Sunday, April 26, 2009

Windsor aka Wheezy aka Cheese Dog!

So when I was about 6 years old, around first grade, our family made the big move from a particularly nasty area of inner-city Detroit to the suburban wonderland that is Dearborn, world headquarters for the lamest owner in sports, William Clay Ford, but I digress. Now we had room and needed a dog, of course. So Dad found an Old English Sheepdog at some farm that I recall being somewhere west of Ann Arbor, though I can't be sure as the memories are fuzzy now at my advance age. We got a puppy that we dubbed Barney and he was a great dude that I took much care of until he left this mortal coil around my junior year of high school. He developed some varied health issues and needed to be put to sleep but he lived a full life.

Fast forward about 15 years without a dog and the ex and I have acquired our first house in Portland in mid-1996. As we settle in we settle on the fact that we need a dog particularly since our house already came with a completely fenced in yard. I can be convincing at times and the choice was made to acquire another OES. Early spring of 97' rolls around and I am on the hunt. I locate one in the want ads of the Oregonian and the deal sounds too good to be true-$100 including a large transport crate. Heck, those things ran about $150 new back then.

We visit the couple with the OES (she's got papers and she goes by Elsie-yuck!) and the story is that they got her as a puppy from a respected breeder after the last of their kids went off to college. Turns out, bad planning as he is a building contractor and she is a real estate agent they don't have the time to care for her and train her properly as she now approaches age two. At first I was hesitant. Yes, it was clear that they didn't have time to take care of her-in fact, they had her coat sheared and she looked goofy all buzzed. Second, she seemed a tad rambunctious. Well, I thought, I am always up for a challenge. They liked the fact I knew the breed and even arranged to drive across town and drop her off. Oh my...

It was very apparent immediately that Windsor (as we dubbed her-gotta keep with the British Isles names) had almost no training, no barriers at all. She was bonkers to say the least. All energy, all random action. We didn't know what to do and Cyndy was openly distraught. Well, after a month of this chaos, we learned about this ex-Marine dog trainer who did things differently. Instead of paying for a set of classes or by the class, his deal was you paid a one time flat fee. Not cheap. But he guaranteed success no matter how many sessions it took until you were happy with the results. If it took 10 sessions, so be it. If it took 50, fine. Well dang, it worked after about 15 sessions. Of course most of the training was training us what to do. That was fine. I was only interested in results and it worked.

Shortly thereafter we took Windsor on her first trip with us for a week for our first time all the way down the glorious Oregon coast camping and rafting and then inland for hanging/hiking at Crater Lake NP. She did alright for the most part (except for the time she jumped out of the car with the window rolled down while we were crawling through the campground-she was fine-and the time she accidentally nipped my nose all open and bloody while barking at a semi trailer truck loudly going by while she was leashed in the back seat) and it looked like a long term match for sure.

In short time, she developed into our greatest bud. Curiously, she loved other people but had almost no tolerance for her canine peers. She learned to roller blade (well, as in, I roller bladed down the street as she pulled me with all her might while I veered back and forth like a was water skiing holding her leash-it was the neighborhood sensation). And she even learned to fetch instead of herding, a genetic trait she would roll out on occasion that cracked everyone up.

Through thick and thin she has always been there for me with a big wet tongue, her prancing antics and ready for a lay on-the-back belly rub with her back legs kicking. I am writing this as she turns fourteen today which is marvelous and almost unheard of for OESs and almost all other breeds of her size (she once weighed 85 lbs. but is down to 77 which is normal at her age). Essentially, she is in great shape and usually very healthy with no illnesses. Yes, of course, she is suffering from the vagaries of old age (her hearing is diminished, her eyesight is down to about 25% which is not a big deal for dogs as they don't really rely on sight so much anyway and her joints have gone downhill in the past two years-she's on a joint medication prescription which helps but she can still smell her beloved cheese from across the room). She can hardly run anymore but she tries when we hit the nearby park-she's a trooper and I adore her. Something tells me she still has another year or two left in her-as long as I am around to lift her off the Spanish tile that she prefers to lay on despite the fact that I have large area rugs for her around my house-I guess being English she is a bit stubborn, particularly in old age.

The Greatest Albums of All Time In No Particular Order (entry # 3)

Wire- 154 (1979)

Can never figure out the Wire fans who consistently list this last out of the first three albums. Pink Flag has it's moments but most of it's attempts at "punk rock" or whatever are cringe-worthy and embarrassing at times but understandable on a first release. Chairs Missing ups the ante and finds them branching out and finding their sound more without regard to the prevalent punk attitude of 1978. 154 (supposedly named after the number of gigs they had done up to the time of this recording) solidifies their unique vision and around 1979 only PIL and Joy Division share a similar uniqueness of sound that defy pigeon-holing in the post-punk realm and explores whole new possibilities of style and sound. In fact, they worked with producer Mike Thorne on this who later worked with the likes of John Cale, The The, Laurie Anderson and Soft Cell. Thus, it makes sense that they broke up after this masterpiece (how could they top it?) and haven't even come close since reforming and mostly dabbling in electro-punk-pop (or something like that).

Side one is simply a masterpiece and easily outdoes side two but that is no slight. It starts off languidly and stoicly with “I Should Have Known Better” with deep tenor vocals by bassist Graham Lewis. This start is juxtaposed by the short, aggressive alienated art-punk numbers “Two People in a Room” and “The 15th” sung by Colin Newman. “The Other Window” is otherworldly with a plaintive spoken word account by Graham from a train seat augmented by eerily echoed guitar lines. Shortly thereafter, the side nears an end with the epic and bombastic “A Touching Display” that builds in facets and haunted by Graham's vocals.

Side two is the “poppier” side for lack of a better term. “A Mutual Friend” followed by “A Blessed State” reminds one of an Eno piece circa “Another Green World”-lilting approaches with lots of open space and exotic Hawaiian style guitar effects. Ironically, the “hit” (after all, they were signed to a major label deal of sorts in the U.S. but of course the label didn't know what to do with them ) “Map Ref. 41N 93W” is probably the most straight forward pop track on the album, seemingly a left over from the Chairs Missing sessions. The album closes with the mountingly claustrophobic “40 Versions” building to a crescendo and a feedback embellished crash.

I first got this album in late 1980 and it's production values and sound still sound classic today and have stood the test of time-Radiohead, who I do enjoy only wish they could come up with something this original-but in their defense it was already done. I've listened to thousands of albums in a quarter century (it simply blew my mind when I came across it in high school) and 154 remains easily embedded in my all time Top Ten. Indeed, they were the post-punks beating Pink Floyd at their own game around the time they came out with the splendid “The Wall”.

Coolin' In Cartagena

In 2002, a year after a great... introduction to South America with two weeks in Brasil, the ex and I found ourselves in a situation with enough frequent flier miles to do a round trip to the Caribbean/Central America. We ended up going to Isla Margarita (off the coast of Venezuela and part of it) and Trinidad. We had researched Colombia too but after reading the U.S. State Dept. report at the time that issued a strong travel warning, we stayed a little east. Now there has been a reversal-Venezuela is a mess (during my time in Colombia I met some Canadians who started in Venezuela but high-tailed it to Colombia due to all the hassles in Chavez loco-land) and Colombia is the place to go as two term president, Alvaro Uribe, has managed to stabilize much politically and economically over the past 5-7 years.

In late 06' while in Vietnam, met a Brit who said he spent 2-3 months wandering around Colombia a year or two before and he said it was fantastic. And then in mid 08', Anthony Bourdain debuted his episode on it on "No Reservations" on the Travel Channel and he raved about it calling it a “vacation wonderland” & I was sold.

Just had to figure when I might go. Well, in mid-February I managed to start chatting with a linda nurse chica named Lyz online and on skype so now I had a good reason to get there ASAP. After some planning and parlaying some sky miles and a cheap international fare from Miami (it's less than 3 hours to Cartagena), I was on my way in late March.

Well I recently got back from Cartagena (plus a few days near Santa Marta and Tayrona NP up the coast a few hours toward Venezuela at a really nice and inexpensive all inclusive resort) and it was truly amazing-it is still truly a hidden gem as far as most tourists go. The historic old walled city is amazing-it is clean and ultra safe, well taken care of with lots of culture/history and everything was vibrant. About a week in, Lyz and I decided to eat at La Cevicheria where Anthony started his episode but Jorge, his host for ½ of the episode wasn't there that night. But we stopped by a week later as things were getting busy for the upcoming Easter holiday and he was there and showed him a pic I have of me and a friend with Anthony in Portland Oregon and it cracked him up and he said he needs to be back in touch with Tony. BTW, on our first night together, we ate at another great place, La Vitrola, which has garnered an international reputation.

The greater Cartagena area is easy to get around without a lot of traffic (the population is only about a million). And most things are quite affordable from apartment rentals to food to taxis. I stayed in Laguito, a beach neighborhood and a ten minute taxi ride to Centro (the old walled city) is always about $2-3 one way. The actual beach here and at nearby Boca Grande are typical urban beaches which resemble the scene in Rio at Copacabana and Ipanema. However, there is less of a beach culture here and the beaches aren't as nice so that part of it doesn't measure up. However the more Caribbean beaches near Santa Marta and Tayrona NP are spectacular. In fact the mellow beach at the National Park is called “Cristal Playa” for a good reason.

Yes, I was pleasantly surprised by Colombia, particularly Cartagena. I could see myself living there some day. It's in the central time zone and only 3 hours from the U.S. as I mentioned. The climate is mild. It was about 85 every day I was there and it didn't rain once. There is some mid day humidity but the kicker is the full sea breeze that permeates the city every day in the afternoon and into the evening. And I can certainly not complain about strolling around the breezy Centro most evenings.