Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ireland Votes YES on Marriage Equality

Congratulations Ireland!

Marriage equality approved by 62% of those voting.  

SCOTUS take note! This is revolutionary! This is the future.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sister Mary Ann "Dee" DeFrancesco, RSM

Watercolor by MaryAnn "Dee" DeFrancesco
The Sisters of Mercy held a funeral Mass this evening for my sister, Mary Ann DeFrancesco, RSM (Religious Sisters of Mercy). She was 75 and died unexpectedly, likely from a sudden onset recurrence of a rare blood disease called TTP. Her obituary can be seen here, if you are interested. 

MaryAnn had some intuition that she might not survive another bout of the disease and had set forth her wishes including the readings and music selections for the Mass this evening. The readings and hymns were well chosen and the ceremony was both simple and beautiful. It reflected her personality, her spiritual values and her simple faith.

In addition to my relatives, so many of my and Leon’s friends came to the service. Their presence there said more than words can convey. We are blessed with such good people in our lives. Thank you all.

There are a few things I want to say about my sis, Mary Ann. She was a modern nun. Hadn’t worn a habit in years. She was a lover of nature, of the seasons, of the sun and the ocean and I think much of her spirituality was nurtured by the beauty of the natural world. She was never preachy or judgmental, though she didn’t hesitate to express her opinions about a number of topics.

She, and many other sisters were deeply hurt and distressed by (what I call) the Papal Inquisition that was initiated under Benedict 16 to investigate and intimidate women in (American) Catholic religious orders who were acting on the directives of the Vatican Council 2 under John 23 and as a result were modernizing their ministries and way of life. I would say that the Sisters of Mercy of the Northeast are quite progressive.

In addition to investigating the nuns, a major crackdown on progressive Catholics was begun by Ratzinger under JohnPaul 2, continued by him as Benedict 16  and is continuing even now by many Bishops who haven’t gotten the memo that JP2 is dead and Benedict has resigned. 

It was for that reason that prior to Leon and I getting married last October, I told my sister that while she was certainly invited and welcome, I was afraid she might be excommunicated if she were to attend a gay wedding. She said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be there.” Her presence at our wedding was so important to both of us and she seemed to enjoy it immensely. Even the sisters in her house sent Leon and I a lovely card and personal note of congratulations on the occasion. These nuns have chutzpah. 

But I was totally unprepared for what the priest said this evening during his homily in front of the entire congregation of sisters (there had to be 75 or more) and family and friends. When, at the end of his brief sermon and remarks he offered condolences to Sister Mary Ann’s family: “to her brother Frank and his husband Leon, her brother Michael and his wife Claire, nephew Joseph and niece Andrea.”

Leon, too, was surprised to hear himself being referred to as my “husband” by a Catholic priest speaking from the sanctuary of a Catholic chapel. Something I couldn't have imagined, given the times. Somehow my sis was responsible, I’m certain. Thank you, Mary Ann. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

In Memoriam

Sister Mary Ann DeFrancesco, RSM
(Religious Sisters of Mercy)

Monday, May 4, 2015

Fish Out of Water OR Why Is Everyone Talking Chinese?

Went to Hyde Park, NY with my hubby for the Lambda (Gay) Car Club Nutmeg Chapter Invitational event this past weekend. (Why the Nutmeg Chapter - Connecticut is the Nutmeg State - and that's another question altogether - is held in New York State is too long to explain).

My hubby drove his 1987 Chrysler LeBaron, I drove my 2010 Honda Fit.

Hyde Park is very nice. Rich old money, young new money, average working classes together making a fairly nice little community. Well kept properties, nice views, big mansions. Rhinebeck fairgrounds waiting for the Old Cars and the guys and their gay Old Cars.

So there I am, someone who cares zero about Old Cars, in with all these guys who obsess about old cars and many of whom spend lots of money collecting and restoring and maintaining and storing their Old Cars. Honda Fit. Talk about fish out of water.

The Guys Talking Chinese in the Hotel Parking Lot
Courtesy Neil Flavin
I am an introverted type to begin with and even more so in a large group of people with whom I either have nothing in common or have nothing "of the moment" in common. The moment being totally and completely about Old Cars. The more I heard about Old Cars the more introverted I got. This is right up there with the Yankee Candle Factory at Christmas time as fun things not to do. The candle perfume and holiday decor make me think I've died and gone to hell.

While these guys were in heaven, I was at the very least in Purgatory.

When these guys talk Old Cars and Motors and Car Parts and Mechanical it sounds to me like Chinese or Greek or whatever language you want to use to make the point that their language was Old Cars.
So I took a little time to go visit Eleanor Roosevelt's cottage, Val-Kill. (In the Hudson Valley you have a lot of Kills, the Catskills,  Fishkill, Peekskill, get the picture. I think it means creek or brook. My National Park Service Senior Pass came in handy for free admission. I had already seen FDR's place a couple of years ago.

The Val-Kill tour was very interesting and we were escorted through the house by Ranger Mark, our very beary tour guide of whom I do not have a photo, of course. The Cottage: fully and simply furnished with the actual or reproduction furnishings as it was when Eleanor last lived there.

The Stone House:

 On the grounds of Vanderbilt:

Great views of the Hudson River from the Vanderbilt Mansion property.

And I went off to the garden shop and well, other than that I was mostly bored. I hate to say that, but there was little general conversation going on, and even then, it always revolved around cars in some form or other. Like "I remember that time at your uncles funeral, you were driving the Pontiac or the Packard or the 57 Caddie or whatever."

There were 60 guys at the banquet, the food was good, but I left after dessert. Back at the hotel, I kicked back on watched TV. No, I didn't actually watch, it was just on. I think I drifted off...the beach is where my heart is...

Addendum: Added a photo to the last post.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Connecticut Pride Hikers

I was waiting for the email with the group photo that was promised before posting this, but whoever was going to do that hasn't yet. 5/5/15 Here it is:

Joined a group hike on Saturday for a hike in Black Rock State Park which is only about 15 minutes from our house. I'd never hiked there before. It was a comfortable 2 hour hike, slightly strenuous on the way up, but nothing a 67 year old like me couldn't handle. (I have to use that number once in a while because I tend to live in denial most of the time.)

CT Pride Hikers have been around for years, but for some reason I only learned about the group last year. Their once-monthly event seems to fall on weekends when we have other things already planned. Glad I was available for Saturday's hike. Leon was working.

Nice group and the dog, Benni, enjoyed the hike as well. I don't believe I didn't get Benni in a photo! Yes, he is in the second one, standing next to me. But just barely the top of his head and back in the photo - he's wearing a nice bandana.

 So sad that people feel the need to "graffiti" the rocks.

Lunch at the Goose and Gander afterwards was very nice. Had worked up an appetite, for sure. (But when DON'T I have an appetite?)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Connecticut Gay Men's Chorus - "I Am Harvey Milk" a Plebeian Review

Went to New Haven last evening to see CT Gay Men's Chorus perform "I Am Harvey Milk"
I may know very little about "music appreciation" but I know what I like and what I don't like. Judging from comments overheard after the performance, I am not alone. So here is my personal "review" of last night's CGMC performance:
While the performers and musicians were very talented, they were unfortunately constrained by the pretentious musical score. I can't imagine why CGMC chose this work. From the start I was expecting, then hoping, then despairing while waiting for the fun part which never came (Friday night in the Castro was a tease that never materialized. Perhaps after intermission. What? the show is only one hour (thank god) and there is no part 2 for the fun stuff?)

The storyline/timeline was all over the place. It made no sense starting with the candlelight vigil, childhood, the bullet (horrible piece), city hall, disco, here and yonder. Beyond confusing.

The music was discordant, dissonant, harsh and often painful to listen to. All the performers were in boring, drab, formal, attire. The conductor's and musicians' piercingly bright score lamps were aimed directly into the audience which made looking at the performers extremely uncomfortable. I had to actually cover my eyes with my hand, it was so bad. That, coupled with the reflection of the spotlight off of Ms. Peitler-Lederman's gown made me wish I'd brought my sunglasses. 
The show was very disappointing as it was not CGMC's usual up-beat show with costumes and humor and familiar tunes. 
I wish I had read about the work which was commissioned by the SanFrancisco Gay Men's Chorus - basically a funeral dirge - I might have passed up the opportunity (and even poor Harvey would have probably turned in his grave at the sound of it. Come on, a commissioned work should have been one to CELEBRATE Harvey's life and work and not be such a somber and stuffy orchestrated cacophony.)
Let me repeat that the performers were talented and excellent but unfortunately had to deliver an inferior product.I would encourage CGMC to stick to their very successful formula of productions with a variety of entertainment, great music, colorful costumes, interesting and timely characters, humorous skits. That is what we go to see and expect.

ADDENDUM: Found this similar reaction in Dayton.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Logic anyone?

I posted this with a question mark in my title because something about it seemed off, if a bit cutesy. So Russ wrote a great commentary for me. See the comments, below. Thanks for your insights, Russ.

At the risk of being thoroughly discredited, I'll let my thoughts wander here:

I'm not entirely convinced it is "apples" and "oranges". Sure, selling a firearm legally to a customer is without intimate knowledge of what or how the gun will be used should not be against one's sincerely held religious beliefs. (If one has moral objections to guns, they probably wouldn't be selling them. Another question: a Buddhist works at WalMart and is asked to sell rifles in the hunting department; can he or she object to the assignment on moral grounds?)

Back to the other gun shop: What if the customer says, "I want to buy a gun to kill my wife." Now that would be an illegal act. Does the shop owner refuse to sell the gun? Call the authorities and notify them of a potential murder?

My feeling about public accommodations and public business is: If someone offers a service of any kind open to the public there should not be a moral litmus test for customers to pass; business owners should be able to refuse services if the customer is threatening, aggressive or using the business premises to conduct illegal activities, e.g. harassing other customers in a restaurant or selling drugs out of a motel room.

Otherwise, one's personal morals are none of the business owner's business. Leon and I bought the cake for our wedding at Costco. Did the Costco bakers or the Costco CEO "participate" in our wedding? (I wish they had, we might have gotten some expensive gifts!)

On the other hand, do any of us really want to spend our money or enter into a contractual agreement with a company or business that is openly and unabashedly anti-LGBT? Why would we put ourselves in such a position, unless to make a political statement?

Can atheists have "sincerely held (religious) beliefs" and if so would an atheist business refuse services to theists?

If it were not for the fact that LGBTs represent a minority, and most anti-LGBT business owners won't suffer significant financial losses by refusing services, this might not be an issue at all. Imagine if these business refused services to 90% of potential customers.

And, do these so-called christians with sincerely held religious beliefs serve customers who are divorced and celebrating a second, third or fourth marriage? Are there not biblical admonitions against such marriages?

Why are these controversies all surrounding the rights of LGBT folks to live our lives as we wish?

So much for rambling thoughts.

Perhaps John Corvino will weigh in on the topic. His logic is usually impeccable.

Friday, April 10, 2015

We Must Be Crazy

Having been through the Winter From Hell here in Connecticut where there are still some patches of unmelted snow here and there - snow that fell in January mind you, you would think we would go South for some relief. Instead we went to visit Bob and Diane in Vermont because Diane goes for surgery next week. Had a real nice visit and Bob made a great pasta and meat sauce.

Here is what it looked like at their long driveway and at their house in Whitingham. NOTE: Today IS APRIL 10th. There is NOT supposed to be this much snow on the ground EVEN IN VERMONT!

 This is from their back deck, overlooking a pond in the mist - I think this is a nice photo, despite the nasty snow.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Living High On Social Security

I don't shop often and almost never at Kohl's Department Store - except when they send me a coupon for $10. They do this with no strings attached, about 3 or 4 times each year. Then I usually go there and browse the clearance rack to find something to spend my ten dollars on.

Recently my 20 year old Swiss Army Victorinox watch stopped running and I had some batteries that I bought last time my watch went dead. I guess either the batteries are no good or the watch is no good. And, well, it could be expensive either way.

But today I got lucky. Kohl's had watches on sale. I looked at the Timex models but man have they gone up in price. I found a nice looking off-brand watch that laughably says "Diamond" on the face. The regular price: $19.99. Right in my price range. At the checkout it rang up for the sale price of $12.99. After applying my $10 coupon and state sales tax I paid a whopping $3.18. Probably less than a battery. Hope it lasts at least a year.

And later, at Costco, where we went for lunch (Leon had the $1.49 hot dog and soda combo, I splurged for the $2.49 sausage with pepper and onion on a roll) I saw a watch I didn't buy:
I think mine is prettier.

And then I saw the other watch I didn't buy:

Mine is also stainless steel, but has a faux leather wrist band instead of the pretty expandable. And it has Roman numerals and no pretty dials showing the day and month and whatever. My phone does that.

So the way I figure it, I saved $3,196.48. I wish I could do that every day. I just don't know what I'm going to do with all that extra cash.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

But Is There A Vaccine?

This explains a lot about how we are all becoming infected by internet viruses - and I don't mean the ordinary "computer" viruses that McAfee and Norton can fight off.

I found this little video to be an interesting demonstration of how we can be influenced and manipulated by ideas and ideologies and by our own emotions and biases; and it explains, in part, why we, as humans feeding on the internet for information, are so polarized.

My question is, seriously, "Is there a vaccine?"

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I Could NOT Watch The Video

A young gay person was recently stoned to death in Jamaica. This is beyond uncivilized. Story and video here. And gay men are beheaded, thrown off buildings, or arrested and persecuted in Iraq and Iran, Russia, Uganda and elsewhere.

All in the name of God, Allah, Christianity, Islam, the bible and religion, of course - as is the backlash against the LGBT community here in the US.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

An Excerpt From the Afterword

An excerpt from the "Afterword" of "Did You Ever See A Horse Go By/"

Peter, the friend to whom I addressed the Preface, died from complications of AIDS, like too many other people I have known. I never finished composing that letter to him in 1987 and so it was never sent. Here, many years later, I include an Afterword, addressed to him.

May 2014
Dear Peter,

I’ve somehow survived to 2014. I am old—or pretty nearly old as life journeys go. In the grand scheme of things, I am nobody and my life is irrelevant. So why should my story, my experiences beginning more than half a century ago, matter to anyone? Why should I bother to write down these snippets of my life?

The answer to that last question: I had to write this account, even if no one ever reads it, because I was compelled to do so in the same way as I was compelled to come out; it was a matter of survival. And if I am to live any semblance of an authentic life, I must come out unreservedly and often; because coming out is never only an event: it is a continuous process and one that challenges me daily.

• The woman who cuts my hair when I’m visiting in South Carolina insists on making small talk and asks about my wife. She has scissors. How do I respond?

• At the auto repair shop, I tell the service tech, who I’ve just overheard making a homophobic comment, “If there’s a problem, call Lee, my, uh, friend? roommate? partner? significant other? husband?”

• Lee and I are holding hands on a deserted beach at sunset as some college kids approach in the distance. Do I let go of his hand?

Ann Bancroft as Ma Beckoff scolded Harvey Fierstein’s Arnold in Torch Song Trilogy: “You haven’t spoken one sentence since I got here,” she says indignantly, “without the word gay in it.” How often do I check myself so as not to offend the likes of all the Ma Beckoffs in the world with constant gay references?

• I am challenged daily to come out, again and again and again, because, even as things appear to be changing, there still exist subtle and pervasive societal and cultural norms that are intended to usher us back into our closets: the veiled but insidious beliefs, behaviors, words, and hatred that are still widely tolerated.

• I am challenged to come out, again and again and again, because of the hate and vitriol and rage that seem to escalate in response to every equal rights victory and with every courageous individual who comes out and who refuses to remain silent and invisible.

• I am challenged to come out, again and again and again, because too many gay kids still choose suicide as their only option to escape bullying and familial rejection; because some lawmakers still introduce bills that would take back our hard won rights and liberties; because some religions still wave signs declaring that “God hates fags” while others, less blatant, use more refined and educated language to condemn and vilify us.

....continued in the book

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Sometimes Humor Is The Best Response

All the terrible things that happen since the "gays got married" here:

Monday, March 2, 2015

Now Here's An Idea

Google to rank websites on basis of trustworthiness.
This may counter the anti-science and those who confuse opinions with facts.
I think all websites, articles, information should also be dated. Nothing like looking for information about something time sensitive and finding only articles that are 10 years old.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Malcolm Boyd, LGBT pioneer, died recently.

Malcolm Boyd, a pioneer for LGBT rights and an Episcopal priest, has passed away at the age of 91. If anyone is interested in LGBT history and those who have made our lives today what they are, I suggest you know about those who paved the way. Malcolm Boyd was one.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

My Comments Regarding LGBT Contingent at Papal Audience

These are comments I posted to the Blog "Joe My God" recently regarding the news item about Sr. Jeannine Gramick and New Ways Ministry being invited into a Papal audience with Francis. While I often express my disappointment, anger and frustration with Catholic hierarchy, I also occasionally revert to being an apologist. I just find readers' comment to be so often crude, cruel, thoughtless and embarrassing. 

Most of the comments here seem not to get the point at all. 

I look at the presence of this group of LGBT persons/allies in the Papal audience as a POLITICAL ACT.
Because the Catholic Church, especially under Ratzinger's influence (with JP2 and as Benedict16) has inflicted such harm on LGBT folks, Catholic or not, and because the church still wields such strong influence over conservative Catholics and their allies - influence that often translates into civil discourse and legislation that harms us further - the LGBT community should well be willing to demonstrate our presence as legitimate world citizens in the presence of the oppressors (the Pope and Bishops).
The LGBT contingent in the Papal audience was, in a real sense, making a political demand that we not be ignored (even though on the surface the group was not fully recognized for who and what they were); this was not necessarily LGBT Catholics asking for a place at the Catholic table (as I think that ship has sailed), but rather demanding recognition as citizens of the world fully equal and fully entitled to every human right and without compromise and fully able to dialogue as equals.
One must also not forget the fact that much of Papal communication is done symbolically. An LGBT contingent was there. That symbolic fact cannot have escaped mention among the Pope and his bishops behind closed doors.
Give this group a little credit. They may be the ones who are able to eventually get the Catholic Church off our backs.

******* And this in response to a supportive comment:

Thank you. The work of securing LGBT equality is persued on many fronts. Dismissing the work that is being done by Sr. Jeannine and those like her is shortsighted. How quickly we forget that back in the 1960s, 70s, 80's so much of the struggle for LGBT rights and many LGBT organizations were, if not led by, then highly supported by local churches. Here in Connecticut we had "Project H", a group of church and community leaders led by an Episcopal priest who, for many years, provided the only resources in the area for men in the process of coming out to wives, family, friends. The Committee for Sexual Minorities of the Council of Churches, was instrumental in getting legislation passed - legislation without which we might not be where we are today. The churches may have inflicted more harm than good upon our community, and I in no way defend the sins of the churches and their clergy in that regard, but there are individuals who, like Jeannine Gramick are living a more authentic christian tradition. 

Religion has been polarizing, for sure, but please, let's be discriminating in doling out condemnations. I don't understand the usefulness of crude and hateful statements (whether coming from anti-gay individuals or coming from anti-christian individuals) that lend nothing to rational discourse. I appreciate various points of view that have substance but I'm totally turned off by thoughtless name-calling, just because one is angry. These discussions seem to revert to the lowest common denominator - and are often an embarrassment to the wider LGBT community.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Transgender Chorus on Glee

I am so moved by this performance and the fact that the transgender community has finally gotten some real visibility - in numbers. It's about time.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The System Just Isn't Working For The Working Poor

I heard this report on NPR today when they were doing stories on the economic ramifications of the unbelievable amounts of snow in New England - and how the conditions have a far greater impact on hourly employees and the working poor.

(And some people have the nerve to defend the so-called "free market economy" - the corporate economy that puts profit above people. And some people may consider my views, beliefs, values and philosophy too liberal, too radical, too left-wing. I reject that characterization. My beliefs, values, and philosophy are NOT liberal, radical or left-wing ENOUGH, because I am, as the title of this blog states, a Reluctant Rebel).

Anyhow, the story relates the plight of a homeless woman who works in food services, and who, in addition to not getting paid if she took a "snow day" would likely be fired. Her hours-long bus journey each day to bring her child to her mother's and pick the child up in the evening to return to the shelter is made more grueling with the snow.

And she hasn't the option of not returning to the shelter because any sheltered person who does not sleep in her bed overnight loses the bed to another unhoused homeless person and may have to wait for another opening.

Leon and I spent several days shoveling out our home - but thankfully we have a home to shovel out.

Listen to the story:

Unfortunately I don't have an answer, a solution to the plight of the poor that will change their lives in any immediate way, but if the 1% or even the top 10% of wealth-holders paid their fair share of taxes some of this artrocious poverty and injustice could be alleviated.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Stubbornly Hanging On To The Past

In my memoir, I spend a good number of pages telling about my difficulty in being a good Catholic boy.

At moments since writing "Did You Ever See A Horse Go By?" I've thought that my story is old, outdated and irrelevant.

But I keep reading articles that make me think that the difficulties I experienced as a young gay kid are just as relevant now; and with some of the religious backlash that's been going on, more relevant than ever.

I think the Catholic Church in the 1950s and 1960s, despite its old school traditional thinking, was a lot more subtle in its admonitions than it is today, Pope Francis notwithstanding.

Things were not always spelled out then, and when they were, it was with what may well have been, to a young child or adolescent, code words - words like self abuse, adultery, heavy petting, impure thoughts, and the like.

But somehow, some of us, if not most of us, got the message. But our transgressions, however, were only discussed in the privacy of the confessional.
The list of possible and morally suspect transgressions are now being spelled out in no uncertain terms: “public support of or publicly living together outside marriage, public support of or sexual activity out of wedlock, public support of or homosexual lifestyle,” as well as support or use of abortion, surrogacy, artificial insemination..."

Funny, no specific mention is made of supporting corporations that hoard money and make their executives wealthy off the backs of the poor, or supporting the death penalty, or violence against sexual or ethnic or racial minorities or abuse of children, women, and others, or trading in human lives or injustice in the legal system, overcrowded prisons, poverty, raping the envioronment, etc, etc.

Instead, bishops and archbishops like Cordileone in San Francisco are devising moral litmus tests for school teachers and school employees  (and HERE) that require professed adherence to these cleric's rigid and often misguided interpretations of Catholic dogma and tradition.

In addition, they are now calling their teachers and I assume the janitor and the secretaries "ministers"  - legal rather than religious language that will permit them to discriminate against/terminate any employee who does not pass or fails to maintain passing the litmus test of orthodoxy, and without cause - or recourse to legal action by the fired employee.

So, yeah, things change and things remain the same. And, yeah, perhaps my little memoir still has some relevance in 2015.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Santa Fe Retrospective

Here is a rambling reflection on our stay in Santa Fe.

Overall, I/we found Santa Fe chilly, charming, congenial, dog-friendly, scenic/stunning, expensive, quirky/cultural, exclusive, remote, disparate, and more adjectives than these.

Santa Fe chilly: one of the main reasons we want out of Connecticut is the long and brutally cold and snowy winters. The past few years have been exhausting - snow removal has seemed endless throughout the winters and more depressing because it is so difficult to get out for a hike or for that matter, to do anything that involves leaving the house.

Being in Santa Fe in January was a bit of a shock. The temperatures were colder than we had expected and the fact that the snowfall did not melt or evaporate by noon often left us feeling that we hadn’t left the northeast. Granted, the snowfall was less than in New England, but the cold was still very discouraging.

To be fair, the cold was not sustained and there were days that easily got into the 50s and 60s. The sun, intense as is, provides plenty of warmth, even when snow remains on the ground. It is like the moon - in the sun it is warm, in the shade the snow doesn’t seem to melt at all. Speaking of the sun, in the winter it is low on the horizon and seems to be always in your eyes - the lack of tall trees means the sun is there from rise to set. But sun is sun and any warmth in winter is welcomed. By mid March spring will be in the air, as opposed to New England which will still be in winter mode.

So the winter weather is milder, with less snowfall than in New England, not warm, but tolerable. It allows for more outdoor activity, or at least activity with less effort. We have never been in New Mexico in the summer. We are told that Santa Fe is pleasant in summer, the sun, very intense and requiring sun screen to be used regularly. The summer evenings are cooler and rarely is air conditioning needed.

Santa Fe, charming: the setting in the mountains offers a serene feeling and the dwellings and commercial buildings all in the required adobe-style architecture give one an initial feeling of simplicity and continuity but, I think this sameness tends to turn into a kind of visual monotony after a while. I find the subtle earth tones pleasing, the smoke from wood burning kivas a pleasant incense, the older homes with their textured hues of stone and stucco and juniper interesting, rich looking, aesthetically pleasing. Landscaping, if done well, is also very pleasing to the eye, low maintenance, and interesting. Like anywhere, if poorly done or not attended to, homes can look trashy. But there seems to be no excuse for not having a low maintenance front yard that looks good.

House hunting among the adobes was quite an eye-opener. We were not looking at condos at all and avoided anything with HOA fees. We looked mostly at homes in the lower to moderate price range ($175,000 to $225,000) - what we would consider comparable to what we are living in back home in Connecticut, which we can sell for about $160,000 to $170,000. 

Most of the homes we saw in our price range were uninhabitable because they were in such disrepair and/or deliberately trashed so that they needed $70,000 or more worth of work. Or, if they were in decent condition, the interiors were “Home Depot Contractors’ Specials” - that is they were constructed and appointed with the cheapest materials: plain white tiles, carpeting, Pergo flooring, particle board cabinets, Formica counters, luan or plain white plastic composite interior doors. 

In other words, despite the “charming” adobe exteriors, these homes have just plain, all-American, cookie-cutter, suburban, boring interiors that you would find in any suburb or housing development. They have none of the character or charm promised by the exterior Southwestern look.

We came away after viewing several homes, the only comment we could make being “What were they thinking?” Either there were strange additions built on, small cut-up rooms, strange layouts, windowless rooms, odd choice of materials. 

In addition, homes in our price range and even those much above our price range are all on postage-stamp size lots. Some lots were nicely landscaped, and those in older, more established sections of town had mature junipers, piñon, or other trees. These homes were more likely at the higher end of our range or out of our range all together. Many back yards were not well kept, were full of junk, dilapidated out-buildings, overgrown with cacti or totally devoid of trees and vegetation. 

The entire housing landscape is skewed toward unbelievable wealth: for example, today, February 1, 2015, there are nearly 1,800 properties listed. 974 are single family homes, not condos or townhouses, of which only 37 are under $175,000; 66 are between $175,000 and $225,000; (around 10% in our price range) 651 homes are $350,000 or more including the 363 that are over $600,000 and the 179 that are over one million dollars (over 18% are over 1 million).

We did find one very charming 1,500 sq. ft. home with lots of Southwest/Spanish style character that we both liked fairly well. The hacienda style home was listed for $179,000. The home had Saltillo tile, a kiva, 2 bedroom, 2 baths, kitchen, dining room, living room, herringbone wood ceiling, a 2 car garage, a large very nice portal, a fair size lot, but no “view” of the mountains;
So what is wrong with this picture. The home was in a borderline neighborhood and had no city utilities: it shared a well with a neighbor and had a septic system. We were skeptical about the shared well, especially after talking to a neighbor who knew some of the history and given the fact that water is a precious commodity in this area. And we’re thinking there has got to be more to the picture than we are seeing. Nice home, wrong place? The house had been on the market for over 500 days and was in foreclosure. What’s up with that? We were nearly willing to find out, but things just didn’t add up (factually or financially).

We haven’t even considered all moving expenses, closing costs, etc.

Santa Fe congenial: The folks in Santa Fe are very friendly from what we can tell. Almost everyone you meet along a hiking trail or in the dog park will greet you, most will engage in conversation at the slightest provocation. In the grocery store, in the restaurants, at the hotel, people are not as reserved as back east. Maybe it was the particular venues. We also were invited to a gay men’s discussion group where the members were friendly, but at the same time talked about the difficulty they had in “making friends” in Santa Fe. I guess there is a difference between being friendly and making friends. The wisdom is to get involved in as many different activities as possible. Still, friends are a step up from acquaintances, and good friends, people with whom one can establish close ties, are rarer yet.

Santa Fe dog friendly: That just about says it. Dogs are everywhere and just about everywhere one can find a park or a trail that provides great recreation for dogs and their people. We went hiking every day on miles of trails. The Frank Ortiz Dog Park is a large open space with trails going into the hills and arroyos all around.

Santa Fe scenic/stunning: One can enjoy vistas in almost any direction from any point. Hills and arroyos, mountains and mesas, mostly dotted with junipers and piñons, cholla and prickly pear, cottonwoods and yucca. Hiking trails abound. There is likely a hiking trail, walking trail, rail trail or walkable arroyo close to every neighbor hood in Santa Fe. The city, to its credit, has made and maintained trails for the enjoyment of citizens and visitors alike.

In some areas, dead juniper branches and branches of green are juxtaposed against rock out croppings and distant mountains to form pleasing zen-like landscapes. Magenta, rose and yellow-orange sunrises and sunsets are respectively early and late in the day because of the distant and therefore nearly three-hundred-sixty degree horizon. Cloud formations over the mountains from evaporating snow form eerie saucers and in the mountains, snow covered trees make for winter landscapes. Bodies of water are scarce and any so-called lakes are mostly devoid of shoreline trees or vegetation like one might be used to seeing back east or in other lake-dotted regions; I found the starkness of such reservoirs disconcerting.

Santa Fe expensive: Besides the observations about housing I would add that: property taxes and such may be lower in New Mexico, but the cost of living overall is much higher than suburban Hartford county Connecticut. If you are from another large metropolitan area you may find that the cost of living is comparable. In Santa Fe, the first car wash we checked out wanted $17 for a plain, simple wash. For $45 you could get a wash, vacuum and whatever. It should have included a full body massage.

Food prices are high. When a city of 65,000 can support not one, but two, Whole Foods Markets and a Trader Joe’s you know that the cost of living, or should I say the proportion of that 65,000 citizens in the upper income bracket is much higher than in Bristol, Connecticut. Neither does the alternative supermarket, Albertson’s have many bargains unless you buy on sale and in quantity. Green bell peppers 2 for $3, 8oz white mushrooms $4, apples $1 each, cheese seemed twice as expensive as at home in Connecticut. There is no Aldi’s.

Eating out can break your budget too, if you are in our income bracket. $30 gets you a medium pizza, a medium salad to share, a draft beer and a diet coke. Or breakfast for two, or two burgers and two soft drinks. Dinner out for two at a chain restaurant will run $40-$45, without wine or beer. 

Yes, there is a Walmart and a Target, Dollar General and Family Dollar, Home Depot and a Big Lots. I was blown away by the price of some things at CVS. I’m certain they would have been half the price back home.

Santa Fe quirky/cultural: Wealthy democrats, artsy lawn sculptures, coyote fences, ristras, red and green chile on everything, chocolate wraps at the spa, crystal cures, spiritual guides. Nearby Madrid is quirkiness on a town wide scale.

Santa Fe offers a lot of cultural venues: opera, theatre, art, performances, history, multi-cultural experiences. We are not terribly attuned to cultural opportunities, mainly because of the cost involved. Concerts and theatre are mostly out of our income bracket, so we pick and choose the things we attend with care and budget in mind.

Santa Fe exclusive: hotels, restaurants, jewelry stores, fashion, galleries, opera. One example: a walk down Canyon Road with its many art galleries…they convey, at least to me, an air of unapproachability, an unfriendliness…I peek in and just feel totally intimidated so don’t even enter. Art here seems exclusive. Even the museums charge admission fees that are prohibitive for us and those of our ilk. The only splurge we did was a landscape tour of Ghost Ranch, Georgia O'Keefe's place in Abuiquiu - not a museum tour, but outdoors. We passed up the museums on Museum Hill and in town because of $$$.

Santa Fe remote: Albuquerque is an hour away, other smaller towns are twenty or thirty minutes away. As such, Santa Fe may as well be an island. Except that it lacks an ocean, the earth element I would miss most there. The remoteness of Santa Fe would seem to lend it to a feeling of isolation, cabin fever, stir-craziness. Except for Albuquerque, there are no other large cities and no substantial bodies of water within a day’s drive. Cochiti Lake is a disappointment. 

I think I’d easily become bored. But when I think of my day to day life in Bristol, Connecticut, I don’t venture much beyond city limits there. Yet, knowing that the beach, the mountains, New York, Vermont, the gay campgrounds are mere hours away gives me comfort. Being away from the ocean is a big negative for me.

Health care is an issue that is related to both remoteness and economics. We’ve heard that it is difficult for a retired person to find a physician who takes medicare in Santa Fe and that many doctors are not taking on new patients; that health care in general is inferior to that in bigger cities. Many people travel to Albuquerque for doctor appointments. Those who can pay out of pocket, i.e. the wealthier folks or those who have other kinds of health insurance coverage have better access to health care in Santa Fe.

Santa Fe disparity/two-sided: This goes back to economics for the most part. 

I conjecture that many people arrive in Santa Fe, lured by its beauty or liberal life style, or promise of success as an artist or writer, but fail to make ends meet. We heard over and over that those who succeed in making a life in Santa Fe are the wealthy, many of whom only live there part time and those who are retired with good pensions, substantial savings and social security. 

There is an upper middle class of professionals: bankers, financial advisors, doctors, professors, high tech people, health care professionals, business owners, perhaps teachers and nurses, two-income families, established land-owning families and others who along with the blue and white collar working classes seem to make up the substance and social infrastructure of Santa Fe. 

But judging from the real estate market, and the excessive number of foreclosures and number of days on the market of many homes, the working middle class is being squeezed out of the single family housing market and relegated to apartment rentals and condos. Statistics reported by local TV during our stay reveal that New Mexicans are more likely than residents of any other state to spend their income on housing and other basic necessities, to save less or nothing, and to have more credit card debt, not for frivolous luxuries but mostly for cars and household expenses. New Mexico has lost over 10,000 inhabitants during 2014 to economic opportunities elsewhere. I am assuming that the losses are of middle class and college educated individuals seeking better paying jobs out of state.

I don’t have a clue as to how the poor survive. Cleaning hotel rooms, making burritos, cashiering at the gas station quick mart, are not jobs that offer a living wage, at least not in Santa Fe. Even a job at the airport, doing everything but flying the plane has a starting salary of just over $10 per hour and only part time hours. Leon applied and was offered the job. Totally unrealistic.

Perhaps too many poor turn to petty crimes, drug dealing, burglary, and such. And the DUI/DWI and related accident rate is very high. The crime rate is not as bad as Albuquerque, but still too high for a small town that purports to be classy and sophisticated.

Santa Fe is a city of contrasts: most notably economic contrasts. A large number of people in poverty or near poverty, a shrinking working middle class and growing number of retirees, many having great wealth.

And more Santa Fe: For a city in the high dessert during a period of prolonged drought, neither the city, nor its inhabitants seem to be overly concerned about water. I would have expected more constraints on water usage in the hotels (conservation regarding laundering towels, for example) and more obvious public service type notices about how to conserve water.

I find that New Mexican cuisine becomes tiring: tortillas, beans, rice, chile; everything tastes of cilantro, cumin, and chili powder with some degree of hotness. I still can't tell what the real difference is between tortillas, burritos, and the various other things that are wrapped in flatbreads and smothered with red or green chile. It is kind of like the adobe architecture: interesting and different at first, but it quickly becomes monotonous. One longs for something plain or Italian or Chinese - all of which can be had, of course, but even then, beware of chili taco pizza. 

Arbitrary Summary: Bristol scores a bit higher overall, at least with regards to our ability to live in the style to which we've become accustomed. But I did enjoy the time we spent there and miss it just a little.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Miscellaneous Travels, Churches and Alien Landscapes

I spotted this white monolith from the highway and thought immediately that it looked like photos I've seen of Greece. We zigzagged through El Dorado until we found it. Sure enough, it's a Greek church.

 This old building is in Santa Fe, Canyon Road. Thought the restoration process was interesting.

This is our time machine - the vehicle that took us (Leon and I and a 100 pound Wiemerdor) from Connecticut on our journey to alien landscapes and other times.

Even though I've pretty much had it with religion, I do find church architecture aesthetically pleasing. This not so old church is on the Fort Stanton grounds. I love stonework.

Speaking of Alien landscapes, some are just tacky.

Things in New Mexico can sometimes be an odd mixture of beliefs and elements. I'm not sure what "Christian Supplies" are.

This little tourist attraction made me appreciate "black light" once again.

Now this church even lacks any nice stonework architecture. And the word "primitive" in this context intrigues me and scares me at the same time.

Landscapes that go to the horizon are not something we see in New England. These landscapes have a "time warp" factor due to moving in our spaceship at over 75 miles per hour. Leon was intrigued with the hundreds of square miles of farmland that had to be plowed and planted and harvested: When one begins, where does it end? Where do the tractors and harvesters refuel? There seems to be nothing for miles and miles. One wonders about the economy of farming - whether cotton as many of the fields here, or wheat, or corn, or whatever.

Time-warped power lines and poles.

Appreciate those who work the fields and grow our food. Theirs is a long and lonely row to hoe.


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