Monday, August 6, 2018

Getting back into it...

I think this will be a different kind of blog post from recent ones.
We have slipped back into a different kind of life than what we had in Europe, so perhaps that makes sense.

For one thing, I can't really imagine posting any pictures in this post.
Everything in Europe was so new, so novel, so different. It all deserved to be photographed and uploaded to the internet.
Everything here feels familiar, kind of the same as it always was. I find I have taken basically no pictures at all since returning.
I guess it might be appropriate to remember that many potential readers of this blog don't know exactly what our little slice of desert paradise is all about, and so maybe some pictures might actually be appropriate. But they will come later. I haven't taken any.

Two topics present themselves, compelling me to write.
1) Cultural differences between Europe (especially Germany) and America as reflected through vehicles.
2) Old familiar traps of being in New Mexico, activities which make me feel productive but which might just be wastes of time.

It's often said that Europe has a WE culture, and America has a ME culture, and I find that driving etiquette presents perhaps the best example (or maybe one of the easiest to perceive) of this disparity.

In Germany there is a huge importance placed on courteousness while driving. If you misjudged your freeway exit and are in danger of missing it, you don't swerve wildly across three lanes to make the exit; instead you carry on to the next exit and retrace your steps. It would be discourteous to those around you to do otherwise. You yield for pedestrians and bicyclists and left turners. Accidents are rare and police presence is minimal. Granted, Berlin had a fair amount of police on the streets but they never seemed to be doing anything.

I feel that I became a better, more courteous, and more conscientious driver during our year in Berlin.

Freeways in America still feel like the Wild West. People will swerve in front of you to get to their exit, pass you on any side that suits them, and seem blissfully unaware that the left lane is for faster cars. And all this unregulated driving-madness apparently demands police. In the first hour of our time in America last week, driving a rental car on Colorado's highways, we saw more flashing lights and emergency vehicles than we had seen in our entire time in Germany. Seriously.

Another funny thing struck me a few days ago while waiting at the Department of Motor Vehicles. A typical Taos hippie type came in and, seeing a friend of his, proceeded to talk about how all his vehicles (and his mother's vehicles) were breaking down, but he was sort of still driving them anyway. Later that day I saw a guy driving a truck with a completely smashed front end. In Germany, vehicles have to pass a rigorous inspection once a year (even a ripped seat will cause a car to fail the inspection!). If the vehicle passes, it gets its sticker for the year and can be driven. All the cars look new. There are no police stopping you for a broken tail-light, because there are no broken tail-lights, and very few police. On the autobahns where there are no speed-limits, there are literally no police. None. 

In some ways these differences in the culture of vehicles parallel the differences between socialism and capitalism we see in these places. Sure, Germany is nominally a capitalist country, but everyone there has good state-run healthcare, is compelled to have their car inspected annually, and drives as if they are one small stitch in a large social fabric.* In capitalist America it is every man for himself, in socio-economic terms and on the road. OK, maybe I am simplifying things to make a point but there is a kernel of truth in it.

*In the interest of honesty, I should point out that even in Germany there were a handful of entitled and rude drivers. They were always the ones in the black expensive cars. To me, this is just an example of the 1% acting like the 1% usually does. Look at this link. The other 99% of drivers in Germany were polite socialists, as noted above.

Productivity Traps
Before we left Taos two years ago to move to Barcelona, I was in a slump. This was largely because I was under the threat of being sued by a former friend. That was a shitty situation which has since been resolved, thank Jeez, and one day I still might write a blog post about it. But in any case, I was in a slump and I wasn't really doing anything creative. But I was keeping plenty busy. I was rather obsessed with motorcycles and my Datsun 240Z and building / decorating my office (or, embarrassingly, my "man cave"). And there is always plenty to do around here, from maintaining all the other vehicles to maintaining / improving the house, landscaping, re-organizing the workshop and the shipping containers, etc etc.

It's very easy to fall into these traps, in part because to a large degree it is all (or almost all) legitimate work that needs to be done. But I guess there's an issue of priorities here. All these activities that chew up the hours, days, weeks take time away from creativity and creative productivity. I guess that when one is home-steading, one needs to consciously carve out time for creativity, because home-steading is labor-intensive. Creativity doesn't happen by itself. You need to work... to carve out time for that kind of work.

I guess it comes down to that old and slippery idea of balance. Right now we are overwhelmed with very legitimate logistical tasks, primarily associated with getting vehicles up and running and getting the house up and running. I am also inspired by my time working at BBK to get a lot of the clutter out of the workshop and make more room for a few new tools (plate roller is #1 on the list!). Decluttering the shop will be a fair amount of work. I think the trick will be to know when enough is enough, to not putter around endlessly with tinkering on things that don't need tinkering.

The last few days have been really focused on the cars. Suddenly, a reason to take some pictures!
Our main car, a Honda CRV, became home to a healthy colony of mice. This is now the second time we've disassembled the interior of the car trying to get the mouse poop and piss and smell out of the car. 

In New Mexico there is the ever-present danger of the very scary Hanta Virus, so one has to be careful. 

The Datsun ...

mercifully escaped a mouse infestation. I had it up on jack-stands for those 2 years to save the suspension from sagging, but I think that was the reason the mice did not move in. I guess mice can't climb jack-stands.

The Scout needed, and still needs, some work. 

3 tires were flat and the mice made a hotel in this car as well. Here is the engine:

I did not hate mice before moving to New Mexico, but now I do.

My big crane truck had a fair amount of mouse activity, but not overwhelming. Amazingly, the engine started. In fact I've been able to get most of the vehicles started up again without much trouble. Some of the motorcycles needed new batteries, brake-bleeding, and carb cleaning. The forklift needed a new hydraulic hose.

We had dinner last night with our friends Kate and Sam, and Kate referred to all this work as "unglamorous." I agree.

But hey, a sunrise hot-tub every day of the week is nothing to complain about.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Goodbye, Europe

A few weeks ago I wrote an entire blog post on the metro in Berlin, and then used the personal hotspot feature of my phone to publish it. “What will they think of next?” I pondered.

Well, if all goes well I will be writing this entire post and uploading it from 24,000 feet above the Atlantic, on IcelandAir flight IF673.

The last few weeks have somehow been both relaxing and full, and a bit melancholy, as we have known all along that our departure from Europe was looming ever closer. And now it is here; we are on a non-stop from Reykjavík to Denver, landing in about 7 hours. I think I’m just going to let the pictures guide this post... I have more pictures right now than narrative. Maybe a narrative will emerge...

On one of our last days in Berlin I arrived home from a day of errands to find that I had lost my hand-made glasses case, along with the nice pair of glasses inside. I mentally retraced my steps and decided I had likely left it at IKEA or perhaps BAUHAUS, a hardware store. So the next day Kodiak and I drove all over town running even more errands, which included visiting IKEA and BAUHAUS again to search for the case, but no luck... it seemed they were lost. So at the end of a day of driving, mostly at freeway speeds, I parked the car... and happened to look on the roof. And what do you think I noticed?

Yes, that's my glasses case. It's tempting to think it was wedged under the roof rack, but it was actually just sort of lightly sitting there, all day long, at 120 km/h. Crazy.

(Well, the wifi connection on the plane is pretty bad. It took about 5 minutes to upload that last picture, and chewed up 4% of my battery life. So it's looking unlikely that I will be able to complete the post I'd imagined, with 25 pictures. I've got plenty of hours, but my battery ain't gonna make it.)

On our last day in Berlin I challenged myself to take 100 pictures. I failed miserably in that challenge, but I took more photos than I normally would have...

Here, Kodiak ponders whether this is actually art, or....

You don't see a lot of cars like this in Berlin.

From day one in Berlin, I loved the symbol of the city: the Berlin Bear. Here we see a Polynesian interpretation of the ubiquitous ursine; I would be surprised if this design hasn't already been tattooed a few times.

We lived a few blocks from this weird sculpture and I always wanted to stop by and check it out... but I only managed to do so on our last day.

Goodbye Berliner Dom and Fernsehturm. I will miss you.

Goodbye S-Bahn.

One of our last pictures in Berlin, sitting in Mitte in front of the Naturkunde Museum (Natural History Museum, home of the holotype of the Archaeopteryx!)

Well after the craziness of the last few weeks in Berlin, it was a welcome reprieve to land in Sweden, which for us has always been mostly about relaxation, and swimming. We stayed on Lidingö, an island that makes up part of greater Stockholm. We were right near a lovely lake in which we swam once or twice a day.

We also visited Millesgården, the spectacular home and workshop of Carl Milles, favorite sculptor of Stockholm. 

The setting really is amazing. It's got to be at least a few acres set on a cliff overlooking the water that separates Lidingö from the main part of Stockholm.

Even though he fights us every time we try to take him to a gallery or museum, Kodiak usually ends up liking it. He's gotten quite the cultural education in these two years.

Naturally my favorites were the nudes...

Big surprise.

After a lovely week in Sweden we headed for an all-too-brief 2 days in my favorite place in the world, Iceland.

The highlight of our trip was hiking an hour up to Reykjadalur...

where you can find.....

wait for it......


Yes, really. That's Kodiak and I sitting in a hot river. It was awesome. Lucky for us, Christina joined us in the river just after taking this picture.

One of my other favorite things in Iceland is Dead Gallery. Located on Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavík, this gallery is wonderfully out of place with the increasingly homogenous tourist/trinket shops and high-end clothing stores.

The gallery is basically the showcase for one guy's art.

Everything he makes is about death in one way or another. 

Even though he was a bit grumpy when Kodiak and I stopped in this time, I really do love his work, and... maybe even more than that... I love it that he is so blatantly out of step with the rest of Laugavegur and the image that Reykjavík presents of itself.

On our last day in Europe, Kodiak and I also visited Sundhöll Reykjavíkur, a public swimming pool and bathhouse in the middle of Reykjavík. Several months ago, I complained on this blog that Berliners could not get the hot tub thing right. Well, Icelanders do. The tubs at Sundhöll are hot, the way they should be. Plus, I always have good conversations with strangers there. No pictures allowed there, naturally.

And here, my friends, is the last picture I took of Europe. That is the edge of the Reykjanes peninsula, receding into the distance below.


Now we are off on our way back to our true home (for now), New Mexico.

And guess what? As you might have guessed from the 25* pictures, my battery did not last. I completed less than half of this blog post on the airplane, and I write these words now from our home on the mesa, just west of Taos, New Mexico. In fact, when we arrived home there was such an overwhelmingly large amount of work to be done getting back into our old lives, that we've been here almost a week and only now am I finding the time to sit down and write this post, the "last one from Europe."

*(wow, that's crazy! It was exactly 25!)

It's tempting to want to write some profound insights, some sort of perspectivizing eulogy, about our 2 years in Europe... and maybe that awesome perspective will come one of these days. But right now, I think it's too early to know what to say about it. In the last few days, Christina and I keep asking each other "How are you feeling to be back?", and the answer for both of us is invariably "I can't quite tell.... I don't know how I'm feeling." There is good about being back, and there is bad. And for right now, we are too busy to think all that much about it. There is a tremendous amount of unpacking, moving in, getting cars and motorcycles running again, registering and insuring cars and motorcycles again, trying to understand just how bad our health insurance options are, throwing away half of what we thought was precious 2 years ago but now seems totally unnecessary, doing our best to help Kodiak through this transition, getting to know our dogs again, freaking out about Burning Man, and planning for the future.

Do I miss Europe? Yes, some things. I already miss the density of culture, the public transportation, and the lush greens of Berlin, Sweden, and Iceland. I also miss some of the great people we met there. But being here also feels very comfortable, and very good. It's nice to be in a home that is ours and to have no neighbors. It's nice to have our dogs, our hot tub, and our motorcycles. It feels easy to slide back in. Taos seems to actually be more diverse and inclusive than we remembered; there are freaks and artists and gay people everywhere. And everyone here is so damn nice! 

In the long term, I am sure that Europe will be a big part of our lives. Why shouldn't it be? It's awesome there. But Taos is pretty great too. 

With love from the Taos mesa,