How To Travel

Differently than the masses with their damn selfie sticks and incessant, narcissistic staged photographs in front of every god forsaken tourist landmark.

Call me hopelessly out of touch. A Luddite. A curmudgeon. A Luddite curmudgeon. Sticks and stones.

Dammit though, when exactly did everyone substitute smart phones for brains?! And my frame of reference was early April, I can’t imagine summer in European cities.

If you live in the US, what would you point a 21st century de Tocqueville to if he or she wanted to understand what life in the (dis)United States is really like? Disney World, the Las Vegas Strip, the National Mall in Washington, DC? If you live outside the US, what would you point someone to if they wanted to begin understanding life in your country in a short period of time?

The trap people fall into is being able to say they’ve seen the most popular places. Others travel in pursuit of good weather, or as a temporary respite from their hectic work lives, or to break out of the mundaneness of their lives.

I’m different, those things don’t motivate me. Not better, just different. I’m most interested in observing and reflecting on what ordinary day-to-day life is like in other places. And then thinking about similarities and differences with my life. I find ordinary aspects of daily life endlessly interesting.

How do parents interact with children? Gently, kindly, absent-mindedly? How much freedom are children and adolescents given? When alone, how do they play together?

Is there much community? How do people create it? In Spain, they go to Tapas bars and eat, drink Sangria, and talk late into the night. No introverts need apply, which probably explains why my application for dual citizenship was summarily denied.

I’d counsel a foreign visitor to the U.S. to skip the big city tourist magnets and instead live for a week or two in a few small to medium sized cities in different parts of the country. Like Marion, Ohio; Valparaiso, Indiana; Seal Beach, California, or Olympia, Washington for example. Attend a school play, get a day pass to the YMCA, attend Olympia’s Arts Walk and Procession of the Species. Go to Vic’s Pizzeria and while eating watch how families interact with one another. At Vic’s, almost always, I’m inspired by the care adults show one another and their children. So much so, I can’t help but think positively about the future. Our politics are hellish at present, but we’ll be okay.

Families—in all their myriad forms—are the building blocks of society, and therefore, a key to understanding any particular place. Whether home or abroad, I’m always eavesdropping on families, in restaurants, in church, in fitness centers, in parks.

How to travel? Go to the world famous museum, ancient city, or cathedral if you must, but resist a steady diet of tourist magnets, instead seek alternative, off-the-beaten-path places as windows into daily life. If my experience is any guide, your life will be enriched by taking the roads less traveled.

Like the Triana farmer’s market in Seville, Spain, where I sat for a long time watching a sixty something father and mother and their thirty something son, cut, wrap, and sell meat to a cross-section of Seville. It was artistry, the way they shared the small space, made eye contact with customers, talked them up, and effortlessly moved product. The son has to take over for the parents at some point, right? He’s a handsome dude with a winsome smile. Does he have a life/business partner to team with? Will he?

Or the small plaza in front of the Sophia Reina Museum in Madrid where school children played a spirited hybrid game of soccer and volleyball while dodging the occasional passerby. Dig that 11 year old girls vicious jump serve. How did she get so athletic so young? A natural. Will she become another great Spanish athlete on the world scene?

Then again, when it comes to alternative tourism, it may be dangerous following my lead. I have 9 pictures from our 11 days in Spain. If someone discovered that at Passport Control at JFK airport in New York, they probably would’ve shredded my passport.

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Another pro tip: always travel with smiley peeps

 

 

 

Verily I Say To You, The Son Can Do Nothing Himself, Absent Branding

Two more church council meetings, but who’s counting. I think I have made positive contributions, but that’s for others to determine.

At last week’s meeting the pastors asked us to think about and be ready to discuss at the next meeting a handout entitled, “Four aspects of public faith essential to creating an Evangelism culture.”

I’m having a hard time getting past aspect one.

Branding

  • If you don’t brand your church, someone will do it for you.”
  • What’s your congregation’s central story?
  • Who is your neighbor? Do you have a sense of who your neighborhood and community? (sic)
  • Do you have a logo that is used numerous times and places so that when people see it they immediately think of you? Are you guiding principles (values) known and claimed? (sic)
  • Are worship time(s) and location on the main page of your ministry’s website?

I could nitpick the individual bullet points, like the first, which leaves you guessing who is actually speaking. Probably a church growth consultant with a joint Masters of Divinity/Masters of Business Administration degree. Or the third and fourth which read like one of my first year students’ drafts. But what would nitpicking accomplish?

The woefully faulty assumption seems to be that what’s needed to halt declining church attendance is employing logos more like successful businesses. If we just use our logo more effectively, this whole thing will turn around. LOL. SMH.

That thinking seriously depresses me. I seek as non-business a spiritual experience as possible.

I suspect the declining number of people who prioritize attending church on Sunday mornings don’t give a shit about their churchs’ logos. Nor do they want to be talked at as much as they want to connect with someone else, even one person.

People are alienated from one another. And lonely. Improved branding won’t change those realities. At all.

But I could be wrong, I don’t have a Masters of Divinity or a Masters of Business Administration.

*also hurting my cred, sometimes I skip church when there’s a major golf championship on television

 

Of Mountains and Spain 2019

Three years ago, in light of our 30th anniversary, I promised the Good Wife a trip to a “Spanish speaking” country. It only took three years to pull of. The GW has always had a passion for languages, Swedish, Amharic, Spanish in particular. Sad isn’t it, that she married such a language loser, but she has to take responsibility for focusing exclusively on looks.

A week or two before the trip, while loitering in the kitchen, she said to me, “Being in Spain with you is going to be sexy.” Hubba hubba! All of a sudden the long distance flights seemed more manageable. But then I regained my senses and said, “Yeah, except for the fact that you invited our daughters.” Correcting the record, she smiled, “Ah, that was your idea.” What the hell was I thinking? Probably that their schedules would never allow it. They happily proved me wrong. We never should have taken them to live for short stints in China and Norway when they were young.

Here are the sordid details you so desperately want. The four of us shared small apartments in Madrid and Seville for eleven days. I was sick as a perro for about a third of the time. In the end, I’m sorry to report, there was very little hanky and next to no panky.

But all was not lost.

David Brooks in a recent piece, The Moral Peril of Meritocracy, contrasts first and second mountain life. He writes:

“If the first mountain is about building up the ego and defining the self, the second is about shedding the ego and dissolving the self. If the first mountain is about acquisition, the second mountain is about contribution.

On the first mountain, personal freedom is celebrated — keeping your options open, absence of restraint. But the perfectly free life is the unattached and unremembered life. . . . 

So the person on the second mountain is making commitments. People who have made a commitment to a town, a person, an institution or a cause have cast their lot and burned the bridges behind them. They have made a promise without expecting a return. They are all in.”

And:

“Over the past few decades the individual, the self, has been at the center. The second-mountain people are leading us toward a culture that puts relationships at the center. They ask us to measure our lives by the quality of our attachments, to see that life is a qualitative endeavor, not a quantitative one.”

I may finally be approaching the base of the second mountain. Why do I think that? Because when the GW asked me what my favorite moment of the trip was, I wasn’t quite able to tell her. Instead, I told her my second and third favorites.

My absolute favorite was witnessing the wave of emotion that came over her as the trip drew to an end.

The last morning in Seville, I rallied and we went for an aimless walk through our neighborhood’s ancient, narrow streets. Eventually, we ended up at the outdoor window of a tapas bar in a small, beautiful, mostly empty plaza. We ordered dos cafes con leche and waited at an outdoor table. Sipping our drinks, she started to cry. “This is exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to sit with you at an outdoor cafe and just enjoy the moment.” Later that morning, the tears continued as she declared her abiding love for the whole dam fam. I can’t remember ever seeing her happier.

That made the lengthy planning process, the marathon plane flights, the expenses totally worth it.

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Rick Steves Wants to Save the World

One vacation at a time. Lengthy profile of the travel guru, but really well written and well worth the time. In the spirt of Steves, I’m off on a two-week vacation, during which I’ll be pressing pause on Pressing Pause.

I’m agnostic on marijuana. Apart from that difference, I’m down with damn near every other aspect of Steves’s worldview. At the same time, I get tired just reading about his frenetic pace. I’m far too slothful to aspire to be Steves-like, but his non-materialism and associated generosity are definitely inspiring.

I’ll post pics to Twitter, @PressingPause, of my travels. First person to guess the correct country wins an all expense trip to North Korea.

Hate Is Metastasizing

Asne’s Seierstad’s “One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway” is a devastating read.

When I heard the New Zealand killer posted a 17,000 word manifesto that cited European white supremacists as his inspiration, I knew Breivik had to have loomed large.

Today in the New York Times Seierstad confirms that hunch in her essay “The Anatomy of White Terror“.

She writes:

“Before he allegedly killed 50 Muslims praying at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday, Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, reportedly posted a 74-page manifesto titled “The Great Replacement” online. In his tract, Mr. Tarrant wrote that he had only one true inspiration: the Norwegian political terrorist, Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011.”

With almost universal access to the internet, mental illness wrapped in hate is tragically metastasizing.

Seierstad again:

“Mr. Breivik wanted fame. He wanted his 1,500-page cut-and-paste manifesto to be read widely, and he wanted a stage — his trial in Oslo. He called the bomb he set off outside the prime minister’s office in Oslo, and the massacre he carried out on the island of Utoya, his “book launch.” He told the Norwegian court he had estimated how many people he needed to kill to be read. He had figured a dozen, but ended up killing 77.

Eight years after the massacre in Norway, the Norwegian political terrorist continues to be read by his desired audience: On far right forums on the internet the term “going Breivik” means a full commitment to the cause.”

On far right forums, Breivik is a household name. That is the worst possible legacy.

Seierstad adds:

“Christopher Hasson, a lieutenant in the United States Coast Guard and a self-described white nationalist who wanted to trigger a race war, was inspired by the Norwegian.”

Despite being imprisoned, Breivik, as co-conspirator of sorts, continues to kill. In large part, because his hate-filled ideology is so easily accessible.

Extremely violent white supremacists seek community. And they’re finding it online.

Is Seierstad making matters worse by bringing Breivik and the NZ killer added attention? She doesn’t think so:

“Are we complicit in spreading the ideas of these fascists by writing about them? The answer is no. Radicalization happens first and foremost on the internet, where violent extremists meet and incite each other, and where they should be tracked down and monitored.

We can’t allow ourselves to be ignorant. To fight terrorism, we need to research how individuals become terrorists. We need to analyze and expose fascist thoughts and violence.

People like Mr. Breivik and Mr. Tarrant spread myths and conspiracies dressed up as facts. They use guns to be read. Their thoughts thrive in the darkness, tailored to an underground community. We need to expose the ideas and the lives of these white supremacists. Only then can we dissect them properly.”

I agree in part. The NZ killer wants to represent himself in court to, it’s safe to assume, use it as a platform for his hate-filled ideology. New Zealand’s judicial system should make sure the media doesn’t play into his hands. I concur with Seierstad about exposing “myths and conspiracies dressed up as facts”, but I can’t think of any good coming from additional exposure.

We can’t undo the internet, but as Seierstad argues, we have to do a better job of monitoring and tracking down white supremacists hiding behind their keyboards. We also have to denounce “immigrant invasion” rhetoric at least as vociferously as Donald Trump promulgates it. And we can stand in solidarity with Muslim and Jewish acquaintances and friends in our communities in the ongoing battle against individuals who, emboldened by one another and overcome by illness and violence, continue to target them.

 

Cold Water Swimming is Trending

Here at Pressing Pause, I’m used to people looking to me to determine societal trends. At times it’s a burden, so much so, I think I’ll sit this one out. In West Seattle there’s a group of cold water enthusiasts that swim at Alki beach everyday of the year, some without wetsuits even.

I just returned from one of my fav get-aways, Victoria, Canada. One of my happy places in Victoria is the Victoria Athletic Club’s steam room. If you’re looking for me to extol the virtues of cold water swimming, that’s a good place to start.

Abolish Billionaires?

There are about 2,200 billionaires in the world, about one-fourth of those are U.S. citizens.

Farhad Manjoo recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that engendered more than 1,500 comments. Most simply, he argued, we should abolish billionaires through much higher taxes and related policies.

When it comes to billionaires, I’m of a mixed mind. On the one hand, given rising inequality, I’m surprised more people aren’t agitating against members of the three -comma club. Not just writing commentaries, but taking to the streets Occupy Wall Street style.

On the other hand, as the philosopher Peter Singer points out, some billionaires are giving away the bulk of their wealth to philanthropy. Bill Gates, in particular, plans to give away 99.6% of the cash money I paid him back in the day for successive versions of Microsoft Office.

Of course, as Manjoo points out, we have to analyze whether the billionaires’ charitable giving is having positive effects or not. Anand Giridharadas style. As Manjoo explains, Giridharadas argues that many billionaires approach philanthropy as a kind of branding exercise to maintain a system in which they get to keep their billions. Especially when they put their largess into politics.

“. . . whether it’s Howard Schultz or Michael Bloomberg or Sheldon Adelson, whether it’s for your team or the other — you should see the plan for what it is: an effort to gain some leverage over the political system, a scheme to short-circuit the revolution and blunt the advancing pitchforks.”

Gates might be an outlier, but his giving is so exemplary, I’m less inclined to order a pitchfork from that billionaire with the online superstore.