Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Three Graces



It is easy not to try to make pictures.  You just work, exercise, come home and cook, and watch some t.v.  You let yourself relax.  I used to work, exercise, go to the studio, eat, then cook up pictures.  You can only do that, it seems, if you are on your own.

But I have to start taking an hour or two here and there.  For real.

I still blame Hillary.  O.K.?  And all Dems who weren't for Sanders.  But the Destroyer in Chief has just cut the EPA budget so that he can pay for his Wall.  You know, the one the Mexicans were going to pay for.  The most important estuaries in America are losing their protection.  Estuaries are the most important part of our ecosystem.  He is on fire to destroy them.

And if Nunes doesn't go to prison, something is very wrong.

And Wikileaks?  Where are they?  I am now convinced that they ARE funded by the Russians.  And that makes Assange a de facto rapist.  If he wants to prove his innocence, let him release all the damning shit on Trump.

I'm still learning about the little cameras, about how to best use them.  I have been experimenting with the black and white settings, but I may abandon them in a bit.  I still want another Leica Monochrom, but I want a lot of things.  A Leica M10 is high on the list as is the Fujifilm GFX 50S (plus lenses).

It is like wanting a boat or a sports car.  You don't need them.  You just know they'd enhance your life.

But I got more bang for my buck with the Vespa than anything.  A cheap beater.  And that is true of most things in life.

My arguments are circular.  There is only losing.  The best things are found things.  Or cheap things.  They make you be more creative.  I've come to love the cheap things.

And the most expensive.

Ili made a breakfast bread for me full of flax and coconut oil and bananas and blueberries.  I have eaten much of it, and now the coffee is gone.

And so am I.  Time to go.  Yo.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Obvious



As I write this, I am eating a slice of one of those cinnamon buns that fellow was selling at the grocery store.  We went shopping yesterday, and Ili felt sorry for him.  She said he didn't seem himself, that he seemed glum.  He needed to make a sale, she said, so she bought two.

But I will eat carefully this week and go without alcohol.  My plan is to not drink more days than I drink this year.  This more than halves the amount of drinking I will do because I don't drink as much now when I do drink.  On Friday, alcohol just seems like a miracle gift, something to be savored rather than consumed.

Sure, by Sunday, it is something else, but then Monday rolls around.

We'll see how this works out.

Things don't go the way you think they will.  Not in any way.  You can plan on the future, but you can't count on it.  At least I can't.  Sometimes I let myself be lulled into a false sense of happiness and security, and I can see the great and wonderful future before me.

But that moment has yet to arrive.  Ever.  For me, I mean.  It seems different for others.  When I look at the lives of people I know, there are those whose future is just as they planned.  Or pretty much.  Got married, raised the kids, moved to better homes every decade or so.  Then one day there are grandkids and trips to Europe, etc.  It all seems to work out like an old Steve Martin movie.

And then there is my life which, if it were a Martin movie, would be more like "The Jerk."

I don't know.  Even thugs and rappers seem to end up with better lives than mine.  I think the difference is that I was a hippie.  Wrong decision.  What matters is money.  The more you have, the better things go.

That, maybe, is the lesson I should have learned.

The piece of cinnamon bun is gone, and it is time for another cup of coffee.  I have things to do before work, and so I will.

These posts are better, I think, when I have a story to tell.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Lost and Found



I've learned to love the little Fujifilm X100F so much.  It is prettier than the Leica.  Blasphemy, I know, but it is.  It seems to weigh half as much and is 3/4ths the size.  I can carry it in my hand with no need for a strap which makes it virtually disappear.  The image quality is less than the Leica, but I have the Leica when I need it.  As an everyday companion, though, the X100F is with me all the time.

And then I lost it.

Ili and I were getting ready for a Saturday afternoon.  She had the little Ricoh GRII (another camera I love and will speak of later), and I looked for the X100F.  It wasn't on the kitchen counter.  It wasn't on the dining room table.  I looked in my bag, and it wasn't there.

"Shit.  I think I left the camera in my Vespa seat overnight," I said.  And so I went out to look.

Not there.

Panic.

I had taken the camera on my Vespa ride the day before, and when I went into he grocery store, I took the little camera with me.  I got one of the shopping baskets and dropped the camera in while I shopped.  I got four cans of sardines and a pack of Perrier water.  That was it.

"I think I left my camera in the grocery basket yesterday when I went to the store," I said with panic and resignation.

"What?"

"Yea, I took it in with me last night."

"You wouldn't have left your camera.  What did you do with it when you unpacked the groceries?"

I tried to remember.  I tried very hard.  I don't remember unpacking the groceries.  Maybe I let the cashier do it.  Maybe the camera was in the basket when she slid it down to the girl packing the groceries.  Maybe she was hoping I didn't notice when she put the basket in the little basket pile beside her.  Maybe that evil little bitch. . . .

"I don't remember doing anything."

"Well, lets go to the store now.  Maybe it is in the lost and found."

I was already steeling myself for that disappointment.  I mean, I know me.  If I worked at a grocery store and had a chance to get a brand new camera just by not saying anything. . . .

"I've never even gotten back a pair of sunglasses I've left at a restaurant.  There is always some waiter wearing $200 sunglasses the next day.  Keeping the new camera is just one of the perks of working at the grocery store.  It is a gift from God.  It is just something you imagine you deserve."

"C'mon."

Now here comes the best part of the story.  It has nothing to do with the camera, but if we hadn't gone to the store to get the camera back, we wouldn't have heard this.  So. . . we are standing in line waiting to speak with someone who can look in lost and found.  The line is fairly long with people buying lotto tickets or cigarettes or some such shit.  Anyway, behind us is the bakery fellow handing out free samples of their version of the Cinnabon.  He is a comical character, portly with glasses and a big if wimpy personality, something you might see on an early '60s sitcom--white shirt, bowtie, apron.  He just doesn't seem part of the contemporary world, and I've always gotten a kick out of him.  So he is hawking these cinnamon buns as people walk in the door.

"Hi.  Welcome.  You want to try a cinnamon bun?  Try one.  They're delicious."

Etc.

I'm not paying much attention, though, because I'm miserable about the camera, but I hear him say, "Hi!  Want to try a cinnamon bun?  Come on over.  What's that you got around your neck, a telephone?"

Out of the corner of my eye, I see this really tall older lady with a lanyard looking thing, but I am still not paying much attention.  But I can feel something, a hesitation. . . something. . . and then I hear her say, "It's a heart monitor," in a weak and slightly embarrassed voice.  And just then, I'm thinking who in the fuck asks somebody if she is wearing a telephone around her neck?  Really?

And now I'm curious.  I mean, what do you say?  What comes next?  But this fellow, well, as smooth as they come, he says, "Well, everybody has something, don't they?  Come on over here and get a cinnamon bun.  We've got them plain and with cream cheese.  You want the cream cheese.  Those are the best ones.  Thats the one for you.  Come on over here and get one."

And now, in spite of my psychic pain, I'm on the floor.  Holy shit, holy shit.  I look at Ili whose eyes are bugging.

"Did he just ask the woman with the heart monitor to eat some cream cheese!?!?!?  Really!?!?!?!?"

And now we are both trying to hold it in.  Fuck me, if I hadn't lost the camera. . . . .

Then we were at the front of the service line.

"What can I do for you?"

"I think I left a camera in the shopping cart yesterday.  Is this the right place for lost and found?"

It was, and the fellow took a key and walked away.  I knew he wouldn't bring it back, but I was hoping against hope for I already knew I'd be buying another one.  I liked the camera too much.  But Ili and I couldn't quit laughing about the cream cheese thing.  Ah, shit, whatever, I thought.  There is enough pain in the world to go around.

The fellow came back empty handed.

"O.K. Thanks for checking."

As Ili and I were driving, I was running through every move I could remember from last night.  When did I last remember having the camera.  Shit, I don't remember putting the seat up to stach the camera when I came out of the store.  I remember putting the groceries in the basket on the back, but I was certain I hadn't put up the seat.

Then I remembered something else.  When I parked the scooter, I went into the garage to run the printer so the heads wouldn't dry up.  Could I have?  Maybe?

I couldn't remember the camera or a thing about it.  I was holding out this one last false hope, I thought.  Fuck it.

Ili and I went to Ikea.  It was her first time, and she was a bit overwhelmed.  The crowd was crazy on a Saturday afternoon.  It was like going to the United Nations.  Fun.  I'm always fascinated by the small apartments they have set up.  We looked at one that was 480 square feet that seemed marvelous.

"Let's buy a piece of property somewhere for vacations and build a tiny house.  Shit, we could definitely do this for weeks at a time."

Then we came to one that was 280 square feet.  It was cramped, of course, but it had everything.

"You realize that we could put two of these in the garage.  Maybe we should do that."

Then I came upon the find of the month--a rug.  It was just what I needed under the dining room table.  The cat had ruined the other one, and replacing it at Pottery Barn was like $350.  The rug in front of me was $80.

"There must be something wrong with it," I said.  "It's probably the wrong size."  I just can't believe in a good deal.  If it seems too good to be true, it is.  But Ili, always a believer, talked me into it.  And suddenly we were shopping.  We found everything we had ever wanted, everything we thought we would need.

But the best part was checking out.  Ili got a pack of cookies with raspberry filling, I think, and little windows cut in the dough in the shape of hearts.

Driving home, we ate them, and I was happy.  Fuck it.  We were still laughing about the heart monitor thing.

So when we got home, we opened the rug, moved the table, and rolled it out onto the floor.  And guess what?  It was perfect.  And so was all the rest of the booty we had scored.

"Listen, I'm going out to check the garage for the camera," I said with a frown.  I walked across the lawn and opened the door.

Yup.  For sure.  It was there.

I walked back with the grin of victory.  Ili saw me coming through the kitchen window.

"I knew it," she said.  "I knew you couldn't have left it in the basket."

"Well, you were right, and so. . . you've won a free dinner!  I'm going to take you to the new ramen noodle restaurant which is all the hipster rage!"

"Oooo," she sounded.  "Let's go now."

But more about that later.  I'm just glad to have my little camera.  Man, I do love that thing.  And for anyone thinking about getting a Leica, I'd recommend you try one of these first.  I really, really do.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Hurry Now



Yesterday afternoon, I came home after work to have a glass of wine with Ili.  I hadn't had a drink all week, and I really enjoyed it but found that I could feel the effect.  It was pleasant.  I like drinking and the way it lightens the day, softens the edges, makes everything different.

Ili had a professional woman's meeting that night, so after drinks, I was on my own.  I pulled out the old Vespa and jetted away on some minor duties.  The bike is much livelier with only one rider, and in the cool late afternoon air, I was feeling free.  I scooted down the Boulevard feeling especially "La Dolce Vita," passing the open air bars and restaurants and cafes like a bon vivant.

Then off the Boulevard, man I was quick.  I usually drive pretty slowly so that Ili and I can take in the sights, but I was feeling. . . well, "boyish," and 150ccs moves pretty fast on the bottom end.  I found I got around town like lightning.

As the light began to fail, I came back to the empty house to look through the photos I've been taking lately.  I like the new little cameras, and I am learning how best to use them, but when I have the time to think about it, I still want to make something like art.  It takes concentration, though, and time.  Lots and lots of time.

I looked around the house at the seeming millions of dollars in cameras and lenses and computers and printers and scanners and film and developers and all the rest of the stuff.  When will I ever get to use it, I wondered?  When?

We all know that a camera can be a very dangerous thing.

I will try to forget all that today.  There is lawn business to take care of and fun to have, too.  Oh. . . and I must help my mother move a bed.

Q sent me this article this morning (link).  This is how we end up, I thought.  This is the way of the road.

The clouds are moving in already.  I think I'd better hurry now or nothing will get done.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Get Along Cassidy



Same situation today.  In a hurry.  Gotta run.  Well, not the same.  I don't feel pretty today.  I ate spaghetti last night and followed it up with a pint of chocolate ice cream.  I feel like Fido's Ass today. Bloated.  Big.  Beleaguered.  Bilious.

Etc.

I don't want to see any pretty women in the gym today.  I don't feel like seeing anyone.

Maybe a Shaman.

The weekend is nigh, and I don't know if I'll be up to it.  It will take a miracle, a biggish comeback.  I imagine a weekend of lying about on the couch watching television and drinking herbal teas.

All the liberal news stations are jumping up and down trying not to pee themselves over Trump's apparent inability to get the health care bill passed.  I imagine that is a good indication that it will go through today.  Either way, Americans don't understand the bill.  I doubt that many of the commentators on t.v. have read it, and even if they have, they haven't parsed it well.  It is not a well-parsed bill, I'm pretty sure.  We need some careful analytics, but we are always in a big hurry to do "something."  We need immediate things.  The news cycle is much shorter than a Bob Dylan tune.

Oh, well.  I have to go if I am going.  So I'll just do my Get Along Cassidy and jump on my horse and ride.

Let me know how it turns out.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Better



No time to write today.  Just back from the gym and must hurry to the factory.  But this:  no liquor and twice a day workouts made me look better in the gym mirror this morning.  A beautiful young woman kept looking at me and smiling.  She said goodbye to me when she left.

I have never seen her before.

So. . . whatever.

One more thing.  Nunes would be placed on suspension and would be under investigation if he worked for any D.A.s office in the country.  Well. . . maybe not in Alabama.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ethical Choices



The truth is, I've never gotten an animal.  Animals have always gotten me.  I have never needed a pet.  They have needed me.  My dog was a starving street pup who followed me home to be fed and cared for.  My cat was attacked and sick.  In the end, I serve them.

Kit-kat is sick.  She has seizures and pisses all over the house.  No longer.  I have had to put her outside.  This is not cruel.  She has always had an indoor/outdoor life.  She is allowed into the house, but not while I'm not here.  I feel terrible about it and keep wondering at what point is it best to put her down.  Or is it better to let her go until she has a natural death?  There may be nothing as cruel as a "natural" death.

Ethical dilemmas.

The problem is exacerbated by my intention to travel more.   A lot more.  Ili and I have booked several trips coming up.  We are trying to get out of town every month.  We have short and long trips coming up.  Leaving puss-puss out to die while we are gone seems wrong.  But maybe she won't.  Maybe she is doing well on the deck with her squirrel friends.  She acts just like them, even in sitting up on her haunches.  They gather about her without fear.

I want to do the best right thing.

No segue.  The Liar in Chief is making threats against those who will not vote his way in Congress.  Really?  But there will be those who fear even the Simple.  How long, oh lord, how long?

My favorite news story today is this (link).  My favorite line from the story is from Sophia Roosth, a Harvard historian of science:
“I don’t think the baby has to be thrown out with the bathwater,” she said
You'll have to read the story to see what I mean.  But I am for unfettered research.  The problem, according to the article, is ethics.  Really?  Ethics is from the same branch of philosophy as aesthetics.  Each is about a hierarchy of  values.  Ethics?  Whose?




Oh, well.  It is time to go work at the factory.  Tell me about ethics.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

On Our Own



Here you can see the results of hitting the buttons on the Fuji X100F when I was carrying it.  Overexposure.  There is no way to get details back out of the blown highlights.

Selavy.

The First Day of Spring finished, the Annual Mating done, what is there to look forward to now?

Most Republicans think that Trump is doing a good job.  Think about that.  I live in a Republican neighborhood.  These are people who went to excellent colleges, people who make decisions that impact many, many lives--doctors, lawyers, judges, politicians.

And yet. . . the left still keeps acting like a bunch of wing nuts.

I didn't say liberals.  I said "the left."

Middlebury College.

I've been involved in some arguments lately just because I can't keep my mouth shut.  I need to learn that talking doesn't help me with the social dynamic.  What happens is that I will ask a question or point out what I think is an assumption in the statement, then I am labelled a menace or something worse and am iced out of the conversation.

I try not to use phrases like "angry women's sewing society" or "beta males for justice," but maybe those are implicit in my body language.  I don't know.  That is what it seems like I've just said every time I join in the weenie roast.

Oops.

Whenever people use language like"right" and "wrong,"for instance, I want to know where the foundation for those values are.  They are assumptions, I say.  I was in a conversation about the thirty or so gender/sexual orientations and pronoun usage the other day, and people kept referring to their "rights."  I wasn't sure exactly what they meant.  Were these legal rights granted by legislation or interpretation by the courts?  Were these inalienable rights or rights granted by god?

You will always get into trouble when you ask someone to explain what they mean (it is now optional to use the singular "they" pronoun).

When I pointed out that most people in the world would not agree that those were "rights," the shit hit the fan.

It seems we need a uniculture now, not diversity.  But it is more complicated than that.  We need diversity within the uniculture.  I'm not sure.  What I am pretty sure of, though, is that everyone wants to be in charge.

"You shouldn't be able to. . . . You should have to. . . . "

And still, I keep asking myself, "How much longer will Trump be President?"  I was not in favor of the "Not My President" movement before he was inaugurated, but he has had time already to do enough to get him impeached.  He has disqualified himself.

But forty-some percent of the country still supports him.

Certainly this is the end of the world.  These have to be End Times.  Everyone senses that the Nuclear Party is about to begin.

I am selfish.  I keep thinking, "Shit, there goes my retirement.  I will have worked my entire life in the factory, and now I will never get to enjoy doing something else."


This is a stupid picture.  It might even qualify as not being a picture at all.  The mundanity of it is overwhelming.  It is worse than a poem about nothing at.

But I like it.  I know how much that can piss someone off.  I look at pictures people like that I think have no merit at all, and my reaction is next to violent.  But there are more than "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."  That was never meant to be an exhaustive list.

However, we have "rights."  Right?  I have the "right" to like it.  You have the "right" to disdain it.  And that is what makes a horse race.

The ante has been raised, though.  We have become outraged by opinions.  And some of the most outraged have their finger on the trigger.

Weird times, man, but the kids don't think so.  Why would they?  Middlebury is the new norm.  Outsiders like you and me are now, as always. . . on our own.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Carnal Equinox and Duty



The Last Day of Winter was beautiful here, a mixture of color and sunlight.

We slept through a good portion of it.

I have been tired beyond reason.  Maybe it is the changing time, maybe something else.  But naps are my true friends now, and I'll take them any time I can get them.

After napping, of course, there was marketing for dinner--a roast in the Romertompf--and once the meat was seasoned and the vegetables chopped, we put it all in the oven and away we went.

Vespa time.

We rode up to the end of the festival and skirted the crowd looking at the pretty people. And they were this year, for some reason.  They were a wonderfully dressed and handsome crowd.

Then dinner with mother and my cousin who is staying with her.  The roast turned out well.

Then darkness.

"Tomorrow is the first day of Spring," I said.

"Tomorrow?"

"Yup.  It is the Carnal Equinox.  There will be equal portions of daylight and darkness."

"The Carnal Equinox you say?"

"Yes, it is time for the Annual Mating."

"Really?"

"Yes.  I will prepare tonight.  Healthy tea and wheat germ usually work.  But let's get to bed early.  I'll need my sleep."

"Oooo. . . . ."

Let this serve as a reminder to all of you who may have forgotten.  Duty is in the air.

It is a chilly spring morning here, another keeper.  I will be spending the day at a factory annex.  It seems criminal, really, but the big bosses have to get their kicks somehow.

Duty.  It seems sometimes that is all we have.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Even the Perfect Will Not Last




A perfect day of sunshine and moderate temperatures, and a night of '30s guitar music with drinks under the glittering stars.

In between, I shot a lot of pictures with my Fuji X100F. . . with the settings all fucked up.

I've found some of the camera's design flaws.  Since I have been shooting without raising the camera to my eye, I was not able to see that the settings had changed.  As I walked around, my fingers bumped several of the many dials on the camera.  I had bumped one that switched the camera from auto to manual focus, so most of the hundreds of pictures are clear only in the distance.  It was interesting in a few pictures, but most were just unfocussed.  I accidentally set it to take video, rather than stills, so I have about twenty two second movies that are interesting. . . for about two seconds.  I found this out when one of the artists asked about my camera.  He has an earlier version and I was telling him he will definitely want to get this one.  He asked if he could see it and he put the camera to his eye to take a picture.

"Its on video," he said.

I didn't know how to get it out of video mode.  It took me about five idiotic minutes to get it back in the right mode.

When I got home and downloaded everything, I was deflated.

But that is that.  Lesson learned.

Ili and I walked about the streets, me showing her what I had seen the day before, me letting her lead me along while I snapped street pictures, then we sat for lunch at a street-side table and watched the crowd go by.


Vespa rides, marketing, NCAA games, and a nap on the couch until sunset.  Life is alright sometimes.

Then showers and clothing and a nighttime scooter ride to the party.  I had gotten there too late, it seems, for the chairs before the band were already taken (should I call them a band?).

A man came up and said, "They took your spot."

And it was true.  People remembered that I had been parked there for years and years.  I wanted to sit with Ili and wile away the night drinking wine and giggling, but now. . . well, people were handing the seats off to one another without a chance to move in.

Still, the night was a like a soft glove upon your cheek, though I was saddened that the crowd grew older every year.  I pointed out a woman who had long ago seen her best days.

"She used to be a ravishing beauty," I said.  "Everyone wanted her, and she was obliging.  One night, I was sitting with her in the most beautiful and interesting bar that has ever existed, and she leaned over to me and said, 'I'm so bored.  I think I've fucked everyone in here.'"

"I've known people like that," Ili said.  "I'm not judgmental about it, and neither are you."

"No," I said, "I don't judge such a thing.  I am amused, that is all.  I have never been much for that."

"Really?"

"No, I'm a cuddler."

"Yes, that is true."

I hoped that to be a compliment and not a complaint.  But all around us, the once hip and powerful were waning, either retired or practically so, and truly, I felt like weeping.  I looked at the young couple who were sitting in front of the band.  He was talking to the guitar player about the music--just as I had for all those years.  He was just as enthusiastic and knowledgeable about it as I.  I should have liked him, but rather I just wanted to bust him in the ear.  Not really, but rather.

I walked Ili around the beautiful grounds and through the house where everything was an art object, tables and ceramics and woven things and masks, not just the paintings on the walls.  All about the grounds were sculptures.  The host was an attorney and a bachelor who never married.  His home was set up for one.  It had always seemed an enviable life.

And then we were tired of it all, all the small talk and drinks, tired of standing around with the monied men and women, and so we drifted out to the Vespa and made our way home through the hauntingly lighted night.

This morning, it is still with me.  Nothing lasts forever, not even the most glorious things.  What sort of monstrous plan, what sort of terrifying spirit. . . ?

Ah, well.  The first high clouds roll and this morning light looks more tinny than it has for many, many months.  We may go buy some pictures today. . . maybe.  And tonight, there will be dinner with my mother.  And then. . . the factory.

But even that won't last.

Still. . . here is something. . . .



Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Marvelous Afternoon




I found the beauty of the Fuji X100F yesterday.  It is small and weighs nothing.  It is easy to carry in your hand without a strap.  It focuses quickly and makes no shutter noise when you shoot.  For walking around a street festival, it is perfect.

That is what I did yesterday.  After work.  I left a bit earlier in the afternoon than I should have, but the day was as gorgeous as days get, the temperature in the low 70s, the sky perfectly clear and oh-so far away.  So I drove home, took off the factory clothes, put on my flip-flops, pulled out the scooter, and drove the half mile to the festival.  While cars couldn't get near, I parked within a hundred feet of the Boulevard.  I grabbed my camera and walked.

This first day of the festival, a Friday, the crowd was perfect, about a third of what would be there on Saturday.  I was able to walk through easily and see the "art" before it became impossible.  I didn't expect much, so I was really very surprised at the amount of things that caught my eye.  There were good paintings and some nice mixed media. . . and even a few photographs I liked.  Most of it was kitschy, but there wasn't nearly as much jewelry, bad pottery, photos of Cancun, or painted Adirondack chairs as in the past.  As I got closer to the stage at the far end of the park, I began to make out the music.  Three high school girls were singing like pros to some prerecorded music.  I wasn't sure what was going on, really.  Was it karaoke?  Closer, I saw that they were dressed in everyday clothes, poor girls wearing what they were able to pull from their closets to make outfits--tight jeans, blousy tops--and it made me think of myself performing with bands at local events when I was their age.  They were really pretty good, and I didn't mind getting a kick out of them at all.  I didn't know the music, but I was sure it was popular hit parade stuff.  I was all good will and happiness, however, and I couldn't have wished them any more luck.  They made me feel good.  I was happy.

After making my way around the booths, I wanted simply to walk the street and take in the crowd.  The afternoon light was falling dramatically now making brilliant shadows and pools of light.  I shot photographs without putting the camera to my eye, pointing in the direction of the things that caught my interest having practiced this enough to know what was falling on the sensor.  I thought of approaching people and looking through the viewfinder, but it was daunting as I kept running into people that I sort of knew or who knew me, some of them saying hello without my ever coming to any idea of who they might be, me smiling like a college president, carrying on conversations with small talk and questions for thirty seconds or so before shaking hands or waving as I made an exit.  I have lived here for too many years and have been far too visible to take pictures in my own hometown.  I began to feel guilty just holding the camera.

After a couple hours as things began to wind down, I decided it was time to head to the grocery store and home to the couch where I could eat a simple meal and watch some of the very disappointing NCAA March Madness.  But I was tired and had used up as much energy as I had here at the end of the week, and I needed some respite from the world.

This morning, looking through the pictures that I took yesterday, I marveled at the little X100F.  It is a wonder.  I set the menu so that it makes a RAW file and a B&W JPEG file.  It does a great job with B&W.  As I looked through the pictures, it was clear which images worked in color and which did not.  It is a luxury to see them side by side before I make any decisions about processing.  I didn't think I liked this camera, but I know its function now.  It is a wonderful and beautiful little tool.

And that is what I will aspire to be-a wonderful and beautiful little tool.  Or did I mean "fool."  I think immediately of Daisy in "The Great Gatsby," and her hope for her daughter.  I understand that wish now better than I did when I first read the novel.  Maybe, in these terrible times, there is nothing better to be.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Just A Little Zen



I don't know why I am attracted to images like this one, but I am.  Very much.  Maybe I like the mystery of it, or maybe something else.  The line, the partiality, what's left out.

Whatever.

This weekend my own hometown has a big Artless Street Festival.  The town doesn't call it that, of course.  There will be paintings and drawings and gimcracks and crackerjacks and a hundred thousand people in the streets.  Shit--I should have applied for a booth with pictures like the one above.

I just had a moment of insight.  No matter.  I don't have to be in the right to criticize.

For me, though, the big event is the Saturday night party for some of the patrons and artists at a friend's house.  You know, the one where the Django-styled Cook Trio plays.  I will go early and stake out my spot in front of the group and eat and drink and watch the stars and moon drift by.  It will be my moment of zen.

I need a little zen, my friends.  Just a little zen.  Just A Little Zen

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Trump Time



The time change has me turned around.  I don't get up in time to do my normal routine.  I don't get up in time for much except being late and rushing.

Trump Time.

I can't seem to escape Trump news, air quotes and all.  The Brown Shirts are cheering him on in Michigan and Tennessee.  I watched his rally last night and couldn't take my eyes off a crazy boy just off Trump's left shoulder.  He was clapping and shaking his head "yes" to every utterance.  But there was something wrong with him.  I can't say what, but there was something wrong.  If you get a chance to see any of it, you will see him and you will see what I mean.  There is a look in his eye that scares the shit out of me.

They will be goose stepping through the streets soon.  We must wait two years, minimum.  But if the dems keep putting on the Rachel Maddow Show, they are going to lose again.  When it comes to crazy, the right will always win.

I don't hold out much hope.

I don't think these are Cuban girls in the posted picture.  They may be Latin tourists.  I saw a lot of wealthy South and Central Americans in Cuba.  I may be wrong.  Just guessing.  If they aren't Cuban, I think it sort of delegitimizes my picture.  But I only thought of all this as I posted it.  I'll have to think about it more.

O.K.  I have to hustle.  The Republican Hour is upon me.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Big Skinny



What a bunch of fucking bullshit.  I don't even have to get up at a certain hour and this time shift has ruined me.  I'm sure that a significant amount of the blame goes to my constant worrying about it.  Anxiety, sure.  I didn't sleep for shit last night and now this morning I am a lump of dough.

Speaking of which, today begins "The Big Skinny."  I already doubt that I can do it.  Do it?  I doubt that I can even start.  Oh. . . I've begun.  I had to drink a glass of warm lemon water this morning.  Ili says that this will do something to my metabolism and help detox my liver.  O.K.  That part is easy.  The hard part comes tonight.  Eating from the outside aisles of the grocery store and drinking soda water.

What a bunch of fucking bullshit.

I am trying to imagine the mysticism of a good cup of hot tea.  Herbs.  Mmmm.  They will make more aware, more in tune with things.  I will begin to commune with the stars, understand horoscopes.

Etc.

I will never look good again.  I am in for a huge disappointment.

But away we go!

See that girl in the picture?  She is on stilts.  Look at the people around her.  She is not really ten feet tall.  She doesn't have to try to stay slim.  She can't afford to eat and drink.  Skinny is just a way of life.  Maybe she believes in the mysticism of tea.  I don't know.  She probably can read a palm like a road map.  Ultimately, I hope to look like her.

Like the comedian said, though, putting tits on Bruce Jenner didn't make him smart.

But I am here too long on a truncated morning.  I have to get through my usual routine in half the time on very little rocket fuel.  Finger crossed and wish me luck.  I'll keep you informed.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Republican Time


I wish the clocks in the house matched the clocks on my phone and computer.  Fuck--I HATE changing the time.  It is a Republican scandal just like Repeal and Replace.  Once you get all the money, you have to find other ways to make people suffer.  Something has to replace sexual pleasure other than Duncan Donuts.  Make the LITTLE PEOPLE suffer.

As I've been saying, you're either rich or you little people.

Let me remind you, too, that I've been cataloging all the ill health effects of time changes for many, many, many years.  Finally there is evidence to support my very logical claims.

I want to remind you, too, that I told you all what would happen after the Fukushima disaster.  I've been absolutely right.


Yesterday afternoon, Ili and I went shopping to fill our desires for the last days of staycation.  It has been decadent practice for retirement--sleeping, eating, going to outlet malls and Big Lot stores.  We've worked in the yard, planted some geraniums in pots, put down weed and feed. . . .  We've watched things on t.v. that we never would otherwise.  Bill Burr was the find, but last night we watched hours of Groucho Marks on the YouTube.

Anyway (as my mother says), yesterday we were in Whole Foods buying cheeses and breads and olives and apples and pears and all the fixings for pho, then we headed over to the wine section, and I saw this: Spanish wine with three different labels.  I pulled back.  Yes, that is what happens if you drink, no doubt.  But why?  Why would they tell you that when you just want to buy some wine?  Is this some warning the Spanish government makes them put on wine bottles?  Jesus.

Ili says she thinks it just marked the ages of the wine, but that still makes no sense.  Why would you do that?

I had to take a picture and send it as a warning to all my friends.

But marketing is marketing, and I drank this one instead.


It was cheap and it was good.  Today I am going back to buy a case.  Wine keeps, right?  Because today is the last day of decadence.  Ili tells me that tomorrow we are going to begin a cleanse.  Something to do with our livers, not the house.  So there will be no drinking for awhile.

I will miss it.

But what the hell.  I am going back to work and I am too fat for the beach and Spring is almost upon us, so it will be lemon juice and water in the morning, cleansing teas and pills at night.  So I am told.  I will be rid of all the fat and toxins I possess.

I'll try to get back to my original weight of eight pounds, eight ounces.

Tomorrow, I will get up in the dark that will stay dark, then go to bed shortly after sunset.  It is what I get for living with other people.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Bike Week



I just don't have any other pictures to post from my laptop.  I haven't been processing pictures this week.  Rather, I've had a rather slovenly staycation.  So sue me.  I've needed much sleep.  The world wears me out, and the future may not be all that rewarding.

Yesterday we took a trip to the coast.  What we didn't know was that it was the first day of Biker Week.  We took the back way off the interstate to get there.  That way takes us past a little place that is a well-known biker bar.  There are usually a few grits sitting outside in Harley Davidson tank tops and Z Z Top beards, but yesterday--Holy Shit and Mother of God--at least ten thousand bikers were there.  Ili was driving.

"Jesus Christ, don't hit anybody."

It was like being inside a cartoon.  No shit.  It was worse than Comi-Con or whatever it is called.  It was like going to a dog show where all the animals were retarded pit bulls dressed up in stupid costumes.

I know, I know.  You'll say that most of the people there are lawyers who can afford to buy new Harleys.

Thank you.  You've made my point.

There is nothing laudable about biker culture.  I've known bikers my entire life.  Not guys with bikes, but motorcycle gang fellows.  I can't name them or even the gangs.  They are dangerous people.  Again, I know, I know.  I hung out with them.  I have relatives who rode with them.  Ninety percent of the time, they aren't doing anything wrong.  Then they do, and it is really wrong.  Unless it is a bunch of sissy attorneys wearing "Hell's Pussies" on their leather vests, they are mafia-style criminals protecting their territory.  Ask Q about the Hell's Angels headquarters near his apartment in NYC.  There is something seriously wrong with them.  My relatives were fucked up.  My friends were REALLY fucked up.  I liked knowing them because I could get somebody stomped real good if I needed to.  But eventually they all went to prison or went on the lamb.  Sooner or later younger gang members take over and the old guys are like ousted silverbacks gorillas sitting on the outside of the circle, shoulders slumped thinking about the days when they got to mate with all the females.

Nope.  I could tell you stories here that would lead to federal investigations.  Just trust me on this one.

I'll tell one fun story because it is about an attorney.  He was a "friend" of mine in that we knew some of the same people, went to some of the same parties, and even ran with the bulls in Pamplona together.  He was a nice enough guy and had a sense of adventure about him, so one year during Bike Week, he wanted to go to the place I was talking about earlier to see the Cole Slaw Wrestling or some shit.  So he borrowed a friend's mid-sized Honda motorbike and put on a denim jacket and headed over.  When he got to the bar, he parked the bike but it tipped over and fell into another motorcycle.  He pulled it back up and got it on its stand and went inside to order a beer.  The fellow sitting next to him asked him if that was his little rice burner out there, and the attorney said yes.  The biker hit him in the mouth and knocked out two of his front teeth.

"Did you sue him, Jack?" I asked when he recounted the tale.

"I crawled out on my hands and knees, got on my bike and rode home."

He never got his beer.

Any of you who want to romanticize this shit. . . well, you deserve what you get.

Ili and I made it through without any trouble, but when we got to the beach, we went to a restaurant on the water to get some lunch.  The place was full of goofballs and I couldn't quit staring.  How in the fuck do they get so thick?  And the women. . . holy shit.  And all of them--ALL OF THEM--had that look on their faces, you know the one like everything confuses them and pisses them off, brows scrunched, foreheads wrinkled, looking around with wild eyes, tight lips, chin up, head moving in those quick, herky-jerky movements.

Today will be much less exciting.  I'm going to spread some Weed and Feed and maybe do some other home improvement duties.  Maybe.  I may just end up riding my little Vespa and wondering if I am going to be overtaken by a gang of mad dogs on REAL motorcycles.

In the end, that is the simple truth.  I'm just a Vespa rider in a world of Mad Dog Bikers.

Such, my friends, is my sorry fate.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Future



My mini-vacation has been little to nothing but eating, drinking, and sleeping.  Big sleep.  I have napped every day for at least two hours, and have slept at least eight hours every night.  I have eaten like a pig and have drunk my fill.

My body is not "beach-ready."

Next week.  That is what I say.  I will go back to work and the misery will begin.  I will work and not eat and give up drinking and exercise twice a day.

Etc.

There is no end to the shame of being human.

I guess this is what retirement will be like.  I even went to some of the bulk and discount stores.  They are amazing!  Big Lots.  Bulk Foods.  Steinmart.  I have come to some important realizations.  I mean, they have couches at Big Lots for 1/3 the price of what I pay.  Even less.  Big comfy things.  And toilet paper?  I have been overpaying for toilet paper and paper towels my whole life.  Everything, really.  Why?  Why?

I could have saved enough money for retirement by now.  I have been a fool.

I understand my mother much better.

I will no longer be a spender.  I'll be a saver.  I have never known the satisfaction that can bring.

So next week begins the whole catastrophe.  I will not eat, drink, or spend.

Yes, that is what there is to look forward to in the not-to-distant future.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Bill Burr



I can't believe I didn't know about him.  I watched one of his comedy specials on Netflix and thought, "Jesus Christ, this guy can't possibly survive."  I mean, he must piss people off.  Bad.

Last night, I watched another.  I am sore today from reacting to the show.

Bill Burr.  How can I not have heard of him until now?

Oh. . . thank God.

I also watched "Moonlight" last night.  It deserved every accolade.  I grew up in a white version of that.  I know it.  I know the raw animality of people.

It is nothing compared to the massive evil of what is going on in the senate, in the congress, in the white house right now.  They will fuck the poor and the aged as the rich make fools of the middle class.  It's not just here.  You are either rich or you are little people.

Power's a bitch.

No. . . no. . . I didn't mean to do that.  Respite.

I will take another long walk today and maybe work around the house weeding and fertilizing.  Tomorrow is a day at the beach.  I'm too fat for the beach, but that is what I get.  You can't eat and drink the way I do and look athletic.  I've gathered the bounties of the earth to my belly.

I am lazy and still haven't worked on most of the Cuba pictures.  The narrative falls away with time.  What is left are little vignettes, sensual memories.

And maybe a few pictures.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Granted



Here is what an American hippie looks like walking down a Havana side street after buying a handmade straw bag to take home as a gift for her mother.  The streets are for the most part bare.  Laundry hangs from the balconies of the apartments above.  Blue sky.  Clouds.  It is her last day in Havana.  If you look in the distance, you can see a vehicle parked on the side of the street.


In just seconds, as the American blonde passes by the old motorcycle with sidecar, someone drops a chair from the balcony above.  It misses her by inches.  WTF?  Watch yourself.  This is Havana.

The loveliness of days without other-directed purpose, days where your interest determines which way you will turn, is a pleasure for some, a torture for others.  Inherent curiosity and an artist's imagination (I'm saying you don't even need the artist's talent) will propel you through the daily adventure.  Afterwards there will be a thousand and one tales.

Of course, it helps if you have the ability to tell them.

Ili, standing on the street outside a small store I have ducked into to buy two Coca Colas to go with our rum, is approached by a man who compliments her and kisses her on the cheek.  He then falls to the ground and begins doing pushups.  When I return, he is back on his feet, wiping his hands, grinning.  He smiles at me and says hello, offering me a hand to shake.  I look him in the eye and grin, our hands joined.

"Adios."

We turn and walk away.

"What was that?"

"I don't know.  He came up and started talking and. . . .  I think he might have been smoking crack."

"No.  They don't have crack here."

"Maybe he was drunk, then."

"That's a possibility."

"He might have been mentally ill."

"It might just be the way he greets pretty Americans.  Why not?"

Ili wanted to know why the people aren't allowed to leave Cuba, why they can't go where they want.  Americans take much for granted.  We have been the luckier than we have realized.  Most of us, anyway.  Once you know, you try to live more deeply, more profoundly.  And now. . . well, maybe we are about to find out.  It's not just the nut in the White House.  It seems everything has gone wrong.  It is like a sickness, a contagious disease without cure, a black plague of the head and heart.  I can't bear watching it.  I'll keep moving until I am no longer able.  I want to see what's left before it is just an Instagram moment buried deep behind the next most interesting thing.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Stop Time--Spiritualizing Space



I wish I lived and wrote like this (link).  Doing one without the other would not be satisfying.  Osborne is a fascinating writer, but it is the subject matter that drives his style.  He is uneven at times, but he is able to perform his theory.  He lives in a world that most of us will never find.  It doesn't exist any more, I think, except in people like Osborne.  He makes it up out of old movies and books. He "spiritualizes" the places he writes about.  You would have to go there with him to see what he sees.  If you went alone, you'd wonder what he was talking about.

That is the things with place.  It doesn't exist.  Place is metaphorical, made up.  The ghosts of others inhabit it.  Sometimes it is called "culture."  Sometimes it is something else.

That asshole Brando was like that.  He could make a trip to the local Greek restaurant seem like something grand.  Holy shit, you didn't want to miss it.  Everything was mythologized.  Everyone was a superlative.

"Jesus Christ, you should have seen the waitress!  She was wearing these little cut-off shorts you could have rolled up and put in a water glass!"

I, on the other hand, am a natural iconoclast in love with icons.  I am a sardonic romantic.  The funny thing is, though, I never feel conflicted--simply complex.


But I have any number of iconoclastic friends who are boring.  I mean B-O-R-I-N-G.  They are often smart, but they lack something important, most often a joi de vivre, an √©lan vital.   They pay more attention to ideas than to the details of the world.

And there is something else, of course, another ingredient, that one is most often attracted to (and repelled by)--that innate sense of abandonment that reveals itself as a sort of courage.  One cannot appear to be larger than life without that.

The streets of Havana were haunted if you wanted them to be. . . if you knew enough to hear the voices and if you had enough time to understand what they were saying.  It is always that, though--time.  It runs through place like a river.  The job of the writer, I am thinking as I sit here this morning with the coffee gone cold, is to stop it, to place brackets around it, to make that moment last forever.

Osborne is good at that.  He's really, really good.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Atop the Wall



There is a sidewalk below them on one side where everybody walks.  On the other, far below, are the jetty rocks and the sea.  Of course they would walk on the top of the Malecon wall.  It is what you do if you are young.

I believe I started out lazy.  Not about reading or writing, of course.  Just about work.  I do not like work.  I don't mind my job except when I don't want to go or when I want to go someplace else, but I don't do the kind of work there that bothers me.  It is real work that I don't like.  Repairing things, cleaning things, throwing mulch or weeding or even fertilizing.  I would work in my old studio all day because that was not real work.  But vacuuming the house or cleaning the bathroom. . . .

I have work to do around the house, around the grounds.  I don't want to.  I want someone else to do it.

I want to walk atop the Malecon wall.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

True Artist



I wish I had this fellow's address.  I'd send him a copy of the picture.  It is the work of a true artist!

I took this in one of the many plazas in Old Havana.  Funny thing is, most of the people I saw buying food from him were Cuban.  I didn't buy any street food, and now I feel the fool for not knowing what is in the little white tubes.  I saw people eating them, but I didn't see what was in them.  There I was, the American tourist. . . .

I think I like that pictures very much.

Last night, Ili and I watched a movie about the Cuban Revolution, "Lost City," with Andy Garcia.  It was a fine movie, but they could not capture the splendor of Cuba in the 1950s by shooting along the modern day Malecon.  It would have been spectacular.  They should have colored the buildings in post-production, I think.

Bill Murray was in the movie.  He played a very strange character that seemed to be a non-sequitur.  Fine part, but odd.

The Revolution did not fare so well in "Lost City," emphasizing the old revolutionary phrase, "The end justifies the means."  Castro fucked up, of course, by never allowing free elections.

We have fucked up by allowing free elections.

Obviously, there is no winning.

Somehow,  I skipped supper last night.  Neither of us felt like cooking.  We made some guacamole and snacked on that.  But all I had to eat yesterday was brunch with mimosas.  Strange.  I still do not feel hungry.  Maybe I should be worried.

I'll fix more Cuba pictures today, perhaps.  Or I will clean the closet.  And/or my office.  I should not set too high an expectation.  It does no good to get ambitious.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Something or Nothing



I've gotten Ili to start taking pictures from the back of the Vespa as we drive around town.  Magical things happen, and she is learning the wonders of street photography.  Perhaps she will understand me better as she marvels at what comes out of the experience.

I am lazy today.  We are on a kind of mini-vacation and last night drank beer on the deck watching the beautiful afternoon disappear before deciding to go to a little Italian cucina where we sat in close quarters and drank a bottle of wine and ate a hot pepper pizza with the early, blue plate crowd.  Cozy. Then we came home to lie on the couch and watch old movies so we could expand our 1920's vocabularies in those special voices.

"Say, what's the big idea?  I want my fair share, see.  Don't you be giving me the high-hat."

Etc.

We watched "China Seas" with Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, and Wallace Beery.  It made me want to watch something with Jon Lovitz in it.

"Yea. . . that's the ticket!"

I am paying for the beer and wine and eventual scotch combined with a pizza and the cookies we bought from the cucina and brought home.  I will take a very long walk when I finish writing this and drink plenty of water today, though I know lunch will include wine and a nap later on.

And so. . . Cuba will have to wait.  I haven't processed any more pictures, and now I think that I will post some and just write a narrative around them as they come.  Maybe just short vignettes.  It doesn't matter, really.  Something, or nothing.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Kilroy



Jesus--I look like Kilroy in this picture.  I shouldn't show it.  It is not a fair representation.  But Ili likes it.  She says that the bump is my sunglasses, but I think she is wrong.  This is how I will appear in my dreams, now.  Kilroy.

I don't feel like writing about Cuba today.  I would have to go process pictures and I don't have time.  The day is beautiful with sun and cool air that will become warmish, so I think I will leave work early today.

Shhhh.

A friend is leaving for Paris in a week to be a flaneur.  That is all I want to do.  I wish I had majored in Flaneurship.  I am envious.

Why does Ili like that picture?  She has some deep-seated hatred for me, surely.  Quelle domage.

Such a pity.  Oh, well.  Selavy.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Day Three



After my near-death incident in the Cold War bunker, we decided to take a cab downtown.  And guess what?  There were still parts of Old Havana we had yet to see.

"Well, I guess it's good we did it in parts and pieces," I said.  "I mean, we have had something new every day."

"Sure, but how will we know if we have seen it all?"

"Faith," I said.

It was the prettiest day of the trip, the sky clear, the air drier, the light and shadows sharp and distinct.  And so we wandered again, looking, drinking.  For a while, it seemed, the tourists were gone, but I imagined that the cruise ships would be docking any time and dropping off their crowd.  For the moment, though, you could pretend.  Locals sat around in the non-tourist restaurants with the open doors and mismatched furniture.  On side streets we looked into living rooms where people lay about on a lazy Saturday, doing what people do--cutting hair, washing clothes.  Above the street, laundry was hung on lines to dry.  People sat on curbs and old chairs on the narrow sidewalks talking to their friends or waiting on someone they knew.

We decided to walk back to the apartment on this last day, along the Malecon where the crowds had gathered.  But that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Narration interrupted.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Stuck



Day three in Cuba.  We were going to have breakfast at the Hotel Nacionale and soak up some of the vibe.  I mean, it is wealthy, but not American wealthy.  It is a sort of old movie hotel where international deals are made, both legal and not one would think.  Spanish is spoken.  The wealthy from every hispanic country--Venezuela, Columbia, Nicaragua--vacationed here.  So we sat under the giant portico and ordered mimosas and relaxed while the waiters and waitresses meandered among the tables without apparent purpose.  An order is easily forgotten as we found out often.  A server may disappear for what seems days at a time.  There is a different sense of organization, I guess, and priority.  We drank and smoked one of the little Cuban cheroots that I preferred, a Montecristo mini 10.  They are here and then they are gone.  Another round of drinks.

We wandered the grounds toward the ocean and down a little path that began to descend beneath the ground.  There was a sign.  This was a museum piece, of sorts.  We descended the path that was cut into the hillside until our heads were below ground level.  We came to a set of doors and walked in.  It was a bunker from the days of the Missile Crisis.  We ducked into a smaller chamber where a narrow windshield looked out over the sea.  Old military equipment was arranged as it must have been then.  As we stepped out, I saw what looked like a tour guide ushering some people in.  He looked at Ili and I with some consternation, and I saw him close the double doors behind him as Ili and I headed out of the room down a dim, narrow hallway.  We came to another room set deeper into the hillside with more military equipment.  It was interesting enough in its weirdness, especially set in the luxurious grounds of a resort hotel.  We ducked back out into the narrow passageway and continued away from the crowd.  We weren't sure where we were going, and Ili wanted to go back.

"I don't think we can.  I saw that fellow close the doors when we went down the hallway."

"What!  He closed the doors?"

Ili had found in Cuba that her claustrophobia was more severe than she knew.  It looked as if panic might be setting in.  But we had come out into the sunlight in the narrow passageway, and ground level was only a foot or so above our heads.  I grabbed hold of the coquina walls and said, "We can just climb out here."

That was fine with Ili, and quick as lightning, she had climbed the walls and was out.  I followed her out, but I was about to find out how old I had gotten.  I put a hand on each wall and hoisted myself up with one foot, but when I tried to reach the foothold with my other one. . . I couldn't get it up.  My back, my hip, my knee, my belly--they all conspired against me.  So there I was, stuck and grunting, my arms beginning to imitate a sewing machine.

"Do you need help?" asked a concerned Ili.

I was concerned, too.  How old did I look there, trembling, grunting, on the verge of farting, probably.  Jesus Christ, I had climbed some of the classic rock faces in the world, and here I was, stuck in a trench, my back beginning to seize.

Just then, the little fellow I took to be the tour guide came running down the path.

"What happened?  What happened?" he asked in a high, soft voice of true concern.

His presence, I assume, gave me a shot of adrenaline and somehow I topped out of the trench on the wrong side.

"Peligro!"  That's what the many signs said, and I was truly worried.  Was this part of the property booby trapped?  I was paralyzed thinking we might step on a land mine and be blown to pieces.

"Why are there all this red danger signs?" I asked Ili.

"Because of the cliff.  You're standing next to the cliff."  She looked worried.

"Oh," I said, and hopped over to her side relieved that I would not be blown to smithereens.

As we walked across the grass back to the hotel, Ili regained her humor.  She looked at me, amused.

"What happened?  What happened?" she began to mimic.  She was laughing at me.

"I didn't fart, did I?"

"I don't know," she said.  "I was so worried.  Did you hurt yourself?"

"My back is starting to tighten up, but I'm fine."

So there it was.  I'd come to this in life, I thought.  I'm the old guy who can't get out of the trenches.  Aged.  Stuck.  A hero no more.

But that realization had only come to me, not to Ili.

I realized she'd known it all along.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Old Havana



Since coming back from Cuba--and it has been awhile now--I have been sleeping an inordinate number of hours each night.  I have not been rising until long after dawn, even on days when I am to be at the factory.  Ili, too.  And I wonder what is causing this?  Could it be Cuba, or is it the Trump presidency?

I feel exhausted.

Let me tell you about Old Havana.  It must have been one of the most beautiful cities of its time.  The detail and craftsmanship that went into planning and constructing the buildings is a marvel, and they are still beautiful even as they crumble.  Wherever they are restoring the buildings now, however, they are plain, all the beautiful luxuries reduced.  They look. . . American.  There are modern touches, you know, that are interesting in their own way--an archway here, a veranda there--but scrolls and porticos and balconies are reduced to flat planes.  New buildings are now being constructed now, ones that look like the glass banks you see in any modern city.  They are shiny reminders of what you have missed.  You realize as you walk through the narrow streets and the open plazas that there will never be another Havana.  It is a disappearing ghost, a crumbling, rotting memory.

In old Havana, the cruise ship deposit their bounty.  The Europeans, the Canadians, and a few U.S.  When you meet Cubans, they ask you where you are from, for the blancos look much alike.  When you say, "U.S.A." their eyes pop.  It is still a new thing, I guess, though I wouldn't have guessed, and they tell you how much they like the U.S.A.  They have relatives there, they say.  They want to go there, live there.  They don't like the Europeans much, they say, and they like Americans more than Canadians, which is a big surprise.  They say the Europeans are arrogant and dismissive.  That is what Yasso told us, too.  He did not like the Italians, he said, but I began to realize that much of his attitude has to do with the American custom of tipping.  We are used to this, the old 20%, and that, I thought, must surely be the difference.  That and the fact that they haven't seen as many Americans.  Familiarity, etc.

Ili and I wandered the streets, picking out restaurants that looked good.  There were no shops, or hardly any.  There were a few on the side streets that sold woven hats and bags and an occasional women's shop that sold rustic tops.  And there was street art for sale here and there.



I should have bought one of these paintings.  I didn't even ask the price.  Cheap enough, I would guess.  But I bought nothing even as Ili bought presents to bring home.  She bought rum and cigars and straw bags for she is much more thoughtful than I.

We came upon the Ambos Mundos, the hotel where Hemingway stayed when he lived in Key West, and we went to the rooftop bar.  This is where the tourists were, of course, but we were tired and wanted a drink.  We could have been anywhere.

"This reminds me of that rooftop bar I told you about in Charleston," Ili said.  We had our mojitos and gazed at the crowd, glad to be off our feet in the shade for a minute, but that was all.  One drink and then. . . .

We took the stairs to the ground floor rather than stand in line to cram into the open cage elevator with the other tourists.  I wanted to see into one of the rooms, for the building and the open garden spaces on each floor were lovely.  And we got our chance.  They had turned Hemingway's room into a tourist attraction and we were tourists, so we paid the few dollars and took the tour, if you can call walking into a hotel room a "tour."  There was a bed and a desk and half shuttered windows that looked out over the streets.  It was clear why Hemingway had chosen this room here near the docks and why he wrote "To Have and To Have Not" in this part of town.

We decided to take a cab back to our apartment rather walk the seven kilometers and made our way to the Malecon where many taxis waited.  We were hungry and needed showers.  It would soon be dark.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Finca Vigia

(the vote is in--and everyone likes the color versions better, so. . . )

When we got up on our first full day in Cuba, the sun was shining.  We'd slept long in the cool drone of the air conditioner.  But there was no hurry.  We showered and made Nescafe from the bottled water we boiled on the old gas stove that we needed to ignite with a lighter that kept burning my thumb as I dipped it to the gas, or so I thought.  When Ili came in, she said she smelled gas.  I had turned on the wrong burner.

"This isn't bad," I said, sipping the Nescafe and Coffee-Mate. "It really isn't bad at all."

We sat at the dining table in the front room and wrote in our journals until we could feel the day slipping away.

"Let's get breakfast."

We went back to the Cafe California and there was our new friend Yassa.  We ordered our eggs and ham and good toasted Cuban bread and ate in relative silence.

"You two don't seem as lively as you were last night," Yassa observed.

"Too many run and cocas," I said.  And it seemed to be true.

I had told Yassa about my 1999 trip and asked him what would be the best way to get out to the Finca Vigia.  He laughed and corrected my pronunciation.

"Bahia, not Vigia," he said.  "Don't try to take a bus. Take a taxi.  The yellow ones are more expensive."

After breakfast, we walked toward the Hotel Nacionale where the cabbies stood in line.  We picked one of the cheaper ones out, but I regretted it right away.  We were breathing exhaust the whole way.  The cab was a wreck. But we were on our way, down the Malecon and then around the bend toward the cruise ships.  And then. . . we saw what we had been looking for the day before--Habana Viejo!  Somehow we had wandered in the wrong direction and had only been on the outskirts.

"Holy shit, look at that!  Remember the Dutch couple we asked directions from?"

We had seen a couple coming from the direction of old Havana and asked them the way.  Oh, they said, it is beautiful, don't miss it.  Later on we saw them again.

"Did you find it?" the asked.

"Oh, yes, it was beautiful."

I told the cabbie that this is where he'd drop us off on the way back.

"We would have missed this," I said, "if we weren't headed out of town."  We both giggled at our stupidity.

The road out of town was lined with ancient buildings, factories, I guessed, that seemed to be functioning ruins.  We passed through the "suburbs" where the houses looked like they do in many Latin countries, flat and functionary with bold colors and corrugated tin roofs.  Hordes of people lined the streets.  I guessed they were waiting on the bus, but no, there were too many of them.  It was a mystery and more than a bit like a scene from some movies I had watched but couldn't remember.  Maybe, I thought, it was the carbon monoxide that was making things seem a little strange.

Then the road began to climb and the buildings began to thin.  We took a left hand turn and ascended through some gates to a guard house where we paid our pesos to enter the Finca.  It had changed.  Now it was a tourist destination with restaurants and music and stands for selling memorabilia.  The house, though, was much the same, though the furniture had been rearranged and maybe augmented, or so it seemed.  We looked through the windows with the other tourists which is all you were allowed to do.  People had been pilfering stuff, they said, so now. . . .  Ili didn't seem very interested in the things I pointed out, and I guess that was normal as Hemingway probably meant very little to her, either his life or his writings.  I doubted that many people read him any longer.  The "Hemingway Effect" was now invisible and shrinking, and the thought of that made me feel old.  We climbed the lookout tower where Hemingway would write each morning and looked back over the twenty or so miles back to Havana.  It was obvious why this was called Lookout Farm.

We wandered about the grounds a bit and sat on a patio under the Banyon trees watching the dogs and cats that roamed about the grounds, but Ili was restless and eager to head back to town, so we made our way back down the hill and found our cabbie.

On our way back, the roads were littered with uniformed school kids walking in groups.  It was Friday and freedom was in the air.

Some things are just universal.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Yassa's Tale



Yassa asked us where we were from.

"Estados Unidos," I said.  He looked surprised.

"I studied English at the University," he said.  "Also literature and French."

He asked us what we thought of Trump.

"He's not right," I said.

But Yassa, like most people we talked to, was hopeful. Trump, they say, is a businessman.  It was the most surprising thing about Cuba, I thought, that people were for the big capitalist, but people had had enough of socialism, I guess.   I didn't want to talk politics however.  Yassar lived in the ruins of. . . of what?  I didn't know enough to say if it was Fidel's failed system or the American embargo.  I wasn't here to opine.  I just wanted to listen.

"I have friends in America," he said.  "They invite me to come.  They tell me they will pay for everything, but. . . ."

He trailed off.  He was needed at another table.  Ili and I sat back and enjoyed our drinks looking out over the street in front of us.  In a minute, however, Yassar was back.

"I am an attorney," he said.  "Was.  I spent seven years as a maritime lawyer working with the big shipping companies.  I made eighty pesos a month, lived with my mother, couldn't afford to get married.  I got a job on a cruise ship as a bartender and a tour guide.  I made more money in a couple nights than I could make all month working as an attorney, so I quit.  Now. . . I work here.  I got married, have my own house.  My wife is expecting our first baby."

I calculated that eighty pesos a month was about $1,000 a year.  That was the same as it was when I was in Cuba in 1999.  There were doctors and lawyers and professors at the conference where I presented, and that is what they all made.  Now. . . Raoul had opened up the country to private business which made things. . . well, a bit more inequitable, really.  There was more of the haves and have nots now.  You had to hustle to get ahead.

"I have some goals, some places I want to visit," he said.  "I want to go to Paris, of course, but I want to go to Lyons and Marseilles."

I laughed without thinking and said, "Of course.  They are maritime towns."  He must have worked with the French shipping lines, I thought, and they had filled his head with tales.

"And I want to go to Carnivale in Brazil.  Excuse me," he said to Ili, "but the women there are so. . . ."  He made an scooping curve with his hand.  "And I would like to see Buenes Aires.  I want to go to America and see a Clippers game and a football game and the Texas Rangers."

He was a big guy, about six-three, and he was built like an athlete.  It was obvious that he had played something.  Ili was enamored.

I thought about what he was saying, though.  He was thirty-seven, had just bought a house, had a wife, and was expecting a baby.  I doubted that he was going to be able to accomplish all of that.  I doubted, really, that he would get to do any of it.

"Things are going to change here," he said.  "A year, maybe two.  I have hope."

In between things, Yassa waited tables, brought us our meals, and kibitzed with people walking by in the street.  He was confident and definitely an alpha male.  He held forth on more topics at length, but eventually our meal was finished and our second drinks empty, and we were exhausted.  The Cafe California, though, served breakfast, and we told him we would be back.

"I'll be here," he said.  "We open at eight."

Ili and I wandered the streets back to the apartment.  The air was soft and warm, the streets busy but quiet.  Back at the apartment, we opened the window and stood on the balcony overlooking the ocean with one last drink.

Then we slept for eleven and a half hours.


(A note: as I work through the Cuba images, I try to develop them in a representative style.  Some of them appeal to me in black and white, others in color, but sometimes I can't tell.  The colors of Cuba pop, but sometimes the monotone images are moodier and say something else.  And so. . . the second image.  You decide.)