Category Archives: City & Country

Aberdeen (I’m running a bit behind here, I know!)

I wrote this a week ago in an internet free environment…

I’m in Aberdeen with Sara and Rowen and today sparkled with sunshine and rain, the train ride up here was glorious and filled with golden light and green moors and the sea, space around me in all directions, freedom stretching out side to side. And tonight I am absurdly happy. Very few people know happiness I think; I am so lucky.

A great chat, a tramp along a dirt path through the woods alongside a burn, and then a right up the hillside past fields with horses and a high stone wall to Rowen’s school to pick her up. A wee rest and then down to visit Sara’s brother past fields of pigs. We made pasta with fresh vegetables picked from their garden and romped with three tiny puppies who all finally fell asleep in my lap, and played tig and took a walk with the two dogs Bonnie and Meg down the road to the woods. We lost Meg and had to go back to look for her and then lost some time on the great bales of hay. My first time on bales of hay, you can jump and fall and roll around and it is soft almost like I imagine a cloud would be. There is honestly little better in the world than playing tig on bales of hay and clambering up and around and over and falling and not minding a bit. We lost Meg again, Meg was asserting her right not to go for a walk, so back to the house we went and then back home. And watched the empire strikes back munching on biscuits. Nevis the small black mouse had been released to enjoy his freedom a while in the living room, and it took some time to find him. I was having some misgivings about sleeping on the floor in said living room with Nevis running about, not enough to fall asleep somewhere else of course. But I have woken to find myself face to face with a mouse before, in the good old desert days, I can’t say I enjoyed it particularly. Luckily he was found underneath the chest and put to his own bed and so the room is mouse free and I am sleepy.

And I think in spite of everything life is beautiful.

The moors

I walked out of Glenfall and down the road, past the Howwood Inn and up past the football pitch, down along the road that leads to…god damn, I’ve forgotten the little village, it’s where Michael lives, I remember walking down that road several times in company of Michael and Knoxie and Spider, too and from copious amounts of drinks, particularly one sunny Monday when I attended a barbecue with several chefs from the Johnstone area who tend to have Mondays off and I got a sunburn. First and last Scottish sunburn I must say, a unique event in the annals of history. One of the chefs lay comatose on the grass after a long wedding weekend, a wreck the like of which I have never seen after days of drinking and no sleep and a memorable but highly ill advised battle amongst the men with their wooden skean dhus which had left him with the most hideous bruises imaginable.

But today I made the first right up the hill and towards the moors, the sky was grey and it was raining, light rain, the sort of rain where the air is half water half mist and the wind blew hard against my face. Last I was up here was late spring and the day was clearer, Ben Lomond rose up in the distance covered in snow. Ben Lomond today lay shrouded in mist, unseen, looming on the edges of my imagination, the world reduced to the steep climb between the trees of Skipton wood, the gurgling of the burn to my right. I love the woods, and yet…and yet coming to the edge of the trees, seeing the green expanse of the moor rising open before me fills me with a fierce joyful sort of wildness. The wind screams up here, mist driven into your face, hair whipping around your head. Sheep watch you warily and if you come too close they bounce away (there is something about sheep running that always makes me laugh and I’ve tried to pinpoint why I find it so delightful but haven’t quite been able to put my finger on it). I wandered fiercely joyful along the curve of the moor, the bog of the old damn to my left, heather and moss and long grass beneath my feet, a sort of gothic elf today not having packed at all for moors so I had my trousers rolled up to my knees, long black socks, smart black trainers, black sweater…and I tried to take pictures but the moors in the rain defy capture.

It got exciting when I came to the first burn, having passed the hill where an early pict settlement supposedly once lay though nothing now remains…that too loomed large in my imagination as it could not be seen really through the weather. But the burn ran high, after a minute peering up and down in a vain search for likely rocks, I grinned and stepped into it, and continued to squelch happily on my way. The moors don’t go on far enough for me, they are over far too soon, and I had to make the left through the gate to pass the little farm. This time I was squelching through mud heavily enriched by cows, luckily I came to another burn and freed myself of the enrichment. And then back onto the lonely little country roads and winding down the hill and the sun came out to sparkle on the wet grass and summer flowers and pick out the shaggy coats of the cows as they stood watching me incuriously curious. This one was my favourite, all alone in his field and I spose unhappy in his loneliness, he stared at me and then followed me for 20 minutes or so, ambling slowly alongside the fence

I almost danced down the hill, past the trout fishery, down and down and back to Howwood. The world was gloriously beautiful as you can see


And the small things full of wonder.

Once the sun was out the pictures came alive of course, the light against dark clouds extraordinary and beautiful. Still, the sun did not come out for long, and played hide and seek with the rain which never quite let up. It had almost disappeared again for the last look back to where I had come from:

And now I am sitting in an airport, on my way to London and 4 days of great things…

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Sheepherders and the CA Minimum Wage

So I’m doing a wee bit of research for a fellowship I’m applying for…money is money, and money paid to do something akin to what I want to do is good money so I’m applying. So I’m trying to explain the abysmal situation that most working folks in LA find themselves in, and from there heading down the ladder to all those who are sometimes with work, out of work, unable to work. And what my writing might be able to do about it…I’m writing a good line to be sure, but it’ll take a hell of a lot more than writing for damn sure.

At any rate, I was looking some stuff up about the California minimum wage and discovered this juicy tidbit from off of the official California Department of Industrial Relations (a misnomer if the below quote is anything to judge by…you can read all about it yourself at http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/faq_minimumwage.htm):

Q. What is the minimum wage?

A. Effective January 1, 2008, the minimum wage in California is $8.00 per hour.

For sheepherders, however, effective July 1, 2002, the minimum wage was set at $1,200.00 per month. Effective January 1, 2007 this wage was increased to a minimum monthly salary of $1,333.20. Effective January 1, 2008, the minimum monthly salary for sheepherders will be $1,422.52. Wages paid to sheepherders may not be offset by meals or lodging provided by the employer. Instead, there are provisions in IWC Order 14-2007, Sections 10(F), (G) and (H) that apply to sheepherders with respect to monthly meal and lodging benefits required to be provided by the employer.

Yeah, I thought that was pretty sweet. Sheepherders. I’m glad they’re taken care of, or are they? I suppose a minimum monthly means they can’t be paid less then that for their work…how many hours do sheepherders work anyway? The ones in the bible seemed to be on pretty much 24/7 but it’s been many years since I spent time reading about them…

Actually this minimum wage takes care of no one really. A full time worker will earn $16,640 a year. That means a mom with her two kids is living below the federal poverty limit even though she is working full time. Though I guess she’ll be better off working at Burger King than herding sheep. Perhaps.

It’s really too bad that the Department of Industrial Relations’ Frequently Asked Questions section doesn’t include just how people are expected to live off of under $1,400 a month when the average 2 bedroom apartment in LA is now renting at $2,100. Forget about healthcare, car insurance, clothes, utilities, food…

For general info on just how badly you are fucked on minimum wage look at California Progress Report 2008, of course, the folks earning minimum wage already know all that.

Baja adventures part 2

A foggy morning in the ex-ejido of Chepultepec. We wandered down to the little restaurant for an excellent breakfast, un omelete de rajas con crema, chilaquiles, frijoles, happiness even though I could only finish half. We wandered out of the restaurant again, we heard the sound of tires peeling out, and through the arched entrance we watched police cars drive past going west, they must have turned where the road forks and then back they came going east…two cars, a truck, another car, another truck, they raced back up the road, lights flashing, sirens blaring. I walked through the arch to look down the road but they were already disappearing. And a minute later behind them came put-putting a tiny little car like a golf cart with a family happily oblivious inside. It was like the keystone cops.

We are back in el ex-ejido Chapultepec, but just for one more night, not two…And there are gunshots even as I write, first one, thirty seconds later another. I hope it is nothing. We got a reservation in Ensenada proper tomorrow but tonight there was nowhere available. Third gunshot, I hate guns. Fourth gunshot. A lot of cars pulling away. Fifth gunshot, they’re just fucking around, did I say I hate guns? I hate them.

Anyway, today was a great day…we walked down to the main road and waited for a bus…sixth gunshot. That one sounded closer. This morning we were waiting for the bus and there were three guys hanging out down by the fence alongside a little stand selling second hand goods. All of a sudden sirens blare, lights flash, and a police car and a police truck together pull over a van right beside us…I watch them for a minute, we’re a bit nervous you understand, then turn my head and the three guys have disappeared into thin air, vanished into the earth. The police get out with their huge automatic weapons, they confer. Seventh gunshot. We wonder if the bus will stop for us with them there, but it does, we get onto first one and then a micro to la Bufadora…eighth gunshot, I’m glad they’re just fucking around but it would be nice if they stopped now. So, la Bufadora, a natural phenomenon that is apparently very rare, there were a steady stream of tour buses headed there at any rate…small ones. We found out later that they were ferrying people from the cruise ships. Ninth gunshot, this is absurd.

And they’re interrupting my story, cabrones. So, we got on the micro with a man carrying a load of perhaps one hundred caramel apples fixed onto both ends of a pole, another with a khaki vest I rather fancied that had ‘professional photographer’ embroidered on the back in red…we wound along the coast and it was beautiful; if I come back here for a weekend I think it would be nice to try La Jolla beach, we passed it on the way, it was long and white, it was not fenced off, and apparently you can find beautiful shells there, I like shells. La Bufadora was…now there’s a loud fight taking place outside, you have to love Saturday night, I’m glad we’re tired and sunburned and in our rooms…so, La Bufadora was very cool, not astounding. Or perhaps it would have been amazing had there not been crowds of people lining the wall overlooking it…luckily they were all lazy and none of them felt like climbing to the top with us so we could look down for a while in peace. Bev says that the legend tells of a mother and baby whale traveling from the South to the North, and the baby whale gets trapped and so la bufadora is the poor trapped whale trying to escape and expelling the water from it’s blowhole. And that’s what it looks like, a huge spume of water that leaps up to oohs and ahhs from the crowd at regular intervals. I think if you were to stumble upon it alone, it would be spectacular. Crawling with people it is not quite so spectacular, though I rather enjoyed the gauntlet of tourist stalls on the way there: T-shirts of Zapata getting high, Bart Simpson as Che and an Aztec warrior, pharmacies selling antibiotics, valium and Viagra, knockoff bags by Chanel, the pleasant smell of churros in the air, chanclas of every description…

We took the micro back to the main road and then the bus to Ensenada to plan our escape. We passed fields of asparagus. We passed lines of farm workers tired and dusty carrying pails and waiting to get onto large yellow school buses. We passed piles of coconuts and stands full of preserved olives and chiles. We passed a Japanese restaurant with a large red sun above it, caricatured with slanty eyes and glasses and buck teeth. We passed a poverty that even coming from South Central is shocking. I had forgotten, funny how easy it is to forget when you don’t have to look at it every day. Or survive it every day. And we wandered Ensenada which is a great deal richer, but full of indigenous women and children hustling the streets selling bracelets and chiclets, they way they do in Nogales, in Tijuana, in Juarez, in Guadalajara. Everywhere in Mexico, such inequalities hurt my heart. And I wonder why they didn’t rise up and join the Zapatistas, why they came here. I wonder how such a precarious life of dismal suffering could be better then making a stand and fighting. I wonder if the decision was a conscious one or not. I wonder what I would have decided had I been in their place. I gave thanks for where I am; who I was born confusing as my worlds are sometimes. I am glad I am fighting, and I am glad to be alive, and I am glad to be here. And I am also glad I have no internet connection, almost two full days without being able to work and that has been a rather beautiful thing, though it is back to civilization tomorrow.

And er…those aren’t gunshots, they’re fireworks. They have to be.

Baja California…er…adventure

We are five miles south of Ensenada…ex-ejido Chapultepec. Cars drive up and down every now and then outside the hotel. There is no other sound here, and no wireless networks at all.

If you keep walking west down the paved road you come to Faro beach quite quickly…Faro beach and trailer park. You can rent rooms there with kitchens, a space for a tent, a place to park. And welcome to chuntilandia! There are lines of washing. There is the smell of carne asada. There are ice-chests with beer, and radios playing rancheras and banda. Grandparents sit on folding chairs with their hard-faced tatted children and their children’s children in masses. The kids are lined up at the little store buying candy and snacks. You walk down the steps to the small stretch of beach and find it filled with more families; many of them are swimming in their clothes. To your left as your stare out over the ocean are broken down horses that you can rent for an hour’s worth of riding, and a wall that once bore a sign now half washed away saying the area is unsafe for swimming because of riptides. The remnants of what looks like a rather grand sea wall curve around with fisherman sat up on top. Before you get too far there is a fence, a guard, the other side is Estero beach resort. The people fishing on the other side are all white tourists. At least we are on the right side of the fence.

If you walk the other way you come to another dead end quite quickly, but you can climb up onto the wall’s ruin and follow it around past a new wall topped with barbed wire to the dirt road running to the houses behind the tents and short-term rentals.

The houses there are a crazy mix of anything that can be thrown together, the most common being a trailer entombed in a house, or a house built around a trailer…some feel more like one than the other. In one lot stood two toilets waiting patiently on a concrete foundation for their house to be built around them.

We passed Mario & Cookie’s house of love, un vato y su ruca on the sign and wedding pictures in the windows. There are a number of little houses here that are loved. But more that look empty, more that are abandoned and broken-windowed and falling apart quickly. Over a third are for sale.

In fact a huge amount of this whole town is for sale, or it feels that way. It feels as though it has lost its heart…or did it ever have one? I wonder if it is just an older prototype of what is springing up everywhere between TJ and Ensenada…the pockets of luxury play-homes, advertised by a line of billboards entirely in English showing the ocean, gleaming white houses with cool and modern interiors, beautiful women in bikinis. Mario at the bar said the resort has been there sixty-nine years and started out as almost nothing, a collection of trailers…some of the people in the restaurant had practically grown up there. They weren’t speaking Spanish. They were so obviously American in every visible way. I don’t understand how such a thing could be, but it obviously is.

Bev, Jose and I walked back to the hotel as it grew dark, and I attracted the attention of an old one-eyed cholo carrying a plastic cup of beer that was clearly not his first of the day. Like others before him he was taking no hints, to show off he had words with Jose about what neighborhood he was from, before it escalated the hotel owner kicked him out of the little courtyard…so that was exciting. We came in and watched anime until the coast was clear to go to the little bar next door for some bohemias.

I’ve enjoyed the adventure but…tomorrow we are getting the hell out of dodge for the day and look for another spot. Prepaid reservations now, that’s a dilemma.

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Pigs at the Marin County Fair

Ahhh, the Fourth of July…a bad day for politics, a good day for BBQ’s, beer, friends, fireworks, and farm animals. A full house, so to speak, of interesting and enjoyable activities. A lot of people seem to agree that the county fair is really the place to be on the fourth, and they come in all sizes, shapes, and colours, though I will admit there is a bit too much red, white and blue for my taste! I actually spotted an American flag fanny pack, which delighted more than depressed me really. My sense of the absurd rarely marches with my politics, which is probably my saving grace.

The National Pig Racing Association. Just roll that on your tongue for a moment as you close your eyes and imagine the possibilities. It’s like Nascar…with pigs. And sawdust. The country music was rocking, the crowd breathless with anticipation, the nascar flags flapped in the wind, and the tall Texan cowboy taunted us as the clock ticked down and the sunlight flashed from his NPRA belt buckle…

The race was finally ready to start, the first set of pigs in their gates, the oreo cookie placed on the tray at the finish line, and far too many people were in between me and the race track…still, I managed a few shots, and the little bastards were very cute!

My pig lost! Dolly Porker was unseated I’m afraid, so I had to pin my hopes on the second race, and Lyndsy Lowham. Kevin Bacon looked like a close contender but I knew Lyndsy could do it…so here are the big ugly bastards:

And I won! Well…the pig won. We figured 2 races were enough, Monty, Leslie, little Josephine and I strolled through the holiday crowds, I sought in vain for veggie fare and settled for a bad quesadilla while they feasted on sausages…pigs are definitely good for more than racing, no? We saw a pig weighing 350 pounds…lying on its side (it’s debatable whether it could do much else!) in a frightening mound of flesh and THE biggest balls I have ever seen. I remember my grandpa’s pigs on the Devonshire farm when I was five, I doubt there has been anything much more frightening then the ominous sound of something incredibly large and stinking on the other side of a wooden door, I don’t even remember what they looked like, just that they were bigger then me and undoubtedly wanted to eat me.

At any rate, the other highlight was the Preservation Hall Band, New Orleans jazz at its technical best, it was brilliant and I danced…so did Les and Jojo. And then we sat in the shade and enjoyed life to its fullest…no BBQ and no beers til after we got back, and in San Francisco the fog was too thick to see the fireworks, even though we climbed the ladder up to the high rooftops and stood a while in the swirling greyness listening to the booming

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