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The Songbird in the Grocery Store

(Click on the three short parallel lines in the upper right hand corner for information that used to be in the margin.)

I only had to wait for one customer in the line at the grocery store today, just before I left town. Oddly enough, he started singing quietly as the checkout lady worked through his items. He accompanied a pop music song that was playing over the store's speakers.

At one point he teased the checkout lady about how slow she was, but she joked that she didn't want to finish before the song did. So he went back to his singing. He wasn't showing off. It was quiet and natural singing, and he had a good voice.

When it became my turn, the checkout lady told me I could take over now; but I said I couldn't sing the way that the other fellow did. I am glad that he could probably hear us talk about him.



This is the first time I ever heard a man singing in the checkout line before. Why so? I wonder what an experienced world traveler would say. I'll bet it isn'…

Laundromats Are Not the Best Part of Traveling

It is strange how much 'how-to' advice there is on the internet for travelers. But genuinely useful advice is not to be found. Take laundromats. Any beginner may be displeased by the cost of doing laundry. Here's my advice: don't be too cheap. Do yourself a big favor, go to a laundromat with an attendant on duty, and pay a little more. Otherwise the place is a dump.

I was at one of America's premier laundromats the other day. I look forward to it, once or twice a year. But I had to ruin it by being greedy. The music that was playing seemed strange. It was a local station, playing what goes for "country" music, these days. 

The good news is that it wasn't the ugliest music that there is. But I wondered how the music racket works these days.  It's as if music has become an 'autonomous vehicle' for the ears and the soul.

The "country" music sounded like elevator-rock with sappy lyrics, pronounced in a 'before the Great Vowel Shift …

Popular Tastes and the Recent Election

My entire central nervous system, my soul, my personal dignity, everything that seems to define my existence, is under assault right now.  I am having breakfast at a fast food joint, and using the "free" wi-fi. Free, my butt. Look at the price I am paying for it. A loudspeaker (of rather good quality) is blasting trashy popular music at me, as I try to read, write, and think.

Who selects this music?! But I should stop complaining. It could be rap music. Most of it is just lewd female shrieking in rather standard love songs. Gawd, I hate Whitney Houston.

But from a different angle, this torture is beneficial. Sometimes you need to be shocked into confronting unpleasant truths. Consider the recent elections from the perspective of popular music, movies, or whatever.

If this election did not prove 'Democracy: the God that Failed,' then at the very least it shows that universal suffrage is an absurdity. And yet, in the 1800's it was seen as 'progress' that ideal…

Doing Serious Things In an Un-Serious Way

Wasn't there a best-selling book of the 'self help' type, several years ago, with a title like "Everything I needed to know, I learned in kindergarten?" I never read it. Perhaps it referred to the fact that most people agree with many of the general principles and proverbs that are supposed to guide you in living your life. But the trouble is in the applications...

...or rather, putting the moral platitudes into practice. I don't think the main problem is intellectual; rather, it is the inability of a cliché to engage our imaginations and to motivate us to alter our behavior. That is why I was excited about the consequences of failing at reading Dostoevsky for the umpteenth time: for the first time in my life I became wildly appreciative of the principle of doing serious things in a not-so-serious way.

This is not a new idea of course. Essentially it is equivalent to Walt Disney's "whistle while you work" song in one of his animated classics. But …

Composing Music at a Noisy Fast-Food Outlet

From time to time I fantasize dropping my over-priced wireless internet plan. It is the sort of fantasy that soon melts under the heat of rational scrutiny. Why, all one has to do is consider the cost-shifting from "expensive" internet in my trailer to more expensive driving-to and snacking-in the places that offer "free" wi-fi internet.

Here I am, in a fast food outlet, sucking down senior coffee and "free" wi-fi. I probably shouldn't complain: there is no raucous pop music blaring out of speakers over my head, nor is there the increasingly-common giant television playing some news channel.

But there is another source of noise pollution. There always is, in a city. A couple tables away, a man helps a woman fill out some routine application. He has been talking non-stop for a half hour now. How I am starting to hate the sound of his voice!

What is it about him that makes me want to go over there and strangle him? Besides being non-stop, his voice is effe…

If Eclipses Don't Terrify Anymore, What Good Are They?

Whew, what a relief! Tonight is supposed to be cloudy, so I needn't get up at 425 a.m. MDT to watch the Blood Moon total lunar eclipse.

Now isn't that a terrible thing to say? But admit it, how many times have you watched the media buildup to some celestial event -- be it an eclipse, a comet, or the Northern Lights -- only to be disappointed by the actual event? But like most people, I want the event to be interesting.

Why then are these celestial events such let-downs? We tend to forget that throughout the superstitious and religious period of our history, celestial events were truly frightening. That made them NEWS. But thanks to our scientific knowledge [*], celestial events have devolved into mere visual entertainment. As eye candy goes, they are rather slow and unimpressive. Compare them, as visual entertainment, to action scenes and special effects in a movie.

Perhaps you are dissatisfied with this grim truth. Maybe we can think of some other way to make such events intere…

Music Nominations Wanted

Thanks to the munificence of a long-suffering sibling and a recent birthday I am looking to buy some MP3 music tracks from Amazon. In the past I've gotten some good suggestions, so let's try it again. I am primarily interested in:
Movie musical scores ("soundtracks")Solo piano or piano concertos. Female vocalists. In the first category are composers like Jan Kaczmarek, Mario Darianelli, Patrick Doyle, and Gabriel Yared among contemporaries. Of course I love the movie composers of an earlier generation, such as Bernard Herrmann, Victor Young, Maurice Jarre, Ennio Morricone, etc.

In the second category I like much, but not Valium-capsule music, or nambi-pambie nature soundtracks, e.g., waves hitting the shore, seagulls squawking, or whales mooing in the ocean.

In the third category, there are divas like the bluesy EmmyLou Harris, moody Celtic lasses, Puccini heroines, or Broadway musicals.

I do not listen to music dominated by electric bass guitars or any kind of thumpah t…

One of Cinema's Greatest Moments

The local library had a DVD copy of the movie "A Room With a View." Since it had been awhile since last seeing it...

In order to fully appreciate a movie like this, you must look at the overall context of movie-making: the money problems, the tastes of the general public, and the 'Media is the Message' syndrome. There is every reason to expect successes to be rare. But they do happen.

There are hundreds of comments on IMDB or Amazon on this movie. I sighed and then quit, after reading one comment that the Puccini musical score "enhanced the movie." Enhanced, indeed. It stole the show!

Now, long-suffering readers are just going to discount this opinion as that of a Puccini fanboy. But in fact I have seen movies exploit the use of operatic scores to little avail. What I am praising here is not Puccini per se, but rather, the re-combination of his music with the right visual and situational context.

To me, the movie's plot was OK, but I don't go gaga over …

Time to Drop Verizon Wireless Internet?

Would it pay off to drop my Verizon Wireless internet connection? I'm talking about more than the $53 dollars per month. The main benefit would be the killing off of the bad habit that the internet has become. But there's more: without worrying about internet coverage, North America will be a much bigger and better place to camp.

Does the reader know of anyone who has done this, and whether they are happy they did?

There would still be wi-fi in town or at country stores. I really like the camping-style of coming to town once per week to do the usual errands. Internet usage would just be one more errand. It would be fun to look forward to it. Access once per week would be adequate for paying bills, catching up on the news (mostly just entertainment trivia), and reading websites and blogs (more trivia).

Once per week would be adequate for a little bit of internet shopping.

Nor would dropping Verizon Wireless internet service mean that my computer lies fallow all week. I can still wr…

"The Artist": Clever and Charming

I'm about to praise a fairly new movie, but in order to appreciate it fully, let's invoke some words from Samuel Johnson, in Adventurer #67:
Happiness is enjoyed only in proportion as it is known; and such is the state or folly of man, that it is known only by experience of its contrary.Thus we must contrast this enjoyable movie with the cultural sinkhole that Hollywood has become.


You must be brave enough to look into the abyss and appreciate how truly dreadful most movies are...



...the formulaic date movies, obligatory bedroom scenes, boring computer graphics, the F word in every other sentence, MTV-style of cut-cut-cut action trash...

I really didn't know what to expect when I picked this DVD at the public library. It looked like some kind of furrin' or independent flick. During the opening credits there was mention of several French corporations or government funding agencies -- now that was a scary way to start a movie! (But actually, it was a Hollywood movie.)

It was …

The Great Charnel Houses in the Cloud

I want to follow up with some suggestions about conquering the Uninterrupted Prose Syndrome, by making verbiage "breathe" with some kind of pictorial illustration, gotten somewhere. (Let's ignore the fact that music might be even better for this purpose, since it's probably more technically difficult to get it into the blog post.) 

So off I will go, searching for shareable photographs in the great charnel houses for internet photographs, such as publicDomainPictures.net, Picasa, or Flickr. Blogs that have a Creative Commons License, such as a commenter's blog, are also worth a serious look.

Oops. There is a likely problem that we must address before rolling up our sleeves. Recall the controversy that good ol' Leo Tolstoy got into in the Colorado arts scene, one summer not so long ago. (grin) By invoking his arguments on "What is Art?" (free on Google Books), I am not trying to con you with an "appeal to Authority," as it might appear at firs…

Part 2 : Beyond Postcards

For years now I've tried to appreciate the beauty of travel on a higher level than the postcard-kindergarten level. (Must I take the time to add the tedious disclaimer that there is nothing wrong or evil about postcard kindergarten, when you're a vacationer or an RV newbie. It's just that years of experience at being a full-time traveler encourages one to progress so that travel remains challenging. That's only natural and healthy. Geesh, the time you have to spend smoothing feathers.) 

What I aim to do is replace the "eye as the window of the soul" with a different metaphor: one of trying to imagine "Total Experience" as a real and tangible sensory organ -- the main organ that can truly appreciate this rather different way of life.

Normally my successes on this project are singles, bunts, and sacrifice flies.Home runs are rare indeed. But since one did occur last year near Socorro, NM, I wanted to write about it, but didn't feel up to the task.

On…

Mountain Biking with Johannes Brahms

A few miles south of Tucson. A friend had camped here recently and warned me how rough the Madera mountain bike trail is. How typical! I've yet to enjoy any "official" mountain bike trail. If there's a sign calling it an official trail, or if it's listed in some book ("Top Ten Mountain Bike Trails in the XYZ Mountains"), you are almost guaranteed to find a rocky single track that will make you worry about falling, instead of enjoying the ride. But you are guaranteed a nice hiking trail as long as mountain bikers aren't using it at the same time.
The "too rough to ride" syndrome is almost universal. So why doesn't the world catch on? Do people believe every brown sign or everything in print? Of course if you had world-class technical riding skills, you might feel differently. But most people don't have such skills.
Why not just ride dirt roads? There are many thousands of miles of such roads on public lands. Occasionally there might b…

The Music of the Night, II

Based on a comment on the last post, perhaps I overemphasized how much noise an RVer has to put up with. It's hard to fairly partition the blame (for poor sleeping) between old age, the Early Bedtime Syndrome, the RV lifestyle, or boondocking, since all of these factors overlap. But for today it doesn't matter which factor is more important; it only matters that poor sleeping -- whatever the cause -- can be mitigated with the right music.

Most people struggling to sleep learn that the worst approach is to lie there concentrating on trying to sleep. Totally self defeating. The mind needs to be kept busy, relaxed, and ultimately tired of it all.

The other day I was watching the audition tape of the female lead for a recent movie version of Madame Butterfly. My gosh, how does a human being learn to do something like that? Emoting, bleeding, and practically dying in front of the camera, followed by instantly relaxing when the audition was over. This was proof -- not that any was r…

The Music of the Night

Or, Eine Kleine (uber)NachtMusik for Kampers.

Most of what you can read about RV travel is just promotionalism, even when it's a blogger who is not being paid to sell anything. Why this is so is the subject of another essay. Today I merely want talk about a challenging reality of RV life. (Wannabees will want to push the "channel" button now; this is not the "RV Dream" channel.)


It's a brutal truth -- and most truths are brutal -- that sleeping on top of noise is something that an RVer has to get good at. This is probably more difficult for an urban boondocker, all in all, than for an urban RV park camper, and it's worse the older you get.

I've been advised to use silicone ear plugs -- not those useless yellow foam things that won't even stay in the ears. I bought some, but haven't tried them yet. In the summer it helps to run a vent fan, and not just for ventilation of course! I used to generate "semi-white noise" by running my s…

EmmyLou on a Windy Night

An RVing friend surprised me recently when he confessed that he and his wife just hate camping in wind. It is strange how some flavors of hardship discourage you, while others bring out the best in you. For whatever reason, I rather like rocking and rolling in my trailer in the wind. All RVs, even a cheap cracker box like mine, come with some sort of stabilizing jacks; but years ago I got rid of mine.

Cliffs are certainly good places to experience wind. Wind results from a difference in air pressure, which is connected with sudden altitude changes, or one cliff-face facing the sun while another is in the shadow.

One night I went to sleep listening to EmmyLou Harris singing some of her classics. Ahh dear, a female singer is always at her best when she is wailing about her wounds, be they real or imagined. Can you imagine anything more boring than a country-western diva, a Puccini heroine, or a Celtic lass singing about how reasonably content she was with the universe?

I woke up at just…

Art and Travel

People who have experienced little sickness or injury in their lives should be expected to over-react to some bad luck. The other night I felt dizzy and nauseous, and am still not sure what it was about. The next day I felt better by the hour, but was still unnerved by being sick for a change.

During the afternoon siesta I grabbed the mp3 music player and punched in some of Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack music. It was so medicinal to have something for the mind to focus on, besides discomfort. Some music must be hoarded and rationed, lest repetition destroy its power. It was strange how this familiar piece of music had a different and more powerful effect on this particular day.

Is Beauty Ever General?

Dog owners know that one of their urchin's favorite tricks is falling behind on a walk, supposedly due to some worthy distraction. Then they suddenly look up and realize they're too far away. This brings on a mad dash back to their owner; their paws sound as loud as the hooves of a galloping horse. Coffee Girl, my Australian kelpie, pulled that trick this morning.

But something was a little different this time. There was no wind to disperse her dusty contrail. It stayed intact a few feet off the ground and drifted away, ever so slowly. It seemed too solid for anything airborne, perhaps because the rising sun was illuminating the contrail, but not the field proper. It was cruise missile-like; in an earlier era we would have said that it belonged in a Loonie Toons cartoon. The contrail of dust, el camino del polvo, seemed like it was a part of her streaking body. Sigh, if only it had been possible to film a video of this, backlit by the morning sun.

At first I wondered if it wa…

Another Curable Syndrome

Seldom do I willingly repeat myself on this blog, although it must happen. My favorite time of the day tempted me once. Coffee Girl (my dog) and I had finished a nice outing in the morning. After taking a shower, we did what we've done so many times: lied down on the bed for an early afternoon siesta. I wanted to write about it, but surely that would be repetition. What is so bad about that?
Where did I get this sick idea that one is supposed to think of something new, new, new all the time? I ridicule the Constant Travel Syndrome -- and its puerile infatuation with novelty -- at every opportunity. Perhaps it is time to choose a new pinata; call it the Constant Thinking Syndrome. How much good has thinking ever done me? Maybe it's over-rated.
Ironically there was something new about this siesta; completely new for me. I was actually enjoying some violin music for the first time in my life: Beethoven's Romance #1 (opus 40), Romance #2 (opus 50) and the famous violin concerto…

Tickling the Ivories

Lately my musical preferences have shifted towards solo piano. The wi-fi in my campground is too slow for internet radio, so I am limited to CDs fom the local library and occasional downloads from Napster. George Winston and Craig Armstrong are my interests right now.
It is too early to tell for sure, but this could turn into one of those lasting transitions that a person has a few times in their life. For the lack of a better term let's call it a musical conversion. I wonder what is true in general about these musical conversions. Does everybody have them? How often? What causes them? I don't even know where to go to learn about this.
Society as a whole went through several musical conversions during my lifetime. I was just old enough to remember watching the Beatles appear on the Ed Sullivan show. I sort of liked them, but wondered what all the fuss was about. I never cared much for rock-pop music, even when I was a kid. Actually nothing is better at convincing me to renounce …