“Mindfulness”

I know something is a fad when I see it advertised in a really small town in Andalusia.

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“The Great Railway Bazaar” by Paul Theroux

In 1973, Paul Theroux was a novelist and out of ideas when he came across my blog and got the inspiration for a trip around the world by train. From the UK, he set out to Istanbul, of course, and then onward to Iran, India, Burma, Malaysia, Japan, with some flights and ferries in between, obviously. On the way back, he took the classic route through Siberia from east to west. He published The Great Railway Bazaar about that  journey and became the famous travel writer that he now is.

Quite why he became so famous is a secret to me after reading this book. I am fanatically railway-minded myself and love the idea, although I am a much slower traveler and would dedicate more than four and a half months to such a trip. But then, Theroux had a wife waiting for him at home.

9780141038841Maybe it’s the style of writing, for that is good indeed. Sadly, though, I got the impression that he didn’t enjoy the trip as much as anticipated, an impression fostered by the ever-increasing complaints the farther he gets east. Fellow travelers will know the old Englishman or American whom you meet on trains or ships, complaining that there is no NFL on television in Tehran or that they have the wrong kind of biscuits in Bombay. Theroux sounds like that kind of person. He complains about the weather, about late trains, about not being able to buy tickets, about the food, and mostly about other people whom he encounters on the train. I almost wished him an accident, to put him out of his misery.

Even worse, many of his remarks and “jokes” are deeply insulting, racist and stupid. He probably thinks he is funny, in a way that Westerners steeped in colonial thinking of superiority play little jokes on everybody who is not a WASP. Once he gets on the Transsiberian, he finds it appropriate to address the Russian passengers as “monkeys”. Decide for yourself if you want to like such a man.

His constantly getting drunk and unsuccessfully trying to cheat on his wife doesn’t help to endear him, either. There is a reason why travel bloggers and writers should remain single.

There is a sequel, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, where Theroux went on a similar journey in 2008. I am curious if he learned anything from his first trip, if he matured, if he has come to realize that non-Anglo-Saxon culture is not inferior. Has anyone read the Ghost Train? I am curious to hear your opinion!

Links:

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Armenian Patriotism

This summer, during the Football World Cup, I was in Kraków, where I met an Armenian friend studying in Poland.

When she said she needed to go home to watch the World Cup, I naturally assumed that she would support the Polish team. As always in sports that require more effort than moving wooden pieces across a board while smoking a lot, Armenia hadn’t qualified.

“We are all cheering for Colombia,” she corrected me, leaving me wondering. I knew there was a city called Armenia in Colombia, but that wasn’t it.

She explained: “When you turn the Colombian flag upside down, it looks similar to the Armenian flag. So, when Colombia is playing, we turn the TV sets upside down and imagine that it’s a stadium full of Armenians.”

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Links:

  • More articles about football.
  • And one day, when I will find the time, there will be plenty more articles about Poland, about Armenia and about Colombia, all of which are fascinating countries. But Armenia is definitely the funniest of them all.
Posted in Armenia, Colombia, Poland, Sports | Tagged | 7 Comments

“Fear” by Bob Woodward

I am generally not a big fan of reading books on contemporary subjects, because books get better with a few years of hindsight. But for Bob Woodward’s book about the Trump presidency, Fear, I made an exception. Of all the people who have published books on the current president, Woodward is probably the most meticulous researcher.

71ir9ucf2klThe White House is dysfunctional and the President was and remains unprepared; that’s not news. Everyone can see that, every day. Thus, Bob Woodward doesn’t have that much new to offer. But the sheer amount of information and in particular the verbatim conversations, mostly provided by people who have since been fired or resigned (Gary Cohn, Rob Porter, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and John Dowd seem to be the main sources), can still be shocking at times.

Here are some of the things that were new to me:

  • The amount of disdain that almost anyone working with Trump has for him. In meetings, they call him “a fucking moron”, “an idiot” with the intellectual grasp of a 6th-grader or even “unhinged”. And these are all people picked by Trump, who want to support him.
  • But I can understand how one could lose one’s mind, trying to have a rational argument with Trump. He doesn’t have the most basic understanding of NATO, of international trade, of inflation. At one point, he suggested that the US can just print money to reduce the deficit. And he is obsessed with trade balances between individual countries, although almost everyone explains to him that these are irrelevant.
  • Trump doesn’t care about arguments, facts, numbers or legalities, ending the debate by explaining, “this has been my opinion for 30 years and I won’t change it”.
  • He does however change his opinion on foreign policy, like the military presence in Afghanistan, particularly after listening to generals’ recommendations. Of course, he regrets it after an hour and says that he made a mistake by listening to advice. In essence, whoever last speaks to Trump, will win him over. Until the next conversation with someone else.
  • As President, it’s apparently OK to start your working day at 11:00, to go back home early and to never read one’s homework. What a life. Sad.
  • Aides to the President repeatedly removed papers from the President’s desk to prevent him from signing something, like terminating a trade agreement with South Korea in the middle of the nuclear stand-off with North Korea. Even scarier, Trump doesn’t realize that the papers are gone because he doesn’t keep a mental or physical to-do list. He doesn’t have an agenda. He just deals with whatever comes to his mind, usually by way of television.
  • Trump is a pathological liar. It is his natural modus operandi. I was most shocked to learn that he even lies in condolence calls to parents of killed service members.
  • After reading that attorney John Dowd charged Trump $ 100,000 per month, I am thinking of raising my fees.

Woodward is not trying to dramatize anything. If at all, his tone is rather boring at times, like someone taking notes at a National Security Council meeting. Still, if you haven’t been reading any newspaper in the last year, or if you want to know how bad it really is, this is probably the best book out there for now. But for the definitive account, we will have to wait. With more people getting fired, there will be may more sources, I am sure.

Links:

Posted in Books, Elections, Military, Politics, US election 2016, USA | Tagged | 4 Comments

Living in a Cave

When I introduced the cave houses around Venta Micena to you, I promised you a look inside. Luckily, I met Florence and Bruno, a lovely couple from France, who invited me to their cave home in Fuente Nueva. It was very spacious and comfortable, much more so than one would anticipate from the outside.

Here are a few of their photos:

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Links:

Posted in Andalusia, Spain, Travel | Tagged | 6 Comments

Venta Micena – Day 30/30

Today is my last day in Venta Micena.

Originally, I thought that, in order to leave, I would need to stand by the road for hours, hoping for a car to pass by and give me a ride. And I am not saying “for hours” because people wouldn’t stop, but because that’s the frequency of cars around here.

But then, I discovered that Venta Micena has its own airport.

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¡Hasta luego!


Actually, I got material for more than 30 days, meaning there will be several articles about Andalusia in the next months. I want to introduce you to some of the towns in the area and tell you about the mountains I climbed. I had also promised you a look inside a cave house. And the cats actually recently had very sweet kittens, which I am sure you want to see, too.

Now, I am curious to read your opinion about the idea to illustrate my life at a new place by publishing a photo and just a few sentences every day.

Belatedly, as is always the case with good ideas, I thought that this approach would have worked very well in Vienna, where I spent two months this summer. There, my life was also much more varied and visually more appealing than desert, mountains and ruins all the time. I probably won’t try it in Calgary, because photographing a pile of snow every day will be boring. And three months really seem too long for such a project.

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Venta Micena – Day 29/30

When the owners of the house travel by plane, on their yacht or with one of their many other cars, the house sitter often gets to use a car, or at least a bicycle. In a remote area like this one, I am particularly thankful about that. Because there are so few cars passing by, that hitchhiking would leave me standing by the side of the road for hours.

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