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?

What 10 Cities Would You Choose?

A week ago I spoke in front of a small gathering about my 10 Cities project at the Secret Kingdoms, a recently opened English-language bookstore here in Madrid. It was a surprisingly brisk hour (for me, at least) in which I shared a few favorite stories from that decade of my life and read some of my writing, including an excerpt from Yahweh’s Children.

At the end of my talk, there was a Q&A where the audience asked a number of interesting questions about my travels and the motivations for my choices. Even though I’ve answered questions about 10 Cities for well over a decade now, there were still some fresh inquiries, which were a fun challenge to tackle on the spot.

One of the most common questions I get is, of course, “How did you choose your 10 cities?” With the half dozen interviews and articles I’ve done, and the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with friends and strangers over the years, I’ve answered that question countless times (short answer: mostly, circumstances decided for me). But, I realized the other day, never once have I turned the question on the inquisitor to ask, “What 10 cities would you choose?”

So, I’m doing it now. Whether you’re a new reader or you’ve been on this journey with me since the early days, I want to know, what 10 cities would you have picked if you were doing this project? You can stick to the same limitations I was under and select ones from your home country, or you can just pick any 10 cities throughout the world. You do you. The only firm rule is, in this hypothetical, you will live in each city for 1 year exactly, and none of them can be your hometown (sorry New Yorkers).

Feel free to answer in the comments, or on Facebook, or Twitter, or simply write it on a piece of paper, bury it, and have your grandkids digs it up in 100 years.

I’m fascinated to know what you come up with.

Seattle, Washington (in panorama)

Cadiz, Spain

Another Spanish city checked off. This time, Cadiz.

After a sweltering summer in Madrid, we took our first break from the Spanish capital since our May trip to Greece and Italy to visit one of Spain’s many southern beach towns: El Palmar de Vejer in the region of Andalusia.

While being the most populous autonomous community in the country, home to Seville, Málaga, and Granada (to name a few of its better-known cities) Andalusia has historically been one of the nation’s poorest regions. Interesting tidbit: The Catalonia Independence movement is partially rooted in the wealthier Catalans resenting their taxes subsidizing the poorer Andalusians. But, hey, whatcha gonna do? We live in a society.

On Saturday morning, we took a train to the city of Cadiz, which is also the name of the province that includes El Palmar and numerous other beach communities. There we spent the weekend before bussing it to El Palmar Monday morning.

In many ways, Cadiz resembles the other Spanish southern beach cities I’ve visited, including Valencia and Málaga. There are the requisite cathedrals and churches towering around every corner; citrus trees of various colors and sizes abound along both the ornate and unremarkable city blocks; seafood is plentiful (especially fried); and outside the tourist sections, drinks are a steal.

But Cadiz, Spain has its own unique charms and I do say, I think it’s one of the prettiest I’ve visited in the country. I’ll let the photos speak for me, but between Playa de La Caleta, Parque Genovés, and Jardines de Alameda Apodaca (with its towering, winding ficus trees), it’s one of the most charmingly designed seafronts in Spain. (As always, click on any photos in the galleries to see them bigger.)

El Palmar de Vejer, Spain

After two days in Cadiz, we boarded an early morning bus and rode roughly an hour and a half east to El Palmar. There we had rented an apartment just across the street from the beach, at one end of what could generously be called “the city strip.” El Palmar de Vejer is a pretty quintessential beach town, which means most of the development happens along the road that runs parallel with the beach. Traverse more than a couple blocks back from the seafront and the area reveals itself to be a very literal desert.

Fine for us, because our plan for our five-day stay was to sit on the beach, read our books, swim occasionally, and play a whole lot of cards over drinks.

Which is not to suggest there’s nothing to do there. There are surf schools every other building and opportunities to ride horses and do other activities. But after a long, hot summer, we wanted less activity, not more. There were plenty of other tourists there to keep the surf schools occupied, mostly from Germany. I heard more German that week than English or Spanish.

Each morning, we arose for sunrise (which wasn’t until 8:20ish, so it wasn’t too bad), and each evening we returned to the beach to watch the sunset. Helen was brave enough to get in the water a few mornings for a sea view of the emerging sun, but even with her love of cold-water swimming, she didn’t stay in long. (I stuck to quick dips in the afternoon when I could count on the sun to thaw my frozen limbs once I was out.)

We took long walks on the beach, ate most of our meals at the various bars and cafes that lined Paseo Marítimo, and made a few feline friends, including one who joined us for a sunset viewing. And, of course, Helen swam in a half dozen swimming suits while I took pictures.

We did get out of El Palmar one day, walking down the impressively long (and windy) beach to Zahora, another local beach town. There we had noontime drinks by the beach before lunch. After eating, we realized we were too hot (and I too drunk) to walk back in the midday sun. Unfortunately, we quickly found out that no taxis would come by to take us back. Walking was our only choice.

We struck out along the road back to El Palmar in the scorching sun with the seemingly hopeless plan to hitchhike. This may surprise some readers, but I have never actually successfully hitchhiked before. So, it was a great relief (and surprise) when a Portuguese/Argentinian couple picked us up and drove us back to our rental.

The couple owns Verde Agua, so if you’re ever in the north of Portugal and need a nice place to stay, check out their establishment.

Back to Cadiz, Spain

After five days in El Palmar, we needed to catch a bus back to Cadiz. A tip for anyone who is going to visit El Palmar. You need to pick up the bus from the same stop where you’ll be dropped off. Expect the bus to be up to 30 minutes later than the schedule states, and when you get to the first stop at the station in Conil de la Frontera, you’ll likely have to switch buses to continue on.

Back in Cadiz, we had one more night to enjoy walking about the city. I’ve said it before, the walkability of European cities is a huge selling point, and one that only a small handful of American cities comes close to replicating. Cadiz isn’t a particularly large ciudad (just over 115,000 residents and falling), but it has plenty to occupy a couple weekends.

As we enjoyed a few pre-dinner drinks in the Plaza de la Catedral (where the massive Catedral de Cadiz stands), we found ourselves suddenly surrounded by a crowd. It turned out that we had chosen to spend our last night in Cadiz during the Festividad de Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Our Lady of the Rosary; alternatively, Virgin of the Rosary), one of the countless region-specific Catholic holidays that occur throughout the year.

As with most such festivals, there was a procession of elaborately dressed priests, choir boys, and a marching band, along with the requisite bling-festooned floats. We broke away from the crowds to have dinner, after which we came across the procession once again, this time in the Plaza de San Juan de Dios. It was all very…religious.

If you choose to visit Cadiz, I can’t recommend highly enough staying at Pensión España, which is ideally situated, well priced, and very clean, albeit no frills. It’s also just around the corner from Plaza de San Juan de Dios and the delightfully indulgent (if a bit Instagrammed out) El Café de Ana.

While it might not be high on the list of must-see cities in Spain, if you get the opportunity, a visit to Cadiz is well worth your time. And visit El Palmar, too; if for nothing else, for the sunrises/sets alone. Just make sure to put some rocks in your pockets or the Levante winds will carry you away.

P.S. If you’re in Madrid on Wednesday night, October 19, I’ll be speaking about 10 Cities/10 Years and more at the Secret Kingdoms in the Barrio de las Letras. Get tickets here.