I Have Been That Soldier

In the side lobby of the five-star Hotel Vincci Estrella del Mar (rates lower in the off season) is a well-equipped bar. We were sitting at a tall table, sipping resort drinks, when three women careened in from the pool room. Two young, the third less than fifty, all clinging to each other with one hand and carrying tall glasses—vases, almost—two-thirds filled with bright-colored libations.

The party temporarily foundered in the shoals near our table, but regained headway and one hailed us as they passed:

”She (indicating her mature companion) has a pencil sharpener in her bag!” “A pencil sharpener,” chorused the third. Other notes and observations came emphatically forth, and the whole reminded me of a flock of small birds on encountering a pool of fresh water.

Their route to the stairwell included several tacks and feints, as they responded to the buffeting of unseen winds.

The passage filled the side lobby with cheerful energy, and strangers smiled at each other. Into the lull the barman deposited a single, somewhat rueful word: “Tequila”

An Irish lady walking back from the bar shared, with a nod, “I have been that soldier.”

When Jarring Is The Norm

Running south and east from Seville, the road signs count down the kms to Algeciras, the teeming port city on the Mediterranean and, further along, to Malaga, the Coste del Sol vacation niche. But never listed nor hinted at is Gibraltar, “The Rock”, in British hands since way back.

Lacking the textual announcements, you might fear you’ll miss the turn; but you need not worry. Even in gray-skyed March, the drizzle and fading light can’t mask the monolith. It is its own announcement. Its undeniability clashes with the pointed refusal-to-acknowledge attitude of its human neighbors.

Algeciras is a whirl of commerce. The ships in dock, or laying close by, are pumping goods in and out of this corner of Spain (and hence, this corner of Europe) at a heavy pace. In layers out from the container cranes are warehouses, yards, distribution and breaking-down points, all manner of specialty shippers and businesses concerned with collecting enough freight to warrant a shipment, or in efficiently de-aggregating arriving pallets into a dozen or more sub streams of goods. The lights in the city burn all night.

Approaching the border with Gibraltar, on the Spanish side, condos and shops and the rest of a standard build-out for a C.d.S. beach resort town packs the landward side of the highway. Eventually, miles later, the twin portals of Spanish exit and British entrance are ten meters apart. Our Spanish agent is all business, with quick pointed questions and brisk stamps. The UK guy recognizes the US Passport from a distance, even closed, and passes us in with a wave.

Here it is, then, clinging to the side of a mountain, a compressed little slice of Britain. We saw some historic military installs, and some signs of purposeful modern stuff, but mostly it was just a discordant jutting-out of mushy peas and dinner coats and propriety in a countryside of nature and flavor and drama.

From the Referendum Steps, we can look up the hill, and see the Union Jack riding the breeze.


Ever been in a project where, in order to do A, you must first do B; and to do B, you have to get C working; and to get C working, well: you need a lathe.

I have a lathe, classic American model, gift from a friend. Its status at my house for some years has been, “needs assembled”. And, since its original power source was a foot treadle, it also needed some fabrication and wiring to fit an electric motor as the power source. The required materiel was in the same set of boxes that held the main body of the lathe, and similarly, “needed asssembly”.

It happens that the motor expects three-phase 208V, which would have ruled it out at my house (which has only single-phase 240V), save that another box held a “variable frequency drive / inverter”.

After a lot of learning, I got this today: