Tag Archives: 2016 Elections

Like, Totally, Sort Of

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

Juan drove us back to the Palace, our heads nodding in a stupor in the back seat.  As we passed through the exurbs of Granada, Juan pointed out the area where he lived with his wife and kids.  It was mile after mile of new high-rise buildings.  Not as scenic as the white villages or central Granada, but probably more spacious and affordable.

His kids were five and seven, which made me realize he was probably a lot younger than I’d guessed.  I felt sheepish about the lecherous comment I’d made to Lynn when I first saw him.  “We have a sort of ‘women’s privilege’,” I said to Lynn later, “where we can make smarmy remarks about men but if they did the same toward a woman we would be disgusted with them”

“That’s changing though,” she remarked.  “In HR circles you can’t get away with anything like that, no matter who you are.”

We would move on to Toledo tomorrow.  We’d been in Granada five nights and at last, we sat on the hotel terrace again and had the excellent tapas platter, as we should have done every night.

The next morning, after stuffing myself with enough smoked salmon to tide me over until the next trip, we caught a cab to the bus station.  It was full of “colorful” characters, which is probably an insensitive word.  There was a nun and a dwarf, but not a dwarf nun like there had been in Rome. There was a mute who was begging with a placard that said, “Soy mudo.”  There were your standard backpackers sleeping on their packs, playing guitar, and dividing a Snicker’s bar five ways with a Swiss Army knife.

There were the usual vending machines offering … Snicker’s bars and cigarettes, but also these fabulous stands selling dried fruit and gelato.

dried-fruit gelatos

No one seemed to be buying.  I didn’t buy anything, so they’ll probably be replaced by a MacDonald’s.  It’s all my fault!

We were seated on the bus across the aisle from two American college students whose conversation consisted mainly of these words: like, totally, actually, literally, I mean, you know, sort of, kind of, and gross.  They weren’t talking loudly, but their voices carried in the way of people who are cock sure of themselves.

“I’m like, totally going to Portugal.  I mean, it’s actually on my list, although, like, my friend Chelsea posted pics of the food on Instagram and it’s kind of like gross, you know, sort of like, totally gross.”

It was a four-hour bus ride.

There was no wireless but the students fiddled nonstop with their phones.  Were they paying for data roaming? They both wore sunglasses and ear buds, even while talking to one another, which seems like the height of rudeness.  At least they could have done that thing where you take out one ear bud in a feeble attempt to demonstrate you give a shit about the person who is trying to talk to you.  I often lift my sun glasses when I’m speaking to someone so I can make eye contact to acknowledge they are human.

Lynn sat in the aisle seat reading a book, apparently unperturbed.  Maybe because I’m American, I’m embarrassed by annoying Americans—although I’ve been one myself plenty of times.  But I know myself; once I clock on to something that bugs me, I have a very hard time pulling my focus away.

The scenery changed from olive groves to gently rolling reddish-hued hills.  I did a pretty good job of focusing on it until I noticed the students never looked out the window.

Then I caught this: “Like, Ben Carson is totally so smart!  I mean, he should actually be kind of like, the head of something, you know.”

My knee jerked–literally–and I clutched Lynn’s arm to stop myself from leaning across and totally giving them, like, a piece of my mind.

“Maybe they’re being sarcastic,” Lynn whispered.  Yes, I told myself shakily, that must be it.  I put in my ear buds and played some Pink Floyd.  I wasn’t going to let them ruin the landscape for me.

The End of America

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

Before I move on to Spain, I’m inserting a few real-time updates.

It’s weird to be writing about the November election almost three months later. I recall my sense of unreality.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t changed. I can’t believe we are now using the words “President” and “Trump” together.  I am still in a state of denial, maybe because I haven’t figured out what to do, or how to live, in this new world.

I went on the women’s march in St. Paul with 100,000 other like-minded men, women, and children to protest the new administration’s policies and tone.  It was the first day in months I felt optimistic, but also, sadly, the last.

Conservatives think that liberals hate America.  That’s unfair.  We criticize our country when it acts wrongly.  That doesn’t mean we hate America.  It means we hold it to high standards.  For instance, one thing that has always made me proud of America is all the refugees we take in.  It’s not as many as 100 years ago.  It’s not as many as Germany.  Still, we were on track to accept 110,000 refugees in 2017, with about 10,000 slots designated for Syrians.  That’s one of the things that makes America great.  Oops, made.

All that is on hold for four months.  If and when it restarts, the number of refugees will be cut in half.  Syrians will be banned, along with people from other Muslim-majority countries except the ones Trump want to make deals with, like Saudi Arabia, the main producers of terrorists, including 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers.

Why is Trump fixated on Syrians?  I don’t believe there have been any terrorist attacks perpetrated, anywhere, by Syrians.  In my opinion, Syrians are victims of war and terrorism.  But there are a lot of Syrian refugees, and they are in the news frequently, so maybe they’re just an easy target.  Most Americans haven’t heard of Tunisia, which actually produces a lot of terrorists.

The mood where I work, the Center for Victims of Torture, is dark.  Our clients in the US are afraid they’ll be deported, or that their families will never be allowed to join them.  We wonder if we will lose our government funding, and thus our jobs.  We worry this administration will return to the use of torture, which is illegal under US and international law.

There’s so much going down.  One final item: Donald Trump managed to talk about Holocaust Remembrance Day without mentioning Jews or antisemitism.  Was it intentional?  Ignorance?  As a Jew, I think it’s ominous. The Holocaust didn’t start with gas chambers, it started with nationalist words and laws against certain groups and bullying of the media and control of the messaging coming out of government agencies.

Thanks for reading this.  You probably already knew most of it.  Now you know why I write about travel and not politics most of the time.

My son and I went on a small adventure recently.  He had asked if I wanted to see John Cleese in person on a certain date, and I said, “sure!”  John Cleese is an English comedian and actor best known for the Monty Python movies and Fawlty Towers TV series.

What I didn’t realize until after Vince bought the tickets was that the show was on a Monday night, five hours away in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  So I took two days off work, got a room at EconoLodge, and we went on a road trip.

It was really fun.  We joked about the cheap hotel and the terrible steak dinner we had at Texas Roadhouse.  We visited Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers football team, which fits nicely into the neighborhood unlike our own new US Bank Stadium that looks like the Death Star.

We watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail, then listened to John Cleese tell stories for an hour.  Did you know Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin financed the making of the Holy Grail, and that George Harrison paid for the Life of Brian, which he considers the troupe’s best film?  Cleese is almost 80, and still full of piss and vinegar. It was good to Just Laugh.


Shops Lost in Time

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

Should I say, “in” or “on” Malta?  It’s an island, so it feels like I was on it, not in it.  But it’s also a country.  I would never say, “I was on Germany.” Curious.

I rarely sleep past 6am, but on my last day in Malta I slept until nearly 9:00.  While the previous day I had been awakened by a message from my cousin alerting me that the election wasn’t looking good for Hillary Clinton, this morning the first thing I saw, at the foot of my bed, was this:


Why would anyone think this was a good place to hang the complimentary bathrobe?

Spooked, I jumped out of bed.  I had to get moving anyway, since I had only a few hours before I had to catch my flight to Madrid.

People ask what my favorite thing is about traveling.  That’s easy—not being at work.  Now, I like my job, but it does require me to show up every morning, go to meetings, meet deadlines, and achieve goals.  Everything is measured, tracked, and scheduled. I must be organized, coordinate with others, prioritize, and strategize.

Aside from catching flights and trains, little of that applies to traveling.  I can float like a moth from one thing to another, when I like, depending on what catches my fancy.

Today, I wanted to revisit the little shops and the Maltese balconies I’d caught glimpses of on my first day.  So I wandered around Valetta for a couple hours and took photos.


There seemed to be a lot of drapery makers.  My grandmother was a drapery cutter, believe it or not.  She was one of the grunts in an interior design shop which made custom drapes for rich people.  Thirty years ago, when I was living in public housing, she gave me a set of exquisite pale green silk drapes that her rich clients had rejected.

Some of the shops were open.  Some appeared not to have opened since 1929, although life on Malta didn’t really started until after 10am.

When was the last time you saw a “notions” shop?

notions-shop-2 notions-shop

I know I will regret not buying a couple of those trim pieces the next time I want to make a dashiki.

There were these two forerunners of Target and Walmart:

family-store-close-up universal-store

Can you imagine taking your kids to the Family Store?  The looks of horror and disappointment on their faces?  I would give anything to visit these places in their heyday.  I wondered when that would have been.

I felt nostalgic for a time when craftspeople like my grandmother worked in neighborhood shops making high-quality goods.  I saved until I could buy them with cash.  I had a couple really good pieces in my closet that I wore over and over.  Now, I have 50 cheap tops; the buttons fall off almost before I get them home.

The top balconies below are Maltese.  What makes them Maltese?  I guess the fact that they have a roof and are enclosed.


And yes, that is blue sky—at last, my weather luck had turned.

I threw my still-wet socks and underwear in my suitcase, and my friend the desk guy effortlessly carried it up the 200 steps for me.  “People write angry reviews of the hotel because of the steps,” he said mildly.  “But we have them on our website.”

I just looked, and I don’t see any photos or mention of the steps on the SU29 website.  However, if you’re going to Malta—or just about anywhere in Europe—you shouldn’t be surprised that there are lots of steps.

I was at the pickup spot for my prepaid airport shuttle 10 minutes early.  It never arrived, and I had to pay €25 to take a cab to the airport.  I sent Malta Transfer an email when I got home but they never responded.  So scratch them off your list if you go to Malta, but that was the only thing I could complain about besides the weather, which wasn’t Malta’s fault.

Here were some of the world news headlines in the airport:

trump trump-7 trump-4 trump-3


Those Who Fail to Learn from History

I am sitting in my hotel room in Valetta, the capital of Malta, watching the news of the US elections on CNN.  There’s not much to know yet, they show the same reel over and over.

Before it’s all over and just in case I choose to throw myself off a cliff here if the result doesn’t go the way I want it to, I wanted to write one post about this election.

There was an Afro Caribbean college kid in London being interviewed about something on TV, and he complained, “Why do we got to learn about stuff that happened hundreds of years ago, like how many wives Henry the eighth had, but we don’t learn nuffink about our own history?”  Well, fair enough.  He should learn all sorts of history—not just that of the white men.

But as it happens I’ve been thinking a lot about Henry VIII, because this summer I picked up a novel by Philippa Gregory at a little free library and got hooked—I’ve read five or six of her historical “bodice rippers” since.  She writes about the medieval period, including the Tudors which Henry VIII was one.  These books aren’t Great Literature and Gregory gets knocked for not being historically accurate, but she does have a PhD in history from the University of Edinburg and she tells these true-ish stories with so much tension you can’t put the book down.

What’s relevant to the US elections is the striking similarities between Henry VIII and Donald Trump.  Both were born into wealth and power.  Both had an older brother who was supposed to be the heir but who died young.  Both were told from a young age that they could do anything and no one ever said no to them.  Both used and discarded people at a whim, and both had thin skin and a mean streak.  Of course, this is just my opinion. We’ll find out in a matter of hours how many Americans think Donald Trump is a really great guy.

My point is that they are both types that recur throughout history and if we don’t know history, we may not be on guard against electing another one to public office. Also, over and over, people think “he couldn’t be that bad” and “it couldn’t happen here.”  We tend to believe horrific things only happened in the past or go on in “backward” countries.  I’m sure that’s what the Germans—the people who gave us Goethe and Beethoven—thought, right before they started making lamp shades out of human skin.

Am I being overly dramatic?  I hope so.  But better that than being “surprised” when Trump starts shipping planeloads of Muslim Americans “back to where they came from,” which is actually probably Silicon Valley, not the Swat Valley.

It feels funny, that every non-American I’ve met has said something like, “We’re all watching your elections.” Americans never follow anyone else’s elections like others follow ours, and it’s a reminder of our place in the world.  And they have also all said something like, “Don’t Americans remember what happened with Hitler/Mussolini/Franco?

We don’t.  Actually it’s worse than that—most Americans probably don’t even know who Mussolini or Franco were.

I will get back to writing about this trip, but I was probably overly optimistic to think I’d post a live post every night.  I spent the weekend in Sorrento, the Amalfi coast, and Capri.  It rained and rained and rained.  I made the best of it, I guess.  Rainy days have a beauty of their own. Here are a couple snaps:

amalfi-tower amalfi-view arm-waver rainy-view

I’ve been on Malta for only a couple hours and it was love at first sight. If the election doesn’t go the way I am hoping, I may claim political asylum!