La Dolce Far Niente

My brain is semi-fried.  I spent just too much time over this morning and afternoon working on the concrete realities of trying to build a real-world business to be anything else.  I had a post in mind when my morning started, by the way.  I had it in mind, but it drowned quietly under the flooding waters of marketing plans and partnership agreements and renovation priorities…

*sigh*

Remember that rule of mine?  The one about writing it, right freaking then?  Yeah, I forgot too…

Still, there is enough shit bugging me to get out of the mental cage in which I keep my blog ideas to completely ignore my keyboard today.

1)  Thanks for the, umm, shitty service — Look, I’m a taproom guy.  Can I brew beer?  Yeah, sure I can.  But that isn’t where I shine.  No, where I am an expert is in the taproom itself…and in how we service and please our customers.  Very little, to be honest, pisses me off quite so much as fundamental errors in that service.  So I’m sitting at lunch today — plugging away at those renovation needs I mentioned — with a mostly-full beer and half-eaten poke bowl at my elbow, when my waitress stopped by to ask if I was ready for my check…

Are you kidding me?!  

There are few bar/restaurant sins worse to me than that particular one.  Your job is to get me to spend more money, not push me out the door!  This wasn’t fucking Appleby’s, mind you, it was a one of the better and more popular places in my new town.  It was a place that built its reputation as a good place to hang out, not as a place to offer cheap meals at the price of turning over tables as fast as possible.

She was young, however — and cute *cough, cough* — so rather than just give her a bad tip, I told her just how bad that check question truly was…and how it made me want to leave, rather than buy the additional beer or two I normally would.  I doubt if the words penetrated, but it was worth a try.  The title of this little subsection isn’t ironic, by the way: Had she not pissed me off, I don’t think I would have started thinking about writing a post today…

I still gave her a good tip.

2)  I’m A European Trapped in an American Body — okay, so the subsection above got me to thinking a bit.  It got me to thinking about the things that we Americans do very, very wrong.  Restaurants and bars are pretty near the head of that damned list, by the way.  Oh, I know we Americans are always in a hurry; we Americans always want to eat and run; we always want everything to be efficient and fast…

Fuck that.

I want slow.  I want inefficient.  I want to own that damned table until I decide it is time to leave.  Whether it is a single demitasse of espresso or 57 pints of beer, just bring me what I want and don’t get that damned check anywhere near me until I make that stupid little scribbling motion in the air that all tourists do when they don’t speak the local language!

The French and Italians know their shit when it comes to eating and drinking out, by the way, while the Germans and Czechs* ain’t far behind.  Even the freaking Brits outshine us in this area!  C’mon, America, get your shit together!

*I learned the reality of an old-school, locals-only beer hall in Czechia the hard way, by the way.  Yeah, remember to flip that damned coaster over to the back side when you’re done drinking for the night!  Ahem.

Look, let’s boil it down to brass tacks — if you want a great meal, you don’t go to an American restaurant.  If I had one meal left on this Earth, I would go French.  And, no, I am not talking about some fancy Parisian place with white tablecloths and sauces coming out the ass.  I want a good, village place.  I want a place where the food is grown within sight of the restaurant.  A place where grandpa and grandma cook recipes from their grandparents.  A place where you sit in the sun and drink wine and spend 3 or 4 hours eating a real five-course meal, shared with the folks who prepared it, and who grew it, and who love every second of the life they live.

It is only by the barest hair’s width I say the French won, by the way.  Put me at a table on the Amalfi coast, or in Sicily, or Tuscany and I am just as happy. Hell, I might be a bit happier because I don’t there is anything on this Earth than can compare with a meal within the bosom of a real Italian family…

La dolce far niente* is not just the coolest saying in the world, it is the coolest philosophy in human history!

*”The sweetness of doing nothing.”  I told you it was fucking cool!

{Edit Notes — Holy shit, did I need to proofread this damned thing before I posted it! Ahem…}

{Musical Note — oh, hell yeah…}

Random Thoughts: Us Versus Them

I was listening to a program this morning as I drove around on some errands.  It was a program about whales in general, and specifically about an upcoming film “featuring” one whale in particular: the 52-hertz whale (also called “the loneliest whale”).

Now, I’m not going to get into the story of that particular whale, no matter how fascinating the diversion between the actual science/research, and the emotive storytelling that has sprung up around him.*

*Yes, it is in fact a him — apparently, it is the male whales who sing, not all whales.  I did not really know that until the marine biologist on the program brought it up.

No, what I keyed in on as I listened — and what spurred me to ignore the business & planning stuff I should be doing in favor of typing away at this while I sip a beer in the sun — was a couple of specific observations.  Those observations I found, as both a writer and someone who has been fully immersed in the wilds, to be thought-provoking and well worth a bit of stream-of-consciousness exploration.

**Pointless Irony Alert!!**  There’s something, erm, kinda wrong about eating a bowl of poke while writing about the most impressive and amazing of sea-critters…

First off was a one-liner that I love: we humans are self-obsessed, we can’t help but anthropomorphism everything else.  The anthropomorphizing thing I’ve talked about on this blog before, but I absolutely love tying it back to our self-absorption as a species.  We are, to ourselves, quite literally the only things that matter in the universe.  Now, before you start yelling at me, please understand that I do realize just how overly broad and simplistic is that statement.  I realize all of that, and I still wrote it, so stop yelling!

Believe me, the intellectual dissonance in that line, and my own outlook on the universe, is a thought I could explore for…oh…at least a few thousand words.  The key thing to remember is that we humans, when you press us back to our most basic instincts and drives, cannot stop ourselves from resorting to, well, let’s call it tribalism for the moment.  By tribalism, I mean that instinct and drive of ours to divide the universe into us and them.  That instinct, by the way, is always there, no matter how we try to suppress it.  As soon as any group of ours grows to three or more, you can count on the fact that there is at least some element of us-versus-them.

That us and them leads directly to the second observation that I liked: we cannot — and do not — even begin to appreciate the wonders of the world, and animals in particular, until we have at least some form of personal experience with them.

Let me put some perspective around that thought.  You all know how I have spent the last several years.  I have been inside grizzly and wolf dens.  I have been eye-to-eye with a bear just feet away.  I have watched a wolf pack take down prey just yards away.  I have smelled the breath of a curious bison.  Nature and I, to put it mildly, have developed something of a romance, and that romance has given me opportunities and experiences that only a few (modern day) humans have shared.  On the other hand, I have had, in my own sense of pride and accomplishment — in my own sense of us versus them — a certain amount of contempt for those whose only experience of the same animals is through a spotting scope deployed on the side on the side of the road.

It is fair to say, however, that 90% or more of those who visit Yellowstone, and use binoculars or scopes or cameras to view the wildlife, have never before scene those animals anywhere but on a TV screen.  And very, very few can leave that park without a certain sense of attachment to — and fondness for — the animals they finally got to see in person.

In my YNP days, I led groups of visitors out into the night to listen to the howling of the wolf packs.  There is nothing more powerful, by the way, than to sit under the light of just the stars and listen to those powerful, primal calls.  To listen to that music.  It gives me — still! — the chills to think about it.  I can close my eyes and see the stars, hear the cries…

So what if none of those who sit on the side of the road and watch a mother grizzly teach her cubs to forage and hunt can describe just what a mother smells like?  Does that make their experience any less powerful?  Or any less important?  No, it does not.  Those folks have had their own magical experience.  They have watched a massive apex predator treat her young with all the motherly care, and all the urge to teach them to grow up “right”, that we would expect from a young human woman.  If they are lucky, they have seen, even, those “kids” play and horse around just as would any pair of young humans.

I can tell you, from thousands of conversations over the years, that those experiences change folks.  It is very hard to advocate for the uncontrolled hunting and slaughter of animals that you have stared at in real-world awe and admiration.*  And that is a good thing.  That is, in fact, the very heart of the reason for America’s national parks: To give folks that exposure to nature — to the wild and beautiful places, and to the wildlife — that they would never otherwise have.

*I’ll skip over the exceptions here…and they (sadly) do exist.  There are those few who live and work on the borders of Yellowstone, and even within the park itself, who still would eagerly hunt and kill every single wolf in North America.  Since they all were/are hardcore Q-Anon/Trumpistas, I get to write them off as the nutjobs they truly are.

If you truly want, you can find backcountry guides who will take you to places you should not go.  Just are there are guides on the water, and in the mountains, and on the tundra, who will work only for their own benefit, without care for the animals they exploit.  Those who will use chase-boats to herd whales or dolphins into tight areas, and trap them there, so high-paying tourists can “switch with them”.  Just are there are those who will take you to wolf den while the pups are still unable to leave.  And those who will leave out drugged bait so you can “just happen across” a somnolent polar bear.

That is, unfortunately, one of the dark-side effects of us-versus-them: Our penchant to abuse and exploit them because only us truly matter.  You see it in our society and culture; you see it in our politics; you see it in every single thing we do.  And that is the bitter part of bittersweet, the inevitable cost.  The experience of nature and wildlife can be — and very often is — life-changing to many folks, but we have to always be mindful of the cost.

When the wolves are gone, we change the world.  We not only change the ecosystem, we lose something unique and beautiful from the world.

When the whales are gone, we will lose a piece of our souls.  Listen to their songs, watch their stately movements, and remember this final thought:

For all the power and majesty of nature’s wonders; for all the size and intelligence of the whale; for all the soul-touching sounds of the wolf; for all the wily creativity of the bear; they live on our sufferance.  A whale — or a bear, or a wolf — can kill a single human with no trouble.  Just trust me on that one, I know very well and very personally.  But we humans, in our numbers, and with our technology, can wipe out their entire species without even intending to.

{Musical Note — is this song the best fit?  Probably not, but I’ve been looking for an excuse to use something from these guys for a long time now…}

The 4th of July

That feeling when…

…when you walk into a pub and they don’t even bother to ask, they just put the correct beer in front of you before you’ve even put your butt in the seat.

…when the fireworks have been building for a week already, and you’ve got a place arranged for the “big show” on the 4th itself.

…when you read the news, and realize — again! — that Einstein was right about the definition of insanity.

…when you reflect on the intentional act of treason committed by those who made this day famous, and the executions that would have been their lot had things gone just a little differently.

…when you look and find that the US Capitol still hidden behind fences and razor wire, and wonder if those men 250ish years ago would have risked quite so much if they could see the future.

*sigh*

There’s an old concept in the business world: from shirt-sleeves to shirt-sleeves in three generations.  The “model” that lies under that saying is that Grandad has the energy, work-ethic and drive to start the new business; Dad has the smarts and ability to grow it into real wealth; Junior has…well, Junior’s privileged ass spends and mismanages it into freaking oblivion more often than not.

It’s been more than three generations, admittedly, but if you don’t think that “model” reflects the US at this point in time, you’re either willfully blind, or crazy enough to actually be one of the political extremes.

Our current crop of “leaders” is spending us into oblivion with no thought for tomorrow.  And trust me, I am not talking about money here.  Don’t get me wrong, the money side of things is well-and-truly fucked, but the real spending — and the real loss — is in unity, strength and trust.  We are, as a nation, becoming far too quickly that family that squabbles and fights and disintegrates over spending the inheritance we did nothing to earn.

It’s not a question of being the Prodigal Son, who returns after a period of youthful excess.  Nor is it a question of the father, who welcomes his son back from the metaphoric wilds.  No, it’s the fact that both of the political extremes in the US are the “other” brother, the one waiting with a gun in hand to welcome the Prodigal home with a bit of good ol’ American payback.

Far too many people have forgotten just what this little experiment in nation-building means.  For damn sure the extremes on both sides have forgotten.  Note, I quite intentionally prefer to say “forgotten” because the alternative is that they just don’t give a damn, and that does nothing but make everything worse…and when my overly-cynical-ass shies away from “worse”, you know it’s pretty fucking bad!

The thing about the US, and about July 4th, is not that we are perfect.  Nor are we a finished product.  Hell, we are anything but perfect and finished.  We have our warts and faults.  Our shit stinks, just like everyone else’s.  We snore and drink too much and get fat; we argue and fight and throw the dishes; we even shit the bed occasionally…

And that is okay.

The United States is a flawed, faulty creation.  It was created by brilliant, dedicated, brave men who — just like the rest of us — lied and cheated and had bad breath.  What makes the US different — what made it different then, and still makes it different now — is that it is an ideal that seeks to transcend itself, rather than a true nation-state that exists only to be itself.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re very much a nation.  We have all the strength and drive and unity of any modern nation (in the Westphalian sense — don’t ask, just Google the damned term).  But the US is, if you’ll pardon the national pride, better than that.  We are, when you get right down to it, a dream. A dream of a better place, and a better way of life.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Yeah, even after more than two hundred years, we still ain’t anywhere close to achieving that.

As a nation we are, at the heart of the matter, the richest and most powerful in human history…and the competition from second place ain’t even close.  We are all of that and more, yet we are also a nation that still fights the all-too-powerful demons of racism and disenfranchisement.  We still suffer the pangs of hunger and poverty.  We still play host to all manner of despair and hopelessness.  We still shit the bed from time to time.

But that’s not what we were founded on.

Look, the Trumpier extreme wants to paper over history with some bullshit morality-play that makes America a perfect, sacred entity that sprang fully formed from some divine brow.  Do you wanna know what “sacred entities” get you in political terms?  Cromwell’s England, and Robespierre’s France, and Trump’s America, that’s what.

Oh, but don’t you on the other side get all high-and-mighty.  The other extreme wants to paint any-and-all as maleficent and oppressive.  The other sides wants America not to be some divine spark, but the nefarious source of all evil in the world.  That is even stupider, to be honest — and when you’re stupider than Trump, you’ve dug yourself into a world-class fucking hole!

Look, I’m fat.  I know I should lose more weight, and I do try.  I really do.  I hike and work-out…but I also happen to love beer and bread and cheese like a young mother loves her first child.  I should be better than I am, but my efforts fall short.  That doesn’t make me bad, it just means I have to keep trying.  It just means that I have to aspire to improve myself, rather than revel in what successes I may have.

Well…America is fat.  Okay, so we’re fat physically, but that ain’t the point.  We’re fat and out of shape socially and culturally, too.  Although we were born that way, our parents taught us that we could — and should! — be more.  We just have to keep trying.  We just have to keep working at it.  We have to keep doing the hard work to cast off the sins of our youth and embrace a style of life, and a way of living, that is healthier for everyone.

No, we ain’t perfect, but none of those who risked the hideousness of being drawn-and-quartered* expected us to be.  No, what they wanted and expected to do was build a foundation for a nation that could — and would — grow and learn.  

*Fine, you really want to know?  Here is the full definition of the British punishment for treason: you are hung by the neck, “gently” so that your neck won’t break and kill you right away.  While you are slowly suffocating, but still very much conscious, your stomach is cut open and your intestines pulled out.  Your testicles are then cut off and burned, along with your spilling guts, while you helplessly watch and choke.  You are then left to hang until you finally suffocate and die.  When you do die, your body is lowered and cut into several pieces.  Those pieces are sent to places important to you as a person, and to the scene of your treason, in order to prove to folks that you truly are dead, and that the State will always exact its vengeance.  Sorry, but you did ask!

In that expectation, the Founders succeeded.  The US isn’t perfect, but the ideal behind it is.  If we can ever truly achieve that sentence that Jefferson wrote, we will have finally fulfilled their dreams and become a nation that can celebrate itself without hesitation or criticism.

Until then, however, those who question and criticize and find fault are just as necessary, and just as patriotic and loyal, as those who will find no fault or failure.  They are arguably even more so, because they want this nation that we all share, and all love, to be more than we currently are.

After all, what human drive is better, or more important, than the drive to improve?  Than the drive to be more?

I want to be smarter and more experienced.  I also want to lose thirty pounds.  I want to be more (and, well, less…but we’ll skip that physical bit).  My father taught me to never be satisfied.  He taught me to be always curious, to always to seek to learn and improve.  When I get lazy and start to slack off, is he wrong to be disappointed in me?  Is he wrong to criticize and tell me that I should be more? No. No, he is not wrong — I deserve that criticism.

Can I expect less from my nation?  Should I expect less from my nation?  I want to live in a place that is more.  I want to live in a place that knows perfection is always out of reach, but strives for it anyway.

{Musical Note — I read a piece this morning that talked about a specific song. Now, that piece tried to reinterpret this particular song as a paean of patriotic praise. The writer of the piece noted that Mellencamp had certain criticisms in mind when he wrote and recorded the tune, but chose to ignore or gloss over those criticisms in order to create a narrative of wholly unquestioning patriotism. Unquestioning patriotism is as un-american as anything I can imagine, by the way. If we don’t criticize, and strive to improve, we stagnate. An America stagnant and unchanging is Rome all over again…}

Enough Already!

I had a conversation with a friend back in Yellowstone the other day.  I wanted to catch up with her, of course, but — honestly — I mostly just wanted to see how things were going back in paradise.  And how are things going?  Record numbers.  Not just crowded, but the busiest month the park has seen…ever.  And that is before the “busy season” starts!

I might miss the wolves and bears, and all the back country shenanigans that were my form of relaxation, but the crowds this summer are going to be biblical.  Honestly, I’d rather have the plague of locusts than the even-more-record numbers that are going to be filling the park in July and August.

I’d make a joke about how I hope the bears eat well, but some folks have a tendency to take me far too literally for that!  No, I don’t want a grizzly to eat a camper — do you have any idea how high in cholesterol American campers are?!  The poor bear would have a coronary!

Ahem.

Speaking of record numbers, and of people just wanting to be out and about again…

Can we be done with this shit already?  No, really…can the damned pandemic just be done?  Let’s do a Vietnam War thing and just declare victory and go home.  I know, I know, things are relaxing, and a lot of the nuttiness is being pushed aside.

A lot, but not all.

What’s funny is that the things that really did/do better against COVID are what are gone — or at least going — but the what remains, and may never leave, are the silly things that are far more performative than they are legitimately effective.

What is saddest is that these are the things that are probably going to stick with us when full “normalcy” returns.  Good lord, every time I see one of those stupid plexiglass shields in a store or restaurant, I want to go all QAnon and just start screaming incoherently…and don’t even get me started on the damned temperature sensors!

Yeah, I’m vaccinated…and I want the old world back!  I want to be able to party at a waterfront bar on Hvar!  I want to be able to be all superior and condescending to lost tourists in the Roman Forum!  I want to be able to sail along the Amalfi Coast!  Hell, I’ll even let a French waiter be all superior and rude to me — without telling him I understand every damned thing he’s muttering under his breath — if that means I can drink wine in small Provençal villages!*  And don’t even get me started on the places I’ve never been!  I want to be able to see a baobob tree!  I want to be able to experience the steppes of Mongolia!  I want to be able to explore Egypt and Iran and Cappadocia and all the other places that were as ancient to Rome as Rome is to us!

Harrumph!!

*A bit of unrequested travel advice for everyone: when planning a trip abroad, you could do a lot worse than plan your visit around staying in towns of no more than ten thousand folks.  Preferably fewer than five thousand, actually.  You will not regret it.  Just trust me on that one.

I read in an article a while back the theory that once you relax all of the pandemic-related restrictions and regulations, you will never again be able to re-implement them.  That I believe whole-heartedly.  People are done with the restrictions and, once those finally disappear, no one will accept them again.  At least, not without a Monty Python-level pandemic.  Honestly, I’d have to say the odds of getting me to self-quarantine once again are roughly the same as the odds of me starting for the LA Lakers…

p.s.

Random bit of insight for you — here is what I have in the back of my mind when I say that I miss living on the water:

And here is what I get:

And, yes, hyperbole is fun!