Monday, August 31, 2015

Back on the Cove for a Break

Pampa settled back into his orange kayak.
Janeson in black and white.
It's been a while since Janeson Keeley and I took an afternoon break from work to paddle around Carvins Cove and today seemed like the perfect opportunity.

It turned out to be just that: a breezy, bright day that provided choppy water and enough of a wind to counter the intense sun. It was simply beautiful, as the Cove most often is.

Janeson shows off her cats tats.

Gratitude: A (Very) Good Woman

I awoke to this feast Saturday morning.
Today, I am grateful for Margie Herring.

Friday night late, Margie drove up from her home in Christiansburg to pick me up at the airport after I'd been in Spain for 10 days. I live 1.5 miles from the airport. But she drove because "I really wanted to be there. I missed you."

Next morning, she made me the breakfast above as a welcome home. After breakfast, which was wonderful, she watched as I tried to line up all the things I needed to do to catch up. "Would you like me to mow the lawn?" she said, dead serious. I loved her at that moment. A lot.

Gun Deaths: Enjoying the Disease

"Those who, in the face of all the evidence, still insist that guns are not the cause of the American epidemic of gun violence have decided that the deaths of Wednesday’s victims, Alison Parker and Adam Ward—like those of the children at Newtown—are the cost, to be blithely endured, of the symbolic pleasures that guns provide. Since the cure is known for certain, those who refuse it can only have decided that they enjoy the disease."

--Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker (here)

Weddings, Births, Funerals: Expensive Passages

This is a 1922 royal wedding (Princess Mary, Viscount Lascelles with Queen Mother Elizabeth beside the groom) and it was likely pretty expensive.
We have a little quiz for you today, boys and girls:

Which is more expensive, birth, marriage or death?

These are three events in our life that newspapers used to cover (for free; they now charge). For some people, it was the only public attention they ever got, but it is all public record and news organizations were pretty good about publishing public records. Not so much any more. The Kardasians have overtaken that.

So, here's the result of my little research project on the average costs of those events:

1. Weddings, $26,444
2. (tie) Funerals, $8,000-$10,000
    Births, $8,800

Weddings are wildly out of proportion to their durability (average first marriages last eight years) and the $26,444 does not include the honeymoon, which is often an equal cost. Together, the $50,000 or so would make a nice down payment on a home for the happy couple. Check out what you'll spend if you're average here.

Here are some marriage statistics that will give you a more complete indication of just how much of a waste of time and fortune the marriage ceremony is. Just for perspective, in the U.S., there is a divorce every 16 seconds. No wonder we need so many lawyers.

Funerals, like weddings, have a number of associated costs (see here) that might not necessarily show up on your screen during your period of mourning. Here are a few of them: casket $2,300; funeral director's fee $1,500; body preparation $600; ceremonies (viewing, funeral itself) $1,000; miscellaneous $600; burial plot $1,000; grave digging $1,000; headstone $2,000; grave marker $1,000. tells us you can save a good bit of money with cremation" "the average cost of cremation with services handled through a funeral home is between $2,000 and $4,000. If these same services are handled directly through a crematory, you can expect to pay between $1,500 and $3,000."

The birth of a baby involves pre- and post-delivery care, as well as the delivery, itself. Here is a breakdown of the expected costs.

That, of course, is just the beginning of one of the most expensive enterprises any of us takes on--whether or not voluntarily.

(Photos: funeral; marriage; birth )

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Notes from the Road

The 22-hour journey from my son's front porch to mine yesterday had some interesting highlights and discoveries. Here are some:

This lovely Spanish couple sat facing my son and me on the train trip from Cordoba to Madrid. They proved a point: some of us should stay awake in public.

These charming little girls, about 10 and 8, sat across from me on the train. The closest hobbled around with a broken leg, but giggled and played enthusiastically the entire way.

The blurry blonde here looked so much like a long lost girlfriend of mine (probably 35 years ago) that I did more than a doubletake. I drooled. Sorry about the camera shake. Linda always had that effect on me.

Memories of another trip to Europe: If you see a Ryanair jet, run. Away.

This group was on the transatlantic flight from Madrid to Philadelphia. It was one of an entire gang of pre-school and very young children that completely surrounded me and keep me from sleeping a single wink the entire trip. This bunch moved to the front of tourist and occupied the entire floor. The stewardesses didn't gripe, I suspect, because it kept the knee-biters quite for a while.

This dude, the father of about four of the little kids, sat directly in front of me, alternately taking care of whichever of his children was acting the worst. He wore two hats. Literally. Confused, I guess. I would have been.

This is Jessy Kyle, a beautiful singer of about 40 who has been singing professionally--and beautifully--for more than 25 years, she says. She reminds of Sade, but her voice is her own: pure, forceful and mellow. Sings the kind of jazz that captivates me. Her website is Go listen to some of her music. You'll like it, I suspect.

She was singing in the Philadelphia International Airport while I was on layover for six hours. Philly doesn't have an attractive airport, but Jessy, a sweet woman whom I talked to for a while, certainly brightened it.

The Simple Elegance of Spanish Women

Off to work? Pink shirt-waist.
The Spanish are warm, intelligent, civilized people, but perhaps the most striking characteristic I picked up over the past 10 days is that the women are elegant. Not just elegant for special occasions and not just because they've bought a new, expensive dress.

They walk with straight backs and high heads. Their hair is impeccably coiffed. Their clothes fit and are individually stylish and colorful. They make a statement. Their shoes are worth a special look. The jewelry they wear is most often understated, tasteful and quite lovely.

I saw this on the streets, in the markets, at dinner and even the women who stopped by son's and daughter-in-law's home to visit. They wear dresses.

Elegance at an outdoor cafe.
I saw a lovely older woman at the Spanish version of WalMart wearing a full-length white empire waist dress, plunging neckline, underscored in black. It was beautiful. There was a waitress at an outdoor cafe with a tight black top and gold lame pants. She was young and shapely and it looked lovely on her.

Full length dresses are common and so are shirt-waist dresses, the kind worn so elegantly in the 1950s. I love the respect they have for themselves, as evidenced in the way they appear in public. We could learn from that.

LBD: The boyfriend needs to get with the program.
Watching the boat races.
The pants say it all.
These two were awaiting a ride to dinner.

Another Battle With the Virginia DMV Looms

So last night it's 11:30 and I've been traveling for 22 hours. I'm dog tired, but really happy to be home. Margie has driven up from Christiansburg to pick me up at the airport (which is 1.5 miles from my house) and I'm feeling really good about everything. Then I look at my mail, which has piled up over the last 10 days.

There's something from the DMV. My smile turns upside down and a sense of dread overtakes me. I tear it open and the letter inside begins, "Our records indicate that you are required to file a certificate of insurance, SR 22 ..." I know what's coming. "Your privileges to drive ... in Virginia are hereby suspended" as of August 20, while I'm in Spain and cannot respond.

If you've followed this DMV saga, you know the story: I co-signed a loan for a young woman to buy a car, she missed an insurance payment and had her insurance cancelled and the DMV suspended my license (not hers)." We got that straightened after an expenditure of more than $1,500, but it wasn't over. My insurance company cancelled my insurance because my license had been suspended. Company policy. I got new insurance at a higher cost.

I specifically asked the agent to file an SR 22 on August 1 (seven days before my previous insurance died) and was on the phone while she faxed the form to the DMV, getting confirmation on the phone.

So now, I have to go through all this bureaucratic bullshit (and a fine of $145) with thoughtless, ruthless, incompetent people once again just to I can drive. I have not been without car insurance for one minute in all the years I have driven, but in the past year I have had my driver's license suspended twice because the DMV says I have and will not consider an argument.

This is about as frustrating as it gets with those damn people and it's not just me. I have two good friends who have gone through essentially the same thing (accusation, suspension, proof that the accusation was bullshit, no apology, no refund, no nothing). I'm really sick of this shit.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Gun Suicides Outrun Gun Murder ... By Far

White tend to shoot themselves.
“Suicide by firearm is far more common than homicide,” says Garen J. Wintemute, professor of emergency medicine and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis. 

“Over the past 30 years, firearm suicides have exceeded homicides even when homicide rates were at their highest in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But, since 2006, the gap between the two has been widening, with firearm homicides decreasing and suicides increasing.”

In 2012, the latest year for which data is available, 64 percent of deaths from gun violence were suicides, compared with 57 percent in 2006. This increase can be largely attributed to white males, whose suicide rate far surpasses black and Hispanic males of every age. 

"Among white men ages 35 to 64, the death rate by firearm increased over 29 percent since 1990 (after being corrected for population growth), and a staggering 89.2 percent of those deaths were self-inflicted."

--From Vocativ (here) in a story nearly a year old. 

This gets to the point that "guns are far more dangerous to their owners than anybody who might threaten those owners." Harvard researchers have "found that guns in the home are used more often to frighten intimates than to thwart crime; other weapons are far more commonly used against intruders than are guns."

The National Institutes of Health has reported (here) that "guns kept in homes are more likely to be involved in a fatal or nonfatal accidental shooting, criminal assault, or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense.

These Rambos who keep arsenals in their basements and loaded Glocks under their pillows. on the back of the commode, beside the TV remote and in the kitchen are far more likely to do something stupid, reckless or threatening to a family member than to ward off some kind of dangerous or semi-dangerous intruder. But you'll never convince them of that with numbers or even eye-witness testimony.

A Visit to an Olive Oil Farm

This olive tree is 80 years old and is in a preserve for the older trees still producing.
Guide Teresa Rodondo.
Today's excursion was to an olive farm about 25 miles from Cordoba, near Montilla (where we got totally lost on the way). There we got tour from a charming woman named Teresa Rodondo, a lot of history and a step-by-step guide to making the high level of olive oil made in Spain.

This is a big farm: 70,000 trees that bear marketable fruit (11 years to about 80 years old). The machinery, which is modern, replacing some pretty basic millstones, among other things, has the capacity to crush 60,000 kilos of olives in two hours. Pour in the raw olives, go take a siesta, come back to the oil.

All of the olive is used, including the skin and the pit. Those are pulverized and used as fuel to run the ovens at the bakery owned by the farm. Three levels of olive oil are produced: virgin, extra virgin and lampante (originally used in lamps). The latter is not often used for consumption, but can be heated and eaten. The taste is considerably diminished in that case.

The main building at Juan Colin farm.
The Juan Colin farm is owned by six brothers, five of whom are involved in the olive farm or the bakery. One of them stopped by and chatted with us (in Spanish, which I don't speak, but which my daughter-in-law and her mother do). Nice man.

Teresa explained that the farm grows three varieties of olive: arbegaino, piquel and picudo. Each has a distinct taste when processed (all of them wonderful, I will add. This olive oil is not what we are accustomed to in the U.S.).

Here are some photos of the day.


Teresa talks to Kara, Madeline and Judy.
A few of the farm's 70,000 olive trees.
New BFFs: Teresa and Madeline.
This machine separates the olives from leaves and twigs.
Most of the process takes place in a room that looks like a brewery
Crushed seeds, leaves are used as fuel.
This is the wondrous final product. I love this oil.

Guns Create an Ease of Killing for the Disturbed

Pro- and anti-gun arguments are swirling in the wake of the Roanoke shootings yesterday, but I believe one vital point is not being stressed:

The most significant problem with guns is that they are so easy to use to get the level of destruction you seek. Killing three people with a knife or a baseball bat or a car or a shoe requires a level of skill and personal investment that a gun wielder does not need to have.

Bludgeons and knives require a physical investment in gore that most are not willing to make. If you've ever stomped a rat, rather than depending on a trap, you understand ... at least to  degree.

Guns make killing easy and even attractive to some of us. Mental illness or just a case of being pissed off lend themselves to the ease and convenience of gun violence. 

This is about guns. It is also about a society that will neither limit its use, nor treat those who are most dangerous to us all. It is a complex problem that we have avoided for many years because politicians fear the NRA or they simply believe nothing is wrong. 

Outside the U.S., where guns are most often strictly controlled gun killings are much more rare. Knives are often the choice for homicide, but the rates are much lower. In a Smithsonian study (here), the conclusion is "All of these countries have tight gun control laws, and rates of violent crime involving knives reflect that. [The U.S. Office of Drugs and crime says], firearms account for 76 percent of homicide weapons in the Americas (30 countries), while knives make up just 10 percent of those crimes. In Europe (32 countries), on the other hand, guns are involved in 36 percent of murders and knives are involved in 43 percent. Here's the U.N.:
"Over the whole age range, a male in the Americas is around six times more likely to be killed by a firearm than a knife. In contrast, in 17 countries in Asia, firearm and sharp object homicides are much more equally distributed in the 15 to 34 age group: while a slightly higher proportion of violent deaths are caused by firearm in each group, a male in the countries examined in Asia is alm]ost as likely to be killed by a knife as a firearm."
"Likewise, deaths among European men are about evenly divided between guns and sharp objects, the U.N. reports. While either a gun or a knife is, clearly, a potential murder weapon, there is a correlation between the availability of guns and the lethality of violent crimes."

I'm in Spain right now and the people here are shaking their collective head--again--at this latest atrocity. Blame the shooter, blame the system, blame the gun, blame the situation, but for god's sake don't do anything to correct it. Europeans don't understand. Neither do any other sane people.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Soccer Jersey with a Story

Cordoba Soccer Boy
Just bought my first soccer jersey. They call them "football" jerseys here, but they're wrong. Picked up a road jersey for
the Cordoba El Califas of the Spanish professional league. A calif is a person considered a political and religious successor to the prophet Muhammad and a leader of the entire Muslim community.

The team plays at the Estadio Nuevo Arcángel, which has a capacity of 21,822 seats in a square setup. It is old and ugly, but seems to work for Cordoba.

I bought the jersey this afternoon in the team shop (69 Euros). We went over at 5 o'clock to make the buy because we couldn't find any Cordoba Califa team stuff anywhere else. The stadium shop was closed for siesta. Went back at 6, after heading over to Cordoba's only American-style mall (which was just as empty of anything I wanted/needed as they are here).

I have no idea how the club got the name El Califa, though Cordoba was a Muslim HQ at one time long ago. The team was founded in 1954 and last year, because it had a great previous season, the team was elevated to the Spanish major leagues. Its success was a two-sided sword, however, since the team could not afford to keep its best players and  was in way over its head from the beginning. This year, it was sent back to the minors.

My son says jerseys were hard to come by last year (and so were tickets, I'd assume) until it was obvious the Califs were playing in a league too far.

In any case, I like the black road jersey with a sponsor name at the top and the sponsor's yellow logo on the sleeves. In Europe, soccer jerseys have sponsors' names on the front in type that is far more prominent than the team's name. You have to think that the standard is coming in the NFL, NBA, NHL and the rest of American professional sports.

Like my jersey, though

(Evan Smith photo.)


The Murders: So Senseless, So Preventable

Murdered reporter Alison Parker (left) with Vickie Gardner.
The shooting deaths of the two young WDBJ-7 journalists and serious wounding Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce director Vicki Gardner, a woman I've known for 20 years, is a tragedy not just in the U.S., but here in Spain, as well.

The American obsession with guns is an obscenity that the rest of the world recognizes and it is one reason the U.S. leads the world in gun deaths, murder rates, suicide rates and god knows what all.

Information on this morning's shooter is trickling out, but I think we can predict that he is obsessed, unbalanced and easily discovered to be either or both with a background check.

In the mean time, I think we can all deeply sympathize with the families of the lose young people, kids who were essentially at the exciting beginnings of their careers, who were in love, who had a great deal to look forward to. They were taken for no real reason and in a fashion that should have been easily preventable with the proper laws in place.

Will we ever have the courage and the determination to enact those laws? Probably not. Probably not at all.

Where Columbus Got His Money

El Alcazar, the Cordoba castle of King Fernando and Queen Isabel, who financed Christopher Columbus.
Kara parks in close quarters.
Today's history lesson came at El Alcazar, the Moorish castle in Cordoba that King Fernando and Queen Isabel appropriated in the 15th Century so they could impose Catholicism in this region.

Southern Spain, a stable, successful, multi-cultural region was settled and successful in 1492, but the King and Queen wanted everybody in Spain to be Catholic. Regardless of what that meant. And what it meant was the vicious Spanish Inquisition.

This castle, preserved exquisitely, is in the center of the historic district of Cordoba and is known as the very spot where Christopher Columbus approached the royals to beg money for his trip to find a new route to the Orient. He, of course, didn't find that, discovering the Bahamas and killing a lot of natives, instead.

Rescued Roman mosaics.
The castle, though, tells a story of the way they lived on a daily basis and lets you walk the rooms. I was impressed with this presentation, containing expansive gardens, as much as I was offended by yesterday's over-the-top excursion.

One of the interesting points for me was the simple act of parking in a garage in a city where people drive small cars. My son's caris a Volvo station wagon, which is not especially large, but is a Hummer by comparisio, and my daughter-in-law was masterful in parking it in a spot that was basically built for a bicycle. See above. Here are some pix from the day.

Roof tiles from the walls.
Old ruins inside the compound.
Andalucian stallions in the courtyard are beautiful.
The outside wall at the castle.
The battlement walkway.
Pigeons build on anti-bird net.
The handsome Columbus.
Columbus petitions the King and Queen for travel money.
The handsome king greets you at the gate.
Madeline vamps at one of the castle's marble fountains.
My posse in the courtyard garden.

Frolicking in Spain

This is Evan tossing an excited Oz in Gibraltar. We continued the sport at home in the family pool.
I've taken so many photos in the past week that some of the good ones--interesting to me, anyway--have slipped away into the bin of remainders.

Thought I'd dig through this morning and find some of those I really like.

Among them is the above shot of Evan practicing a dwarf-toss (the national sport of Australia) with Oz, a willing participant. We played a lot of that in the Smith pool and you could hear Oz laughing a block away. The kid loves roughhousing.

The other shots are various and fun, I think.

(Photo of me by Madeline Smith.)


This is the cardboard boat race in the harbor at Gibraltar. Tons of fun, lots of sunken boats.
Oz and Maddie with modified cannonball.
Beach shot at Tarifa. Black and white by Janeson Keeley.
Mad bull (Toro Loco) and me in downtown Cordoba.
Doughnut for breakfast ...
... and Oz wears most of it on his mouth.