Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wednesday, still in madrid

Karen wasn't ready to get up until 10:00 - I was awake at my normal 7am (which is odd, when you consider that my body-time should be 9 hours off).

We walked over to the fabulous Reina Sophia museum, stopping at a little joint for pan tosta and espresso (two each).

The museum has a great collection of modern stuff - you can really see that something revolutionary happened between 1890 and 1920.

The big draw, of course, is 'Guernica', which fills an entire wall, and is accompanied by several dozen studies of the many figures in the finished mural.

It is clear that Picasso went into a creative frenzy during this period. In the same room as the mural, they had a half-dozen photos, showing its several stages of completion. You can see Pablo changing his mind on some components as he worked.

There were also several nearby rooms with photos, posters and drawings related to the Civil War - very sobering.

All in all, I liked this museum more than the Prado.

We found a sidewalk restaurant in the plaza in front of the Reina Sophia, where we had a variety of sandwiches - ham, anchovies, and mackerel, on crunchy fresh bread, washed down with a large beer (me) and mineral water (KG).

We are now back in our perfect little room, enjoying the bird-chirping in the garden outside our windows, cooling our jets before we attend tonight's premier of a modern ballet at the Zarzuela Theater (dress-up time). I think we will have a pre-ballet drink at the historic Palace Hotel, just around the corner. Hemingway drank there (the son of a bitch).

We are liking Madrid.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dinner happened

We made our way thru a very light drizzle to a restaurant that had been recommended both by Rick Steves' book and a colleague of Karen, 'la Posada de la Villa', near the bustling Plaza Major.

It's in an cool building that goes back to the 1600's, and, since lamb is a specialty, we had lamb.

Amazing - slow roasted over wood and straw since 8:00 this morning. The word 'tender' is insufficient. As someone with district anti-meat biases, I was, surprisingly, murmuring in appreciation.

Of course, the roasted veggies, succulent olives, fish croquettes, fresh bread and superb rioja helped, capped with mint tea.

We found our way back to the hostal, thru the streets swarming with diners and revelers, and are finally ready to call it a night.

If this is an indication how this vacation may trend, I say 'bring it on.'

Night, night, everyone.

settling into Madrid

Madrid day 1

It was a *very* early departure from Portland Monday morning, and a quick 5 hours to JFK, where we had a 2 hour layover.

While hanging around by the gate, we amazingly ran into a couple of guys that we had met and actually had spent quite a bit of time with last December in Oaxaca. They were enroute to their Seattle home, after a vacation in Greece. We all agreed that it was a very odd coincidence.

The flight to Madrid left pretty much on time, and it was completely full of mostly-young Spaniards - very little English was audible in the hubbub. It was an 8 hour flight, and sleep wasn't happening, due to the movies, chatter, announcements, cramped seats, and frequent interruptions for dinner, drinks, and snacks. Travel fatigue was setting in.

When we landed in Madrid just after 7 am (Tuesday), it was still pretty dark, and we had been largely sleepless for a long time. Customs was a breeze, our bags showed up quickly, and it was easy to find the shuttle service I had reserved, to take us to our hostal, which I had reserved many months ago, thanks to recommendations from Rick Steves and TripAdvisor.


The hostal building and the one next door are both under rennovation, with workmen plastering and banging away. Our room was teeny, airless (one very small window, which had to be closed to keep construction dust out) and very noisy, with a bathroom that gave new meaning to the word 'cramped'. We were tired and dirty, but the WiFi was great, so we got caught up on email, and showered, and headed over to the Prado, a very short walk away.

I had purchased tickets in advance, and we waltzed right in without any delay whatsoever. We headed to the Cafe, and ate a couple of little sandwiches, before attempting to deal with the amazing art collection.

We spent over 3 hours, before burnout hit big time, even though we took it easy, stopping for soda and espresso halfway thru. Highlights included the 'Garden of Earthly delights' and other Bosch works, Albrecht Durur, Velasquez, Reubens, Goya, and a zillion other european masterpieces. It's not my favorite stuff, but pretty darn impressive, despite the crowds. The galleries go on and on and on.

By the time we agreed to leave the Prado, exhaustion was with us. Still, we didn't want to give in and sleep too early, so we set off walking. It was overcast and mild, and the streets were busy with walkers (tourists and locals) and construction zones.

We hit a couple of the big plazas, and even walked thru the 'Museum of Ham' restaurant in the Puerta del Sol (hundreds of hams on display, for the obvious eating pleasure of the masses). We ended up taking a break at an outdoor cafe in the Plaza del Angel, before returning, with dread, to the ominous Hostal Cervantes.

The workmen and the dust were still going strong, and, even though we were REALLY tired, we had to make a change. The owner said that there were no other rooms that were better, and the workmen's schedule was going to be 8 am thru about 2, then again from 5 pm to 8 pm every day. It was really intolerable - the place was just not going to work.

He said his brother ran another hostal 'just around the corner'. He called and they spoke for a minute. He said there was a room that would be better and gave us directions. We hastily repacked everything that we had previously unpacked, paid him 25 euros for the use of his awful room for a few hours (seemed like a lot) and, feeling totally adrift, burned out and on the verge of disaster, lugged our bags down to the street and around the corner.

When we got to the address, we were dismayed to see and hear guys-with-jack-hammers actively engaged on the street directly in front. It seems that most of Madrid is under construction this week. We tried to buzz the hostal, but the hammering was so loud we couldn't hear the response.

This was the low point of the day.

Finally, we got in, and, surprisingly, found that, not only did the brother have a room facing away from the street, but it has a large window facing a lovely, peaceful garden with birds chirping, has a ceiling fan, a large bathroom with more big windows, and pretty comfortable beds, for the same price as the original place, and the helpful owner even called to arrange a ride to the airport for us, Friday morning.

We unpacked - this time for good. We had finally arrived. We were totally beat.

It was about 4:30 pm. We both snoozed for an hour. Karen is still out.

In another hour or so, we will get dressed and head out for some dinner. Life is appearing to be very good. Thank you, Hostal Armesto.

Thanks for Skyping, Steve. Now you know 'the rest of the story'.

Monday, September 28, 2009

it's happening

Made it to the airport and thru 'Security Theater', and heading for the departure gate now.

Madrid, here we come.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

12 hours to go

mostly packed. now, the question is, shall I try to stay up all night? seems unlikely.

Thanks to Dave, for setting things up so that any calls to my cell phone go automatically to voice mail, which generates an email to my normal inbox, with the message attached as a WAV file.

Pretty darn cool.

tick tick tick...

Boarding passes are printed for tomorrow's flights.

My CDs and announcements are ready for my radio show, in 2 hours.

My bag is mostly packed - I just need to decide if I am going to tempt Fate and ride my bike over to the station. What would Lance do?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

sitting on my back steps

Karen and I just got home from seeing the film 'Julie and Julia'. It was charming and Meryl Streep can certainly do everything.

It's about 10 pm, and the night is cool, but not chilly. It was a beautiful portland day, and I am happy to be here.

The moon is more than half full, and my old, crippled dog is resting his chin on my leg. We are happy in each other's presence.

I have a radio show to do tomorrow morning, and karen is upstairs, beginning her final packing.

I can check in for the madrid flight when I get up.

Zacky nudges my elbow. I rub his tummy.

It's all so peaceful - so normal.

final countdown

two days to go - time to make last-minute packing decisions...

Friday, September 25, 2009

blast from the past

I especially liked the smug tag line of this 1981 TV news story - as if networked computers would ever threaten the newspaper business...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

a grave responsibility

So, we leave Monday morning for Spain, for 3 weeks.

Attention robbers: Ben will be here the whole time, with Marsha, our loyal pet-sitter, coming by a couple of times a day to take Zacky for a drive.

Long-time reader(s) of this blog know that Zacky is quite debilitated by DM, and it has progressed to the point where he gets around by slithering around on his butt. His hind legs are almost useless, but he still moves pretty well in his cart, and, as always, loves attention and meeting people.

He has been my good buddy for 10 years.

This morning, I took a shovel out to our pet cemetery and dug a hole, just in case something happens while we are gone. If not used sooner, it will be used later.

My t-shirt is dirty and soaked with sweat. I dug with mindfulness. That is all I can do.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

acorn update - it's getting interesting

So, the Republicans applied their brutal political pressure to get a majority of Congress to pass the bill intended to put ACORN out of business. The high-fives must have been a stirring sight to see, as they congratulated themselves on, once again, bamboozling the Democrats.

Mission Accomplished.

Today, however, not so much. It seems that, once again, the Law of Unintended Consequences has struck, and the corrupt idiots in the GOP may have just derailed the military-industrial-complex gravy train.

Yes, wishful thinking, I know, but a boy can dream, can't he?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

drat (UPDATED)

Was helping out my cousin in Florida with Skype, when the webcam on my pretty-new netbook crapped out with a 'USB device not found' error.

Unable to reinstall drivers - it appears to be a known hardware problem, that means the netbook needs to be returned for servicing.

I don't think so, unless they have a walk-in facility in Portland, since we are heading off on vacation in 6 days.

Grrrr. It was working fine until it stopped working.

UPDATE: an hour later

After reading a bunch of posts on various sites about this problem, I found one guy that said to simply press your thumbs firmly on either side of the camera. That did it! No driver reinstall was necessary.

Full speed ahead!


Can there be any doubt that the driving force behind the persecution of this group is that the GOP simply can't stand the notion that it assists and registers minority folks?

Meanwhile, did you happen to see this? If you only attend to mainstream media, I'm guessing 'no'.

It's racism, hypocrisy, and sheer meanness.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

why we are doomed

Yes, I know it's a gorgeous Sunday morning, but first I read this.

Then I heard Mitt Romney's 'quip' at the "Values Voters" conference (it got a big laugh):

Democrats have “been confusing global warming with the heat they’ve been taking at the town halls.”

See, it's all a big joke.

ha ha.

Friday, September 18, 2009

probably too late for me, but there is hope

thanks to Ben for passing this on.

But, then again, if I lost the excuse of color-blindness (which has been quite convenient my entire life), I'd be forced to admit that, in fact, I simply have no sense of style.

In other news, watch the first 5 minutes of this.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

fairly incredible


watching the dollar sink...

against the Euro, as we are just 11 days away from Spain.

I did buy 150 euros last month, so that was something, but it's a drop in what we'll be spending over there.

On the other hand, I went to a local coffee place (that shall remain nameless, except that it was a local, non-franchise business), bought a cup of black coffee and a fairly minimalist tuna sandwich, and the bill was a shocking (to me) $7.50, so I need to recalibrate my expectations, both here and abroad.

Now for Health Care and Max Baucus:

The pharma, insurance and banking companies seem to have gotten their money's worth from their contributions to him.

I think it's clear now that our method of campaign financing is at the root of all the problems affecting our society. We've known this for years, and it's impossible to change, without a wholesale turnover of just about every member of the US House and Senate (except Dennis Kucinich).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

sisters folk festival - wrap up

Ah, three days of great performances and surprises. The town of Sisters has the logistics down pat now, and everything is smooth and welcoming.

We saw Susan Werner perform three times, and, since she and her buddies were staying at our motel, we had several nice one-on-one conversations with Susan and also with the incredible Trina Hamlin, who said she'll be coming thru Portland next February.

Also, back at the motel last night, we went out to the quiet grassy area adjacent to our back patio, and there was Kelly Joe Phelps and his musician friends, drinking many beers and relaxing after the evening's performances, and Kelly Joe's was mesmerizing.

We left Sisters for the long drive back to Portland around 12:30. Traffic not too bad, but there were plenty of folks on the road. We pulled into a Rest Stop on I-5, not too far south of Portland, and along came Susan Werner and her crew, on their way up to Seattle, behind schedule. We talked again briefly - it was fun to show Trina the copy of her CD that I bought, and that we had been listening to on the drive.

Tired now - time to eat some rice and veggies and maybe do some laundry. Two weeks from tomorrow we fly to Madrid. Yikes.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

sisters folk festival - night 1

Great kick-off to the weekend last night. Highlights in the big tent were Susan Werner (fabulous, as usual), the Quebe Sisters (amazing swing fiddles and vocals), and, the big surprise, a hilarious and brilliantly-entertaining set from Beaverton's own Todd Snider.

It's now early morning in Sisters, at our motel a few blocks from the center of town. I've had my coffee and web-catch-up, and it'll soon be time to head off for a full day of workshops and performances, with temperatures expected in the 90's.

Check out Todd Snider's stuff on the web - wonderful, quirky songs and a hysterical, deadpan, stoned-hippie performance. Who knew?

Friday, September 11, 2009


I was on top of Steens Mountain, listening to the wind gusts and looking out over hundreds of square miles of sunny, peaceful Southeast Oregon. I was doing my first CycleOregon.

I heard about the attacks at the first rest stop on that day's ride, which was a short 35 miles. The news was fragmentary, but it was clear that a major disaster had occurred.

I got into camp around 11:30 am, and, an hour later, boarded one of the buses that took riders to the end of the road, overlooking the steep, eastern escarpment. It was grand and exciting.

That night, there was a discussion about terminating the week-long ride, and many east-coasters, I heard, actually did leave the ride (it must have taken them at least 2 days to get from there back to Portland, only to find the nation's airlines still shut down).

I finished the ride and, back home, slept for a couple of days before I had the chance to see ANY of the now-famous videos of planes crashing and burning, and towers collapsing. I was spared the pornography of media-frenzy.

Even today, I associate 9/11 with this place, not Ground Zero.

stupid panels!

Olbermann strikes again.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

cause for optimism

no, not Obama - Google!

although, now that I think about it, Obama gives one hope, too.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

down for 'maintenance'

Yeah, right! Joe, we hardly knew ye (fortunately).

meanwhile, in Istanbul...


And last night, I had a very brief Skype chat with Baris, our Turkish tour guide from last year, who was waking up in Istanbul. He didn't say anything about the rain, but it was a quick chat.


Is there any doubt now, that Barack Obama is a truly remarkable figure?

This was a great speech, and those damn Republicans who sat on their hands, either smirking or snarling, ought to be ashamed.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

the kids give me hope

Heard on the radio this morning that a group of school-kids, somewhere, is planning to lie down in the halls and protest, if they are NOT permitted to hear Obama's speech.

The phony GOP meme (President speaking to children = insidious doctrination) certainly worked on the idiot parents, but failed to appreciate that the surest way to get kids to do something is to tell them it is forbidden to them.

See also the Garden of Eden story - a classic in the same mold.

We had a splendid time camping with friends over the weekend. Cove Palisades State Park is a remarkable place - how did it take me over 30 years to get there?

Here is a photo Dave took on his iPhone, on our big Sunday hike (Deschutes River on the left; Crooked River on the right):

Next weekend: Sisters Folk Festival

September 27th: hosting the Yiddish Hour on KBOO fm (10 am PDT)

September 28th: to Spain, mainly on a plane.

Friday, September 04, 2009


In the old Soviet Union, the common charge used against 'enemies of the State' (i.e. dissidents) was 'wrecking', and normally carried a 10 year sentence. It was frequently-used and pretty effective.

The concept, obviously, is that people who intentionally sabotage the will of the society must be eliminated. The problem, of course, is that 'wrecking' is in the eye of the beholder, and the motives of the accuser of 'wrecking' do matter.

Now we come to the absurd notion that the President's upcoming address to the school-children of America is an insidious, fascistic plan to indoctrinate them, and must be opposed. This nonsense is spreading, as the brainwashed have received the message and they have sprung into action.

I envision the Republican operatives who thought this one up sitting back and laughing their asses off. Mission Accomplished.

These people are 'wrecking'. Intentionally finding every possible opportunity to sabotage, to distort, to inflame.

And, yet, few voices are publicly raised to accuse them. Where is our Zola?

Back during the Cold War, I remember a book by J. Edgar Hoover (don't get me started) called 'Masters of Deceit', all about those dastardly COMMUNISTS and their insidious plots to infiltrate and corrupt our precious, virtuous America.

Today, the Masters of Deceit work for Rupert Murdoch and others. Their mission is to wreck, and they are getting away with it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

more obsessive-compulsive behavior prior to Spain trip

I have found endless opportunities for obsessing about teeny details surrounding our upcoming trip. One is phone service.

Both of us have AT&T, quad-band SmartPhones. I have obtained unlock codes for both, so there should be no problems with them working over there. The question is: on what carrier?

If we make no changes, we should be able to connect with a compatible network, and would pay $1.29/minute, keeping our own numbers. If I call Karen (like we get separated and lost), both sender and receiver get charged that amount.

AT&T has a $6/month plan, that takes that charge down to $0.99/minute.

I found a commercial SIM card where the charge is $0.27/minute, but there is an up-front charge of $60 PER PHONE.

How to evaluate all this? Excel to the rescue:

So, it seems that, staying with AT&T, the break-even point with subscribing to their 'Global Traveler' plan is 40 minutes used, and, even after that, the benefit is negligible. I guess the value of their program is for folks who plan to use hours of phone time, not minutes.

BTW - we will use Skype to call the US, either free (computer-to-computer) or ridiculously-cheap (computer to land-line/cell). We plan on using the cell-phone network over there ONLY to call each other, if we lose each other.

The yellow line (separate SIM card, for a Spain phone-carrier), is significantly more expensive than either AT&T option, so that's out.

My decision: don't sign up for the AT&T $6/month plan, but, once we're there, talk to people and visit local vendors to possibly buy a Spanish SIM.

Whew! Now I can go back to fretting about other logistical minutiae.