Clutter (#13)

The Grand Island of Chiloe. Where mental clutter is a rarity.

“A collection of things lying about in an untidy mass.”

Oxford Dictionary

I’m thinking about my relationship with things.

I’m thinking about my relationship with both material and psychological things. Material things are pretty straightforward. My wetsuit, for example, is a material thing. My electric tea kettle is a material thing. The toilet I still haven’t gotten around to fixing is a material thing. But what’s a psychological thing? For me, psychological things are a bit like ideas. The idea, for example, that you should contribute something to society, that’s a psychological “thing.” The idea that you should get married and get a job and have kids, that’s a psychological “thing.” The idea that owning a car is normal, that’s a psychological “thing.”

Basically, anytime something you’re doing (or not) isn’t in harmony with something you’re thinking, it becomes a psychological thing. All the things you “should” be doing, losing weight, exercising more, but you’re not because you’re a lazy scab on the otherwise healthy flesh of society, those are all psychological “things.”

And then, of course, we have material things. My aforementioned wetsuit was the first example. This is an important thing. It allows me to do the activity I love most and not freeze to death and have my body discovered in the Strait of Juan de Fuca by some confused deckhand from Guangzhou on a container ship. My boat is another thing. A big thing, as it also happens to be my home. It’s 27 foot long of pure laboratory grade ecstacy. Though right now it’s cold as scrotum because the weather has decided to turn cold and I haven’t yet bought a heater, yet another “thing.”

Your narrative about yourself and how you fit in in the world is another thing. Here’s a narrative I’ve tended to have about myself: I’m too good for the working world, too good for the rat race, and at the same time I’m a lazy sack of you know what because I haven’t worked in more than a year, I’m not fulfilling my potential, I’ve never had a long-term relationship, my diet could be better, everything could be better, etc etc etc.

These are all psychological “things.”

And not exactly the healthiest “things.”

They are also, ultimately, an illusion. They exist in my mind and possibly in the minds of others, but they exist nowhere else. They are not facts, they are simply ways of interpreting things that are facts. But there are always myriad ways to interpret things. The way you interpret them and tell them to yourself and others becomes your “narrative.” The narrative others have of you is dependent on the one you have of yourself, and not the other way around. The world sees you how you see yourself, as my semi-deranged (but also possibly brilliant) Peruvian former professor once said.

Keeping with pyschological things we also have the world of decisions. Decisions, I would argue, are psychological “things.” The decision of whether or not to have that afternoon cup of coffee you want so bad because you’re a gluttonous wretch but that you know will keep you up at night thinking about whether your daughter Penelope is in the right daycare, that’s a psychological thing. The decision of whether or not to go skiing this weekend when you so desperately want to shred the slopes but aren’t sure you can afford it on your administrative assistant (see: secretary) salary, that’s another thing. These things add up and clutter our brains, making it harder to think. Or better put, we spend our whole day thinking about these things, these illusions.

The antidote is to start seeing these things as things, as useless clutter, rather than giving them the importance we give them. You can do this through meditation, through playing sports or other activities that put you into the infamous state of “flow,” and through ketamine (kidding!!!). Your narrative about yourself doesn’t cease to exist when you identify it as a narrative, but it may begin to lose some of the credence you give to it. And when it loses some of the credence you give to it, it may lose some of the credence others give to it as well.

Here are some ways I cut down on my mental clutter:

1) I cut down on caffeine.
Caffeine makes me anxious. Anxiety is like stepping into a room full of clutter, and when you lift your arm to start cleaning you knock something over and suddenly have even more to clean, and even more, and even more.

2) I meditate.
Let me be real specific here: I observe my breath and observe my thoughts. I don’t go into some trance where the Buddha inhabits my sternum and rids me of dukkha.

3) I go on long walks.
I’m talking long. Screw your 10,000 steps.

4) I create.

Writing this blog or just writing in general helps me cut down on mental clutter because it takes some of the clutter and puts it on the page in all of its gory majesty. I also play the piano, which for me is also creating, albeit guided by the ghosts of Chopin and other composers.

This last one is huge. By creating you’re in a sense bringing more physical clutter into the world, but freeing yourself of mental clutter. There, these words are on the page now. You deal with them.

The thing I haven’t worked out yet is when these strategies to reduce clutter end up being clutter themselves. Where does spirituality end, for example, and psychological materialism begin? I don’t have the answer to that. At least not yet. But when you berate yourself for not meditating, for example, or not downward dogging 80 minutes a day, or not working out right after you get off work at Amazon, that’s mental clutter. There has to be acceptance on some level. You are not perfect, nor will you ever be. You are not objectively beautiful. You not a hotshot, or a loser. You are not a somebody or a nobody. All those things are just mental constructs.

All those things are just…


Did Christopher Hitchens Drink Coffee? (#12)

The other day I googled, “Christopher Hitchens coffee,” trying to ascertain whether or not Christopher Hitchens drank coffee, and was dismayed to find that the results were paltry. Which is why I’m going to make the results. Yes, friends, today’s post attempts to answer the question: Did Christopher Hitchens drink coffee?

First of all, it’s common knowledge that Hitchens drank tea. He even has an article about it. Here’s what Hitchens says about tea in the US:

“It is already virtually impossible in the United States, unless you undertake the job yourself, to get a cup or pot of tea that tastes remotely as it ought to.”

Christopher Hitchens, Slate, 2011

In the next paragraph he then compares tea to coffee, and in a subsequent paragraph says, “Until relatively few years ago, practically anything hot and blackish or brackish could be sold in America under the name of coffee.” He’s not directly saying he drinks coffee here. But he’s implying that he knows something about drinking coffee. Or that he knows something about America. Or that he knows something about things brackish.

Let’s move on to an article that appeared in The New Yorker, also, serendipitously (or just dipitously), in two-thousand-and-eleven. The article was called “Dinner with Hitchens” and written by the uproariously needling Lauren Collins. Lauren, bless my heart, had the pleasure of having dinner with Christopher Hitchens (and Salman Rushdie!) as well as Hitchens’ wife and agent. There’s one telling sentence in this article: “…I had fantasized about talking (or, more accurately, listening) late into the night, but the party had broken up around midnight, with Hitchens, coffee mug in hand, wandering off into the fug.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. What the fug is a “fug”? I had certainly never heard that word before this article. But apparently it’s a “warm, stuffy or smoky atmosphere in a room.” So it’s not actually a place. It’s like wandering into a cloud of smoke. We can see Christopher Hitchens doing this, indeed receding into the mist not unlike a young Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, coffee mug in hand, probably muttering about something or other, a wry smile on his face, his mind certainly moving a thousand miles a minute.

But the important part is he had a coffee mug in his hand.

Which was presumably filled with coffee.

Then there’s this article: “Lunch with the FT: Christopher Hitchens,” written in 2008 by the apparently venerable Edward Luce. This is my favorite article I’ve come across so far in my Hitchens/coffee research. It’s well written. It provides a window into Hitchens’s personality, his life. It talks about how Hitchens attended Oxford at the same time as William Clinton who, from what I can gather, Hitchens thought was a scumbag. It doesn’t, however, talk a ton about coffee. It just has this sentence: ” The thalis are cleared away and we move on to coffee. As we sip, a burly Rastafarian walks past….”

But what else do you need to know? They ate Indian food, they moved on to coffee. They sipped it.

You might be wondering why I care whether or not Christopher Hitchens drank coffee. Well, Hitchens is one of my favorite orators/writers who’s ever existed, and when I find an author I like I like to see what their routines are so I can possibly emulate them. I’m particularly interested in whether or not writers drink coffee. Karl Ove Knausgaard, one of my other favorite writers, drank tons of coffee. Tons of instant coffee, for that matter. Roberto Bolaño, my other favorite writer, famously drank chamomile tea. And smoked tons of cigarettes.

At the same time it’s important to note that you don’t have to emulate the habits of your favorite writers. In fact, you’re probably better off not doing so. I’m not going to smoke just because Karl Ove, and Roberto, and Christopher all smoked. I’m not going to suddenly start drinking gallons of chamomile tea. But I do like to know what they did. I do like to try to figure out how they did it. So that one day I might do it myself.


Las Lajas, Argentina (#11)

All right. Things are good. If you’ll excuse me I’m just kind of settling into my chair here. Just kind of getting ready for the day. Still kind of waking up. Had a vitamin B12 this morning, but haven’t had any caffeine. The reason I haven’t had any caffeine is because I’m playing soccer today, and last time I played soccer with no caffeine before and with also taking a vitamin B12 (there were other factors at play!) I felt amazing. So I’m trying to replicate that day. Because the adult league on Bainbridge means a helluva lot to me. More than it should.

The picture at the beginning of this post is from Las Lajas, Argentina.

And here, on the map, you can see where Las Lajas is. It’s somewhere in Argentina. One might call it, “the middle of nowhere,” though one might also call it, “smack dab in the middle of everywhere.” The choice is yours.

To get to Las Lajas I hitchhiked from a town on the Chilean side called Lonquimay. At the border between Chile and Argentina I spent about an hour chilling with the border guard in his little hut, drinking mate and talking about random shit. It was wonderful. He had a heater. He told me I could chill there and we could just ask everyone who came if I could get a ride with them into town. Then he gave me spaghetti. Apparently a lot times truckers won’t be able to bring meals with them across the border, so they’ll just give them to him. We drank more mate. I told him a bit about the journey was on. Sometimes it’s really, really, really nice to speak Spanish.

Eventually a dude he kind of knew came, and that dude agreed to take me to Las Lajas. But not only did he agree to take me to Las Lajas, he insisted on asking around until we found the AirBnb I’d reserved. We drove up and down the main street at least three times before finding the place. But he insisted on helping me. People are amazing.

Later on that trip I took the above photo. This is the bus station in Las Lajas, Argentina.

After Las Lajas I took a bus to Zapala, and then another bus to San Martin de los Andes. I love these parts of Argentina. There are no tourists here (except of course when you get to San Martin). But in a place like Zapala? There are just Argentinian people. It’s an Argentinian small town. You get to see how Argentinian people actually live, something you don’t often get to see in a place like Buenos Aires or Bariloche. I could’ve walked around Zapala all afternoon, or I could’ve tried to hithchike, but I decided to cough up the 16 or so bucks for the bus (if I remember correctly).

In San Martin I got drunk. I don’t know exactly why. One night I just thought, “I’m gonna eat a shit ton of empanadas and get mildly intoxicated.” And that’s what I did. I stayed in a beautiful chalet style house — wood beams, wood joists, all that — in San Martin. I walked around a bit. And then the next day I headed off to Villa La Angostura, where that picture from a few posts back was taken. This was at a time in my life when I was still teaching English online. I don’t teach English online anymore. I’m on sabbatical.

After Villa la Angoustura I tried to hitchhike back to Chile and ran into this French/English kid who was studying in Santiago but since the teachers on Santiago were on strike he decided to take a trip. Then we were joined by ANOTHER kid, also trying to get to Chile, this time Chilean, and the three of us successfully hitchhiked with a trucker who wanted to know all about our lives. I remember the Chilean kid, who had a beard, said something that I thought was interesting and might’ve inspired me down the road. He pulled out his little brick, non-smart phone about halfway into the trip and said, “I got out of the machine.”

The French/English kid got dropped off at some hot springs. I got dropped off in a town called Osorno, where I then made my way to Puerto Varas, where I again got kind of drunk.

That was all a couple years ago at this point. But for some reason this morning I felt compelled to talk about it.


Every September 28th for the Last Five Years (#10)

Every once in a while I like to play a game. I usually play this game while sitting in a cafe, drinking the first of several macchiatos, preparing to have a nervous breakdown. What I do is I sit there with my notebook and think, Where am I today? Where am I at this exact moment? Then I think: Where was I last year at this exact moment? What was I doing? How was I feeling? Then I do the same with two years ago, three, and up until at least five, depending on how well I can remember. I use Gmail as an aid to help me figure things out. There’s no way I could do it on my own. Then when I have my list I sit back, take a sip of my macchiato, signal to the barista with a knowing wink that I’d like several more, and let out a hearty sigh.

Today (September 28, 2019): At my parents’ house on Bainbridge Island. Sitting at the computer upstairs. It was raining outside, but now has stopped. I’ve had a lot of black tea this morning. I feel, generally, pretty good.

September 28, 2018: I was in the Central Library downtown, starting a WordPress version of my critically-acclaimed blog about Christian Pulisic. About a week later I would drop everything and head to Vienna, Austra, to study German for two months.

September 28, 2017: I was probably roaming around Capitol Hill. I’d just finished interpreting a pulmonology appointment at Kaiser Permanente on Capitol Hill, and so I probably went to Trader Joe’s, got coffee, bought a Larabar, and then went down to Elliott Bay books to read some kind of philosophical book and freak out.

Gainfully employed, though!

September 28, 2016: Ahhh, now we’re getting into the fun part. I was in Mexico! In Ensenada where apparently my hotel room was 800 degrees. I was alone, driving south from Seattle. The roadtrip would take me to Cabo, and then over to the mainland, and all the way to Panama City. In Panama I would meet a German girl and fall briefly in love. We’d go to Bocas del Toro together. I’d surf! And then..and then…I’d fly to Chile.

September 28, 2015:

Manizales, Colombia. September, 2015.

I had just finished guiding a tour for El Camino Travel in Cartagena in which I had a wonderful group and also met a kindred spirit and someone I’m proud to call my friend named Jen. Jen is a wildly talented photographer. But on this particular date I was back in the Seattle area doing interpreting and probably trying to figure out what to do next. This is where things start to get a bit murky.

September 28, 2014 (five years ago): I was in Saint Vincent de Tyrosse, in Les Landes, France. I was staying in an AirBnb and tindering heavily. In fact, I even had a blog called Hot Tinder Chicks Smoking Cigs. The blog is still one of the finest online dating blogs in existence. Shortly after SV de T I moved to Seignosse and lived with a wonderful woman named Fred and her high school age daughter. I surfed often and rated Google ads online for a living. Life was pretty good.

And so yeah, that’s the last five years of my life. Or at least the last five September 28th’s. Today’s is not over though, of course. Today’s has just begun.


Status Anxiety (#9)

I’m reading a fascinating book right now. It’s called Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton (Vintage International; $16) and it’s almost as if the universe has found the perfect book for me at this moment in my life. Not that I struggle with status anxiety. Oh no, quite the contrary. I have hip shoes. After my recent trip to Fantasy Cuts in Vancouver I even have a hip haircut. But if I were to struggle with status anxiety, with the idea that I don’t measure up based on society’s expectations, if I were to be crippled by constantly comparing myself to those around me, then this would be the perfect book.

Consider this quote, for example, from page 25. Or you know what, I’m just gonna paste the picture here. Read block “1.”

Cell phone picture quality anxiety.

So what’s so fascinating about this? Tell me, Mark, you’re saying, essentially screaming, what’s so damn fascinating about this. And I’ll tell you. Just let me take a sip of my pu-erh kombucha first.

Here’s what I found so fascinating about this quote: the fact that as our ability to lead more full lives, more materially abundant lives, our status about possible deprivation has increased. In other words, yeah, we’re capable of having so much shit these days, buying so much shit, eating so much shit, consuming so much shit, but what do we actually do? Worry about the shit we’re not consuming.

Which is sad.

The Point.

Yesterday, while walking back from The Point at Port Angeles, where the waves were not that good, I had a bit of an epiphany (see: apostraphe). I thought to myself, Man, fall is really beautiful here. Usually at this time of year I’m preparing to leave. But now instead of fleeing from the seasons I’m actually enjoying them. I mean, they even have maple flavored coffee samples at Trader Joe’s.

I also had another epiphany: that I am beholden to no one. I made a promise to Clarita, my Chilean friend/mentor, to settle down, and the reason I’m keeping that is because she said it would cause her physical pain if I broke it. We shook hands. Twice. And so that’s why I’m keeping it. Not for me, though of course it has benefited me and that’s the whole point, but for her.

Other than that, I can do whatever the heck I want.

Which brings me back to status anxiety.

The Point, looking towards Canada.

How much of what you do everyday is based primarily on your family’s, your friends’, and society’s expectations of you? I would wager quite a bit. I know that’s true at least for me. Sometimes I wonder if pretty much everything I do is based on fulfilling the perceived expectations of others or of society in general. But here’s the thing: these expectations that you’ll “do something with your life,” that you’ll “be someone,” that you’ll get a high-powered job and a corner office and one day train show-quality Irish Wolfhounds, these are new expectations! Go back to the 17th century and the expectations were this: do everything you can to not die, and that’s about it. Farm potatoes. Basically farm anything you can. But the idea that you could rise through the ranks, that you could become something out of nothing, that idea didn’t exist. Let me stress that: That idea did not exist. It’s not that people considered the possibility and then just resigned themselves to a life of strife, it’s that they never considered the possibility in the first place. Today, if you’re not someone, you’re no one. Back then, if you weren’t someone you were just like everyone else, which sort of made you someone. Maybe you’d lament your lot in life when something particularly bad happened, but you wouldn’t spend all day worrying over becoming something, because that thought would never cross your mind. You’d be too busy drinking ale and farming potatoes, in other words, enjoying life.

So what’s the answer to this situation, to this sick view of what makes a full life? I don’t know if there is an answer. Or rather, there definitely is an answer, somewhere, but I don’t think you’re going to find it by reading this blog post, or by reading Eckhart Tolle (ok maybe you’ll find it by readking Eckhart Tolle since the man’s a hedgehog-looking genius), or by reading Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton. But at least by reading this post or those books you might get it in your head that there’s an alternative to the way of thinking that describes modern-day status centered around material accumulation and “being someone.”

You are someone. You are someone in the exact way that I’m someone, or that Bill Gates is someone, or that your hamster is someone. Don’t let me dissuade you from pursuing that dream job. Just please stop for a moment to contemplate why you’re pursuing it. And stop, just for a moment, to contemplate pursuing breeding show-quality Irish Wolfhounds.


Trying Too Hard (#8)

I think I might be trying a bit too hard on this blog. I say this because on my other blog, dedicated to American soccer phenom Christian Pulisic, I don’t try hard at all. I just have fun. But for some reason on this blog I feel compelled to make the writing good, which of course only makes it bad. There was a famous Sportscenter commercial where Kenny Mayne is hitting golf balls into the satellite dish behind the company offices. The guy helping him says, “Hold it like a bird. Not so hard that you crush it. Not so soft that it gets away.”

Ahhh, these metaphors for life.

The above picture was taken by my right arm outside Villa la Angostura about two years ago. The girl in the picture had some kind of exotic name with syllables where they shouldn’t have been, and as I usually do, I briefly fell in love with her on our walk. She had a boyfriend. She was very clear about that. But that didn’t stop us from enjoying a nice hike together and drinking mate in the mountains of Patagonia.

But what does this have to do with anything?

It has to with mate because the reason I’ve been trying hard on this damn blog is because I want it to be something. I have no idea what. I want recognition. The other day I heard that someone had said about me, “I got caught up on Mark’s blog. Sounds like he’s still traveling around, still drinking mate and talking about how much he loves the waitress. But, like, nothing’s really changed, has it?”

I was of course deeply hurt by this until I realized that the reason I was hurt was because it was completely true. That’s been the last 10 years of my life. Traveling around. Drinking yerba mate. Falling in love but now really. And then moving on the next day.

Which is actually completely fine.

But then I made a promise to an 80-year-old Chilean woman that I would stop doing that. So I moved back to Seattle. I bought a boat. And now I live on said boat, and it’s where I’m typing these very words, listening to the rain outside, wondering where I might be able to travel to next, and also wondering if it’s time to boil water and drink a little mate.


Vancouver, How I Love Thee (#7)

Oh, Vancouver, how I love thee. Let me count the ways…

  1. They call you the City of Glass. With your hyper-modern, mostly-glass apartment buildings, I understand why.
  2. You feel like Seattle, but something’s just a little bit different. Is it the plastic money? The location just a bit further north? The beautiful accent where “been” is pronounced like “bean” and every statement ends with, “Hey?”
The view from the Granville Bridge.

3. You have so much water, so many beaches. English Bay, Jericho, Kits, the Spanish Banks, False Creek, Lynn Canyon, Horseshoe Bay, and all the water surrounding Stanley Park. I need water around me at all times, and you provide it.

4. You have plastic money. In a world where every civilized nation is turning to plastic money because it lasts longer, doesn’t tear, and you can get it wet, you haven’t been left behind. Meanwhile in the States we cling to the very traditions that will be our downfall.

False Creek.

5. The proximity to unfettered nature. Drive a half hour and you’re on the Sea to Sky Highway, mountains looming in the distance, a fjord at your feet. What is that little town with the massive rock face watching over it, the world-class kiteboarding? Oh, right, it’s Squamish, and it’s delightful.

6. The wonderful cafes and restaurants. Mingle with hipsters over a turmeric latte at the Federal Store, or pop into the one and only Rick McCrank’s very own skate shop, Anti-social.

7. People in Seattle are pretty damn chill, pretty damn polite, but Vancouver takes it one step further. Please, bump into me so I can tell you I’m sorry. Please, go in front of me in line. Please, have my last beer and marry my sister.

8. Your green areas. Stanley Park is a world unto itself. And then there’s Queen Elizabeth Park, the Spanish Banks, UBC, and all the spaces in between.

9. No better place in summer. When it’s 60 degrees outside (18° Celsius?) the clothes start flying off. Again, like Seattle, but again, just a little bit better.

10. The quality of life. Everyone seems happy in Vancouver. I’m happy when I’m in Vancouver. Hopefully, I’ll live here one day. But even then I’ll keep counting the ways…


24 Hours in Vancouver (#6)

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Vancouver isn’t a real city, and BC isn’t a real “province,” and what are provinces anyway? And you’re probably also thinking: Canada isn’t a real country but if it were I’d want to do spring break in Churchill, Manitoba with the sled dogs, and do they really speak French in Quebec? Also, I heard someone talking about this place called “The Maritimes” once. What is that? There’s a province called “New Brunswick?” You’re shitting me…

Yeah, we’re a little ignorant down here in the south, and by the south I mean The United States of America, and by The United States of America I mean the land of the free, home of the brave, etc etc. I make a point of knowing a little about our neighbors to the north, though. I spent three months here on a reconnaissance mission in 2007, gathering intelligence while posing as an illegal deli worker in Victoria. Am I saying I’m a spy? Obviously not. You don’t have to be a spy to gather intelligence.

But ANYWAY, Vancouver. I got here yesterday morning and went straight to Fantasy Cuts, my favorite hairdresser in the land, on Broadway and Fraser. Fantasy Cuts is run by a troupe of Filipino women, one of whom is apparently in her 80’s, and offers damn cheap cuts at $15. Canadian. I don’t know how much that is in USD, but I know it’s less. I also know that with the beard trim my cut came to $22 cold cash, and then $30 after I tipped a few shekels ‘cuz I’m careless with currency.

Oh, Canada.

Our home and native land.

True patriot love?

(I don’t know how it goes).

We stand on guard…for…THEE!

God keep our land, glorious and free…

After Fantasy Cuts I went to Whole Foods and got a smoothie, and then to my friend Jeff’s house who works as a web designer and who was chilling on his computer while the girl he’s dating did drawings on the couch. I’d just heard the song “November” by Max Richter in the car and implored Jeff to play it at moderate to high volume. Max Richter plays quote unquote contemporary classical music, which I thought I hated but it turns out I might love. I probably listened to “November” seven times yesterday, depending on the strength of the Yuan. Then we drank coffee and watched as a girl across the alley engaged in some sort of modelling photo shoot, gyrating and posing in front of the camera. And then I left Jeff’s house and went to the library.

At the library the two dudes next to me talked of stabbing and murders.

Which was not, to say the very least, ideal.

But what does one do with 24 hours in a city? How does one maximize one’s time? Does one spend time galavanting, or rather reflecting?

I struck a healthy balance and took a nap (while listening to Max Richter, of course).

In the evening I dined with my friend Jenny and Jeff and Jenny’s cousin. They drank wine and then Bailey’s and then we smoked a cigarette on the balcony. It was raining outside, that kind of Vancouver rain that is a mix between a mist and silence but still soaks you to the marrow in about five minutes.

As I lay on the floor, preparing myself for sleep, I reflected on the day and what I would do the next day. Had it been a good day? Had I lived well?

But of course! All is well that ends well. And how can any day be bad that’s spent among friends, drinking mate, getting semi-precious dirt-cheap haircuts?


Caffeinated on Cordata: A Review of the Co-Op (#5)

Hear ye! Hear ye! I have been to the promised land. It turns out it is not where we thought it was. El Dorado’s gold does not exist! All year we have been toiling in the jungles of Mesoamérica, searching for a treasure that wasn’t there. A treasure that never was there. I have lost many good men. I have lost many bad men. I have lost many average men. I have lost fewer women. And friends, at one point I almost lost hope. But I never lost hope completely. And when I was on the verge of giving up, of packing it in and heading home to Spain to live out my life in relative luxury, suckling on the teat of the monarchy like some kind of deranged goat, I decided to look in one more place, and there! There, my friends, I found it.

Turns out it was in Bellingham.

Located on the north side of Bellingham near Whatcom Community College, the Cordata Community Food Co-Op is your one stop shop for quality groceries and produce. This place has everything: a hot bar, a salad bar, a seating area, and even a coffee bar that serves organic, fair-trade coffee at two dollars a pop, with free refills as long as you stay in the store.

The grocery store is open daily from 7am-9pm, and is located at 315 Westerly Road in Bellingham, Washington, kitty corner (or is it catty???) from the Bellingham transit center, otherwise known as: The place where the Bolt Bus stops, otherwise known as: Everyone’s 18th favorite Can-American bus line.

On my visit to the Co-Op and the one this review is based on, I arrived at 7:30am and, to be truthful, expected it to be closed. Much to my delight, however, I saw it was open, whereupon I wasp-lined it to the coffee bar section where I found precisely what I had come for: yerba mate. I wish I could say I’m not addicted to yerba mate, but that would be like saying I’m not addicted to ketamime — simply untrue! All jokes aside, I talked briefly with one of the employees who informed me that all of the wares at the coffee bar cost two dollars per cup — including tax — no matter the size, with free refills as long as you stay in the store. Judging by the Mexican guy who’s currently preparing ramen noodles in the seating area and has a two liter bottle of Coke and his own bottle of Tapatío, I’d say you can stay here a very long time.

As I was paying for my yerba mate I had a brief conversation with one of the serfs working the register, who posited: “I think it’s the best deal in town, because it’s organic, fair trade coffee…”

She trailed off as if expecting me to say something, but I was looking at the card reader and waiting for it to say “Remove card” so I could rip my credit card from its clutches and retire to the seating area and guzzle yerba mate.

Which is what I’m doing now. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is playing on the PA system and the vibe is chill. Everyone is happy at the Cordata Community Food Co-Op, which is to say, all four of us. But now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go. El Dorado beckons, and in this case it’s kept in a thermos about 20 feet from my person. I intend to see to it that that thermos gets emptied, or at least something very close to it.

Hear ye!


Silence: In the Age of Rimini (#4)

When I woke up this morning, confused as usual, and glanced at the clock, I couldn’t help but be overcome by the following thought: What time is it in Cambodia? Sometimes you wake up dreaming of Phnom Penh or just consonant clusters in general. And that is indeed what happened this morning at 6:18am. Wake up. What time is it in Cambodia. Phhhhhhhnnnnnnnnnnn.

Actually, that didn’t happen. I did wake up at 6:18am. But what I really thought about was: A) Should I go back to sleep, and B) Is Christian Pulisic going to start today? Chelsea play Liverpool in the Premier League this morning at 8:30am PDT. To say I’m excited about this game would be a statement. Another statement would be, “Black tea makes me nauseous.”

But anyway. I’m not here to talk to you today about Christian Pulisic. I’m here to talk to you about the the last new country I added to my illustrious list, since this is, ostensibly, a travel blog.

I will give you a hint about what the last country I visited was. It’s completely landlocked by Italy. That should be hint enough. No, it’s not Monaco. Monaco enjoys some beautiful Mediterranean coastline. If you guessed “San Marino,” you win 16 shekels and a pat the on the scapula.

What happened was the following: I was in Rimini, a nearby coastal town, a bit late in the season (December). Let me tell you about Rimini: Rimini is a town where people from countries like Austria and Russia come to get away. Which means it’s essentially two towns: The part by the sea (awful), and the old town (quite charming). I stayed in a small hotel by the sea and would make the walk into the old town at least once a day, often twice. In the old town I would usually go to a bookstore called La Feltrinelli. This is a wonderful bookstore chain in Italy. I later went to one in Rome. At La Feltrinelli, I would sit in their comfortable chairs, reading one of the following books: Silence: In the Age of Noise, by Erling Kagge (Pantheon Books; $19.95), and The Order of Time, by Carlo Rovelli (Penguin; £8.99). While sitting in the chairs I would also gaze at the customers around me. A fat man from Slovakia with a face like a drunk hedgehog. A young Italian girl playing hooky. An older man with a wheezing problem and a penchant for blinking. A lot of people would just come sit in the chairs. They wouldn’t even read books! But oh, I was there for the literature. I was there for the enlightenment. Though to be completely just I did feel like dozing off from time to time.

I don’t know why I read these two books in particular. The one written by the Norwegian guy resonated with me because: A) I like being alone, and B) I like weird missions. This guy walked to the South Pole. He WALKED. Towing a sled behind himself like some kind of deranged Siberian Husky. And what did he do when he got to the South Pole? Why, he turned around, of course. Mission accomplished. He’d almost frozen to death, but mission accomplished.

As far as the one about time, I was interested in it because I spend a lot of (-) thinking about (-). Does (-) exist? Also, how is it always possible that things that seem like they’re going to take forever to happen always, in retrospect, seem like they happened in the blink of an eye? And what’s the difference between yesterday and 10 years ago? Ten years ago might as well be ancient Rome at this point. Or ancient Rimini. Or ancient San Marino. Which might be more appropriate, since San Marino’s government’s claim to fame is that it runs on the oldest written government documents, written some time in the 1600’s in Latin.

The day I went to San Marino I got the bus from the arch near La Feltrinelli. I took the bus up to the castle, walked around the castle, and then took a mountain path town. Whelming. But then, THEN!, I went into a cafe, where I was able to observe the beautiful San Marinense people. Oh, how I long to be San Marinense. To have one of their fat license plates. To have one of their passports, provided they have their own passports. To have their nationality. To speak Italian. To be married to a girl from San Marino.

But alas, all I did was sit in a cafe. And drink tea. And when the bus came, I got on it.