World Cup Opening Day

Don’t worry, kids, I’m not going to give a rundown of all sixty-four games of the tournament. I did watch the first two, however, and the game between Poland and Ecuador held my attention (although by then my laptop battery was dead). Also remember that I don’t know crap about this game. My observations could be so far off base that soccer (they call it fotbal here) fans will laugh uproariously.

The difference in style between the two teams was apparent from the beginning, and is what made the game interesting to me. Poland’s snappy short passes and ball-control philosophy were effective early on in each period, and at first I thought the game was going to be lopsided. Somehow, though, one of the Ecuadorians managed to get back in time to break up the opportunity every time. The Ecuadorians, meanwhile, were playing a flow game, with big, looping passes that their teammates would leg out. The tactics seemed to give the cameramen difficulty as well; many times I could not tell what was happening where the ball was going to land, until at the last inistant a player would come into the frame. Perhaps European-style cameramen are not well-suited for the South American-style game.

As the game progressed, Ecuador looked more and more in control. The difference, I think, was conditioning. Once Ecuador established the open running game Poland couldn’t keep up. Ecuador held off a charge late in the game to win, 2-0.

Poland had the feet, but Ecuador had the legs.

Edited to add impression from day two: Argentina is a bunch of whiny dive artists. Get up and play, you babies!

Another polite rejection

I cam home tonight to find a letter from Jennifer Jackson, an agent at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. It was a rejection, brief but polite. Almost too short to be a form letter, it included the title of my novel. Sure it’s a template, but some flunky had to spend an extra few moments plugging in the variables, rather than just slipping a piece of paper into an envelope.

It also mentions that my “credits are certainly notable”, which is certainly a reach, but this letter couldn’t be used for people with no credits whatsoever. That marks this rejection as the first in which someone at the agency actually thought about the appropriate reply. (Realistically, the mention of my credits is likely intended to forestall the irrational raving “But I’m Someone!” response, but at least they paid enough attention to my query to identify that threat.) They spelled my name wrong, but there’s a shortage of e’s these days, I’m told. As with all other shortages, China is to blame.

The letter was brief, it was honest (except for the notable credits part), but it was a tiny bit more personal than what has come before. In the meantime I have learned a bunch from Evil Editor and his minions, and I continue to hone my message.

But for all you agents lurking around, reading my blog (I know you’re out there), it’s funny what just a tiny bit of personalization does to a rejection. I’ve been shot down by the woman, yet my response is, “that Jennifer Jackson is all right.” Probably we will never work together, but it’s a small world, and she managed to slam the door in my face with just a gentle click of the latch. I appreciate that.

Wrapping up the trip

Me, looking out to sea Cadaqués is in a right pretty corner of Spain, with dramatic rocky coastline, deep blue sea, and bright sun. It is a good place for hiking, and hike we did. I gave Miss Adventure control of the camera, and we spent a very pleasant afternoon rambling about. That night the city emptied and we slept in an actual hotel room, ate food from the grocery store (vegetables! rapture!) and went back out to enjoy the evening. Cassius and I ended up on bar stools in a place along the “Street of Shame”, a longish alley with several clubs on it.

Boats, by miss adventure As with everything else in that town, drinks were overpriced. The closest thing to a decent deal was a list of shots that seem to have been invented by pulling the names of boozes and mixers from a hat. Cassuis amused himself by buying me a couple of them just to watch me drink them. The bartender, having no sense of proportion (although she, herself was quite magnificently proportioned), would pour equal amounts of each ingredient into the glass. The results were horrific. After the second round there was a dispute about price, which surprisingly we won after we had already given up. The prize: another round of horrible shots. Hooray for us.

The next day we wandered the town, looking for a place to do laundry and get a haircut. I had mentioned losing most of my hair, and while Cassius thought it would be amusing to watch, Miss Adventure was quite excited at the prospect indeed. We did not find what we were looking for, and ended up sitting on the pebbly beach, stacking pebbles, throwing pebbles at stacks of pebbles, and (Cassius only) juggling pebbles. I created PebbleHenge, coming soon to a photo album near you.

PebbleHenge
PebbleHenge detail
Then it was on to the bus and over to, uh… What’s the name of that city again? It’s got the Dalí museum in it. Starts with an F. Never mind. The town has two things: A railway station and the Dalí museum. The museum is right cool, and definitely worth a visit.

Wait, there’s a third thing in F-town (map). An honest-go-god barber shop. After the museum, on the evening of my last full day in the hot country, I was shorn. My hair is short. My big bushy beard is gone. Somehow my request to keep it longer on top so my hair wouldn’t stand up was inverted; I now have a bristly brush on top of my head. Next time I will specify centimeters.

Getting hair and beard chopped off, amused onlookers This shearing process was of great entertainment value not only to my companions but to all the others in the place. I was the biggest thing to happen to haircutting in F-town in a long time, I’m sure. That night, chatting up a pair of Uruguayan bartenders, the camera came back out to show the “before” look. I had to point out I was wearing the same shirt to convince people that I had looked that way just that morning.

Cassius and I did the aforementioned chatting in Barcelona, and we did it without Miss Adventure, who was by then on her way to Madrid. I was sorry to say goodbye; she was a fun traveling companion and a congenial friend. Now it was just Cassius and me, carefully rationing our last euros, hanging in the smoll bar (I don’t think that name is Spanish), listening to surprisingly good music (Gang of Four was playing when we first walked past on our roundabout path to our hotel, then when we went back it was Violent Femmes followed by Lou Reed. The bartender who had made the mix CD had just been to a Femmes/Reed concert a couple of days before.) So we sat, watched the two girls pour unbelievably strong drinks, and tried to convince them to come to Prague. It didn’t work — they wanted us to visit Uruguay instead. Maybe someday…

The next morning started relaxed but it turns out getting to the airport can be complicated. No, I take that back, getting to the airport is really quite simple, it’s figuring out getting to the airport that is complex. For instance, there is a train, the R1, that goes there. We walked to a station where the R1 went. Several other trains went there as well, and none of them were marked with letter or number. On the platform is a sign, however, that says that the train to the airport comes here.

Only it doesn’t go there. The R1 isn’t running. We find this out by asking around among the locals on the platform, most of whom know no more about it than we do. We went back upstairs and found a sign that said to get to the airport we needed to get to Barcelona-Saints station, transfer to another train to another station, then get on something else to the airport. By this time we’re starting to feel the pressure. And, how to get to Barcelona-Saints? Which of the unlabeled trains passing through below, marked only by the end of their route, would take us there? Why was there no transit map within the ticket-controlled part of the station?

Finally we asked a security guard. He told us that all the trains went to B-S, and that from there we should take a bus. There was nothing written anywhere about a bus, but that turned out to be the best advice. Had it not been for Cassuis’ ability to speak Spanish, I might still be wandering the transit system of Barcelona.

When we got to the airport, we were time-crunched but not desperate — until we looked at the big board. There was our flight, with a departure time forty minutes earlier than our confirmations had said. Once we found our check-in desk (more great signage) we were told that the departure time on the board and on all the monitors was wrong. With a sigh of relief we checked our bags, made our way through security, spent the very last of our euros on food, and discovered that the gate number on our boarding passes was wrong. Fortunately the correct gate was right next door.

Back to Prague we came, back to the land of reasonably-priced food and beverage, back to the quiet streets of my neighborhood and the shocked expressions of the regulars at Little Café Near Home when they finally recognized me. As they say, all’s swell that ends swell.

Cadaqués

Ah, plans. Schemes. Nefarious plots. It is man alone who has the hubris to attempt to impose his will on the future. Every plan is based on the assumption that the universe is an orderly place where result follows cause, and chaos, while not controllable, is at least manageable.

Spain is not part of this universe.

The day began in Barcelona, in the Bohemian part of town (map). There were four of us in the room, Cassius and Brutus on lower bunks while Miss Adventure and I reposed above. Brutus was up first to head for the airport so he could jet back to Estonia and his job. His jolly cheerfulness was instantly missed, but we had Miss Adventure to add her own perky ray of sunshine to the mix, and on top of that she had ideas about places outside of Barcelona she thought would be fun to visit. After some discussion we all agreed that traveling to Cadaqués, a town known for Salvador Dalí and beautiful rocky shores, was a capital idea. One guide book listed a particularly interesting hotel/restaurant sharing the easternmost point of Spain with a lighthouse. It sounded cool, and one phone call later we had a room held for us. We had a plan.

Wandering in barcelona The bus didn’t leave for a while, so we knocked around town, wandering through the tourist shopping district (Miss Adventure is most certainly not a shopper, praises be), around and about a very pleasant park, grabbed some ice cream, and generally hung out. Miss Adventure turned out to be very easy for me to talk to, with a perspective and attitude that complements mine. She also has a good sense of direction.

On the bus, Cassius studied our new destination more closely, and pieced together bits and pieces to come to the conclusion that the hotel we had a room reserved in was in fact a ways out of town. “We’ll just get a cab,” Cassius said. I didn’t think there would be any cabs waiting to meet the bus, but I didn’t mention it at the time. We could always call for one. It would be pricey, but we would find ourselves in an isolated and dramatic location, a rambler’s paradise.

Night fell, the bus rumbled on, we all napped. Miss Adventure curled neatly into a pair of seats; I didn’t even try. The bus groped its way over twisting mountain roads like a blind grandmother, pausing often as it needed both lanes to go around some of the curves. At last, at last, we dropped down into town (map) and began to execute our plan.

We didn’t get far. We are now in a part of the country where it is assumed most visitors arrive by car (thus no warning about the distance to the hotel we liked). There were no taxis, and calling one was beginning to look impractical. We decided to find a place in town instead.

There are lots of hotels in Cadaqués. Some are small and funky, some are large and ritzy. Some of those listed in our guide books no longer existed. All the hotels, from the humblest pension to the gleaming four-star monstrosities, had one thing in common. They were full. In order to scour the town more efficiently we divided responsibilities based on skills with Spanish. Essentially I watched all our stuff while Cassius and Miss Adventure did the hunting.

All nighter! During the next couple of hours of futile search I got to spend snatches of quiet time with Miss Adventure as we waited for Cassius’ report, and I continued to be surprised byt the easy rapport we had achieved. The credit goes to her, of course. But there we were, with no place to stay and no way to get anywhere else. On one of her missions she managed to sweet-talk the night desk man at one of the hotels into letting us keep our bags there, so at least we would be less encumbered. The man also told her the closing times of the bars. Some restaurants closed at two, which was already past, but others stayed open later. One stayed open until five, and the breakfast restaurants opened at 7:30. We were on to Plan C: The All-Nighter. As I sat with Miss Adventure she became more excited about the prospect, and her mood quickly rubbed off on me as well. Cassius rejoined us and we agreed that the hotel bill for the night had just been redefined as a bar tab. We stashed our gear and off we went.

We settled into the first bar. I ordered beer, Cassius ordered rum and coke, and Miss Adventure requested chocolate milk. Miss Adventure, the tender young thing that she is, partakes of alcohol only in moderation. The drinks were pretty expensive, but we’ve come to expect that.

We were not there long before the bar closed, however. Some people were getting drinks to go, but we headed to the nearby night club, where things were still going strong. We sat on the patio and were shocked when we heard how much the first round of drinks cost. Cassius had ordered another rum and coke, and it had cost well over ten dollars. The beers were pricey, but not as ridiculous. The patio closed next, forcing us into the interior din and smoke, and we continued to nurse our drinks very, very slowly. Even converting our hotel budget to the bar tab wasn’t going to get us very far. Finally Cassius went to the bar for another round, but returned empty-handed. The bartender had asked for eight dollars each for beers and water. Cassius just left them on the counter and walked away.

It became apparent that we were not going to last until five o’clock in that place. After a while we departed, to see if there were any other possibilities. Another place, nicer-looking, just up the way had its door open but appeared to be closing. After a brief discussion Cassius agreed to go and ask if they would serve us. Miss Adventure and I hung back, waiting for some kind of signal as Cassius pleaded with the people inside. No signal came, so finally we went on in.

The bar was closed. The manager was just getting set to leave and her friend was helping. Kath, a youngish englishwoman who likes to say “wicked” popped open our drinks while Cassius chatted with Ralph, a refugee from Holland. And here’s the thing: Ralph was housesitting for his boss, and occasionally took in guests for a quiet under-the-table transaction. Cassius had told them we had no place to go, and suddenly we had a place to go. Plan D.

Looking up from ralph's place Ralph’s place was beyond nice. It was over-the-top sumptuous while retaining that Mediterranean spareness, and as we sat out on the veranda sipping champagne with Kath, listening to the waves lap the shore, we knew we were in a good place. It was getting light when we surrendered to the forces of fatigue; I was attempting an informal time-lapse sequence as the whitewashed buildings resolved out of the gloom. Kath, I must say, is all right. Ralph, too, proved kind and generous in our time of peril. I woke this morning in a comfortable bed, in an unbelievable villa on the harbor. Dang.

Let’s hear it for Plan D.

Tootin’ My Own Horn

A site called IROSF.com just published reviews of the last two issues of Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In both issues the lead novella received a recommended rating. The only other story in either issue to achieve that exalted status was… you guessed it! My story, “Memory of a Thing That Never Was”.

Sorry if this comes across as boastful, but I’m pretty dang stoked, and, as the old saw goes, if you’re happy and you know it write your blog.

I’m back from Spain now, but don’t expect me to get caught up for a couple of days. In the mail were two packages, with copies of the magazine. Time for some reading, though I suppose I should keep one unspoiled. A most exciting souvenir.

Back to Barcelona

I am very, very tired. When other people are awake, there is little opportunity to write, so most of what I’m getting done is during the limited times when everyone else is sleeping. I think I got more sleep on the boat today than I did last night. I stayed up late working in the little lounge room two floors below where we were sleeping. After we all stayed up late, I stayed up later. This was partly due to the noises I knew Brutus would be making when I went back to the room.

Finally, I had no choice, and I tiptoed into the dark, silent room. Dark it stayed, but not silent for long. The specific sounds are not important, but I must say that Brutus does put out a variety of sleep-inhibiting noises.

This morning, away to the boat. Once again the ferry was late, and I caught a napita (that’s Spanish for “napette”) in the terminal while the others went in search of sun and fresh air. Finally we took a bus around the harbor to clamber aboard the exact same boat we had come out on. Ah, the memories. We spent the first part of the voyage up at the top of the boat, watching Menorca ease past; it was not until much later that I managed to get out to the walkway near the bow where we had all gathered only a few days before. I stood, felt the wind, and watched the mainland approach. I thought about stuff, but nothing revelatory or even interesting. Just thoughts, running in circles, with no place to go.

Now I am back in Barcelona (map – rough location of hotel), and there is a new character in the travelogue. While I thoroughly believe that the world needs more Bonnies, this Blog can have only one without causing confusion. I need a name that is perky, outgoing, and strong-voiced. I’ll get back to you on that. She is asleep now in the bunk across from mine. I hope she is a deep sleeper because below me Brutus is starting to warm up.

I must sleep now. Not a choice, really. Stay tuned for our new accomplice’s name.

Menorca – Land of Stacked Rocks

People have been living here a long time. When the Romans came this way they found the island (map) already inhabited, and the locals were stacking rocks. They had already made rock towers and rock shelters and rock walls between fields, and they have been stacking rocks ever since. If you visit this fine island, ignore the guide books. They have no idea at all what it is that makes this place special. Get your ass out of Maó, pronto; it is nothing more than a shameless mortar-using hive of modernity. No, my friend, get out of town, and explore the back roads (lined with stone walls stacked over the centuries), take in the ancient rock stacks, dodge the horrible giant resort hotels and find a secluded beach or dramatic cliff overlooking the sea.

Then it’s time to stack some rocks.

Today limited time and high winds hampered my efforts somewhat, but I did get a couple of nice stacks. Right at the end I had another stack (Menorca 3) going, and it felt like I was pushing the boundaries of world-class rock stacking. Alas, the top two rocks, while improbable, were not aesthetically pleasing, and I blew the stack when greedily adding a very large intermediate rock to set up the edgy top rocks. For Menorca 3 I was near a heavily-traveled hiking trail, and I had a couple dozen passers-by linger as I experimented with different top treatments. Maybe it was the pressure of the onlookers that undid me. I wonder how I appeared to them, scruffy and dusty, as I assessed the local lithage, selected interesting candidates, and hefted them with great concentration — I imagine I looked like some mad rock-stacking hermit (an image that pleases me greatly). But time was limited, and though I finally had in my mind just what I wanted to do, Avis waits for no man, and returning the car late would have been very, very expensive. the rocks tumbled one more time, and away we went.

I did, however, manage to document one complete stack (later enhanced by my two companions), and one partial stack. (approximate location)

Rock Stack “Menorca 1” (photo by Brian Sweeny)
“Menorca 1” (background) and “Menorca 2 (incomplete)”
Menorca 2 (complete) is undocumented, as my camera’s battery finally gave it up and a strong blast of wind hit the delicate structure as I was making a meaningless adjustment, before a backup camera could be brought to bear.

My best work went undocumented this time around, and that’s my fault. I got greedy. Just one more rock. The one complete rock stack standing at the end of the day was relatively simple, but very elegant. I need to study that stack and learn from it. One more rock is not always the right decision.

Interview

An assistant editor at Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (the person who plucked my story from the anonymous slush pile) has posted and interview (actually more like a questionaire) in which I go on about my work and the state of Science Fiction in general. I only get pedantic a couple of times. Check it out!

An interesting crossing

I sit now in a large plaza in the town of Maó, the largest town on the island of Menorca. Pigeons strut about in idle hunger or relax on the warm ground; they take no notice of the older one in their midst. The elder bird scruffy and worn, but the others do not see their own futures in the other bird; they are not reminded of their own mortality. They are just pigeons, after all.

I am partially in the shade, with my legs protected but my black sweatshirt soaking up the sun. I sit, uncommonly comfortable, and I ask myself, “what happened last night?” I’m not sure, really, but something happened on the boat between there and here (whoever here is). Alcohol happened, that I know. A pretty girl cried on my shoulder. I stood in the wind watching the sea slide past. All those things happened without a doubt, but I think maybe something else as well. I just can’t put my finger on it.

Alcohol happened, and plenty of it. Alcohol on a boat, on a moonless night. On deck, near the bow, I the professor (“Is that Mars?” “Actually, that’s Antares, who’s name means ‘Not-Ares’, the greek name for Mars.”), enjoying the night with Cassius and Brutus, and of course dear sweet Emily. (Some characters in this little drama may have appeared previously in this blog under different names, but that’s not important.) We gathered, a tight little bunch. Emily is a proper and well-spoken English girl, and the rest of us, well, we are who we are, only last night all the more so.

We met Emily as we marched out to board the bus that would take us to the boat. Brutus was immediately very solicitous and helpful (as the married member of our little trio he obviously knew more about how to treat women than Cassius or I), and we learned that she was coming to Menorca to be with her family, and that she had just broken up with her boyfriend two days prior. As Professor, I prescribed her medication: alcohol. She was already ahead of me, and specified gin and tonics.

Alcohol happened. We sat in the bar for a while, then adjourned to the walkway outside, standing in the warm Mediterranean breeze and mist, chatting and laughing. The bar closed, we covered our rather astonishing tab, and still we stayed out there. After a while Cassius disappeared and returned a short time later with more beer. I received this bounty with joy, and didn’t ask too many questions. Cassius, crafty and fearless, had found a way to overcome the classic “Closed Bar” problem, a conundrum which no member of Star Fleet had ever managed to win before. And so, alcohol continued to happen.

As did Emily. Emily happened; dark-haired, blue-eyed, witty and intelligent, she happened. Brutus connected with her easily, attentive and helpful, friendly without being forward. Cassius, well, there’s a price to be paid for being crafty and daring — it leaves one cynical and acerbic as well. Not the way to win over the ladies, which just feeds the cycle. Finally there was Professor, me, exercising my limited knowledge of astronomy and other subjects, a roller coaster of lugubrious prattle and long silences. In the course of things, while alcohol continued to happen, Cassius left to liberate more of the beer unfairly trapped behind the closed bar’s bars, and Brutus went to bid farewell to some of the beer that had already served its purpose. I was alone with Emily. I asked a question — I don’t remember what — and she began to cry, happening in great sobs. She missed her ex. She was not happy about the breakup, not at all, and had been soldiering on with strength and courage before my question broke through her crumbling defenses.

Awkward, uncertain, I stood close but very far away, wanting to offer comfort, baffled, afraid. This is where you make a gesture, this is where you give someone what they need without thought of yourself. But, but… She’s a stranger, she’s a pretty girl, she’s a wounded bird, vulnerable, and anything I do is open to misinterpretation. (And, come on, let’s be honest here, it’s not like the thought of sharing a bonding moment with her didn’t spin enticing possibilities deep in my head. I’m not dead.)

I did what any silver-tongued smooth operator would do. I asked her permission to give her a hug. Holy crap, of all the things I could have done, short of pitching her over the side of the boat, that had to be about the lamest thing possible. Pathetic.

She didn’t answer, so I bit the bullet, swallowed hard, and hugged her. She really let loose then, and there’s nothing to say but she loves him and they’re broken up and she feels lost and alone and she wants him back and he was supposed to be traveling with her and and and…

Things I didn’t say: “It’ll be all right.” “I’m sure you will get back together with him.” “You’ll feel better in the morning.” I couldn’t say those or a hundred other things. Empty words, signifying no more than do the grunts and squeaks of a monkey at the zoo. Or, at best, lies. So I held her, searching for something to say that would make her feel better, but there was nothing, nothing but pain and contact, tears and silence. It was an honest silence, though, and it was the best I could do.

Brutus returned and immediately offered up the phrases I couldn’t. Perhaps she needed to hear them, perhaps they would even turn out to be true through some blind chance. Who was I to say? At that moment, however, his words felt hollow. Cassius returned, beer-laden, and after a couple of attempts Emily recovered her game face and banter slowly got back to safer topics. When she pulled away from me I felt the place she had been, empty now. Again.

What happened last night? Perhaps the question seems strange, since I just told you what happened, but there, alone in the darkness, it seemed like something else had moved, something I still can’t put my finger on. Alcohol happened, and a pretty girl cried on my shoulder. In the end she was grateful to all of us (especially Brutus — cheerful, giving Brutus). After everyone else went to sleep I returned alone to the walkway. I, Professor, stared ahead into the moonless black, and failed once again to determine if the sea foam was luminescing or just reflecting the last of the lights on the ship. The answer was inconclusive, as was the answer to the more pressing question: what just happened?

She had asked for my email address and this morning I gave it to her, but I don’t think I will hear from her again — unless, perhaps, she knows the answer to my question.