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Vienen del Norte

During our vacation a few weeks ago we stayed at the resort hotel Pueblo Bonito in Mazatlán. This is locally known as the best hotel in town. Since it is very isolated geographically, and the only way to get anywhere outside of the hotel is to get a taxi for a ride of at least 20 minutes, we didn’t leave the resort too much and took a lot of our meals there.

An item on the breakfast menu would cost about 180 – 200 pesos, which translates roughly to US$ 10.- which is quite reasonable for Americans. Our bill for breakfast, including a 100 peso tip. would be about 500 pesos each time.

During a taxi ride I spoke with the driver, mostly in Spanish, and asked him about the locals. What was the average wage? I found out that the average worker in the area made about 30 pesos an hour. A taxi driver who didn’t own his taxi but worked for “the man” expected to take home about 200 – 250 pesos a day. The taxi ride cost 420 pesos one way from the resort to the airport. I gave him 600 pesos. So my tip of 180 or about US$ 10.- was equivalent to three quarters of a day’s pay for the average worker.

All that got me thinking: We’re not rich. We’re middle-class, working Americans. Yet, we travel to a resort in Mexico and spend on breakfast alone per person as much money as the average worker makes in a full day of work. The service was great. There was always someone to pour more coffee, remove our dishes, and bring whatever we needed. It made the wonder what these people were thinking of us?

They come from the north.

Vienen del norte.

After I read Two Years Before the Mast I was inspired to learn more about sailing in the mid-nineteenth century.

John Whidden was born in 1832 and lost both of his parents by age five. He lived with his grandparents. When he was fourteen, he felt a calling to go to sea.

In those days, “boys” served on ships along with the crew, mostly performing menial tasks of all types, and “learning the ropes.” Usually families placed the boys with a captain they knew and trusted. Voyages by merchant ships, for instance from Boston to India and back, could easily take more than a year.

A ship had several classes of crew: The captain, the officers, usually a first officer or mate, a second mate, sometimes a third mate, depending on the size of the vessel, a cook, a carpenter, a steward, the sailors, and a few boys.

John Whidden tells his own story. He worked his way from ship’s boy to sailor to officer to captain in less than twelve years. By the time he was 26 years old he sailed the world’s oceans as a ship’s captain.

His stories are simple, easy to read, sometimes funny and entertaining, and, above all, very educational. I learned much about shipping on sailing vessels and the lifestyles of the crews.

Here is a sample:

I have, in a previous chapter, spoken of the large variety of cockroaches on board the ship “Brutus,” Calcutta trader. Across the docks, opposite the “Danube,” lay the ship “Guiding Star,” Captain Small, just out from Boston, where she had discharged a Calcutta cargo. This ship was literally alive with roaches, but at the time I did not know it.

In the evening I went on board to make Captain Small a social call, and when, after passing a very pleasant hour, he invited me to spend the night with him, I accepted, and he gave me his stateroom, taking a spare room for himself.

Retiring about eleven o’clock, and pulling off my boots, I disrobed and turned in, sleeping soundly until morning, when I arose, and proceeding to dress, found nothing left of my boots but the soles and straps. All outside of these resembled a piece of brown tissue paper perforated with tiny holes.

On asking Captain Small about it, he explained that he meant to have told me to put everything, including my boots, in the basket at the head of the bed, but he forgot it! The cockroaches had eaten them in the night, and the captain’s forgetfulness cost me a new pair of boots. However, he was good enough to loan me a pair to put on.

— Whidden, John D.. Ocean Life in the Old Sailing Ship Days (Kindle Locations 3247-3257). Roquelaure House. Kindle Edition.

Anyone interested in history, sailing, the merchant marines, and life at sea will greatly enjoy this delightful book.

 

Una Semana en México

Acabo de pasar una semana en Mazatlán, México. Me lo pasé bien. Aprendí una cosa: México no va a pagar por el muro Trumpano.

Ladies and Gentlemen…

…the President of the United States!

O Mazatlán

from Wikipedia:

Mazatlán is a city in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.

Mazatlán is a Nahuatl word meaning “place of deer.” The city was founded in 1531 by an army of Spaniards and indigenous settlers. By the mid-19th century, a large group of immigrants arrived from Germany. Together, with the hard work of the Natives, they were able to develop Mazatlán into a thriving commercial seaport, importing equipment for the nearby gold and silver mines. It served as the capital of Sinaloa from 1859 to 1873. The German settlers also influenced the local music, banda, with some genres being an alteration of Bavarian folk music. The settlers also established the Pacifico Brewery on March 14, 1900.

Ah, da sind the Bayern hier gewesen lange bevor ich hier ankam. Kein Wunder, das Wetter ist schon etwas anders hier.

 

I guess our thoughts and prayers are not working too well.

I wonder what would happen if somebody blew up an airliner with an explosive bra?

“There’s no time to lose”, I heard her say
Catch your dreams before they slip away
Dying all the time
Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind
Ain’t life unkind?

— The Rolling Stones, from Ruby Tuesday

When I was a youth in the little land-locked German state of Bavaria I never left a radius of about 150 miles around my home town. I dreamed of getting a sailboat and living on my boat crisscrossing the Mediterranean, visiting all the Greek islands I read so much about in my Latin classes. I bought books about sailing. It was a life-long dream.

It wasn’t until I was in my 40ies, living in San Diego, that I started taking sailing lessons. But I really never ventured out much further than the San Diego Bay, sailing out to the “point” at Point Loma, where the bay opens into the Pacific. My dream of sailing the open ocean has faded over the years. I lost my dream, but I didn’t lose my mind…

The day after our wedding was Trisha’s 60th birthday. She hired the Aolani, a great catamaran, to take out all the out-of-town guests for a cruise on San Diego Bay. Here we are boarding:

Aolani

Picture Credit: Lothar Frosch

While on the cruise, our captain was “Captain Steve” and he told us many a sailing yarn and gave us a lot of history of the San Diego Bay, much of which I had never heard before. Here is Captain Steve. I am sitting on the right side in the middle.

 

Capt Steve

Picture Credit: Lothar Frosch

It turns out, Steve fulfilled the dream I had but never chased after. He has sailed alone around the world several times, once even achieving a speed record. I was in awe.

Then he recommended a book about sailing: Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana. A few days later I picked up the book on my Kindle, and I had no idea what I was in for.

Melville’s Moby Dick was published in 1851. Two Years Before the Mast was first published in 1840, more than ten years earlier. Melville actually had made some jokes about Two Years Before the Mast, about the section of rounding Cape Horn having been written with an icicle. Two Years Before the Mast is known to be one of the first classics of American literature.

Richard Henry Dana was from the upper class of Boston society and an undergraduate at Harvard College. His father was a poet, his grandfather had been chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, and his great-grandfather was one of the original Sons of Liberty in Boston. While at Harvard, Dana became ill with the measles which affected his vision. He could not read without great pain. He felt he needed a change, took a leave from college and hired on as a common sailor on the brig Pilgrim, a merchant ship which was ready to go on a journey to California. In those days, that meant the trip had to go around Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America. It took many months at sea and was fraught with danger. He eventually returned to Boston two years later on a different ship, the Alert, owned by the same company.

In the book, Dana tells the story of the two-year journey from the point of view of a sailor. Being a sailor on a ship was as close to slavery as one can get without actually being a slave. Sailors got paid $12 a month. While on ship, the captain was the ultimate authority. There was no law, no protection, no leisure, unless authorized by the captain. The sailors performed backbreaking labor, day and night, holiday and weekend. There was no healthcare, extremely poor nutrition, much brutalization of the men, no justice and no way out. Once you signed up for a journey, you were indentured for the duration of that journey. You didn’t know when you would come back, or, for that matter, if you would come back at all. Many sailors died, from falling overboard, being overworked, getting ill, or from malnutrition.

Dana tells the story of the common sailor, interwoven with elaborate sailing jargon I usually did not understand. Here is a sample:

By and by — bang, bang, bang, on the scuttle — “All ha-a-ands, aho-o-y!” We spring out of our berths, clap on a monkey-jacket and southwester, and tumble up the ladder. Mate up before us, and on the forecastle, singing out like a roaring bull; the captain singing out on the quarter-deck, and the second mate yelling, like a hyena, in the waist. The ship is lying over half upon her beam-ends; lee scuppers under water, and forecastle all in a smother of foam. Rigging all let go, and washing about decks; topsail yards down upon the caps, and sails flapping and beating against the masts; and starboard watch hauling out the reef-tackles of the main topsail. Our watch haul out the fore, and lay aloft and put two reefs into it, and reef the foresail, and race with the starboard watch to see which will mast-head its topsail first. All hands tally-on to the main tack, and while some are furling the jib and hoisting the staysail, we mizzen-top-men double-reef the mizzen topsail and hoist it up. All being made fast — “Go below, the watch!” and we turn-in to sleep out the rest of the time, which is perhaps an hour and a half. During all the middle, and for the first part of the morning watch, it blows as hard as ever, but toward daybreak it moderates considerably, and we shake a reef out of each topsail, and set the top-gallant-sails over them; and when the watch come up, at seven bells, for breakfast, shake the other reefs out, turn all hands to upon the halyards, get the watch-tackle upon the top-gallant sheets and halyards, set the flying-jib, and crack on to her again.

— Dana, Richard Henry. Two Years Before the Mast (Kindle Locations 5843-5855). Houghton Mifflin. Kindle Edition.

However, I must admit that now I am looking for a book on sailing ship diagrams and descriptions of the rigging, so I understand what the various types of sails are. If I were 40 years younger, I’d hire on a sailing ship like the Star of India and “learn the ropes.”

Speaking of the Star of India – this is the oldest still operating steel hull sailing ship in the world, and it is permanently parked in San Diego on the waterfront as a maritime museum.

 

Star of India

Picture Credit: Lothar Frosch

Some of the most fascinating parts about Two Years Before the Mast are Dana’s descriptions of California. In 1935, they visited many places in California that are there today, including San Diego, Santa Barbara and San Francisco. The missions in California had been there for centuries even then, and towns had grown around those missions, but those towns were just a few shacks or adobe buildings with hard dirt floors. San Francisco was two shacks down by the water a few miles in from the bay entrance. San Diego consisted of a little “harbor” where the Navy fuel yards are today. The ships docked there and the sailors came to the shore by boats. Since the California trade with the United States at the time was mostly hides, there were four hide houses there. Those were storage facilities for tens of thousands of hides, which the ships brought to San Diego from all over the California coast for curing, drying and treating before they were loaded on ships to be taken to the east coast. Then, a few miles inland from the harbor, where we now have “Old Town,” were a few homes, some merchant buildings, and that was San Diego. The Presidio was up the hill from there. Dana’s descriptions of the California locations I now know so well, having lived here for more than 30 years, are priceless historical references.

But that’s not a modern phenomenon. Dana’s book, published in 1840, was the unequivocal reference book for California used by the San Francisco 49ers (the visitors to the area due to the Gold Rush). Even then the book was a bestseller.

There was a cliff on the coast of what is Orange County today, where Dana and crew, when they collected hides, just threw them down like Frisbees rather than carrying them down the steep cliffs. They did this for a number of visits. He called this spot one of the most romantic spots in California. Well, there is a town called Dana Point on the California coast today, and it was named after the author. I had no idea! I even know a person named Dana, and I will not disclose his last name here, who once told me that his name was Dana because he was conceived at Dana Point on the beach. I wonder if he knows the book Two Years Before the Mast?

Eventually, Dana became a lawyer and was quite active defending sailors and working on making their lives less brutal.

Dana’s trip from Boston to San Diego, California, picking up a load of 40,000 hides, and then returning to Boston, took over two years. That was his two years before the mast. I have traveled from San Diego to Boston and back in 6-hour one-way airline trips many times. The whole journey would sometimes have me away from home no more than 48 hours.

What a fascinating world we live in!

And what an amazing book Two Years Before the Mast is!

 

Trump said it was the “saddest thing” that “because I’m the president of the United States I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I am not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I’m not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing. And I’m very frustrated by it.”

Mr. President, you’re not a king or a dictator. The American people elected you president of the United States. That means you can appoint people and thus set broad ideological priorities. They didn’t elect you to be the top law enforcement authority or the top judiciary.

The heads of governments in totalitarian systems act like that, or in monarchies.

None of those have ended well in the last century.

America is a democracy, foremost, and we have a system of checks and balances to protect the country from — people like you!

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA – click to enlarge

Other than the bright white star in the center, every object in this image taken by Hubble is a galaxy. Each galaxy has hundreds of millions of stars of its own.

Vis consilii expers mole ruit sua.

— Horace, Odes Book III, Poem 4, Line 65

Wolfgang in German: Kraft ohne (= expers /nicht teilhabend an etwas) Einsicht (Überlegung, besonnene Klugheit) stürzt durch ihre eigene Schwere (Masse, Größe …).

Norbert in English: Power without insight collapses by its own weight. (Insight could also be replaced with thoughtfulness or wisdom).

Oh, good ol’ Horace! It’s like he is talking about politics in the United States of America in 2017. Power without insight was a problem in ancient Rome, it was a problem in Nazi Germany, and it’s a problem in Trump’s America.

Just remember:

Vis consilii expers mole ruit sua.


What I seriously do not understand is who the 81% of Republicans are that approve of Trump.

The “grab them by the pussy” attitude does not bother them? The constant lying? The fact that he does not take responsibility for his actions, or gaffes? The fact that he can’t put a coherent sentence together? The reckless putting at risk our soldiers and, really, all of us? The fact that he does not do his constitutional duty and enforce the sanctions against Russia? He is supposed to protect the country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. There is a clear and present foreign enemy. That does not bother the 81%?

I really have a hard time wrapping my head around that.

So I just saw this meme on my Facebook feed, and I find it almost personally insulting.

First, I am not a Democrat to begin with. All my life, I have been an independent, and I have always voted for the character, the person, and not the party. I happen to agree with some of the core principles the Republican party stands for, and I happen to agree with some of the core principles of the Democratic party.

Donald Trump does not believe in conservative values or liberal values. In my opinion, Donald Trump is a disturbed personality. He was a registered Democrat from August 2001 through September 2009. Donald Trump is now a Republican just because it suits his current ambitions and it works. Donald Trump will always be what’s best for Donald Trump at the time.

When Trump tells us he is fighting for the American people he is lying. Trump is in this for himself and his ego. He wanted to be president because that looked good on the resume for a narcissist. He conned the American people into voting for him. How now has what he wanted. He is in the history books. That’s what it was all about.

Trump does not believe in conservative or liberal values, Trump believes in  whatever it takes to make him money and feel good about himself.

Trump, the brilliant business man started many projects costing hundreds of millions of dollars that then failed. When they failed, rather than owning up to them and paying for the devastation himself, he “used the system” and filed for bankruptcy. He calls that “smart.” I call that flushing other people’s money down the toilet. When the real estate market crashed and the value of my property went to 35% of what I paid for it, I hung on, paid the mortgages every month for the last 10 years, and even now I am not back to 100% yet. I signed a contract with a bank, and I lived up to my obligations under that contract. In contrast, when Trump’s casino failed, and he filed for bankruptcy, the steel workers, the carpenters, the cooks, the maids, the landscapers, and the stockholders of the banks that held his loans all paid for the damage, and Trump walked away with his money in his pocket. He “used the system.” Trump is living off of the rest of us. Trump, the brilliant business man, sucks those around him dry and then he casts them aside.

Trump, the brilliant negotiator, can’t even negotiate any legislation in Congress controlled by his own party.

Trump, the brilliant leader, attacks those that work for him and around him, undermines them, ridicules them, and casts them aside when they are no longer convenient to him. This is not be behavior of a leader, who takes responsibility. This is the behavior of a bully and a coward.

I could go on and on about what I dislike about Trump, and none of it has anything to do with the Republican party.

Tell me what you like about Trump, and don’t say “he says it like it is” because he has no idea what it is like. He is lazy, uneducated, uncultured, and so full of himself that he doesn’t even know it.

And therefore he is dangerous.

 

 

I had to order checks that I can fill out by hand from the bank. It got to be embarrassing that I could not pay the gardener with a check. So now, we have a lifetime supply of checks. But then, I didn’t have a checkbook cover. You can’t just have a pad of checks floating around. They’ll get all dog-eared in no time. So I went on Amazon and purchased a checkbook cover. There was a surprising amount of variety available, in all price ranges. I got one of the cheapest. Vinyl.

Today it arrived. And, more prominently than anything else, inside the little Ziplock bag that the cover came in, was this label:

WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.

So what do you think I’ll do now? Not hold my checkbook close to my reproductive organs? It’s a piece of plastic! Our whole house is full of plastic. My car is practically made out of plastic. And then there is my iPhone, plastic and radiation poison of all kinds, and it’s always, always within a couple of feet of my body. Oh, the damage!

Really, seriously, is there a single person in the world who will receive this package of a checkbook cover, read this label, and change his mind and send the product back to the evil manufacturer? What else could the point of this label be?

Go to any restaurant in California, and somewhere near the entrance there will be a similar sign. “This facility is using products and chemicals known to the State of California…”

Do you want to know about really shocking labels? Go to Germany.

Recently I had visitors from Germany who – no surprise there – smoked. Comically, they found it somewhat difficult to engage in their passion, since in the hotels where they stayed they had to invariably stand at the edge of the parking lot to smoke. Many properties do not allow any smoking on the hotel grounds, even outside.

But I digress. There is a picture of a German cigarette box:

The label on the side states “Rauchen ist tödlich” or “smoking is deadly.”

Look at the top of the box where it states “Kinder von Rauchern werden oft selbst zu Rauchern.” This means “children of smokers often become smokers themselves.”

Sometimes they show pictures of horrible deformations in faces or extremities caused by smoking, right outside on the packaging. The boxes look like poison products with the name of the brand, in this case “Parisienne,” a cigarette targeted at female customers, almost seemingly an afterthought.

I can’t say I haven’t been warned. So if I ever die of cancer, I will think about that checkbook cover I bought just so I can pay the gardener in 2017.

When visiting Washington, D.C., it’s always a joy to go to some of the museums. I went to the National Gallery of Art. There is a wealth of world-class art to see. My “eyes get full” after an hour or so.

One of the highlights at the museum is Leonardo da Vinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci, pictured here. There is usually a crowd around it, so it’s hard to get to.

This painting is famous for being the only original da Vinci in the western hemisphere. I have seen my first da Vinci!

Then, later, I rounded a corner in the French section, and whoosh, there was Lovers by Picasso.

It seemed surreal, because for many years, a print of this painting hung in our house,  so it was common for me. Seeing it here, in the original much larger than the print, and so out of context, was like instant time travel back to the days when my children were little, and the print of this painting was prominent in our house. It immediately brought back the smells, sounds and emotions.

As I always do, I left the museum inspired to go home and pick up my brushes.

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