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I’ve Got A Bad Latitude

May 28, 2007

About a year after moving to North Carolina (35°N) it dawned on me that I’d been doldrums-free for a very long time. I loved North Carolina, and one of the things I loved best was that it didn’t get too dark in the winter and never suffered from the low level but unpleasant depression that had been a part of my entire adult life.

I’d lived in NE Ohio (41°N) and Eastern PA (39°N) and both left me slightly bereft for 3 or 4 months of the year. I was happy to have left it behind.

Crete, Greece is approximately on a par with North Carolina (35°N). My mood was generally good there.

Tonight as I stood outside at 10 pm I realized that I could read a book by the daylight remaining. It only just occurred to me to check the latitude. It’s not good news. We’re sitting here in the mid forties. That’s like living in Canada!

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The Big Storm

May 27, 2007

We had lived in our house on Crete for 5 months when our dog showed up in our garden on Christmas day, 2005.

Geena

Up to that point she wasn’t our dog, she was ‘little barky dog’ and she lived next door. She never left her driveway and spent the majority of her time barking at the road.

We didn’t know then was that she was homeless. We naturally assumed that she belonged to our neighbors, as that was where she lived. The story came about much later: She was originally owned by a German but when she was about three, began to spend increasing time with her second family who eventually took her on full time when the German left the island.

She was with them for about 4 years when they had their first child. At the same time, they moved across the village to a new house they’d built. The combination of having children and a new house proved too much for this 1/4 Greek family and Geena found herself living outdoors (in a very nicely built dog house/garden.) Her previously cushy life of sleeping on the couch and watching TV became a distant tantalizing memory. But the final straw was that the new house was near to a hotel which hosted parties all summer. These parties were loud, with music, fireworks, and gunfire. Geena went home – to her previous address.

Her family came and picked her up, but she repeated the trip over and over until they got the message. A neighbor offered to look out for her, and she was allowed to sleep in ‘her’ garage. At this point she was still spunky and adventurous, though afraid of loud noises. She often took herself 2 kilometers up the hill to participate in the milking of a local farmer’s sheep and enjoy the archaeological site.

This footloose and fancy free existence came to an end in the summer of 2004, when she was attacked and nearly died of her injuries by a crazy neighbor’s crazy dog (nickname: Bad Dog). After recovery, she refused to leave the safety of her driveway – Bad Dog was allowed to roam free despite being a danger because the owner was crazy enough to cause trouble for anyone (and everyone) who would oppose her.

Holidays and celebrations on Crete are loud and usually involve loud music, gunfire, and sometimes fireworks or at least firecrackers. Christmas 2005 was no exception. During a break in the gunfire we stepped onto our patio. There she was, little barky dog who never left her driveway, laying in our garden quivering.

We brought her in the house where she politely curled up on our doormat and shook until the gunfire stopped a few hours later. When she had calmed down, I opened the door and she went home.

The next morning, I was sipping my first morning coffee and surfing the web when I heard a ‘woof’ outside the kitchen door. Not barking, just one single woof. I pulled back the curtain and there was little barky dog, sitting confidently in expectation. I opened the door and she pranced in as though she’d always visited us. After a short visit, I opened the door and she went home.

The next morning was the same. The third day I was going shopping so I went out the door with her. I opened the car door and turned to talk to a neighbor. When I turned back, she was sitting in the passenger seat and wouldn’t budge. From that point forward she’s lived with us. By the next day, the neighborhood was abuzz with the news and my fears of having stolen someone’s pet were assuaged (she was no one’s pet, everyone was glad we’d adopted her.)

The point I’m slowly getting to is that we’ve known since day one about her fear of loud noises, so when she quivered at thunder and lightning, we weren’t surprised. If we had a thunderstorm, I’d build her a cave and we’d sit in there until the storm passed. On Crete, most thunderstorms pass very quickly, in perhaps an hour. One particularly bad one last fall lasted nearly 4 hours and I feared for her life. Sustained terror is difficult, but our girl managed to quiver and pant for the entire storm. I got some doggie Valium after that.

Which brings us to now.

Our landlord stopped by Thursday to pick up a misrouted piece of mail and mentioned that there would be a ‘beaut’ of a thunderstorm on Saturday. I dug out my doggie Valium, but because I don’t like what the pills do to her, I waited to see how bad the storm would be and how she’d react. The storm came Friday night and lasted into Saturday afternoon, and a beaut it was. Thunder & lightning – the works.

Geena

And she didn’t raise an eyebrow.

I think France might be good for us.

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I’m Easily Impressed

May 24, 2007

Tonight I saw a nutria on the bank of the river while walking the dog. It was cute and let me get pretty close before it shot into the river.

Nutria

We had nutria in North Carolina, but I never saw them. This rates right up with the hedgehogs in Crete – the first time I’d ever seen one outside a petshop.

Wikipedia says that nutria are South American but were imported to Europe for use in the fur industry; his fur was very nice indeed.

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Dreaming

May 23, 2007

Most of the time my dreams are clearly my brain jamming everything I’ve thought about or noticed into one scene.

An example: Last night I dreamed that I had been recruited to take my Grandmother to the hospital for a checkup. I agreed with my Mom to stop at a local NE Ohio grocery to pick up supplies on the way home. I arrived somewhere to get my Grandma but she wasn’t there, so I went to another hospital to talk to my Grandpa about it. Their house was just down the street but I didn’t stop there. The trip was to take two hours and we were leaving at 9pm. I called everyone but couldn’t find my Grandma.

Finally she came to the hospital at 10pm. I was angry but didn’t ask for explanations and none were volunteered. Several cousins (from both sides) were coming along, as were some anonymous French people. They were necessary because when I asked my Grandma where we were going, she said Menton (in France)! I tried to explain that driving to Menton took a lot longer than an hour, but they all acted like I was making a big deal out of nothing. I asked the French people and they agreed with me, we’d never make it.

As the van was getting loaded I turned around to talk to my cousin, so I was sitting cross legged with my back against the steering wheel. Apparently my grandfather decided we’d waited long enough because he started the van from the co-pilot seat and managed to get us onto the road.

I was struggling to turn around in the seat but there wasn’t enough room. We were approaching an intersection with traffic and it was urgent that we stop, but my feet weren’t anywhere near the brake pedal. No one else in the van seemed at all concerned and I couldn’t make them understand the danger. I finally got turned around, but not seated, and jammed my foot down where the brake should be. As it turns out, someone had exchanged the brake pedal for a stack of red Wendy’s chili cups which I had to push into the floor to brake. But I couldn’t get the angle right and kept crushing the cups.

That’s pretty representative of most of my dreams. But a few nights ago, my dream actually made sense. Someone asked me what I was going to do after I made a million (presumably dollars, though I’d prefer Euros at this point) and I said, I’m going to sail the world, but not in a sail boat – on a big ship. And even if I were awake, that’s exactly what I’d have said even though I’d never thought of it before.

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What A Difference

May 20, 2007

Our absentee landlords arrived in the area late on Wednesday; Thursday was Ascension day. I celebrated with another headache, this time bad enough to make me nauseated. As I stood steaming my head over the electric kettle (a wonderful invention – every home should have one!) I heard some shouting at our gate.

Thankfully, despite my sick headache I’d changed out of my pajamas because it was our newly arrived landlord. What I hadn’t done was anything else. I hadn’t put away the groceries, washed dishes, cleaned the stove, put away the laundry or taken out the trash. I’m not exactly a neat freak, but the house was a disaster even by my standards.

I welcomed him and explained that I had a migraine and R was still abed battling to sleep after several days’ insomnia. He was ‘on the fly’ and just wanted to check in. I stood with the heel of my hand pressed hard against my brow, hoping that my skull would cave in.

“Do you have our number?” He asked

“Um…no, not the local one.” I said. I knew where this is going. I would have to get a pen, and I couldn’t tell him to wait outside.

“I’ll give it to you.”

“Um, okay. Well, come in, the house is a wreck because I’ve been fighting with my head…” I start to explain.

He shrugs and cuts me off, “It’s your house now.”

Back in Greece I panicked every time our landlords or neighbors appeared. I knew that no matter how clean and neat the place was, there would be something that they would not only see, but comment on. If the floors were clean, the stairs were dusty, if the stairs were clean, the sink needed scrubbing, if the sink was clean, the balconies needed to be hosed, and if all else was perfect, there were always the fingerprints on the doors.

And while one would think that with such picky landlords the house would be in perfect condition, the rain coming under the front door, the thirty year old sofa with torn upholstery, the sprung and mildewed mattress, and the water pouring out of the fuse box in the living room would tell the truth.

So, while this house is certainly no palace, it is probably more livable than the Greek houses we rented. It doesn’t hurt that I’m not afraid of my landlord, either.

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My Soapbox

May 16, 2007

I was going to write a wonderful post about the delight that is 50% off day at our local patisserie, but that will have to wait. I’m dizzy with anger and I’ve got to say something.

4 year old Madeleine McCann was stolen from her room in Portugal nearly two weeks ago. This is a tragedy, but that’s not what I’m angry about. I don’t know how much press this case is getting in the States, but here in Europe it’s a very big story.

Two days ago, the English news media announced that there was an official suspect. I certainly hope this man is guilty, as his life is never going to be the same again. His name, face, family and personal history has been broadcast all over the news.

The sewer rats that are ‘the press’ have proceeded to dig up his history, interview anyone who’s ever had contact with him, and ruin his reputation. Everything he’s said in his own defense is printed in quotation marks to ensure the impression that he’s guilty as sin. It makes me sick.

It feels good to believe that police around the world will only name a suspect if there’s a good reason. It feels good to think that innocent people won’t be accused of crimes if there isn’t reasonable suspicion. It is decidedly uncomfortable to believe that completely innocent people can be named in criminal cases without any good reason. If we admit to ourselves that this can happen, that means it can happen to us, and we don’t want that.

The end result is that this man has been convicted by public opinion, despite the fact that the police say openly that they don’t have enough evidence to gain a court approved charge against him.

“But,” you might say, “they must have good evidence or they wouldn’t have named him a suspect.” You aren’t alone, this is something I’ve heard (or read) on more than one occasion about this crime and others. It’s the excuse people give in order to feel safe in their environment.

The Portuguese police might indeed have such evidence, but if they do, they aren’t saying anything. And I take it as a given that innocent, completely innocent, people are arrested all over the world all the time. If you have any doubt about that, have a look here.

That site, FTA, only talks about the lucky few who are fortunate enough to find and make contact with them. The rest are dangling in the winds, subject to the whims and political maneuverings of the corrupted (or inept) individuals that comprise many of the world’s justice systems.

There are many reasons why the police might have taken this step. One is that they actually have some reason to believe that he’s involved in Madeleine McCann’s abduction. They also might have felt desperate to take some action in a case with no leads growing increasingly cold. They might have decided to take the first person who was close to the case. They might be bumbling idiots.

I don’t know. For me that’s key. The teeming masses don’t know either, but they think they do; they want to think they do. It’s a scary world when not only can our police not solve crimes, but also can destroy innocent people without any reason.

I’ve got news: we live in that scary world.

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It’s All Over (even the singing)

May 13, 2007

So, the chubbier and less talented Serbian version of k.d. lang won.

We didn’t watch the whole thing because Grease is The Word was on. Reality TV has never been my thing, but I’m a new person. Who wouldn’t love to watch people competing to win a year’s contract to star in a London stage production? It’s addictive. I did see enough Eurovision to make some observations.

I wrote before about how the Greek presenter’s enthusiasm nearly brought me to tears. The Greeks were really invested in their 2005 win, emotionally. And the new trend of Eastern Bloc countries swarming the Eurovision Song Contest tells me that they are also emotionally invested.

The general feeling among Western European grown-ups I know is that Eurovision is awful (but they watch it anyway.) Last night Terry Wogan was the British announcer, and he was full of disdain for the entrants, the voters, and the contest itself. He was funny and cynical – I think his attitude is more closely aligned with Western Europe, where Eastern Europe (and Greece) are still in awe of Eurovision. The contrast was interesting.