Take It Or Leave It

Stewart and I use Airbnb almost exclusively when we travel, for a number of reasons involving cultural experiences and, because we are mostly frugal, cost.  (If you aren't familiar with Airbnb, they are essentially a vehicle through which ordinary folk, not otherwise professionally connected with the hospitality business, can rent out their extra bedroom or home for short-term guests.)

They have grown quite large and influential for an internet startup, and their impact on the hotel business has been likened to that of Uber's on the taxi business.  

This afternoon I received an e-mail from them, stating they have a new "Community Commitment," which reads as follows:  "You [the guest or the host] commit to treat everyone—regardless of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age—with respect, and without judgment or bias."  They continue to explain, in a very nice way, that if you cannot abide by such a community commitment then you are not welcome.  Please cancel your account and stop visiting our website or using our app.  Buh bye.  

It is sad that in 2016 Airbnb felt compelled to have to state that, and even more sad that their community commitment was aimed squarely at religionists who fail to grasp the fundamental, core principles their savior tried to emulate.  But in any case, good on you, Airbnb; we'll be staying with you even more often now.  


One of the infinitely many things I apparently have not learned in my first 50 years of life is how to stack wood.  A few days ago we had firewood delivered to our Bergamo home, and rather than standing by and watching the deliveryman hoof it all out of his trailer, I decided to help.  He spoke no English (and I no Italian) which might have been part of the problem, but in my defense our next door neighbor Matteo was also there.  He and I were dutifully stacking wood on one side (the open side not up against the wall), and Alessandro on the other.  

About halfway up the stack our side collapsed sideways, in slow motion such that we weren't alarmed so much as dismayed as one piece after another found its momentum and rolled off the pile.  Alessandro rolled his eyes and yelled 'ragazzi!' (boys!) and then proceeded to show us how to stack a column of wood on the end to buttress the rest of the stack.  Which makes perfect sense, of course.  

What made it so funny is that it was such the stereotypical incident you hear all the time from contractors, when you ask them for the price and they ask in response, are you going to help me?    



Ireland + Ancestry

Just dropped off Stewart at the airport.  He's headed to the northern parts of the Republic of Ireland, not to be confused with Northern Ireland, to meet distant and long lost maternal relatives.  His cousin George from New England is meeting him there, a potentially dangerous combination those two.  

I too am pursuing my ancestry, although I have not gotten very far yet.  My motivation is Dad's 80th birthday next Summer, with me hoping I can trace his lineage back to Europe.  My suspicion is that we are Scottish, and that our actual last name is MacNab, with an 'a' being deleted and a 'b' being added on somewhere between the British Isles and North Carolina/Virginia/Kentucky.  But we'll see.  


Reason #1 Why To Never Buy A Rental Car

While working in Cannes our crew has a rental car, and it gets valet-parked every evening at the hotel.  In the morning the valet runs out to grab our vehicle (I don't know why he runs, we never tip him) from a parking area down below the hotel's entrance.  After a minute or two we can start to hear him in the distance as he rounds the first corner, weaving through a maze of turns and the gauntlet of other parked cars, steadily accelerating until he's 20 or 30 feet away from where we're standing.  

At which point he pops the transmission into neutral, and fully and expertly locks the parking brake in the full up position whilst steering through a street racer's handbrake turn.  And just before the brake pads burst into flames, the car lurches to a stop at our feet. 

Bonne Journée! he says, hopping out.  Au Revoir! I say in return.  

Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration.  But over the past twenty years of renting a lot of cars, riding in rental cars, and observing the operation of rental cars, I can say with some confidence that not owning the car that one is driving can bring out the worst in people.  Or from a realist's point of view (mine), it releases whatever restraints are holding back marginally terrible people, allowing them to blossom into their full potential. 

People who wouldn't think of slamming their own car's doors?  They'll slam a rental car door.  Driving on the highway in second gear because you bought the full tank of gas and you need to burn off a few gallons before dropping it off at the rental car center?  Completely logical.  Hitting speed bumps fast enough to get airborne or to get the distinct feeling that the front axle has detached from the frame?  Absolutely!  Eating a loosely-wrapped two pound California burrito larger than most people's thighs, in a manual shift rental car with cloth seats?  Why not? 

Hell is other people, it has been said.  So don't buy the cars they've driven.  

Venice, the Dolomites and Dublin

Stewart and I were recently in Venice to see my cousin Shannon, her husband David, and her daughter Madison.  Always good to see family, to catch up on their lives and to have some fun along the way.  My sister Lori and her husband Karl then arrived, and we spent another day with them.  A rare photo of Lori and me: 

We then traveled to the Dolomites in Northern Italy.   It's a UNESCO world heritage site, and pretty darn deserving of that accolade.  One spectacular view after another, one lush and manicured farm after another, one towering mountain next to a lake after another.  And then we headed to Dublin, to check it out with a view of moving there next year.  Quite a neat city, and an equally beautiful country.  

Turning 50, Part 1: Introduction

So next year I turn 50.  I understand I'm not the first to reach the milestone, and I do not expect anything earth-shattering to happen on my birthday, save for the continuation of a slightly-after-midlife crisis.  But in any case it's hard escaping the numerical weight of it, and the fact I feel accountable for how I've spent what seems to be like an inordinate amount of time here on Earth.  

In a series of posts I will try as best I can to account for my life, the good and the ugly, and maybe do a little prognosticating about what lies ahead.  It's a good exercise for everyone to do, as I've always believed we should reflect on our lives, at whatever age, and to try to do so objectively, dispassionately.  My own life has certainly ebbed and flowed, meandered most certainly, but at times taken on a bent of purpose and intent.  And I thought as I plow through my 50th year of life that an accounting of all those years would not only be useful to me, but for my friends and family to get to know me better.  I'll try not to overshare, but if gets too much to bear, just scroll on through. 

(to be continued....)

Luck Of The Irish

Stewart is on the cusp of being an Irish Citizen.  By virtue of his grandmother being born on the Emerald Isle, and by way of a quirky law granting him citizenship for his biological association with her, Ireland is about to inscribe his name in the Foreign Births Register.  

It was a long process and a lot of hard work, made even more difficult in that his relatives, in the intervening years of their lives, were not entirely honest with government authorities.  It was apparently scandalous for a wife to be older than her husband by more than a few years, and so the grandmother suddenly became younger when stepping onto Ellis Island.  There was a time when being Irish was shameful, and so on his Mom's wedding certificate her Irish ancestry turned into Scottish.  But Stewart worked through it all, diligently, and now it would appear it's all been a great success.  

A success, nearly to the day, of the 100th year of Ireland's Easter Uprising.  

(update:  it's happened.  Stewart is now a dual citizen...!)

Two Paragraph Book Report: The Age Of American Unreason

Perhaps it is just me, but the the U.S. political scene has now seemed to have reached a near-untenable state. The most influential nation in the world, with unprecedented reach and power, is literally within months of potentially nominating Donald Trump to be its next President.    Our collective, international strength as a country is matched only by our unstoppable desire to look as ridiculous to the rest of the world as possible.  

Enter The Age of American Unreason, and its methodical and damning walk through U.S. History that describes a slow, steady decline in both our political system and the general public's ability to act as its counterweight.  We have Donald Trump (and now Sarah Palin, sweet jesus) splashed on the front pages of newspapers and political blogs not because it is some unfortunate byproduct of our laissez-faire system of government, but because the unabated dumbing down of American citizenry has driven it there.  Anti-intellecutalism driven by fringe religiosity, junk science imbued with credibility by irresponsible mass media outlets, and the abandonment of literary and intellectual endeavors in favor of cat videos on the internet.   One of many telling statistics:  in 2006, 9 out of 10 Americans couldn't find Afghanistan on map, even though hundreds of American soldiers were dying there every year after the U.S. invasion and occupation.