard and added a third shrub to enhance pollination.  Things are looking good this year.

Oh, baby!
Strawberries and raspberries are both going strong.  So I'll have plenty of fresh berries to put on my granola this summer.

This gardening thing is a lot of fun.  I'm very, very far from being a green thumb, but in this fertile valley in the Pacific Northwest, with this mild, wet climate, you almost have to try to fail for things not to work out.

Gotta love it!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

BP Spill: Let's have some justice

The BP Oil disaster is still out of control, dumping thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  Day and night.  No one is even sure of the extent of the disaster, but I think it is safe to say that there are a lot of people desperately trying to keep a lid on things.  I predict that when this is all over, we're going to find that things are a lot worse than we are being led to believe.  Watch and see, people!  Watch and see!

Big Oil has a mind-blowing supply of financial resources, and you better believe they will take full advantage of them in the time to come.  Huge public relations campaign!  Political contributions to sympathetic office-holders flowing like rainwater in Portland's springtime West Hills!  British Petroleum, Shell, Exxon, all of them will join forces:  they'll view it as a fight for survival. 

The Honorable Senator Murkowski (R-British Petroleum)
They're already calling in favors from their bought-and-paid-for lapdogs in the US Senate.  Take, for example, Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska.  Murkowski is blocking legislation proposed by Senator Robert Menendez (New Jersey) that would raise the financial liability of oil companies due to oil spills from the current pittance of 75 million dollars to a considerable 10 billion.  Senator Murkowski has received $436,000 in campaign contributions from Big Oil over her 8 years as a senator.  (Read about it here.)  How obvious does it have to be?

The Honorable Senator Landrieu (D-British Petroleum)
And although Murkowski is a Republican, the Democrats are no better.  Take for example, Louisiana's own Senator Mary Landrieu, who has been cautioning that we not "overreact" to this BP disaster.  Even as the BP spill threatens to turn the Mississippi Delta into a lifeless cesspool, she worries that, were the liability cap to be raised, it might put BP out of business.  (BP's profits, the monies above and beyond their operating expenses, were $5.6 billion in the first three months of this year.)  (You can read about it here.)  Mary Landrieu was rated "the top congressional recipient of BP-related campaign cash during the last election cycle" according to OpenSecrets blog.

However, there is some cause to hope that some progress can be made toward loosening the death grip that Big Oil has on the federal government.  Experts in environment law, including David H. Uhlman, who was a top Justice Department official investigating environmental crimes during the Clinton and Bush administrations, believe that criminal charges will be brought against BP and the two other companies involved.  (One of those companies is Dick Cheney's old gang at Halliburton.)   (You can read about it here.)

Of course, it is folly to get too hopeful.  We need only cast a glance at misshapen, hateful Dick Cheney, out on the prairies of Wyoming, to see that there is a certain powerful clique of persons to whom such quaint notions as "justice" do not apply, no matter how obvious its crimes. 

But if we're going to learn anything at all from this man-made disaster, this catastrophe that will be with us for the rest of my natural life, it must start with justice, with enforcement, with consequences for the perpetrators.

So, to US Attorney General Eric Holder, I say, "Get to it, sir."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Laughter without malice

"The one lady at work; she so funny.  You know what she say?  She say, 'Maty, do you know what?  Every time I see you, you laughing.  You always laughing.'"  She takes a plastic jug of fabric softener from the shelf, unscrews the top, and smells the contents.  She screws the top back on, and places the jug back on the shelf.

"Everyone loves you, honey."

"She's very nice.  She always like me to joke with her,"  she says.  Her laugh is a quiet and musical laugh like the soft chatter of water over stones. She shakes her head, as she laughs, browsing the shelves full of multi-colored plastic jugs, bottles of perfumed detergents, myriad branded fabric softeners.  She picks one, examines it carefully, then places it in the basket.

"Where do you want to go for dinner, tonight, honey?" I ask.

She laughs.  "Honey!  We don't even get home yet already you talking about dinner!"

"I'm just thinking ahead," I say.  When I see her laugh, it makes me happy.

She moves to the next aisle.  "I want to buy garlic," she says.  I follow with the cart.

"Honey," I ask, "what should I write about tonight?"

"Write about yourself," she says.  She bends down to peer at the various jars of garlic:  diced, crushed, whole clove.

"What should I say?" I ask.

"How every day, even you don't have breakfast you want to know what we gonna eat for dinner," she says, laughing.

Laughing affectionately.  Laughing without malice.

Just serves to remind:  it's a pretty good thing, this thing I got going with the African girl.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Chris Dudley: Nice guy gettin' mixed up with the wrong people

Great work ethic, but not the guy to run the play
When I think back on Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Dudley's career as a Portland Trailblazer, I remember him being a good guy both on and off the court.  He certainly wasn't a big scorer; he was a very bad free-throw shooter and his ball-handling skills were negligible (to say the least).  But, he was a good defender and rebounder, and he had a great work ethic.

Since that time, Dudley has also proved to be a man of fine character in his prominent role in the community.  He's a well-known philanthropist who has done much for diabetic kids with his Chris Dudley Foundation.  In short, Chris Dudley is a good guy.

And that's why I'm so sad to see him running for Governor of Oregon as a Republican.  'Cause once you get that GOP stink on your hands, it's gonna be with ya for a while.  (Just ask Gordon Smith.)

It is disappointing to see Dudley getting mixed up with the Republican party.  But there is no denying that he's going all the way with it.  His campaign ads are standard GOP drivel:  tax cuts for businesses, fiscal austerity, yadda, yadda, yadda.  Willamette Week reported last December that Dudley, before he had publicly announced his intention to run, hired two big time GOP operatives to help him with his campaign.  Quoting Willie Week:
Dudley’s campaign manager is Chris Gulugian-Taylor, the former head of the Nevada GOP and in 2008, the Republican National Committee’s state director for Washington.

Dudley has also brought in Brittany Bramell, who served as spokewoman for New Jersey governor-elect Chris Christie, who defeated incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine last month. --Willamette Week, December 9, 2009
Those are some relatively Big Guns for little ol' Oregon.  By hiring two Republican operatives with national prominence and adhering to the GOP boilerplate for his campaign, Dudley appears to be hoping to associate himself with some "national movement" toward Republicans this November.  He apparently aims to come riding in on some national anti-Obama backlash.  There are certainly many in the national media who anticipate something of the kind.  (Personally, I have my doubts.)

But Dudley's decision to run his campaign by following the advice of national Republican operatives seems clumsy and politically tone-deaf with respect to Oregon and Oregonians.  Then again, Dudley has little to choose from if he's looking for help from Oregon Republicans.  The GOP is effectively dead in this state.

Remember the great Republican leaders in Oregon's history?  They have very little in common with the neo-Confederates and Bible-thumping hypocrites leading today's national GOP.  How would  Tom McCall, Vic Atiyeh, or Mark Hatfield fare in the post-Junior Bush Republican party?   

No, I'm afraid today's national Republican party has almost nothing in common with the Oregon Republican party that dominated state politics through much of the 70s and 80s.  To see how far the GOP has fallen in Oregon, consider:  Oregon has not had a Republican governor since 1987.  The state has not voted for the Republican candidate for President since 1984.  Both US Senators are Democrats.  Four of five congressional representatives are Democrats. Both houses of the state legislature are controlled by Democrats.  Oregon is as blue as it gets.

And yet, Chris Dudley imagines that the way to the governor's mansion is by hooking up with the toxic schmucks that Oregonians so universally reject.

It's a poor decision.  A brain hiccup.  To put it in perspective, imagine Chris Dudley, back in his days as a Trailblazer. He has the ball at the top of the key.  One point down, two on the clock.  He sees an open Clyde Drexler streaking down the baseline!  He motions as if to pass, and then --to the appalled horror of Blazer fans everywhere --he puts the ball on the floor and drives for the hoop!

It's that kind of a decision.

I'm not going to hold it against him, personally.  Like I said before, Chris Dudley is a good guy.

But I sure as hell ain't gonna vote for him!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Saturday night at Milagro Theater

 El Milagro Theater on Stark Street

Saturday night, I went to Milagro Theater, just down the street, as it were, to see a production of El Quijote.  The play was billed as a bilingual adaptation of a work written by Santiago García based on the novel by Miguel de Cervantes.  That description piqued my curiosity for a number of reasons.  Firstly, I'm always looking for new ways to improve my Spanish and a bilingual play seemed like a good alternative for doing so.  Secondly, I read the original Cervantes novel some 25 years ago and remembered it as poignant, profound, and hilarious.

Entreaties to friends and spouse for accompaniment were fruitless, and so I made a solo trek down to SE Stark Street, a mere mile and a half from my house, to see the play. 

Milagro Theater

Tasteful, thematic decor

This was my first visit to Milagro Theater, but I don't intend for it to be my last.  The anteroom included a small coffee shop adorned with Spanish-themed artwork apropos of the current show.  The staff was friendly, informative, and welcoming. The atmosphere was casual, easy-going.  I did not feel under-dressed in my sandals and tee-shirt attire.

The theater itself is intimate.  I'm not sure of the capacity, but I estimate there were some five score persons at the show I attended, and there were only a scant few empty seats.  The stage was small, and the set simple.  Sound and lighting were quite good.

El Quijote

Sancho Panza (Danny Bruno) y el Don Quijote (Gilberto Martín del Campo)

La obra, como se anunció, es bilingüe, lo cual significa que el diálogo consiste de líneas en ambos inglés y español.  Por la mayor parte, comprendí el castellano, aunque, en algunas escenas, estuve perdido.  El reparto de actores trabajaron con mucha dedicación.  No quiero mencionar nadie en particular, por que todos hicieron muy bien.  Me gustó el diálogo entre los dos actores primeros, Danny Bruno (Sancho Panza) y Gilberto Martín del Campo (Don Quijote).  Hubo muchas escenas cómicas, y bajo todo, las preguntas planteadas en la obra de Cervantes no se habían ocultado.  Don Quijote y Sancho Panza continuan preguntarnos ¿cuál es el equilibrio adecuado entre el idealismo y el pragmatismo? 

En mi opinión, la obra fue un poco demasiado largo, corriendo dos y media horas, incluyendo un intermedio de quince minutos.   Pero, encontré el trabajo ser un esfuerzo sincero y con éxito.  ¡Felicidades a directora Olga Sanchez y a todos del Grupo de Milagro Teatro!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Best man

Time for another spell of introspective rambling.  It's good to do this every so often... cleans out the pipes, so to speak. 

I guess right now I'm thinking about this August, when I will stand at the side of my good friend and former bandmate David Thompson when he gets married.  Gonna be Dave's best man. (For the second time, no less!)

This will be the fifth occasion in my life when I have had the honor of being "best man."

In 1992, I was best man for the very best friend in all my life, my brother Eric.  He married his high school sweetheart, Linda Fifield.  If there is one person in this world who understands the complex relationship that my brother and I have, it is Linda.  She was right there in the thick of it.  Not always the easiest place to be.  Not for any of us.  Eric and Linda got married in January, with me as best man.  Then, that June, Eric stood for me when Michelle and I got married.  Eric and I were both just finished up with college and I imagine we both figured marriage was next on the agenda.  When you're that age, you don't know any better. 

I was also best man for my dear, old friend, Patrick Edward Yadon, when he married Deanna Cooper in 1987.  (Or was it '86?)  If I ever work up enough nerve, I might write a story or two about the times that Pat and I had together.  We were a couple young tomcats, laid-off from the lumber mill.  Rascals.  Rakes. Rapscallions.  We were such regulars at Roger's Bar down in Klamath Falls that if we didn't show up on a given night, the bartender was likely to notify Oregon Search and Rescue.  I can't say I'm proud of everything we did back then.  But, then again, I'm not ashamed of it either.  We did a lot of laughing and a lot of drinking, Pat and I did.

As I stated earlier, I was best man for Dave Thompson another time.  That was when he married Tiana Foreman in 2004, just a year or two after the Mahatma Candy daze.  Dave and I were bandmates for two years and roommates for another.  We played a lot of guitar together.  We got to where we could play off each other pretty damn well, if I do say so myself.  Dave and I are kindred spirits in a lot of ways, I think.

And, then, I was best man for Dad, for Ross Cariaga, when he married Tami McClain in 1989.  I got the assignment by virtue of seniority within the Tribe of Ross.  (I was the oldest son, after all.)  But now is not the time for me to try to hammer out a few sentences to characterize the relationship between Dad and me.  Not gonna open any of those doors right now.  No, sir.  Save that for another time.

Of course, each of these occasions was a rare honor.  I plan to carry them with me for the rest of my days.  Like Bruce Cockburn says, "To be held in the heart of a friend is to be a king."

I also want to mention my high school friend, Frederick Taylor Means (alternately "Rick" or "Fred"), who asked me to be his best man shortly after we graduated from high school in 1980.  He and his girlfriend, Kim Barnes, were in something of a hurry to get married.  For some reason that I can no longer recall, I had to decline the honor that day.  But I was gratified, nonetheless.

Hmm... now that I think about it, not a single one of the marriages I mention has survived.  Apart from Dad's marriage (Dad and Tami were married up to his passing in 2001), every marriage for which I served as best man has ended in divorce.

What does that tell ya?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Stinky Joe and the gang: Time to purge the citizenry!

 Senator Lieberman soaring, soaring, soaring towards freedom!
Since I long ago wrote him off as nothing but a self-promoting, cowardly political hack, I had thought Stinky Joe Lieberman was incapable of offending me.  Shows how much I know...

Because, in the wake of the to-do revolving around the arrest of Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen alleged to have set a car bomb in Times Square, there was Stinky Joe proposing obnoxious new legislation. Lieberman's idea would be to strip Americans of their citizenship if they are deemed to be affiliated with a terrorist organization.

Mustering as much gravitas as is possible for a man of such --er --"pragmatism," Lieberman moped: “I’m now putting together legislation to amend that to [specify that] any individual American citizen who is found to be involved in a foreign terrorist organization, as defined by the Department of State, would be deprived of their citizenship rights.”  Read more here.

For a wretch like Lieberman to get all holier-than-thou with anyone is revolting to begin with.  But what is most offensive is that he is part of a certain bi-partisan gang in the US Congress which has lately been pretty cavalier in its attitude about who gets to be considered an American citizen.

Take, for example, the remark made the other day by US Representative Duncan Hunter, speaking at one of the tea-bagger rallies.  From the Los Angeles Times:  "Would you support deportation of natural-born American citizens that are the children of illegal aliens," Hunter was asked. "I would have to, yes," Hunter said. "... We simply cannot afford what we're doing right now," he said. "... It takes more than just walking across the border to become an American citizen. It's what's in our souls. ..."  (Read more here.)

And then, of course, there is the recently enacted legislation in Arizona that requires that individuals carry proof of citizenship with them at all times.

So, are you ready for this, Americans?  Joe Lieberman and Duncan Hunter and the Arizona state assembly advocate that we start sorting through American citizens and determining which of us are real Americans and which are fakes.  But not based on all that legal mumbo-jumbo in the US Constitution.  No.  Rather, the authenticity of our citizenship is determined by our associations and by what they deem to be in our souls.  The fakers get stripped of their Constitutional rights and may then be deported or subjected to military tribunal.  A good, old-fashioned purge!  Every tea-bagger's dream!

Lieberman and Hunter may be simply pandering to particulars within their respective constituencies or they may actually believe what they're saying.  Either way, neither man would say things like that if he didn't believe he had a receptive audience.  And tea-bagger ears are fertile ground for this kind of claptrap.  Remember, there is still a significant portion of them that believe President Obama was born in Kenya (and, is therefore presumably not a "real" American).

But if the tea-baggers are really too stupid to see how this kind of thing can quickly get out of hand... well, I don't really know what to say.