Tuesday, May 23, 2017

the bell tolls for thee

This trip north is entering its last leg.

Early tomorrow morning, I will be boarding an airplane to Portland then a shuttle to Salem to attend Joshua Bell's concert with the Salem Symphonic Orchestra. Then, by late Saturday evening, I will be back home in Barra de Navidad.

My erstwhile traveling companions Roy and Nancy happened to be in Bend today. So, we arranged to have lunch together. The restaurant was only four miles away. That made it an easy walk from the house.

I was even healthy with my lunch choice (a small Greek salad with a cup of tomato-basil soup -- after my breakfast of hot and sour soup, and ginger beef.

 We caught up on what had been happening in our lives since the Australia cruise -- and started planning the details of our next jaunt. This time in Denmark. In October.

When we finished, they offered to drive me to their next destination to save me some steps home. I declined. I have been rather disciplined in getting in as many steps a day as I can.

That got me to thinking. I wonder how many miles I have walked since leaving Mexico earlier this month? Thanks to the memory on my telephone and my new Gear Fit, I have the answer. And here it is. Day by day. The date in May first. The miles second.

  6 - 16.68
  7 - 10.72
  8 - 18.72
  9 - 21.82
10 - 10.66
11 - 11.61
12 - 10.68
13 -   7.82
14 -   6.22
15 - 15.63
16 -   8.35
17 - 10.60
18 - 12.41
19 - 11.23
20 - 21.39
21 -   8.24
22 - 13.83
If I had started walking to Boise from Bend on the 6th (and walked no more than I have), I would almost be there now. And there are days, when I get into my walking groove, that I feel as of I could just walk all day.

And at a 4 MPH pace, that is about 70 hours of walking spread over seventeen days.

Why am I telling you this? I encountered another scientific study in The Oregonian this morning.

Electronic devices that record exercise routines are a great source of accurate information. Anecdotal information from people who exercise are always subject to data entanglement. That is a nice term that includes forgetfulness and lying. Electronic devices report what they experience.

Some exercisers publish their results in such place as Facebook. I don't. But I appear to be in the minority. Fit people like letting people know they are -- fit, that is.

You have run into them at dinner parties. They are the people who cannot stop talking about "My Numbers" and who keep sticking their fit bits in your face to prove their point as if it were the desiccated left toe of Saint Servatus.

Digging through the data, scientists have concluded that the fitness crowd can actually influence their friends and acquaintances to exercise more. They have even quantified the effect. For each kilometer run, a friend will run 0.3 kilometers more.

But not everyone has the same influence. It appears that the people who are most encouraged to exercise more are the ones that already exercise more than the person who encourages them. They are the people who dread the steps of even their friends creeping up on them.

If that is true, I have just written a note of encouragement to those of you who have run or walked over 300 miles over the past two weeks.

If you have not, and the study is correct, I have come off sounding like a self-righteous prig. It seems as if the confessions never end.

At least, I will be sitting still for a bit during the Joshua Bell concert.

Monday, May 22, 2017

live like a hobbit

Some things never change.

Take housing bubbles. When the last one popped a decade ago, Bend was one of the hardest hit communities in the country.

Foreclosures soared. People walked away from their dream homes. And the community stopped growing.

There is a housing development not too far from my brother's house that typified what happened ten years ago.

Bend was riding high in the real estate bubble of the early 2000s. Small bungalows that could not be sold in the 1990s started selling for Bentley and Rolls Royce prices.

And, as if often the case when irrational exuberance starts driving prices, people came up with imaginative ways to earn money that would normally be rejected as "you-need-to-take-your-meds" ideas.

In 2004 a developer thought of a doozy. He would build homes in the million dollar range with architecture based on Tolkien's Hobbit village, The Shire.

And that is what he called it. The Shire. The homes would evoke the romanticism of living in a hole in the ground while not having to live underground. It was the type of development that appeals to people who want something different, but who are not encumbered by an excess of taste.

The developer talked a local doctor into signing for a loan. And the building was off and running in 2005. Running is not even close to what happened. Only one house was built, and a second was under construction, when catastrophe hit. The houses did not sell like hot cakes. They did not even sell like elven bread

And then the housing bubble popped in Bend. The Shire was not the only development that Hindenburged. The entire Bend housing market collapsed -- with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. The Shire suffered along with the rest, but it had the disadvantage of being just a bit too fantastic to survive.

There was an additional tragedy. The doctor, who put his good name on the line to obtain the development loan, died. One day, he disappeared. The next day his body was found in the Deschutes River.

As is true with most tragedies of this nature, the small town gossips played out a tapestry of possible death causes. Accidental drowning. Suicide. Foul play. Whatever the cause was, it did not make the story any less Sophoclean.

The story is now a decade old. But the underlying moral is again raising its head. Housing prices in Bend are astronomical. A tiny bungalow in my brother's neighborhood just sold for $300,000.

Bend is currently positioning itself for another housing bubble that will inevitably burst. There are lessons to be learned. But not remembered.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

scooping up the culture

Today starts the cultural portion of my Oregon tour.

One thing I truly miss in my area of Mexico is biting into a chewy bit of culture. I should add an immediate caveat. We do have some artists who produce challenging paintings near my home. Several of those hang on the walls of the house with no name. Paintings, mind you; not the artists.

But when it comes to string quartets, oratorios, operas, or orchestras, there are not so many. Of course, there are in Mexico City and Guadalajara. But I do not get there as often as I would like.

So, that leaves my travels to feed my cultural jonesing. And I try to take advantage of anything of interest that is offered while I travel. That is why opera in Sydney, orchestra in Barcelona, and string quartets in Venice are such a treat.

On this trip, I have found three days of cultural diversion, starting tonight with the Crown City String Quartet in Bend. Crown City is Pasedena-based, but the quartet play often in the Pacific Northwest, including for the series sponsored by High Desert Chamber Music. I saw them perform two years ago here (staging the day). Tonight's performance is the finale of the HDCM's 2016-17 season.

Pre-concert discussions of the pieces to be performed are now quite common. And they are a great idea.

Most people who attend these concerts have a vague idea of what the music might offer. But they often do not have the tools to analyze the music's depths. These mini-lectures help bridge the gap.

I often write that I want my music to be challenging -- just as I want paintings or sculpture or opera to be challenging. Once the listener understands the sonata form, there are potential signposts to understand the composer's statement and restatement of themes.

It also helps if the program is populated with pieces that are almost entry-level (but still extremely good). That is what the Crown City String Quartet is offering tonight:
  • Schubert "Quartettsatz"
  • Mozart String Quartet in B Flat Major K.589
  • Schumann String Quartet No. 3 in A Minor 
On Sunday afternoon, Darrel, Mom and I will attend the season's last performance of the Central Oregon Symphony -- an orchestra that used to bill itself as "the largest symphony in Bend." An appellation that has all the weight of  being "world-famous in Poland."

Tomorrow's guest is Linda Wang, who I saw perform in Bend on one of my earlier visits. I look forward to seeing her perform again. The performance will also be noteworthy because the second piece on the program, Cascades, was commissioned by the orchestra to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

And here is the full program:

  • Brahms Violin Concerto
  • Barnes Cascades
  • Marquez Danzon No.2
The first and third pieces are not very challenging, but I look forward to hearing the premier of the commissioned piece. Anything new is always worth a listen.

And, of course, even though it is not very demanding music, the Marquez is one of my favorite pop concert pieces (sex on the floor). I suspect it will be a fun afternoon.

Then there is the concert that kept me in Oregon this long. On Wednesday night Joshua Bell will be the guest performer with the Salem Symphony.

The Salem Symphony is a recent creation -- reminiscent of the days when every town had its own band. Or boys' band, as Professor Harold Hill would have it.

I have long-admired Joshua Bell's work. Including his off-stage antics. It is not every day a performer of his quality shows up in the town where I once lived.

The program for Wednesday is:

  • Saint Saens Bacchanale
  • Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture
  • Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor
  • Sarasate Ziguenerweisen
Bell will perform with the orchestra on the last two pieces. Both are well-designed to showcase his show biz style, but not his subtle virtuosity.

Having said all that, I am looking forward to each of the three performances. The Bell has all the elements of being a memorable night. But I may be surprised at what the other two performances offer, as well.

I do know, though, that when I return to Barra de Navidad, I am going to miss having all of these options available.

Guadalajara and Mexico City may get to see a lot more of me.

Friday, May 19, 2017

packing it all up

Friday was shopping day. And shop I did.

"Shop" may be the wrong word. I associate that verb with aimless wandering through stores occasionally fondling the random piece of merchandise and slouching away looking as if the holy grail had just evaded my grasp.

I like to call what I do hunting. I know where the elk were last seen. I swoop in, and, if they are not there, I move on.

By that definition, Thursday was a mixed bag. I stopped at four stores (REI, Eddie Bauer, Columbia Sportswear, and The Foot Zone) knowing what I wanted in each.  Some had it. Some didn't.

What I ended up with was a pile of shirts, shorts, socks, and shoes. And a new Eagle Creek duffel bag to cart them home to Mexico.

When I first moved south eight years ago, I would drag a shopping cart of stuff back to Mexico. Mostly foodstuffs. The type of thing I craved, but could not buy in my little village on the beach.

Food is no longer on my list -- with the exception of hard-to-find spices and herbs. My tastes have not changed that much: the availability has. Almost anything I need can be found at Hawaii -- a grocery store in San Patricio.

However, the clothes I prefer are not readily available near my house. So, about every two years I purchase a new pile of duds that make me like like a colorful version of Steve Irwin. Lots of cotton angling shirts and shorts.

Today's purchases should hold me until I head north again in September for my 50th high school reunion. I am looking forward to that. But I will need something other than khakis for the evening.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

science is my bag

In his Annie Hall opening monologue, Woody Allen imagines how he will age. The balding virile type as opposed to the distinguished gray. He then fires off one of my favorite movie lines.

"Unless I'm one o' those guys with saliva dribbling out of his mouth who wanders into a cafeteria with a shopping bag screaming about socialism."

That is the guy I have felt like these past couple of weeks. I just noticed a number of my essays have a patina of grumpiness about them. Andy Rooney without the charm.

I am about to do it again.

Earlier this week, I ran across a headline: "Stomach acid drugs can cause serious gut infections." I have a special interest in such stories. I use omeprazole, one of the most-prescribed acid inhibitors, to keep food from ending up like Mama Cass dying with a grilled chicken stuck in my throat.

So, anytime I see the word "cause" associated with omepraziole and some disastrous outcome, I pay attention. I did the same thing two years ago when the newspapers were ablaze with warnings like "Heartburn drugs linked to heart attacks."

The heart attack warning turned out to be uneducated journalists auditioning for the role of the shepherd boy in "Waiting for Lobo." Most of newspaper scribblers stated that the use of acid inhibitors increased the chance of heart attacks by 16%. Scientists would call that statistically significant. Normal people would call it frightening.

That story disappeared when doctors pointed out the studies found no such thing. The risk factor was almost infinitesimal. Even if the data was correct (and there is some doubt a bout that), 99.98 percent of people who take the inhibitors are not a risk of having a heart attack.

The latest scare turns out to be far less frightening than the headlines would have us believe. It is true that, after reviewing medical records (there was no blind study), it appeared that there was some form of causal relationship between the use of the heartburn medications and a recurrent gut infection of a rather nasty kind. 22.1 percent of the users, to quote the study, were gut busters.

That number was about enough to make me run the risk of choking to death rather than suffering bouts of diarrhea. That is, until I read further. It turns out that 17.3 percent of non-users also suffer from these pesky infections. That rather puts paid to the "causation" fear.

Now, that may look like the use of the drugs increases the risk of infections by 5%. But that would not be true, either.

And, maybe because of the scandal of fake news generated in the 2015 article, journalists simply noted the two figures and said nothing more. Of course, they should have. They could have asked the study authors what it all meant.

They didn't. They had met their mission of scaring the infection out of their readers. And, the nutrition nazis, who considered science to merely be another tool to scare people, will interpret the study to keep the burn alive.

Whenever people ask me why I am always skeptical of what journalists have to say about issues scientific, I will pick up these two headlines as a bludgeon. I keep hoping the truth will out.

But that is not the nature of journalism.

As for me, I am going to get myself a drool cup and a shopping bag. I already spend a lot of time screaming about socialism.    

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

saving the galaxy

I am going to save you from a Trump diatribe.

This morning's Oregonian blared "Trump revealed secrets." That caught my attention.

The disclosure of classified information has long been my political bête noire -- even though I was a bit baffled that anyone would criticize the president for revealing classified information. That is well within the executive's authority.

What bothered me was in the text of the story. That the disclosure may have jeopardized our ally's trust that we will not share information they have provided. And we now all know the source of the classified information was one of our truest allies -- Israel.

My long-
held aversion to disclosing classified information stems from rather specific events where friends, acquaintances, and contacts are now dead as a result of the work of such traitors as Philip Agee.

But, I decided enough commentators and amateurs are donning ashes and wallowing in ashes. If there is one aspect of being up north that has really disappointed me, it is the constant conversation about President Trump. I have yet to have a conversation with anyone up here that has not been either hagiographic hero worship or fears that the seventh seal of the Apocalypse has been opened.

So, I am not going to write about The Donald -- because he bores me. And I would appreciate not getting into a discussion in the comments section. We can talk about something else.

And that is exactly what Ken, Kimmy, Matthew, and I did today. To avoid mining the depths of the Trump bucket, we headed off to Cabela's, who touts itself as "The World's Foremost Outfitter." Outfitter of sporting equipment, that is.

I have taken a liking to wearing angling shirts. And most of mine are suffering from the wear and tear of Mexican life. So, hunting I went. And ended up empty handed as sportsmen often do.

The best I could bag was some cinnamon salt water taffy. It is true that taffy is not on my current food list. But I like it, and a few pieces will not damn me to nutrition Hell -- unless you listen too closely to the anti-sugar hysterics.

No trip to Cabela's would be complete, though, without visiting its second floor of firearms. There are banks of rifles for hunting the wily game whose taxidermic remains dot the store.

But my favorite room is the vintage gun room. Especially, the hand guns. It is fun to point out the various guns James Bond has used in the novels and the never-ending films.

Then we were off to a movie. Not a James Bond piece.

Ken, Kimmy, and Matthew did not have an opportunity to see Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume Two last night. Kimmy and Matthew had already seen it three or four times. I saw it in Bend with my family. Ken was the only one of our group who had not seen it.

I had the choice of staying home alone or joining them. Since I had traveled up here to enjoy their company, I decided to steel myself and watch it again.

For whatever reason, I found it a bit more enjoyable the second time. I must have been in the wrong mood when I saw it the first time.

I really enjoyed the first three Star Wars movies. The characters in Guardians come close to connecting on a personal level. And the story line has a lot of similarities -- even though this one lacked a lot of back story.

But it is a movie based on comic books. What can I expect?

In execution, it is a lot more like the second series of Star War movies. Special effects and star battles quickly maneuver the characters into secondary roles. Violence and noise become the stars.

These short visits are a bit frustrating. I enjoy the company of my friends. But Ken will be taking me to the Seattle airport in the morning on his way to battle his way through traffic to conduct a hearing in downtown Seattle. Even though my flight is in the early afternoon, I will probably be in Bend before he gets back home.

And, out of the blue, there is another reason I am glad to live in my part of Mexico. Traffic is not a problem.

But, before I start extolling the virtues of Mexico, I still have a week and a half to enjoy the pleasures of Oregon. And more pithy observations await.

Monday, May 15, 2017

if it's monday this must be olympia

Steve is on the road again.

This time in Washington. The state, not the political puzzle land. Olympia, if you are keeping track.

Yesterday I decided it was time to check in with my friend Ken. I have been here only once (I think) since Patti died (the circle tightens) in 2015. Their home is not the same without her. But Ken and their daughter Kimmy are.

And it was a propitious time for a visit. Kimmy's boyfriend Matthew proposed to her less than a month ago. They are trousseau deep in planning a wedding in Anaheim May of next year.

The four of us had a brief opportunity this evening to sit down and talk about what is happening in all of our lives. They then adjourned to the questionable entertainment of Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume Two. I had already seen it with my family in Bend last week. Once was enough.

I am here only until Wednesday. We will undoubtedly do what we always do on my visits -- make mock of words and politicians, try to beat each others' puns, and visit one of the largest gun stores in the Pacific Northwest.

And that car at the top? Ken picked me up in one of the cars you can see in the photograph. It was either the Bentley Continental GT (with a list of price just above $200,000 (US)) or the red Kia Sportage.

I will let you guess.