Sunday, July 24, 2016

On dating

I didn't include Jess Zimmerman's piece on "high-maintenance" women in my roundup because I figured dating issues deserved their own post. It meshes with other articles I've linked to and discussed--on the Cool Girl, the Chill Girl, etc. An excerpt:
For a woman who has learned to make herself physically and emotionally small, to live literally and figuratively on scraps, admitting that you have an appetite is a source of cavernous fear. Women are often on a diet of the body, but we are always on a diet of the heart.The low-maintenance woman, the ideal woman, has no appetite. This is not to say that she refuses food, sex, romance, emotional effort; to refuse is petulant, which is ironically more demanding.
Pair with this insightful Ask Polly response:

So stop asking for water and then pretending it’s wine. Ask for wine. And if your wine tastes like water, send that shit back! Don’t pretend that you didn’t want wine in the first place. DON’T FUCK THE DUDE WITH THE WATER AND THEN TELL HIM ALL YOUR SECRETS.

Ask for wine. Don’t be embarrassed that you want wine. Just say “I am someone who drinks wine now. Nothing else will do. It’s okay if you can’t give it to me. I will find someone who will, or I will make it myself. I am good and strong and I can do lots of things. I am beautiful and broken and I deserve this.”

Sunday roundup

Common arguments against gun control are misguided.

Who are these people? Seriously, how warped does one's mind have to be to come up with this:
Melania is "elegant, and after what’s been in the White House now it would be a nice change,” said Karen of North Carolina, who would give only her first name. “Michelle Obama is not elegant, no. She’s too outspoken. And she doesn’t like America. She and her husband don’t like America.”
Michelle Obama came up constantly and unprompted, this poorly dressed, inelegant, aggressive presence who would be neutralized by Melania’s “grace” and “poise” and “intelligence” on Pennsylvania Avenue.
I know that facts don't matter to some people, but seriously? Are they living in an alternate universe?

Also, who deems herself the arbiter of what bodies are worthy of existing?

What if vegans are on to something? And why does the word itself carry so much baggage? I've never been a fan of the label, not because I fear the connotations but because I prefer not to identify myself by way of food. "I am vegan" is a statement of identity; "I don't eat animal products" is not.

An interesting approach to keeping an eye on potential red flags without creating them where they don't exist. If anything, I've ignored too many red flags and put up with far too much bad behavior from men. I'm ready to err--if I have to err--on the side of cutting no slack.

You'd be surprised at how many flights--specifically (or not specifically), "an inordinate amount"--are delayed because of coffee makers.

It is inevitable that for every thinkpiece, there will be a counterthinkpiece about how the target is a class issue. In response to the Times' profile of Marie Kondo and her cult of decluttering, we have an op-ed about how decluttering is a privilege.  And my response to each of these thinkpieces is yes and no. Yes, you have to have the financial security to have the luxury of buying something again if you need it. But like many things that are a privilege,  it's not just the privileged that would benefit from them. I think of my mother's compulsive buying of things that were inexpensive, because they were inexpensive; things she didn't need, but thought she might some day, so she had to buy them when the price was right. So she spent more money, on things that would only take up space. I would argue that not amassing stuff is a sound financial move. 

People process things differently, bring different emotional responses. So reminds us Martha Nussbaum in this fascinating profile.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thursday roundup

Neil DeGrasse Tyson on sciencing while black.

It's very technically true that more white people are killed by police, but that doesn't take into consideration population and other complicating factors.

The We Are the Left letter is everything. And Sanders holdouts didn't get it then and don't get it now.

OMG this cover:
How much power do the Chinese people have?

How will the Iran agreement be verified?

You can be well or poorly nourished whether you're a vegan or omnivore.

Food waste is unconscionable.

Drown out the haters this weekend: go see Ghostbusters.

I've thankfully never experienced "coercive control" in a romantic relationship (I have experienced textbook passive agressiveness), but mom was always a master of coercive control.

I have experienced breadcrumbing. Unintentional, irl breadcrumbing.

Carolyn Hax on matism and again on choosing happiness.

Have you experienced any of these feelings for which you didn't know the words?

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sunday roundup

Rest in peace, Elie Wiesel.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson's latest foray into scientism backfired.

It's no accident that tech support sucks

Juicing is pointless and incredibly wasteful.

LA's museum of broken relationships

For all my mother's parental shortcomings, she never did anything like this. Twitter responded with #ifmyvaginawereasandwich.

That was world's worst mom; here's world's worst boss.

Dr. Nerdlove on pursuing without being a creep.

Exercise is so much about learning "how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable."

Monday, July 4, 2016

On whether intentions matter

In my last post I talked about coming to terms with mom's overbearingness and having to prioritize my own sanity over her feelings. I've become a huge proponent in prioritizing one's own needs--safety, sanity, etc.--over the feelings of others, and nowhere is this more of an issue than in interacting with dudes. In the roundup, I linked to a Carolyn column about abuse/control creep--about confronting controlling behaviors immediately (also known as setting boundaries). Abusive or controlling people will often audition borderline behaviors to test your response. Borderline behaviors offer them plausible deniability: if called out, they can fall back on how they had no idea they were being inappropriate. If not called out, they keep going. Sometimes they really do have no idea they're being inappropriate, which brings us back to the issue of whether intentions matter. When your safety and sanity are at stake, they don't.

Mom: a status update

I washed my hair in the rain today. I can only do that when it's raining hard and when I'm sufficiently motivated--i.e., I have to wash out henna and I don't want it staining my pristine bathtub or clogging my drain. My mother once washed her hair--or at least showered--in a thunderstorm. Thinking about that made me think of the time before I resented my mother.

My mother was institutionalized this weekend. It was about time--it should have happened sooner but because it takes drastic events to motivate my father, it didn't happen until she wandered off (again). He'd been staying home to keep her from wandering off, but he couldn't stay in the same room all the time and that's when it happened. She's at the point where she thinks that she owns the surrounding houses and that other people are occupying them--and she's happy to confront them over it. She can't be left alone for a second, and my dad couldn't watch her that closely if he wanted to. So the inevitable happened: she wandered off, found police, and was taken to the hospital. Everyone agreed that it was time for her to be under constant care.

Monday roundup

Meat is destroying the planet.

How much radiation from Fukushima is in the oceans?

Bits of Borno is a beautiful way to spotlight the humanity in terrorized Nigeria.

This is an interesting take on thinkpieces (and people) that somewhat cluelessly promote experiences over stuff. I'm a fan of experiences over stuff--and I'm the first to say that home-ownership isn't for everyone, and I didn't think it was for me until it was--but I'm also the first to understand that not everyone has the same choices. Unlike the douchebro in the referenced thinkpiece, I don't believe that burning money enhances one's experience. "Experience" isn't the same as luxury or conspicuous consumption. See also Carolyn's response on how to answer a kid's question about why her house is smaller.

See also Carolyn's take on what may or may not be a sign of abuse/control. The scenario reminded me of my mother (translation: I vote yes, it is an unhealthy/controlling behavior). It sounds to me like the guy is staying angry for the sake of staying angry. I'm a bit believer in trying to understand why someone is upset by something that you might find innocuous and validating their reaction... but it sounds like the woman did that and the guy is still being a dick.

I don't subscribe to the idea that any borrowing from another culture is appropriation--and I don't generally believe that western yoga practice is appropriation, thought that piece makes some good points--but I am disappointed in Jo Rowling.

Wow, the Jane Hirschfield poem embedded in this piece ("For What Binds Us").

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tuesday rant

I noted in my last post that my creepy date of a couple of weeks ago reminded me a lot of RM. He didn't creep me out because I associated him with RM; he creeped me out because he behaved like RM. Creepy is as creepy does. And creepy people audition ambiguous behaviors to see what they can get away with, so if you do call them out on it, they (like RM) fall back on "oh, I'm just clueless and bumbling, I had no idea that would make you uncomfortable."

That said, once you've identified a borderline/ambiguous behavior as part of a more nefarious pattern, you're instantly wary. This is analagous to an important concept in diversity circles: your intentions may be good or neutral, but what you don't know understand is, through the other person's lens, what you're doing is old. Street harassment, or telling a woman to smile (the two are not mutually exclusive), hits a nerve. Asking an Asian or Latina where she's "really" from hits a nerve. Infringing on boundaries not only hits a nerve but sets off a red flag. I've seen this kind of thing before; I know where it's going and I don't like it.

Quick Tuesday roundup

Environmental racism: pollution from factory farms disproportionately affects poor and minority communities.

Crosswords need to do better.

On addiction (and heartbreak).

Parents brawl to get the money shot of their kids' graduating from kindergarten.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunday roundup

Meet the women on the all-refugee Olympic team.

In politics, it pays to talk like a ten-year old. Although invoking the rhetoric of these two is an insult ot ten-year olds. Please read that horrible 'make America white again' screed--it's an amazing train wreck.

I can't get enough of these Scottish responses to Trump and these responses to Brexit. Check out this Chrome extension while you're at it.

I thought about subscribing to the Times but mom hair.

Mexican women protest harassment and American men don't take well to #nowomanever.

I used to cut dudes slack for awkwardness but I've learned that it's usually creepiness in disguise (or an excuse for creepiness). That dude I went out with a couple of weeks ago reminded me a lot of RM, and I'm now sure that a lot of RM's cluelessness was feigned so that he could fall back on an 'I'm such a nice guy, I was just confused' excuse (which he did several times).

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Thought experiment

Here's a twist on my thought experiment from last week: when is it worth putting up with someone's logistical shortcomings that are no fault of his own? The practical consequences of the shortcomings remain--you're still stuck putting in extra work and cleaning up the mess--but there's, say, a medical excuse. Thus far this question has been an academic one for me; logistical issues were hardly the only thing keeping me from the men I've dated who suffered from them. But would logistical issues be enough to sink an otherwise worthwhile relationship? And does it matter if those issues are not the person's fault?

An aside: I came downstairs the other morning to have to clean up a bunch of cat poop and cat vomit. The former pissed me off more, because it was deliberate and gratuitous, even though it was very easy to clean up. I thought 'this has got to stop.' I want the vomit to stop, too--that's a huge pain to clean up--and Gracie's on prescription boring food for now. I'd never consider abandoning an animal because she's sick, but for a split-second, the poop made me angry enough to wonder whether it was worth keeping her around. But this isn't about Gracie, whom I'm definitely going to keep, as much as she angers me sometimes. This is about an incredibly weird date I went on the other night.

I went out with this dude the other night who is (allegedly) dyslexic. He was so strange and his dyslexia was so exaggerated that I wondered whether he was making it up to hide something. He implied that he was a native English speaker in spite of his accent-- he told me he'd gotten his accent from the teachers in the international schools all over the world--but I know how accents work; I have studied linguistics and foreign language acquisition academically, and that is not how accents work. So I had to wonder whether the dyslexia, which he mentioned repeatedly, was a deception measure to explain away any indications of his not being a native English speaker.

I'll spare you most of the details and share only the weirdest ones. I'd already regretted agreeing to meet this man the day before our date, but thought how bad could it be. He sent me this super-douchey text, and at the time it didn't register quite how douchey it was (I was walking). He'd asked what I was doing later, and I said I was looking forward to getting back to my book.

Dude: What book? 
Me: 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami). Do you know it? 
Dude: I am; but have not read it yet 
Dude (5 minutes later): I do study Quantum theoretical physics and Chaos/string critical mass and events. It's fun once you learn how to roll with it :)

WTF? At the time, I thought, that's not what the book is about at all (maybe I wasn't far enough in, but now I am, and his comment is neither here nor there). More importantly, that doesn't impress me. I'm Russian; assholes who are good at math are a dime a dozen in my world. But that text--douchiness/condescension apart--doesn't even make sense. "Chaos/string critical mass and events" is not a thing. Even if you try to parse it, none of it makes sense. I'm pretty sure that string theory is very widely discredited at this point, and if he "studied" it, he would know that.  

He texted me the day we were to meet up to ask if I'd like to have dinner as well as going for a walk. I emphatically did not. First of all, I hate dinner dates (early on). You could be sitting across from someone for a very long time with nothing to talk about. It's so much less awkward to be doing something (like walking). I didn't tell him that, though; I told him something else that was true: my week was full of restaurant get-togethers, and I didn't want to add another one. I was getting restauranted-out. I added that, if he wanted to, we could meet later so he'd have time to eat first. But he showed up even earlier than we'd agreed.

Things were already weird--I already wanted to escape--by the time this next thing happened.

Dude: You said you liked Vietnamese food. Are there any Vietnamese restaurants around here?
A.: There's one just up the street.
Dude: You don't say! What would you say if we went there?
A.: Um... I mean, I won't be eating, but if you're very hungry you could get some takeout.
Dude: Okay, then. Lead the way. I didn't really understand what you said about being restauranted out.
[I reiterated what I'd said about being restauranted out.]
Dude: Oh. So what do you do when you're restauranted out like that?
A.: I make my own food [like a normal person. What the fuck do you think I do?]

This really reminded me of RM.

So we go to the restaurant, and instead of ordering takeout, he sits down. In retrospect, I should have said "if this is what we're doing, I'm leaving." But I didn't.

He asks me if there's anything vegetarian on the menu. I point out that there is.

Dude: But it says 'chicken.'
A.: That's fake chicken.

Eventually, his food comes.

Dude: This looks like real chicken.
A.: It is real chicken.
Dude: You said it was fake chicken.
A.: No, [asshole,] I said there was fake chicken on the menu.

Dude: This is so much food. I didn't realize it would come with noodles.

It was under the 'vermicelli' category of the menu.

This conversation was infuriating, but how much shit could I give him for it if he was legitimately dyslexic? I don't know. But I do know that it didn't mitigate the annoyingness of the situation. I knew that even if I'd wanted to, I couldn't date a man who didn't pay attention to details--even if he had dyslexia to blame for it.

Luckily, I was so livid and creeped out by the whole situation that the cause of his other issue was moot; finding myself in a restaurant with him even though that's exactly where I didn't want to be, after I'd made that clear, was a 'Gift of Fear' scenario. He finished eating, we walked back to where he was parked, and I got the f* away from him.

Quick Saturday roundup

I could have told you this, but science and Carolyn say it better: it's not helpful to hound one's child about weight.

A parent’s comments on a daughter’s weight can have repercussions for years afterward, contributing to a young woman’s chronic dissatisfaction with her body – even if she is not overweight.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Brian Wansink, a professor and the director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, characterized the parents’ critical comments as having a “scarring influence.”

No child — no being — deserves such cruelty.
The adult thing for you to do now is to recognize once and for all that your mother is too . . . something — cruel, blind, stunted, angry? — to be trusted with your emotional health and that you have to protect it, nurture it, care for it yourself.
I don't want to pile on with regard to a very unhelpful response to the alligator snatching, but I want to make a point I meant to make (and maybe did) when the Harambe incident happened. And I want to make this point outside the context of race and double standards--which I know was the context (together with the issue of 'compassion fatique')--of the original tweet. My point is to be made from the perspective of someone who is constantly complaining about toddlers and their parents--toddler misbehavior, parental entitlement, unwillingness to set limits, indifference to the damage the kids can do. For example, I was at the library last Saturday and there was a kid riding around in a small tricycle. I was very close to telling him and his dad that if he were to roll over my foot, I wouldn't be the only one in tears. So you know where I stand on parents needing to watch their fucking kids.

But neither of these cases--Harambe or the alligator--was an issue of parental negligence. One was an issue of kids will wander off and you can't keep an eye on them ever single second, and the other was an issue of shit happens. Let's not blame the parents for either of these. Let's save parental blame for the parents who, for example, in some way place firearms where their kids can access them. That's parental negligence.

Also, no one is defending the offending tweet--in context or out of context. It was a super shitty thing to say. And the fact that people tweet worst things--death threats, personal attacks, images of gas chambers--isn't really the point for someone whose tweets don't fit in that category (though that point is directed toward the people who called it the worst tweet ever with no sense of perspective, since they don't get the hatred that women, POC, etc. regularly do). The lesson is that Twitter is a public forum and not the best place for stream-of-consciousness, when that stream can go horribly wrong. You can't have it both ways--i.e., Justine Sacco deserves eternal scorn and this woman doesn't--when both have apologized and seen the error of their tweets. Let's all take less pleasure in other people's downfall.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

First-world problems

Camille and I sat in Jacinta and Rosendo's kitchen, separately thinking the same thought--the only thought one could possibly think under the circumstances--as we watched them make our dinner: "let me never again complain about being overworked." They were making dinner entirely by hand--not a single gadget or tool--after having farmed all day. Jacinta and Maruja (the guide) quickly sliced potatoes by hand more thinly than I could have with any machine or tool. The Guinea pigs on the ground squealed and fought over bean poles.

I remember that night so clearly, and probably always will. The walk to their home from the potato fields was breathtakingly beautiful: mountains surrounding fields of lima beans, barley, and multicolor quinoa. At night, as we walked past the animals chilling in the 'yard', the stars were stunning.

I thought about them a lot this week--and my pledge from that night--as I ran my washing machine and dishwasher over and over and over again. By first-world standards, it was an exhausting week: I discovered signs of pests on the cat and on some furniture, so I washed all the sheets and furniture covers out of precaution (and sprayed the furniture, and medicated the cat). Mine is a small washing machine; my mattress pad alone made a full load. I'm now running my fourth or fifth load this week. Also, we had our picnic at work, for which I marinate and transport a quantity of vegetables that uses all of the glassware and plasticware in my house. That's a lot of loading and unloading the dishwasher.

I've washed clothes by hand over a washboard (when I was in Nicaragua), and it sucked and I sucked at it. I've certainly lived without a dishwasher, and I've certainly had more punishing and less flexible work schedules and commutes. So even by first-world standards, "I'm so tired, I had to run the washing machine and dishwasher multiple times and had the ample vacation time to leave work early to do it," doesn't inspire any self-pity. But I'm still tired.

Driving is the other thing I did a lot of this week, and it's not my favorite thing to do. The morning after our dinner in the village, Camille and I were whisked off to the start of the Inca trail and Maruja would take a series of buses for more than two hours to get back to Cusco. During the hike, I was generally mindful around the guide about not flaunting our lifestyles in his face, but at one point--and we were both aware of how it sounded--Camille and I broke into a conversation about what a nightmare it is to get in and out of the parking lot at Total Wine. It came about in a very reasonable way: he asked about South American food in the US and I told him about the Bolivian markets in the area and added that there was a big pan-Latin market right by Camille (but I never go there because the area is a traffic nightmare). It's a nightmare that our guides could only dream of, compared to their reality is closer to standing-room-only buses.

I thought about our friends in Peru as I grudgingly got in my car yesterday for my two car errands, both of which could only be done on a Saturday and were better done first thing in the morning (this was the first Saturday morning since I've been back that I could do them). I went to get mulch from the city mulch lot and drive to shirlington for an emissions inspection. It took an hour but I sat in the dog park and read 1Q84 and thought about how insanely upper-middle class everyone around me looked. Where were these people in the Schwab survey, I wondered? Did these dogs know how good they had it, compared to their scroungy brethren in Peru?

I hope I always think of them--our friends in Peru--not as a shaming mechanism on myself nor as forced gratitude; I don't need that because I come by it honestly. I care about them. I still think of Veronica, the girl at the lunch counter at the market where I'd have  lunch sometimes in Nicaragua. She must be nearing 30 now. I hope she's doing well.

Sunday roundup

Nothing to post about the Orlando shooting, because what can you say.

A Vietnamese fishing town suffers from underregulation and deference to industry.

Trump on California's drought.

This whole Brock family (and their friends) is amazing... at not understanding ownership and responsibility. We've already heard from the "20 minutes of action" dad--but do read John Pavlovitz's response to him--and let's go to the grandparents:
Brock is the only person being held accountable for the actions of other irresponsible adults.

and the mom, who doesn't even feel like decorating anymore:
"Why him? Why HIM? WHY? WHY?’
Um because he raped a woman. What about that do you not understand? He's the one who had agency in this crime.

I wanted to write more about some of the reactions to Hillary Clinton's nomination, but I'm out of steam, so I'll defer to Sam Bee for now. You don't have to like her or agree with her politics to roll your eyes at dudes on Twitter (and IRL) saying 'I don't see what the big deal is.'

Best headline ever?

The placebo effect is real.

Some parents are not okay with their kids' swim instructor showing any skin.

Dating SUCKS.

Red-pillers are confused about women, but so are many marketers.

Dr. Nerdlove on healing after heartbreak.

Carolyn says it all (though a letter-writer helps):
[The secret is] knowing the difference between an argument and a fight. Arguing involves strong disagreement. After all, Mark Twain said that if two people agree about everything, one of them isn’t necessary. The intent is resolution. Fighting involves nastiness, name-calling, button-pushing. The intent is victory.
[Carolyn]: Excellent, thanks. Even “arguing” (strong disagreement) doesn’t have to involve “arguing” (raised voices). Not that there’s anything wrong with the occasional raised voices. There’s just no required level of conflict to qualify a relationship as good or healthy. It’s the transparency, not the volume, that counts.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Thursday ramble

I was thinking more about (emotional) safety. The first time I heard the word 'safety' used in that sense was at a professional training session on managing conflict. It pertained to the first step in having a difficult conversation: make it safe. It made intuitive sense, but it's hard to pinpoint what safe means in that context. In my last ramble, it meant going into a conversation trusting that you'd be listened to and heard--that you wouldn't be judged and that your words wouldn't be used against you.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Saturday ramble

You've heard me go on and on and on about gifts--how graciousness is generally good, but sometimes problematic. Sometimes=when the gift is inappropriate, not when you merely dislike it. It can be inappropriate because it is too intense, intimate, or expensive in proportion to one's relationship with the giver, (and/)or it could be inappropriate because of overt intent or hidden undertones--whether it's an expectation of quid pro quo, or an attempt to influence the recipient in an unwanted way. It could be a combination of all of the above. I've received gifts from men that are inappropriate because they were given after I explicitly told these men to stop giving me gifts, and in those cases I mustered the courage to overcome the expectation of graciousness. My mother, in her more functional days, often tried to push gifts on me--clothes, furniture--that I did not want or have room for, and they were inappropriate because there was an element of control: she, not I, would decide what I wore and how I furnished my house. And how much money would be spent on those things. Oh, the pushback when I bought a new suit for a job interview, when I could have gone to Goodwill! And--just as when I mentioned in passing that I was getting a (paid) haircut--who did I think I was? I was, am someone who, unlike my mother, leaves the house and interacts with people professionally and socially, and has a lot of hair. I invest in a decent haircut, or I have to deal with my hair every day. My well-meaning friend (WMF) once said something similar: "I would never spend that much money on a haircut." 

But I digress. I'm here (partly) because my WMF just gave me, not for the first time, some thrift-shop finds that were a bit small for her. Now, I have no problem with thift shops; I shop at them myself. And I had no problem the first time she did this, but now that it's becoming a habit, I want to discourage it (and I think my lack of graciousness may have done the trick). I don't want her to buy stuff thinking that if it's too small, she can just give it to me. I don't want to deal with it. I don't want or need other people to buy me clothes. Clothes are a personal thing--they have to work for you, as I often told my mother as she tried to convince that whatever item of clothing she was pushing on me was very in-style. It doesn't matter if something is the trendiest thing ever; if it doesn't fit your body or your personality, don't wear it.

As with mom's gifts of furniture, these were items I was unwilling to pretend I wanted. I didn't want WMF asking after them (i.e., was I wearing them) and I certainly didn't have room for them in my closets and drawers. We eventually got to 'okay, well then give them back to Goodwill,' but not before WMF tried to convince me that this cardigan would look perfect over a black dress. Because I'm a terrible person, I bitched to two mutual friends about having to fight off these gifts. Both not only agreed that the items were unattractive and not me, but appreciated my frustration with WMF, even as she meant well. I told Camille about WMF's over-a-dress idea.

A.: The whole reason I wear dresses is so I don't have to match clothes. I don't want to wear anything over my dresses. I want to put on a single thing and go.
Camille: You sure do. [Shaking her head.] She doesn't know you very well at all.

Quick Saturday roundup

A judge gave a rapist a very light sentence so as not to impact his life, because it's not like there's a victim in all this. See more 'boys will be boys' BS here.
Feminism doesn't care about your make-up. And men, also, agonize over grooming and such:
An equitable division of labor isn't quantified linearly.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Wednesday roundup

There goes the Turkish model.

How to write about Russia without sounding like an ignorant ass.

Being close to individual people of an ethnic group doesn't preclude you from hatred against that ethnic group.

NYC ice cream truckers don't f* around.

Alpha and beta males are not a thing.

Some words are already adverbs.

A podcast about letting go and facing reality.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Follow-up ramble

I'd wanted to see Machu Picchu since I first learned about it decades ago. It was twenty some years ago, according to our guide, that the tourism really picked up. I asked the guide whether the uptick had been, on balance, good or bad for the local community. He said it was, emphatically, good. That said, people in Cusco--including those that benefitted from the influx in tourism--said that the rising prices were hard to keep up with for the locals.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

I'm back (a ramble), or Peru

"We don't have to go to Machu Picchu now," Camille said at Ollantaytambo, on our first full day in Peru.


At the Ollantaytambo ruins
Ollanta--as the locals call it--was stunningly beautiful, as was the rest of the Sacred Valley, which we'd visit over the next few days as we acclimated to the altitude and awaited our lost luggage before starting the Inca Trail. There was beauty everywhere we looked. Just when I thought I was ruined out, the next set of ruins (and the surrounding countryside) blew my mind.

Before I go on, note the two travel lessons/tips implied above: always allow a few days for delayed arrival and lost luggage, if you have to check it at all (and when you're lugging trekking poles and a sleeping bag, there's no way around it), and don't skimp on the Sacred Valley in a race to Machu Picchu. Oh, and have enough stuff in your carry-on to get you through those first few days--clothes, sunblock, etc. There was a couple on our same set of flights--on the initial flight to Miami that was delayed (for administrative and then mechanical reasons) just enough for us to miss our connecting flight to Lima, and then on the flights to Bogoto and then Lima on which we (but not our luggage) were rerouted. They had a day or two before they headed to MP (mind you, they were taking the train), and we don't know whether they got their bags in time.

We were all lucky many times over to get to Cusco the same day we'd planned (if late in the evening, not first thing in the morning as planned). All of the airport staff, at every airport, was very helpful in getting us there. The best decision we made--another lesson--was to pay a little bit more to get our outgoing ticket all the way through to Cusco, rather than buying it separately, so they'd rebook us when we missed the original flight. Of course, we barely made the last flight from Lima to Cusco--while we were filling out our lost-luggage claims at the Avianca counter in Lima, we'd missed the check-in window for Cusco. But a kind LAN employee at the counter made some calls and told us to run, and we did. We got to security, where some dude was slowly working something out with the security guy about his laptop. We asked if we could go ahead; the dude's wife pointed to the space on the conveyer belt behind their bags, saying we could go ahead there, but the annoyed security guy waved us through, and on we went. We were perfectly on time for the gate--or rather the bus for the gate--but they have rules about how soon you have to check in. Had we gotten stuck in Lima, nobody would have owed us a hotel (American had paid for ours in Miami the night of that first missed connection), and we would have lost even more time in transit. But enough about logistics; we made it, and we were grateful.

We got to Cusco late and luggageless, but we were greeted by a bowl of coca leaves in the arrivals area. I asked someone how much we should expect to pay for a cab into town, and she suggested we step outside the airport gate to pay half to a third of the price, so we did. Except that the cab driver started begging for more practically the minute he drove off with us, and took us by way of the Ganges to make a point.

If you're thinking, 'but he's so poor and you're not,' that is not relevant to the matter at hand. He's a cab driver, not a charity case, and cab rides aren't paid on a sliding scale. Furthermore--and especially--it's damaging to a local population for tourists to pay more for cabs, as drivers start to favor them at the expense of locals. As the begging and pleading continued, I realized I'd have to get change, as I'd never get back any of the 100 soles' bills ($30) I got out of the ATM. When the dude finally found our hotel, the very helpful receptionist did not have change for a hundred but did loan me a S20 (more than we'd agreed to pay, but little enough to get us out of a trap) for the driver.

The hotel staff continued to be incredibly helpful--calling after our luggage, getting us ice for Camille's swollen knees and hot water bottles for our tired legs, and generally looking out for us. It wasn't the highest-end of places, but the service was impeccable. In the reception room was a hot water dispenser and--you guessed it--a big bowl of coca leaves.

Chinchero market (vendor's daughter, taken with permission)
I had no trouble at all with altitude (nor did Camille, but she'd taken altitude meds). Cusco is at just over 11,000 feet (11,152' if you must know) and a couple of spots in the Sacred Valley are higher (Chinchero is at 12,343').

The highest point on the Inca Trail, Dead Woman's Pass, is at 13,828'; I probably felt the altitude, but I can't tell you for sure because I was busy feeling just having climbed a gazillion steep steps.
Dead-Woman's Pass, where it's too cloudy to see anything

I ended up hiking the four-day Inca Trail in three days, under disappointing circumstances that nonetheless worked out as best they could. A couple of days before the trek, Camille learned that her knee problems were worse than she'd known. She had trained for the trek through exercise, but not hiking, and our third day of hiking in the Sacred Valley--at the very steep Pisac ruins--hurt her knees badly.

Pisac, at a point after some particuarly steep steps

The second and third days will kick your ass and your knees. Luckily for us, it was just the two of us in our group, so she was able to complete the first day of the trek--she's a trooper--and come down to Ollanta with one of the porters before the trail got real, from which she took the train to Aguas Calientes from there, where we met up with her the third night to get the bus to MP the next day.
The first day (11km) isn't easy, but it's not super-challenging. So it was just me and the guide after the first day (the porters/cooks run ahead and meet you at the lunch spots and campsites). On the first day, the guide predicted from my pace that I'd complete the trail in three days. On the second day, we made it to where we would have camped that night, by lunchtime, and kept going through the hardest part of of the third day, to camp at Chakicocha. That left a beautiful, relatively leisurely actual third day (in which we also completed the short fourth day and got to the Sun Gate around 4:30).
Almost there

I wasn't in pain until we walked from MP to Aguas Calientes--all downhill. My knees were feeling it at the end of the second day and again upon arrival in Aguas, which I suppose is understandable (knee braces were a goodsend, as were trekking poles).

I loved, loved the trail and sort-of missed it, but I didn't miss the cold (of the second campsite, which was below freezing) or the lack of plumbing.

I love camping, and I had a warm enough sleeping bag and enough layers to keep me warm outside of it, but the confluence of circumstances was such that I was ready to get inside.
Our campsite was at about the same level as these glaciers
I found out later that the whole campsite was kept up that night by a group of drunk porters (I was too tired to be kept up, until I woke up in the middle of the night and heard something, but was kept up by other things anyway). Such as my stomach; nothing I ate in Peru--not a thing--agreed with me. This doesn't make for comfortable camping. Happy Cow failed me for the first time in my travels; the places it recommended were closed, either permanently or for renovation. I've not had so much crap--processed, sugary food; eggs and cheese; etc. in years. Some days the healthiest things I ate were the granola bars I brought. I don't love subsisting on granola bars, but it's better than changing plans because you're starving. The food on the trek was very good, but my dietary restriction got lost in the fine print. Before you start with 'why should they...' note that they advertize that they accommodate dietary restrictions, and they included mine on the contract. It's one thing to clearly state that there's one kind of food and you'll be eating it, and another to claim to accommodate dietary restrictions and not do so. Peruvian food is pretty plant-based as it is, so I was okay and I didn't want to get anyone in trouble, but it was, as I said, a lot of eggs and cheese. I couldn't wait to get back to being vegan.

The guide asked me what the issue was with eggs and cheese. I told him that in the United States, at least, those were generally the product of the factory farming system that destroys the planet and kills animals in the process of extracting their products--eg., kills the calfs to get the cow's milk and kills the male chicks that don't yield eggs. One reason--besides necessity--I had fewer issues with consuming eggs and dairy in Peru was that the chickens were free-roaming and calfs grew into the bulls that helped with the farming. He acknowledged my perspective, but insisted that I needed animal products for nutrition. I pointed out that I'd just trekked the Inca Trail in three days, so did he have any reason to think I was lacking in nutrients?
Vegan ceviche
Our porters were not drunk; they were awesome. We (I) picked the trekking company in part based on the fact that they were indigenous-owned and managed, and treated their porters well. The night before the trek, we stayed in the village of the lead porter. We walked past fields of quinoa and barley to "help" him and his wife harvest potatoes; we had appetizers (roasted potatoes and lima beans) in an oven he made in the ground in the potato field (pachamanca, or earth oven), and then met them back at their place for dinner.

Senor Condor, tossing potatoes onto a blanket

The pachamanka

We got a head start, as they were faster in spite of also having to take their animals back. I wish I'd gotten a picture of all the helper animals--both along the walk, and chilling in their 'yard' as we left for the night--but it was getting dark by then. At their house, they served us dinner--the best quinoa soup ever, among other things. Guinea pigs scurried around the floor and fought over the beanpoles, and screeched. They sliced potatoes by hand in smaller, neater slices than I could ever make by machine or other tool. Someone else from the village came in to play harp, and we danced. When we stepped out, it was pitch black and the stars were intense and amazing--as they were throughout the trail. At the second night's camping spot, with a new moon, you can see the whole milky way. As it were, venus shone very brightly.

We stayed in a room with bunk beds, in a small complex owned by the owner of the trekking company, which gives back to the community. Their kitten made friends with me, and attacked my sleeping bag as I tried to roll it up. We had breakfast in the room where they built a school for the village. The farmers work non-stop (can you imagine farming, and moonlighting as a porter?), and there's no social safety net so they work their whole lives. 

I often forget that I speak Spanish, and I didn't realize before the trip how much it would help--but it really helped. We would have gotten by without it, but we not only got by better, but enjoyed being able to talk to people because of it. I tried to learn a few words and phrases in Quechua--the language that the porters and guides spoke to each other--and came away with two: "ayiyanchi" (hello) and "sulpaki" (thank you), apart from place names. At one point, I repeated after our guide a prayer to mother earth, as I placed a stone as an offering at Runkuraqay (one of the ruins along the trail).

Our guide had a small tablet, which he used as a visual aid for explanation, and also for entertainment. The first night, he showed us a video of his son dancing at an event, and the second night he played music. He played "Sound of Silence" and asked me what 'neon' meant; he had actually looked up 'the neon god' but couldn't find anything. I explained 'neon' the gas and 'neon god' the metaphor, at least as I understood it and could best explain it, as a shallow, false idol.

To get around the Sacred Valley, we took collectivos--minibuses that leave when they fill up--and had no regrets about not paying a private driver.
Random alpacas along the road

We did pay a driver at the turnoff for Maras (where the collectivo dropped us) to take us to Moray

The salineras (yes, that is salt!)
and the Salineras, and even then were horrified when he tried to impose a time limit on our exploring. And we decided to go on a bus tour of the Valle Sur, which was worth it--not least because I hardly saw a bus, collectivo, or cab in the area--but reinforced that we'd made the right decision in the other places. We had a small amount of time to explore in both Tipon and Pikillacta, but I was fast enough to make the most of it. At Pikillacta--where the ruins are Wari, i.e., pre-Inca--I walked to the far part of the ruins that none of the rest of the group ventured to, and it wasn't to be missed. I had to run back to the bus, but it was worth it.
Valle Sur (from Tipon)

The Inca, too, were conquistadores, our (Inca Trail) guide reminded us; other indigenous groups allied with the Spanish against them, which contributed to the quick collapse of the Inca empire just a couple of years after the Spanish arrived. I'm not sure that made me any less angry about its destruction; you can't walk around the Sacred Valley without wondering (rhetorically) who thought it was a good idea to destroy the Inca civilization. We're all lucky the Spanish never found Machu Picchu, or there would no longer be a Machu Picchu just as there is no longer a Vilcabamba.


We're very lucky, because look at Machu Picchu.
Can you see the Inca face?

Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu (that's right--I'm on the nose of the Inca face!)

That's all for now; maybe more later.

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