NY ramblings XXXIV

Manhattan, middle of the day. A large black pickup suddenly flashes its blue police light and rushes through a red light, only to stop seconds later, a mere hundred steps from a nearly run-over yours truly. Two massive officers in bulletproof vests jump off the car to land on a figure that thrashes and struggles. The scene is happening in my direct path and I cannot cross over to the opposite sidewalk; as I get irremediably closer, the cries of the man being arrested become intelligible, and I spot a woman with a bloodied face scrambling herself up to her feet. The woman is yelling her lungs out and does not look guiltless in this affray, but she was the party that got beaten up, as is often the case whenever a dispute gets physical between man and woman.

I avert my eyes from the actors, but their actions, gore and all, are not what disturb me. Any city the size of New York will have its share of street brawls on any given day, and I’ve seen worse than this. I quicken my step to reach the spot and leave it behind as soon as possible. I avert my eyes from the actors, but I cannot stop staring at the surrounding scene. Nine people, presumably passers-by like myself, have stopped and, armed with smartphones, compete for the most advantageous position to immortalize this snippet of human misery between two broken individuals.

An uncomfortable feeling of hypocrisy, of my own hypocrisy, checks my harsh judgement of these nine pedestrians as the maddening uproar dies down to just the noises of the city and the screams in my head. Are my ramblings any better, pray? Don’t I capture and post inane content daily, continuously? Am I not immortalizing snippets of a different kind of human misery? I think I am. I know I am. I really, really want to believe myself better than someone who pushes the person standing next to them to film a better angle of the bleeding face of a stranger, but that does not mean that I am.

I missed the full experience that I get out of walking. Well, this is it. New York is back and so am I, for better or worse.

90 Days of Metal

Last night I came across an opinion that I’ve been hearing every so often for all my life and pisses me off –I’d say “like the first time”, but no, it pisses me off more and more the older I get. To wit: “Metal music is for when you’re a kid, but not for adults. Grow up and out of it”. To lots of people, to a majority indeed, metal is just noise, senseless screaming, a phase to leave behind; you’re weird if you don’t, something’s wrong with you. There’s actually plenty wrong with me, but not because I listen to the vast musical universe that falls under the umbrella of “metal”. And I thought I’d do something nice to end up this miserable year on a high note. A challenge of sorts, dedicated especially to those who’re less familiar with metal genres, but fit for everyone who wants to give it a try. Not that anyone reads my blog, but who cares. I want to do this.

If you’re up for it, this is what I’m proposing. Can you devote 6, 10, 15 minutes of your day to yourself exclusively and listen to a song in full? LISTEN to it. Not just play it in the background. Not just tweet or Instagram or email or watch TV while it’s playing. Give yourself the gift of disconnecting from everything else and just pay attention to one song in full, once a day, until we finally get to put 2020 to sleep. If having a few uninterrupted minutes to yourself and opening up to something different sounds like something you’d like to try, stay with me for #90DaysOfMetal.

Two rules I’ll try to follow: steer clear of both extremely obscure bands and bands that are famous enough for even the most mainstream-oriented person to have heard of, even if they could not recognize their music. That means no Metallica, for instance, and also probably nothing completely new for a diehard metalhead.

Disclaimer: I’ll be sharing music from across genres within metal, and some of what I’m going to give you is probably going to be difficult to swallow. That’s ok. I’m not asking or even remotely expecting anyone to suddenly become a fan of even the most palatable stuff I will be posting,. Just do me the courtesy of *listening* until the end of the song, just like you would eat a meal you find less than tasty the first day you’re invited to dinner at your in-laws’. It won’t kill you, I promise. Your ear and brain are like your tastebuds or your muscles: you need to train them. You might not like broccoli or weights the first time you try, but they’re good for your body and mind, and you need to realize there’s more to vegetables than broccoli, and there’s more to fitness than lifting iron; the same is true for metal.

Let’s go.

NY ramblings XXXIII

When I agreed to move back to the States, the only thing I demanded was to live in a place where I could walk. I can live without the thrill of a city in my daily life, but I need to be able to walk to get a coffee, I need to be able to walk to go to the train, I need to be able to walk to grab something from the grocery store, I need to be able to walk to the gym. I can drive, but I work from home and I need to walk out. I need to feel the yards and miles disappearing under my feet, my legs stretching and my back standing straight and the air on my face, rain or shine, heat or snow, and I need (and delight in) all the feedback, all the sensory experiences I get from the outside world when walking. I walk to see the world and its people: to imagine the lives of others I see coming and going or simply standing, urging their dogs to go already, frantically talking on their phones, stopping and realizing they forgot something and turning back on their feet. I walk and see new businesses opening and old ones thriving or failing and closing down; I walk to appreciate which of the larger stores makes an effort to be accessible for pedestrian access, to grasp the condition of the streets, pavement and lighting; I walk to drink up the pretty houses or ugly project buildings with my eyes, and to wonder who lives there and what it’d be like living in them; I walk to take in all the things you can’t or don’t notice when you’re driving. I walk as in ‘hiking’, too, definitely. But more often than not, I just step out of my door and walk: I do not drive to a place to walk, which is enjoyable, but deprives me of the humanity of the walk, of those glimpses that perhaps only one who works from home and is pretty useless at personal interactions can appreciate enough to wax lyrical about them on Facebook notes. Walking has been at the very root of these Notes, as the name reflects, and is something I always took for granted in Europe. When I came back, I accepted I could and would live without some things that are incredibly precious to me for the rest of my life, but not without the walking. Never again.

The full experience I get from walking has been greatly affected by the pandemic, which, whatever you might be seeing or doing out there now that we’re phasing out of lockdown, is still raging. So many little things are different even though my walking motivations are still the same. I haven’t been to the city in 113 days and my ramblings have lost a lot of variety, but some variety has popped up around here as a coping mechanism. I’ve been reading lots of custom-made garden signs to cheer essential workers up. I’ve been exploring new streets because I got tired of negotiating incoming traffic to dodge inconsiderate pedestrians taking up the busiest sidewalks. I’ve enjoyed church signs, and small store and restaurant notices and ads –some generic, some cheerful, some hilariously unhinged. I’ve been getting almost all of the human experience I get from walking by proxy from these communications, from written words. And I am better with written words than anything else in the world; they are my mother tongue, my element, what I do for a living, what brings me closer to the world in a world in which closeness is suddenly forbidden, but they are so far from being enough that it hurts. It has taken this pandemic to realize I had been taking things for granted with walking here, too.

I miss the full experience and I miss the smiles behind the masks.

Food ramblings II: Sourdough bread starter

If I was a food blogger, I would now start waxing lyrical about how my father’s family lived isolated in the countryside and made their own bread, from their own wheat, for the next nine or ten screen scroll-downs. Fortunately, I’m not a food blogger.

Day 1. Place a spoonful of flour and a spoonful of water in a non-metallic container that you can easily cover. A humble pint sized mason jar works great. Mix it up. Cover lightly, some air needs to get in. No need to measure anything.

Day 2. The next day, do the same thing. Add a bit a flour and a bit of water. No need to measure anything. Mix. Cover.

Day 3. Guess what. Same thing. About a spoonful of flour and a splash of water. Mix it.

Day 4. I’m not even kidding. Same thing.

Day 5. For the sake of variety, I’ll tell you now that you can go wild and alternate flours. You can start with whole-wheat, you can start with a mixture of all-purpose and rye flour, you can add rye flour to your original spoonful of white flour, anything you want

Go to your kitchen and get your spoonfuls going right now if you do not have an active starter already. The beauty of using just spoonfuls, i.e. very small amounts of flour and water, is that waste is greatly reduced. I am livid, all-caps LIVID, when I see the incredibly wasteful recipes for sourdough starters that I see in every blog, which boil down to “discard +1 cup of flour every day or every other day”.

Don’t.

My no-fuss method (or un-method) involves discarding about a tablespoon of mixture if you make bread every two weeks, and none at all if you make bread at least once a week.

5 days is the very minimum time you’ll need to create a starter that will work to actually raise your breads with absolutely zero use of store-bought yeast. The starter NEEDS NO MEASUREMENTS, but its maturity is exceptionally, exceptionally dependent on temperature. Which you don’t need to measure, either. I also can’t stand bloggers who make mile-long posts with incredibly precise measurements and fuss and end up adding store-bought yeast to their sourdough-based loaves. You are not running an artisanal country bakery, I assume, so your starter and resulting breads can and, in my opinion, SHOULD have a distinct personality. Super strict flour, water, time and temperature measurements are done for the purpose of consistency in the results, and store-bought yeast granules adds to predictability, but what’s the fucking point of sourdough at home then?

But I digress. It is likely that you won’t have a proper, active starter until day 7 or 9, because, like I said, temperature plays a very important role in the process. The mixture will start smelling sour. Smell it daily, several times a day if you can. If you forget to add a bit of flour and water one day, do it the next day – it’s absolutely fine, it won’t ruin anything. Simply keep doing what I just told you. When the starter reaches the point of maturity, you’ll know because the smell will be bready and not vinegary. But guess what: that smell will fade away in just a few hours and go back to sour. Do not fret. Your starter is good to go once it reaches maturity the first time.

The next step is actually making bread. You will need to measure out stuff to make bread and you’ll need an additional 24 to 36 hours, bear that in mind. Sourdough bread is a slow process when you’re starting from scratch. So go get your starter started, and I’ll tell you more about the making of bread in a few days.

 

NY ramblings XXXII

It’s 11 am on a Thursday of January and I am working in a coffee shop and suddenly interested in the conversation that’s going on nearby. Two people about my age who seem to be on a date. Not a first date, but a date nevertheless. It’s the strangest time for such an interaction, but people live incredibly colorful lives out there. These two do like each other. A lot, actually; it’s that disgusting, delightful phase that I cannot even bring myself to think about. But I do think about the topic that they’re dissecting. A lot, actually. They’re talking about fear. They are playfully telling each other the five things they fear most. Spiders. Being irrelevant. Being stuck in a job they don’t love.

At some point I realize they’re still talking and they’re still being so adorable I could throw up, but I’m no longer listening to what they are saying .The laptop open, my fingers around a black coffee that’s already cold, I feel the film of a single tear of joy trembling on the surface of each eye; a tear of wonder at the marvelous naiveté, at the, in my hardened ears, child-like set of answers, peppered with lots of ehms and uhms and nervous laughs, that an average first-world adult of my generation churns out when asked about their worst fears. This sounds like a low punch, but there’s just no other way of putting it, and I in fact do admire much of what comes with it.

My five biggest fears are torture, war, rape, killing somebody accidentally, and love. No ehms and uhms, no doubts, no need to ponder whether there’d be something I might fear more: they come straight out in a single bout out of my deepest fear center, every time. I fear physical violence and I fear taking somebody’s life by mistake and I fear love, love indeed, for very good reasons that I will not talk about here.

Each tear rolls and dries unnoticed and my fingers go back to the laptop to carry on with their typing. What I’d give to be someone who thinks of losing their job when they think of the worst that could happen, I reflect. And even as I do, I realize that, because my head is hell and wired up like it is, I’m perhaps better equipped against some of the chronic evils that afflict us as a society. The plaguing thoughts of being successful, of being alone or unloved or insignificant also occur inside my head, but they’re dwarfed by more primitive, more crushing scenarios which are, sadly, a possibility.

I type, type, type and drink my cold coffee and wish with all my strength that a war never comes to us, because the beautiful people who unknowingly bring tears of joy to my eyes and say being stuck in a job they don’t love is their biggest fear would probably be unable to build a fire without store-bought kindling blocks or survive without toilet paper, and my heart would break to a powder.
…………………………………………………………………………….

I have thought about fear a lot this 2020.

I met several young women in Sarajevo who spent years of their childhood inside their apartment blocks. Years. With no electricity and no heating for the most part. They had a school of sorts in the basement. All the kids kept learning what they could, how they could, through the war. Adults would take turns to go out and get water and supplies from the international relief efforts, afraid that they might never come back because snipers were shooting from the hills. This is within memory, within my lifetime, this has happened to people my own age, and is still happening, and will continue to happen.

This I fear. This I fear more than I will ever fear losing every last dollar in my bank account.

We’re able to make things less dire by simply staying home, with power, entertainment, ways to keep in touch remotely, and many of us can’t even commit to that because staying in without exercise or with the kids is too hard, or because we have a sudden urge for a Snickers. I will probably be guilty of the latter at some point, and I am ashamed of myself.

NY ramblings XXXI / Food ramblings I

What words do you associate with New York?

One word that comes to me specifically and without fail is “gluten-free”. I arrived in JFK ten years ago this Monday and, as hard as it may be to imagine right now, when the gluten sensitivities are soaring everywhere and the gluten-free movement is as strong in Europe as it is here, at the time in 2010 I even seriously wondered whether there would be some kind of mutation in the intestinal depths of the American –something that perhaps medical scientists were trying to identify, I don’t know, something off– given the amount of dietary intolerances, sensitivities and full-blown food allergies of people in New York compared to my experiences elsewhere.

Europe and the rest of the world are indeed catching up fast, and more and more of my own acquaintance are diagnosed with sensitivities to gluten and other things that had never been a problem for them before. A great many more self-diagnose, and it’s not that they are making it up at all, as some are inclined to believe; I believe them, their symptoms are real for sure. It’s quite brutal in New York. You can’t sit in a restaurant without hearing requests to accommodate a particular intolerance, to avoid a particular allergen. Thanks to my work I get to have access to a number of clinical studies being carried out, and among those that catch my attention particularly are the ones trying to understand the undeniable epidemic of food intolerances we are experiencing nowadays. And that’s how I have learned that I was not so wrong about the intestinal depths, after all, only it was not just the Americans: they simply have been more exposed, and for longer, to the kind of things that seem to destroy the intestinal microbiome and make the digestion of wheat and what-not such a pain for the modern Western eater. Ultra-processed foods contain artificial ingredients that turn your intestinal flora upside down. I am very much against chemical fearmongering and the nonsense of “natural” vs “artificial”, by the way; give me safe pesticides, I’m all for safe GMO and against the bollocks that the label “organic” has come to mean most of the times. But the emulsifiers, the preservatives, the sweeteners, the flavor enhancers, all of those things in ultra-processed foods seem to be capable of destroying our ability to digest the kinds of foods we have had little trouble eating for hundreds, thousands of years. It is quite a revelation for me that a great many of the products labeled as healthier, non-fat, non-sugar, are some of the worst offenders with regards to emulsifiers that annihilate your gut flora and make you altogether sicker, even if you may not realize it right away; it adds insult to the great source of misery that being fat is to me. The presence of readily available food items is brutal in New York and has been for seventy years: you can get basically anything without having to lift a finger to cook it yourself, and you’ve been able to do just that here for way longer than in other places. Every time I watch The Apartment (1960) I marvel at the fact that Jack Lemmon eats pre-packaged “TV dinners”, that TV dinners were already available back then. No such thing in Spain until at least 30 years later; no wonder our gluten sensitivities are only starting to show up now. It is quite a revelation, too, that instead of focusing on reestablishing intestinal health in order to keep enjoying foods like bread, the solution to the slightest sign of indigestion after pigging out on a can of spaghetti is to join the gluten-free hordes and keep consuming ultra-processed substitutions that can drive your gut to the actual point of intolerance towards food that is not unwholesome by itself. The wheat is not to blame; the lifestyle that goes with eating our fill of crap is. Perhaps there is more to this other epidemic of “foodieness” –of “real-fooding”, “from-scratch”, “slow-food” and tedious Instagrammers (fine, I’m talking about me and my awful food pictures here, who I am I kidding)– than I thought at first. New York has taught me to eat and to cook better in these ten years and it pleases me to share the dishes that I make, it’s one of my many weaknesses. But recently I am seeing this weakness as my own activism against instant gratification, and as important self-preservation, not just for the mental relief the act of making something to eat provides for me, but from some of the preservatives, the emulsifiers, the flavor enhancers that are kicking us in the gut, destroying simple joys like that of eating a hunk of bread with oil and salt.

I am no health nut by any standards, and I don’t think I’ll ever become a fundamentalist that denies herself a bag of salty fried snacks, or a doughnut, or a can of soda; being fat is awful (spare me the body-positivity, but this is another story and shall be told another time), but being thin at the expense of never eating what I want is simply unbearable. I cannot stop wanting what I want and New York is a terrible place for that, too, because you are constantly hit with messages that boil down to “you deserve it, you deserve it, you deserve it” and life as an adult is hard enough that you often want to believe you do deserve a treat. But anyway, I digress. I am lucky to have the time and the cash to avoid plenty of store-bought stuff that I can recreate myself with some effort. And effort is good for me, just like it’s good for me to wait until next week to see a new episode of a show that I like rather than just waiting until the season is complete and binge-watch it in one weekend. I want to enjoy the anticipation, to make the moment special, to reserve a slot of time for my enjoyment after a full week of abstinence from the entertaining characters in the show. I want to miss them, I want to deny myself for a while and feel rewarded in the end. Eating pasta should feel like a reward after a killer workout with the rolling pin, too. I want to give some thought to the when and the how I will eat a piece of bread, I want to imagine it, mix it, manipulate it, nurse it, wait for it until it’s ready for pleasure, I want to succeed and I want to fail and I want to learn and I want to do better; I don’t want to just open a bag and bring out slice after slice and eat up slice after slice because it tastes good and it’s there and it’s easy.

I am tired of easy. I want simple.

And simple is always more complicated.

 

NY ramblings XXX

I am washing dirty lettuce leaves for dinner. I promised myself a proper meal for one tonight, I promised myself an actual sit down deal with a main dish and a side salad instead of the quickly put together sad plates I have been chomping on for a week. I scrub each leaf with my fingers under cold running water, the dirt so encrusted. My break from work has been short lived. Under 24 hours, actually. I told myself yesterday that I would not take any more assignments until next week, but the freelance life is a feast-or-famine business, and I have a mortgage and bills, and expensive travel tastes to boot. My hands hurt under the cold water and still the leaf is soiled, each dirtier than the one before, it would seem. Why would I think of a little break? I like to work, anyway, and I have nothing else to do. Except when I promise myself a proper dinner. I keep washing my leaves. It is so rare to see a vegetable this gritty here. I am not bothered by the aching fingers or the stubborn grit: this is the way lettuce should be. Lettuces are dirty and to be washed, this one reminds me of my parents’ orchard and its ugly heads of lettuce, bursting with flavor but almost interred in dirt: lettuces with a happy vegetable life, home to tiny snails, having fed a number of critters before they get to be picked and washed and purged thoroughly to feed us. I used to have cable and cringed at how many of the lettuces in the cooking shows were chopped straight out of the bag. Dirtless, flavorless, aseptic, lifeless heads of lettuce. I think of what sad lives commercial lettuces must have had growing up, because I think outrageous stuff –lettuces so depressed they lose their zest and taste, go figure, that’s the way I have been wired for better or worse. And I am now smiling, smiling so hard that I feel every wrinkle strained in my withering face, five pristine and large leaves of dark romaine lettuce beaming back at me, I am smiling to have these thoughts and wondering how many idiotic thoughts like this must be ‘thunk’ daily by people who don’t bother to share them so that I feel less alone in my weirdness. And I know I can’t help but type it up, type it all up with my stiff, cold, smarting fingers, for anyone who might be reading to feel less alone in their weirdness.

Eurasian ramblings II: Beijing

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The automated immigration system at Beijing Capital International greets me verbally in impeccable European Spanish after introducing my passport details. As if this was not surprising enough, Google and all my messaging services are working just fine as I wait in line for the physical border passport control, so I quickly Whatsapp my mother, who has recently joined the twenty-first century, but that’s another story and shall be told another time. I follow the very clear indications to the baggage reclaim, get on the terminal train, and the next time I check, the illusion of Internet normalcy is gone. The Great Firewall seems to kick in only after you’ve been actually admitted to China. How can it be so precise, I wonder.

I have done my homework and know the public transportation I need to take, but I am naked without Google Maps. The truth is I am naked even with Google Maps, and I fear that I will get horribly lost. I wish I had taken captures of my trip route in advance, but it is too late now. Luckily there is only one train line to the airport and no room for mistakes. The arrival is as smooth as can be, as smooth as Taipei a few years ago and definitely smoother than Tokyo: I bought the ticket from a machine, I am on the right train, I know where I need to change and I am, I realize all of a sudden, the only Westerner in this train. I have no idea where the bunch of non-Asian people who were in the passport control with me just a few minutes ago are, but they are definitely not here. Every woman in this train is pointedly avoiding to look at me, while every man in this train is doing the opposite and looking at me with what seems to be great amusement. There is no subtlety or furtiveness whatsoever: they just LOOK. “Do I have monkeys on my face?” pops in my head. Spaniards ask that when somebody looks at you insistently. But the camera phone says I don’t. I am standing against a white hand bar under a very white light coming from the window and looking tiny and quite white myself.

Two youngish men who don’t seem to know each other talk to me in English. “Here come the engineers”, I muse, and I can’t quite suppress the smile as this thought comes. I am never wrong about this. A stranger who is friendly to me out of the blue is either shitfaced or in the hard sciences, often both. I am not wrong this time, either. One is a computer scientist studying in Switzerland. The other is a physicist who studied in the States and now works in finance. One of them is in fact far from sober. They wish me a nice stay. I don’t know it at the time, but these two minutes are the only tokens of kindness and hospitality I am about to receive in this city.

The underground station I am changing lines at is huge, and again the fear of getting lost invades me. But I find my line alright. I do get lost trying to find my correct exit to the street afterwards, and I see a cold terror in the commuter eyes that meet my searching ones. “Don’t”. I am very far from being lost to the point of asking for help, but I understand the message. I walk this way and that way in sharp alertness to find the signs for my exit, but no luck. I decide to just get out and I find myself in what looks like an aisle in the middle of a huge boulevard with lots of traffic. I see over and under passes to get to the street proper, only I don’t quite know which way I need to go, because this was not the subway exit I should have taken. It is very hot already. I think I need to go south, but even though it feels sunny, I cannot see the sun in the sky. I see that two armed policemen of some sort are walking towards me and a rush of panic grips me, but they turn around suddenly and start walking in the other direction. This, I will learn today, is normal: policemen patrol the streets up and down in pairs, and each pair seems to have a set number of meters that they need to cover before turning around. I am moving as fast as my legs can take me away from the armed men under the weight of two backpacks and of a merciless sun that I cannot see in the sky, a sky that is completely white, eerily white, and this I find remarkable enough to pause and articulate. “So this is Beijing. It’s a sunny morning and you are not able to see the sun.”

By a stroke of luck, I have been progressing in the right direction and quickly discover the buildings that I need to use for orientation. I am saved, I am not lost, I can breathe again. The hostel where I am staying is gorgeous inside, the surroundings are the opposite. The trip to my starting point has gone well and been painless enough, but my first impressions are formed and nothing will happen to change them over the next few days.

I have not seen anything yet, and I will discover stunning sights soon, but this is not a beautiful city.

I have not found any obstacles yet, and I will navigate them when I soon do, but this is not an easy city.

I have not been wronged, and nothing will happen to threaten my safety or well-being during my stay, but this is not a pleasant city.

Beijing is not the city of one’s dreams.

*The header image has no filter of any kind, nor has been manipulated. That background is indeed the sky.

The interpreter’s ramblings VII: Tips to fight illegal immigration

“If you’re worried about illegal immigration, there are two big things you can do:

1. Stop denying climate change.

2. Stop using illegal drugs.

Point number one. Guatemala lost 90% of its corn and bean crops in 2018. Entire towns that had been half starving for years, eating nothing but corn tortillas with salt as nourishment, simply did not have ANYTHING to eat after last year’s crops were completely ruined. The climate pattern change is affection millions in the Dry Corridor and there is no greater driver of human migration than hunger. It’s as simple as that. What’s happening in Guatemala now will be happening here, too. Your children and grandchildren are going to face starvation just like rural Guatemalans, and if you refuse to inform yourself on the facts, you’re only going to get more and more brown people at the border. Hunger does not understand about zero tolerance policies: we have received hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans at the border this year. Over 40% of Guatemalan children (almost 80% of indigenous children) are chronically malnourished. Let me say this again: 90% of corn crops were LOST last year. This year has “not been so bad” and already 61% of *all* crops have failed. I have to say this again: over half the crops of the whole country have been lost in 2019 so far. If you’re a racist and don’t want brown people pushing their way in, please realize this: the more you vote to make America great again and against the environment, the more hungry people you’ll have knocking in at the border.

Point number two. 90% of all the cocaine consumed in the United States passes through Guatemala from the two largest issuers in the continent (those are Colombia and Venezuela, if you’re wondering). Cocaine trafficking has gone up 400% in Guatemala in recent years, and if that was not enough, super labs for synthetic drugs are appearing everywhere in the remote Guatemalan Highlands. American demand for drugs is unquenchable, and this feeds both violence at the source countries (translation: people fleeing from violence) AND human trafficking mafias. How so? Because drugs are smuggled into the United States through LEGAL BORDER CROSSINGS. Human traffickers profit from the desperation of people facing violence and starvation in the source country while at the same time creating chaos in the destination country: a zero tolerance policy means that we have to divert resources to secure borders from undocumented humans – abort their crossing, arrest them, process their claims, deport them back. Drugs are not getting into the country with five feet tall half-starved indigenous Guatemalans who get detained the minute they try to cross and don’t speak a word of English. The mafias are charging thousands of dollars to poor people trying to reach the border and they are promoting their business all over Guatemala, as I unfortunately know too well from my own first hand sources. The harshest the US government on illegal immigration, the better for the mafias: they organize more caravans, create more chaos and have to worry less about their narco operations being busted during the border crossing”.

I wish I could speak personally to every single zero-tolerance policy supporter in this country and tell them something along the lines I just wrote above. You want to be a racist? I can’t change that. But if you want to see FEWER brown foreign people around, you’re voting the wrong guys.

Thanks for reading. Over and out.

Eurasian ramblings I: delayed, not denied

I injured myself badly the first week after I got back from my Transmongolian trip this year. I am made for toil, I am dead, I do not feel, I do not deserve, I do not tire, I do not stop, I just push on, I need no one, I walk one hundred and fifty thousand steps a week on roads hard and soft, bent over the weight of two backpacks lugged about every two or three days, on four hours of sleep a day for days on end, because I can, I still can and I know I won’t one day. But because it wasn’t every fiber of my body that hurt most after five weeks of pushing myself, I went to the gym the very next morning after arrived. And the next one. And the next one I tore my hamstring and limped my way home while grinding my teeth and driving my nails so deep into my palms I could feel the skin breaking.

When I cannot work out, there is no outlet. I allow myself to slip and drink and drown my senseless existence into oblivion once or twice a year, and the rest of the time I just jump and lift and kick and punch and sweat the hurt that has no cure away. But sometimes my body reminds me it can’t take it anymore because it is made of stupid flesh and stops me in my tracks, and then all hell breaks loose inside of me.

When I am on the go in an unknown place, I have so many things to anticipate, to take into account, to be scared about, I have so many strangers to watch and to fear and so many little notes to write down and things to dream awake of during the long hours I’m alone; even with the experience of years of travel, with the unspoken comfort of knowing I have the physical endurance to get me out of some pickles and the never-talked-about-enough point of ultimately having the money to get me out of others (your average travel blogger never mentions that, but I am no travel blogger), there are still so many challenges, such an alertness, such a sensory overload, that I get a feeling of enjoyment of being alive without having time to think of all my shortcomings and demons that work and workouts barely keep at bay during the rest of the year. When I am away, I am out for myself, out for a little game of survival, and I want to win the game. It is a strange feeling for someone who wishes to die every night: I never want to die less than when I am testing myself away from direct judgement, and I never want to die more than when I first get back to the comfortable places I know and love, where I am no longer a face nobody knows in the crowd, and those faces who know mine remind me without words that I am made for toil, I am dead, I should not feel, and I most certainly do not deserve, and to have thought otherwise momentarily is a signal to drown that recent survivor into oblivion as a welcome back to reality.

I arrived in Beijing after two days of travel in full beast mode. I came home to be betrayed by the same strong ugly legs that carry me spartanly through all my wandering ramblings. The next few weeks were miserable enough to make me get rid of all my other ramblings, the useless characters waiting to be posted for a full round of indifference. And yet, even though I am aware that this sort of opening up is a big part of why the faces who know mine silently remind me that I am a waste of space and time, I feel like rambling again as soon as I am able to think of something else in the evenings besides what I wish for every night. It can’t be helped.