Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Driving Excitement in Porto, and Other Tales

Portuguese people are the nicest people in the world. We have had some wonderful conversations with people who come up to us on the street, and start talking to us, telling us where to go and what to see, and telling us how much they appreciate that we are in Portugal. Understand, of course, that we're decked out in cameras and travel guides, and heavily armed with maps. It's been a pleasant and wonderful surprise.

I say all that to preface what I'm about to say - these same people will get on your tail and drive right up your keester if you are behind the wheel of an automobile. Yesterday, on our drive up from Óbidos, drivers would get 10 feet on my rear end, and ride me for miles, and I was traveling at 75 miles an hour, and they weren't. Portugal has several road systems, one that's akin to our Interstates, and another that's a major secondary road, then we're talking about paved but unmarked, and finally cow trails up a hillside. Portuguese drivers drive the same speed on all of the different roads. Honest.

Well, not quite. We stopped enroute yesterday at Conimbriga, which is an old Roman town and archaeological site. It's quite an extensive excavation, and we walked around the city, then visited the museum, and then had lunch. We were on some secondary roads getting to Conimbriga, and the going was very slow, but after getting on the Autoestrada, we sailed into Porto. BUT IT TOOK US ONE HOUR TO FIND OUR HOTEL AND ANOTHER HOUR TO PARK!!!! Porto has too many cars, and way too few parking places. Plus, the streets are about half the width of American streets and people are driving twice as fast on the main drags. Needless to say, I had no clue about where I was going, but all the drivers behind me knew EXACTLY where they were going. I got fingered and the evil eye. More than once.

Our hotel, aptly named Hotel Malaposta, is on Rua Côceicão, or something like that. It's a one block street in the Cedafeita neighborhood. The hotel is also European quaint, with a sheen of modernity and hipness, overlaid the ancient roots of Porto, if you get my drift. However, the shower works, and the beds are firm. I have no complaints, and the partyers on the same floor did not keep us awake last night.

Today, we took a walking tour of Porto, and had a great time. We walked through the Ribeira neighborhood, which borders the Douro River. We are about a kilometer from where our tourbook has its walk begin. It said the walk would take approximately three hours. For the record, we easily completed it in eight hours. But in those eight hours, we walked through three churches, took pictures of the fabulous tiles in the railway stations, had a port wine tasting at the Wine Institute, and saw the birthplace of Henry the Navigator. We also walked along the Douro, and walked across one of the river bridges.

People were so kind. One woman was driving her car, beckoned us over and gave us directions. Then she parked her car, came looking for us, and gave us a detailed overview of what to see in the neighborhood. I can't imagine that happening in Washington, DC. The church of the Franciscan order is a must see. It's a truly over-the-top example of Baroque/Rococo decoration, and incredibly beautiful. Although after about a hundred sad virgins and bleeding Jesuses, it's a little depressing. Saint Sebastian is depicted everywhere. For some reason, he's a favorite saint, and he's always just about as badly mangled as Jesus. Those arrows of outrageous fortune, indeed!

At the Customs House, which is Henry the Navigator's birthplace, one of the docents took us aside, and we must have talked with him for at least a half hour. He told us about the discovery of a Roman house under the Custom House, and also about the archive that is now housed there. We talked, too, about the different perspectives that Americans and Europeans have about history. It was a very interesting conversation.

We walked along the river promenade, crossed the bridge, then came back for some ice cream, which is great for promenading. On our walk back (UPHILL) through the neighborhoods, we stopped by a pasteleria for some sweets and some coffee. Then back to our hotel, and I'm writing you all about it.

Love, Grace and JB

Monday, September 22, 2008

Here's More Details

I apologize for the rather short earlier email today, but it was on my Blackberry, and my thumb finally gave out. As you can guess, we are having a wonderful time doing all sorts of stuff. We enjoyed the beach this morning, then spent some time this afternoon walking around the outside walls of Óbidos. It's probably a couple of kilometers, and a lot of up and down hill walking.

We left Lisbon on Saturday, rented our car, and headed out of town to Sintra, which was the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family. Sintra has a huge National Palace, all sorts of other rather fanciful architecture, and a Moorish fortress looming over the skyline of the village. It really is quite a breathtaking place. It also has a rainforest microclimate, so all sorts of interesting flora are about. We walked through one of the parks to get to the Moorish castle, and it's a very verdant area, particularly on the lower parts of the mountain.

The Moorish castle dates from the 800s or so. It's built around the crown of a group of hills overlooking Sintra. The castle and town were where the Moorish governor lived. When the Moors were driven out in the 1200s, the King of Portugal took over the Moorish palace as his own royal residence, and it remained such until the 1910 revolution. We toured the palace and the castle, and although it is full of nice furnishing and the like, I think I'd still prefer 2101 Bucknell Ter.

After leaving Sintra, we took lots of back roads (we're talking Idaho, here) to Torres Verdes, and finally got on the freeway headed toward Óbidos, although it was touch and go there for a while. Let's just say that all the maps and signs are in Portuguese.... We got totally lost in Torres Verdes, and stopped at a gas station. I spoke to the guy in halting Portuguese, and he responded in voluble Portuguese, but it was all right, because I really did understand him! He drew us a map, and got us on our way. The Portuguese have been very friendly to us, and they really do appreciate you trying to engage them in their language.

We spent all of Sunday walking around Óbidos. It's a beautiful walled town that's been around since the 800s. (Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and Christians - quite a kaleidoscope.) The town is whitewashed with lots of the traditional Portuguese blue tiles. They are very beautiful, and are still made (for the Portuguese, and for the tourists). As I mentioned in my earlier letter, Óbidos is a tourist trap, but a very friendly one, and we enjoyed going into the different shops. Later in the day, we had a nice dinner inside the village. We have eaten well ever since we arrived. The wines are fantastic, and yesterday Grace discovered a cherry-chocolate liqueur that is made locally, and can be drunk (happily) locally, too.

Today we had the adventure at the beach. Grace is bringing home some genuine Portuguese Rocks. They may actually end up in your Christmas stockings. We enjoyed the company of the two German hitchhikers. One of the them said that they had waited for the bus for 30 minutes, before we picked them up. I was so grateful that the bus didn't come! We had a snack in the town we took them to (Baleal), then headed back here so that we could circumlocute the city wall here.

And that's about it for today.

Earlier that day...

We're still in Portugal. We've been in Obidos for a couple of nights. The Internet access here isn't, so I'm sending this from my Blackberry.

Obidos is a picture-perfect turistico trap, and we have truly been enjoying that. It is a very pretty town, complete with wall and castle. We're staying in a very nice hotel with an appropriate soupcon of quaintness.

Today we went to the beach at Peniche, and checked out a couple of other tiny beach towns. We also picked up a couple of German hitchhikers and took them to the village in which they were staying. Very nice guys on holiday.

Hope you are all well. I'll write more soon. Lyn, I hope your 40th was really grand, and I really appreciate that you let me steal your Mom. I guess I owe you big time.

Love, Grace and JB

Lisbon Memories

September 19, 2008 - Grace and I just finished our Berlitz class, just about 10 minutes ago. Talk about a graduation ceremony! We shall be leaving Lisbon tomorrow to go to Obidos (oo - bi - dush) and points north. You may not hear from us for a while, because we don't know what the Internet situation is there. We'll certainly contact you from Porto, unless we find something better to do.

We have had a wonderful stay in Lisbon. Last night we were in the Alfama at a Fado club (look it up...) and heard some great singing, and ate a very nice meal. Afterwards we walked through the Baixa neighborhood. We also had a chance to see the Praça Commercio, and some really outsize monuments. Portugal may be small in land area, but its statues are bigger than Texas.

We saw a six-story house on a hill whose "ground" floor was on the fourth floor, and whose basement was on the street about 50 ft below. That's how steep the hills are in the Alfama. Baixa is the neighborhood that was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755, and completely rebuilt following the quake. It is a very flat neighborhood, and is one of the few areas in town where streets are straight.

We hope you are all doing well. Boa Tarde!

Grace and John

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Berlitz Wall

There seems to be some confusion as to exactly what Grace and I are doing in Europe. I often ask myself that, myself. Why are Grace and I in Europe, and of all places, why in Portugal. First of all, PORTUGAL IS NOT SPAIN. Just thought I'd throw that geographic tip in. Secondly, PORTUGUESE IS NOT SPANISH. This is a very important fact that apparently most people don't know. In fact, while talking to the Portuguese, you'll be amazed at how much they seem to be Canadians, only, they are speaking Portuguese.

Grace and I are now FLUENT language speakers. We can recognize sardines and pork chops on cafe menus. I know how to order coffee with milk. Two words will be your best friends: obrigado/a and desculpe. Obrigado/a (masculine/feminine forms) means thank you, and desculpe means excuse me, or sorry. You can open just about any conversation with desculpe, and end it with obrigado or obrigada.

Occasionally, we've run into situations where the other party didn't speak any English. This is not a problem. In fact, if you can open your eyes wide enough, the Bambi in the headlight look will solve most communication problems. A large part of the Berlitz school curriculum that we are taking is to help us to get just the right look on our faces when confronted by this challenge. First, open your mouth a little wider than normal, and clench a bit. Next, make your eyes as round as possible. Finally, arch your eyebrows while wrinkling your forehead. The teachers make us stand in front of a mirror to practice. I think we both have it down pretty well.

Food - again not a problem. The Portuguese, taken together, on average weigh about 40 lbs less than Americans, taken together. This is because they only eat cake or bread and coffee for breakfast, and they smoke a lot. They never eat eggs for breakfast (and here I really am telling the truth); eggs, either fried or scambled are on lunch and dinner menus. Meats are often served with a fried egg on top, but the smoking cuts down all the cholesterol. Some interesting dishes I've eaten so far: chicken with a fried egg, boiled bacalhau (salted cod) with potatoes (cozido), grilled squid, grilled pescado (grilled catch of the day). Bacalhau is Portugal's national treasure. It's a salted, dried codfish which is now eaten on special occasions. I really enjoyed the cozido; I expect I'll be eating more of Mr. Cod. Oh, almost every meal comes with potatoes AND rice. I like that. You can never have too many carbohydrates. Olives, lots of olives. Sardine pâté is also a big hit around here.

I'm enjoying the food immensely, because it's very different than what I normally eat. More than that, it's made with many of the same ingredients with which I cook, but they are put together in ways that I never thought about before. So I'm having a lot of fun. Here in the hotel, we have a salad bar, too, that Ron would enjoy. It has a wide selection of very different salads, that, again, use many different ingredients that we just don't see in a salad bar.

So today, Grace and I came right back to the hotel after class because we were dead tired. We have been really pushing ourselves, and needed a day off to regroup, and to catch up. The Berlitz class is going well. When Ana took us out to lunch today, she let us order for ourselves. Manuel gave us a history lesson. He had prepared a lesson on body parts and clothing, but the history got in the way. I'm afraid that we derail our instructors a lot, but we are getting very useful information about the country, the culture, the people, and learning how to fend for ourselves in many different situations.

I sometimes think the instructors must wonder who are these crazy Americans, but they have been very supportive and excited about our stay in Portugal. One of the instructors, Susana, brought in several pages that she had printed off from the Internet, because she wanted to be sure that we had all the information about Sintra, and a couple of other palaces/castles that Grace is going to drag me off to.

We send our love, and we'll catch up with you later.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

More of the Same?

We're back at the hotel after a very long day. I should be upstairs studying Portuguese, but I also want to let you guys know what's going on. Class has been very intense. Ron, I don't think you'd like Portuguese food. It features a lot of meat, and not very many vegetables. Ditto for Lyn. The word for "steak" is bife, so you can have something called bife da vaca, which looks a lot like beef of cow, but really means beefsteak. That was what I learned today. Actually, we had a couple of hundred words poured into our heads in the last couple of days. It's relentless, and more nervewracking than learning the first level of Challenge square dancing in a weekend. Both our brains will need a rest by the end of the week.

A large tour group of French tourists are in the hotel with us. There's a lot of bon soiring going on. I told Grace that she had to dress better than she would while traveling in the United States, and generally, the people on the street are dressed quite well, but these French tourists, well, I guess you reach a certain age, and you just don't care what the American tourists think.... They are a very friendly lot, and wish us well on the elevator. I think Grace and I have an "A" branded on our foreheads, because people smile at us, and break into English. We've been trying what little Portuguese we know on people, and they respond with a smile. Not as many people know English, as say, in Madrid, but nobody gives any attitude - very friendly country.

After class this evening, we took the Metro (that's what Lisbon calls its subway) downtown to the Baixa district, than took an old time trolley car up the mountain in Alfama (the orginal old city) to the Castelo do S. Jorge. It is quite the castle, looking like something out of Prince Valiant. It has a lot of similarities to the construction of the Alcazar in Segovia. It is basically a fort within a fort with one set of battlements completely surround an inner set of battlements. It is a very large complex that has occupied the site since the 1100s. The site has been continously inhabited since at least 600 BC. We scrambled among the battlements and towers, and took a set of stairs down to what we thought would get us out of the castle, Well, it would have, except the last step would have been about 100 ft straight down, off the side of one of the castle towers. So we climbed a couple hundred steps back up to the top of the higher castle wall. Grace was a very good sport about it. We told two other couple heading down that it was a dead end - our mitzvah for the day.

We have several teachers each day in class. So far, we've had Ana, Manuel, Paulo, Andrea, and Susana. Paulo is the best English speaker. Manuel is the cutest. Ana is the most intense. Andrea is incredibly helpful when it comes to directions, etc. and Susana is Portugal's most enthusiastic tour guide. We had a lot of fun with her telling us everything from what palaces to visit, to how to order a pastry in Belem. There is nothing in her country about which she does not have a most enthusiastic opinion. All of the instructors have been very patient with us, but relentless, too. They really want us to do well. It's been a learning experience!

Grace and I send our love to all of you. She's upstairs studying like mad. You'd be proud of you Mom/sister/daughter/grandma. We'll see you all in a bit.

Grace and John

Saturday, September 13, 2008

St. Theresa, We Love You!

Today was Grace and John's Most Excellent Adventure to Avila and Segovia. (Go Google them!) We got up early this morning so that we could be ready for the bus that would pick us up at 8:15 at the hotel. It arrived shortly after 8:30 (amidst a lot of nervous tourists). We were transported a mile or so to a tour center on Gran Via. We clambered aboard a different coach, and by 9:15 were weaving through the streets of a Madrid Saturday morning.

We had a nice tour guide. She wore her clothes a little too tight, which would have been alluring ten years ago, but the shine has faded. Okay, I'll stop with the snarky comments. She wore a bright pink shawl (and carried a designer handbag) and was quite dramatic in her historical/religious/patriotic pronouncements - which is everything a tour guide should be. You knew it was important when she sat down her handbag to speak.

On the road, we climbed the mountains northwest of Madrid, and hit the road to Avila. As you come into the city, you see a spectacular walled city on the hill. The city is completely walled, and is the finest example in Spain. Most cities with walls have knocked most of them down, because they are an impediment to development, but Avila has preserved its walled old city, and it is everything a walled city in a fairy tale or a romance novel about knights, kings, and princesses should be.

Immediately outside the St. Vincent gate, the largest gate in the wall, is St. Vincent's Basilica. The church contains the remains of St. Vincent and two other saints martyred with him. He and the others were children when they were martyred, and the tale is probably worth a Google search, which I highly commend to your spiritual development. The sarcophagus containing the remains of the saints is a brightly painted coffin that's been around for about 750 years. Where they kept the saints' bones before then, I don't know.

We walked completely through the old city, ending up at St. Theresa's church. St. Theresa is very popular in these parts, and is somewhat of a cottage industry. The church is built over the home in which St. Theresa was born, and a chapel in the church was built EXACTLY ON THE SPOT WHERE ST: THERESA'S MOTHER GAVE BIRTH. The chapel is a monument to reverential excess, more gold and gold leaf than you can shake a stick at, but nevertheless, a remarkable homage to what must have been a remarkable life of a devout woman. She was not martyred and lived to ripe old age. Next to the church is a little museum of St. Theresa and a gift shop. The museum contains some of St. Theresa's manuscripts, her walking stick, her whip (or "discipline"), a sole of one of her sandals, but most intriguing, her very bony ring finger with the ring intact, presumably not removed until after her death.

From Avila, we headed for Segovia. The first view of Segovia is of its Cathedral, and it is a giddy display of stone in the Rennaisance style. We're talking about lots of towers and spires. It's very dramatic. We hopped off the bus and headed into the old town to see the aqueduct. It is quite a piece of architecture that is higher than the buildings in the old city, very dramatic skyline. Near the aqueduct were some re-enactors dressed in Roman and Barbarian garb. It looked the like the Barbarians, or Visigoths, were having more fun. I'm not sure about the realism, because one could draw the conclusion that Barbarians wore t-shirts. Cool Halloween outfits.

After viewing the aqueduct, we headed off to lunch at a cafe in the old town. We had a bean soup, a beef stew, some vegies, and ice cream. The soup and stew were really wonderful home-cooked fare. Hearty for all the walking we were doing. From the restaurant, we made our way to the Cathedral. The church is really more dramatic on the outside than on the inside. The inside is decorated in the Spanish Baroque style. The two organs in the choir loft are pump organs and date from the late 1600s. The cathedral was build between 1525 and 1768. Its predecessor was destroyed in a war in 1520. The outside architecture is spectacular, and worth a visit.

From the Cathedral, we continued through the old town to the Alcazar. The alcazar is a combination fort and palace. The old city is built on a mountain top that falls dramatically into the valley below, add to that a tall wall and a couple of towers, and you have a scene from Prince Valiant. The moat around the tower is now drained, but when full must have been 75 feet deep or so, and it is at least that far below the entrance into the alcazar, underneath a truly intimidating tower.

The alcazar is still in use today, in addition to being a tourist site. The Spanish military archives are stored here, and the alcazar is a museum for the Spanish artillery. The public rooms of the building house an artillery exhibit (we're talking 14th century armor), and the royal rooms of the Kingdom of Castile(?), including Queen Isabella's bed and bedroom, reception areas, and the king's room. The building is being restored, including the ceilings. Much of the furnishings were destroyed in fire in 1862, and the ceilings were all wood, and were lost. The restoration continues, and the ceilings are done in a Spanish-Moorish style that is geometric, and features a lot of gold leaf. We ended the alcazar tour in the royal family's chapel. The reredos behind the altar features scenes from the life of Christ that is painted on wood. It's very beautiful work. Of course, I found a painting of St. Sebastian. He's still having a bad day at the office.

We walked about a mile back to the bus, climbed aboard and headed back to Madrid. We got here about an hour and half ago. I thought you'd all want to know. I hope this note finds you well.

Love, Grace and John

Friday, September 12, 2008

Why Would I Want to Buy a Car When I Can Rent a Seat on a Tour Bus?

We had more adventures today, and we've even prepaid on an adventure tomorrow. That's about as much forward thinking as I've done for this trip. Really!

For maybe the second time in my life, I slept through the alarm this morning. That really is alarming. Grace told me that the alarm was really loud, too. I guess a 37-hour day will do that for a fella. Grace and I are learning the art of travel. Last night, I washed out our shirts mainly because we´d been in them for 30+ hours and you could tell that at a distance. I hung them in the shower, and by lunchtime today, they were dry and ready to go. Grace brought along (what I thought was a dubious product) a bottle of stuff that you spray on wrinkled clothes, and when it dries, the clothes are wrinkle free. It really works! Wow, do I love new technology. Who needs a travel iron?

I shaved today, amid decals and signs in the bathroom decrying Madrid's water shortage. The signs worked. It sparked some efforts on my part to conserve water. I'm wearing my new travel shirt today, and it is very comfortable. It's designed with a yoke across the back that is a vent so that heat is supposed to escape blah, blah, blah. It also has some kind of fiber that wicks moisture away so that you don't get pitted out too much. It seems to work. Best of all, it's wash and wear, and cleans nicely in the sink.

We finally got down to breakfast. High carb, with augmented pork protein, con queso! How did the hotel staff know that this was part of the John Burlison diet? I did eat somewhat sparingly, but certainly had enough to fuel me most of the day. Lots of little old ladies and their gentlemen friends (or husbands) are staying in the hotel, acting a lot like tourists, except they speak Spanish. None of them had hair that had known natural color since the death of Franco. Most were a little stout, but carried it in a commanding and convincing way, accenting their curves with exotic leopard prints and loud/hot colors worn defiantly across heaving bosoms. Give these women fabric, and expect a fashion statement! The men were no match. Also in the dining room were some college age kids in at least two configurations, Russian and American. They had stayed up very late the night before, beneath our room on their balconies, drunkenly singing old American pop tunes. I guess I'm getting used to it. Madrid is a very noisy city all the time, and these kids were no match for my earplugs. They all had healthy appetites.

After breakfast, we headed out for a bus tour of Old Madrid via Madid Vision. These are double-decker buses that travel two different routes through the city. One of the routes is "Modern Madrid," the other is "Historical Madrid." Really, there isn't much difference between the two. We took the Modern Madrid tour first. We got lost (twice) trying to find the boarding stop. We noticed some other tourists having the same problem. This is a big city. Finding those bus stops can be onerous. The tour was along a couple of avenues that Brian, Ron, and I had walked extensively two years ago, so it was exciting to see those neighbhorhoods again, and to hear some of the history of those neighborhoods. The tour lasted about 70 minutes. We got off the bus near the hotel, returned to the room to freshen up, then headed to Starbucks, because I was incredibly undercaffeinated.

We split a sandwich at Starbucks, then sat and talked and drank our iced coffee and mocha lite. We dished all of you, chuckling all the while. We concluded that we have a wonderful family, but it sure is nice to get away from you once in a while. We are truly enjoying this time together, and it's fun and curiously satisfying to sit and sip and talk. We finished our lunch and headed off to a vast city park, El Parque del Retiro. We walked through the park for a couple of hours. It's full of paths, grand statuary, fountains, and palaces. At the Velazquez Palacio, a young couple were in wedding atire, having an extensive photo shoot with their photographer. I have a couple of pictures of them and the photographer. They were enjoying themselves. After the park, we jumped back on the tour bus for the Historical Madrid tour. It took us over near the Royal Palace and in to some neighborhoods that I hadn´t been to. I slept through some of this narrative, because I just couldn't keep my eyes open. I've since recovered. Don't worry, I have pictures of the tours, including the Ham Museum. I hope that I get to eat there.

After getting off the bus, we went to a neighborhood bakery for a snack and some coffee. Grace is now in the hotel room collecting her thoughts. When I get back from writing this, we'll go to dinner, then maybe a walk afterwards. We've purchased our tickets for our tour tomorrow.We're going to Segovia and Avila. It lasts most of the day. I'll let you know how that turns out. Love you all.

If This Is Thursday, This Must Be Madrid

We are in Madrid, and I am typing on a Spanish language keyboard. It is killing me! I met Grace at Passport Control early this morning, and the rest of the day has been a blur. We took a taxi to the hotel because we had missed our driver (it took too long for us to get through baggage claim because the flight Grace was on was about a half hour late).

After checking in, we took a walk up to Plaza Mayor, then on to the Royal Palace and the Cathedral. I find I am not taking a lot of pictures that I took two years ago. You can either be happy or sad about that :-) We ended back at the Plaza Mayor for lunch, and had a large tomato olive salad and a Spanish pizza with lots of ham. I still intend to make it to the Ham Museum. We walked right past it.

We came back to the hotel to recharge a bit, then headed off for a two and a half hour walk through of the Prado Art Museum. I have never seen so many crucifixion scenes in one place. We are talking about hundreds. Lots of little angels too, and one particularly baffling picture where a baby is dancing on about eight other baby heads. Reminds me of Galaxy Quest.

By this time it occurred to both of us that we smelled bad, and we were like the walking dead. We could hardly drag ourselves anywhere. We crawled back to the hotel, then took showers, and decided to go for an early evening walk. I headed straight for Starbucks, and we had some great ice drinks, and a wonderful conversation with an exchange student from Tennessee. We then walked up into the Chueca neighborhood where Ron, Brian, and I stayed two years ago. I really am suffering from recovered memories as we walk the streets of Madrid.

Stay tuned. We are planning on more great adventures, maybe an out of town experience.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

On My Way out of Town

Everything is laid out on my bed to be placed in my two carry-ons, and I'll be flying out of here at 3 p.m. tomorrow afternoon. I had lunch with Michael (sushi at Moby Dick's), and Ron and I picked up some boxes at the liquor store so that we can pack the books in the basement (we're repainting because of a plumbing job).

This afternoon, I went over to see Tim, then we went to dinner at a nice Mexican restaurant in Rockville (excellent crab enchiladas), and headed off to John Marshall's Advanced club. I hadn't danced there for a month or so, and I really enjoyed seeing all of my old square dance friends. Finally, I got back here around 11 p.m., and Ron and I went over the cruise itinerary and papers. I had to answer some square dance club email, write in here, and I'm off to bed. I have a big day tomorrow!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Dr. Bonecrusher

I go to a chiropractor. His name really isn't Dr. Bonecrusher. A week ago, I pulled my back out, and could not bend without sharp shooting pains erupting out of my eyeballs, and a deep unconscious moan of pain emanating from my depths. I could stand, I could sit, but anything else was a mess. I went to see the good Dr., and he provided immediate relief. I still hurt a lot, but I could move, which was a great improvement over my previous state.

Today, he had me on his table. "Take a deep breath, breathe out." And with that he crunched my spine. The first time he did this (many months ago), it was decidedly unpleasant, but I'm used to it, and I can hear the cracking noise.

He also did this twisting action with my head and neck. He held my head firmly and sharply twisted it. It, too, was accompanied by a pleasing, cracking noise. A nagging fear is that he's going to do that someday, and my head will just pop off into his hands. Then what am I going to do?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Family Values

I approach this subject gingerly, stones, glass houses, all that stuff. I make a disclaimer here, too: I'm a late middle-aged gay Democrat living in an open 25 year relationship. I have four children, and I was absent in their lives while they were growing up.

I'm concerned about Sarah Palin's politics as they are shaped by her religious and political beliefs. Her family values are different than mine, and I'm afraid that a McCain-Palin administration might want to impose her brand of family values on the rest of us. I think it's fair game in this election to examine her family values and to explore their implications.

Governor Palin is opposed to abortion except to protect the life of the mother. She would ban abortions for women whose pregnancies are caused by rape or incest. This stance goes beyond the protection and sanctity of life to fundamental government interference in traumatizing personal crimes against women. In effect, the government forces women to carry the fruit of the violence with them for another nine months. This is not a family value that I can support.

Governor Palin is opposed to sex education other than abstinence-only education. People who support abstinence-only education often point out that contraception fails, but, as Governor Palin knows, abstinence-only education fails, too. A better policy is to teach young adults that abstinence is the best choice for preventing pregnancy and disease, but those same young adults need to learn the mechanics of disease and pregnancy prevention. They need more information, not less informaton. High school kids will continue to have sex, regardless of what they are told about it. Give them the tools to make the best decisions that fits their situations. Doing anything less means more pregnant teenagers.

Governor Palin has a beautiful family, and lots of love and support from her extended family to help her raise her children. She and her husband seem to manage the balance of being parents, and supporting their family, too. I believe this is an important example to bring into the public light. I also believe that many families don't have the extended family or resources to be effective parents or build strong families. Maybe seeing families like the Palins, the Obamas, the Bidens, and the McCains at the conventions and during the campaign will focus some attention on the urgent needs that many families have, especially for childcare and healthcare.

Finally, my family values are very different than Governor Palin's values, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't sit down and talk with each other. I'm worried about single mothers. I'm worried about young men who father children without thinking through the consequences. I agree with the governor that abortion is not a good solution, rather we need to find effective ways to prevent teen pregnancies from occurring. I personally believe that abstinence-only education doesn't work.

I won't be voting for McCain-Palin in November.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hanna Visits DC

We're in for a wet day here. The rain started a couple of hours ago, and promises to go on all day. We're under a flash flood watch until 2 p.m., and heavy rain late morning and early afternoon (3 - 5 inches). Sunday should be okay, though. What am I going to have for dinner? Cabbage?

Suddenly, this has become quite the hurricane season. I'm thankful I don't live in Haiti, which has had three major storms so far this year; such misery there. A hope, though, is that these storms will break the drought that has plagued the Southeast for the last couple of years.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Cinema Effect Part II: Realisms

Okay, I'm over my head here. Ron and I went to see this exhibit at the Hirshhorn. The exhibit ends Sunday, September 7. The show consists of seventeen installations and two films. Many of the installations are thought-provoking, a few are just weird.

Film has a peculiar power to seduce us. If we recognize a celluloid image, it is real. If we recognize a type in a film, we make an analogy to what we know, and again, the image is real. Several of the artists touch on this theme about how realism affects our perception of the film, but film creates a realism that shapes our reality, too.

Some of the standout installations are Lonely Planet, Marlene Redux: A True Hollywood Story!, and The Simpson Verdict. A couple of other installations that I did not have an opportunity to watch completely, but looked interesting were John and The Third Memory.

The Hirshhorn takes on challenging exhibitions. Because it is a museum of modern art, the exhibitions demand the attention and concentration of the viewer. (I was exhausted when I left the exhibit.) I'm not particularly a culture guy or an art aficionado. I also suffer from a certain mental laziness (which my readers already know about). So I found this exhibit often inaccessible. I wanted to connect with the works that I saw, but many of them had me feeling like Homer Simpson. And maybe it would have helped had I drank a couple of beers before going.

I know I won't get back to this exhibit before it closes on Sunday, and I'm sorry for that, because it had a few precious connections between me and some patterns of light playing on a screen that I'd like to explore. The Simpson Verdict is an arresting animation of the courtroom announcement of the Simpson murder trial verdict, using the actual courtroom dialogue.

Marlene Redux: A True Hollywood Story! is a must see for anyone who watches E! or reads true life mags about the stars. The work has a compelling movieland realism complete with ick, sex (straight and gay), bad language, aging divas, and movie critics. Incidentally Marlene and The Third Memory also have gay themes that not so subtlety inform their realism.

I came away from the exhibition feeling disappointed, and wondering what did I see? But on reflection saw more than I thought, and am wistful about what I missed.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Online Communities and the Men Who Love Them

Last Thursday, one of our financial planners, Joe, invited Ron and me to lunch. This is always a good thing, because by picking up our lunch tab, he can more easily justify the fees he charges us. He must have a great job, taking people like me to lunch!

At any rate, he mentioned that we should get on Facebook and become his friend. I was under the mistaken impression (apparently) that we were already friends, but I guess we were just business acquaintances or something.

Yesterday, another friend, Chaz, sent me an invitation to join a Facebook group. I thought that this was a Providential Sign (I don't really believe in Providential Signs; I'm hedging my bets here, see Mr. Pascal and his wager, actually, I'm not even hedging my bets, I'm just making a literary allusion, maybe not even that). So I registered on Facebook.

Wow! what an interesting landscape. I've been on other social networking sites (okay, I've been on Manhunt, LinkedIn, and, but nothing quite prepared me for Facebook. I mean, it's a whole industrial segment, and probably accounts for a full 3% of the Gross Domestic Product.

Facebook really wants you to sign up and have friends. It's eerie, like I've just joined a cult, or something (not that there's anything wrong with that). If you import your email list, you'll be astounded that about 98% of the people you write to daily are also members of Facebook, and even stranger, you discover that you are the last person in Wheaton, Maryland to join the herd. Who knew?

But interesting things happen on Facebook, too. A guy I've been trying to get in touch with for years is suddenly my friend. A high school friend is now a Facebook friend. My two daughters are not only my friends, but they wrote on my Wall! Now, of course I'm getting excited, and I realize that maybe this is better than the other places I hang out at on the web.

No, I probably am not going to cancel Manhunt, but it's a very targeted community for special needs. And LinkedIn has a lot of my friends from work, although I notice that Facebook has a lot of those same friends, and it's a lot more social than LinkedIn. Classmates, well, most of the people I've connected with on Classmates are also on Facebook. Facebook is evidently the 600 lb. gorilla and the 136.08 kg canary all rolled into one.

And no wonder, duh! Facebook has a lot of stuff that appeals to a lot of people. At a glance, I can see what friends are doing, and I can always find new friends. I find the site a little intimidating in that it has so much to do and explore (Focus, anyone?). But I'm just blown away by the friends I see on the site, and how I have so many more connections than I had ever imagined. This site is a sociologist's dream. I have not yet asked Barack Obama to be my friend. But I'm thinking about asking Sarah Palin. After all, she's from Idaho.

I expect the novelty will wear off in a few minutes. Facebook seems to have more reach than just a social community, though. I'm pretty sure it will have at least as much utility as eVite. The coolest thing about Facebook is that I don't feel hemmed in. I see the activity of my own world all around me, and for now, that's fascinating.