- Name: Lonnie Bruner
- Location: Washington, DC, United States
I live in DC, sail the Chesapeake Bay, have a lovely wife who's a web designer, a young son, an unruly hound dog, and am interested in most everything in the world. Oh yea, and I love the smell of burning trash in the Third World. That just gets me going.
- Got Towed, Drank, Danced a Little ...
- Hello? Anyone Up For a China Rant?
- Cat Shit Coffee
- My Secret Apartment
- Ok, I'll Play Some Guitar for You
- I'm pretty sure I just went to the best sushi rest...
- The Pinnacle of Sport Fishing: Catching a Blue Mar...
- Bars in India: Like 100 Years Ago in the USA
- Atlantic Rockfishing
- They Hauled My Next-Door Neighbor Away in an Ambul...
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Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.
Monday, October 15, 2012
Got Towed, Drank, Danced a Little ...
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Hello? Anyone Up For a China Rant?
(Dan): "Read this incredibly good rant from my friend who is on a business trip in China. This friend travels to Asia all the time. This person has been to amazing places and seen amazing things and loves nothing more than to become immersed in strange food and drink and culture. But this friend has some issues with China. I got this email this morning. It's insightful and interesting and detailed. It's also an awesome double-barreled unloading from a person who sounds tired and cranky and unimpressed. It's funny. My friend gave me permission to share it (after I begged), on the condition that my friend remain anonymous. So please, if you know this person, don't type this person's name in the comments."
(Lonnie Bruner): "Not a fan of China. I've been here before, and a lot of the
culture is like the rest of Asia, but a bit amped up in parts, with
many of the good elements stripped out.
All this week I've been eating the regular Chinese fare of chopped cow
stomach, jellyfish with chili peppers, greasy pork with an inch of fat
on top of slimy clear noodles (nearly all food manages to contain some
part of a pig), steamed celery, carp (mouth agape) in an inch of brown
sauce, and 106-proof Chinese rotgut to wash it down. Often there's a
whole chicken (I really mean "whole" in a literal sense -- includes
head and feet) that looks like someone boiled it and then ripped it
apart with their bare hands and angrily threw it down on a serving
plate -- without sauce.
The pressure to drink and drink and drink is obnoxious. I mean, they
toast back to back and drink like every 4 minutes and pressure you
more if you try and refuse (after accepting like 6 straight shots of
53% alcohol that tastes like public restroom cleaner. Not kidding).
They just bring in hard liquor to any restaurant, sit the bottles
(always bottle*s*, plural) on the table, and serve themselves -- and
they do. It's fucking annoying as hell, and I need to vent a bit.
Also, everyone smokes. Everyone. And they don't open windows in the
room while smoking. So you're trying to grin and bear it in a hot
sealed-up room and eat this fucking shit food while your eyes are
literally burning from the smoke in the room. And after a while, I
just refuse to drink, along with XXXX, my distributor (he's Taiwanese
and confided that he hates the way Chinese drink). And a couple of the
guys polish off over 750ml of this liquor EACH. They have to be
carried out of the restaurant. Apparently, these guys do this nightly.
It's just common as hell, I'm told, because basically every male I saw
in the evening was falling down drunk (Tuesday night btw). Fuck them.
Another thing -- it's hot as fuck here and they serve you HOT WATER in
a plastic cup when you sit down for a meeting during the daytime. I
mean, what the fuck. Seriously, hot water. I mean, sometimes it's
actually got a couple of sprigs of green tea it in, but 8 times out of
10 it's just plain hot water in a cheap plastic cup that's basically
melting when you pick it up.
And the country is so god damn soulless. It's just endless mile after
mile of 10-lane brand new highways and nuclear stacks and blocky
skyscraper apartment buildings and cranes and pollution haze. There's
nothing aesthetic about any of the China I've seen. It's like an
entire population could give a damn about making anything look
pleasing to the eye. I mean, places like Thailand or Vietnam I'm often
struck by how beautiful things are -- landscaping, mountains, vistas,
art. China -- none of that. It's just heavy industry and cranes and
half-finished buildings as far as the eye can see. And it's all
fucking flat pretty much! Shit, even the clouds are ugly because
they're covered up by the pollution haze. This pollution haze is
really a phenomenon that has to be seen to believe. You can't imagine.
The entire country is covered in a yellowish/whitish haze; you can
drive for 500 miles and it's still there, everywhere. Maybe 1,000
miles, I bet.
Anyway, rant over. I feel better now. Thanks for listening. Hopefully
I'll find something redeeming. Oh wait, here's something cool: our
afternoon meeting was cancelled so we went to the Shaolin Temples
where Kung Fu was created. That was pretty cool.
ps: and the fucking government has blocked all the internet stuff that
makes life a little more bearable (ie, facebook and porno)."
Saturday, November 05, 2011
Cat Shit Coffee
Thursday, September 15, 2011
My Secret Apartment
I wonder if other people have this fantasy. Of course, I couldn't afford such a place, and really wouldn't want it ... or could I? or would I?
Then I realize that I actually have such an apartment. Granted, it's not a secret place, but I do have it -- and it's cheap as hell, in fact it's only $1600 per year in rent. Not only is it cheap, but it's waterfront property. Ok, it's tiny and cramped, and the lighting in the apartment runs off two golf cart batteries, but hey, it's always stocked with decent whiskey and has a working toilet and sink.
What is this place? It's my sailboat.
Man, it's this type of re-occurring dream that makes me so glad I have it. I mean, it's essentially a tiny waterfront apartment that's cheap as hell and is the perfect getaway. I'm surprised more people don't just get a beat-up boat that they can hang out at as a cheap getaway waterfront apartment.
And it's mobile and (mostly) powered by free energy.
Monday, August 08, 2011
Ok, I'll Play Some Guitar for You
We left at 9pm on Friday and ended up at Tilghman Creek on Saturday at 4am. Strangely, we didn't pass out at the moment of anchorage, but chatted and drank under lamplight until the early morning about sex and US defaults.
That sail across was nice though. 18 knots starting out, then 12 knots fighting us to get down the Bay. Beating the whole way. My new spotlight was getting dim (my fault). But God, you desk-job people could learn a lot from this. I'd love to have you onboard.
We ended up at our spot late
The next day, while anchored, bored, nothing to do all day, and smoking honey-and-spice flavored tobacco from a hookah (I promise it's not weed), Dan recorded me aggressively beating on a guitar that Chris D. bought for $20 two years ago. Here's the video onboard my sailboat.
Basic playing on my part, but this is the way I have played guitar for like 10 years. It just relaxes me.
Saturday, July 02, 2011
I'm pretty sure I just went to the best sushi restaurant of my life.
Anyway, Ms. GaGa had posted her usual pretentious update on Facebook that she was in Taiwan and I asked if she wanted to meet me for a beer in the comments section. Having no response, I googled for a place for sushi here in Taipei and I had a true Internet-Is-Fucking-Awesome moment.
This isn't much of a story, really, but two minutes of Google searching found this recommendation on the Internet of where to eat sushi in Taipei.
There's no way I could've found such a place without my basic Internet skills. First, the front door had no English written on it. I checked that above random girl's blog and it had a picture of the front door which led me to the sushi:
I've decided I don't put pictures of food on the internet anymore but I will tell you, this shit was amazing. First off, I felt great, because being a White Person, I was the only White Person in the establishment. That made me feel all superior and what not.
And it was one of those sushi places where they bring out the food each individual piece at a time. The chef literally just lowers down a piece or two of sushi at a time onto a dry banana leaf. Occasionally, the chef shouted at me "NO SAUCE!" as he set the piece on my leaf, indicating that I wasn't supposed to dip it in soy or wasabi. Gotta love a restaurant that has such strict rules that they aren't afraid to shout them at your face.
And the only person in the joint that spoke English was the Phillipino dishwasher who treated me great and fully deserved the $40 tip I gave him.
Anyway, if you're ever stuck in Taipei for a day and a Saturday night, go to Niu Sushi, 150 Xinsheng North Road, Section 1, Taipei - 中山區新生北路一段150號 - 2542-9978
Monday, June 27, 2011
The Pinnacle of Sport Fishing: Catching a Blue Marlin
Barely able to our put our feet from the bed to the floor, waking up at 3:45am, my group of friends crawled out of a dirty Motel 6 in Norfolk, Virginia into our car for a four-hour boat ride to the fishing spot.
Calling this place a "Motel" is a compliment. A more accurate description is a freelance brothel where some of the rooms smelled like an orgy took place some time in the previous 100 hours. Nothing much in this world makes you want to sleep less than the smell of a two-day-old orgy having occurred underneath where you lie. God, I wish I was exaggerating. One guy in our group brought his own towels and sheets, having stayed there before.
With me on this fishing trip are: Colin, my brother-of-a-friend whom I've known since third grade; Brian, an affable Irishman from Belfast with a shapely belly and big personality who has a since-childhood obsession of catching a blue marlin; Rusty, a likable fellow on the quiet side, who owns a fireplace-and-grill business in Virginia; and Mike, a fun-ass unedited joke-cracker who's got seven kids and an early-model Chevy with serious fuel digestion problems.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Bars in India: Like 100 Years Ago in the USA
One thing that's interesting about India (among millions of things) is the bar situation. You see, the bars here are like I imagine bars were in the USA one hundred years ago -- hidden away, with entrances in the alley or in some dingy corner, dark and smokey, poorly air-conditioned and humid, no music, sometimes barely lit (or lit with a red light bulb), serving one type of beer and two types of whiskey, no mixed drinks (except water + liquor), and most importantly, no women are allowed.
Ok, it's true that in rare cases in some of the more cosmopolitan cities in India (or in tourist spots -- which is totally different from what I'm talking about), a wife or girlfriend may enter a bar and not be kicked out. But this is REALLY rare for Indians.
In India, bars are places for men to drink and talk, and that's that. It really changes the feel of the bar too, and not just for the decor, which is always bare bones and ratty looking. It tends to be nasty in Indian bars, where the patrons are quite rude to the staff and often yell at them -- "BOY!! BEER, BEER! QUICK!". I noticed they even call grown men "boy" when they're serving beer and liquor. The food is usually just salted peanuts and nothing else. There's just Kingfisher beer, and Teacher's scotch, with maybe some rot gut Indian brands that you don't want to even sniff at.
Having females in bars really changes the mood. In short, men tend to behave more when women are around, especially the way that the men talk to the staff. I haven't seen any bad drunkenness episodes, but it has to occur, despite India not being much of a drinking culture.
I'm curious anyone else's experiences with drinking in India.
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
They Hauled My Next-Door Neighbor Away in an Ambulance -- A Monthly Occurance
This is the guy I wrote about in July 2009 who side-swiped up a bunch of parked cars while on taxi duty. Since then, he's gotten his license suspended and thank god for it. Like his brother (whom I also wrote about), he's on the end of the road toward death, I'm afraid.
I'm not 100% certain what causes the ambulance to get called, but I have a theory:
This old alkie lives with his 95-year-old mother who has regular in-home nursing care (and dementia). So the old boozer drinks all night and passes out in the bathroom and is there by morning time when the nurses are changing shifts. I think they have to go to the bathroom, and find him passed out over the toilet so they just call 911. Hence, the usual ambulance outside my door every month.
You Better Believe I'll Be Cooking Hasenpfeffer When the Wife's Gone
So this Friday -- alone or with whomever -- I plan on cooking a whole rabbit. And I've never attempted to cook rabbit.
A Google search slowed my excitement because lots of rabbit recipes are frilly fussy pretentious affairs, requiring all sorts of Frenchie-Frencherton bullshit like a bouquet garnis, and what-such nonsense. I'm sorry, but I'm not cooking something that requires me to create a bouquet out of my food.
That's why I was so god damn glad that I found multiple recipes for German Hasenpfeffer -- a simple stew with whole rabbit, dark red wine, thick-cut bacon, carrots, pepper, onions, and more. Really, whatever I feel like eating, throw it in the stew.
A family needs time away like these to do the things he or she wouldn't normally do.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Chickass. We really need more of 'em.
It's supposed to be a play-on of the Spanish word for girls, "chicas". What I also appreciate about this sign, and Latino culture in general, is that they appreciate a woman that really looks like a woman, front to back -- none of this bullshit starved-assless-pale-vegan-waif nonsense like you see in the media so much in the USA. In Colombia, no way. Check out the fine fine junk-in-the-trunk of that female in the picture on the left; red beans and rice didn't miss her. YES PLEASE THANK YOU.
I Dislike Most Non-Top-40 Rock Nowadays ... that is, Except One Old DC Band
Hey, if whiny-vegan-richboy-rock were actually good as it stands today, I'd like it. But it isn't, mostly, so I don't. Hence, 99.5 FM is on the quick-button in my Toyota Echo.
I'd rather listen to Ke$ha. Or Mike Posner. Or Katie Perry (at least for that Sesame Street cleavage) or Lady GaGa. Or whatever's fun, not boring. At least it doesn't hurt and try-so-hard for nostalgia and it has a steady beat that's danceable.
But there is one indie rock band that still holds it for me, I admit. And it just can't get old, and none of that Top 40 crap can hold a candle to it.
And that band is Fugazi -- from DC, Arlington, Virginia. You may think this is pretentious ... until you listen to a song:
Man, listen to them bend those Gibson SGs, damn. And now I feel sad and miss the 1990s.
'Pure Arctic Wind' Soundtrack Mixes Well with a Classic Sailing Novel
To gear up for my first reading of Master & Commander, I bought an MP3 on amazon.com called "Pure Arctic Wind". It's one hour and fourteen minutes of very authentic-sounding wind, with enough low end bass to convince. I'd been browsing the MP3 section on amazon.com for sound effects tracks that perfectly capture the sound of being holed up belowdecks of a ship while a howling storm rages out of doors. Most of the tracks you find online are clearly synthetic wind noises, created probably by some jackass waving a tube around in the air in a studio to make the whistling sound of cold wind at night. But finally I found the above track, and it's just excellent.
My Process to prepare for reading Master & Commander: I go down into my basement bar and turn the lights down low and close the window. I turn up the subwoofer to 'full' and put the Pure Arctic Wind track on repeat. It's important to adjust the volume so it sounds as if a storm is truly blowing outside the window. You're not trying to make it sound like the storm is blowing inside the fucking bar, man -- just enough to make you sort of believe you're in siege mode, safe inside a warm ship's bar, while danger and uncertainly swirl outside. So volume is crucial. Put the volume on -55 db (not sure how you can have negative decibels, but ok Yamaha) -- that's pretty quiet, if you don't know. The stereo has an enhancer which completes the effect; I choose "Hall in Vienna" for the right reverb effect.
And so begins my dive into the book Master & Commander. I suppose you don't fully believe that I'm going to finish the damn book, considering that I'm blogging about reading it rather than actually reading it. Well, believe what you want.
New Poster for the Basement Bar
The year listed on the back of the poster says 1966. Nineteen Sixty Six! And I love this style of drawing; it reminds me of the old fish guides I used to study endlessly when I was a kid, trying to memorize the max weight and length of each species of fish that haunted various parts of North America. And now I have all these guys -- from the Alligator Gar to the Bluefin Tuna -- to look at every night that I'm home and holed up down in the man cave.
The Right Way to Make a Martini (ADDENDUM)
Reason: my good friend Derek Brown, whom the Wall Street Journal almost called the Best Bartender in the Nation, has finally constructed a gin martini based on a talented knowledge of mixological history and cocktail flavor balance that I will dare to call The Best Martini on Planet Earth. It is truly incredible, and surprisingly, very easy to make.
But first, my recipe (ok, really not mine, but the one I promoted), which I described in June's blog post, was this:
- 1/2 oz Martini & Rossi Dry Vermouth (stored in fridge)But Derek's recipe, which is truly genius (and I almost never use the word genius) is this:
- 1 1/2 oz Beefeater Gin (stored at room temperature)
- 1 Dash Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6
Stir with cubed ice for at least 45 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garish with 2 olives, lemon peel, or pickled onion, depending on your mood.
- 1 oz Dolin Dry Vermouth (stored in fridge)The result is one of the most perfectly balanced and unique flavors I've tasted. It really tastes like nothing else. It's colder Derek's way because the gin is stored in the freezer. Since Dolin is lighter than Martini & Rossi, you need to do a 50/50 (vermouth/gin) mixture. However, if you do a 50/50 mix with Dolin and Beefeater, the gin can't stand up to the vermouth because Beefeater has a lighter juniper-based botanical profile and the result is an overly vermouthy mixture. The choice of Tanqueray 10 is perfect because it tastes richer and slightly more citrusy than Beefeater. Of course, the orange bitters combo is perfect because Regan's tends to be more bitter than The Bitter Truth so they keep each other in check. Keeping the gin in the freezer reduces the amount of ice that gets melted when you stir the ingredients so it's a tighter, cleaner texture in the mouth -- nice and taut across the surface of the cold liquid, too. Putting the lemon peel into the drink over-powers the cocktail with lemonyness and masks all the other subtle qualities, so just throwing it away is best.
- 1 oz Tanqueray 10 (stored in the freezer)
- 1 Dash of 50/50 pre-mix of Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6 and The Bitter Truth Orange Bitters
Stir with cubed ice for at least 45 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Cut a wide swath of lemon peel (without the pith). Twist peel over the edge of the glass (but not directly over the liquid), letting a bit of the lemon oils fall onto the drink. Discard lemon peel into the trash, ie, not putting it into the cocktail.
It's so simple but so perfect. Try it.
A New Note From Iran, Plus My Rambling Thoughts
I recently emailed my business associate in Iran, Ali, to see how he's doing during the latest anti-government protests in Iran. I am concerned, because in December 2009, he was shot in the face by Iranian police during a protest in Tehran and lost his vision as a result. We had not spoken much about politics, but since he's a dissident against the Iranian government and does business with an American company, I am certain he is on some government blacklist and may be the target of round-ups, jailing or interrogation. I am sure there are many others in Iran like Ali, considering that the NY Times recently reported that around 4,000 American companies do business in Iran (we are forbidden by US law, of course, to have any dealings with Iranian government-owned banks, freight companies, distributors, etc).
Below is the email Ali sent me today after my inquiry. I found it inspiring, especially since this fight for democracy and freedom is not happening in the text of a school book, or pontificated about by western pundits who have no experience with what it takes to bring down a bad government, and the real dangers and risks to health and life that that entails.
Mind you, Ali wrote this email with some kind of special audio program or personal assistance because he has lost the use of his eyes as a direct results of his political beliefs and actions:
I’m very pleased to hear that you as a friend and human being are concerned about your friends and the other people living in the other parts of the world, since just sharp and kind people have this kind of attitude. I'm really happy to have such a friend in a big country named America.
Considering the recent news in Iran, I have to say that aware people who want to establish a democratic and liberal government in Iran are trying to get this goal without making any disturbance in the society since they have had the experience of 1979 revolution and are now well-informed. Of course, the present governors, or better to say dictators, with their theological, fanatic and fascism ideas are a big obstacle for the people to get their ideals. They use the worst possible behavior, in another word disturbance, torture and murder in response to people’s questions and demands.
Hope that Iranian people who have experienced 1979 revolution can achieve their goals and have a government who is selected with the true votes of the people; a democratic - not theocratic - government, and also having aware, liberate, and happy people worldwide.
Thanks again for your kind feelings.
I feel proud to know Ali and do business with him. These are the kinds of people who need to be strengthened and given support -- even if it's something as small as an email saying that people around the world are watching and give our solidarity.
In my experience doing business in various countries, the view of America is a very good one. We do a lot of business in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Vietnam, etc., and in all of these places we proudly tell people we are from the United States and the response is always positive, with comments that the US is a "great country". The opinion that you hear so often in the US that people in other countries "hate us", in my experience, is complete and utter bullshit. And we did business with the largest Muslim country on earth (Indonesia) all through Bush's presidency.
What happened in Egypt and continues in Iran is not dissimilar from what started in Tiananmen Square in 1989 (recall that those students erected a mock Statue of Liberty). Some of these realities may even sound cliche, but these folks generally do look to the USA as an ideal to be achieved, despite all our imperfections. Even though the people may not have the USA specifically in mind, the want of freedom and democracy is a natural human desire, not just unique to western countries. Ali's email above is just one example. And in my opinion, US programs that allow Iranians to have direct contact and sales with American businessmen only strengthen civil society and those who battle for liberty against the worst odds and do not give up -- even after being shot in the god damn FACE by government thugs.
The worst course for US policy would be to cut off these heroes from all foreign contact, so you end up with a place like North Korea which is nearly hermetically sealed from the outside world and the population is so brainwashed and subservient that they believe and parrot the government's lies, and any popular opposition is non-existent and highly unlikely any time in the foreseeable future. How sad that would be.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
The Blue Blazer
According to David Wondrich's book Imbibe!, the story of the creation of the Blue Blazer started when a "bewhiskered giant, laden with gold lust, with three layers of pistols strapped around his middle" stomped into the bar, and shouted, "Barkeep! ... Fix me up some hell-fire that'll shake me right down to my gizzard."
The barkeep then proceeded to mix up some high-proof scotch with boiling water in a silver mug, and proceeded to pour the flaming mixture back and forth between each mug "with a rapidity and dexterity that were well nigh unbelieveable."
And it's fun as shit to make. Here's a video of me making one down in my basement.
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Most Americans are Fucking Clueless About How Close We Were to Total Collapse
The Fed has released an enormous amount of data today. The NYT has summarized it here. Everyone should fucking read this article. If you don't understand it, you should read it twice. If you still don't understand it, you should keep reading until you do or go buy a textbook on economics and read the article again.
What this information reveals is what people like Warren Buffet and other major investors who know how the fuck the world actually works have been saying for over two years.
Professor Ben Bernanke, a genius Jewish guy from South Carolina and scholar on the Great Depression from Princeton, saved the US and world economies from total collapse. There really is no question about that fact now and if you think otherwise you are just simply wrong.
You may think that's an exaggerated statement, but it clearly is not -- considering we now know from these recently released documents that after Lehman Brothers collapsed, everything was about to go to near total shit.
And damn, any libertarians you talk to wish that would have happened. Libertarians want pain. They want 30%+ unemployment. This is all part of the "natural" workings of the capitalist system for libertarians. They see any central bank or other government intervention as a moral problem primarily. We Keynesians see it as a practical issue when government does what Bernanke did.
This man saved millions of people's lives from descending into misery for many years. He should get the god damn Nobel Prize.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
In Cuba: Sending the Cockerel Off to Valhalla, or Wherever Annoying Creatures Go To.
Thank Christ one of the guys on the email list (an old Brit) actually lived and worked in Cuba in the 1980s and promptly dispelled the common American Leftie myth about how Cuba is a paradise.
"My wife and I lived in Cuba from 1985 to 1988. I returned several times afterward, for business trips, and to get our old maid out. In May 1987 our younger daughter was born ... in Texas. (Infant mortality in Cuba, for the "foreign" community, was 35%. Parents were never given the bodies of their dead infants. Hence my wife flew to San Antonio to deliver our daughter. Her leaving Cuba, to go to Texas, heavily pregnant, is a story in itself.)
The much vaunted Cuban medical system was a disgrace. Still is. It simply did not work at all. I know that from personal experience. We took my daughter to Cuba when she was two weeks old. On our way back to Cuba, in Mexico City airport, the stupid clod at the Mexicana Airlines check-in desk told me that our daughter would not be allowed to go to Cuba because - get this - she didn't have a work permit. Can you believe that? The fact that she was 14 days old made no difference to him. I asked him to tell me what kind of work did he think she was going to do. That really got up his nose.
Much heated arguing later, I took our little girl from my wife, and passed her to the idiot check-in man and said, "You are now the proud owner of a brand-new baby girl. Here is her passport. We have to catch the flight. Goodbye." My wife, of course, was frozen speechless in horror. So was the clod. He swiftly passed Alex back to me and said, "She can go, but don't ever do this again."
We were classed as Diplomats, which meant that we had very distinctive plates on our car. We also had the right to shop in the "Diplomercado," or Diplomats' supermarket. The problem was that, whenever there was meat (goat) for sale, we had to fight against the Russian Diplomats' wives, and the Russian Navy seamen. The seamen were from the Russian nuclear submarines and surface warships, permanently present in the harbour, all of them painted a dull black colour. (Habana, or Havana, means "safe harbour," and it is a very safe harbour.)
We never won. The only other food available was tins (mostly without labels) of various things from Canada, all well past their sell-by date. Really! The Russians paid for their food with "Inter" money (like Monopoly money,) while we paid in the much despised US$ (that everybody wanted!) We had lots of money in those days, because Cuba was classed as a "Hardship 1" posting by the British Foreign Office and, as such, the posting paid very well.
Lots of money or not, there was never much food to be had, and you can't eat money. We used to buy electric fans, fridges, and similar goods that Cubans were not allowed to buy (from the "Inter" tourist, souvenir shops!) and go out into the countryside to swap the fans etc for live chickens, the odd potato, carrots and so on. My wife made baby food out of these things, and froze them in ice-cube trays in our freezer. Then we would lose the electricity for a few days and all the frozen food for our little girl would spoil. So we would start all over again.
I went back to Cuba over the following years and, for old times' sake, I visited the new Diplomercado (built with Canadian money, as was the new airport.) The Diplo was enormous, excessively air-conditioned, and the rows of gleaming, new shelves were stocked with just two things: tomato ketchup and cat food. All well past their throw away dates, of course. The Diplo was empty, apart from the totally disinterested staff and myself.
The lack of everything was very trying so, whenever we went on leave to Miami, or the BVI, we would buy a huge trunk there, and fill it with everything we couldn't get in Havana. Soap, shampoo, toothpaste, you name it, we bought it. In spite of our Diplomatic status, some of it was "confiscated" by the customs officers in Havana, as soon as we arrived, but we usually got the bulk in.
I smuggled in seeds to grow food in our "garden." The garden had been abandoned for decades and was full of rubbish, snakes and large scorpions. Even worse, the topsoil was about 10 cms deep and then you hit granite. I acquired a very heavy iron bar, about 2 metres long, and broke holes in the granite. We "liberated" soil when we were in the countryside, and filled the holes (called canteras.) We planted the seeds and grew all our fruit and veg. All crops grow like crazy in that climate, it is really easy.
We didn't choose our house; we were allotted one by the State. It was pre-bugged with electronic ears. Even our car was bugged. On one side of our house was a block of revolting, stinking apartments. The inhabitants were dreadful people (thanks to the system) and all they seemed to do was loll about and spy on each other. All day. The "spies" were the "State Committee For The Defense Of The Revolution," and they reported on me, and their own neighbours, every day, to the Secret Police. Every block had its spies.
On the other side of our house was a small bungalow, in which lived a General and his family. Both sets of our neighbours were intrigued and fascinated to see foreign "Diplomats," outside, pouring with sweat, fixing our garden and growing food. I gave both of them seeds to grow their own food. They did nothing, but were always trying to scrounge food from us. I told them to sod off.
The Cuban people could have been growing their own food, in urban gardens, since 1959, right after the Revolution. Unfortunately, the Communist system was such that, if you grew something yourself, the local spy would report the fact, and you had to share your produce with your neighbours. Therefore nobody did anything, except for "exempt" people like us.
When the Soviet Union collapsed (nothing to do with Ronald Reagan and his "Tear down that wall" speech - it was already well on its way to collapsing anyway,) the oil-for-sugar deal with the Soviets ground to a halt, and Cuba was in seriously deep trouble. It still is.
So, it is no surprise to me that the Cubans are now growing their own food in the urbs; they have no choice. Grow it or starve.
One of my last acts before we were mercifully transferred from Cuba to fabulous Belgium, was to kill the cockerel that lived in the filthy shambles of a "garden" belonging to the block of flats next door. That damned bird had no sense of time. It would consistently crow its head off, all through the night, and wake us up. My pleas with my neighbours were all in vain. The cockerel was kept for the simple reason that looking after it called for zero effort. It strutted about all day, scratching for whatever it could find, and crowed all bloody night.
I acquired a powerful air pistol from the British Embassy, and one night, with the aid of a torch (flashlight?) I sent it off to Valhalla, or wherever annoying creatures go to. My neighbours were in uproar, but I just denied everything. They knew I was lying, but they couldn't do a damned thing about it. Anyone harming a foreign official just disappeared."
Friday, October 22, 2010
This Spirit Should Be the Inspiration for All Sailors
This is an extreme version of how I started sailing. I was a bit of an anarchist back in the 90s and some friends wanted to purchase an old boat and sail it around the Chesapeake; I was against it because I couldn't sail. Eventually, we ended up with a 23' O'Day for free. It was our Anarchist Sailing Club, and there was no captain and no owner. That only worked out for a short few years, but damn, it was fun while it lasted. Now I'm a committed capitalist and own a bigger, more seaworthy vessel.
Watching this video, it will be very hard for you not to feel a bit freer than you feel now. The spirit of this video is my ideal, why I sail. Without that spirit, sailing is just jocks and rich fucks.