Marrakesh, Morocco

It took nearly four decades, but I finally made it to Africa. For my 40th, Helen and I traveled to Marrakesh in Morocco (the French spell it Marrakech, if that matters to you). We spent the better part of a week in Riad Ben Youssef, located in the Medina, a central business region of the city and an official UNESCO World Heritage Site that was founded nearly a millennium ago.

Other than an excursion for some Moroccan barbeque and a visit to a liquor store, we spent all of our time within the Medina. At 230 km², there is plenty to see and do there, and more than enough ways to get lost, which we did plenty. It didn’t help that the winding streets were often crowed with a mix of merchants, tourists, and motorcyclists speeding through.

Nonetheless, by the time we left, I felt like I had at least a basic understanding of the layout. Of course, on our way to meet our ride to the airport, we walked through a completely new area and I realized I hadn’t even seen a fraction of the city.

Getting Around in Marrakesh

Other than a bus from the airport and a return taxi (well, a guy in a van with his three children in the back), we got everywhere by walking. The host at the riad (our hotel; a “riad” is a residence with a courtyard within it) helpfully let us know about Maps.Me, an app that allows you to download full city maps to use offline. This was especially useful because neither Helen nor I had data, and Google Map’s offline mode is pretty weak.

With the help of our map and a list of places to visit, we haphazardly made our way around city. I say haphazardly because we didn’t really plan anything on this trip. In fact, though Helen had been to Marrakesh once before, neither one of has done that much planning ahead of time. We mostly went to relax and enjoy good food, which we did, and good drink, which took a little more effort.

Where to Find Alcohol in Marrakesh

As it turns out, one thing we would have known if we’d done more research ahead of time is that finding liquor in Marrakesh is pretty hard. Most restaurants don’t serve it and liquor stores are nowhere to be found in Medina. The only time we could get alcohol with a meal (including beer and wine) was when we ate at the fancier restaurants (liquor licenses are expensive in Marrakesh). Even at those spots, it wasn’t always available.

We also wanted alcohol for enjoying poolside at our riad, which required the aforementioned trip out of the city central. Another couple at the riad told us about a liquor store, the Mini Marché Majorelle, near Jardin Majorelle. There we filled a backpack with various inebriants and hiked it back to our riad under the hot sun. We lucked out in that our week there was relatively cool (32° rather than the ~40° it had been the week before), but when you’re saddled with a few pounds worth of alcohol, it doesn’t feel cool.

For our hunt for alcohol in Marrakesh, we initially turned to a common tool familiar to any traveler: travel blogs. When we searched for restaurants and other information (like, “where to find alcohol in Marrakesh”), Google spit out blog posts. It makes sense. Most serious travel bloggers (which, as I’ve said previously, I manifestly am not) know the tricks to getting recommended by the various search engines. They involve using keywords and key phrases, things like “best restaurants in Marrakesh” and “top hotels in Marrakesh”. If you insert enough of those into your blog, you’ll pop up when people search those terms. (Or, at least, that’s how it used to work; Google is always changing their algorithm, so who even really knows anymore?)

The thing about blogs, though, is that there’s really no reason to assume the information is correct. I mean, generally speaking, what we found was helpful. But a lot of writers who write these blogs present themselves as experts on cities they’ve visited three or four times. As I’ve said numerous times in this blog, even after a year living in cities, I never felt like I was an expert. And considering how quickly places change now, I don’t feel like I can claim to have much insight into the cities I lived in for 10 Cities. Which is to say, the blogs were generally helpful, but some of the “best restaurants in Marrakesh” were just places this guy had happened to walk into. And they didn’t help us find alcohol.

The Best Restaurants in Marrakesh

I have no idea if the places we ate at could qualify as the best, but we did have a few great meals. In fact, after a somewhat disappointing lunch of shawarma and falafel for our very first meal (both were dry), the food was fairly uniformly great. For more casual meals, we enjoyed the Google-challenging Falafel restaurant (if you want to find it, go to Maps and search for “Cafe restaurant Falafel”). Nothing fancy, but we had two meals there and both were exactly what we wanted (definitely try the falafel sandwich).

For fancier meals, we ate at Le Trou Au Mur (alcohol), Nomad (no alcohol), and, on our last night, Le Foundouk (alcohol). Le Foundouk was both of our favorite meals; cannot recommend the pastilla with chicken and the fennel salad with grilled halloumi enough. I’d describe some of the food as a slightly earthier take on foods you might find in Greece, though there were plenty of other options available beyond the local cuisine.

Also, the common drink you’ll get whenever you go to cafes or restaurants is Maghrebi mint tea (Thé à la menthe). It’s surprisingly refreshing, especially since I generally don’t like mint drinks. Most servers will pour it the way Spanish cider is poured in Asturias, well above the glass so that it waterfalls from nearly a meter up. Even if tea isn’t your thing, give it a try.

What to Do in Marrakesh

Again, I can’t actually tell you definitively what to do in Marrakesh. We only spent five days there. But, of the things we did while there, going to a hammam (Le Bain Bleu) for a hard scrub and a massage and shopping in the Medina markets were two highlights. Helen found a selection of kaftans that she negotiated a good price for, and I found a leather jacket that I negotiated a less good price for. In all, though, it was a successful shopping adventure (considering that we spent half the time dodging speeding motor bikes and donkey-drawn carts, it really was an adventure).

We were warned at the riad to not allow people on the street to “guide” us through the city or to the local tannery. We were told they would take us to more expensive shops or demand a tip for their “help.” There were people all over the city, mostly young men in their teens and twenties, who called after us as we walked the streets. They always assumed we were looking for the main square or the tannery, which we never were. Sometimes they were persistent, but most of the time if we just said “No thanks” or ignored them they moved on.

Morocco is a poorer country (a Moroccan dirham is worth about a tenth of a euro) that draws in relatively rich tourists. So, that kind of gamesmanship is to be expected. Call it running a scam or simply call it hustling, but people are going to find a way to get by.

Passing Time in the Riad

Ultimately, the highlight of our trip might have been the Riad Ben Youssef. Located around the corner from the historical Ibn Youssef School (which we didn’t visit), our modestly priced hotel was a perfect oasis in the midst of a often hectic city. It’s a three-story residence-cum-hotel with maybe four to six rooms available to rent. There were a few common areas, and breakfast was served daily on the main floor, but the first impression wasn’t immediately great.

Our room changed that impression. When we reserved our third-floor room, we didn’t realize we had the entire rooftop terrace to ourself. It included multiple seating areas, a separate tented area of seats (that one of the local workers used as his personal hookah tent when no one was there), and a black and white cat who regularly hung out. The cat wasn’t technically a feature of the hotel, but it felt like it.

We also had, via a spiral staircase, direct access to the pool. It wasn’t a big pool, but it was gorgeous, enclosed by four towering walls, and since none of the other guests used it, it was essentially our private pool. Even after we checked out, the riad let us hang out by the pool in the afternoon to kill time before our late-night flight. If you’re visiting Marrakesh, I can’t recommend highly enough having a pool all to yourself. In fact, if you’re going to visit anywhere, I recommend that.

The End of Our Trip to Marrakesh

As I said, we had a late flight on Friday. So, before we left, we visited one of the “landmarks” that we were told to see, the Secret Garden (Le Jardin Secret), which is situated in the heart of the Medina.

It was a small but beautiful enclosed park that, like so much in Medina, spoke to the long history of the city. Once a palace, the grounds now house various vegetation and animals (including, oddly, turtles), an ornate gazebo, and an elevated café. Worth a visit, though there were numerous other parks and gardens around that we didn’t visit that appeared to be larger.

It was a short trip to Marrakesh, but a memorable way to finally make it to my third continent; it’s a place I would definitely return to someday. We didn’t even scratch the surface.

So if Google brought you here while looking for “the best shawarma in Marrakesh,” sorry, I can’t help you out. Just try somewhere random, you may be pleasantly surprised.

“The Awakening” in Across the Margin

Good day.

I’m interrupting my usual proclamations of approaching creative doom to let you know that I’ve had a short story published at Across the Margin, an online literary journal and podcast.

The story, “The Awakening,” is about the loss of faith and what comes after that. It’s kind of funny, kind of sad. While it’s a completely self-contained story, it’s set in the same world as a novel by the same name that I’ve written but yet to publish. So, if you like it, maybe let any publishers that you see passing in the street know they should reach out to me.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a story (or poem, or photo) published in a journal, in large part because I stopped submitting. I’ve recently started up again, and while it’s 99(.999999)% rejections, getting even one story accepted by a journal is both rewarding and validating. So, I hope you’ll read it and also support Across the Margin by checking out the other stories and poems they’ve published. Please leave a comment at the bottom of my story to let ATM know what you thought of it (even if you hated it!).

Also, if you want to check out some of my old stories and poems that I’ve previously had published, I’ve updated my Press and Publications section so you can more easily find a few of them.

Well, that’s all I have for now. I now return you to the regularly scheduled programming.

AI Is Not Your Friend

AI Is Not Your Friend

A few days ago, I had one of those middle-of-the-night thoughts: How long will it be before one or more of my clients decide they’d rather have subpar AI-generated text for free rather than pay for what I produce? The thought kept me up for about a half hour, then I slept.

Roughly 24 hours later, a client contacted me to let me know the boss was increasingly interested in AI. This was why they hadn’t had any new work for me in a while, and why they probably wouldn’t in the foreseeable future. An algorithm took my job.

For the time being I have sufficient work elsewhere; I’m disappointed to lose the gig, but I’ll be fine. Still, the writing is on the wall. And that writing has been cribbed from the internet and regurgitated by a soulless machine.

Upwork’s cash grab

Earlier this month, Upwork, a website for freelancers, announced they were changing their rate structure. Instead of charging a 20% fee on contracts, then 10% after freelancers hit a certain earnings threshold, and finally 5%, they were adopting a straight 10% fee on all contracts. Upwork said they were doing this in the name of “simplicity.” No one is buying it. This is a blatant cash grab by a company that knows its users have few good alternatives.

The announcement received an angry pushback from us freelancers who have been on the site for years and earned the reduced 5% fee. When this takes effect, we’ll get a pay cut. That’s despite the fact that we’ve brought in substantial value to the site, both in terms of the income earned and the legitimacy we’ve given by being good at what we do.

The obvious reason for this change is greed. We long-term freelancers are more likely to have higher-paying contracts. Taking 10% instead of 5% is going to be a big boost for Upwork. But I suspect more is at play here.

I’d bet good money (say 5% of my income) that with AI tools proliferating, many of the smaller jobs and contracts that newer freelancers were being hired for are disappearing. Why pay $30 to a freelancer to write copy for your website’s homepage when a bot can generate it for free? As those gigs dried up for freelancers, so did Upwork’s finances. Does that make stealing from us long-termers fair? No. But it is good business. Which is to say, it’s how modern business is done.

Hide your kids, hide your wife

I really don’t want to be the guy who writes about AI. I actually find the subject boring. Hell, what we’re calling “AI” is not even artificial intelligence, not in the way we’ve historically meant it. These bots are just advanced search engines crossed with predictive text algorithms. They’re not thinking. They’re not even mimicking, really. They’re regurgitating meh-quality forgeries. We’re a long way away from Lieutenant Commander Data.

In February, the renowned Science Fiction journal Clarkesworld Magazine had to pause accepting submissions because they were being swarmed by AI-generated stories. They’ve reopened for submissions, but they explicitly state they “will not consider any submissions written, developed, or assisted” by AI tools. Which is great, for now, but as AI gets better, it’ll be harder to detect. The Amazon Kindle store is currently filling up with AI-written novels. Fat chance Yahweh’s Children will stand out in that

It’s not just writing. My Instagram feed is now filled with AI-generated “photos.” The many art accounts I follow that state emphatically they only feature real photos have now gone all-in on AI. Most such photos are clearly AI-generated (look to the hands), but not all of them. Just this week, a fake image of the Pope in a white puffy coat went viral, mostly because many people didn’t realize it was AI-generated.

All of that is to say, the creative fields are looking dire. Writing, photography, videos, music, whatever, if it’s a career that involves any type of creative instinct, it’s vulnerable. “But what about the human element?” You ask, like a naïve little puppy. “People don’t want art made by a machine.” ChrisEvansLaughing.gif

That doesn’t mean art is going to die (I have no interest in debating whether AI-generated content is art). The creation of art isn’t going to end. Making a living off of it is, though, and that was already pretty damn impossible.

Will AI replace your job?

Even if you’re not an artist, you should be concerned. As I’ve written previously, we need a universal living wage (or basic income). We need it because art should be subsidized. But, also because the machines are coming for your job. Whatever your job is.

Every time a new advance in AI (or automation in general) comes out, I see articles with titles like, “Will AI replace workers?” That’s the wrong question.

AI isn’t here to replace you (not yet). It’s here to make the work you do less valuable. It’s here to reduce the number of people and/or hours needed to do your job, thereby ensuring stock valuations rise as pay drops. It doesn’t matter what you do. If you’re a teacher, trucker driver, retail worker, or nurse, AI is entering your field. (I’m sure someone reading this is smugly thinking, “Not my field.” Yes, your field.)

The AI cheerleaders promise, “AI isn’t here to replace you, it’s here to make your job easier.” Which is half true. AI can make many menial tasks easier, or just do them flat out. Thus, workers are freed to focus on the tasks that require more complex human thought or, you know, humanity. Which is going to be nice, for a generation or two, tops.

History tells us customers are fine losing the human element if something is cheaper. And, eventually, employers are going to say, “Why are we paying you the same amount for doing less work?” They’ll either cut your pay or fire your coworker and give their work to you do for no extra compensation.

Ironically, tech workers may be hurt even sooner than artists. AI will be able to code better than our best coders (maybe it already can). Machines make fewer silly mistakes than humans; not no mistakes, just not as many. And with each successive generation of AI, those mistakes diminish. AI will have the capacity to code (with annotation) infinitely faster than a person. The people who spent years learning to code are going to have to learn a new new skill.

Working harder, not smarter

These are safe predictions to make because this has already been happening for decades. Computers were supposed to give us more free time. But workers are still putting in 40-hour weeks and being pressed to work on weekends or skip vacation time.* And the people who entered the so-called “gig economy” are working even harder with fewer protections.

Freelancers and gig-employees may be the most vulnerable at the moment. Not that I expect you to feel sorry for me. I’m free to work at my own pace and to take or pass on jobs as a like. I also work from home. It’s a pretty good situation, currently.

On the flip side, I have far less protections. I don’t have long-term contracts with my clients. Plus, I only get paid for the work I produce, which means things like sick pay and vacation time don’t exist. Living in Spain, I at least get healthcare. Many US-based freelancers can’t say that.

If/when our clients decide, “An AI bot is sufficient for my purposes,” we’re out on our collective arse. When AI devalues the work you do, clients pay less.

The inherent vice

Here’s where the hardcore capitalists chime in to say, “That’s the free market at work. If you aren’t good enough at your job to best a computer, you should be out of a job!” Which, fine. That is the system we live in, and there’s really no arguing with it. If I’m losing my job to AI/automation, I just need to learn a new skill. Maybe coding? Oh, wait.

The problem is that hardcore capitalists aren’t capitalists at all. It will surprise no one who has been paying attention for the past four decades that the arrival of President Ronnie Reagan (may the piss on his grave never stop flowing) coincided with a major evolution of capitalist philosophy.

Likely, if you grew up in the American education system, you believe capitalism means competition. You believe that capitalism is this fair system where, through free trade and competition, the best products, services, and businesses rise to the top. Sounds lovely. It’s bullshit.

In the 1980s, conservative thought leaders, led by Robert Bork and the Chicago School, decided competition was for suckers. Why shouldn’t a major corporation be able to crush smaller upstarts and set up “moats” to ensure no other entities could enter their realm? Why should the government care about upholding antitrust legislation? And why should the people with all the money be made to share with other people?**

In short, modern capitalism says that all that matters is the creation of more money. It doesn’t matter who has that money, so long as there is more of it, somewhere. Which is how we’ve ended up with an ever-widening wealth gap and the undying Ponzi scheme known as Trickle-Down Economics.

Major corporations don’t care about their employees. Just as these corporations have set up manufacturing in countries with lax labor laws, they will obviously embrace AI. Anything to boost profits and ensure those profits remains in their pockets and don’t flow down to their employees.

The future of labor

If you’re a good little capitalist, I’m sure you’re thinking exactly what you’ve been trained to think: “You’re overreacting. People have been scaremongering about new technology since the invention of the cotton gin. AI is just another tool to use.” The argument is that technological advances have always transformed industries, but workers have either adapted or found new occupations. That was then, though; this is now.

Fewer workers belong to unions than anytime since before World War II. Millions of Americans are working two jobs and still not able to afford essentials. And wealth inequality is getting out of control while wages remain largely stagnant.

By Ewan McGaughey, Do corporations increase inequality? (2015)
By Ewan McGaughey, Do corporations increase inequality? (2015)

Unions are pretty unpopular these days. Which is tragic, because workers’ rights and protections didn’t just appear out of the ether or out of the goodness of bosses’ hearts. Unions did that. Unions have their flaws, and there are definitely some corrupt ones (*cough*police unions*cough*), but if the goal is workers’ rights and the choice is between unions and the benevolence of bosses, I’m throwing in with unions every time.

Workers who did weather the massive technological advances of the past did so in part because of contractual protections. And plenty of workers of the past did not weather those advances. Just look at employment in motor vehicle manufacturing compared to car ownership in America. More cars, less workers. (Not coincidentally, union membership in Michigan is a third of what it was five decades ago.)

Those who had protections had them because of labor organizers and *gasp* unions. Look at Amazon’s piss warehouses or Starbucks efforts to stomp out unions and tell me the rights of workers are ever a priority for major corporations. Such rights were never freely given. They certainly won’t be now in an age when unions are weaker than ever and automation (in all its forms) is giving human workers less leverage.

And so, again, I return to my cause: workers uniting for a universal living wage. I know there is no way to separate this issue from the Left/Right political divide in the US, but this really isn’t political. I am just as worried about farmers and factor workers losing their jobs to automation as I am creatives and coders losing their jobs to AI. This isn’t even an American issue. All countries must confront this reality.

Whatever you do, whatever industry you work in, no amount of talent or American Work Ethic® is going to protect your job from what’s coming. You may be safe for now, but your kids certainly won’t be. The writing is on the wall, and it’s soulless.

*This problem is fairly specific to the US. In places like the EU where workers generally have more rights, “holidays” are sacrosanct. That doesn’t mean those workers are living in paradise.

**The rise of Bork’s anti-antitrust philosophy and the degradation of capitalist ideals is covered in far greater (and better) detail in Chokepoint Capitalism by Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow. It’s a must-read book, particularly because the authors devote 50% of the pages to advocating for solutions to the problems it diagnoses.

Dublin, Ireland

And I’m back.

After wrapping up the year that was with my last post, I popped over to England for Christmas with Helen and her parents and a couple of weeks in slightly colder, slightly grayer weather than we’ve got down here in Madrid. Before returning from our holiday excursion, though, Helen and I stopped into Dublin for a couple days to ring in the new year with her friend, Carmel, and to take an all-too-brief tour of the city.

This was my first time visiting Dublin (and Ireland for that matter), so I was excited to add it to the list of visited countries. It was a brief stopover, though, so if you’re looking for tips on what to do in Dublin or wondering if I hit up your favorite Dublin hotspots, chances are this post isn’t for you.

Which is not to say I didn’t see a lot. We packed in as much as we could in our short time in Dublin.

It was a bit of a whirlwind tour, but across a total of two full days—New Year’s Eve & Day—and a brief morning drive before our flight out on the 2nd, we managed to see Phoenix Park (twice), the Forty Foot (and the Dublin coastline), Clondalkin Round Tower (it’s both a tower and round), Temple Bar (though we didn’t stop here; as Carmel explained, “It’s a tourist area with overpriced drinks and people playing Irish music.”), and St Patrick’s Cathedral.

Up above you’ll see the famous Molly Malone Statue in front of St. Andrew’s Church. Can you guess which part of the statue tourists like to touch?

New Year’s Eve in Dublin, Ireland

We didn’t go out clubbing in Dublin for New Year’s Eve, which I’m sure is a thing people do. That isn’t really our scene (or at least not mine). Instead, we stayed in with Carmel, a few bottles of wine and a fifth of whiskey. Carmel is currently hosting a woman from Ukraine and that woman’s daughter was visiting while Helen and I were there. The mother actually went out on the town for NYE, but the four of us—one American, one Brit, one Irish, one Ukrainian—stayed in, drank, ate chocolates, and discussed life.

It might not have been a Lonely Planet guide to New Year’s in Dublin, but it was a memorable night and a chance to do what I like most, hear people’s stories.

Phoenix Park

New Year’s Day involved two major stops.

The first, Dublin’s Phoenix Park, was an absolute treat. I’d never heard of it and had no idea there was this big, beautiful park right in the middle of the city. We initially drove through on the morning of NYE (before going into town for lunch) and then on the 1st, we took a walk through it. We saw the giant Papal Cross, the gate to the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence (that must be a prime gig), and all the deer that roam freely through the park.

The Forty Foot

Later in the day, Carmel drove us along the coast until we reached the Forty Foot. You’ve possibly heard of it because Matt Damon was photographed there not long ago going in for a swim.

The water is freezing off of the coast of Dublin, but tons of people like swimming at the Forty Foot, including Carmel and Helen (I stuck to photography duties; my hands are cold enough without submerging them in arctic waters). As it turns out, it’s a bit of a New Year’s Day tradition to take an ice dip at the Forty Foot, so we weren’t the only ones there, even though we went later in the day as the sun was starting to set.

St Patrick’s Cathedral

Before we flew out on the 2nd, another of Helen’s Irish friends, Dawn, offered to drive us around so we could see a bit more of the sites and sights of Dublin. One of our brief stops was the Kilmainham Gaol, the former prison where the UK government used to hold and execute Irish revolutionaries before the nation’s independence.

We spent a little extra time around St Patrick’s Cathedral, one of the city’s numerous ornate churches (as Carmel said when I asked her to identify one cathedral, “I don’t know, we have a lot of churches here.”). St Patrick’s is the national cathedral of the Church of Ireland and, as Helen likes to say, has been around longer than my country. The famous satirist, Jonathan Swift, was at one time the dean of the church. To this day, it continues to be a central structure in Dublin’s religious culture.

There are two things I did not get to do this trip: tour the Guinness Storehouse or drink my way through the Jameson Distillery. I know, sad face. But, don’t be too bummed, because I did get to have my very first “real” Guinness (I have it on good authority from at least a dozen people that Guinness tastes best in Ireland; which, I suppose it did) and I consumed a couple liters of Irish whiskey, including Jameson, Bushmills (American Oak Cask Finish), and one or two others. I also returned with a bottle of The Busker, which I’ve yet to crack because my liver is on strike.

There are undoubtedly hundreds of things to do in Dublin that I missed, but, hey, this was my first visit and I fully expect to be back. Go ahead and sound off in the comments what I should do the next time I’m in Dublin. Until then, I always have my whiskey to take me back.

The Year That Was: 2022

Another one bites the dust.

Is it just me or was this a reeeally long year? It feels like spring was a decade ago. Perhaps it’s because the summer was the hottest on record, the unrelenting heat making every day just drag on. Even more than 2020’s pandemic-elongated year, 2022 has felt markedly divided into periods. Three distinct ones.

First, of course, there was the winter/spring period. I’m sure some interesting stuff happened in the first months of 2022, but since that was 17 years ago, it’s hard to remember. I think there was a party or two. Whatever happened, it all culminated in a two week vacation to Greece (Athens and Hydra) and Sicily, Italy, my first trip to either country.

Upon returning from that trip, the summer immediately kick into high gear. From June to September, Madrid was smothered in a bracing heat, only occasionally breaking enough to breathe. Helen and I stayed in the city most of that time, only getting away to the slightly cooler Cercedilla for a weekend with her parents. Otherwise, our only escape was frequent trips to Madrid’s various pools, which, thankfully, are cheap but very nice.

Helen and I also saw The Smile in concert during one night of Madrid’s Noches del Botanico. If you’re unfamiliar, The Smile is the side project of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood (both of Radiohead) with jazz drummer Tom Skinner. Their album, A Light for Attracting Attention, splits the difference between Radiohead’s In Rainbow era and Thom’s solo material on Anima. With a slightly more improvisational spirit. A highly enjoyable concert experience (even if some random girl dumped her red drink on my white shirt two minutes before the concert began).

Then came October; the heat broke and we had a couple months of pleasant weather. That meteorological shift was marked by a trip to the south of Spain where I visited Cadiz for the first time and spent a week on the beach at El Palmar de Vejer. If you haven’t been, add it to the list.

This was perhaps the most prolonged autumn I recall having experienced since moving to Madrid, with a sustained string of warm days and cool nights, the leaves gradually changing colors. Of course, that all led into December, which has easily been the wettest I’ve experienced here. It might not be record-breaking (yet), but it’s notable that the sun has been in hiding the majority of the month (though it’s peeking through today), and more rain is expected up through Christmas.

But, we won’t be here for that. Helen and I are hopping on a plane soon and will be back in the UK for Christmas, followed by New Year’s Eve in Ireland—which will make it three new countries for me in 2022. Huzzah.

Highlights of 2022

At times, with the various posts about my trips, this managed to be the “10 Cities/10 Years Travel Blog.” But, of course, most of the year didn’t involve travel. There were long stretches of time that I was just here in Madrid, working, listening to music, writing, listening to music, seeing friends, and listening to music. There was a lot of music this year. ( can confirm.)

I don’t have a Top 10 Albums of the Year, per se (I love end-of-year lists, but some albums need more time to be appreciated), but these are the 2022 releasees that have gotten the most play in my ears this year, in no particular order (and with the possibility some will fall off in the future):

  • The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention (Favorite track: The Smoke)
  • SZA – SOS (Favorite track: Nobody Gets Me)
  • Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa (Favorite track: The Devil & Mister Jones)
  • Hurray for the Riff Raff – Life on Earth (Favorite track: SAGA)
  • Death Cab for Cutie – Asphalt Meadows (Favorite track: Foxglove Through the Clearcut)
  • Florence + the Machine – Dance Fever (Favorite track: My Love)
  • Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers (Favorite track: Mirror)
  • Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loneliest Time (Favorite track: Western Wind)
  • Orville Peck – Bronco (Favorite track: Daytona Sand)
  • Beyoncé – RENAISSANCE (Favorite track: VIRGO’S GROOVE)
  • The Mountain Goats – Bleed Out (Favorite track: Mark on You)

I wish I could do the same for 2022 movies and books, but I rarely catch up with those until the next year (at the earliest). I did see a couple new releases; while I didn’t love it as much as I had hoped, Everything Everywhere All at Once was probably the most fun at had in theaters this year. Off the top of my head, the best movie I watched this year was Florian Zeller’s The Father (from 2020). There’s a slew of new releases coming out in the States right now that I hope reach Spain in the next few months.

As far as favorite books, again, I rarely read anything that came out in a given year. The only one I managed was Devil House by John Darnielle (lead singer of The Mountain Goats); definitely a fun read, especially if you’re interested in the Satanic Panic era of modern American history. Darnielle’s gift, both as a songwriter and a novelist, is his unflinching empathy for people of all types, particularly the “losers.”

Other books I read and loved this year (but written before 2022) were Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick, Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, Andrea Levy’s Small Island, and Richard Wright’s Pagan Spain (easily the best book I’ve ever read about Spain). I also want to give a special shout out to Sapphire’s Push, which I had always dismissed out of hand (undoubtedly for ingrained racist bias), but which I found to be a reliably effective dramatic work.

To the Future

As far as personal creative output, it’s felt a bit underwhelming, despite finally finishing a novel that began as a short story idea over a decade ago, getting published in Newsweek, doing my first public talk about the 10 Cities Project, and bringing this very blog out of hibernation. I’m hoping 2023 will allow me to build on that momentum into something more productive and sustained. We’ll see.

But, whatever the year brings, I’ll try to be right back here recapping the year that was next December.

I hope your year was more ups than downs and more Scotch than soda.

See you in 2023.

Parque Lineal Del Manzanares

This last weekend, Helen and I walked along the Manzanares River further than I’ve ever gone to find the Parque Lineal Del Manzanares (Linear Park of Manzanares Park). It was my first time visiting the park and I was pleasantly surprised to discover a massive park filled with green spaces, sculptures, ponds, and people playing frisbee and enjoying other activities.

There was even a small amphitheater. I was reminded of weekends in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, a similar verdant oasis in a bustling metropolis.

The Parque Lineal Del Manzanares, which is about an hour and a half straight south of my neighborhood, Puerta del Angel, is also home to La Dama del Manzanares (the Lady of the Manzanres), a towering bronze and steel sculpture of a woman’s head facing toward the city center of Madrid. It was designed by Manolo Valdés, a Spanish artist, and it is 13 meters tall (roughly 43 feet for my American readers).

Situated on the top of a hill in the center of the park, the platform on which the sculpture stands provides 360-degree views of Madrid, with Plaza de España visible in the distance. It offers one of the best views of the city I’ve ever seen. Although we were there before lunch and therefore weren’t around for nightfall, I have to imagine sunsets from that perch are absolutely breathtaking. Another time, perhaps.

Though the park has gone through major renovations in the last couple decades, including the construction of La Dama, the space where the park now exists has played a vital role through Spanish history. Ancient Roman ruins have been found in the park, and during the Spanish Civil War, the area was an important (albeit, ultimately unsuccessful) point of resistance against Franco’s forces. Though I didn’t specifically see any, there are apparently still trenches and other remnants of the war in the park.

Up until last Sunday, I had never heard of either Parque Lineal Del Manzanares or La Dama, which is proof that, even after five years in this city, there are still countless new discoveries to be made.

During the 10 Cities project, when I would leave each city after a year, I knew that I had only scratched the surface of those homes and there was still plenty more to see and discover. This last weekend was a fresh reminder of why I love cities: they constantly offer new experiences. They are a source of perpetual reinvention.

It’s reassuring to know I could live in Madrid for the rest of my life–I very well might–and still be confident that I haven’t seen it all. Who knows what the next weekend of exploration will uncover?