Pandemics, Baseball, dealing with Racism, and July the 7th

This story was originally posted on July 7th, 2020, with the last few paragraphs added on July 7, 2022 to compare changes over the last two years.

July 8, 2020

What is the common thread between global pandemics, baseball, the historical and contemporary problems with racism in our country and July the 7th? At first glance, they might seem not to be connected. At age 63 I finally just recently discovered how intertwined they really are.

The most recent July 7 passed us just last week. It may not mean much to most readers, but it was my Dad’s birthday. Had he still been with us, he would have celebrated his 102nd birthday. Dad loved baseball, and he passed on his love of the game to me. It is typically close to the date of the annual All-Star break, the mid-season classic pitting the best players from the National and American leagues against each other. However, due to Covid-19, there is no baseball being played at the moment.

The 1918 Spanish Flu

Dad was born in July of 1918, during the Spanish flu pandemic that took over 40 million lives. After flattening the curve during the summer, the flu’s second wave came with a vengeance. One of the casualties was his mother; my grandmother, Mary. She died in November of that year. Dad was the youngest of 5 children, so he was too young to have any memory of his mother. His father Owen, who was a riveter who built bridges, was lost as to how to work and take care of 5 children. His brother Tom, took in the whole family without hesitation. My middle name is Thomas, named after Dad’s uncle.

Baseball

Dad grew up during the depression. He briefly played semi-pro ball. He was a sergeant in the infantry during WWII, earning a Purple Heart Medal, a European African Middle Eastern campaign Medal, a Distinguished Unit Badge, a Bronze Star Medal and a Silver Star Medal. He was reticent to relate to me much about the war.   Most of what I learned about the war from him was from his military records and written accounts of the history of the 337th regiment of the 85th Infantry Division (The Custer Division). He had always dreamed of playing professional baseball, but life got in the way of his dream. After the war, he returned home to work and make a living. He had only a high school diploma, but through hard work, made a decent, honest living in the restaurant business. Due to long hours, he was often absent from the home. Even so, much of the free time he had, he spent teaching me about the game he loved. Many of the fond memories that we had together had to do with that sport.

As a young boy in the sixties, we attended many baseball games on the weekends. Living only 43 miles from New York City, we attended mostly Mets games. In 1964, Dad made a financial sacrifice and bought tickets to the World Series to see the other New York team (The Yankees); a special treat! We saw a thrilling game four, where the Yankees beat the St. Louis Cardinals 2-1 on a 9th inning home run by Mickey Mantle. Everyone stood up as soon as Mickey connected, as he drove a mammoth home run into the upper deck of old Yankee stadium off of knuckleball reliever Barney Schultz. I was too short to see it, even after Dad picked me up to see above the crowd. Thankfully, in those days fans were allowed on the field after the game. We visited the monuments in the deepest part of center field (463 ft. from home plate) of the great players of years gone by. We then stood at home plate and Dad pointed out where Mickey’s homer landed in the upper deck of right field. It was so far away, that I couldn’t even imagine shooting a cannon that far. Although I was already a novice fan, that day sealed it for me. I became a real baseball aficionado from that moment on.

My favorite players were National league players, since the Mets were a National league team. Hank Aaron of the Braves and Roberto Clemente of the Pirates were two of my favorite players. I had huge posters of them displayed in my bedroom.

Hank Aaron

I also followed two players from the St. Louis Cardinals; Lou Brock and Curt Flood. All four of these players were players of color. That was never an issue for me, because of how Mom and Dad raised us. Being just a kid, I didn’t know about racial inequality back then. I never heard Dad use the N word, but I did hear other people use it back then. I didn’t understand why people would look at somebody differently just because of the color of their skin. However, the 1960s was a tumultuous decade in the history of race relations. 1964, the year that I saw my first World Series game, was the year that the Civil Rights Act was passed. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed Congress the following year. A few years later, Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. Race riots were prevalent, and the Vietnam War was ramping up….truly a time of turmoil in our country.

Notable Players of Color

Players of color during that era had additional hurdles to overcome.  The Civil Rights Act didn’t solve the racial inequities in our country.  Curt Flood, the Cardinals center fielder, led the league in hits in that 1964 season. He was an exceptional center fielder, possessing a strong throwing arm, and his speed made him a threat to steal a base at any time. In 1969, Flood was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, against his wishes. The Free Agency of today did not exist at the time. Players were not free to sign with another team or negotiate contracts with other teams on their own. Due to what is called the “Reserve Clause”, players were limited to one team per lifetime. Management essentially owned the rights to players, and players were traded when a deal was made between the management of two teams. Players were essentially “owned” by their teams. This suppressed player salaries and conferred all the power to team owners.  Flood had completed his contract with the Cardinals and been a longtime league member, so he petitioned the league for free agency. The baseball commissioner denied his request. He filed a lawsuit against the league. Rather than move his family to a new city where he didn’t want to live, Flood sat out the 1970 season. He paid a big price to assert his freedom. He became a pariah. Curt Flood received hate mail from fans and was basically blackballed by the league, prematurely ending his stellar career. I wonder, “How would history have looked different if he wasn’t African-American?”  Just a few years later, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, both pitchers who were white, won an arbitration ruling which opened the door to free agency.   That decision that would change the game forever.  Flood’s memoir was titled, “The Way it Is.”  Curt Flood died in 1997, but lived long enough to see the anti-trust legislation “Baseball Fans and Communities Act of 1997” passed, which in part was based on his experience.

Curt Flood

These were some of the role models of my youth. For readers younger than me, these names and the people behind them have faded in memory or are non-existent. Each generation has their sports icons. I knew only a few of the big names in baseball before my time….Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Jimmy Foxx, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Honus Wagner, and Nap Lajoie to name a few. Most of them played before the league was racially integrated. The only black player we knew of from history was Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in the 1940s.

A Hall of Fame Pitcher

I asked Dad about who he idolized as a baseball player when he was young. Dad was real keen on picking out talented players. We watched a Mets game in 1968 where a young pitcher named Nolan Ryan took the mound. He was a hard thrower, but often wild. I remember Dad telling me, “Mick, keep an eye on this kid. He’s a flamethrower and he will be in the Hall of Fame one day…Mark my words!” I didn’t see what he saw, so I shrugged it off. Seven no-hitters later, he holds the all-time record for strikeouts and was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1999.  His long career lasted 27 seasons.  He is one of only three players in history to have his number retired by three different teams.   Dad’s words were indeed prophetic.

The Negro Leagues

Of all of the players Dad idolized, one name I hadn’t heard before. His favorite pitcher of all time was Leroy Satchel Paige. I had never heard of him as a kid. Paige, arguably THE greatest pitcher of all time, played in his prime during the 1930s and 1940s. He wasn’t as famous because he played in the Negro leagues, before baseball was integrated. Dad actually told me that he batted against him once. I wondered if the story was truth or fiction, but each time I heard the story, the facts were told with consistency. The story never deviated from one time to the next. I don’t know the exact year that this occurred, but after doing some research. I pinned down the possible encounter to circa 1936.

I asked, “Dad, why were you playing against Negro league teams?” He replied, “It was customary for those teams to barnstorm and pickup games outside of league whenever they could.” His first-hand account of facing the greatest pitcher of all time was intriguing, but also funny. Dad would have been a young 18 years old, just out of high school. Paige, as he recounted it, was much older and already an established seasoned pitcher.

Young Mike stepped up the the plate and dug in. Satchel Paige had a wide grin on his face, and he seemed to chuckle as Dad stepped up to the plate. The first time a batter faces a new pitcher, he usually doesn’t swing at the first pitch. It’s good to see how they throw; to see what kind of pitches they have, and to get your timing down. If it ends up being a strike, no big deal….it takes three of them to get you out. Paige went into the windup and zipped a fastball down the middle of the plate….STRIKE ONE!

Dad recounted how awed he was by the first pitch. ” It came in so fast, it looked like a frozen pea shot out of a rifle”, he said. They didn’t have radar guns back then, but I imagine that Paige would have clocked triple digits on the radar gun. “Okay, dig in and get ready for the next pitch”, he told himself.   The second one came in faster than the first. “This one looked like a bb, even smaller than a pea,” he recounted. No time to even swing.  Could it be that the first pitch wasn’t even his best stuff? “STRIKE TWO”, yelled the umpire.

Now the count was 0-2. Dad choked up on the bat to get ready for the next pitch. If he was to go down, it would be swinging. Still grinning widely, Paige started his windup. Dad now had his timing down and would be ready for the fast one. The third pitch, also a fastball, was much lower and looked outside. “STRIKE THREE”, yelled the umpire, as Paige did what we call “painting the outside corner.” Pinpoint accuracy is even more important than speed for a pitcher, and Paige was a master of it. It was good morning, good afternoon, and good night for young Mike in three successive pitches.

I can imagine Dad walking slowly back to the dugout, feeling somewhat embarrassed by his non-performance. As he walked back to the dugout, he glanced back at the pitcher. His feeling of embarrassment melted away and a feeling of admiration came over him for being able to observe greatness first-hand. There was no shame in a mere mortal being shown up by a legend.  As he glanced back toward the pitcher, Paige was looking back at him and still grinning widely. Was he just proud of his strikeout, or did he secretly know that he had changed a young man’s life by infusing him with an indelible memory that would last a lifetime? Or, did he somehow know that it would influence that man’s son, who would write about this moment over 80 years in the future?

Later Dad confessed that TECHNICALLY he really didn’t bat against Satchel Paige, citing that the bat never left his shoulder. But he really did face him and stood in the batters box and watched him. And since later on I found that Dad was good about picking out baseball talent, I believed his story. Recently, I did some digging through history to find out more about this legend of my Dad’s youth.

Leroy “Satchel” Paige of the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues

Leroy “Satchel” Paige was born in 1906, making him 12 years older than Dad. Oh, and did I mention that his birthday was July 7, just like Dad’s? This had to be more than a mere coincidence. Paige started his career with the Chattanooga Black Lookouts, but was more famous for wearing the jersey of the Kansas City Monarchs.   Some first-hand account stories about him mention that he sometimes told all of his infielders to sit down during an inning, where he then proceeded to strike out the side in order.  Unlike modern day pitchers who only pitch every fourth day, Paige pitched every day.  His longevity and stamina were amazing.  Most pitchers are done by age thirty-five, but Paige pitched regularly until he was almost fifty years old, and part-time until he was almost 60! Once Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in MLB, Paige became the oldest rookie ever, when the Cleveland Indians signed him at age 42.  He signed a one game contract with the Kansas City Athletics in 1965 and pitched three scoreless innings at the ripe old age of 59.   His biography,  a book titled “Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever”, was published in 1975.  Much of his story recounts the poverty of his early days and the racial discrimination that he faced. He stated, “The only change is that baseball has turned me from a second-class citizen to a second-class immortal.” Sad that he felt that way, but true, especially during the racial attitudes of that time. He was born in Mobile, AL and lived through the Jim Crow era. But through all of it, he was also known for his humorous outlook on life and was the author of many other famous quotes. One of my favorites is “Just take the ball and throw it where you want to. Throw Strikes. Home plate don’t move.” Another one was, “Age is just a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”

The Negro League Baseball Museum is located in Kansas City, Missouri. It is the equivalent of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. You could go there and learn about Satchel Paige and all of the other stars you might not have heard of; Josh Gibson, Norman “Turkey” Stearns, J.L. Wilkerson, Hilton Smith, and Buck O’Neil to name a few. Any time you are in that part of the country, you should go see it. I just found out that a dear friend of mine from my high school era in New Jersey just retired and moved to KC to be closer to her daughter. Besides going to see the Royals play in their home park at Truman Sports Complex, I’ll have two more reasons to visit KC now.

Spring 2020

Fast forward to the year 2020. We are in another pandemic. That pandemic has exposed the fault lines of racial inequality in our society. People of color experience a disproportionate percentage of cases of Covid-19 and they suffer the highest mortality rates. Economic inequality forces overcrowding of living quarters. Many of these people are poorly paid workers performing the needed services that society needs, so they don’t have the luxury of working from a computer at home. There is a large health disparity gap in our country which highly correlates with demographic type. Add to that the recent killings by police of African Americans such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rashard Brooks, and Ahmaud Arbery. These are just the most recent tragedies. Add that to the long history of oppression and you have masses protesting in the streets for justice. It doesn’t seem like we’ve come that far since Satchel’s time.

The pandemic has been a catalyst to expose the inequalities in the U.S. and allowed outrage to be felt by more than just communities of color. BLM marches now include lots of Caucasians. White people are beginning to wake up and see things as they are and not just how they imagine them to be. Things just might be beginning to change.

This past July 7th got me to look through old pictures, documents and some of Dad’s belongings he left to me. Reminiscing about our experiences led me to do more research and find another connection to Satchel Paige and connect the past with the present. Since July 7th, just a few days ago, the Washington Redskins Football team finally acquiesced to a name change. Even if it was not out of the goodness of their heart, but owed to caving to political and economic pressure, it is still a change in the right direction. We still have a long way to go, but even in the darkness that we are experiencing in 2020, I have some hope that we may still work toward a more perfect union. 2020 is also the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Negro Leagues in Baseball. We need to remember our history, both good and bad, so that we can move forward.

I’m really looking forward to July 2021. Hopefully, we’ll have a vaccine by then and can get back to some sense of normalcy. I’d certainly like to see baseball again. On the fourth, I will celebrate INTERDEPENDENCE DAY, realizing that we all need one another. And, on the 7th I will wish Mike McCann and Satchel Paige happy birthdays. And I will remember ….and compare if there are any small changes, and hope that we’ve moved the needle a bit forward toward a better society.

July 7, 2022– Two Years Later

Two years have passed since this first post. Thankfully, baseball is back again and I’ve seen a couple of games in person in 2021, taking in a Padres game in May 2021 and an Angels game in July 2021. And, my beloved Atlanta Braves won the World Series last fall after a 26 year drought. The Washington Football team has changed its name from the Redskins to the Commanders. Yes, we do have vaccines for Covid-19 now, and I got two doses and a booster. We are not out of the woods yet with the pandemic, but we are not subject to the lockdowns that we had during the early stages of the pandemic.

However, the other pandemic of racism still seems alive and well and we still do not have a vaccine for it. Dad would have celebrated his 104th birthday today. Had he lived that long he would not recognize the country that he fought for in the War. A lifelong Republican, but one with a with a social conscience, he would not be able to comprehend what his political party has metamorphosed into. Although I still miss him, I am exceedingly grateful that he was not here to witness the insurrection attempt on January 6, 2021.

Two years after the George Floyd murder shows an even more divided country politically than it was in 2020. Congressional districts redrawn in 2020 are further gerrymandered. The Senate failed to pass the Freedom to vote act of 2021 which was approved by the House of Representatives which was written to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In many states with Republican-controlled legislatures are passing or have already passed bills that make it harder to vote, and seemed aimed at deterring racial minorities from voting. At the same time, there is a rising tide of White Nationalism rearing its ugly head in our country. Racial tensions are the highest they have been since the 1960s.

The study of Racism and Geography has been around for more than four decades, as has been Critical Race Theory. Only in the last few years have the cries against it been so loud. Most folks don’t understand what it really is. Sociologists use it to explain social, political and legal structures and power distribution through the lens of race. Among other things, they study differences in incarceration rates and how sentencing differs among racial groups in the U.S. They not only study the racist behavior of individuals, but also how systems may perpetuate racism. They use statistics to do this. Geographers on the other hand, map inequalities where they occur spatially and correlate geographical distribution with other societal factors. How would one explain that the mortality rate for women in childbirth is 3 times more for African-American women in the USA than it is for Caucasian women?

Some view CRT as divisive, saying it makes white kids feel guilty for things that happened in the past. But it is not about that. Unless we understand our WHOLE history, how can we ever learn from any past mistakes? There are two ways to look at how race is or is not taught in our schools. Which one of the below methods would you choose for your child’s education?

It seems like we have taken one step forward and two steps backward these last two years. State legislatures like Texas, Florida, Wisconsin and many others are passing bills into law that change the way educators can teach about the history of slavery, with some threatening teachers to be fired if they teach about the 1619 project. And it is not just the legislatures. Look at the news where there are fisticuffs at school board meetings about how history or political science can or cannot be taught when referring to anything to do with race. Florida’s governor DeSantis signed the “Stop Woke Act” which regulates what schools (including Higher Education) can teach regarding race and identity. The White Nationalist movement has seen large gains in the populace since the start of the pandemic.

Map of states banning CRT (ABC News)

Hate speech is on the rise, not only against minorities but against scientists. Recently, Senator Ted Cruz went after Elmo on Sesame Street on Twitter because Elmo supported getting a Covid-19 vaccine. Ideology trumps facts. It used to be said that “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Nowadays, it’s more like “I’ll see it IF I believe it.” Now, it seems like we can’t even agree on what a fact is.

The new activist Supreme Court of the United States recently overturned precedents upheld in 2003 and reaffirmed in 2016 on the consideration of race in college admissions to achieve diversity. Meritocracy is a great thing, but only if everyone starts out with an equal chance of a successful outcome. We are a long way from that.

Recently, Ibram X. Kendi spoke about anti-racism on Stephen Colbert’s show (6/30/22). He reminded us that it is not black vs. white, as many white abolitionists fought for freedom from slavery for black people. He asked the question, “Why don’t we let white kids identify with white abolitionists instead of white supremacists when talking about race?” We have to change the nature of the conversation. Or better yet, begin to have one as a nation, and do it without shouting so much.

Since 2020, the pandemic has caused a huge mismatch between supply and demand, which helped fuel inflation and further exacerbate the inequality in our nation. For those who are interested, I would recommend researching the “MAPPING INEQUALITY PROJECT ON REDLINING”, by both Virginia Tech University and by University of Richmond. The maps are interesting to say the least. https://dsl.richmond.edu

We have a choice. If the republic as we know it is to end, what comes afterwards? Will it be Autocracy, Fascism, Civil War, or Chaos? OR…..will we work together to keep a republic where the welfare of all citizens and inhabitants are considered?

I hope that next July 4th we can still celebrate both Independence Day and Inter-dependence Day. I also pray that both Satchel Paige and Michael B. McCann can look down on us the next July 7th and celebrate their birthdays without turning over in their graves, but instead see that we can at least agree on trying to fix the problem, even though we may think we have different solutions to it. But we will never get anywhere if we collectively refuse to acknowledge the problems of racial inequity in our nation.

I will continue to remember the meaning of July the 7th, not only as a day to remember Satchel Paige and Michael B. McCann, but to use that day to reflect on the meaning of the 4th of July and to hopefully measure progress from the previous year.

Deep thoughts under another full moon.

We just had another traveling mid-latitude cyclone pass through Central Oregon, which brought rain and then snow flurries, which mostly melted today. It was a busy day filled with both joy and sorrow, for different reasons. I sat in the hot tub reflecting on the day’s events, looking east to a full moon. Three full moons ago, we were in Ceuta, Spain, on the coast of Africa. Tonight our world is much different than it was three moons ago.

The day started out promising, as I brought my Caribou Antlers to school and moved them from my car to the classroom. We are studying climates and biomes in our Weather and Climate class, and the ET climate in the Koppen system is the tundra climate. Therefore, I brought a relic from a tundra climate to show the class, a set of giant Caribou Antlers.

On a bicycle pack trip in the Northwest Territories of Canada in 1992, I found this set of huge antlers on the banks of the Intga River on the Canol Road. The Canol Road was hastily built during WWII as a supply line for the Oil fields in Norman Wells to the road system in the Yukon Territory to supply fuel for the War against Japan. Hundreds of miles had to be carved out of the wilderness of the Mackenzie Mountains, wild tundra country of the Northland. My friend Bruce was the first to spot them and commented how well these antlers would look above a mantle piece. We were 21 miles from the trailhead. When he balked at the trouble of taking them back, I countered with me taking them on my bike and taking possession of them when we got back. He replied, “You’re an idiot, it’s 21 miles back to the car.”

I replied, “I’ll be an idiot for ONE day.” Then I loaded them up on my handlebars. They were so big that I could not ride the bike with them, so I put my left leg on the right pedal and used the bike as a scooter, to move them the entire way back to the car. What happened next is for another story, but I have had them as a prominent place in my home since 1992 in both Alaska, and now in Bend, Oregon.

The joy for the day was showing them to students, most of who had never seen this type of animal. They marveled at how heavy the antlers were and how such a huge animal could live on such meager tundra vegetation. Even though the change to daylight savings time had us all tired (1/2 the class came late and looked sleepy), they were engaged in learning about climate and biomes.

Later in the day, things changed. After a couple of hours of grading and writing grant proposals, I got a message from my wife, Beth. She is in Alabama with her family and her mom just passed away this afternoon. It was expected, but still hard to take. I know the pain, as I have already gone through this with my Dad first, then my Mom ten years later.

As I sit in the hot tub, I thank Elaine Clark for being in my life. She gave me the best gift anyone could give someone else; she created Beth, my wife and my best friend. Elaine and Beth’s father, Adrian, accompanied us on many trips around the USA. She always wanted to travel, and she got to do a good bit of it with us. She visited us in the early 2000s and climbed Pilot Butte with us. She saw the Grand Canyon with us in 2005. I can still hear her exclaim “Wooo-oooh” as our flight-seeing plane took off from Grand Canyon airport and cleared the rim, with the chasm opening up beneath us. She had two types of exclamations she would make when surprised. I could mimic them both pretty well. Beth would laugh and agree.

The funeral will be this weekend. I am torn, as I have a full term to finish and finals are next week, so I will be staying here, although my mind is in Alabama. In two weeks, I am supposed to start my own Geographical Journey, a proposed hike of 700 miles through the California desert on the Pacific Crest Trail. The stock market is crashing. The corona virus is spreading. There are so many troubling things to take our focus away from why we are here.

Elaine Clark was a loving person who served others. She lives on through us, as she had a hand in shaping who we are and will be. Sitting in the tub and looking at a full moon, I am grateful that I had time to share with her. It makes me want to make the most of the time I have left here, and to try to be a positive influence on the people I love and even those that I don’t who I come into contact with.

Peace…..

Mick

Urban Night hiking: observations on culture

We got back home to Bend, Oregon on December 20 after three months away, most of that in Barcelona, Catalunya. With the help of Beth’s fit bit, we figured we had walked more than 600 miles in the 93 days we were gone, with most of that in urban areas of Spain, Ireland, Czechia, and Morocco. Now that I’m home, I’m continuing urban hiking. However, the contrast between here and there could not be more striking.

In Barcelona, everybody walks, and at all hours of the day. We used public transport and walked every day, sometimes more that 10 miles. The streets are always crowded with people. Sometimes drunk people would be walking home past our apartment and singing almost every night until 4AM. Although there was a lot of petty crime like pick-pocketing, we never were afraid to walk, even at night. We were NEVER alone while walking in Barcelona.

Malaga, Spain on a December night

Now that I’m home, I’m continuing walking a lot to get ready for my upcoming long walk through the Mojave Desert this Spring.  I’ve enjoyed the solitude of hiking alone in nature here, something that I missed while in Barcelona.  The first few weeks home we experienced above normal temperatures for Central Oregon.  I headed east toward the Badlands and walked at least three times a week through the Juniper and Sage ecosystems east of town.  I didn’t see anyone each time I hiked.  I saw lots of tracks that my wild friends left behind in the dirt: Mule Deer, Squirrel, Coyote, and an occasional human footprint.  I did see a Cougar paw print crossing the trail too!  I took pictures of the low angle sun on the Juniper trees and rabbitbrush and enjoyed the solitude.

Central Oregon steppe in early January

Now that school has started, I don’t have as much time to make the drive as far East.  The weather has turned colder, so I have resorted to urban hiking again.  Around New Year’s Day, I would bundle up and walk the residential neighborhoods at night, taking in the sights of Christmas lights.  Most of the time, I was the only human on foot in the area. 

On January 2, I went for a night walk through neighborhoods to the north of ours. I figure I walked about 4.5 miles that night, and I only saw one couple walking their dog. They were walking in front of me. Dogs spend a lot of time during their daily walks sniffing their neighborhoods. Their acute olfactory sense helps them to understand and spatially orient their environment. In a sense, their understanding of their geography is based on olfaction. Mine is based more on visual and auditory observation, although since I have been walking at night when vision is limited, I think I am beginning to hear and smell better. I have even detected the smell of a dog at times, even when there is none around, nor any dog waste either.

Since the couple are strolling and allowing their dog to explore his environment, I began to close the gap between us and would soon pass them. Not wanting to startle them or the dog on a lonely night, I said “Happy New Year” as I got nearer to them. Stunned and surprised, they quickly turned and nervously said, “Same to you”. Strangers don’t talk to one another in Barcelona because there are too many people and you don’t know which ones you can trust. Strangers don’t seem to talk to one another in Bend either, but for different reasons. There are so few people walking at night, you end up being suspicious of anyone who does.

On January 4, which is the day of perihelion, I went out for another night walk, covering nearly the same route. Two policemen in separate cars were parked on opposite curbs of the same residential street, windows cracked half way down and talking to one another on a cold night. They stopped talking to one another and watched me intently as I walked on the street towards them. I bet they were wondering, “What’s this guy doing walking alone at night in a residential neighborhood?” “He is not walking a dog, so what is his purpose for doing so?”

I nodded to acknowledge them as I passed by on the sidewalk and greeted them with a “Happy Perihelion!”

“Good evening to you, sir”, they replied. They probably didn’t know what perihelion was and that today, January 4th, the earth is the closest it will be to the sun in our orbit for the whole year, by a whopping 3.5 million miles. If you think only geographers know that, I wished the same thing to a gentlemen earlier in the day at Duda’s pool hall and pub on Wall St. in Bend. He said, “Oh yeah, isn’t that when we are closest to the sun in our orbit? I had forgotten it was today”. However, by the reaction from the policemen, I think they were suspicious of me.

Experiences such as these remind me of a story that I read a long time ago titled “The Pedestrian” by Science Fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who also wrote “the Illustrated Man.” The Pedestrian was a short story set in a dystopian future, where nobody walked outside at night and everyone was huddled in their houses watching TV and being programmed and brainwashed in the process. Only one man walked alone at night. One night he was stopped by a police car who questioned him and made him get into the squad car. Only when the man realized that the car was automated, did he realize how dystopian his own future might become. I know what that guy felt like. The dystopian future that we all feared is here in suburbia in 2020.

Fast forward to today, the 20th of January. We had a few days of snow, but warmer temperatures have melted out the streets. It is Martin Luther King day, and school is closed. I walked 9 miles through the Juniper, Sage and Rabbit Brush east of town. I missed that solitude in Barcelona. I followed coyote tracks in the snow, which criss-crossed my own tracks of a few days before the snow arrived. The tracks went right up to a bush that I regularly leave my scent on. The coyotes had a sniff and knew I was back in their territory, but they didn’t pee on top of my bush. I take that as a sign of respect! Most canines will mark over other’s territorial markings to show dominance or to at least declare that this territory is shared. I wonder if the confidence I have walking through this ecosystem affects my brain chemistry, which in turn produces a pheremone which is detectable to an animal with a keen sense of smell. The coyotes knew my scent from summer time, but having been in Spain for the entire Fall, they must have thought I was no longer around. Now that they detect my scent again, how do they feel about me? Do they fear me? Do they think I am a huge creature because I leave my scent higher on a tree or bush than they do? Is my lack of fear from them evident in the scent that I leave? These are some things that I think about in the solitude of nature.

Mule deer track in early January near Badlands, Oregon

I have time to be alone with my thoughts and to think about people I care about. I recently heard that the father of a long time friend of mine recently passed away. He was an important person to me many years ago, when I was an undergraduate student from New Jersey living in a new culture in North Georgia. We viewed the world quite differently, but we accepted each other and he was like a father to me at times. I thought about all of the things we shared together long ago. I will miss him.

Night hiking in Prague…..a very social experience

I also think of the people I met in Barcelona, like Rodrigo or Jose, and wonder how they are doing now. Rodrigo was a good friend with a gentle nature, who is working a new job this year in the field of his profession; health care. Jose is a young, intelligent man with a good work ethic finding his way in Spain after leaving Venezuela. I hope that our paths cross again some day. I miss the vibrant, stimulating nature of walking in a Spanish urban area. When I stroll alone in Central Oregon, I often find myself describing what I see in Spanish, so as not to lose the connection to the people and the language that I had grown accustomed to the past three months.

What can we do to bridge the gap, to make walking here a more common thing that we all do? We need to unplug from technology and make cities more walk-able places. Our residential neighborhoods are not designed for the pedestrian, even though sidewalks are mandated with new housing construction. There are no businesses or local stores in residential areas, which forces people to drive to another part of town for the most basic of needs. Yes, the weather is more challenging here in the Winter than in Barcelona. But there is no such thing as bad weather, only improper clothing. We need to become more curious about the immediate natural and cultural landscapes surrounding us, not just glossy pictures in magazines of far away exotic places in the world.

The current occupant of the White House recently announced that our country will now have a “Space Force”, to go along with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. If we truly want to be great again, I think we will need an “Inner Space Force”, one that focuses on Americans connecting with each other, walking with each other, and not being afraid of one another. I have hope for this because of the walk I did last Wednesday night.

I don’t have a picture of it, since I didn’t bring a camera that night. The ONE person I ran into on a suburban hike was a large older gentleman who was shoveling the new snow off of his driveway and the sidewalk. I thanked him for doing so. He stopped and we began a conversation. His name was Chris, and he had some health problems and his back was bothering him. I offered to take over the shoveling. At first, he balked. Later, he acquiesced. We stood out in the cold and chatted for about half an hour. We both agreed that this is how it used to be long ago; strangers helping one another and not being afraid of one another. We both felt different about that neighborhood after Wednesday night.

Thanks for reading…..keep walking….let’s conquer some inner space!

Peace,

Mick

Caminito del Rey

A daring walk in Andulucia

We are nearing the end….of our time here; of the southern end of the geography of Europe; of our lives if we make a wrong step on the Caminito del Rey walkway!

There is so much to blog about, but so few readers, so I will save much of the written descriptions undone for the time being. I will gladly share more when I get home, hopefully either in person with some of you, or by phone.
Since crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, we spent two nights in La Linea de Concepcion, where we walked across to Gibraltar for the day and climbed the rock.

road closed until plane lands!
Encima de la Roca de Gibraltar

Next, we went to Malaga. We spent the night in town and climbed the hill to the castle the next day.

Christmas decor in downtown Malaga
Spanish hottie I met in Malaga

Next we rented a car and have been touring Andalucia the last few days. The first night we spent in Ronda, one of the White Hill Towns. The next day we hiked the gorge of the Caminito del Rey and then drove west to Jerez and stayed on the Atlantic coast. We have eaten a lot of olives and drove several hours today with olive groves in view as far as the eye can see.

swinging bridge (it was windy)
one of the white hill towns of Andalucia

We are now in Granada, arguably the most frustrating city on the planet to drive and navigate through. Our car is parked in a garage below the hotel. It will stay there until we are finished walking the few miles to, around, and returning from the Alhambra Palace tomorrow. Then it will be a short trip down to the Costa del Sol for another night. After that, one last white hill town of Frigiliana before turning the rental car back in. Then, just a quick flight back to Barca to spend one last day there before flying back to a place that speaks English; football, UConn women’s basketball, cold, snow, IPA, and our life in NE Bend.

Esperamos que tengan una Feliz Navidad y un Prospero Ano Nuevo!

Mick y Beth

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Part of Spain lays on the African continent. In many ways, the location puts it right in between a rock and a hard place.

We are in Ceuta now. Ceuta is in Africa. It is also part of Spain. We crossed the border on foot today, passing the beggars and poverty of Morocco and entered into the European Union in this Spanish exclave on the northern coast of Africa.

l am sitting on my balcony on the third floor of our parador overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, with the lights of Morocco off in the distance. We left the blue city this morning and walked about a mile through the city to get to the bus station. We took a trail downhill and ended up on the campus of a public school and had to be escorted off the property by the school security, but we picked the right route as we exited the school grounds right next to the bus station. We arrived about 1115, just as a bus was leaving for Ceuta, which we boarded. We were not expecting a bus until 1215 and were told that we could only go as far as Tétouan, where we would have to take a taxi to Ceuta. After I bought the tickets from the driver, the man who took our bags and placed them in the luggage compartment below demanded 10 Dirhams for each bag that he touched. He touched them for 2 seconds each. When I gave him 10, he demanded more. It was a con, but I did not want retribution, so I reluctantly paid up. A Sociologist friend of mine told me about a book that mentions that there are two types of people in this world; prophets or wizards. After spending time in Morocco, I would postulate that there are only two types of people in this world; beggars or thieves. This does not just apply to Morocco, it to people around the world. Even people who work for a living fall into one of these categories. At school we have a collective bargaining unit….which makes us beggars in a way. I could go on about this subject, but will leave it for a different post. We have been hustled and several people have tried to scam us this past week. And the beggars are ubiquitous.

this morning leaving the blue city

The bus ride had drama. The bus was filthy and crowded and two older Muslim ladies got into a heated argument with the driver over not being able to pay. I briefly stepped off the bus at the Tétouan station to make sure our bags were not stolen. We finally made it to the end of the line and started walking toward the border. It was a bit longer than we realized, about a mile and a half. The Moroccan side reminded me of Tijuana, Mexico.

Ceuta in the distance

Hundreds of cars jammed the roads at the border. Barbed wire fences going down to the beach kept any beachcombers from illegally crossing. Once inside Ceuta you would be inside the European Union. We had our passports checked at four different places.
Once inside Ceuta, we boarded a bus into town and got off at Plaza Africa, where we walked to our hotel. The streets were cleaner. I could speak Spanish again and not worry about French or Arabic. I am looking at a fort and a Catholic Church as I write this. I feel like we are in Europe again, even though we are technically still in Africa.

Beth and I had lunch this afternoon at cafeteria El Puente, which has a statue of Hercules pushing apart the two pillars, one being the Rock of Gibraltar and the other being the mountains on the African side.

the Pillars of Hercules

These two rocks mark the choke point that is the Strait of Gibraltar, which separates the world of the Mediterranean from the unknowns of the Atlantic Ocean. It marked the end of the world as the Greeks, Egyptians and Carthaginians knew. We plan to cross over to the Rock of Gibraltar tomorrow.

We hiked up to the end of the peninsula and climbed steeply to the remains of a fort used by Europeans to control this strategic area. The sun was setting over the mountains to the west in Morocco as the almost full moon was rising. We glimpsed a beautiful view of the city from our vantage point.

Those who control choke points control access to commerce. Military is necessary to accomplish this.

The Portuguese and later the Spanish controlled parts of North Africa. Spain also has Melilla, another possession on the African coast. Morocco wants this land back. Spain recently refortified the barrier wall around Ceuta. For now, Ceuta remains a small strip of land between a rock (Gibraltar) and a hard place (Morocco)

Traveling through a state of many countries

The United States of America’s is a country made up of 50 states and a few territories. Spain is a state that is made up of many countries. I know this to be true because an Angel told me so last week.

Sabado, el 16 de Noviembre, 2019…Bilbao, Pais Vasco.

After the beautiful evening last night, we again woke to cold and drizzle. Immediately after breakfast at Poshtel, we turned in our keys, checked out and put our bags in the check room for safe keeping. Then we walked out into the cold rain towards the Guggenheim Museum for our tour. We strolled past Puppy, a 43 foot tall living sculpture of a terrier made from iron and flowers. Puppy, a monument to sentiment, was built in 1992 by artist Jeff Koons. He signifies confidence, optimism and security for the city of Bilbao as it transitions from an old industrial town to a modern service centered economy.

Puppy guarding the museum

When we arrived at the front door, the door was locked. We had arrived a few minutes before our timed entrance, so we had to wait in the rain. You would think that such a fancy designed building in a rainy environment would have an overhang built onto the roof for some shelter, but we stood out there in the cold rain. Puppy has been doing the same thing for twenty seven years without complaining once, yet here we were whining about a few minutes. The guard peered out at us unsympathetically from his warm, dry station as we watched the second hand slowly make its way around the clock. Finally, at the correct opening time and not one second before, he perfunctorily opened the door and let us in. We stood in line for the coat check and dropped off our wet clothes before exploring the museum.

Richard Serra’s Snake sculpture

Most of the art in the museum is of modern art and the collections were impressive. The architecture of the building itself is spectacular and is integrated into the river and its surroundings. I would show you more pictures, but they didn’t want people taking photographs inside. I did find one of sculptor Richard Serra’s Snake, which is a maze as long as a football field. We walked through most of it and the picture above does not give it justice.

After touring the museum, we had some free time to walk around the city. The rain stopped momentarily as we headed across a new bridge into the old town. Hearty rowers were in the inlet rowing a large scull against a strong incoming tide. These Basques are a tough people indeed!

Rowing against the incoming tide on a cold November Basque day!


Beth and I found a place with some hot soup where the locals were friendly and all huddled inside. Later, we walked around a bit and then met the group back at the Poshtel to pick up our bags and head to the bus. Our next stop would be Donostia, or San Sebastián if you say it in Spanish.

A new bridge connecting to an old town

The bus pulled into an underground terminal in San Sebastián and we grabbed our bags to hike to our new hostel, A Room in the City. The address is Easo Kalea 20, Donostia, Gipuzkoa. Yep, with all the Ks and Zs we knew we were still in Pais Vasco!

Like Dublin and Bilbao, San Sebastián is laid out around both sides of a river. Similar to Bilbao, the river has a large tidal influence. The air was clean and fresh….a welcome and noticeable difference from what we were used to in Barcelona.
It was raining here too. I was glad I had packed my rain pants, as this was the first time I had needed to use them on this trip. The group was to meet outside of the local McDonalds at 6:30PM. This was only our meeting point, as we were to tour the old town and sample pintxos at several local eateries.
Pintxos are small snacks typically eaten in bars. They have a strong socializing component, and are important in Basque society. They are similar to Spanish Tapas, but usually smaller. They usually have toothpicks in them, and owe their name to the Spanish word for spike (Pincho).
Our tour included three separate bars to try some. We divided up the large group into three smaller groups, each led by a local guide. Our guide was a man named Angel, who originally was from Chilean Patagonia. I visited that part of the world ten years ago and asked if he was from Puerto Natales, the gateway to the famous Torres del Paine National Park. He said no, that he was from a town north of there. I scratched my head. There are no towns just north of Puerto Natales. It is the first town after hundreds of miles of a desolate journey through a rugged archipelago. I traveled through there on the Navimag, a cargo ship with a few sleeping berths in 2009. The journey reminded me of Southeast Alaska, only more desolate, as there weren’t even any lights signaling remote cabins. The first lights we saw heading north were of the town of Puerto Chacabuco, about 3.5 days away. When I told him about that trip, he was surprised to learn that I knew about his country. Indeed he was from Puerto Chacabuco, in Aysen province. This was the starting point for a good conversation between the two of us. Again, Geography brings people together!

At our last Pintxo Bar

It was then that Angel and I talked about the different political situations in our respective countries. He said that the USA is a state made up of several states and that Spain is a state made up of several countries. So, I was telling the truth about an Angel telling me that.

Angel also described how the old town had been largely destroyed during the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800s. Most of the town had been rebuilt since then and even though General Franco oppressed the Basque people during his dictatorship, he had a summer beach home here. After the tour, we strolled along the beach promenade at night and witnessed waves crashing across the jetty where the river met the sea.

In the morning, we loaded the bus and took a short trip across town to another beach and took some photos before heading back to Barcelona. We would make a stop in Pamplona, where the running of the bulls takes place every July, but I will leave that story for a later post.

Sculpture Art on the San Sebastián beachfront
Statue of Jesucristo overlooking San Sebastián (Donostia)

Chilled Whines and a Scary Costco in the Basque Country

Friday November 15, 2019….

After a night of tossing and turning worrying about oversleeping and missing our pre-dawn departure to the Basque Country, we heard the alarm sound at 5AM. The thermometer read 8C, a chilly morning….I got in the hot shower to revive my tired body and made a cup of thick instant coffee. After a quick bowl of cereal, we grabbed the bags we had packed the night before and headed to the metro, where once again one of our students had fended off another pickpocket attempt a few days before. Thankfully, we were riding an almost empty metro. We exited the Urquinaona station in the dark and made our way to the school, where a bus was already waiting for us.

Little by little students started rolling in and Rodrigo from SAE Barcelona checked off the names as they loaded their bags into the cargo hold of the bus. We were heading the the north coast of Spain, to the Basque provinces, where it was rainier and even colder than it was here. We heard that Glen, one of our students, wouldn’t be accompanying us on the trip, as he was in the infirmary.

The first stop in our long journey was to be the Vivanco winery, a traditional bodega in the La Rioja region, one of the 17 autonomous regions of Spain. The drive there took six hours. We saw a great film on the bus called, “Ochos Apelledos Vascos”, which literally translates to “Eight Basque Surnames.” It is a good romantic comedy, starring my new favorite Spanish actress, Clara Lago. The film was in Spanish with English subtitles. You might find it on Netflix under the name, “A Spanish Affair”, which is not only an inaccurate translation, but it has little to do with Spain, since it is more about Basque culture. The Basques, like the Catalans, do not see themselves as Spanish even though they are part of present day Spain. Anyway, if you want an insight into Basque culture with a comedic story, I recommend this film.

Riding through the Meseta Central, we passed through Zaragoza and followed the path of the Rio Ebro for a while towards La Rioja. The Ebro is one of only five major navigable rivers in Iberia. It began to drizzle. The mountains in the distance were covered in a thick white blanket of snow. The hills nearby showed signs of recent snow just above the altitude of our Autovia.



On the right side of the highway stood a huge metal cutout of a bull, signifying our arrival into La Rioja region. La Rioja, lying inland from the Basque provinces and in-between Navarra and Castilla and León, is the largest wine producing region in Spain. It has been a productive wine region dating back to Phoenician times. Mostly the grapes are Tempranillo, although Graciano and Garnacha varieties are also grown here. The Rio Ebro flows nearby, and there are distinct climate zones within a short distance of each other, which allows for multiple types of grapes to be grown here, each area offering a different terroir. We pulled into the parking lot during a cold rain, so our tour did not take us through the rows of vineyards. I heard some whining about an outside wine tour. Our guide kept the outdoor lecture to a minimum as we quickly went back indoors to tour the museum of wine culture.

The vineyards of Bodega Vivanco

Once inside the museum, we saw the largest collection of corkscrews in the world, including ones from centuries ago. We also got a good lesson in viticulture and how the process of aging the wines and storage imparts different tastes to each batch. The barrels for aging are made from white oak, some of which comes from Kentucky. For a wine to be a Chianza, the period of aging must be a minimum of two years, with at least one year in the barrel. The aging in the bottle is just as important. Light must be kept to a minimum and a constant temperature is important. To be sold as a Reserva, it must be aged at least three years. Geography of the climate and soil are only part of the equation…..the market distance, shipping, and barrel production locales are also factors. Even my students who weren’t enrolled in the Economic Geography class were interested in this.

We went through the cavernous cellar stacked high with barrels filled with aging wines, a sight that would make Bacchus the Greek god of wine proud. Later, we went upstairs for a tasting of a few of the Crianzas.

Working up a thirst
Our guide explaining before the tasting

After sipping some wine, we walked back through the cold rain (I heard some whining), and loaded the bus for another 75 minute ride to Bilbao, the largest city of Pais Vasco……Hence the name for the first part of the title to this story. The bus parked near the river about 10 minutes from our hostel, so we trudged up the stairs in the rain with our bags to check into Poshtel. Beth and I had a private room, while the students had 8 to a room in bunk beds. A group of Washington students also traveled with us. Our room was freezing, so we cranked up the heat to 28C and changed into dry clothes and waited to go with the group to dinner.
Bilbao is a large city near the Bay of Biscay. It is the second most industrialized city in Spain after Barcelona, and was an important industrial city built on the production of steel due to the rich iron ore deposits nearby. It’s location on a narrow estuary made it an important port city, and much of its gastronomy is rich in seafood dishes. It rains a lot here due to its northern exposure and the east-west trending mountain ranges behind the city which trap the marine air. The city is undergoing a transformation from an old industrial city and transitioning to a more modern service centered economy. One of the anchors for this is the Guggenheim Museum designed by architect Frank Gehry. We plan to visit it tomorrow.

The Basque people are a hard working, proud and fiercely independent people who have a unique culture which is largely based on their unique language. The language is Euskara and they call their land Euskadi. It resembles no other language on planet earth and it’s origins have many linguists confounded. Some think it is the last remnant of ancient people’s who once lived in the Iberian peninsula prior to the arrival of Indo-European languages. One hypothesis states that the language is evidence that Earth was once visited by aliens from another planet, who landed in the western Pyrenees and on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, but left our planet because the environment was too inhospitable. The only thing they left behind was their language.

Franco also suppressed it under his dictatorship as he did with Catalan. Basque people are also found across the border into southern France. Parts of Navarra also have Basque speakers. Because they are hemmed in by two dominant cultures, they are very nationalistic. Although they speak both Spanish or French, they really appreciate it when outsiders use a few words in the local tongue. When you do, it really opens up the door to their hearts.

We headed out to dinner and sat together around two long tables. In typical Basque style, plates of many courses kept coming, from which we all shared. I eschewed the smelly Bacala, but enjoyed the tender steaks, salads, and mixed vegetables and the local wine. The last course was creme broulet and coffee. We were stuffed to the gills. Afterwards, I got a smile from the waitress when I said “Eskerrik Asko,” which means “Thank You” in Euskara. Hannah, who works at SAE and was on the trip with us, used to live in Pais Vasco, and knew some words. To remember how to pronounce it she said it sounds like “A Scary Costco”, so just think about shopping at your local Costco store on Halloween when the lights suddenly go out…..a good way to remember the word! When I left the restaurant I got another smile from the owner as I said “Agur” (goodbye).

We couldn’t believe how beautiful the night was as we stepped outside. It had stopped raining and the waning almost full moon was shining brightly. The air was clean and there was little wind. We wanted to take a long walk to burn off the huge meal, but the hostel did not want anyone wandering around with keys after 11PM, so we took a short walk down by the river and took a picture of the bridge at night.

Dinner Basque style
Bridge over the Ria….not a Rio
Bilbao por la noche

With that, we headed to the hostel and the room was warm by the time we got back. The first day of the trip was coming to an end….I will leave the rest of the trip for the next post.
Egun on eta agur!

A Surreal experience between the city of Besalú and the Romans

On a chilly Friday morning, we walked to Barceloneta rail station and boarded the metro to Urquinaona. The forecast called for a 60% chance of rain. When we left the metro to walk to school, we were greeted with a cool stiff northwesterly breeze under still clear skies. Beth and I walked down Avenida Trafalgar towards the school, searching for the bus that would take us to the medieval town of Besalú, about an hour and a half north of Barcelona towards the French border. Besalú is famous for its Romanesque medieval bridge built in the eleventh century and its Jewish bathhouse which is one of only three surviving Mikvahs in all of Europe. Most of our students had signed up for the trip and we found that some of the Washington students would also accompany us, as well as a few interns from the school.

Since the bus was nowhere in sight and it was still chilly, most of us went inside and upstairs to the school to either warm up or use the restroom before the bus ride. Finally, we saw the bus pull up and we all gathered to load for the road trip. Most were eager to get out of the city, even if only for a day. We passed by a defunct bull ring which had the Star of David emblems designed on its side, along with some seemingly Muslim architecture. We turned onto the wide Avenida Meridiana through the Sant Andreu neighborhood and towards the Autovia heading towards Girona and the French border. It felt good to see countryside again, even at 120 kph.
Soon the traffic slowed and all three lanes came to a stop. We sat there on the Autovia for at least 30 minutes as fire trucks and ambulances raced by on the shoulder. Finally, we inched forward as all three lanes merged into one. On the side of the road, the shell of a completely burned car was still smoldering. Since there was no apparent accident, was it a car fire caused by overheating, or another act of vandalism by Catalan separatists? The acts from the last month were still fresh on our minds.

The mountains to our left rose higher and higher as we continued north through the valley. At last, we pulled into a parking lot on the outskirts of Besalú, as the streets in the town could not accommodate the bus. We walked over the fortified bridge over the Fluvia River into town. The bridge is not straight, but takes an L shape to take advantage of rock in the riverbed.

We stopped to take individual and group photos here. Some of the students are First Generation college students with their first study abroad experience, so the school gave out certificates and took pictures of them on the bridge.

COCC students in Besalu

Since we were behind schedule from the burned car and the traffic on the Autovia, we had only about 30 minutes to explore the tiny town before meeting at the Can Quey restaurant for a group lunch. Beth, Raoul and I did a circuit inside the walls of the medieval city. Besides visiting the ruins of the Jewish bathhouses, we strolled alongside the walls of St. Vincenc church built in the 11th century, but sporting bullet holes from the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s.

After a hearty lunch of traditional Catalan cuisine, we piled back into the bus for a 40 minute ride to the town of Figueras, home of the Dalí museum. Salvador Dali was a famous Catalan painter and sculptor, well known for pushing the boundaries of looking at the world in different ways. He collaborated with other types of audiovisual artists and was a student of the sciences. His style, which rejected realism, attempted to attract public attention and shock the reader. He was very eccentric and was criticized for being narcissistic. When I took an art appreciation class as an undergraduate, I admit that I didn’t really get him.

Clouds were thickening as we disembarked the bus and walked toward the museum. The exterior of the building was quirky, with eggs atop the roof of the turret, and loaves of bread pasted to the exterior walls. Above the entrance to the building, statues of disemboweled people with submarine sandwiches on their heads peered down at us over a figure of a person whose head was an egg of gold.

As we entered the building, I chose to join a group where the guide who led explained his works using the Spanish language. Most of the students and Beth went with the English speaking guide.
Our guide was a 40 year old woman who was Spanish, but who used to live in New York City in Greenwich Village. I knew that neighborhood, so we quickly made a connection. She was very knowledgeable and spoke clearly, so that I understood about 98% of her explanations. She explained the history of Dali’s life, his influences from renaissance thinkers, the events around the Spanish Civil War, and the meanings of the symbolism in his art. I came away from the museum with a different appreciation of him. One of his most famous works is called “the persistence of memory”. Many are pictures within a picture. Some thought he must have been a drug addict, as his works seem to be influenced by hallucinogenics, however he was not. Some said he was a genius, others said he was mad. Actually, how much daylight is there between the two?

Portrait of his wife
Looking up at a boat from the ocean bottom.

Some of us slept on the bus on the way home. Some surely had vivid dreams……that were surreal! We got back to town about 9:30PM and headed back to our respective homes. It had been quite a day from beginning to end. And we still had Saturday and Sunday to go.

Well, where do the Romans fit into this story? That would be on Saturday. We looked at the weather for the weekend and it seemed that Saturday would have the better weather of the two weekend days, so I went online and booked a rental car for 24 hours beginning at noon on Saturday. We would head south down the coast with two items on the agenda…..the small village of Renau, and the large city of Tarragona.

The day started out with great weather. We took the train to the airport and rented an Ibiza from Cami at Enterprise. She remembered us from a few weeks ago when we rented a car to go to Andorra. We headed south just a few minutes after noon.

To both avoid tolls on the Autovia and to take in some beautiful scenery, we took the winding coastal highway down the Costa Daurada towards Sitges. Since it might takes us all day to get to our destinations that way, we hopped back onto the Autovia and tried to find Renau. Why there? Well, my buddy from college is named Pat Renau. He always wanted to go there and he is the one who told me about it, so I am going there on a vicarious expedition. That’s an idea for my next business plan…..Vicarious Expeditions Inc…..we’ll do your vacation for you if you can’t and we will document it for you. Now, we just have to figure out how to make money with this idea!

On the edge of town

Renau is a small village of maybe 200 people, with old houses surrounded by vineyards. I did see one empty lot for sale. Maybe Pat could retire here!

Next we headed to Tarragona, a city of about 900,000 inhabitants, about a fifth of the size of Barcelona. The draw here is the Roman ruins. The Romans did not favor Barcelona, as its harbor was shallow and location not as optimal as that of Tarragona. Outside of town we spotted the Devil’s bridge, an aqueduct built by the Romans to bring water from the mountains to the town.

Once in town, we found a place to park on the street and walked to several sites. Daylight was quickly fading, so we skipped any indoor museums and went for the old walls and the coliseum by the sea. Some of these ruins reach back to the second century B.C. Below are a few photos…….

Park in downtown Tarragona with modern buildings across the street

With darkness quickly falling, we had planned on staying in Tarragona and returning the car by noon the next day. However, we got what we came for, so we decided to save our Euros for another day and drove back to Barcelona that night. We took the inland two lane road and made it safely back to the airport, where we took the FGC train to Passeig de Gracia and transferred to the L4 metro line for three more stops. When we came out of Barceloneta station, we were thankful to be in our own bed in the next few minutes and have a whole day off on Sunday!

My First Blog Post

Every place has a story. The story of every place is shaped not only by its Physical Geography (mountains, rivers, climate, vegetation, etc.), but also by the people that live there. Human Geography (culture, economics, demographics, politics) is intrinsically interwoven with the Physical landscape, as both affect one another.

Out of the way places interest me, as there is something to learn from every place and something to learn about ourselves and our place in this world. Describing the cultural meaning of PLACE is an interest of mine. Most of the places that I will write about are known to some, but not necessarily popular tourist locations. If there are pristine and undiscovered places that I may write about, I may take editorial license to give them different names to keep them protected. How places change over time or how we perceive them differently as time passes is also an interest of mine.

I am continuing to travel and explore our world. Posts are categorized by location or topic. There are a wide variety of locations to choose from, including Alaska, Oregon, International (which includes trips to Spain, Norway, Bolivia, Uzbekistan, New Zealand, Canada, and Morocco, just to name a few). Topics include nature, travel, and memoir. I invite all of you to come explore and take a geographical journey with us. We hope that you will not only experience new places with us, but also gain new insights about your place in this world.

Your feedback is welcome and encouraged!

Mick and Beth McCann

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

All I’ve ever wanted to do since I was a kid is to go explore the world that we live in. For the past several years, I’ve been able to visit many unique places, both near and far, and use those experiences to teach others about the world that we live in. As of now, I’ve been to 50 foreign countries and all 50 states; climbed 40 state high points and visited the home stadiums of 21 professional baseball teams. I am grateful for the opportunity to have lived in Spain to better my Spanish and learn some Catalan along the way. I also got to share this experience with my best friend and wife of 31 years, Beth.

Blogging about these experiences will help me to be more keenly aware of my surroundings so that I can include important details about the sights, sounds, smells, and the vibes of the places that we visit and hopefully leave a record of what Catalunya was like in the Fall of 2019 for other professors and students who take the study abroad experience in the years to come so that they can compare changes over time. Hopefully, it will help to bring awareness to our study abroad program to keep it viable in the future.

Now that I am semi-retired, I have time to relive old memories and catalog them, as well as documenting new ones.

A much younger me…
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