Archive for April, 2010

Notes from my conscience

April 28, 2010

There’s humor in here somewhere.



1. Do not eat meat. It rots in your gut. It is seething with bacteria, growth hormones and feces. And if you can help it, don’t eat any animal products.

2. Stay away from white flour. It has no nutritional value whatsoever. It’s the devil.

3. Sugar will rot your teeth. Avoid sugar. More importantly, avoid sugar substitutes. They cause cancer.

4. Processed foods cause cancer also. They will kill you. Processed foods are a good example of man’s inhumanity to man.

5. You can eat fruits and vegetables, but only organic and only locally grown. Stay away from corporate organic growers in Ecuador and Costa Rica. The travel time and energy it takes to ship these organics foods to your local market depletes the ozone layer.

6. Soy is a scam. Avoid soy.

7. Fish isn’t safe anymore. There’s mercury and PCBs in the water. Don’t eat fish. Take omega-3 vitamin supplements instead, but with a few rules: don’t buy just any over-the-counter fish oil. Check the amount of EPA and DHA of each capsule and what fish they use when extracting the omega-3s. And by all means, make sure you get a pure brand that uses molecular distillation.

8. Stay away from plastic containers. They’re toxic and made with polyethylene terephthalate. Polyethylene terephthalate when ingested is like eating arsenic. Drink tap water instead, but only if your water has been tested for bacteria.

9. Keep away from coffee, sodas, caffeinated products, chocolate, alcohol, drugs and sugary sports drinks. They destroy your hormones and upset the delicate Ph balance of your system.

10. Only wear clothing that is 100% domestic, organic clothing. Do not buy from Anthropologie, Gap, Old Navy, Abercrombie, Free People, Lucky or any other big name brand for that matter because they disregard child labor laws and operate in foreign countries, bastardizing the local culture and community.

11. Do not buy Pitbulls as pets. They are bred for destruction.

12. Corn and other fruits and veggies are genetically modified. Did I say fruits and veggies were safe? They’re not.

13. As for religion, disregard all organized religions, especially Christianity, Judiasm and Islam. Religions are notorious for misleading the general public into the false belief that man rules the world. Religion moves us away from adapting to the environment to forcing the environment to adapt to us. Bad news. Stay away from religion. Buddhism is not a religion. It’s a philosophy, so it’s safe to think about. But don’t organize a group around it. Like in Tibet where Buddhism has become a “depraved Shamanistic religion where Lamas tell fortunes for alms, by the haunches of mutton, or dice; they beg and cheat; to mystify the ignorant, they mutter squeaky conjurations or play with human bones.”

14. Do not watch television or stare at a computer screen for longer than 20 minutes a day. The radiation will burn your eyes out.

15. Masturbation is OK. We now know it doesn’t blind you or cause calluses. Although some blind people do masturbate.

16. Transportation is destroying the environment with CO2 emissions. If you must get from point A to point B use a bicycle, horse, skateboard, surfboard, pogo stick, sail boat or simply walk. Hummers, thank God, are no longer being sold. But electric cars are bad for the environment too. Dead batteries end up in landfills.

17. Use fluorescent bulbs only.

18. Collect rainwater in a cistern or a bucket to lower your water bill. Don’t drink it. It’s contaminated with mold, bacteria, algae, protozoa and small particles of dust not to mention lead, arsenic and pesticides.

19. Keep your shower to a three-minute maximum. There will be no drinking water in 90 years.

20. Do not wear perfume. It’s poison and it causes bees to lose their sense of direction.

21. Avoid make-up. It causes skin cancer.

22. Do not go into the jungle without a face mask. Humans are spreading diseases to the gorilla populations in Africa.

23. Do not pay federal taxes. 54% of your tax dollars go to military spending. War causes global warming. Then again, it causes death, which controls the population. Note to self: rethink not paying taxes.

24. Avoid soaps and shampoos with Sodium Laurel Sulfates.

25. Don’t use cleaning products or bleach or harsh, powdered laundry detergents. Don’t flush these chemicals down the toilet and or dispose of them in the trash.

26. Don’t accumulate trash. The more trash you accumulate the more trash ends up in a landfill.

27. Do not have children. The planet is overpopulated. Children are responsible for generating 1,600 pounds of garbage a year. Children eventually turn into adults and end up generating 128,000 pounds of garbage in a lifetime.

28. Do not buy paper products or use them.

29. Recycle.

30. Do not shop at Wal-Mart, it rapes local economies the minute it sets up shop in town, keeps its employees at the poverty line so as to maintain its profit and “costs federal taxpayers $420,000 a year” by not paying its employees enough to get off public assistance.

31. Do not buy a house with more square-footage than you need. It’s a waste of resources.

32. Don’t travel or buy travel literature. It causes global warming.

33. Don’t smoke.

34. Do not marry. Marriage causes children. Homosexuality is safer for the environment as it doesn’t result in children. So, become gay, but stick with one partner. Many partners with unprotected sex causes AIDS and condoms are environmentally unfriendly. Remaining single and masturbating is safest.

35. Don’t spend money. Money generates more productivity. Productivity generates energy, products and ultimately waste. Don’t buy anything ever again. Re-using is safe. Except maybe disposable diapers. In that case, use only cloth diapers and wash ’em.

36. Above all else, avoid McDonald’s. McDonald’s soaks their fries in trans fat, uses lethal poisons to destroy vast areas of Central American rainforests and takes away farmland from poor, third-world countries to fatten up Americans. One meal from McDonald’s is contaminated with urine, feces, blood and vomit and linked to breast cancer, bowel cancer and heart disease. Stay away from McDonald’s.

The Visit

April 23, 2010


She takes the hour’s drive down to Long Beach Island, the kids in tow, under a sky dark with storm clouds and rain. Kate’s twelve-year old son Daniel, sitting in the front seat, for the first time. That grown-up inner-voice of hers playing by the rules denied him the privilege of sitting in the front seat until he’d hit the 90-pound-weight restriction and the legal age of twelve. Until today, she refused him a tradition that she herself experienced almost from infancy—not for any other reason but birth order. The 70’s. No seatbelts. Brothers bouncing around in the hatchback of a 72′ Ford Pinto, or sprawled out lying on their backs in the roomy Hornet, staring up at the telephone wires that looked like some poor soul’s flatline on an EKG. Her father flicking cigarette ashes out the window that flew back in and around the inside of the car, into their faces and hair like party glitter. Holding onto a tumbler of something or other in one hand, the steering wheel in the other. And Kate, bopping forward, dancing in the passenger’s seat, her hand perpetually affixed to the radio dial, her radio dial, as if it were a lifeline to a normal existence. Copacobana or Boogie Oogie Oogie, playing like a tiny orchestra inside a black box despite her father’s endless orders to turn it down, or for that matter, turn it off. That’s not even music.

“I’ve waited my whole life to sit up here,” Daniel tells his mother, with his arm out the window, coursing the waves of sixty-mile-an-hour winds as they cruise down a desolate 532, replete with Pgymy Pines and white sandy trails that lead deep into the forest. Kate laughs and pats his arm which is hovering over the dash. Julien is perched contentedly in the back, in his booster, strapped down, locked in, tapping his fingers on the tinted glass of the minivan.

“Your whole life, huh?”

He smiles at her. He knows it’s silly to talk about a whole life at this age. He’s just starting to put things into perspective. To maybe feel old enough to know how young he really is.

She watches him out of the corner of her eye explore the new area around him. The glove compartment. He opens it, shuffles through papers. Closes it. He puts the window up, then down. He locks the door. He unlocks it. He puts his feet up on the dashboard.

“When I was your age, my father used to take us down the shore, down these back roads, through the Pinelands, every summer. Sometimes he was drunk. Sometimes not. But Grandma would yell at him and say, ‘I need a break,’ and so he would throw me and Uncle Mike and Uncle Tim in the car and he’d take us down here. I was always the one who got to sit up front.” His eyes light up like he shares some special rite of firstborns with his mother.

Kate points to a displaced hill in the distance that is possibly the only hill in southern New Jersey. “There it is,” she says. “The end of the world.”

Her boys are used to this. It is yet another tradition she keeps intact. They fly over the hill screaming, “It’s the end of the world,” they say their goodbyes, their it was nice to know yous and then suddenly, when the car touches bottom over the other side, they act shocked that they survived. It’s all a part of the trip and a simple but clever trick to keep children from dying of complete boredom.

“Do you remember Grandpaw?” Kate asks.

Daniel says “vaguely,” and Julien says no, but that he thinks about him. In reality they remember little.  How he used to sit them in his wheelbarrow and cart them all around the yard. Or take them to the hayloft and build forts for them.  Or when his eyes filled with tear the day Kate put his first grandson in his arms. He said to her, “It’s like you’re giving me a second chance to do it right. To be a good father.”

“Well, Juli, you were only three when you last saw him, honey.”

And then he stretches with restlessness and monotony. She forgot to pack his coloring book and DS. He asks, “Do we have to go down here and do this? I want to go home.”

Daniel chimes in, “Yeah, what’s the point. It’s not like we’re going to actually see him, see him.”

“True dat,” Kate says, forgiving herself a slip of bad, contemporary slang despite being forty. “But it’s called ‘a visit’ just the same.”

She drives on forgetting the sadness, the anger, the wreckage of her life for the sake of this visit. The drugs. The drinking. The weirdos and loan sharks of the 70’s and 80’s that came to her front door looking for her father, threatening her mother with warnings that she and her brothers could go missing if he didn’t pay his debts. She tries to forget the nights she heard her mother whimpering alone in her room at four in the morning because her father hadn’t come home and hadn’t called. She tries to forget all those art exhibits and chorus concerts of hers where she looked out over the audience for that man, but never saw him. Not once. Nor ever did he come to where she sat on the living room sofa, brooding over the sad fact that Rex Smith or Lief Garrett were only actors and would probably never date her. Never did her father come to console her or put his arm around her and say, but I love you.

They get to the bridge from 72, open all the windows and fly over the Causway. The smell of bay muck and dead fish rise up from the water on salty currents of wet air. When they hit Peahala Park or Brant Beach, she never really knew when one town ends and another begins, all the street names change to states. California, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. They turn left on Nebraska.

When Kate’s dad was seventeen this was his beach. He knew this island like a clammer knows how to dig for little necks with his toes. He lived, during the summers, on Cape Cod Avenue, but life-guarded on Nebraska. And him and Jimmy, Johnny and Josh smoked Winstons and chased after girls who rented rooms in Chalfont for the summer. They drove down the boulevard in Johnny’s or maybe Jimmy’s ’63 Chevy Nova, writing songs to those girls and promising to marry them.

When he was nineteen he formed a band called the Wharf Rats and got a gig playing guitar and singing nightly at the Jolly Pound Boat in Bay Village with Jimmy and a blond named Mary. When Kate was a kid she could buy vintage postcards of her father singing with the Wharf Rats in one of the antique shops on the island. But the Jolly Pound Boat isn’t there anymore, nor is the antique shop.

When he was twenty-one he fell in love with Kate’s mother and had babies and stayed in New Jersey. He did this instead of becoming famous like Jimmy, who, in the fall that following summer, stuck to the plan and went out to Hollywood and joined the Dirt Band, which became an instant success. He didn’t become rich either, like Josh, who inherited his father’s real estate empire and flew off to India and married a sixteen-year-old Hindu princess. He just was. And that, I guess, wasn’t good enough.

By the time Kate could remember, he’d already begun drinking gin and tonics and selling copy machines, and sometimes even kiting checks when business was slow (because he had a family of five to support). And on days when her mother couldn’t take it anymore, he’d fly Kate and her brothers down to Nebraska Avenue, to the jetty, where, at low tide, there was an enclave among the rocks and there they’d set up camp for a couple hours with a blanket to protect us from the wind.They would all fit in this spot that Kate’s father called “The Thinking Spot,” and mostly, the kids let him sit there and stare out toward the Atlantic and think by himself while they crushed shells on the rocks or looked for starfish. And he wouldn’t move and sometimes he’d lower his head in his hands, and while he never said anything, they all knew he was suffering. But more than anything, no matter what conscious hurdles he was jumping, Kate told herself that she was loved.

At least that’s how she wishes to remember it.

Kate takes her sons up onto the beach, and says, “We’re here to see Grandpaw.” But the beach is empty and dark and cold for April. Daniel rolls his eyes. Perhaps he’s too young to appreciate the implied spirituality. Julien half-believes he might see a ghost.

“OK,” Julien says. “There’s no one here. Let’s go.”

It’s high tide and they can’t reach The Thinking Spot, so Kate stands at the precipice of the jetty and much like her father, she look out toward the waves, crashing onto the smooth black rocks with a somewhat melancholy expression on her face. “He’s here, boys. He’s all around us. Let me pay my respects,” she says. The little one scurries around in the sand. Daniel, on the other hand, stands by her side.

“Translation, please?” he says.

“Translation,” she say. “When you love someone and they die, you still love them. That love never goes away. It just changes. And instead of actually seeing the person again, which, obviously, you cannot do, you go to the place where he or she was buried—or in this case, where Grandpaw’s ashes were sprinkled—and you visit. And you remember. And you celebrate all the happiness he or she brought to your life.”

There’s a storm coming up from the south end of the island and the sky rumbles in the distance. There’s not much time, so Kate scoops up a handful of white sand and says her hellos or goodbyes or whatever you say to the dead. I miss you. I love you. I forgive you.

She takes the boys to grab lunch at a little place called The Bayside Diner. It’s the only place open during off-season. They laugh, they plan their summer vacation. They talk about how they’ve all outgrown the kiddie rides at Fantasy Island. And then they head home. There’s something eerie and deserted about the island in winter and early spring. Something that makes you glad the winter is only temporary.

They are quiet for a while as they head West on 72, back towards their town. Kate imagines their brains working to grasp the concept of loving someone who is dead, and possibly even wondering how it is that they can make it over the end of the world, die and then come back to life a dozen times during the course of year.

Daniel’s hand courses over the cool dashboard. He looks at the buttons on the console. And then, it suddenly occurs to him, right as Kate makes the left turn back towards Chatsworth, that the radio exists and that he can actually turn it on. How or why he comes to this realization so late in the day, Kate wonders, is one of the mysteries of who he is. But there it is. He turns the dial on the radio to 102.5, to the sound of Taylor Swift, Jay-Z, Justin Bierber and the Black Eyed Peas; his music. And just like a time-lapse photograph of the opening of a flower in spring, the meaning of freedom crawls across his face and transforms his expression from curious distraction to beaming recognition. A coming of age moment unfolding in the front seat of the Honda Odyssey. Kate knows the radio, from here on out, no longer belongs to her.

“You can even turn it up,” she says, as they dance in their seats down the last of the empty roads to a song that holds no memories, but feels good just the same.

Food & Drink in Spain

April 21, 2010

Spanish tapas

I talked to my sister-in-law (who’s from Spain) and she gave me these wonderful tips on what to eat and drink while in the south of Spain. Instead of writing it all out and putting effort into this blog, I’m just going to list stuff as she explained it. I want to clarify that this advice is regional. What one eats and drinks in Madrid, may not necessarily be recommended for Sevilla and vice versa. So…again, this list is Andalucia specific. Aproveche!

  • Go to a chiringuito where the locals hang (¿Donde esta un chiringuito donde va la gente del lugar?) down by the beach and try a frittada or “pescaditos fritos.” These are plates of fried fish. But watch out for the bones.
  • Try a light summer drink or cocktail called a “Clara,” which is half beer and half soda, or a “Tinto de Verano;” a red wine and soda drink. Have it in the afternoon with lunch or as an aperativo.
  • For children there’s “mosto” (an apple juice and soda beverage akin to our “Shirley Temple”) or a “San Francisco” which is like a fruit punch.
  • For after dinner (apparently right before all the dancing I’ll be doing at the discos), try a “capairiña,” a white rum with lemon, a “cuarenta y tres con quantro” Or a “rum con limon.” These are party drinks, to be reserved for the moment you feel like getting a little tipsy.
  • When in Sevilla try the gazpacho. It’s their speciality. Also, try an “Ajo Blanco,” which is a type of gazpacho made with melon and garlic. And by all means, have lunch in “El Barrio de Santa Cruz.”
  • The one thing you must do all throughout your travels in the south is taste each region’s “tapas.” Andalucia is known for its tapas
  • Adding to this list my own must dos, D and I plan to attend a Flamenco show, bathe in the Baños Arabes and try as hard as possible to stay off the beaten path.

Andalucía

April 16, 2010

So, I had to scrap the idea of going deeper into the heart of Morocco, due to time and lack of resources, but I sold the Audi and by God, I’m going to Spain this summer.

I am excited about two things: summer camp for the boys and mine and D’s voyage into the south of Spain. We’re going for two weeks, the kids and I. D will come with us for the first 10 days. And while the boys are in an intensive Spanish language summer camp for one week (all-inclusive with sports, pool, activities, crafts, flamenco classes, day trips in and around Marbella, huge buffet dinners of tortilla de patatas, jamon serrano, lomo con queso, and of course, Spanish language immersion classes), D and I will drive around the south of Spain for seven days. Aside from being extremely nervous about leaving my boys in camp for a week straight (despite my sister-in-law K praising her days as a kid in summer camp), I am looking forward to an adventure of my own, albeit a more modest one than the previous I had imagined. Oh Sheltering Sky! I must wait a little longer for you.

Here’s the itinerary:

Day 1
MADRID
Compostela Suites
This was the only hotel that slept two adults and two kids for a decent amount of money (90 €). I settled for clean and contemporary because Madrid is SERIOUSLY lacking in hotels with charm and old world ambience. This is one of those new long stay hotel-apartment places for business travelers and families. So, I’m not sure it will have all the amenities as a regular hotel. But it does have a pool! And it’s right by the airport, which is all we really need as we will be catching a train for the South the next morning. Hopefully worth the night. They do have a little cafeteria, but hotel breakfasts are usually overpriced. So, I think it’ll have to be  churros con chocolate and some fresh squeezed OJ on the train’s dining car instead.

  • Plaza Mayor
  • Sol
  • Plaza Santa Ana
  • Retiro

Day 2

MALAGA
Hostal Pedregalejo
Now that we’re taking the boys to the south with us to stay in the camp in Marbella, we decided to spend an extra night in Andalucia. We’ll take the train to Malaga, stay for the night, and the next morning, we’ll hit the road for Marbella. On the way from Malaga to Marbella, we’d like to stop in Mijas, one of the white villages of Spain,  for lunch.

Day 3

CÓRDOBA
Hotel Hacienda Posada de Vallina
From Marbella we will drive up to Cordoba. This will be our first night of “old world charm.” The hotel was supposedly constructed before the Mosque itself, and the builders stayed in this hotel while construction took place. Furthermore,  it is said that when Christopher Columbus stayed in Cordoba, he lived in room 204 of the hotel. I can’t even wrap my mind around that idea. For dinner, we made a reservation at El Churrasco on Calle Romero.

Day 4 and 5
GRANADA
Hotel Casa Capitel Nazari
I stayed in this lovely hotel two years ago with my boys. In fact, I’ve asked for the same room because I was so pleased with it. Hopefully, they will fulfill this request. Like the hotel in Cordoba, this one too is steeped in history. It’s an “ancient Renaissance Palace, built in 1503,” located right in the heart of the Albaicin. From our room I believe you can see the Alhambra.

Day 6, 7 and 8
VEJER de la FRONTERA
La Casa del Califa
When you click on this link, be sure to take the “virtual tour.” This hotel is amazing. It’s a collection of eight buildings, some of which have been in existence since the 10th century. There are vaults, catacombs, terraces and even an aljibe (an underground water cistern) dating from 700 AD, all of which are naturally exposed unto the design of the hotel, giving a traveler like me the chance to experience history and present day at once. For more about the history of this hotel and the region of Vejer, click aquí.

While staying in Vejer, we plan to visit Tarifa. What I like most about Tarifa are the beaches and the possible nightlife. Apparently it’s a very young, sporty town because of the wind surfing, with lots of fun restaurants, night clubs and tapas bars. And speaking of tapas bars, a must while in Tarifa is La Mandragora. I’ve read only good things about it and their menu looks divine.

  • Day trip Tangier and Asilah
  • Walking through the Town
  • Wine and Tapas

Day 8 and onward…
MARBELLA to VALLECAS
Back to Marbella to pick up the kids and head back to Madrid. Once in Madrid, we will say goodbye to D and stay on another week with my in-laws in Vallecas. The kids will be taking classes for the following week only in the morning, and then in the afternoons, we’ll have lunch with the abuelitos and then maybe go to the Retiro or the zoo. I think after all that, I’ll be ready to come home!